Nose: Cassia, star anise, powdered ginger, oak, alcohol.
Palate: Sweet and spicy. Cinnamon, allspice.
Finish: Cola, cinnamon rolls.
Parting words: Old Elk is an NDP/Micro-distillery located in Fort Collins, CO run by Master Distiller Greg Metze, who was chief distiller at MGPI for 38 years. Those years included the ones that saw it rise from an obscure industrial distillery to a famous (and somewhat infamous) bulk and custom whiskey producer that fueled the explosive growth in independent bottlers in the US, and the rye boom.
The big wheaters on the market, currently, those made by Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Maker’s Mark all trace their recipes back to the bourbons made at the legendary Stizel-Weller distillery in Louisville. While there are differences betweeen them, they have more in common than not.
This wheater is different. It’s the first high wheat bourbon I’ve ever purchased, and boy is it high. It’s 6 percentage points away from being a wheat whiskey. It has a bit of the “biscuity” quality of wheat whiskeys, but its primary characteristic is spice. Specifically what is often called baking or Christmas spice. It’s truly a unique product in the world of bourbon.
Old Elk has a few sharp points, but at 5 years old, that’s to be expected. $67 is too expensive for a 5 y/o, 92 proof bottling from a major distillery, but I’m willing to give it a pass, given how unique and well-crafted it is. I would really like to see the age go up and the price go down, but even as it is, Old Elk Wheated Bourbon is recommended.
A brief word on the bottle itself. The label and shape of the bottle is elegant, but I don’t like how heavy it is. We’re in the midst of a global climate crisis. Heavy bottles=more fuel needed to move them=higher carbon emissions. It’s (past) time to dump the heavy bottles.
Maker: Thistle Finch, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA
Style: Wheated (!) Straight Rye Whiskey
Age: 2 y/o
Bottle date: November 13, 2019.
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Purchased for $47 (PLCB Monroeville-Northern Pike)
Appearance: Light copper.
Nose: Sawdust, cut grass.
Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Allspice, hay.
Finish: Grass, dark chocolate, burn.
Parting words: I knew nothing about Thistle Finch before I saw this bottle on the shelf at the PLCB store I stopped at while coming home from a family vacation in Somerset Pennsylvania last summer. I’ve heard Pennsylvanians complain about the PLCB stores for years but I had never experienced one until then. Folks, it’s all true. They’re terrible. I went to that store to pick up some Dad’s Hat Rye and I had a list of Pennsylvanian wines I wanted to look for. They had none of those wines, and I was only able to find Dad’s Hat after wandering around the store for twenty minutes. It was in a special “made in Pennsylvania” section next to Pumpkin vodka, and several bottles of sickly sweet plonk. Bad selection, bad prices, poorly organized, it was awful. Like a LCBO store but much worse.
I picked up this bottle of Thistle Finch Rye from the bourbon section where it was lurking for some reason. I mostly picked it up because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find Dad’s Hat, but since they didn’t have any of the wine I was looking for I went ahead and bought Thistle Finch too. I’m glad I did. It has a lot of typical young rye flavors but has a roundedness that was nice, maybe due to the wheat in the recipe, highly unusual for American ryes.
It’s ok neat, but it really shines in cocktails, where it works well in drinks that might usually call for higher proof rye, on account of its aromatic nature. It did very well in a Manhattan, with ginger ale and orange bitters, and in a couple of cocktails I have named the Sterling Hayden (2 oz rye & 1/2 oz Aquavit), and a Skink (2 oz rye & 1/2 oz green Chartreuse). Both of the latter play up the rye’s herbaceousness.
I know next to nothing about the Thistle Finch folks, but this is a solid rye, that should only be getting better in later batches, if they let some rest, like they say they will. The distillery is located next to a brewery in an old tobacco warehouse in Lancaster. It’s one of these bar/distillery operations, and a pretty successful one by all appearances.
$47 isn’t cheap, but think of it as an investment in the future. Thistle Finch Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey is recommended.
Selected for Red Wagon stores, Troy & Rochester, Michigan, USA.
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.
Style: Single barrel, sweet mash, wheated, bonded bourbon
Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Barrel #15A23, Bottle 147/269
Price: $50 (Binny’s)
Appearance: Medium copper.
Nose: Spicy. Cayenne, caramel, new oak, wintergreen.
Palate: Fruit punch, cherry, caramel, burn. Water brings out more wood and sweetness, but makes it less complex.
Finish: Hot but fruity with peppermint. Water shifts the finish away from peppermint and towards wintergreen.
Mixed: Excells in every cocktail I tried it in. I did not try it in cola or ginger ale because it’s $50.
Pating words: Wilderness Trail began operations in 2013 and has distinguished itself as one of the distilleries doing things the right way by distilling their whiskeys themselves, aging in standard 53 gallon barrels and letting them sit in those barrels for at least four years. WT’s stated goal is to get their regular releases up to 6-8 years old. That’s right in my bourbon sweet spot, so I’m really looking forward to that.
As for the bourbon itself, WTBiB doesn’t fit the profile of a standard wheater. There’s more fruit, mint and spice than I expected. If I had to compare it to another wheater, it would be Larceny or Rebel Yell, but I don’t think Wilderness Trail could be mistaken for either of those. It has a unique, but still bourbon-y profile.
I do wish it was closer to Larceny in price. Hopefully the price will come down as their stocks go up. Factoring in its unique character, unusual Sweet Mash process, and the standard micro-distillery inflation, Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond is recommended.
Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan, USA.
Style: Wheat/Rye bourbon whiskey (not straight)
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $50
Appearance: Orangy copper.
Nose: Wood shop, licorice.
Palate: Full-bodied and hot. Licorice, cinnamon gum, strawberry candy.
Finish: Hot and woody.
Parting words: Journeyman is a whiskey distillery located in the heart of Southwest Michigan wine country. They’re in the perfect place to capitalize on tourist traffic but they don’t content themselves cottage-dwellers wandering in, they make an effort to produce unique, high-quality spirits.
The flavors are largely good, but it could be better integrated and have less sawdust in the nose and on the palate. That comes with more time in a full-sized barrel. I’m hoping they are allowing the Featherbone to linger longer and longer with every batch, so that future editions will be less harsh and more velvety.
The hardest thing about rating micro-distilled whiskeys is factoring in the price. I would not pay $50 for something like this from a big bourbon producer, but is it acceptable from a small one? Maybe it would be if it were 100 proof or higher, but at 90 proof, Featherbone garners only a mild recommendation.
My home state of Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. Many of those states operate state-owned liquor stores as a result. Others, like Michigan, merely act as the wholesaler for the state. As a wholesaler, the state of Michigan maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself. The price book is issued by the state a few times each year. Supplemental lists (now called new items lists) are issued periodically listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. These lists contain a variety of information but the most important to consumers is the minimum price at which the spirit must be sold at retail.
This post is a look at the new items for April 3, 2016. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. For the sake of brevity, I have excluded apparent corrections from this post. Some new items are also gift pack versions of existing items. These are always the same price as the bottle alone.
American Blended Whiskey
HENDERSON WHISKEY 80, 1750, $41.98
HENDERSON WHISKEY 80, 750, $23.99 American blend best known for its deceptive labeling practices. Nothing to do with Lincoln or Wesley Henderson of Angel’s Envy.
CLEVELAND UNDERGROUND APPLE (etc) 90, 750, $43.99 The new experimental line from the sadists at Cleveland Whiskey Co. includes this and black cherry, hickory and honey flavors. Hey it couldn’t get any worse, right?
LARCENY 92, 750, $28.96
LARCENY 92, 1000, $36.99
LARCENY 92, 1750, $54.99
LARCENY 92, 50, $1.99 Heaven Hill’s successful “small batch” extension to their Old Fitzgerald line of wheated bourbons finally arrives in Michigan and at a dollar less than Maker’s Mark! Great taste, great bottle design, great price. Nothing not to love.
TRAIL’S END BOURBON WHISKEY 90, 750, $44.97 Kentucky bourbon finished with Oregon oak staves. From Hood River Distillers (sic), the importers of Pendleton Canadian Whisky and distributors of McCarthy Single Malt.
VALENTINE SINGLE BARREL-7 YR 100, 750, $89.99 Ferndale Michigan’s Valentine microdistillery releases a fully aged, 100 proof straight bourbon. I tasted some barrel proof bourbon of theirs a few years ago and it was really good. Yes, the price is high, but I’m still excited about this.
WILD TURKEY MASTER KEEP DECADES 104, 750, $149.99 The second Master’s Keep in what is now a series, I guess. I whined to high heaven about the last one, but this one seems to be an improvement, at least as far as the proof goes. The decades refer to the fact that it’s 10 & 20 y/o bourbons mingled together. They may be in violation of federal law for not listing percentages, though.
COLONEL EH TAYLOR SEASONED WOOD 100, 750, $69.99 The latest in the CEHT specialty range, this one has been out for a while in other parts of the country and is already a hot item on the collector’s black market. From Buffalo Trace.
GENTRY CHARLESTON LOWLAND 90, 750, $44.99 The first bourbon made using Terressentia’s TerrePure process to be available in Michigan, it is named after a horse/hotel in Charleston, SC. TerrePure was invented by a man named Ty Tyler, best known for creating a coating for aluminum cans so that soft drinks wouldn’t pick up a metallic flavor. He claims that his process can create the flavors of a fully aged bourbon in a day or so. Many have gone down that road before. All have failed miserably.
MAKER’S MARK AMERICAN PHARAOH 90, 1000, $74.99 Maker’s Mark with a picture of a famous horse on the bottle.
TEMPLETON RYE-6 YR 80, 750, $44.99 This appears to be a 6 y/o aged stated version of the infamous Templeton Rye. I don’t have any other information on it as of yet. Watch the Twitter feed for some as soon as I get it.
CANADIAN CLUB 100% RYE 80, 750, $19.99 CC’s Chairman’s Select is finally stateside! Woo! Canadian Club released this 100% rye whisky in 2014 to abundant praise. I’ve been planning a trip across the Detroit river to pick some up, but now it looks like all I’ll have to do is annoy some local liquor store owners. That’s much more fun than crossing the border. Canadian Club is owned by Beam Suntory and this product is made at Alberta Distillers in Calgary (the other CCs are made in Windsor, Ontario).
KNOB CREEK RYE 100, 1000, $44.99 One of my favorite Kentucky ryes is now available in liters.
PENDLETON MIDNIGHT 90, 750, $32.95 Pendleton bottled at 90 proof and partially aged in American brandy barrels. Imported by Hood River Distillers and distilled by an undisclosed source (Alberta?).
AUCHNAGIE 86, 750, $62.99
AUCHNAGIE VINTAGE 92, 750, $274.99
GERSTON 86, 750, $62.99
GERSTON VINTAGE 92, 750, $274.99
STRATHEDEN 86.0 750, $62.99
STRATHEDEN VINTAGE 92, 750, $274.99
LOSSIT 86, 750, $43.01
TOWIEMORE 86, 750, $43.01
Auchnagie, Gerston, Stratheden, Lossit and Towiemore are all releases from the Lost Distillery Company. LDC produces recreations of whiskies from long closed distilleries. They do this via historical research. There is no library of nineteenth century malt whisky samples in cabinet at Lost Distillery Co. HQ that is being consulted to make these, only period sources. Seems like an interesting project.
BENNACHIE 86, 750, $43.01 Bennachie is an old blended malt brand that is still obscure in the US. It’s Speyside-centric and generally well-regarded online from what I can tell. More blended malts on Michigan shelves is a good thing. This is probably the 10 y/o, but 17 and 21 y/o editions are also bottled.
JOHN BARR RESERVE 86, 1000, $29.99
JOHN BARR RESERVE 86, 750, $24.99 The world famous blended whisky in the squarish bottle with a red label and John in the name is now available in The Mitten. John Barr of course! From Whyte & McKay, makers of the Isle of Jura and Dalmore Single Malts.
ROCK OYSTER 93.6, 750, $59.95 Island-centric blended malt from Douglas Laing & Co., makers of Big Peat and other blended malts including Scallywag and Timorous Beastie below.
SCALLYWAG 92, 750, $69.99 Spey-centric blended malt from Laing.
TIMOROUS BEASTIE 93.6, 750, $59.95 Highland-centric blended malt from Laing.
ARDBEG DARK COVE SINGLE MALT 110, 750, $109.99 The “committee edition” of Dark Cove. NAS Ardbeg aged in bourbon and “dark” sherry casks. $110 but also 110 proof. I may actually try and buy this one.
JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK/GOLF DIVOT 80, 750, $39.99 Divot tools are the hot new item to pair with liquor, apparently. I never had any use for them. The PuttPutt people tend to frown on them anyway.
WOLFBURN SINGLE MALT 92, 750, $63.79 New (2013) Highland distillery with the name of an old one. Unless they’re sourcing from somewhere else for the time being, this is going to be a very young single malt.
BLACK BUSH (IRISH) 80, 1750, $53.99
BLACK BUSH (IRISH) 80, 375, $19.99 Like Black Bush in the park? Have a large family that enjoys Black Bush? Bushmills has you covered with new 1.75 ltr and 375 ml sizes! Bushmills is owned by Jose Cuervo.
THE IRISHMAN-12 YR 86, 750, $73.92 12 y/o Irish Single Malt joins its younger sibling, Irishman Original Clan (soon to be rebranded as Founder’s Reserve). I hear good things about this one but I wish the proof was higher.
LOCAL CHOICE BLACK CHERRY 90, 750, $29.99 TerrePure flavored whiskey. See also THX gin & rum below.
MAMMOTH WHISKEY 80, 750, $44.00 5 y/o Kentucky-distilled whiskey finished in Michigan Merlot barrels from Bonobo winery on Old Mission Peninsula. Mammoth is located in Central Lake, Michigan. That’s east of Torch Lake, and north of Bellaire (home of Shorts Brewery) or between Petoskey and Traverse City if you prefer.
RED CEDAR CORN WHISKEY BARREL AGED 80, 750, $27.55 Aged corn whiskey from Red Cedar distillery in East Lansing, affiliated with the Michigan State University distilling program.
GREENHOUSE GIN 80, 750, $22.99 “Artisan” gin from Dynasty Spirits, best known for Nue Vodka and being involved in a convoluted fraud case last year. Acai and cucumber are used to flavor the spirit in addition to the usual aromatics.
WATER HILL GIN 90, 750, $34.19 From Ann Arbor Distilling in Ann Arbor, Michigan (what are the odds?). They also make a vodka, coffee liqueur and unaged rum (see below). Website: http://www.annarbordistilling.com/
THX GIN 92, 750, $19.99 TerrePure gin from Local Spirits. A THX rum is also produced. See below.
NEW HOLLAND BLUE HAVEN 80, 750, $29.99 Blueberry-infused gin from the makers of the excellent Knickerbocker Gin and Beer Barrel Bourbon. They brew beer too, of course.
BELA OSA 80, 750, $30.80 Serbian Slivovitz (Damson plum brandy). Name translates to “white wasp”. I know nothing else about this.
KRALJICA 84, 750, $30.80 Name translates to “queen”. This is a protected geographical name for Serbian Slivovitz. From the Zarić distillery in Kosjerić, Western Serbia.
NIRVANA 80, 750, $30.80 Pear brandy from Zarić.
RUBINOV VINJAK VS 80, 1000, $25.25 Grape brandy from the Rubin distillery in Kruševac, in central Serbia.
TROYANSKA SLIVOVITZ PLUM-4 YR 80, 750, $24.99
TROYANSKA SLIVOVITZ-7 YR 80, 750, $29.00 Two age stated Sliovitzes from the Troyan monastery (aka The Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God) near Oreshak in central Bulgaria.
CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VS 80, 200, $9.99
CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VS 80, 375, $16.99
CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VS 80, 750, $36.99
CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VSOP 80, 200, $15.99
CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VSOP 80, 750, $49.96
CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VSOP 80, 375, $23.99 Campagnere is a Champagne Cognac produced by Tessendier & Fils in Cognac. What makes Campagnere different from other Champagne Cognac? you may ask. From the website: “From the great variety of eaux-de-vie produced, Jérôme and Lilian subtly blend with feelings and emotions, step by step, up to three hundred eaux-de-vie each year to create one outstanding Cognac, whose rarity is only exceeded by its distinctive originality.” Campagnere is the Cognac with feelings and emotions. Besides the VS & VSOP, they also produce Belle Epoque Single Cask, Prestige (for blending apparently) and an XO. None of those are available in Michigan yet.
SIX SAINTS 83.4, 750, $24.98 Rum from Grenada named for the six Catholic parishes on the island. The brand is owned by Craft Spirits, Ltd, based in Glasgow. I was unable to find any other information on the company.
SOUL PREMIUM CACHACA 80, 750, $25.99
SOUL PREMIUM CACHACA 80, 1000, $32.99 Cachaça is a Brazilian style of unaged rum. It’s gradually become more available in the US over the past few years. It’s unclear where in Brazil Soul Premium is distilled, but it is imported by Bibo International of Newport, Rhode Island.
WATER HILL RUM 89, 750, $37.57 An unaged Rum from Ann Arbor Distillery. See Water Hill Gin above.
THX RUM 80, 750, $19.99 TerrePure rum. See THX Gin and Gentry bourbon above.
AZUNIA BLACK-2 YR 80, 750, $109.99 This is the first Azunia offering available in Michigan. Azunia black sits at the top of their range of traditional process tequilas. Each bottle is signed by master distiller Salvador Rivera Cardona. They also have the standard blanco, reposado and añejo expressions. The first two of those are made with organically grown agave. Hopefully we’ll see the other three expressions here soon.
CASAMIGOS ANEJO 80, 375, $28.96
CASAMIGOS REPOSADO 80, 375, $26.99 Casamigos añejo & reposado now come in half bottles to make them easier to take to a friend’s house.
TEQUILA CHAMUCOS BLANCO 80, 750, $44.98 See below. The blanco is distilled by
Feliciano Vivanco y Asociados, makers of ArteNom and Don Weber.
CHAMUCOS TEQUILA ANEJO 80, 750, $59.74 This gimmicky-looking tequila is a product of the Premium de Jalisco distillery, which also makes Trader Joe’s silver tequila. It was created by unnamed celebrities and places a lot of emphasis on the creativity of the label. How creative to put a picture of a devil on a tequila with the Spanish word for devil as its name!
LUNAZUL BLANCO W/DIVOT TOOL 80, 750, $17.98 Divot tools: Not just for Scotch anymore!
AVION SILVER 80, 1750, $89.99 As seen on the TV show Entourage, this product of
Productos Finos de Agave distillery (maker of Casamigos, amongst others), is now available in family size bottles.
OLMECA ALTOS PLATA 80, 1000, $26.99 Plata= silver. See below.
OLMECA ALTOS REPOSDAO 80, 1000, $26.99 These two Pernod-Ricard tequilas are made using tahona wheel-pressed agave juice are now available in liter sizes.
1800 MILENIO 80, 750, $225.00 A limited edition and downright ancient extra añejo from Cuervo. The first edition was released in 2000, then rereleased in 2014 but it’s now back with an even higher price than the last time. As before, it’s aged for five years in used bourbon barrels, then finished in former Cognac barrels. Reviews put previous editions firmly in the “beaver tequila” category.
DI SARONNO W/JAR & SQUEEZER 56, 750, $26.99 Make your own fresh-squeezed amaretto sour. Lemons, sugar and egg whites not included.
BRAULIO AMARO ALPINO 42, 1000, 42.96 A minty Alpine Amaro made in Bormio, Lombardy, Italy, on the edge of Stelvio National Park near the Swiss border.
COMBIER PAMPLEMOUSSE ROSE 32, 750, $30.80 Grapefruit liqueur from French artisanal liqueur maker Combier, located in Saumur in the Loire valley.
MONTMORENCY CHERRY LIQUEUR 50, 750, $18.48 A Herzegovinian cherry liqueur. Manufactured by Nero in Mostar.
JELINEK FERNET 76, 750, $22.00 The famous Moravian Amaro brand is now available for your sipping and mixing pleasure. Made in Luhačovice, Czech Republic, famous for its spa.
LONG ROAD AQUAVIT 90, 750, $34.99 Long Road distillery in Grand Rapids’s take on this caraway flavored spirit.
FEW ANGUISH & REGRET 80, 750, $29.28 As a tribute to their Chicago home base, Few made a Malort. The name says it all.
JIN LIU FU 104, 375, $16.69 I’m not sure what this is. Baiju maybe?
RED STAR ER GUO TOU JIU 112, 375, $8.87 Red Star is the best known brand of erguotou, a style of baiju. Baiju is a Chinese sorghum spirit.
Maker: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
Proof: 111.3 (55.65%)
Michigan State Minimum: $60 (also available in 375 ml bottles for $35)
Appearance: Reddish copper with thin, frequent legs.
Nose: Alcohol, oak, vanilla. Toned down a little with water.
Palate: Hot. Alcohol, leather, vanilla. A little tamer than at full strength. Starts sweet but dries into a bitter char note.
Finish: All alcohol. Pretty tasty with water. Drying with oak and vanilla. Lingers a while.
Parting words: Beam Suntory has been experimenting a lot lately. Most of that has been with Jim Beam, but some of it has spilled over into Maker’s. First Maker’s 46 and now this, Maker’s Mark Cask Stength. Maker’s had a 101 proof expression at one time (although I think it was only available overseas) but other than that, high proof has never been something that Maker’s has really done.
I like standard Maker’s, especially in the summertime. It has a nice, easy drinking sweetness that can refreshing, but is never particularly interesting. This expression tasted drier than I expected (similar to Pappy 15 in that way) but otherwise it is pretty standard Maker’s. The higher ABV brings out more of the bitter char flavors with is not necessarily tasty. I almost wanted to water it down even further but
what’s the point of watering a cask strength bourbon down to standard strength? There’s certainly no price savings here.
Tasting makers at cask strength was interesting but not interesting enough to make me want to buy a second bottle. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is mildly recommended.
W12: Full bodied and round. Vanilla butter cream icing, oak, alcohol.
VWB: Medium bodied and soft. Oak, a hint of vanilla, sweet cornbread.
W12: Cherry walnut bread, oak, alcohol. Lingers for a long time.
VWB: Fairly hot, but very well balanced and more subtle than the Weller. Oak, vanilla icing, alcohol. Also linger long, getting sweeter and fruitier as time goes on.
Parting words: This head to head was inspired by a forum thread inspired by a long running discussion in bourbon circles regarding the Van Winkle line of wheated bourbons and the Weller line. Are they the same whiskey in different bottles? Is Weller just a dumping ground for Van Winkle rejects? Is Weller 12 “basically Pappy” as one store owner told a bourbon lover recently?
These two expressions are the best two to compare the differences because they’re the same age and virtually the same proof. Both are made using the same mashbill, same yeast, same distillery and aged in the same warehouses. They are also most likely put into barrels with the same char level at the same proof. So all the pre-aging variables are the same.
The difference is in barrel selection and it does make a difference. Not a huge one but it’s there. Both have the same mix of aromas and flavors, but in different proportions. Weller 12 has a little bit of an unrefined grassy bite to it but it is only noticeable to me when doing the head to head with Lot “B”. Lot “B” is more elegant and seems to have more depth. The herbal note is there but it takes the form of a subtle Basil aroma. Perhaps the areas of the warehouses in Frankfort reserved for Van Winkle are less prone to developing the earthy, grassy aromas in bourbons aged there or perhaps there’s a higher proportion of older bourbon in the mix.
So, what’s the verdict? Lot “B” is the superior bourbon, but only by a little. Weller 12 is a much better bargain than its Van Winkle cousin. Lot “B” is not more than twice as good as Weller 12 but Weller 12 is probably underpriced, so it evens out in my mind. Both Weller 12 and Van Winkle Lot “B” are recommended.