Review: Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon

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Like all bartenders and spirits producers, Old Forester is in love with Prohibition — even though this period of time is hardly associated with high-quality anything. At the same time, you can barely count the number of “Prohibition Edition” spirits that have hit the market in recent years. Are we as a society really that eager to recreate the era of bathtub gin?

Perhaps it’s not all that bad. Old Forester had a license to produce a limited quantity of medicinal whiskey during the 1920s, and this release is meant to recreate that experience, its defining characteristic being bottled at a hefty 115 proof.

As the abv suggests, this is a bold and in-your-face spirit, though not quite as punchy as many cask-strength whiskies. The nose offers aromas of dried fruit and wood, both in agreeable balance, notes of dried orange, grapefruit, and mixed florals evident even through the haze of 57.5% alcohol. On the palate, the richness impresses even more, providing a chewy core that’s loaded with fruit, well-integrated oak, baking spice, and some hints of licorice. Lush and rounded, it’s a whiskey with soul — and I’m not even going to start down some road of making “ghost of Dorothy Parker” analogies, because that would be totally crazy.

Old Forester 1920 finishes on point, improving on an already impressive start as it builds to a sweet and fulfilling conclusion. Warming but not overpowering, and lengthy on the finish with echoes of both sweet fruit and dusky spices, it’s at once unusual and a classic example of how great bourbon ought to taste. In addition, it’s the clear champion of the Whiskey Row collection to date (see also 1870 and 1897). If you see it, buy it.

115 proof.

A / $60 / oldforester.com 

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Whoop & Holler American Whiskey 28 Years Old

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For this ninth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Project, the company has turned to George Dickel, of all places, where it has unearthed a 28 year old expression of this Tennessee classic. Produced at Cascade Hollow in Tullahoma, it is made from Dickel’s standard mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, and is put through the sugar maple charcoal mellowing process that is standard for Tennessee whiskeys.

At a whopping 28 years old, Whoop & Holler is the oldest whiskey in the Orphan Barrel Project releases to date. Considering Dickel just released its own 17 year old expression (which was already starting to feel a bit tired), this makes for a fine little comparison.

Things start off promising. The nose is sweet with notes of honey, orange peel, and a touch of brown sugar. The aroma is quite fresh on the whole, surprisingly youthful considering its age.

On the palate, more surprises await. This ought to be a wood bomb, but in reality the oak is dialed down, at least at first, as if the barrel gave up everything it had to the whiskey, then just decided to take a long break. Sweetness hits before any oak elements, a light butterscotch fading into notes of pencil shavings. Hints of eucalyptus and clove emerge, but these are fleeting.

And then, like that, it’s completely gone. Whoop & Holler fades away faster than Johnny Manziel, finally unleashing more of its charcoal-laden, wood-heavy side as the finish arrives. But this finish is short and unremarkable, drying up into nothing and proving itself a tragic dead end for an otherwise promising whiskey.

Bottom line: Needs less whoop, more holler.

84 proof.

B / $175 / orphanbarrel.com

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2007 Vintage

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After a two year drought, we are finally back with another Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon review.

What happened to 2005 and 2006? Good question. At the time, rumors swirled that the Single Barrel line was being discontinued or was becoming a distillery-only product. The distillery went dark to questions about the line, but apparently neither of those scenarios happened, and you can still find a smattering of reviews of the 2005 and 2006 online, though both are mixed. Neither release is widely available today, but diligent hunters can track both of them down with a bit of effort. To this day, I still haven’t sampled either one.

Fast forward to this, the 2007 release, which is an 8 year old expression (bottled in November 2015), making it a bit younger than the last EWSB we reviewed, the 9 1/2 year old 2004.

Let’s taste it.

This is a bigger, bolder, more wood-forward whiskey than previous releases in this line. The nose offers ample honey, butterscotch, and caramel corn notes, with a big lumberyard character backing up the sweeter elements. Wood again dominates the palate, which offers an initial rush of brown sugar followed by some lightly winey notes, some cloves, and licorice. It’s tannic and brooding at times, the finish coating the mouth and lingering as it washes away the upfront sweetness.

It’s a bit at odds with some of the older Evan Williamses, which are better balanced, more citrusy, and more rounded, often showcasing pretty chocolate notes. The older vintages, which I spot-tasted in preparation for this review, are almost unilaterally both more mature and more interesting. That said, a bit of youth isn’t the end of the world, and the 2007 release isn’t without its share of charm.

Compare to: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

86.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1.

B+ / $34 / evanwilliams.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2016 Edition

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Here’s a quintet of whiskeys you might have heard of once or twice. Yes, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has arrived, which will probably be sold out before I finish typing this sentence. Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment and want to take a stab at finding one of these rarities — particularly because this year’s batch is so exceptional — read on for the reviews.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Last year’s Sazerac 18 was famously bottled from the last drops of its massive quantity of well-aged rye, which had been sitting in tanks since 1985. 2016 marks the first “new” batch of Sazerac Rye in more than a decade. Distilled in 1998, there’s no tanked spirit in this batch — and, Buffalo Trace says, there won’t be any more tanked whiskey going forward. As it should, the whiskey tastes a bit different now, quite spicy on the nose with a huge baking spice punch while hanging on to its classic notes of brandied cherries, juicy raisins, and a layer of sandalwood. Some grassiness emerges on the nose, given time . The palate is racier and drier than expected, peppery on the back of the palate while allowing its cherry core to shine and light, toasty wood notes to emerge. The finish is lasting and allows some brown sugar notes to shine through, adding some balance to the lingering lumber. It may not be the same Sazzy 18, but it’s still a beauty. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – The 2016 edition of the classic Eagle Rare 17 has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K. The nose feels racier than usual, eventually settling down to reveal some surprises: exotic and heavily tropical notes of coconut and pineapple, with a healthy dollop of vanilla on top. This highly unexpected but delightful nose spills over onto the palate, which is well-sweetened to the point where it approaches rum, although that is tempered by plenty of wood later in the game. Some more toasted coconut and almond notes emerge on the back end, alongside a modest level of barrel char. It’s at once strikingly unusual and, at the same time, a classically fruit-forward bourbon that is well worth exploring. 90 proof. A

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Always the centerpiece of the BTAC yet often overblown, this year’s Stagg is a cherry-picked compilation of 142 barrels sourced from warehouses M, N, H, L and K. Old stock, high proof, as always — this one’s over 72% abv, bruising even by Stagg standards. Notes of unlit cigars, rosemary, and cloves kick things off on rich and dense yet surprisingly balanced nose. Another surprise: At full proof the bourbon doesn’t completely overwhelm the palate with alcohol, but it is so dusty and drying on that it’s tough to cut through the massive amount of tannin to really appreciate what’s going on. Water is always Stagg’s best friend, and this year is no exception, eventually coaxing sweetness from that intense tobacco character, plus cherry fruit, loads of vanilla, torched marshmallow, and more cloves. As it opens up in the glass — again, particularly with water — it develops an intensely smoky aroma, which is a natural companion with the tobacco notes but which does tend to dull the fruit and leave your mouth a bit dry. That aside, this year’s expression is quite unique and worth some exploration, nearly earning the vaunted reputation it’s always had. 144.1 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A 13 year old expression of Weller — uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. As is becoming the norm with these BTAC Wellers, the nose is quite sweet, with (again) a butterscotch influence, plus marzipan and peppermint. The palate backs these up, but the finish takes a turn toward a more spicy, wintry character. While approachable at full, uncut proof, water may not be a bad idea, though more than a drop or two tends to dull some of the sweetness that otherwise makes this year’s Weller so compelling. One of the best expressions of W.L. Weller I’ve had in many years. 135.4 proof. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As always, this is a good-old six year old rye, the baby of the group, this installment distilled in the spring of 2010 and aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M. This year’s expression is better than it usually is, though the relative youth comes across immediately on the nose — moderately woody, with some butterscotch underneath. The tannin hits hard on the palate — those pushy lumberyard notes really lingering at the back of the throat. Unlike with the Stagg, water doesn’t restore balance but just dilutes the whole affair, bringing forth notes of burnt toast, heavy cereal, and lots of smoky oak. The finish is dusty and slightly green. There’s nothing all that offensive here, but compared to this field (or any other top shelf whiskey) it is just very ordinary. 126.2 proof. B

$90 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2016 Edition

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The first Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses’ new master distiller Brent Elliott has arrived. This year’s selection is a blend of three whiskies: a 12-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OESO recipe, a 12-year-old OBSV, and a 16-year-old OESK. Per the company, it is the first time in more than seven years that the OESO recipe has appeared in a Limited Edition Small Batch. (I’ve seen it only in this private bottling.)

This is a fruity whiskey, offering a malty character at times that tempers the notes of over-ripe apple and peach with notes of sweet breakfast cereal. On the palate, the whiskey is a touch gummy, an issue that is compounded by the heavy fruit character. Here it comes across with notes of candied apricot, canned pineapple, apple-scented bubble gum, and cotton candy. The finish is long and sweet and more than a little cloying, coating the palate before ending on somewhat bitter oak notes.

As those notes should indicate, this is not my favorite Four Roses Small Batch expression, and in fact may be my least favorite of them all from the last six-plus releases. While its unique fruitiness is not something I can complain about, the whiskey itself is out of balance and just comes across as weird on the palate, with a finish I can’t really get behind.

Compare to the 2016 Four Roses Single Barrel release.

111.2 proof. 9,258 bottles on sale in the U.S.

B- / $90 / fourroses.us

Review: Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Limited Edition Whiskey

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Tennessee’s iconic Jack Daniel’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion it’s releasing a special edition of Old No. 7. Production on this release is the same, but JD offers some variations on how (or rather where) it was aged, and it’s bottled at 50% abv instead of 40%. No age statement is provided.

Some additional minutiae from the distillery:

True to the process established by its founder, the grain bill for the anniversary whiskey is the same as the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, consisting of 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye. Each drop was then mellowed through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal, before going into specially-crafted new American oak barrels, adhering to the guidelines required of a Tennessee whiskey.

Once filled, the barrels were placed in the “angel’s roost” of one of the oldest barrelhouses at the Distillery where whiskey has matured for generations at an elevation and with the exposure to sunlight that creates the perfect climate for the greatest interaction between the whiskey and barrel.

The nose is an iconic example of (high proof) Tennessee whiskey, offering ample alcoholic heat, plus aromas of maple syrup, toasted marshmallow, and some barrel char notes. There might be a bit too much heat on the nose, so give it a a drop of water or, at least, some time in glass to help it showcase its wares.

The palate isn’t nearly as racy as the nose would indicate, showing off a fruitier side of Jack, with notes of cinnamon-spiced apples, orange peel, and peaches. There’s ample vanilla, some chocolate-caramel notes, and a moderately dry finish that echoes the charred wood found on the nose. It doesn’t all come together quite perfectly, its tannic notes lingering a bit, but it’s an altogether impressive bottling from one of the biggest names in American whiskey.

100 proof.

A- / $100 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 2 2016

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Luxco’s Blood Oath series is officially turning into an annual affair, and Pact No. 2 is here. As promised last year, Pact No. 2 is a different whiskey, but it’s less different than than you might think. This year’s expression is, like Pact No. 1, a blend of three Kentucky bourbons: First, a 7-year old rye-heavy bourbon finished in Port barrels, second, an 11-year old wheated bourbon, and third, an 11-year old rye bourbon. While the overall structure is similar to Pact No. 1, none of those appears to be a repeat of last year’s release, though it did include an (unfinished) 7-year old high rye bourbon.

I really enjoyed Pact No. 2 right from the start. It’s a powerhouse of a bourbon, leading on the nose with somewhat heavy wood overtones, plus notes of lightly scorched sugar and cocoa powder. There’s plenty of spice here to go around, offering notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger, all atop notes of toasty grains.

The palate builds on this with a number of fun elements, starting with a nicely fruity attack that offers notes of red berries, applesauce, and brown butter. As the palate evolves it finds even more of a voice, layering in gingerbread, Christmas-like spiced apple cider, golden raisins, and some notes of citrus peel. The baking spice is deep and penetrating, with that sultry wood reappearing on the back end to make for a somewhat austere and mature finish. All of this put together, this is serious whiskey, blended by someone who really knew what they were doing. Frankly, I find it a tough bourbon to put down.

Yes, Luxco is the company that makes Everclear, but it’s also proving itself to be an impressive force when it comes to sourcing high-end bourbon barrels and blending up an enticing whiskey. This is definitely one to buy.

98.6 proof. 22,500 bottles produced.

A / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com

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