Kirkland Signature Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

Maker: Tennessee Distilling, ltd, Columbia, Tennessee, USA

Distiller: Undisclosed (almost certainly George Dickel)

Style: (Straight?) Tennessee Whiskey.

Age: 4 y/o.

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $37/1.75 l

Appearance: Light Copper.

Nose: Caramel, leather, walnuts, maple.

Palate: Medium bodied and medium dry. Oak, maple syrup.

Finish: Oak, alcohol.

Mixed: Good in Old Fashioneds, OK in Manhattans. Lacks the power needed to stand up to stronger mixers like Benedictine or cola.

Parting words: I bought this as a “well” whiskey for my home bar. I thought it would make a change of pace from the usual mid-range bourbons that I use for that purpose. I was pleasantly surprised at how dry it was, but disappointed at the low proof. I guess when a product is aimed at Jack Daniels drinkers in 2021, 80 proof makes sense, but mixing bourbons need either a higher proof or younger age to distinguish themselves in this drunk’s opinion.

As a weeknight sipper or in an Old Fashioned (or something similar) it does fine, though, and its hard to complain about something this cheap (it would work out to about $16 for a standard 750 ml bottle) that tastes this mature. So Kirkland Signature Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey is recommended.

A brief word about this whiskey’s label. The word “straight” does not appear anywhere, but unless something hinky is going on, a 4 y/o TN whiskey should qualify as straight. There is no indication that this whiskey was made at Diageo’s Cascade Hollow/George Dickel distillery either, but given the sheer amount of Dickel whiskey that Diageo has been selling to bottlers in the past few years, I would be truly shocked if this was from anywhere else. Jack Daniels sells everything makes, and I doubt any small distillery in Tennessee could make a whiskey of this quality at this price.

Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection

Maker: Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming, USA.

Style: Wheat recipe bourbon.

Age: 5 y/o (according to paragraph on back label)

Proof: 107.72 (53.86% ABV)

Selected for Red Wagon stores, Troy & Rochester, Michigan, USA.

Barrel #4743

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, alcohol, custard.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Caramel, brown sugar, candy cake decorations, then burn. With water: Even sweeter with more oak, but with less burn, obviously.

Finish: Clean and hot. With water: blondies, oak.

Mixed: Outstanding in classic cocktails, Kentucky mule, and even with cola or ginger ale.

Parting words: During the first wave of micro-distillers there were a lot of distilleries making bourbon who were trying to find shortcuts to get product on the market as soon as possible. They resorted to gimmicks like weird grains, small barrels, magical cave water, historical fiction, overpowering finishes, ill-conceived technologies (eg TerrePure®) and flat-out lies to try to ride the bourbon wave to profitability. I grew very tired of these cheesy “craft” distilleries very quickly.

There were a few micro-distilleries that seemed to be committed to doing things the “right” way, though. They used full-sized barrels, planned on aging the whiskey properly, used unique but not gimmicky recipes, and, most importantly, they hired people who knew that they were doing. It was clear from the beginning that Wyoming Whiskey is in that second category, so I made a mental note to watch for their bourbon on shelves. A few months ago, I was perusing Red Wagon’s Rochester location and to my delight I saw a Wyoming Whiskey selection in an in-store display! I grabbed it and brought it home.

I have to admit that I was disappointed at first sip. There was a strong wood varnish note that was very off-putting neat, so I laid off the bottle for a while after that. The next time I poured from it I used it in a Manhattan and it was great. Next I tried an Old Fashioned and it was even better. By the time I tried it neat again, it had blossomed into a beautiful, classic, but still distinctive, wheater. Now I can’t wait to try some more selections and I’m fantasizing about possible future releases with ages in the double digits.

Anyway, I like this bourbon a lot, obviously. I’m less of a fan of the price, but factoring in the high proof, wheat recipe, age and the usual micro-mark-up, I think $60 is a fair, though more than that might be pushing it. Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection is recommended.

Yellowstone Select: Holiday Market single barrel selection

Maker: Limestone Branch, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA (Luxco)

Distiller(s): Undisclosed

Style: Standard recipe, single barrel bourbon.

Selected: June 14, 2019

Barrel 7166842

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV

Michigan State Minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted peanuts, Caribbean chilies, sawdust.

Palate: Full bodied. Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, burn.

Finish: Peanut brittle, alcohol.

Parting words: Yellowstone is an old brand with an interesting history. If you’re interested in that history, I would recommend entering Yellowstone Bourbon into a search engine it or buying a bourbon book that talks about it.

What matters for our purposes is that the Yellowstone brand is now owned by Luxco and made by their microdistillery, Limestone Branch. Limestone Branch was founded and is still run by Stephen Beam, a man with equally long and interesting roots in the distilling families of Kentucky.

Although the plan (I think) is for Yellowstone to eventually be made entirely at Limestone Branch and recreate the taste of old Yellowstone bourbon, it is currently selected from sourced Kentucky bourbon. And it’s selected well.

Holiday Market’s Yellowstone Select is much richer that most four year old bourbons. It is pretty peanutty, but I like peanuts so that’s a good thing to me. It coats the tongue and makes a bold sipper, and also serves as a good mixer for classic cocktails.

I really like this bourbon and I’m very excited for its future. Holiday Market’s Yellowstone Select is recommended.

Kirkland Blended Scotch

Maker: Alexander Murray & Co, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK20181109_201041.jpg

Distillers: Unknown

Age: NAS (at 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $23/1.75 liter (~$10/750 ml; only available at Costco)

Appearance: Medium copper (caramel color likely added)

Nose: Vanilla custard, lemon zest, butterscotch.

Palate: Full-bodied, mild and dry. Toffee, oak, alcohol, touch of smoke.

Finish: Alcohol, butterscotch, oak.

Parting words: Costco sources its basic blended Scotch from Alexander Murray & Co, an independent bottler out of Aberdeen. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this blend. It has two things going for it: it’s pretty good and it’s very cheap. I like it best in hot toddies (great for sipping out of a travel mug while the kids trick-or-treat) but it does well in other cocktails, with soda or neat in a tumbler. Kirkland Blended Scotch is recommended.

 

A Visit to Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse

The bourbon boom has been good to tourism in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s the largest city in bourbon country and home to its own cluster of distilleries. Louisville’s bourbon pedigree is second to none (except maybe Bardstown) so it’s in a great position to cash in. It started in 2013 with the opening the Evan Williams Experience downtown and continued in 2014 with the opening of Diageo’s historic Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively Kentucky to the public as a home for the Bulleit brand. 2018 will see the long-awaited debut of Old Forester Main Street Distillery.

Unlike the above distilleries, Jim Beam doesn’t have any historical connections to Louisville. That hasn’t stopped them from joining their competitors, though. In 2014 the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse opened in Louisville’s Fourth Street Live! (sic) development, three blocks south of Main.

I have been to The Evan Williams Experience a couple times and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s Disneyesque, but it does a good job of balancing marketing, education and entertainment. I went into the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse expecting that sort of experience. I should have taken a hint from the name, though. Jim Beam’s Clermont gift shop and visitor’s center is called the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. That is the Urban Stillhouse’s closest parallel, not the other Louisville bourbon attractions.

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The bourbon tree with barrel stave bark, label leaves and bottle lanterns.

The Urban Stillhouse is essentially a gift shop with a tasting bar and event space. There’s virtually no educational component and certainly nothing Disneyesque about it. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s just not the Evan Williams Experience. This makes a lot of sense give its location in what’s essentially an outdoor mall. A long, intensive tourist attraction wouldn’t fit well with the chain restaurants and touristy nightclubs of Fourth Street Live! (sic).

Our crew (minus Liz who had a couple church things) stopped in on our way to Bardstown from Detroit. Parking was a little hard to find given the gridlock and our unfamiliarity with downtown Louisville, but we managed to find a garage. The interior is nicely decorated in a similar style to the American Stillhouse. The front part of the space is the gift shop and the back is taken up by a long tasting bar with a cocktail bar on the side. Tastings are $8 per person and include a succinct but largely accurate talk.

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The tasting bar.

We received three samples at first. Ours were Jim Beam Black (now “extra aged”), JB Urban Stillhouse Select (essentially an exclusive version of Distiller’s Cut) , and JB Apple (which our guide correctly described as a liqueur). Our guide walked us through a tasting of the first two, which he said were about the same age. Telling us to hold off the Apple, he then poured us a sample of whatever we wanted from the back of the bar. That included the entire Jim Beam, Jim Beam flavored and Knob Creek lines plus Basil Hayden. I ordered JB Double Wood, which I liked. This extra sample was poured into a souvenir shot glass with Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, Louisville and the Louisville skyline etched into it. After that, we were instructed to try the Apple. I’m not much of a flavored whiskey guy, but it was fine. Would make a decent shot, substitute for apple pucker or addition to mulled cider.

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Our samples from L to R: JBB, JBUSS, JB Apple (!)

In the gift shop portion of the space there is also a small still and bottling room where visitors can assemble their own custom version of Urban Stillhouse Select from bourbon at a variety of ages. We didn’t do that, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details of that process. I did purchase a full-sized bottle for myself and a 375 ml as a thank-you gift for our neighbors for babysitting our youngest one so we could get an early start on our trip. For the small one, I took advantage of the custom laser etching service available for $10 per bottle. I chose a short, simple message in a single font but in seemed like the folks ahead of me in line were getting the full text of Moby Dick inscribed into theirs in four different fonts. The etching looked nice but it did take a couple times through the machine to get that way.

The etching service is not just for visitors, though. When we were there, there were boxes of bottles inscribed for the Kentucky Derby Marathon, to be held the next day, sitting near the etching machine. There were also inscribed bottles for a political even being held upstairs later that day.

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Here’s a review of Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select:

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JBUSS & the souvenir glass.

 

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

Age: NAS

Bottled: April 25, 2018.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Note: Not chill-filtered.

Price: $46 (only available at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse)

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, yeast, leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium dry. Tabasco, burnt marshmallows, caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream.

Finish: oak, grape soda.

Parting words: The price is high on JBUSS (vs Distiller’s Cut at $25, Knob Creek at $35, McKenna SB at $34), but one buys a bottle like this as a souvenir, not a value sipper. Both the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse and Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select are recommended.

 

 

Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Retailer: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS (true age unknown, but at least 4 y/o by law)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $27

Appearance: New penny.

Nose: Tabasco sauce, copper penny, allspice.

Palate: Full-bodied and round. Marshmallow, caramel, alcohol.

Finish: Caramel, burn.

Parting words: It’s been a while since I reviewed BT selections, but I really should do more. BT, even the standard remains a good value for sipping and mixing from a distillery best known for Pappy, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg and other overhyped, often overpriced bourbons.

This selection reminds me a little of the Binny’s selection I reviewed in the link above. Marshmallow is the dominant flavor, although here its less roasted. The flavor is not assertive enough to make itself known in cocktails with strong mixers, but it does well enough. Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection is recommended.

Old Forester Single Barrel, The Party Source selection

Maker: Brown-Forman, Shively, Kentucky, USA20180126_190314.jpg

Age:NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Barrel: The Party Source #3521. Warehouse G, floor 5.

Price: $40 (The Party Source, obviously).

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, almond extract, plum, cracked pink peppercorns, tarragon.

Palate: Plantain, strawberry jam, cinnamon, oak.

Finish: Fairly hot, fades into fruit and leather (not to be confused with fruit leather).

Mixed: Made great Manhattans and Boulevardiers.

Parting words: I thought I had reviewed the last Old Forester Single Barrel I purchased from The Party Source (TPS) but I haven’t been able to find that review so I’ll just have to go by memory. That bottle was the fruitiest bourbon I can remember having. It was jammy with a touch of oak, like a Michigan Pinot Noir. This bottle is much more balanced, and even more enjoyable. It’s fruit-forward, but backed up with power, spice and oak. It’s a good example of why one should never turn up one’s nose at a big store retailer pick, especially not a big store in Kentucky. Old Forester Single Barrel, TPS pick is highly recommended,

Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)20171205_161353.jpg

Style: High corn bourbon.

Age: Around 11 y/o (per store owner)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum (for standard ERSB): $31

Thanks to Marshall for the gift of a 375 ml bottle!

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Leather shop, charred corn on the cob, blackberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Fruitier with less tannin than the nose. Alcohol, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, oak.

Finish: Vanilla custard. Medium length.

Parting words: Rural Inn is a small liquor store and bar east of Downtown Indianapolis at the corner Rural and Michigan. It has been in operation since 1949, but it seems older than that. I was first brought there by friend-of-the-blog Marshall, even though I drove past it frequently in High School, usually en route from my parents’ home in Broad Ripple to the house of a southeast side girlfriend (there were a few).

Owner Ray has a revolving selection of store picks and every one I’ve had has been good. This Eagle Rare is one of the best and most surprising. Fruit is a rare set of notes to find in bourbon, but it does appear from time to time. The fruitiest bourbons I’ve had have been Old Forester and Four Roses single barrel selections. I have tasted cherry in Buffalo Trace products before but it was more cherry cough syrup than fresh fruit (looking at you Charter 101). I’ve never gotten anything fruity in Eagle Rare Single Barrel so this was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t think there is anymore of this selection left (it was purchased in 2016) but be sure to pick up an ER the next time Rural Inn picks one! Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn selection is highly recommended.

For a fun head to head tasting featuring a selection from another Indianapolis store, check out this video review from the summer of 2013 filmed at Walloon Lake, Michigan with Liz, Amy, Jennifer and myself.