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.

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Rich & Rare

Distillery: Unknown. (Hiram Walker? Brand owned and bottled by Sazerac).20180105_160402.jpg

Style: Canadian blend.

Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $7.50

Mixed: Did very well mixed. Brings fruit and vanilla to Manhattans, old fashioneds and even eggnogg. I didn’t care for it with ginger ale or on the rocks for that matter.

Parting words: Rich & Rare is a pretty old brand. It was founded in the 1920s by Harry Hatch of the Godderham and Worts distillery in Toronto. G & W stopped distilling whisky in 1950 and R & R was moved to the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor. Sazerac now owns the brand, but chooses not disclose the distiller. It seems reasonable to assume that it’s still being made at Hiram Walker, though.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good R & R was straight and in classic cocktails. In the <$10 category, Canadian blends tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they’re flavorless or have a sappy pungency that resembes burnt creamed corn or kitchen garbage that should have been taken out two days ago. R & R has a bit of that pungency, but it’s kept in check by vanilla and fruit. The result is a wonderful, full-bodied (and cheap) sipping and mixing whisky. H2O is not R & R’s friend, though, causing the whisky to virtually disappear. It can be a little hard to find here in Canadian Club country, but it’s worth picking up. There is also a Rich & Rare Reserve (R & R R) available for $2.50 more in Michigan that I hope to review soon. Rich & Rare 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.

 

Head to Head: Ray’s vs Red Wagon 1792 Single Barrel

20170120_101320.jpgMaker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Age: NAS

Proof: 93.7

Michigan state minimum: $42

Ray= Selected by Ray (Rural Inn, Indianapolis, Indiana)

RW= Red Wagon (Troy, Michigan)

Appearance

Ray: Light copper

RW: Darker, medium copper.

Nose

Ray: Alcohol, grape bubblegum, leather.

RW: Over-toasted walnuts, cut grass, caramel.

Palate

Ray: Sweet and fruity, then burn. With water it becomes sweeter with more vanilla and less fruit.

RW: Caramel apple, oak, burn. Oakier with vanilla and classic old bourbon flavors when water is added.

Finish

Ray: Brown sugar, then burn. Water brings the fruit back out.

RW: A little chewy, then lingering warmth.

Parting words: The Sazerac corporation purchased the Barton-1792 distillery from Constellation brands in 2009. Their primary motivator may have been Barton’s tall airy warehouses but they were surely after 1792 Ridgemont Reserve as well. The brand started out as something of a Woodford Reserve ripoff (see here) but soon settled into its own niche as a decent selling upper-middle shelfer. Sazerac capitalized on that success and added a series of line extensions and opened up the single barrel expression for selections by retailers and enthusiast groups.

These two barrels are good examples of how much variation there can be, even in those breezy rickhouses. Ray’s was fresh and fruity while the Red Wagon barrel was chewy and mature. The Red Wagon barrel might be older, but it’s more likely that the oakiness came from being on a hot upper floor. I was able to taste Ray’s before I bought it, at an informal tasting at the Rural Inn around Thanksgiving. I bought the Red Wagon bottle blind, but I’ve enjoyed their selections before. If I had to pick one that I enjoyed more, it would be Ray’s but both are tasty, worth the money and worth seeking out. Both these 1792 Single Barrel selections are recommended.

Hancock’s President’s Reserve

Maker: Buffalo Trace. Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wp-1472261717513.jpg

Style: High corn bourbon.

Age: NAS

Proof: 88.9 (44.45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Light auburn.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, corn syrup.

Palate: Full bodied. Alcohol, vanilla, creamed corn from the can.

Finish: Canned corn, alcohol. Fairly short.

Parting words: Hancock’s President’s Reserve was released in 1991 as a part of Ancient Age  (now known as Buffalo Trace) distillery’s series of single barrel bourbons introduced by master distiller Gary Gayheart. That series also includes Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms and Blanton’s. All of them are made from what is now Buffalo Trace’s mashbill #2, also used for the lower shelf Ancient Age line. As far as I can tell, Hancock’s was created at that time, although Hancock and Hancock Club bourbons were produced in Cincinnati before prohibition.

I’ve never been able to figure out what Hancock’s Reserve was supposed to bring to the table. Blanton’s has big leathery oak, Rock Hill Farms is elegant and high proof and Elmer T. Lee has the best QPR of the four, or at least did until it started being hoarded by stooges. Hancock’s is more expensive than Elmer, rougher and lower proof than RHF and sappier than Blanton’s. At one time, it was often a good example of BT’s earthiness, but that time has passed. It tastes like it’s barely 5-6 years old now. I tasted it next to the current 36 m/o Ancient Age 10 star ($19), and it tasted better but not by much. It reminds me of what AA 10 star tasted like seven years ago. Best thing I can say for it is that the bottle is one of the best looking on the shelf.

Hancock’s is a sad illustration of how some brands have had to fall by the wayside as Buffalo Trace has struggled to keep up with high demand for its bourbon. Maybe it would be best just to kill this one all together. Hancock’s President’s Reserve is not recommended.

Head to Head Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch, Single Barrel and Barrel Proof

Small Batch= Sm, Single Barrel= SB, Barrel Proof= BP20160226_184255-1.jpg

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

Age: NAS (Sm and SB are BiB, so at least 4 y/o)

Style: High corn bourbons

Proof

Sm & SB: 100 (50% ABV)

BP: 127.2 (63.6% ABV)

Notes: Barrel Proof is un(chill?)filtered

Michigan State Minimum

Sm: $40

SB: $60

BP: $70

Appearance

Sm: Light copper

SB: Darker copper

BP: Slightly darker than the SB. Auburn, maybe?

Nose

Sm: Leather, alcohol, caramel, grape soda, cut grass.

SB: Even more leathery. Grape juice, alcohol, hay.

BP: More balanced. Peanut brittle, roasted corn, leather, purple koolaid.

Palate

Sm: Mild and sweet then slowly warms up. Caramel and little else.

SB: Fuller bodied with more oak. Drier but still has a sweet backbone with a pinch of allspice.

BP: Fully full bodied. Big grassy entry, prune then slow burn. Water brings out sweet caramel and cotton candy with oak and cola on the back end.

Finish

Sm: cherry juice, oak, caramel, sage.

SB: Following the pattern. Similar to the Sm but more intense. Brown sugar, allspice, oak, burn.

BP: Bursts into the room big and hot, but leaves gracefully. Oak, caramel, splash of black cherry then fades to a delicate fruit flavor.

Parting words:  I’ve had these three sitting around for a long time. I had hoped to review them a few times before but never had the time to do a three-way review like I wanted. With other bloggers reviewing Col. Taylor again, I got inspired.

All three of these are Buffalo Trace’s #1 mashbill (Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Benchmark, Stagg). This is the core range, with limited editions popping up from time to time like the Old Fashioned Sour Mash, Tornado Survivor, Seasoned Oak and a possible Opossum Survivor edition in the near future. There is also a rye that occasionally shows up. It is a different mashbill from the standard Sazerac rye, though.

I enjoyed all three of these quite a bit. The prices are a bit wonky, though. $40 is OK for Sm, but why is SB $20 more? It’s better, but not really $20 better. The Barrel Proof is excellent at $70, unless one considers that Stagg Jr, also cask strength, mashbill #1 and NAS is $50. BP is better than Stagg Jr. but I’m not sure if it’s $20 better. Complicating matter is that George T. Stagg is listed at a minimum price of $80 in Michigan. So I’m not sure what to tell you. All are recommended, but I’d have to give the edge to Sm because its price is not weirdly impacted by the Staggs or its CEHT siblings. You can’t go wrong with the other two either, though.

John J. Bowman Single Barrel

Maker: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA (Sazerac)john-j-bowman-101106699

Distiller: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky/ A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

Style: High Corn Bourbon

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Note: Triple distilled. Twice (column & doubler) at Buffalo Trace and once (pot still?) at Bowman.

Appearance: Light copper with fairly thick legs.

Nose: Caramel, oak, woodruff, alcohol, grape hyacinth.

On the palate: Light bodied and dry. Oak, alcohol, toffee, tarragon.

Finish: Dry, but with a fruity note that slowly emerges as the taste fades.

Parting words: Bowman single barrel is a stylish whiskey worth seeking out. The Buffalo Trace grassiness is apparent but the oak and caramel sweetness do an excellent job of keeping it from overrunning the whiskey.

The first one of these I purchased shortly after its initial release. It was very light with a vaguely coppery taste and aroma. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t great. This one is very, very good. I have had a few other bottles recently including a couple private selections and they have all been good, so I either got a bottle from a mediocre barrel the first time, or the product as a whole has been improved. Whatever the case, John J. Bowman is now one of those whiskeys that I always pick up when I am visiting a part of the country in which it is sold. Bowman Single Barrel is recommended.