Review: Maker’s 46 Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark last year put out a widely acclaimed cask strength bottling of its standard Maker’s Mark bourbon. Naturally, a follow-up was in order: A cask strength rendition of Maker’s 46.

Same story as last time: This is a barrel proof version of Maker’s 46, which is takes standard Maker’s and puts extra charred-wood staves inside the barrel to give it a stronger wood influence. While Maker’s 46 is 94 proof, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength hits 108.9 proof. (It’s unclear whether this will change over time.)

The results offer some marked differences vs. standard 46. The nose starts off with charred wood notes, then leads into surprising sweetness: butterscotch, vanilla, and some cotton candy notes. Over time, some forest-like notes  The body also plays up the sweet stuff, integrating burnt caramel, more butterscotch, and loads of fruit that linger on the tongue for quite a while. It’s not as overtly woody as you’d expect — nor is it altogether racy despite the high alcohol content. I didn’t have trouble sipping it without water, though some agua does bring out an almost Christmassy element to the whiskey.

All told: It’s a solid offering from Maker’s that gives you one more way to enjoy this wheated classic.

Available only at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

Bottle photo to come.

B+ / $40 (375ml) /

Maker’s Mark Launches Avant Garde Single Barrel Program

Big news for Maker’s Mark fans today: A new Private Barrel program will let you create bespoke Maker’s — but it goes beyond letting you pick a barrel. Maker’s is going to let you choose the exact type(s) of wood to be used as extra staves in a finishing barrel where your chosen whiskey will rest for an extra 9 weeks before bottling. (Basically it’s the same process used for Maker’s 46, only with a variety of wood selections beyond basic charred oak.) With over 1000 wood finish combinations possible, who’s ready to start collecting Single Barrel Maker’s Mark bottlings by the dozens?

Here’s the full announcement.

Loretto, KY (October 6, 2015) – Maker’s Mark is bringing real innovation to the bourbon industry with a first-of-its-kind barrel program, Maker’s Mark Private Select. The new experience will allow retail customers to “make their own Maker’s” by finishing fully-matured cask strength Maker’s Mark Bourbon in a single barrel made up of their custom selection of oak staves. The program will kick off in limited release in November 2015, with bottled product available for sale by retail participants beginning March 2016.

Through the Maker’s Mark Private Select Experience, participants will have the opportunity to spend an immersive and educational day at the historic Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY, where they will roll up their sleeves and mirror the process used by Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. when he created Maker’s 46 in 2010.

“This innovative process of creating a personal expression of Maker’s Mark allows the customer to create a bourbon that wanders in some intriguing ways from our traditional taste profile, while still being distinctively Maker’s Mark,” stated COO Maker’s Mark Distillery, Rob Samuels. “We’ve never before given anyone this kind of access or opportunity to create their favorite version of Maker’s, but we’re excited to see what folks come up with and how they like to make their Maker’s when given the chance.”

As with Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Private Select will start with fully-matured Maker’s Mark straight out of the barrel. Participants will receive an in-depth immersion that illustrates the essential role that wood plays in the taste of bourbon, and will select their preferred combination of five types of wood staves with which to finish their custom Maker’s expression. This collection of oak staves – each accentuating different flavors found in fully-matured Maker’s Mark – includes Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice. With 1,001 possible stave combinations, participants can create a customized finish and taste profile that is uniquely their own.

After aging for nine additional weeks in a single barrel with the participants’ custom stave combination, the Maker’s Mark Private Select bourbon will be bottled, corked and dipped at cask strength with details such as proof and stave combinations handwritten on the label. Maker’s Mark Private Select Program will be available to Kentucky and Illinois based retailers in its first year and will be expanded to additional markets in 2016.

Review: Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon 6 Years Old

Bib-and-Tucker-BottleshotA newer part of the 35 Maple Street collection, Bib & Tucker is sourced bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky (sorry, Indiana!), in barrel for 6 years. No mashbill information is available.

The whiskey cuts a frontier style on the nose, hot and loaded with lumber notes, cut with vanilla and some rye-driven spice. The body follows suit, kicking off with intense wood, then wandering into notes of burnt citrus peel, leather, toffee, some green hay, and toasted baking spices. The finish is lasting, hot, slightly astringent, and not overwhelmingly satisfying as it pinballs from one flavor to another.

Those who like their whiskey with a lot of push and punch may find B&T quite a delight, but I expect most bourbon aficionados will be put off by the lack of nuance and the over-exuberant youthfulness that Bib & Tucker exemplifies. While it has its moments and some charm, I think 50 bucks can go further elsewhere.

92 proof.

B- / $50 /

Review: Blanton’s Single Barrel Select Private Selection from Quality Liquor Store

blantonsFour Roses and Jack Daniel’s aren’t the only single barrel private selection bottlings out there. Check out this bad boy from Quality Liquor Store, which is based in San Diego but which has a nice online selection of spirits.

Today we’re looking at QLS’s private bottling of Buffalo Trace’s highly regarded Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. This bottling was dumped on April 7, 2015 from Barrel #36, warehouse H, rick #10.

What an amazingly soft and incredibly drinkable bourbon this is. The nose is a bit restrained, showing pencil shavings, barrel char, brown sugar, and a touch of eucalyptus. That may sound like the intro to a huge whiskey, but the body turns out to be remarkably soft and seductive. The palate is filled with luscious vanilla ice cream, butterscotch, banana pudding, creme brulee… if you’re not picking up that this is a dessert-like confection in a glass by now, there’s something wrong with you. The finish is moderate, beautifully sweet with just a hint of lumber influence but also some lingering milk chocolate notes.

Entirely engaging but light as a feather, it’s one of the best bourbons I’ve encountered all year.

93 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #200/264.

Want a discount at QLS? Use code DRINKHACKER10% for 10 percent off!

A / $70 /

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Triticale and Six Row Barley

JB_SC_Harvest_TriticaleIt’s been over a year since Jim Beam announced the Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection (see here, here, and here), a series of six bourbons that include an unusual grain — or a standard grain in an unusual proportion — in the creation of the whiskey. Now, the last two whiskeys are here, which include triticale and six row barley in the mash, respectively.

Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye that is starting to show up in distillery products of late. Beam must have gotten a big jump on this trend considering, as with the other Harvest Bourbon Collection bottlings, the whiskey is bottled at 11 years old.

Six-row barley is a type of barley, of course. Unlike two-row barley, which is used primarily in malted barley components, six-row is said to produce a grainier note to the mash, particularly when used in beer.

Let’s dig into these last two releases and see how they turn out. As usual, both are 90 proof.

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Triticale – Racy on the nose, very rye-like, with cloves, nutmeg, and some red pepper, plus ample vanilla underneath. On the palate, it’s surprisingly easygoing — perhaps this is the wheat component of the hybrid showing through — offering gentle notes of baked dessert pastries, apple pie, and a little mint chocolate on the finish. A simpler style up front, it reveals more charms as it opens up over time. Give it that time and see for yourself. B+

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Six Row Barley – The big question: Does more grain character come through with this experiment? I think it does, but so much time in barrel means it plenty tempered by wood. On the nose, it’s surprisingly heavy with alcoholic burn, then menthol and some fennel/licorice notes. The body is almost brutish — which is surprising, considering barley has the opposite reputation — tight and holding back, eventually giving up butterscotch, buttered popcorn, and some of those promised grainy notes, showing here in the form of buttered, toasted wheat bread. Despite all of this, the whole thing feels a bit undercooked, which is strange considering its age. Of all the HBC releases, this is the one whiskey that could probably stand another few years in the barrel. B-

each $50 (375ml) /

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon

ABW Hi Rye BourbonThe Sazerac-adjunct A. Smith Bowman Distillery is out with its 12th release in the Abraham Bowman line — a high rye expression distilled in September 2007 and bottled in July 2015. That makes it seven years and nine months old (technically speaking). Don’t try calling your local liquor store for a handle of it: This limited edition will largely be available only in its home state of Virginia.

The nose is very heavily woody — going into this blind I would have guessed this was a significantly older bourbon. Undernotes of greenery and some fruit are present, but all are outweighed by the wood.

The body tells another story, and here some fruit finds its footing. Orange and plum mingle with milk chocolate notes, ample caramel, and burnt marshmallow. There’s not as much spice as you might expect, but it kicks in later in the game. The wood notes are present but it isn’t nearly as domineering as on the nose. Here it makes for a well-integrated companion to a nicely crafted spirit.

Abraham Bowman High Rye doesn’t gel quite as well as I’d like, but it’s easy to enjoy and makes for interesting conversation. Give it a spin should you find yourself in Old Dominion!

100 proof.

B+ / $70 /

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2015 Edition

OF BB 2015

At this time of year we celebrate two big birthdays: Brown-Forman founder Garvin Brown, and yours truly.

Only one of us gets a “birthday bourbon” in his honor, though. Today we tuck into the 2015 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a 12 year old bottling, in keeping with past expressions. Old Fo notes that this batch was all matured in the same warehouse instead of at multiple sites, and near a heat cycling duct, where it was exposed to very high temperatures.

The 2015 edition has a sharp nose, almost astringent as it reveals menthol, burnt sugar, and some hospital character. On the palate, things settle more into traditional bourbon character, but it’s still a bit of a bruiser in comparison to previous years’ releases. On the palate, Bit-O-Honey, more dark brown sugar, and big barrel char notes hit up front. As the finish builds, it takes on a sharp citrus character — flamed orange peel — along with some vanilla-chocolate character. An echo of menthol emerges on the back end, along with a not insignificant level of heat.

All in all, it’s a whiskey that’s missing a sense of balance. Though water helps to bring things together, it has the side effect of turning things a bit boring. There’s nothing offensive in the 2015 Birthday Bourbon, but it isn’t nearly as well structured as some of the past releases. (I re-sampled them back to 2010 and this was my least favorite; 2014 is drinking the best today, with 2010 faded quite a bit.)

Hey, not every birthday is going to be your favorite.

100 proof. 13,200 bottles produced.

B- / $70 /

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Edition


As bourbon (and rye) mania continue to sweep the nation, this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is setting up to be one of the hottest releases ever. (Surely you’re heard about Stagg? If not, read on for the spoiler…) As always, these are all highly capable, unique, and for the most part worthwhile whiskeys. But here’s the particulars on how each one breaks down for me this year.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – As it has for many years, this is 18 year old rye distilled way back in 1985 that has been sitting in a big metal tank since it hit its 18th birthday in 2003. Sazerac 18 changes a little each year, but not much. But now pay attention: This is the final release from the old tank. Next year’s release will feature whiskey distilled in 1998, and going forward, Sazerac 18 will be drawn from barrels filled 18 years prior. So — if you like what Sazzy 18 has been like in the past, get it now, as this is your last chance. In 2015, the nose offers exotic notes of brandied cherries, graham crackers, and whipped cream. This beautiful dessert character leads to ample wood on the initial rush of the palate — but this quickly segues to Christmas spices, more gingerbread, mulled wine, marzipan, and spiced, baked apples. The finish is long, soothing, and festive with its hefty spice character — perfect for holiday tippling. All in all, it’s a similar Sazerac 18 to the whiskey we’ve seen before, but like an old friend it’s one you still want to spend time with from time to time. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – A 17 year old whiskey from the bottom three floors of Warehouses Q and I. Punchy with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, this is a cocoa lover’s dream come true. A classic bourbon drinking at full maturity, it eventually reveals some allspice, barrel char, and a bit of menthol. This year’s whiskey is a fairly straightforward bourbon, one that even hints at its origins with some popcorn notes emerging on the finish — not something you often see in a whiskey of this age. Solid stuff on the whole, as it usually is. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – There’s quite a tale to go away with this one. Buffalo Trace says that it opened up 128 barrels of whiskey distilled in 2000 (making this 15 years old), but many of them only had 1 or 2 gallons of bourbon left in them. The shocking statistic: 84% of the original distillate evaporated! That’s quite an angel’s share… which means you are not going to find much Stagg on the market this year — one source I’ve seen estimates just 5000 bottles of this coveted whiskey will hit stores. 2015 is quite strong on the nose (this is 69% alcohol and dark as night, so prepare thy liver), but push through the alcohol to reveal intense vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves on the nose. The body is equally intense — lots of vanilla extract, cloves, and, surprisingly, licorice, plus a bit of barrel char on the back end. Give it water and it settles into a groove of burnt caramel and brown sugar with a little licorice kick. There’s not a lot of nuance this year — Stagg can often take on a dark coffee/chocolate tone — but it’s a very capable and highly enjoyable bourbon from start to finish. What else were you expecting? 138.2 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – 12 year old W.L. Weller, from the second and sixth floors of warehouses I, K, and L. Appealing nose, and approachable even at this hefty proof (just 2% abv less than Stagg). It’s got a distinctly lighter style, with a nose of distinct butterscotch notes, fruit salad, and vanilla. On the palate, the butterscotch comes on strong, along with some marzipan and orange oil. Add water and the whiskey takes on an evergreen edge, though it’s still tempered with that almond paste/butterscotch sweetness. Kind of an odd combination of flavors — each enjoyable enough on its own, but all together a little bit scattered. 134.6 proof. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Six year old rye, as per the norm, from the fourth and seventh floors of warehouses I, K, and M. Slightly light in alcohol for Handy vs. previous years’ releases. Restrained on the nose, far more so than anything else in the collection. It’s just not altogether there, aside from some nutty and grainy overtones. On the palate, at full bottle strength, it features hot, toasty grain, some citrus/orange marmalade notes, and more than a bit of astringency. Water helps, bringing out more sweetness and some baking spice, but also tons of grain and some antiseptic notes that make the whole affair seem undercooked. There’s nothing wrong with young whiskey, but I question whether a rye that’s drinking so youthfully has a proper place in this collection. 126.9 proof. B-

$80 each /

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Oven Buster Batch” 2015-04

BookersBatch04We’re just now catching up with Booker’s, which is spending 2015 and beyond releasing some different, limited-release versions of this beloved bourbon brand. Booker’s may not be my go-to bourbon brand, but I have an immense respect for the craftmanship that Fred Noe puts into it and the depth of flavor it provides whenever I sample its charms.

Today we’re looking at the fourth monthly release, “Oven Buster Batch,” which is an uncut, unfiltered bourbon bottled after 6 years, 5 months, and 20 days. (What, no hours?)

Why “Oven Buster”?

“I’ve always been fond of cooking with bourbon,” said Annis Wickham Noe, wife of Booker and mother of Fred. “Years ago, as I was preparing a pork roast, I mistakenly reached for a bottle of my husband’s namesake bourbon to pour over the roast. The oven sparked from the bourbon’s high proof and the door flew open — that’s how the Oven Buster nickname was born!”

As with any Booker’s release, this is a racy one, the nose laden with alcohol and ample (but not overdone) wood. Maybe some mesquite? There’s ample vanilla of course, plus some mint that wafts up with some milk chocolate, too. On the palate, it’s rich with winey notes — think Port and chocolate — plus dense wood. More mint here on the tongue, particularly on the finish, which also offers a bit of fresh berry fruit. There’s plenty of youth in this whiskey, with some popcorn and more raw elements, but the frontier style gives this a bit more character than cigar-room character that off-the-rack Booker’s tends to have.

You might think water is a plus here, and while it certainly helps to dull the alcohol, it really does a number to the sweeter and fruitier components of the whiskey. If you must (and I understand if you must), add water by the drop, not by the splash.

127 proof.

A- / $60 /

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

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

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

How about a spreadsheet with the whole series, including all the details of each bourbon, plus all the ratings? YOU GOT IT! (corrected 9/2/2015)

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