Category Archives: Bourbon

Review: Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon

Bookers 25th 525x1187 Review: Bookers 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon

If Colonel Blanton is the Louis Armstrong of the bourbon world, there is no question that that bellowing, boisterous Booker Noe is its John Coltrane. His larger-than-life presence dominated the bourbon world during a time when personalities were less idolized than today. So it is most appropriate that on the silver anniversary of creating the small batch bearing his name, an amplified version of the original Booker’s arrives for consideration.

(Before we begin, it should be mentioned that in 2012 our editor in chief recently placed kindred bourbon Baker’s above Booker’s in a blind taste test. That would not have happened with your faithful author. Booker’s is easily my favorite thing to originate from Team Beam, and one of my top go-to bourbons went introducing new folks to the spirit. Chris’s comments on Booker 25 are at the bottom of the review.)

What’s different? Whereas most Booker’s hovers around the 6-7 year mark at about 125-127 proof, this 25th anniversary edition clocks in at 10 years, 3 months and 130.8.  These were the last of the barrels Booker personally oversaw, and Beam master distiller/son-of-a-Booker Fred Noe wished for something special: an uncut, unfiltered no frills beast of bourbon with a deluxe upgrade in packaging and presentation. The dark colors, gold ornamentation, and wooden box are equally enjoyable to stare at while taking everything in. The presentation does the product justice.

However, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and this certainly delivers. The extra years of aging certainly make a difference, with a nose heavier on the oak and a bit of pepper to make its presence felt. The taste is straightforward and demanding, very hot with resonant notes of cinnamon, cayenne, leather and tobacco all mixed in leading up to a smoky finish which holds for quite some time. Actually, it really doesn’t hold. Much like a good Coltrane solo, it keeps the listener braced and gripped attentively, while waiting patiently for the eventual rest in the hope of starting the experience all over again.

The only real drawback is the cost of admission. I found my bottle at a local store for a whopping $100 plus tax. The price point is questionable. Four Roses 125th Anniversary edition and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection are priced lower. That bit of trivia aside, it stands head and shoulders above any new product Beam has introduced in recent years. Making a separate annual release at this age and proof would be another welcome addition to an already growing, soon-to-be Suntory stable. However, at an edition of around 1000 cases, this will be here, gone and on black market auction sites before too long, so if you’re hesitating: Don’t.

This is Booker’s masterpiece.  It’s a beautiful sun-setting encore — a time-released final farewell from one of the greatest titans to ever run a distillery, and a heartfelt love letter from a son to a father.

Chris says: As Rob alludes, this is remarkably different stuff than standard-grade Booker’s. While Booker’s pours on the heat and never lets up — even with water — Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition is full of nuance — even without water. In lieu of the brash chocolate-covered-plum character (how I’m describing it today) of standard Booker’s, Booker’s 25 comes across as nuanced and layered. At proof I get notes of rich caramel, cinnamon toast, cafe au lait, and Fred Noe’s flop sweat (just kidding!). A little water amplifies the wood notes, particularly on the finish. I’m with Rob on his rating, and might even kick it up to a full A, even at $100. (GOOD LUCK!) And I still love Baker’s. -Ed.

130.8 proof. Edition of 1000 cases.

A- / $100 / smallbatch.com

Recipe: Booker’s Bourbon Cocktails

Bookers 450x1200 Recipe: Bookers Bourbon CocktailsWhen we approached Beam for a few ideas for mixing Booker’s Bourbon in a cocktail, they were caught off guard. Apparently, no one’s really requested them before. So Beam got together with resident mixologist Bobby G, who hit up a few friends to contribute some ideas. All of these recipes aside, we’re going to side with Fred Noe, who believes the best way to drink Booker’s is “any damn way you please.”

Clermont Smash
Courtesy of Tony Abou-Ganim
1.50 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
.75 oz. falernum syrup
10-12 spearmint leaves
3 dashes Fee Brother’s Peach Bitters
1.50 oz. fresh lemon sour

In a mixing glass muddle the spearmint leaves with falernum syrup, add remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice and stir. Rub a wedge of pineapple around the rim of glass and garnish with pineapple wedge and a sprig of mint.

Dalton Cocktail
In honor of Jerry Dalton, Former Master Distiller Jim Beam
1.25 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
.50 oz. Laird’s Applejack
.25 oz Grand Marnier
1.50 oz. fresh sour
.25 oz. falernum syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice until well blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a burnt orange peel and drop a cherry into cocktail. Cut a small half dollar size piece of orange peel with as little pith as possible. Hold peel between thumb and forefinger about 4” above cocktail. Hold match between peel and cocktail squeeze peel sharply to release oils into flame.

The River Styx
1.50 oz Booker’s Bourbon
.50 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
4 1″ pieces of fresh pineapple
3” sprig of fresh rosemary (stripped of the bottom 2”)
.50 oz blood orange or pomegranate syrup

In a mixing glass muddle the pineapple and the rosemary. Add all remaining ingredients except the syrup and shake vigorously with ice. Double strain the cocktail over the ice in a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a half moon slice of orange and the remaining 1” of the rosemary sprig.

Tangerine Julep
1.50 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
½ fresh tangerine cut and muddled with peel
6-10 fresh mint leaves
.50 oz simple syrup

Muddle the mint and tangerine with the simple syrup in a double Old Fashioned glass. Fill glass with cracked ice and add Booker’s Bourbon. Stir to combine, garnish with a mint sprig.

Kentucky Lemon Drop
1.25 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
.50 oz. limoncello
2.0 oz. fresh lemon sour
5-6 fresh spearmint leaves

Shake all ingredients with ice until well blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with an optional sugared rim. Garnish with a lemon wheel. The little pieces of mint that should be floating around in the cocktail are little bursts of flavor that is considered good luck if you get one.

Booker’s Apple
1.5 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
2.0 oz. fresh pressed apple juice
1.0 oz. fresh lemon sour

Build over ice in a tall glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon Whiskey

whistling andy 198x300 Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon WhiskeyUp next, craft distilling comes to… Montana. The curiously-named Whistling Andy offers this new, all-local bourbon (the state’s first) made from 100% Montana-grown grains. A unique blend of corn, barley, wheat, and rye is used for the mashbill, which is triple-distilled in pot stills, then aged for three years in medium-char new oak barrels.

The nose is instantly exotic and more than a little weird, a combination of big cereal grains, burnt marshmallow, campfire ashes, and Listerine. The body features the hallmarks of young whiskey, lots of fresh-cut grain character, popcorn, and toasty — but not creamy — caramel notes. The finish hints at fresh-cut apples and hazelnuts, but these are just wisps of flavor that quickly get away from you. All told, Whistling Andy is a whiskey that’s still trying hard to integrate its grain and wood components but hasn’t yet found its sweet vanilla core. It sure does wear its promise on its sleeve, though. Look me up in 2017.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. Fun fact: The company’s mash tanks was formerly used in an Eskimo Pie factory.

B- / $42 / whistlingandy.com

Review: Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon

belle meade bourbon 200x300 Review: Nelsons Green Brier Belle Meade BourbonA craft distillery is reborn in Nashville, Tennessee… and they’re putting “the B word” on the label!

Belle Meade is, as the story goes, a relaunch of a pre-Prohibition bourbon brand that was owned by one Charles Nelson. Today, two of his great-great-great grandsons are bringing the brand back, with the goal of producing small batch whiskey that approximates their ancestor’s recipe.

That’s the idea, anyway. At present, this is high-rye, slightly overproof bourbon (no age statement) sourced from Indiana’s MGP, in advance of the Nelsons finishing up their own on-site distillery, hopefully sometime this year. Instead, Belle Meade is something of a first volley to get investors’ — and drinkers’ — palates wet.

As for the juice, it’s got a quite mild nose, offering notes of applesauce, cinnamon, and grapefruit skins alongside straightforward wood barrel character. On the palate, the body is moderate with that rye giving off a lot of baking spice, mint chocolate, and cedar wood planks. On the whole it’s pleasant and balanced but a little on the thin side, coming up just a little short in the power department.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $39 / greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2004 Vintage

evan williams single barrel 2004 446x1200 Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2004 Vintage

Evan Williams’ annual Single Barrel release is always a cause for celebration. It’s invariably a great whiskey, and it’s also incredibly affordable. While your typical vintage-dated single barrel bourbon will run you $75 or more, Evan Williams Single Barrel is currently priced at $27 a bottle. (Last year’s price: $26.) If you see this whiskey for sale — no matter what vintage it is — buy it.

Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam says he was taking a cue from the evolving national palate this year and was bottling a spirit that was “maybe a bit more assertive and bold than in years past,” choosing barrels aged high in the warehouse (where temperature fluctuates the most) for about 9 1/2 years.

Frankly, I don’t get assertive from this bourbon, though it is certainly a knockout. The nose offers plenty of wood, but it’s balanced and pretty, lightly perfumed with vanilla and cinnamon notes — a serious aroma, but a lively one. On the palate, plenty of spice — more cinnamon and cloves — is met by some orange oil, touches of licorice, ample vanilla caramel, and plenty of lumberyard on the back end.

All in all, the 2004 vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel fits in with this long-running series’ house style, and it perhaps offers a ever-so-slightly burlier-than-usual character on the finish. Either way, it’s incredibly easy to enjoy, and well worth its embarrassingly reasonable investment.

86.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1.

A- / $27 / evanwilliams.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Eleven

Round 11 of Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project” experiment is here. In case you haven’t been with us for, oh, the last three years of this extravaganza, it’s designed to find the Holy Grail of just what is responsible for the perfect glass of whiskey.

Previous rounds can be found here:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten

This round looks primarily at warehouse type, once of the most ephemeral of the Single Oak Project variables. The company has two iconic types of warehouse, one (Warehouse K in this experiment) made of brick with wooden floors, and one (Warehouse L) made of brick with concrete floors. Wooden floors allow for better air flow from one level to another, but offers higher variation in climate from the bottom floors to the top ones. Concrete has OK air flow due to windows, but offers more consistency, with slower temperature changes. Neither warehouse is necessarily “better”… or is it? Wood grain and recipe (rye vs wheat) changed throughout this round, as well.

Variables remaining the same are char level (#4), tree cut (top half of tree), stave seasoning (6 months), and entry proof (105).

Overall, this is a very good batch, with a few exceptional whiskeys to be found in it — particularly Barrel #179 — and and almost none I wouldn’t at least cautiously recommend. Speaking of which, BT hasn’t released any additional news about which experimental release is in the lead, based on consumer reviews.

Thoughts on round 11 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #19 – Racy, powerful nose. On the palate, restraint rules the day, with more raw, wood oil notes ruling the day. Light touches of cinnamon, licorice, and popcorn dance on the finish, none of which is overwhelmingly in balance or intriguing. B- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #23 – A good slug of spice on the nose… once you push through a bit of heat. Beyond, you’ll find an impressive spirit, filled with vanilla, some cocoa and coffee bean notes, and a soothing woodiness to back it up. Long and sweet on the finish, it’s a beautiful sipper that belies its rustic nose. A top pick of this series. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #51 – Cherry up front on the nose, with strong brewed tea notes — an interesting combination. The body alas doesn’t hit on all fronts, some of the more traditional Bourbon elements — vanilla and spice — pushed away by some more astringent notes in the finish. (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #55 – Slightly skunky, almost muddy on the nose. The body’s a bigger success — with caramel and chocolate notes galore — offering a rich and almost dessert-like experience. Hard to connect that to the weird nose, though. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #83 – Hard to parse on the nose, the aromas are closed off but heaviest on basic wood notes. The body is on the simple side — sweet, melted caramels, a touch of raisin. Completely agreeable. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #87 – Big nose, offering menthol character with a lot of heat… and a touch of chocolate. The body is surprisingly rich and creamy, with sultry cinnamon and coffee bean notes, and a kind of cafe au lait finish. Surprising and unusual, with its powerful nose and exotic body. I like it quite a bit. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #115 – Heavy wood on the nose, but the sweetness on the body offers respite, and balance. This is one of this project’s few whiskeys with a clear grain-and-popcorn character, indicating it could stand a few more years in barrel… maybe more. Curious raspberry tea notes on the finish add fun. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #119 – Traditional nose, a bit dusty. Lemon peel/lemongrass character comes along on the body, but otherwise it’s a Bourbon that exudes wood over just about everything else. Not a standout here. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #147 – Tightly wound. This is at first a tougher bourbon, bound up with oak staves and sawdust. But the finish comes along with a curious cookie character — pecan sandies, anyone? — that adds nuance and a touch of intrigue. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #151 – Pure wood on the nose, with some cinnamon lacing, perhaps. The body is sweet at first, giving way to a hefty wood character that builds and builds to a slightly astringent finish. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #179 – Classically structured. Deep wood impregnated with vanilla on both the nose and the palate. The body is velvety, the finish long and chocolaty. Interesting notes of marshmallow and licorice here and there. Lots to explore. An easy winner for this installment — and the series as a whole. (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #183 – Ripe banana meets wood on the nose. On the tongue: Incredibly sweet, which makes it incredibly drinkable, but almost puts it on par with a Cognac over a traditional Bourbon. Would love to see a touch more austerity from this, but could easily sip on it for days. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished and Port Finished Bourbons

Abraham Bowman digitized Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon 525x911 Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished and Port Finished Bourbons

Two new expressions recently arrived from our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman, both specially-finished Bourbons bottled under the Abraham Bowman line. Thoughts follow.

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon – This whiskey starts with 6-year old Bowman Brothers Bourbon. It is then transferred into old Bowman barrels which have, in the intervening years, been used to age Hardywood Brewery Gingerbread Stout for 12 months. The 6-year old spirit spends an extra two months in these Bourbon-Stout barrels, then four more months in regular, used Bourbon barrels. Got all that? Whew! The whiskey itself is fun stuff. Hot up front, it settles down to reveal ample spiciness, gingerbread character to be sure, with plenty of cinnamon and cloves. The sweetness emerges — comes on strong, really — in the finish, offering caramel apple (emphasis on the caramel) notes with touches of sawdust at the very end. While surprisingly young at heart and in structure, there’s still plenty of “old soul” character here to recommend it. 90 proof. B+/ $70

Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon (2013) - As with the above, this Bourbon is finished in barrels that began as Bowman whiskey barrels, then were used to age local Virginia Port wine for 15 months. 12 year old Bowman Brothers Bourbon is then aged in these used Port barrels for another four months before bottling. (If you’ve encountered this whiskey before, a prior bottling released in 2012 was quite different: an 8 year old whiskey that spent 8 months in Port barrels from a different winery.) As for 2013, big wood notes dominate the nose, with chocolate coming to the forefront after a time in glass. This chocolate syrup character becomes evident on the palate, alongside some intense vanilla extract notes, a touch of orange peel, and more wood. As the whiskey develops it begins to exhibit some mildly raisin-like Port wine notes, but they’re kept in check by some very old Bourbon stock underneath them. All in all this is an interesting spirit, but my hunch is that the 2012 — with younger base whiskey and more time in Port barrels — was a little more fleshed out. 100 proof. B / $70

asmithbowman.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Stave Drying Time Experiments

buffalo trace Stave Drying experiment 525x517 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Stave Drying Time Experiments

When trees are cut down and turned into lumber, the wood planks are dried, or “seasoned,” by leaving them out in the open air. After a few months, the wood has lost enough of its oiliness to allow the staves to be turned into barrel planks. (If the wood isn’t dried at all, the moisture will likely lead to significant barrel leakage.)

But stave drying also has effects on the way the bourbon tastes — impacting how the whiskey is absorbed into the wood, and the amount and types of tannins, sugars, and other chemicals that are released into the spirit.

For this Experimental Collection release, Buffalo Trace focused on the very narrow variable of stave-drying time. The distillery normally dries its staves for six months. That’s the “control” in this experiment. For comparison, some wooden staves were dried for 13 months before being turned into barrels. Both were then coopered and filled with the same new make spirit (BT’s rye mash #1), and aged for 15 years. Both are bottled at 90 proof. New wood vs. old… which makes a better bourbon? Thoughts follow.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Standard Stave Dry Time – Proof that you needn’t mess with a winning formula. 15 year old rye-heavy bourbon in all its glory, full of vanilla and caramel character, and touched with orange oil, cloves, and cinnamon. Great balance, and incredibly well-rounded, this is just a great, well-aged bourbon that finds everything firing on all cylinders. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Extended Stave Dry Time - Hotter on the nose, with clear mint notes. Punchy, with much stronger orange fruit notes and a finish that is reminiscent of balsa wood. The vanilla is kept in check, with just hints of caramel. A racier spirit but one that starts to spiral out of balance. Amazingly instructive in how a small thing can impact a spirit in such a major way. B+

$46.35 each (375ml bottles) / buffalotrace.com

Review: Breaker Bourbon

breaker bourbon 478x1200 Review: Breaker Bourbon

The town of Buellton, California is better known as part of the Sideways-famed Southern California wine road. But it turns out they’re making whiskey there, too.

Breaker Bourbon is sourced whiskey from our good friends in Indiana, crafted from barrels at least 5 years old. Each batch is a blend of just 8 barrels of whiskey, which makes this pretty small batch stuff, to be sure. There’s no word on the original mashbill, but it’s made from a clearly typical mix of corn/barley/rye, not wheat.

This is easy sippin’ Bourbon, with some surprising nuance to it. The nose is slightly corny, with quiet vanilla behind it. The palate is where this spirit shines. It starts with caramel corn, then takes off with notes of taffy, Sugar Babies, graham crackers, and some menthol. Lots going on here, but it’s all in the same microverse, and the balance is spot on. Fairly soft for most of the way, the finish brings the burlier wood component to the forefront along with a touch of licorice, and the higher proof ensures the whiskey stays with you for a long while. This is an excellent fireside sipper, and overall a solid example of what Bourbon can be, even when it’s bottled on the other side of the country.

Reviewed: Batch #3, bottle #242. 90 proof.

Update: Breaker offers some additional production information: “True we source barrels and they are corn, rye, and malted barley.  What happens when they arrive at our distillery is what we believe has the most impact on the bourbon before our skilled distiller creates his small-batch blends.  Being located in Buellton we have coastal humidity that rolls down the Santa Rita Hills through the evening and early morning. During the days the temperature increases daily between 40-50 degrees. The barrels breathe very heavy and our friends at Cal Poly tell us we age about 4 times faster than they do in Kentucky.  We blend and barrel each batch in Buellton.”

A- / $40 / ascendantspirits.com

Review: Tatoosh Bourbon

tatoosh bourbon 3 years old Review: Tatoosh BourbonTroy Turner opened Tatoosh Distillery in 2009 in Seattle, citing his bootlegger and moonshiner ancestors as inspiration. Now Turner is producing whiskey, based he says on a hundred-year-old recipe, using local ingredients. (No Indiana-made stock here!)

The mashbill isn’t a shocker: 70% corn, 15% rye, and 15% malted barley. The mash is distilled in a hybrid pot/column still, then aged in 47-gallon new oak barrels with a #3 char for three years. The final product is bottled at 80 proof and is not chill-filtered. (Finishing and bottling take place in Bend, Oregon.)

And so, on to the experience. The nose is surprisingly mild, almost shockingly so. Very mild popcorn character, slight notes of caramel, vanilla, and leather. The palate sticks closely to this formula, coming across as one of the mildest whiskeys I’ve ever encountered. The gossamer body features all of the above, plus whispers of chocolate and fresh cut apple, and a touch of cinnamon on the back end. The whole thing fades away in seconds, almost like sipping an iced tea.

I’m hard-pressed to recall a whiskey that has had an impression like this on me, so mild and simple, yet I can’t say it isn’t a well-made, quality whiskey. While my personal preference runs to deeper, more intense bourbons, some may find the more easygoing style of Tatoosh more to their liking. Plus, it’s super fun to say.

B / $54 / tatooshdistillery.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon

jim beam single barrel 525x1008 Review: Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon

It’s hard to believe Jim Beam doesn’t already have a single barrel offering under the Beam name, but I suppose the vast array of premium whiskeys the company makes (some of which are single barrel) — including Knob Creek, Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and more — have fit that bill rather well over the years.

Now Beam is finally filling that hole, as the Jim Beam brand has moved upscale, by giving it its own Single Barrel edition. Drawn from hand-selected barrels of Beam stock (the company says less than 1% of barrels qualify for Single Barrel bottling), the bourbon is bottled with no age statement, presumably because it varies from bottle to bottle. Otherwise, what’s in Single Barrel, at least from a mashbill standpoint, is likely the same as you’d find in any bottle of white label Jim Beam, only bottled at a higher proof.

So on to the review. The nose of Jim Beam Single Barrel is ripe with dense wood (a bit sawdusty) and flecked with orange peel notes. The palate offers more traditional bourbon notes — lots of vanilla and caramel, modest wood notes, and plenty of popcorn character coming along later in the body. Here the wood element is well-integrated into the rest of the spirit, offering a distinct oakiness that isn’t overwhelming or hoary. The higher alcohol level isn’t particularly pushy, offering a slightly sharper character without an overwhelming amount of burn. I’d say it’s just about right, giving Single Barrel a somewhat rustic, frontier character, while still offering a refined drinking experience.

95 proof. Available March 2014. Reviewed from pre-release sample (no barrel number available).

A- / $35 / jimbeam.com

Review: Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon and Marionberry Whiskey

burnsidebottle small 525x701 Review: Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon and Marionberry Whiskey

We’ve covered Portland-based Eastside Distillings’s masterful Burnside Double Barrel Bourbon before. Today we’re looking at a couple of its other products, including the 4 year old straight bourbon which Double Barrel is based on. Thoughts follow.

Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon 4 Years Old – Youthful, but not brash or underdone, this is a fruity example of a craft bourbon. The nose offers cinnamon-dusted apples, vanilla, and a little citrus character — oranges, mainly. Along with all of the above, more of that citrus comes through on the body, perhaps with a little mango on top of it. It’s not until the finish mostly that the mashbill makes itself, offering a gentle grain character that offers spicy rye notes and a cereal-like finish. Frosted Flakes, though, not Grape Nuts. Solid mouthfeel thanks to its 96 proof bottling strength. B+ / $25

Eastside Distilling Marionberry Whiskey – Eastside’s whiskey (it doesn’t say which) flavored with local Oregon marionberries and bottled at a slim 60 proof. A pretty maroon in color, surprisingly woody on the nose. Ample fruitiness on the palate — think strawberries, with just a touch of blueberry in there too — but tempered with some of whiskey’s fresh vanilla. Still, the finish is quite sugary and overwhelmingly jammy. That’s not a slight, but this is a far different drinking experience than the typical bourbon fan might be accustomed to. B / $34

eastsidedistilling.com

Review: Big House Bourbon and Big House Tupelo Honey

big house bourbon 153x300 Review: Big House Bourbon and Big House Tupelo HoneyUnderdog Spirits, in Livermore, California, brings you these two spirits, crafted to order by LDI. For the base bourbon, the 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley mashbill is aged for 6 years before bottling. Thoughts follow.

Big House Straight Bourbon Whiskey – At first blush, there’s quite a harsh nose here; I get some mint notes, but there’s also quite a bit of astringency that takes a long while to blow off. Eventually it does, leaving behind a somewhat racy, spicy, but curiously unstructured aroma. The body is fortunately more traditional, with huge vanilla caramel notes and ample sweetness. The short, lightly woody finish offers hints of roasted coffee beans. All in all it’s nothing shocking, but at this price (and 90 proof at that) it probably needn’t be. 90 proof. B / $17

Big House Tupelo Honey – The honey-flavored version of same. The much lighter color makes you think this will be heavy on the honey, but that’s not the case. It’s lighter primarily because it’s considerably lower in proof — 70 proof vs. Big House’s 90 proof. The honey is in fact dialed back, way back. The syrupy goodness is almost non-evident on the nose, and on the body it feels just barely there, added with an eyedropper perhaps. This approach works quite well with Big House, adding a more interesting sweetness that goes partway in correcting the above’s candy-focused character, but it’s so dialed down that you never get the sickly sweetness you can encounter with many other renditions of this whiskey classic.  As honey-flavored whiskeys go, Big House pulls this one off surprisingly well. B+ / $20

bighousebourbon.com

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parkers ALS Promise of Hope Bottle Shot 103x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) - Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013′s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream gin 135x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka - Pau Maui Vodka ($30) - An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Bottle and Packaging 2012 port finish 300x200 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) - Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon Lineup

With Pappymania 2013 reaching a fever pitch, we figured we would review some wheated bourbon alternatives to satisfy those not fortunate enough to get their hands on a bottle so they could re-sell it for simply ludicrous prices.

WSR 145x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller Special Reserve - Formerly carrying a 7 year old age statement (Buffalo Trace has since removed the age statement on the label, though claim it’s still aged around the same span of time), this is the value edition of the trio, clocking in at about $12. However, unlike most lower shelf bourbons, the quality isn’t really sacrificed here. A very honey and vanilla infused nose turns into a mellow palate, with traces of caramel and cinnamon. There’s a sharp, almost peppery burn at the end, which punches and fades away quickly. 90 proof. B / $12

107 141x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupOld Weller Antique 107 – The middle child often gets unfairly overlooked, and Weller is no exception. Weller Antique has been a mainstay on the shelf for an every-day bourbon for quite some time, with really good quality at an affordable price point. The nose has a bit more cinnamon and molasses than Special Reserve, and less vanilla than the 12-year edition. The taste brings the heat without too much emphasis on the alcohol. Get on the train before the fare increases and goes the way of its older sibling, the 12 year. 107 proof. A- / $22

weller 12yr 142x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller 12 Years Old – The one that many folks in the know have lovingly christened “baby Pappy” (close in age, same mash bill) has garnered quite a following itself, with supply so low it’s only being offered semi-annually if you’re lucky. There’s a heavy dose of vanilla from start to end, which is accentuated by oak and cinnamon in the palate. The finish is sharper and lingers a bit more than its siblings, with more smoke and char for a finale. A raised proof could make it a serious contender and increase its fan base. Definitely worth picking up should one spot a bottle in their local store. 90 proof. A- / $26

buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Cabin Still Bourbon Whiskey

CabinStill 200x300 Review: Cabin Still Bourbon WhiskeyAfter my initial voyages to the bottom of the shelf with JW Dant and Kentucky Gentleman, I reasoned my exploratory adventure should further continue with another value bourbon.

Cabin Still was originally part of a line at the now legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery, along with W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, and Rebel Yell. The brand name was purchased in 1993 by the Heaven Hill distillery at the same time as JW Dant and has remained in the company’s portfolio for the past two decades. It doesn’t really get the respect it deserves — not even a mention of it on Heaven Hill’s brands page.  That’s a shame because at 36 months in age, this is not a bad bottle, especially when considering it has a purchase point of around $10.

The initial nose has faint hints of oak and butterscotch, and the taste keeps the oak resonating throughout with a wee bit of alcohol burn at the end. There isn’t much of a finish to it, and the whole experience is restrained at best. There’s little to no lingering to be had on the finish whatsoever, whether tried neat or on the rocks.

Unlike the beautifully detailed artwork on the outside, Cabin Still isn’t elaborate or complex but serves its purpose well when mixed with cola, and I’m sure it could serve as a fine mixer for any other drink in which bourbon is required. I’m told by elder sages of the Kentucky Bourbonati that pre-Heaven Hill versions of this brand taste far superior to today’s edition, almost akin to a 12 year old WL Weller.

$9 / B / no website (c’mon Heaven Hill, where is the love?)

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2013

WhiskyFest 2013 is now in the books, and my what an embarrassment of riches this show was. While I heard grousing about the show not having as many hits as usual (most of the independent Scotch bottlers like Samaroli were absent), I managed to find a ton of them. Driven this year perhaps by a ruthless attempt to avoid lesser products (one industry bigwig, with all seriousness, suggested I give Johnnie Walker Red Label a try), it didn’t take much doing to suss out some really great whiskeys being poured. Who can complain when Julian Van Winkle is pouring his best stuff, after all?

It was quite the global event this year, with numerous whiskeys from Japan, Canada, and Ireland on tap that you don’t normally see at shows. And more and more craft distillers, like Masterson’s and Smooth Ambler, are taking to shows to give people a taste of something new.

Anyway, as usual it was a great evening with old friends and new ones – both of the whiskey and the human variety. Thoughts follow.

American Whiskey / Bourbon
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Ten / A- / some menthol, caramel with a dusty finish
Masterson’s 12 Year Wheat / A- / big wood, cherries, a fun whisky
Masterson’s 10 Year Barley / C- / funky mint and rubber notes, unripe banana, not at all to my liking tonight
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit / A- / lovely sweetness without being saccharine, tried just to say hi to Jimmy and Eddie Russell, both pouring
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / a new limited edition from JD, the same spirit but aged in barrels that have been “grooved” with extra cuts to expose more wood surface; as expected, this is like JD, but woodier; not bad at all
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Years Old / A / still maturing, with a little burn
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Years Old / A+ / Pappy at its best, raisins, wood, big body… just perfect
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A / you can finally see the age on this spirit at 23, where the balance is just starting to turn toward too much wood

Scotch Whisky
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / B / chewy barley and rubber bands
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 Years Old / A- / cake, nuts, smoke, malt
Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice / A+ / best spirit at the show, aged in American oak for 21 years, then finished in Chateau Yquem barrels; liquid gold, sweet and savory in perfect balance
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 22 Years Old / B+ / always a funky expression, bristly and huge this year, with a smoky, old-world character
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 / A- / is Octomore losing its ability to shock me? This struck me as plenty peaty but not overdone, with evergreen and charcoal notes
Buchanan’s Red Seal / A- / Buchanan’s first WhiskyFest; a peaty blend with some citrus and sweetness, good balance
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition / B+ / a new release from Cutty; very mild, surprisingly malty, with fresh grain and wood notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1973 / A / hearty sherry character, drinking beautifully
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1983 / B / dusty with lots of wood; couldn’t be more different than the ‘73
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend / B / overcooked, unthrilling
Compass Box Delilah’s 20th Anniversary Limited Edition / B+ / bottled as a tribute to a famed Chicago area bar, matured partly in new oak barrels (rare for Scotch); bourbon-like character, peppery with lots of wood, caramel notes

Irish Whiskey
Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve / A / always a standout, this beautiful bottling (~26 years old) features lovely spicy notes beneath a sweet core
Midleton Barry Crockett Edition / A- / a vatting of 7 to 22 year old spirits; more rustic than the Jameson, chewy grain notes, still fun

Canadian Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Years Old / A- / mellow, well developed, sultry finish
Lot No. 40 / B- / a 100% rye bottling, a powerhouse of rubber, pungent basil and cherry notes

Japanese Whiskey
Hakushu Heavily Peated / B+ / not at all “heavy” in my mind, good balance with citrus notes
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years Old / B+ / ample cereal notes
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / great balance of grain and honey, a standout

Brandy
Gran Duque De Alba XO 18 Years Old / A- / Spanish brandy; big coffee and licorice notes; intriguing and powerful
Gran Duque De Alba Oro 25 Years Old / B+ / a little overblown, same character as the XO, but just too much, too hoary

Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

colorados own corn whiskey 525x445 Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

Colorado continues to rise as a key craft distilling region. One of the vanguards is Colorado Gold, a company out of Cedaredge, which was established in 2007. The company makes a full range of spirits, and today we’re looking at two of its most popular ones, both whiskeys, and very different ones at that. Thoughts follow.

Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Young stuff, but quite engaging. Made from a mash of 65% corn, 15% rye, 10% wheat, and 10% malted barley, and aged for three years in a new char #3 American oak barrel. There’s ample wood on the nose, balanced with a touch of citrus, a bit of menthol. The body takes things to a similar place — a good slug of wood, mild caramel, with some dusty, coal-fire notes on the finish. Pleasant but not overly nuanced, this is a surprisingly simple bourbon, but with the often abrasive corn/grain notes you find in so many craft bourbons mercifully stripped out. There’s ample wood, but it’s balanced with clever touches of marshmallow, vanilla, and orange oil, turning slightly bitter as the finish fades. I’m both impressed and intrigued. 80 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #8, bottle #79, distilled 1/19/13. B+ / $43

Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey – Colorado Gold’s top selling product. Made from a mash of 85% corn, 10% wheat, and 5% malted barley and aged for 6 months in a fresh-dumped Colorado Gold (see above) bourbon barrel. This is lightly aged corn whiskey, emphasis on light — it’s got the barest shade of yellow tinting it. This is surprisingly easy to drink. It’s not at all harsh or overloaded with corn, rather a light and pleasant spirit that features simple vanilla caramel notes backed with touches of corn chips. A fruity character comes on in the finish — peaches, perhaps — before some dusty wood notes bring up the rear. Surprisingly fun stuff. 80 proof. B+ / $27

coloradogolddistillers.com

Review: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

Knob Creek Smoked Maple 525x794 Review: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

Finally, someone’s doing the maple-flavored whiskey thing right.

Let me step back. In general I’m ambivalent toward flavored whiskeys. I don’t much see the point, as if I wanted flavor with my whiskey I’d just mix up a cocktail. Still, shortcuts are shortcuts, and there’s something to be said for having your favorite mix pre-bottled and ready to go.

The reason for the success isn’t hard to see. This is overproof Knob Creek (normally 100 proof) with a fairly light touch of maple syrup flavor, instead of the all-too-common other way around: Syrup that’s had a dash of whiskey added to it. Even with the additions, Knob Creek Smoked Maple comes through at 90 proof, still well above the typical 70 to 80 proof you find in this category.

The results are impressive. While pancake syrup fills the room when you crack open the bottle (sealed with the traditional Knob Creek black wax), but that’s where the maple effect is its strongest. Nosing an aerated glass brings out Bourbon first, maple syrup considerably further down the list. On the palate, the mouthfeel is solid — a bit more gummy than straight whiskey, but plenty pleasant. The maple character is there, all right, making it tough to pick out specific notes in the Bourbon, but in the end, after the pancake party is over, I find myself left with citrus peel, marshmallow, ice cream cone, and toffee characters on the finish. The one thing I don’t get here: Smoked anything.

Now I’m the kind of guy who prefers pancakes with butter only, so for me to say Knob Creek’s Smoked Maple is a worthwhile product, even a rather good one, is like the Pope saying he isn’t going to judge gay priests. Er, wait a sec.

B+ / $31 / knobcreek.com

Review: Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon

ProductImages Kentucky Gentleman KSBW 80prf 1000ml Glass 1 525x786 Review: Kentucky Gentleman BourbonInitially I was apprehensive to even approach this long-standing brand, as the gentleman who stumbles down my street during his early morning commute usually has a pint of the stuff firmly fastened in hand. However, Kentucky Gentleman has recently earned the dubious cachet of being the “PBR of Bourbons” by the youth of today — meaning it is cheap yet still worth drinking as long as you do so ironically.

So it was with a “can do” spirit and a healthy surplus of denial that I’m no longer “with it” that I forked over $10 and bought myself 750ml of this Barton brand.

Madam, this is no gentleman. In fact, there were moments while forcing sips down my throat where I wasn’t fully certain how this concoction connected to the greater context of the bourbons I adore. A cursory glance at the back of the bottle revealed the answer: it’s actually 51% straight whiskey and 49% grain neutral spirits, so it leans closer to a blend than actual bourbon. That’s not to say there aren’t traces of bourbon lingering in the glass, because they’re here. Sort of. Hints of caramel and corn are present but only to announce that they’re drowning in a sea of alcohol and thick iced-tea colored silt.

There’s a certain practical joke quality in the misnomer of calling this Kentucky Gentleman — no gentleman from Kentucky with whom I’ve made acquaintance would actively procure and participate in drinking this spirit. And who knows? Maybe that’s the point of it all: to deflect folks from trying the good stuff. If true, that’s one of the few points where “KG” succeeds: to protect against newcomers hell-bent on upping market prices and hoarding limited editions for online trading and selling. In fact, I might just keep this on the shelf and serve it to the next annoying houseguest who asks me if they can try a sip of Pappy Van Winkle.

D / $10 / greatbourbon.com (…)