Dickel 9 y/o Single Barrel Head to Head: Spec’s vs. Red Wagon

Maker: George Dickel, Tullhoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)Dickel vs Dickel

Style: Tennessee Whiskey

Proof: 103
(51.5% ABV)

Spc= Selected by Spec’s, Houston, Texas, USA

RW= Selected by Red Wagon, Troy/Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA


Spc: Dark copper, long, well developed legs.

RW: Brighter copper, similar legginess.


Spc: Alcohol, leather, lavender, char.

RW: Less alcohol, oak, peanut butter candy.


Spc: Well balanced with peanut brittle, a bit of maple.

RW: Sweet and bold with lots of maple and wood. A bit of peanut butter in the background.


Spc: Fairly hot finish that tingles for a long time with the signature George Dickel vitamin finish.

RW: Huge Dickel finish. Chewable vitamins, maple sugar candy and alcohol.

Parting words: Dickel’s single barrel program got kicked off a few months ago with a series of 9 y/o and 14 y/o retailer selections. The early reports had the 9 y/o barrels being superior to the 14 so I decided to invest in two of the 9s. In fact, I had been inquiring at Red Wagon about whether or not they would be participating in the program for weeks when I decided to just acquire one from an out of state store. The day after my Spec’s bottle arrived, I happened to be in Red Wagon and, lo and behold, theirs was sitting right there on the shelf. So, of course, I bought one of theirs too.

I was pleasantly surprised at the differences between these two bottles/barrels. Both were good but I give Spec’s the edge. Red Wagon’s tasted like an amped up version of Dickel #12. Lots of sweet peanut butter and maple with a touch of that famous vitamin note. I enjoy the #12 so I didn’t mind that, although anymore of that vitamin taste would have been unpleasant.

Spec’s had those signature Dickel flavors and aromas but they were more subtle and had a sweet leathery quality that reminded me of Elmer T. Lee and similar Buffalo Trace bourbons. It was surprising and showed how subtle and elegant George Dickel has the potential to be. Let’s hope it’s a sign of good things to come from Tullahoma.


Red Wagon’s 9 y/o Dickel Single Barrel is recommended and Spec’s is highly recommended.

Video Review: Eagle Rare Head to Head

Our Walloon Lake tasting panel returns with a head to head, or tête-à-tête as it were, tasting of Eagle Rare 101 and Eagle Rare Single Barrel (Kahn’s Fine Wine selection). I was going to edit this video down a little but I decided to go with the extended director’s cut. We had a lot of fun making these review, and I hope you enjoy it! Cheers!


RIP Elmer T. Lee, 1919-2013

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mention the passing of Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee on July 16, 2013. He was the MD there through some of the darkest days of the American whiskey industry when consumption was plummeting and the structure of industry was changing rapidly. What’s now called Buffalo Trace was right in the middle of all of that but the distillery emerged from that era as a leader and an innovator. Elmer T. Lee was one of the people responsible for that. Up until his death he was still picking barrels that would go into the single barrel bourbon that bares his name (and is one of the best values in the single barrel bourbon category).

While the early  death of Truman Cox was shocking and tragic, the death of Elmer T. Lee at 93 years of age is an occasion for celebrating a full life well-lived. Here are a few links pertaining to Elmer, his life and work:

A copy of the letter sent from Sazerac president Mark Brown announcing Elmer’s death (Posted on Lew Bryson’s Seen Through a Glass blog): http://lewbryson.blogspot.com/2013/07/rip-elmer-t-lee.html

An old interview with Elmer in which he talks a bit about himself and the runs through the entire bourbon making process (38 minutes).

2008 interview of Elmer for the Buffalo Trace Oral History project (52 minutes)


He will be greatly missed but as long as the bourbon continues to flow his legacy will too.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel, 2013

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA. (Kirin)4R SB 2013

Style: High rye bourbon

Recipe: OBSK

Age: 13 y/o

Warehouse/Barrel No.: BS/3-3Q

Proof: 121 (60.5% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper with some necklacing.

Nose: Alcohol, bubble gum, leather, rose petals, lavender. Not too different with water, a bit clearer. On the palate: Medium bodied. Burn, candy, caramel, roses. With water it becomes big and sweet. Cotton candy, rose hips, oak, grape soda.

Finish: Evaporates quickly off the tongue leaving a soft leathery flavor, some fruit punch and a lot of burn. Fruitier and more delicate with water.

Parting Words: About twelve hours after writing up these notes (right after I opened the bottle) I did a comparison tasting against the 2012, of which I have several bottles. The 2012 was a different mashbill but the same yeast strain and a year or so younger. There are clear similarities, but big differences as well. The 2012 I tasted (52.6% ABV, SN/81-3i) was much more balanced and desserty (if that’s a word) with loads of caramel and similar flavors. The comparison also brought out a capsaicin note in the 2013, similar to ghost peppers or habaneros. I didn’t think the 2013 fares well in comparison to the 2012, but I do like it better than the 2011 I had and the 2010 100th anniversary bottling (cue Whiskey Wonka). The 120th Anniversary Single Barrel (2008) is also OBSK but it’s been so long since I’ve had it that I don’t feel comfortable comparing the two.

In summary, the 2013 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel is a very good bourbon but not as good as some of its predecessors. Not counting the 40th (2007) and 120th anniversary for reasons of memory (see above), I would rank 2013 squarely in the middle of the pack of Four Roses limited edition single barrel releases. Being in the middle of that pack is better than being at the top of any other pack, though. The Michigan state minimum of $80 is high for a bourbon of its age but given the high proof, unchillfiltering and the unmatched quality of Four Roses across the board, it’s worth it. Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel, 2013 is recommended.

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawerenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Campari)RR-Single-Barrel-2

Age: NAS

Proof: 110 (55%)

Appearance: Burnt orange with a nice robe and thick, slow legs.

Nose: Oak, caramel, alcohol, cayenne, plum. Classic turkey profile, but a hint of fruit.

On the palate: Sweetness, then big burn. With water the burn dies down and an unexpected fruity note comes forward. Wine grape jelly, a bit of oak and caramel.

Finish: Sweet but fiery like cinnamon disks. Fades to a pleasant, slightly fruity sweetness. With water the fruit is firmly in charge in the finish. A light jammy flavor lingers and slowly fades.

Parting words: For a Wild Turkey, this is a odd duck. I have never had a bourbon that was this fruity, ever. I have heard people mention a note of grapes in some Wild Turkey products before, but all I had ever gotten was typical caramel sweetness and WT’s characteristic char and oak notes. It’s pleasant, but not very well integrated into the rest of what’s going on here.

Those who thought the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel would be the second coming of Russell’s Reserve 101 proof will be disappointed. It’s not that, but it is good. I’m not sure if it’s good enough to justify the price (close to $50), especially with another perfectly good barrel proof bourbon (Rare Breed) around $10 less already in the Turkey coop. With all that in mind Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is mildly recommended.

A brief postscript about the label: In an era in which superfluous words have overrun whiskey labels like ants on an unattended slice of cherry pie, the label on this new expression stands out as one of the most absurd recent examples of the phenomenon. The label calls it a “Small Batch Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey”. A single barrel is the smallest possible batch of barrels so the label isn’t wrong per se, but it is comically redundant and raises serious questions about the minds behind Sky/Campari’s marketing and management of Wild Turkey. My advice to Campari (not that anyone there asked for it) is to remove the “small batch” and save a few pennies on ink while making the label appear less stupid.

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.

Willett Family Estate Rye

Maker: Willett/KBD, Bardstown, Kentucky, USAWillett Rye

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye rye whiskey (I am now dubbing this Indiana style rye)

Barrel: 132

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Appearance: Fairly dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: Pine sap, oak, caramel, tarragon, alcohol, woodruff.

On the palate: Full bodied. Sweet and herbaceous, then hot. With a splash of water, the resemblance to Bulleit rye is very apparent. Sweet caramel, hay and spearmint.

Finish: Burn and a little caramel, then it’s all starlight mints. Lasts for almost as long as one of those would in the mouth! With some water,  tarragon and basil come out and settle into licorice before gently fading away.

Parting words: The Willett ryes being released at increasing ages every year are from the same Indiana distillery supplying Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye and many others. The differences being that the Willetts are all at barrel proof and are single barrel selections. They are not available in Michigan, but are fairly easy to find in Kentucky and Indiana. At over $30, they’re not cheap but these are at barrel strength so one is getting more for one’s money. If 110 proof is too high for you, that’s why God made water.

Anyhow, Willett Family Estate Rye is the finest example of Indiana Rye I have tasted to date.  For something that is almost entirely rye and is only 4 years old, it has a good deal going on. I wouldn’t call it complex, but it’s more balanced than many of its siblings and it is a much better value than Templeton or High West’s Double Rye. I enjoy Kentucky “barely legal” style rye better, but if rye character is what you crave, Willett Rye is recommended.

Evan Williams Single Barrel, 2000 vintage

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Barrel: 440

Barreled/Bottled: 8-14-00/3-9-10

Age: 9 y/o

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper with thin sticky legs.

Nose: Oak, toffee, allspice, crystallized ginger, lavender, tarragon.

On the palate: A little thin, but silky like those boxers your girlfriend got you for Christmas. Caramel, oak, sugarplum, mace, peppermint.

Finish: Dry. Oak, mint and alcohol fading into a sweet tingle.

Parting Words: The 2000 vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel was the first to be distilled at the newly revamped Bernheim distillery in Louisville. Heaven Hill’s original distillery (and several warehouses) burnt down in 1996. The label was redesigned for the 2000 vintage so it’s very easy to distinguish between pre-Bernheim and Bernheim vintages.

Since this is a single barrel product, there will be some variation between different barrels. Heaven Hill does a very good job of picking barrels with similar profiles in a given “vintage”. Judging by barrel 440, 2000 is one of the best, on par with the pre-fire vintages 1994 & 1995 and the “in exile” vintages 1997-1999. It is perfectly balanced between oak, caramel, spice and herbal tastes and aromas. This a very enjoyable whiskey. The only knock on it is the usual knock on this series: the proof is too low. In spite of that handicap, this is still top notch.  Evan Williams Single Barrel, 2000 vintage is highly recommended.

Note: Since this is a single barrel product, there will be some variation between different barrels. That said, Heaven Hill does a very good job of picking barrels with similar profiles in a given “vintage”.

Evan Williams Single Barrel, 1998 Vintage

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Distilled: Early Times, Louisville, Ketucky, USA (Brown-Forman)

Barreled: 9/28/1998

Bottled: 4/2/2008

Age: 9 yrs, 5 mos

Barrel: 374

Proof: 86.6 (43.3% ABV)

Appearance: Auburn with thin clingy legs.

Nose: Oak, pecan, alcohol, raw almonds, hint of cocoa, touch of wild blackberry.

On the palate: Amaretto, caramel, toffee, burn, much less tannic on the palate than in the nose.

Finish: Pretty hot and aggressive, but not unpleasant. Caramel, vanilla, dark chocolate, a kiss of oak. Lasts a very long time.

Parting words: The Evan Williams Single Barrel series has been going on for quite a while now. While all are single barrel (duh), all the barrels picked are very close to each other in flavor profile so there is usually little variation between bottles from the same “vintage”.

This one, the 1998, is one of my favorites. It has a big, woody nose but turns to soft caramel in the mouth, reminiscent of Elijah Craig 12 y/o or some of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon offerings. There’s a reason for the latter resemblence. In 1996, the old Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown burnt to the ground in the biggest distillery fire on record in the US. In the spirit of collegiality that Kentucky distillers have for each other, Beam and Brown-Forman helped out Heaven Hill and contract distilled for them while Heaven Hill got its current distillery in Louisville (purchased from Diageo) up to speed. The 1997 vintage was produced by Jim Beam, and the 1998 and 1999 ones were produced by Brown-Forman.

This series is easily collectable and very drinkable, especially in the summer time. Not all vintages are particularly interesting, but always good. One of the few drawbacks to them is the low proof. In keeping with other Evan Williams expressions, the single barrel edition is 86 proof (and some change), pretty low for a product like this. Despite the low proof, this vintage still shines as one of the best. Evan Williams Single Barrel, 1998 Vintage is a very good whiskey and is highly recommended.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2009

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: 11 y/o

Recipe: OESQ

Warehouse/Barrel: 55/43-3Q

Proof: 116.2 (58.1% ABV)

Appearance: Light auburn with thin, elegant legs

Nose: Rich. Crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, mint, alcohol, clove, orange blossom, mace, oak.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Chocolate orange, vanilla. With water it turns silky. Key lime pie, roasted candy almonds, cocoa almonds.

Finish: Long, sweet and sensuous. Oak, char, circus peanuts, mango.

Parting words: This is sex in a glass, but without the stickiness (ideally). Unlike its (arguably better) predecessors, the 40th and 120th anniversary single barrels, it has a sensual quality unusual in a bourbon. Or to put it another way, this bourbon is the dessert you box up and take back to your hotel room after Valentine’s day dinner at the steak house, and eat right before you fall asleep and right after you, well, you know.

The Four Roses annual releases stay on the shelves for a shockingly long time after they are released compared other high-end annual releases, so there are quite possibly some still out there, but your best bet for trying one is to find a generous friend with a bottle or two squirreled away. Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2009 is highly recommended.