Blanton’s Single Barrel, Holiday Market selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Age International)20170320_113501.jpg

Style: High corn straight bourbon

Age: NAS

Barrel 66, Rick 15

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Light orange with long, thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, potpourri, burnt caramel, lavender, tarragon, dried orange peel.

Palate: Medium dry and full bodied. Creamy caramel, alcohol, bitter oak, orange push pop.

Finish: Raspberry chews, alcohol, roasted corn on the cob.

Parting words: Holiday Market in downtown Royal Oak Michigan (two miles or so north of the Detroit city limits) is a relative newcomer to the barrel selection business.  This is the first one I’ve reviewed. It’s a part of my new project of reviewing retailer selections to build up a list of who does it well and who doesn’t.

I have really enjoyed this one. The last Blanton’s I reviewed, way back in the halcyon days of 2011, was very leathery. There’s not nearly as much leather here (the Khloe legs are still present), just simple oak. This bottle has fruit that that Kahn’s bottle lacked, though. The result is a more balanced bourbon that is a pleasure to drink after dinner with some dark chocolate. At $60, Blanton’s is at the top of the AI/BT single barrel line. This barrel is worth the money, though. Blanton’s Single Barrel, Holiday Market selection is recommended.

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.

Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA20160930_180620.jpg

Style: Tennesee Whiskey

Age: NAS

Proof: 94 (47% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $52

Parting words: Single Barrel select was the first premium line extension to Jack Daniels. It was introduced in 1997 and had a fairly good reputation whiskey enthusiasts as the most (or only) drinkable JD iteration, at least after the standard JD was lowered to 80 proof. JD Single Barrel has now turned into its own line. There is now also a 100 proof bottled in bond (originally a travel retail selection), barrel strength and a single barrel rye (the last two released this year).

I haven’t had any of the new ones, but I’ve never been impressed with the SB Select but this bottle was even worse than I remember. It strikes a balance between boring and unpleasant as only JD can. Other than the proof and the price, this is indistinguishable from the last glass of standard JD I had. The price is not as outlandish as the Frank Sinatra Editions ($170 and $450 respectively) but still dumb money. Individual barrels may vary, of course, but overall Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select is not recommended.

Freshwater Superior Single Barrel Rum

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USAwp-1472334213166.jpg

Age: NAS (at least 1 y/o)

ABV: 52.5%

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Light molasses, vanilla cream, leather, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied. Oak, then brown sugar, cassia, alcohol, vanilla bean.

Finish: Turbinado sugar, cognac, alcohol. Long lasting.

Parting words: New Holland’s Freshwater line is named in honor of three of the four great lakes that border Michigan. The line includes Huron White (hard to find, possibly discontinued), Michigan Amber and Superior Single Barrel. Superior is best and the most expensive of the line. It drinks dangerously easy for 52.5% ABV. I purchased it for a Michigan themed party and it went very fast. I even had guests come up to be and tell me how great it was and how could they get themselves a bottle!

I didn’t do much mixing with it because at $40 it falls into the sipping rum category for me.It does very well neat, on the rocks and/or with a squeeze of lime. It’s complex and balanced, sweet, spicy and vanilla-y. It’s everything you want in a micro-distilled sipping rum. Freshwater Superior Rum is highly 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.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, Georgia Bourbon Society selection

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20160513_175337-1.jpg

Age: 9 y/o

Proof: 120 (60% ABV)

Barrel #3026, hand selected by the Georgia Bourbon Society

Appearance: Burnt (not Burt) orange with thick irregular legs.

Nose: Charred oak, caramel, leather, cinnamon, dried Thai peppers, earth.

Palate: Hot, but still drinkable neat. Roast corn on the cob, hard toffee, sage, alcohol.

Finish: Alcohol, oak, black licorice.

Parting words: Our timing was very poor this Spring. For the first time in years, my wife and I weren’t able to go to Kentucky on the last weekend of April. That was because my wife was due to give birth on April 28. I was excited at the prospect of having my son born at the fabled Gazebo in Bardstown but my wife wasn’t so keen on the idea. So we had to skip this year.

As a result of that and of living over 700 miles from Marietta, Georgia, I didn’t get my bottles of the Georgia Bourbon Society Knob Creek until just a week or so ago. My post about how we selected them has been one of the most popular posts on this blog. It’s here.

This bourbon lives up to its promise. The cinnamon notes I got at the barrel selection aren’t nearly as pronounced now as they were then, but they’re still present. This is a great bottle from a great barrel, if I do say so myself, and the fact that my friends and I helped pick it out makes drinking it an even greater experience. Highly recommended.

Picking a barrel of Knob Creek: A photo essay

Have you ever selected your own barrel of bourbon? I have a few times. Well, me along with a dozen or two of my drinking buddies. I’m a member of the Georgia Bourbon Society, a group that selects a barrel or two of bourbon for ourselves once or twice a year. No, you don’t have to be from Georgia to be a member, obviously. It’s just a group of friends from all over the country, organized by two men who live in Atlanta.

There are dozens of groups like the GBS around the country. Some are ad hoc groups, some are loose affiliations like us and some are organized clubs with rules and membership rolls and whatnot. This sort of thing has been going on for a long time, but it has become much more common as bourbon’s popularity has taken off.

GBS has made the rounds over the years. Our first selections were of Elijah Craig and Elijah Craig barrel strength. Our next one was Elmer T. Lee, then two barrels from Four Roses, then a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel from Wild Turkey. Last weekend we selected a barrel of Knob Creek Single Barrel at Jim Beam. It was a great experience.

We gathered at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse (aka the gift shop) in Clermont, Kentucky at 10 AM that morning. First on the agenda was, of course, the tasting and selection. We gathered in Warehouse K amongst the barrels.

Photo by R. Turner
Photo by R. Turner 

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The view

There were tables set up with four glasses each, one with a red band, one with a green band, one with a blue band and one with no band at all. A glass water bottle was on each table too. Three barrels had been rolled out for us to choose from, each one corresponding to a colored band. Red was first, green second and blue third. We sniffed and tasted all three in turn and then over again and then took a secret ballot. Just one vote separated the first and second places so we considered a taste off, but in the end we just went with the first place finisher. I thought it tasted and smelled like snickerdoodle cookies. It was a very good barrel of bourbon.

The winning barrel was then rolled on to a truck and driven over to the distillery for dumping. Some of our members had the privilege of aiding in the dumping process. We then all watched and waited to see how much bourbon was going to come out of that barrel. About 33 gallons is the answer (that’s about 20 gallons lost to evaporation over the ten years of the bourbon’s life).

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Drilling out the bung
Drilling out the bung
Dumping
Dumping

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The bucket of bung parts

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After a delicious complimentary bbq lunch, we got a full tour and then the unheard of (at least unheard of by me) experience of actually watching our barrel get bottled and packed. We were able to follow the bottles all the way down the line to the end, where we got to pack them into cases ourselves.

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Filling the bottles.
Capping
Capping
Labeling
Labeling
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Packing

We then had the opportunity to buy a bottle then and there through the gift shop, at a higher price, of course. There were five bottles left over after all the cases were filled, so five of us stepped up to buy one. My friend Amy, also a GBS member, had requested a bottle so the one I purchased was on her behalf. Those of us buying bottles then had the opportunity to apply the wax seal to the bottles ourselves! Waxing is a multi-step process. The following four pictures were taken by S. Ivancic.

Dip
Dip
KBF2015-231
Twist
Stick the neck into the mold and push the button to seal
Stick the neck into the mold and push the button to seal.
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Finally, stick your thumb into the soft wax at the top just for fun.

The whole experience was wonderful and far exceeded my expectations. Some of the participants thought it was all a little too long but I loved every minute of it. We picked a damned good barrel too. I can’t wait until I get my bottles!

If you have an opportunity to select a barrel from Beam, I highly recommend it.

Tequila Ocho, Single Barrel (Binny’s Selection)

Maker: La Alteña distillery, Jalisco, Mexicowpid-2015-05-05-19.52.46.jpg.jpeg

Age category: 1 year, 19 days (Añejo)

Rancho: El Refugio

Harvest: 2012

Barrel: 2/3

ABV: 54.57% (cask strength)

Price: $60 (Exclusive to Binny’s Beverage

Note: I received an informal tequila tasting from a Binny’s staff member before purchasing this bottle.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: White asparagus with hollandaise sauce, alcohol, lime peel, cane sugar, whiff of smoke.

Palate: Full bodied and rich. Agave syrup, tangerine, orange slice candy, burn.

Finish: Lime pulp, white pepper, burn.

Parting words: La Alteña is best known as the home of El Tesoro tequila, although it makes a few other brands including our friend Tequila Ocho here. Tequila Ocho was developed by Carlos Camarena of the Camarena tequila dynasty in partnership with Tomas Estes as a single-estate (rancho) tequila made using traditional methods.

Binny’s has a tradition of excellent whiskey selections that has now extended into tequila, a spirit that their whiskey staff is also passionate about. As a tequila novice, I found this to be accessible with lots of typical character, but not boring. In spite of being cask strength, it’s subtle and sophisticated with seamlessly integrated vegetal, citrus and sweet notes and aromas. The price is almost impossible to beat, too. Binny’s Single Barrel Tequila Ocho is highly recommended.

Four Roses triple header: OESO vs. OESO vs. OESO single barrel selections

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USAwpid-2014-11-12-17.24.33.jpg.jpeg

BBD= Binny’s

TPS= The Party Source

GBS= Georgia Bourbon Society

Warehouse: BN

Barrel

BBD: 31-1D

TPS: 30-3E

GBS: 30-3G

Age

BBD: 10 yrs, 11 mos.

TPS: 10 yrs, 3 mos.

GBS: 11 yrs, 5 mos.

Proof

BBD: 103.8 (51.9% ABV)

TPS: 115 (57.5% ABV)

GBS: 114 (57% ABV)

BBD: $55

TPS: $50 (current price for private selections)

GBS: Not disclosed (<$50)

Appearance

BBD: Medium dark copper.

TPS: A little lighter with more orange.

GBS: Somewhere between the two (which are pretty similar anyway).

Nose

BBD: Leather, peanut brittle, cumin.

TPS: Big oak, touch of caramel.

GBS: Oak is just as big, but with more spice. Chili powder, Tabasco sauce.

Palate

BBD: Sweet and creamy on the palate, like vanilla toffee chews.

TPS: Sweet and creamy too, but not quite as rich.

GBS: Similar mouthfeel to BBD and just as sweet but more complex with Mexican chocolate flavors.

Finish

BBD: Sweet but drying. Toasted marshmallows. Lingers for a long time,

TPS: The oak carries through in the finish but with enough caramel to round it off.

GBS: Best of the bunch. Smoky chocolate and toffee.

Parting words: OESO is one of the most popular of Four Roses’ ten recipes for retailer and private selections, as this tasting illustrates. The E indicates the lower rye mashbill and the final O indicates the O yeast was used in fermentation. The O yeast is known for contributing a “robust fruitiness” to its offspring. These bourbons are all quite robust but not much was there in the way of fruitiness.

They are all very similar, as one might expect, but some of the subtle differences surprised me. I arranged the tasting the way I did, because I assumed that the TPS and the GBS would be closest in flavor but they weren’t. They were rick neighbors and came out at similar proofs but they ended up being the least alike of the three. The closest in profile were the BBD and GBS barrels. There were subtle differences between them but I highly doubt I could win a Pepsi Challenge scenario with the two of them.  The TPS barrel was the outlier. It is the youngest, but it was the woodiest of the three.

All three were very good, but the edge here goes to the product of the GBS barrel (which I and some friends of the blog helped select). The GBS selection was not for sale to the general public, but any GBS member would be happy to pour you some if you ask nicely. All are highly recommended.

Maestro Dobel: Kakos Market blend (9/11/2013)

Maker: Proximo, Jalisco, Mexico.wpid-20140912_182014.jpg

Notes from label: Single barrel. Aged in French Oak, La Mesa Ranch, barrel No. 3719, bottle No. 174.

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Clear with abundant, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Agave syrup, peppermint, lavender, jicama, touch of oak, cracked white pepper.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Alcohol, white grape juice, orange rind.

Finish: Black pepper, red dradish, oak, lime peel.

Mixed: I tried it in several traditional tequila cocktails, despite the high price. My preferred method for drinking tequila is with a squeeze of lime, but that didn’t really complement the flavors in this one. It did very well in a traditional margarita and in a tequila sunrise. Did OK in cola with a squeeze of lime but got a little lost.

Parting words: Maestro Dobel Tequila is a single estate tequila from the Cuervo people. It’s technically a reposado, but is actually a blend of reposado, añejo, and extra-añejo tequilas. For some reason it’s been filtered so as to strip away all color from the spirit. Maybe it had an unappealing color or clear was deemed to be more marketable.

At any rate Maestro Dobel is a sweet, easy drinking sipper that works ok in top shelf cocktails too. At this price I would like a little more character and proof, but as it stands I think it’s worth a purchase. Maestro Dobel is recommended.