Tasting Lost Spirits Whiskey Experiments

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Lost Spirits — the company that’s knee deep in ultra-accelerated spirits aging technology — has largely devoted its early experiments to one liquor category: Rum.

Why rum? It’s easier to age, with simpler ingredients and a more straightforward line from white spirit to old brown stuff.

Whiskey is a bit of a holy grail for Lost Spirits, as it’s a more lucrative market with larger appeal at the high end. (As you’ll recall, Lost Spirits’ reactor can age a product to the equivalent of 20 years of age — no more, and no less.) But it’s also been difficult to make, says CEO Bryan Davis, due to some incredibly geeky complications with the way certain bacteria interplay with the wood that makes up the barrel.

Well, Davis says that he’s on the path to figuring this out, and he sent me some whiskey samples from the reactor to see how things are progressing. On tap: Two bourbons (one 100 proof, one 118 proof) and a 100 proof rye. (To reiterate: These are not commercial products but just works-in-progress submitted for some early thoughts. All of them started off with new make spirit from a major Kentucky distillery, though Davis can’t say which.)

In short, Lost Spirits is well on the path, but there’s still work to be done. The overwhelming flavor of both of the bourbon experiments is smoke. Not barrel char, but campfire smoke, something that lands the experience closer to a peated Scotch than to any bourbon I’ve ever had. The body offers some floral elements and fruit underneath, with cherry notes enduring for a time — before the dense smoke elements take hold again. It still doesn’t quite compare to even very old bourbon — the near complete lack of sweetness is a key concern — indicating there’s still work to be done on the aging process.

Conversely, the rye is a much bigger success, showcasing classic rye baking spice notes, plenty of fruit, and a more restrained and gentle smoke character. Marshmallows, baked bread, and baked apples are blended together with just a bit of petrol and some of that forest fire smokiness to create a complex but balanced whole. Now 20 year old rye is hard to come by — I don’t know if I’ve ever had any at all — so comparisons with currently available products aren’t easy to make. But either way, this is a whiskey that I could drink right now, its various elements really firing together beautifully.

Review: 1792 Port Finish Bourbon

1792 Port Finish Bottle

1792 Sweet Wheat was the first in a line of limited editions of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon, and now #2 is here: A Port cask-finished expression.

1792 Port Finish Bourbon spends 6 years in new oak, then 2 years in former Port casks for a total of 8 years of aging.

Regular readers know I’m a sucker for Port-finished spirits, and this is a fine example of how well bourbon and Port can pair. A nose of dense caramel and milk chocolate gets things going. On the tongue, the classic vanilla bourbon notes come forward first, then the dark fruit notes from the Port casks take over. Chewy raisin and dried cherry lead to baking spice notes that include gingerbread and cinnamon toast. The finish is lengthy, quite sweet, and just a bit gummy, echoing the chocolate notes up front.

Really fun stuff. I’d pick up multiple bottles — this isn’t going to be made again — at this price.

88.9 proof.

A / $40 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century

Sinatra%20Century

Jack Daniel’s is making a second stab at Sinatra’s legendary love of JD with another ultra high-end bottling of its signature Tennessee Whiskey. If you thought Sinatra Select was ostentatious, wait’ll you get a load of Sinatra Century, which arrives at more than twice the price.

Sinatra Century — bottled in honor of Frank’s 100th birthday — is made from the same type of alligator-charred barrels as Sinatra Select but otherwise offers no particular production information (including, as usual, any age statement). What JD has done, however, is work with the Sinatra family to taste and select the barrels that went into this bottling.

Bottles are individually numbered and come in elaborate gift packaging. They are bottled at 100 proof, perhaps another nod to the Ol’ Blue Eyes’ centennial.

You have time to consider this purchase — Frank’s birthday will be December 12, 2015 — but in the meantime, let’s give it a thorough tasting and review.

Sinatra Century is immediately appealing from the moment the bottle is cracked open. The nose is heady, with heavy baking spice notes — highly unusual for JD — loads of cinnamon and nutmeg, plus brown butter, some barrel char influence, and ample vanilla. There’s a fair amount of alcoholic burn given the proof, but it’s manageable and actually quite engaging, working well with the grandiose nose.

On the palate, Sinatra Century keeps it going. Big butterscotch, cinnamon, and a healthy slug of Mexican chocolate lead the way. Some charcoal notes make an entry later on, but the finish runs to bittersweet cocoa, a slight cherry influence, and smoldering molasses left on the fire overnight.

The balance of flavors here is nearly perfect, bouncing from spice to chocolate to char and back again. The higher proof helps keep it alive on the tongue for ages, but it never feels particularly hot and doesn’t need water. Engaging from start to finish, I’m not afraid to say this is the best product JD has ever put into a bottle.

That said, it’s a $400 product (or more) — so it better be good. Damn good.

A / $400 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com

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) / makersmark.com

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 / 35maplestreet.com

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 / qualityliquorstore.com

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) / jimbeam.com

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 / asmithbowman.com

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 / oldforester.com