Category Archives: Bourbon

Review: Widow Jane “Heirloom Varietal” Bourbon Whiskeys

widow jane heirloom bourbons Review: Widow Jane Heirloom Varietal Bourbon Whiskeys

The Scots have messed around with single-varietal barley expressions of Scotch for years — so why not Bourbon? Does the type of corn used to make Bourbon make a difference, too?

You’d think this kind of experiment would be performed by the brain trust at Buffalo Trace, which never stops experimenting and releasing the results of those experiments for you and I to tipple on. But this experiment is being done, oddly enough, in the state of New York, by the good folks who make the impressive Widow Jane craft Bourbon.

This is not sourced whiskey, like Widow Jane’s 7 Year Old expression, but rather whiskey distilled right in Widow Jane’s Brooklyn-based stills. Three expressions are offered, one using Wapsie Valley corn, a hybrid of American Indian corn that was farmed in Iowa. The other varietal is Bloody Butcher corn, “bred by crossing Native American seeds with settlers’ white seeds around 1800, in the Appalachian mountains.” One of the Bloody Butcher varieties is a “high rye” expression, using the same corn. (More appropriately: the other variety is a “no rye” expression.)

All three of these are young spirits. No age statements are offered, but the mashbills are detailed exactly. All three are bottled at 91.8 proof. Thoughts, as always, follow.

Prices reflect 375ml bottles (gulp).

Widow Jane Wapsie Valley Single Expression Bourbon – 60% organic Wapsie Valley corn (mixed yellow and red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 25% rye. Nutty, almost smoky, with exuberant corn notes. The body starts off a bit brash and overpowering with popcorn notes, but these settle down a bit to reveal some notes of maple syrup and honey. That intense, smoky corn character lingers. B / $115

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher Single Expression Bourbon – 85% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley. How to put this? Even cornier, and smokier — with a touch of that maple syrup character. While the nose is a bit rougher (85% corn will do that), the body brings on ample sweetness, like a cola syrup, up front. Racy with spice, big cinnamon notes that do a good job at massaging some of the cornier notes and the rougher edges. A- / $125

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher High Rye Bourbon – 58% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 27% rye. Similar nose as the above, perhaps a bit gentler, with graham cracker and Bit-O-Honey notes. Cleaner on the body, too, which turns toward mint in the mid-palate, but finishes on the hot and indistinct side. B+ / $135

widowjane.com/heirloom/

Review: Millbrook Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Dutchess Private Reserve

millbrook distillery bourbon 240x300 Review: Millbrook Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Dutchess Private ReserveThat’s a mouthful of a name for this Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie area), New York-based spirit, a sourced whiskey made from a corn/rye/barley mashbill. Little else is disclosed, including age.

Woody on the nose, there’s depth here that recalls brandied cherries and Christmas cake. The body, however, is surprisingly sweet, with a distinct honey tone to it. Sultry, slightly earthy notes add body, with a fruity character (apples and plums, perhaps) providing some nuance. The finish veers a bit into wood oil territory, but on the whole it’s a well-balanced bourbon with lots to recommend it.

90 proof.

A- / $37 / millbrookdistillery.com

Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Garrison Brothers TxSBW Image 1 525x1167 Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Hye is one of those tiny towns that everyone from Texas (including myself) has heard of, but no one actually knows where it is. There it lies, on the road from Austin to Fredericksburg, and it’s here where Garrison Brothers is making some fine “micro” whiskey.

The brothers Garrison don’t disclose their exact mashbill on this, their flagship product, but it’s about 3/4 local corn (#1 Panhandle White, in case you’re curious), along with estate-grown wheat and malted barley (not local) making up the rest. At present, the whiskey is aged for two years in American oak barrels before bottling. But intriguingly, Garrison doesn’t just say that its product could change over time, rather the distillery insists that it will.

Garrison Brothers takes a vintage-based approach to whiskeymaking, insisting that each year’s product should be better than the last. That began with its first batch in 2008. Reviewed below is a bottle distilled in 2010 and released in Fall 2013 (bottle number 453). Garrison insists it should be better than the whiskey in 2009, just as the whiskey from 2011 should be an improvement over this. (As of late 2013, six different “vintages” had been released — more than one vintage is produced each year.) The only question is whether it can really deliver on that promise, which we hope to put to the test over the next decade or so. The company says it is now warehousing some 5000 barrels of product.

As for the whiskey we have here, it’s burly, frontier stuff with plenty of kick. The nose is strong with wood, lumberyard notes intermingled with hints of vanilla and caramel. The body reveals far more — eventually. That wood character is powerful up front, to the point where you wonder if that’s the whole show. It isn’t until the finish gets going where Garrison Brothers’ other characteristics begin to shine. As it’s but two years old, there’s plenty of youthful roasted corn here, but unlike many other young whiskeys, those notes are balanced with some more exciting, and more mature, flavors. There’s deep, almost burnt, caramel here, as well as brown butter, cloves, and some chili powder. This all develops more seamlessly and interestingly than you’d think — and all at the end. Give this whiskey ample time in the glass — Garrison recommends a cube of ice — and you’ll see the popcorn settle down and the other components really begin to build up.

Fun, fun stuff, although quite expensive for the drinker used to $25 bottlings from Kentucky. No matter: I’m looking forward to seeing the Garrison Brothers’ next act!

94 proof. Reviewed: Fall 2013 release.

A- / $75 / garrisonbros.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Buffalo Trace Rye Mash Entry Proof Family 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Rye Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsLast year, Buffalo Trace released a line of Experimental Collection bourbons put into barrel at various entry proofs.

As I explained back then: Entry proof describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is watered down a bit before barreling, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s wheeled into the warehouse.

This release differs from the last one in two ways. First, the white dog came off the still at 140 proof, not 130. Second, this recipe is BT’s rye bourbon mashbill (aka mash #1), not the wheated one from last year. Same as last time, though, this white dog was split into four batches, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 9 months in barrel, and when bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof. (These barrels were distilled, barreled, and bottled all around the same time as the wheated ones.)

Thoughts follow…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 90 Entry Proof – Light and airy, a candy bar of a whiskey with notes of cherry, nougat, and caramel. Finishes smoothly sweet and easy. Not a lot of complexity, but it makes up for it in delightful simplicity. This is one you could drink all day. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 105 Entry Proof – Much different on the nose, with wood-forward aromas and hints of baking spice and menthol. The body is generous and considerably more balanced than the nose would indicate. Caramel and orange are the major notes, with the burly woodiness coming on stronger on the end. A straightforward if unremarkable rendition of an older bourbon. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 115 Entry Proof – Racy on the nose, with Madeira and Port-like notes. Bold on the palate, with notes of sherry, clove-studded orange, and vanilla caramel on the finish. Great balance here, with a rich, well-rounded body. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 125 Entry Proof – This is BT’s standard entry proof, so should be closest to a typical Buffalo Trace mash #1 whiskey at this age. It’s a blazer on the nose, masking leather and wood notes with somewhat raw heat. It settles down with time, however, revealing a fairly traditional profile of vanilla, caramel, and milk chocolate, with some sawdust edges licking up on the back end. A fine effort but one that doesn’t really distinguish itself especially. B+

As with the rye experiments, this is again a fun exercise — and curiously I liked both the 90 proof and 115 proof expressions the best the last time out. Still, my hunch is that barrel variability probably has a bigger ultimate impact than entry proof does.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Bar Review: Hard Water, San Francisco

Hard Water, located on San Francisco’s waterfront just a block from the Ferry Building, is a tiny little place, a restaurant that serves Cajun cuisine and has no tables. Everyone sits either at the bar, a big horseshoe that juts out from the kitchen, or at a ledge around the walls. You’ll take your barstool and you’ll be thankful for it!

Hard Water isn’t particularly famous for its cuisine — which was very good in my encounter there — but rather for its specific devotion to Bourbon whiskey. The back bar, stretching to the ceiling, features over 300 bottles of the stuff, everything from plain old Buffalo Trace ($4/oz.) to Michter’s 25 Year Old ($150/oz.). The super-rare stuff, like Pappy Van Winkle, can only be ordered in flights. The current top shelf listing on the menu is 1/2 oz. each of  A.H. Hirsch 16 year old, Michters’s 20 year old 2012, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old 2009, and Rittenhouse 21 year old rye. Total price: $250 for 2 ounces of whiskey.

While the bar has some interesting cocktails on the list — the Presbyterian my wife ordered with Wild Turkey 101, lemon, ginger, and soda, was breezy and tart — I turned my attention to the exotic Bourbons on the list. You’d think with 300+ whiskeys listed there’d be plenty I hadn’t tried, but that wasn’t quite true. The few I hadn’t encountered were heavily focused on newer craft distillery releases… and “single barrel” releases that Hard Water had purchased from the big guys.

I focused my attention on these for the evening, ordering 1 oz. pours of Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (94 proof), Four Roses Hard Water Barrel (108.2 proof), and Willett 10 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (128.6 proof). (Well, I ordered the Weller Hard Water Barrel and was brought the Willett Hard Water Barrel, but such is life in a restaurant where we had other people’s orders misdelivered to us on two other occasions.)

None of these was more than $10 an ounce; the Elijah at $5 an ounce is an insanely good deal — the same price as Johnny Drum, for crying out loud!

Both the Willett and Elijah Craig were exceptional, the former a fireball loaded with wood and vanilla that really softened up and brought forth chocolate notes with a hearty splash of water (droppers are provided). The Elijah Craig was ready to go at 94 proof, a creamy caramel candy with mint, citrus, and cinnamon touches. The wild surprise was the Four Roses, a wholesale flop that is easily the worst 4R I’ve ever encountered. A 10 year old made from the OBSO mashbill (which I’ve never encountered in a single barrel or small batch release outside of the company’s standard offerings), this was a dead, flat, and dull whiskey. Herbal and earth notes dominated the body, and the finish was nonexistent. It’s hard to believe someone tasted through Four Roses’ inventory and picked this oddity as a signature barrel.

Whiskey tasting aside, my experience at Hard Water was modest and memorable more for its curiosity than its intrigue. The place is loud and dim, the food (and most of the drinks) overpriced, and the seating uncomfortable. Even the menu is tough to parse. Why have several dozen bottles of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project here if they aren’t really for sale? (It says “flight only” next to their listing… but no flight is listed.) I suppose those who are really determined will simply have to ask, and hope they don’t bring Smooth Ambler instead.

B / hardwaterbar.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard Bourbon

 Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard Bourbon

Everyone loves a good story, and to spin a good yarn around an original tale is becoming a talent synonymous with spirits industry. A brand simply can’t stand on its merits alone anymore. A successful product launch now requires no less than a multi-million dollar yacht, international release parties, the courtship of the tastemaker kings and queens, and a celebrity endorsement or five. However, nothing shines quite like a good lacquered coating of embellishment to make a product beam in the eyes of the unsuspecting and trustworthy. It is human nature and a constitutional right to amplify facts with the intent of impressing people. Once in high school, a certain writer once stretched a passing conversation with punk rock legend Ian MacKaye into a lunch of vegan tacos, Coca-Cola and a two-hour conversation about the future of his band Fugazi.

So it comes as no surprise that Diageo, dream weavers of the potentially-fictitious dream history of Bulleit, present the Orphan Barrel project: a new chapter in the company’s incredible alternate history of whiskey. If Diageo’s tale is true — some of a challenge in these dangerously murky marketing waters — these barrels were found aging in the mythological temple/warehouse known to Bourbon enthusiasts as the Stitzel-Weller distillery. According to the company, a very select and limited number of these barrels were picked to launch this new whiskey series, with more planning on being “discovered” throughout the forthcoming seasons.

Now it appears this long-lost S-W juice was actually made at the Bernheim distillery. The barrels also weren’t “lost,” they just never got used for their original intent. What was the original home intended for these barrels? Either Diageo doesn’t know (unlikely) or simply isn’t saying, which seems more likely. Why let those traveling down the yellow brick road get a peek at how the Wizard makes the sausage?

Either way, the barrels were shipped from S-W and bottled at the Dickel distillery in Tennessee, a state enjoying the attention and courtship of Diageo as of late. How many barrels? Good question. No one knows the answer to that either, but the edition numbers on the back of the bottles posted on the internet have now reached the 40,000 mark. Given how little would be left in each orphaned barrel at 20+ years of age, the number of barrels involved would have to be in the thousands, hard to “lose” and hardly qualifying as “limited edition” — unless you’re comparing it to the voluminous output of something like… say… Jack Daniel’s?

This lack of confidence on provenance combined with a balance inquiry at a local ATM were big sticking points as to whether or not we should purchase samples for review. Neither eager nor willing to shell out the $225 required for both bottles, a local establishment was pouring small samples for ladies and gentlemen who would otherwise shop the aisles for Kentucky Gentleman. $10.50 was the safer investment of the two options, it made sense to minimize risk and see what the buzz was about. As Chris is wont to say: “Thoughts follow.”

Barterhouse 20 Years Old – With more text on the bottle than a Russian novel, Diageo seems hellbent on cramming as many typographical flourishes as possible per label to remind the consumer of the epic saga they’ve purchased for their mantle, possibly to distract you from what’s inside. (It’s worth noting that Barterhouse’s mascot is a rather sly looking fox.) It’s incredibly sweet, with vanilla and butter on the nose, and soft on the palate, making it hard to even believe this is 20 years of age (with very little oak or sulfur on the taste). The finish is even weaker. Very easygoing and inoffensive, it would be a great starter bourbon for the uninitiated and those with ample money to spend. 90.2 proof. B- / $75

Chris says: I get more of a burnt toffee and considerable heat on the nose, with cinnamon and brown butter on the body. Kind of a weird balance of flavors, but a lot going on. I found this fun to explore, but difficult enough on the finish to make things a bit strange. My rating: B+

Old Blowhard 26 Years Old – A 26-year-old bourbon bearing the name of a cantankerous old man. I might be reading too much into the glass with the brand names here, but if I’m right Diageo isn’t being very subtle. It has a very strong presence right from the moment it lands in the glass. A nose of spices, cinnamon, and a touch of campfire smoke blend with a strong taste of toffee, vanilla, cloves, and a plentiful punch of oak. By comparison to Barterhouse (below), it has a much stronger and present finish with a nice burn of oak and alcohol. At $150, though, it’s hard to get excited on the cost versus quality scale of things. There are way better bourbons at this price point worth considering. That said, this is definitely the better of the two “orphan barrels.” 90.7 proof.  B / $150

Chris says: Quite a different animal. Cloves and peppermint on the nose. The body shows off big vanilla and toffee notes, but the finish turns a bit brutish, with a kind of heavily-flamed orange peel character. Becomes increasingly woody as it opens up in the glass. Intriguing. B+

With this new armada of orphan barrels, Diageo is placing bets on the casual consumer who enjoys higher end premium stuff and places as much stock on the envelope, paper, and penmanship as they do the contents of the letter. The kind of person who would purchase a $150 bottle of bourbon in order to subtly out-compete at the court of the well-heeled Keeneland’s clubhouse on opening day, or a tailgating affair at Churchill Downs in May. Much to the company’s credit, it sort of works. They’ve managed to put the fox in some very nice sheep’s clothing for the flock. However, in the end, the best consumer is one that is as well-informed as possible. Or as the song goes: “Never mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying.*”

Limited Edition of Ten Frillion, or whatever number Diageo wants.

diageo.com

*The author is well aware of the thick glaze of irony created by enlisting references to the traditionally sober, straight-edged and highly anti-corporate Fugazi in a whiskey review.

 [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Spring44 Straight Bourbon and Single Barrel Bourbon

SPRING44 WHISKEY TRANS 2 233x1200 Review: Spring44 Straight Bourbon and Single Barrel BourbonArguably known best for its honey-flavored vodka, Colorado-based Spring44 is jumping onto the whiskey bandwagon, with two new expressions of straight bourbon whiskey. As you might expect by their sudden appearance on the market, both are sourced whiskey from Kentucky (not Indiana), brought down to proof with Colorado water, and bottled in individually numbered bottles. The whiskey inside has aged for six-plus years, but mashbill information is not offered. Based on the cloudiness readily visible in the bottles, they are not chill-filtered, either. Thoughts follow.

Spring44 Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me since I know Spring44’s prior products, but I swear I get notes of honey on the nose just from cracking open the bottle. The nose offers classic bourbon notes — vanilla infused with deep wood character — but playing the game otherwise close to the vest. The body explodes with a melange of flavors: honey (I swear), butterscotch, cinnamon, and a sweet-tinged apple and pear character that builds on the finish. The finale is a bit too drying, but otherwise Spring44 has done a great job of finding some solid barrels to showcase. 90 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #3933. B+/ $40

Spring44 Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Presumably the same whiskey as the above, but drawn from a single cask and bottled at a higher alcohol level. Curiously different from the standard bottling right from the start, with a fruitier nose that keeps the wood components in check. Here you’ll find touches of tea leaf, cinnamon, mint, and even incense. The body is something else — a silky sweet delight, full of lush apple pie notes, deep honey, lots of vanilla, hot buttered rum, and even some unexpected red berry notes. Well balanced and drinking perfectly despite its high alcohol content, this is a bourbon that can stand up to about anything on the market in this age category. A real standout. 100 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #208. A / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

spring44.com

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