Review: Amador Whiskey Double Barreled Bourbon

Trinchero is a major force in California winemaking — and it’s on the rise as an artisan spirits producer, too, with its Amador Whiskey Co. label.

Amador County is a sleepy Northern California region best known for its production of zinfandel wines. For its first whiskey release, Amador produced their own hop-flavored whiskey in conjunction with our friends at Charbay. With this second release, Amador has looked to the east: Kentucky, where it sourced some straight bourbon and shipped it back to California. After maturing in new oak, the whiskey is finished in used Napa (not Amador) wine barrels, though the type of wine that was in those barrels is not disclosed.

The release is technically a No Age Statement bottling, but the company says the 280 barrels it sourced from Kentucky were variously between three and ten years old and the finishing regimen adds another six months to that.

Let’s give it a taste!

Double Barrel’s nose evokes classic, wood-driven bourbon notes. Barrel char and sawdust find secondary notes in modest vanilla and a cinnamon-raisin character, almost like a toasted slice of buttered raisin bread. The body plays up some of this, with fruity notes coming on strong up front. Notes of rum raisin, vanilla ice cream, baking spice, and classically toasty, burnt caramel-focused bourbon character come together to make for a relatively straightforward spirit with just a touch of variety. The finish is sweet, returning to that raisiny-fruity character for a relatively quick denouement.

All told, it’s not far off the beaten path of what you’ll typically find out of Kentucky, but it’s engaging enough to merit a glass or two.

86.8 proof.

B+ / $38 / amadorwhiskeycompany.com

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Booker’s Bluegrass” 2016-01

Batch-Sticker124-Y007_FDBooker’s Bourbon is on a tear of small batch releases, with six limited editions arriving in 2015. The first release in this line for 2016 is here: Booker’s Bluegrass batch.

Says Beam’s Fred Noe: “The first batch of Bookers [sic] for 2016 is made up of barrels that were stored in 7 different rack houses. 61% of the barrels were stored in 9 story houses, 34% were stored in 7 story houses, and remaining 5% were stored in a 5 story rack house. The ages of the barrels in the batch range from 6 years 11 months old to 7 years 11 months old. The deep amber color reflects the complex aroma and flavor of the batch to be bottled. The nose is pleasant with the vanilla and toasted nuts that is inviting and makes you eager to sip this great bourbon. The flavor of this batch is smooth and well balanced with a finish that I enjoyed neat without adding any water.”

That’s a bold statement about a bourbon that’s almost 65% alcohol, but the nose indeed feels mild — offering notes of barrel char, citrus, some menthol, and significant vanilla — though it’s all kept in check with only modest levels of alcohol impacting it.

The body’s another story, a massive blazer as expected, given that proof. Without water, scorching alcohol notes are the most prominent character, with caramel, orange, and cocoa powder heavy influences. Water is a big help here, coaxing out some smoky notes — nothing you can’t handle, though — that are backed up well with sweet marzipan, clove-heavy baking spice, and cocoa powder, with a gentle, easy finish.

Supple and deep, this is an expression of Booker’s that exemplifies this whiskey’s extreme power while peeling back the covers to show off what lies beneath the surface.

127.9 proof.

A- / $60 / bookersbourbon.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Frosty Four Wood

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The third edition of Woodford Reserve’s Distillery Series (which are available for the most part only onsite at the Woodford Reserve facility) is here: Frosty Four Wood. If you remember the 2012 Master’s Collection release, Four Wood (which had three different finishing barrels applied to it). You may also remember the infamous polar vortex, which hit around that time. These two events collided in early 2013, when said vortex blasted Woodford’s warehouses with record low temperatures.

How is Frosty Four Wood different from the original? Good question. Here’s what Woodford says:

The original Four Wood Master’s Collection (2012 release) bottles (so they were in glass as opposed to the barrels still) were exposed to those cold temperatures during the 2013 Polar Vortex. This resulted in flocking so Woodford Reserve used filtration techniques to remove the mineral precipitation. The result was a more fruit-forward whiskey with maple hints.

And so, on to the tasting…

There’s lots of wood to go around here — classic Woodford on the nose, but tempered with notes of almond, raisin, and menthol. The body is quite buttery for bourbon, well-sherried with an overwhelming character of orange-scented marzipan. Cloves are a distinct note that rise and fall over the course of a session, along with black tea leaf. Compared to the original Four Wood, there is significantly less spice here — those cloves are muted when put next to the original’s cinnamon-spiced raisins — all of which leads to a surprisingly sweeter finish, with a character akin to raw sugar cookie dough. The somewhat flabby body gives the finish some muddiness, a stark contrast against the more bracing, lively original Four Wood.

Ultimately, while this is a charming whiskey on its own, I had a distinct preference for the original Four Wood and its more rounded, spicier character. If you’ve got a bottle of the original, it’s particularly fun to compare the two.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $50 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – Limited Edition (2015)

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This fourth edition of Angel’s Envy’s Port-finished bourbon, bottled at cask strength, almost got lost in the shuffle, but we’re not too far into 2016 to cover this 2015 release, I figure. (See also: 2013, 2013 2nd Ed., 2014.)

As always, this expression — up to seven years old — is a departure from rack Angel’s Envy, and it’s interesting how this departs from other versions of AE’s cask strength releases.

The nose is more restrained than in previous years, offering notes of cloves, barrel char, well-browned caramel, and a touch of smoke. The body is less Port-forward than in prior years also, showcasing notes of figs, dark chocolate, toasted brioche, and a finish that leads more to a prune character than the traditionally Port-focused raisin. Echoes of sweet tea endure as the finish fades — and all of it is remarkably restrained and in balance, a rare feat considering the alcohol level we’re working with here.

As always, of course, it’s great stuff.

127.9 proof. 7500 bottles produced.

A- / $170 / angelsenvy.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 5 and Barrell Whiskey Batch 1

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Turns out Barrell Bourbon, first released in 2014, wasn’t a one-off. To date the company has released six small batch Bourbon offerings, all  of which are significantly different from one another. As a trend goes, they’re getting older — significantly so, considering Batch 1 was a mere five year old baby. The last two releases have both topped eight years of age (and the labels now include a clear age statement, front and center).

In addition to Barrell Bourbon, the company has also produced its first release of Barrell Whiskey, which is a blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys aged in oak, including corn, rye, and malted barley whiskeys, in unspecified proportions — with no grain whiskey added. Like all Barrell releases, this first batch of Barrell Whiskey arrives at full cask strength.

Below we take a look at two recent barrels of Barrell: Batch 5 of the Bourbon, and Batch 1 of the Whiskey. Thoughts follow.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 005 – Made from a mash of 70% corn, 26% rye, and 4% malted barley, distilled in Tennessee. 8 years and 3 months old. Rich and traditional on the nose, it’s a caramel-fueled, wood-heavy, and a bit of a blazer of a whiskey when nosed and sampled at cask strength. Notes of fresh herbs and a smoldering finish redolent with barrel char are prominent. Water is a major aid with this one, really helping to clarify the spicier elements that emerge as the palate takes shape. Fresh rosemary and dried sage both come into focus, making for some interesting interplay with the charred wood elements. Some eucalyptus develops with time in glass, giving it a minty finish, with chocolate overtones. Compared to Batch 1 (again, a mere five years old), it’s a considerably more austere and well-rounded bourbon, with plenty of depth to investigate. 124.7 proof. Bottle #4446. A- / $80

Barrell Whiskey Batch 001 – A blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys, as noted above. Distilled in Indiana and aged in Kentucky. Lighter in color than the Bourbon, it has a freshness to it that belies its age — lots of floral elements on an otherwise clean and lithe nose. The palate offers a similarly clean entry, a bit fruity — apples and pears — with more of those white flower notes emerging with just a bit of time. The body is light and airy, almost Canadian in structure at times with just a light smattering of flavors influencing an otherwise gentle, lightly-sweetened core. Though it’s got nearly the same alcohol level, the whiskey isn’t nearly as fiery and off-putting as the Bourbon above. It drinks quite easily at full strength and without water. In the end, the finish (finally) hints at more traditional notes of vanilla and butterscotch, but it’s a fleeting impression as the spirit fades out as rapidly as it comes on. Primarily I see this as something to consider as an alternative to white spirits in cocktailing. 122.5 proof. Bottle #3765. B+ / $62

barrellbourbon.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 20 Years Old 2015

michters 20 years old

Michter’s 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon is an amply enchanting whiskey. What then if we double up and go for 20? Michter’s 20 Year Old is one of those ultra-cult whiskeys right up there with Pappy Van Winkle, with a list price of $600. $1200 is the best you’re likely to do, and $1800 isn’t uncommon.

For a bottle, yes. Not a barrel.

With prices like that, Michter’s 20 better be damn good whiskey, and I’m happy to report that it is.

While Michter’s 10 Year Old is a soft and well-crafted but largely traditional whiskey, Michter’s 20 pushes its flavor profile to some serious extremes. Initially a blazer — this has 10% more alcohol than the 10 Year Old — the nose is fiery with oak and spice, and the body is punchy with Red Hots and a huge punch of barrel char. A small splash of water does wonders here to coax out more nuance, and hey, it’ll make the previous liquid go farther.

Brought down in proof a bit, the bourbon is quite a delight. Bold butterscotch hits first, then more of that previously-mentioned cinnamon takes hold. There’s lots of vanilla and caramel here; the whiskey just oozes from start to finish with dark, dark sugar notes — with only a hint of the fruit that’s a core part of the Michter’s 10 DNA. Over time, some dried and macerated fruit notes emerge, particularly apricot. Finally, some interesting amaro notes bring up the rear, offering a gentle root beer character that takes things out on an exotic, and quite racy, note — the strongest indication that Michter’s is pushing things just a bit too far with the barrel regime and some oddball flavors are at risk of developing.

While Michter’s 10 is a fruity, nutty, confectionary delight, Michter’s 20 is a wholly different animal, and the bourbon enthusiast is well served by sampling them side by side (though, that said, there is no suggestion that these whiskies were sourced from the same still or even the same distillery).

To be sure, Michter’s 20 is no Pappy 23, but finding a bourbon of this age that still has this much going on isn’t an easy feat. With its 20 Year Old Single Barrel, Michter’s is flying awfully close to the sun, but it still hangs on to its wings.

114.2 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15Z738. Bottle 193 of 267.

A- / $1200 / michters.com