Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project: Every Barrel Reviewed on One Page

Looks like there’s still plenty of interest in the recently-completed Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project. Want to look up a barrel but can’t stand dealing with the search system (I don’t blame you) — then here ya go, every single barrel reviewed on one page, in numerical order. As a reminder, barrel #80 was named the winner when a dozen spirits writers (including both myself and Paul Pacult, the only two people to review every bottle in the series) visited with Buffalo Trace earlier this year.

I’ll be writing more about the SOP, including some in-depth analysis based on my own reviews and public ratings in the near future… stay tuned!

How about a spreadsheet with the whole series, including all the details of each bourbon, plus all the ratings? YOU GOT IT!

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Review: Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Kentucky Straight Bourbon 17 Years Old

Master's Keep Bottle Box Hi-Res

Following up on last year’s Diamond Anniversary bourbon, Wild Turkey is releasing Master’s Keep, a 17 year old whiskey that is the oldest bourbon Wild Turkey has ever released in the U.S.

The spirit is the product of Eddie Russell, the son of the famed Jimmy Russell, who was recently appointed to the job of co-Master Distiller alongside his dad. (Jimmy famously doesn’t care for old bourbon, hence releases that rarely topped 10 or 12 years of age.) This is Eddie’s first official release, though he’s had a hand in a number of prior Wild Turkey special editions.

If you read the Master’s Keep box copy, you might be confused of the talk of “distance: 200 miles” and “No.1: Wood, No. 2: Stone, No. 3: Wood.” What does all that mean? Let’s let the Russells explain:

The story of Master’s Keep begins in 1997. Wild Turkey had a surplus of Bourbon and no warehouse space left, so Eddie needed a place to store and age the extra barrels. A friend at another distillery offered his empty stone warehouses, but Eddie knew these would age the Bourbon differently than the wooden warehouses at Wild Turkey. He decided to take a chance and experiment a little, and so the barrels spent several years in stone warehouses before eventually coming back to Wild Turkey’s wooden ones.  After 17 years and 200 miles, Eddie felt these traveling barrels had reached their peak flavor. It is fair to say that this Bourbon is a welcome innovation in long-aged whiskey. And, much to his surprise, when the barrels were dumped they were at a much lower proof than anticipated. Barreled at 107 proof, the whiskey was 89 proof when dumped and 86.8 proof (43.4% alc./vol.) when bottled – a result of the time these particular barrels spent aging in stone warehouses.

“Master’s Keep is the result of a lot of experimentation, patience and faith,” said Eddie Russell. “The sweet spot for Bourbon aging is usually between 8 – 12 years because older Bourbons tend to become too woody or spicy from sitting too long in the barrel. What I was able to do with Master’s Keep was retain the Bourbon’s rich caramel and vanilla flavors by aging the barrels in both stone and wood warehouses, sampling from them every few months to decide their next move.”

Well, all that preamble aside, Master’s Keep cuts a curious figure. The color is exotic with a deep orange/amber hue — it looks old, to be sure. The nose says something else: Rich vanilla and caramel notes, but with ample fruit, and not a ton of wood. The body is fat with butterscotch, brown butter, tons of baking spices, and a surprisingly mild dusting of sawdust. Perhaps Russell is right that significant aging in cooler stone warehouses has tempered Master’s Keep, enough to keep it going for 17 long years and still come out the other side as a youthful and exuberant spirit. The finish is sweet and mild, quite fruity and fresh.

This is a fun whiskey that you’d never guess had 17 years of barrel age on it, but which you’ll really enjoy from start to finish. Price becomes a bit of a concern at this level — at $150 I want my head to spin — but I don’t think anyone could sample Master’s Keep and not ask for a second glass.

86.8 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

A- / $150 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: High West Bourye (2015) and American Prairie Whiskey (2015)

bourye_bottle_2015

Utah-based High West is a fun distillery to try to keep up with. Blink and they’ve got a new product. Blink again and it’s gone, replaced with something else.

It’s been a year since we last visited with High West and already things are evolving. Bourye — the bourbon and rye blend — was off the market and now is back, with an older collection of whiskeys comprising it. American Prairie Reserve — a blend of bourbons — is gone, replaced by American Prairie, which has some younger MGP bourbon in it.

Today we look at both of these newer releases. Thoughts follow.

High West Whiskey Bourye (2015) – Sourced from multiple distilleries, all whiskeys are at least 9 years old. These include a 9 year old bourbon (21% rye, 4% barley) from Indiana; a 10 year old rye (5% barley) from MGP; a 16 year old rye (5% barley) from MGP; and another 16 year old rye (10% corn, 10% barley) from Barton Distillery. Proportions are not disclosed. It’s got a gorgeous nose right out of the gate as the bottle is opened — almost like a heavily spiced apple pie is baking in the next room. Nosing the glass brings out notes of scorched caramel, cloves, and some toasted cereal — though alcohol is a bit heavy on the nostrils. The body is gorgeous and so easy to fall in love with. Nice notes of cinnamon toast, mixed dried fruits, some orange peel, and lots of added baking spice (especially cloves) come rushing at you all at once. The balance between spice and sweetness is just perfect here, with just a touch of wood on the back end to provide a nod at the not unsubstantial age this whiskey has seen. While hot on the nose, the body drinks just perfectly — silky with just the right amount of power to back things up. Reviewed: Batch 15B04. 92 proof. A / $63

High West Whiskey American Prairie (2015) – A blend of bourbons: 2 year old MGP (20% rye, 5% barley), 6 year old Kentucky mystery bourbon, and 13 year old Kentucky mystery bourbon. Again, the proportions are not disclosed. Significant barrel char, lumberyard, and granary notes on the nose. Butterscotch builds on the body, with some astringency quickly taking over. The finish is rustic and pushy, echoing a strong cereal (though not quite corny) character. That 2 year old bourbon makes an impact here, one which the older stock can’t quite undo. Tough to follow up the amazing Bourye with this one. Reviewed: Batch 9. 92 proof. B / $33

highwest.com

Review: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon (2015)

wild turkey 101It’s been five years since I last reviewed Wild Turkey’s iconic bottling, Wild Turkey 101, and seven years since my first (early) review of the stuff.

Here in 2015, it’s time to look at one of the mainstays of the bourbon world with fresh eyes and palates, no? (And to see if the whiskey has evolved in that time. The bottle has changed, but what about what’s inside?)

Wild Turkey 101 — in its 2015 incarnation — remains restrained on the nose. Alcoholic vapor obscures a bit of what’s underneath, which is redolent of barrel char, bacon, and vanilla custard, but give this one some time if you can, as a little air helps the nose develop more fully. Wild Turkey 101’s palate is rich though boozy, loaded with butterscotch, vanilla caramel, and ample baking spice.

At this point in my career, sipping on WT 101 without water is painless and enjoyable, but a bit of H2O may not hurt in bringing out the spicy and fruity elements, which meld pepper and cloves and cinnamon with a bit of applesauce — a note I continue to pick out on the 101 — with plenty of barrel char notes that add a rustic intensity to the proceedings.

Still a fan.

101 proof.

A- / $19 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Third Release

Loch-Gorm-2015

The third annual release of Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm is here. As before, Loch Gorm is matured fully in ex-Oloroso sherry butts — but this year, a larger proportion of smaller sherry hogsheads were used to mature a portion of the whisky, as opposed to larger sherry butts. That’s a small change but it should increase the sherry influence on the whisky. This edition is “marginally older” than last year’s Second Edition, coming from whiskies distilled in 2009-2010 and bottled in March 2015.

There’s nothing not to like here. The sherry influence is palpable, loading the spirit up with sweet, winey citrus notes before diving headlong into the peat. The nose is surprisingly restrained — offering some Mexican chocolate character atop the mild smoke elements — but the body plays up the peat and the sweetness at once, folding things together in well-balanced form.

This is Kilchoman at its best and a showcase of how sherry and peated whisky can do magical things together. It’s not a remarkable digression from last year’s glorious bottling, but since you won’t find that expression on the market anywhere, well, best to snap this one up instead.

92 proof.

A- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Reilly’s Mother’s Milk and Reilly’s Ginger Whiskey

reillysWhat with the label featuring young ruffian sporting an eyepatch emblazoned with a shamrock — plus the squared off, Bushmills-like bottle — you can be forgiven for assuming Reilly’s is a new Irish whiskey brand. Not so. It’s a blended American whiskey, albeit one with “Irish roots.”

The avowed goal of Butte, Montana-based Reilly’s was to create an easy-sipping, no-burn spirit, and that has clearly been achieved here. There’s not a lot of production information to go around, though the back label claims the spirit has “Bourbon credentials.” The whiskey starts from a base made of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley, then unaged whiskey is blended into the mix. There’s no information on the type of grain spirit used here, or how much grain spirit has been added. Either way, you’ll soon find it doesn’t taste a lot like either bourbon or most Irish whiskeys.

Two expressions are available, starting with…

Reilly’s Mother’s Milk Blended American Whiskey – This is the straight whiskey, unflavored (not even with milk). The name is an homage to the milk bottle design, a common Prohibition gimmick to sneak whiskey around. They definitely got the “easy drinking” part right. Super sweet and supple, it goes down with no bite at all, which is precisely the idea. The nose offers maple syrup, sweet butter cookies, gooey ginger cake, and massive vanilla candy notes. On the palate, there’s a touch of popcorn but it’s mixed up in a melange of Cracker Jack, more vanilla candy and cookie character, and lots more of that maple syrup. The finish isn’t overwhelmingly sugary, but it still has plenty of residual sweetness. Blended whiskey is hardly my go-to beverage, but this is at least a step up from Seagram’s 7. 80 proof. B- / $25

Reilly’s Ginger Rock & Rye – This is Mother’s Milk flavored with added sugar and ginger, and dropped down in alcohol. Significant ginger on the nose here, along with mint and brown sugar. On the palate, there’s surprising heat, though it comes across with more of the burn of cayenne than the zip of fresh ginger. As the heat fades, the caramel and maple emerge again, but not as stridently as in Mother’s Milk. Chalk that up to that burn, which can linger quite considerably. Consider as a racier, gingery alternative to Fireball. 66 proof. B- / $25

reillyswhiskey.com

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Single Cask, Rum Barrel Aged, 16 Years Old

teeling single cask

Our friends at Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey Company already make a single malt release, but now they’re taking things a step further with a series of Single Cask releases of their single malt stock.

Some seven casks of Irish single malt — each release under 200 or so bottles — are being released, including whiskey aged and/or finished for a varying amount of time in white burgundy barrels, white port pipes, and other exotic woods. You’ll need to check the hand-written find print to see which one you’re getting, so pay close attention. All are bottled at cask strength. This one’s a 16 year old barrel, matured fully in rum casks. Distilled March 1999 and bottled June 2015, making it a 16 year old.

It’s hot stuff, a bit scorching on the throat at first owing to the hefty alcohol level — particularly hot for Irish. Very malty up front (on the nose and the palate), the earthy grain notes are a big surprise considering how long this has spent maturing. Lots of lumberyard on the nose, too — and it’s a bit on the sweaty side.

Again, the body is blazing hot and can stand up to a healthy amount of water to bring it down to a more workable alcohol level. I had it watered down to a very pale gold before I could really analyze the nuances of this whiskey. Grain remains the focus; toasty barley notes with a back-end of golden syrup, cloves, and some raisin notes. Time is a friend of the Single Cask, which helps some of the more rugged elements mellow. What I don’t really get is much of a rum influence. This is the essence of pure, unadulterated single malt through and through.

119.4 proof.

B+ / $130 / teelingwhiskey.com

Review: Uncle Bob’s Root Beer Flavored Whiskey

uncle bobsThe name should tell you all you need to know about Uncle Bob’s Root Beer Flavored Whiskey, a sourced whiskey (from parts unknown) that is flavored with natural root beer flavors.

The nose is straight-up Barq’s, sarsaparilla and licorice and lots of vanilla overtones. On the palate, a heavy syrup character takes hold, imbuing the spirit with deep notes of molasses, cinnamon, and classic anise. The sugar is strong here — and it may get to be a bit much after a glass. Uncle Bob might be a little more engaging with a little less sweetness and a little more bite, but as it stands it’s a fun little diversion from the flood of the usual flavored vodkas and whiskeys. Definitely worth sampling, particularly at this price.

70 proof.

B / $18 / unclebobswhiskey.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 21 Years Old

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle Shot

Last year, Rhetoric 20 Years Old launched and found a foothold as one of the best releases of its Orphan Barrel project to date. But Rhetoric 20 was just the beginning. That was the first volley in a series of Rhetorics that will launch every year, each a year old, culminating with Rhetoric 25 in 2019.

All the whiskeys are made from the same mashbill, at the same distillery (Bernheim), and are likely to be bottled around the same 90 proof. The only difference here is age: Each year, one year older. Just like you, actually.

Comparing Rhetoric 21 Year Old side by side with the Rhetoric 20 Year Old, it is immediately less sharp and less citrusy on the nose. Rhetoric 20 offers some pungent alcohol notes at the start, while Rhetoric 21 is remarkably smoother around the edges and more “ready to go” out of the gate.

On the palate, Rhetoric 21 offers a bit more dusky spice, and offers a more leathery palate with a woody edge, featuring clear black and red pepper notes on the tongue. That woody element is clear, but it’s not overwhelming in the least, giving the whiskey a bolder vanilla profile with some banana and coconut notes thrown in for good measure.

I enjoyed Rhetoric 20 but have to say that Rhetoric 21 is an incremental and quite delightful improvement — and a considerably different experience. Now in very limited release.

A / $100 / diageo.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Here’s what’s hard to believe: Jack Daniel’s has never released a barrel strength whiskey. That’s changing, with the release of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, the company’s first-ever cask strength offering.

The whiskey isn’t a terribly complicated idea: Take the JD Single Barrel Select (which we only just reviewed a few weeks ago) and don’t water it down. Single Barrel is a consistent 94 proof, but these are bottled at whatever the cask gives you, ranging from 125 to 140 proof, depending on the bottle you get.

Naturally, we can only review the sample we received, and individual bottles are going to vary widely. As for this bottling, it’s an easy winner. The nose offers maple syrup, caramel sauce, and a little barrel char. On the body, it doesn’t drink like something that is 2/3rds alcohol. In fact, it really needs no water at all to be approachable, though less seasoned whiskey drinkers may want to add a splash. The palate is rich with more of that caramel, butterscotch, a touch of cloves and a lengthy, vanilla-fueled finish. Big, bold body — but it’s not overpowering in the slightest. The char isn’t overly evident here, which lets the sweetness really shine. All told, it’s a fantastic whiskey that stands as arguably the best thing ever to come out of the JD empire.

Reviewed: Warehouse 2-45, 4th floor. 133.7 proof.

A / $65 / jackdaniels.com