Category Archives: Bourbon

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope Bourbon (2013)

Parkers ALS Promise of Hope Bottle Shot 103x300 Review: Parkers Heritage Collection Promise of Hope Bourbon (2013)The theme of this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection limited edition Bourbon release should come as no surprise: It is bottled in honor of Parker Beam (the “Parker” in the name of the spirit) and in recognition of his recent diagnosis with ALS, which we’ve discussed in prior posts here.

The Promise of Hope bottling is a very special release: A full 20 dollars from the sale of each bottle will go to the ALS Association for ALS research. The total proceeds raised for the Association should total more than $250,000 when the whiskey sells out (which, as usual, it will).

As for the spirit, it is the first single barrel bottling in the Parker’s Heritage Collection series, which is now on its 7th annual release. This year, Parker is keeping things simple. Mr. Beam has selected 100 favorite barrels from Heaven Hills’ inventory in the company’s Deatsville warehouse, from the top tiers of Rickhouse EE (you know Rickhouse EE, right?). The whiskey is 10 years old, non-chill-filtered, and bottled at 96 proof, Parker’s preferred strength. Note that although this is single-barrel whiskey, the bottles are not being individually numbered with a barrel identifier.

The whiskey is good stuff, and surprisingly unique. On the nose you get some burnt sugar but plenty of alcoholic burn, which makes sussing out additional notes tricky. Charred wood and slight cocoa notes are also evident, if in passing.

On the palate, the Bourbon takes on a whole new life, exploding with flavor. The burnt sugar takes on a fruitier character — a la Bananas Foster — backed with ripe apples and a little lemon zest. As the initial fruit/sugar concoction starts to fade, cinnamon notes take the field, with notes of marshmallow and gingerbread coming up behind. The overall effect is quite Christmas-like, unusual for Bourbon but wholly welcome. It’s easy to see why this is Parker’s favorite Bourbon. It’s drinking beautifully and is considerably different from most of the mass-produced Bourbons you’ll find on the market, all of which tend to be variations on a theme.

A large segment of the population, I’m sure, will balk at paying $90 for a 10 year old Bourbon (single barrel or no), and I can understand that. But remember: This one’s for a good cause. And it happens to be a really good, wholly unique Bourbon.

A / $90 /

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2013 Edition – 125th Anniversary

four roses 125th anniversary small batch 154x300 Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2013 Edition   125th AnniversaryThe annual release of Four Roses’ limited edition Small Batch Bourbon is always cause for excitement, but this year’s release is special, bottled in honor of the distillery’s 125th anniversary.

The 2013 Small Batch offers a blend of three Bourbons: an 18-year-old OBSV, a 13-year-old OBSK, and a 13-year-old OESK. The two “OB” whiskeys are from the high-rye mashbill Four Roses uses, the “OE” from the lower rye one.

It’s a good mix. An intriguing nose offers some mint, butterscotch, and solid vanilla notes — it’s almost like wandering into a Baskin Robbins. On the body, things gel quite nicely. Vanilla caramels, more butterscotch, and a touch of cinnamon on the finish keep this whiskey grounded squarely in the dessert world, though it isn’t overly sweet and it manages to keep itself balanced. It may be one of the simpler whiskeys to come out of 4R in recent years, but damn if it doesn’t grow on you. Overall it’s really enjoyable, but I’d keep this one for after dinner drinking.

Note: A scant dash of water is a help.

Proof will vary. Our sample was about 110 proof. 8000 bottles produced.

A- / $90 /

Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 21 Years Old Bourbon

Elijah Craig 21 Year Old 160x300 Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 21 Years Old BourbonMissed out on Elijah Craig’s much-loved 20 Year Old Single Barrel bottling? Good news: Now you can get nearly the same stuff at age 21. Production hasn’t been announced (the 20 year old was an 80-barrel release), but you can be sure there’s not going to be much of it to go around.

On the nose, it’s immediately a bit strange, almost off-putting. The nose offers tons of wood, plus applesauce and cinnamon. It comes across as overwhelmingly hot, though at only 90 proof it’s hardly a barn-burner. You get some other oddities in there, too: Butterscotch and sawdust mingling together in the strangest of ways.

On the palate, the sweetness and spiciness come together well, though this is a surprisingly sweet Bourbon in the end. There’s an almost rum-like sugariness to it, youthful, not old and burnt. That kind of character can be readily found in the wood elements — at 21 years of age there’s plenty to go around — though it’s never overwhelming.

As the whiskey develops you’ll find the cinnamon develops into cloves, giving a slightly bitter edge to the finish. I’m still torn on this, mainly because the body never quite balances the way I’d like, and because the finish is on the short side for a whiskey of this age.

Fortunately I have an ample supply of the 20 Year Old Barrel #1 on hand, and it’s surprisingly a much different animal (though this could of course have something to do with barrel variability). The caramel and vanilla on the 20 are so much more pronounced, with a luscious dessert character that’s impossible not to love. I dare say my A rating on the 20 is on the low side, and arguably my A- on this 21 year old is a bit generous.

Reviewed: Barrel #41.  Barreled on 11/26/1990. 90 proof.


Review: Rough Rider Straight Bourbon Whisky

rough rider bourbon 219x300 Review: Rough Rider Straight Bourbon WhiskyWhen I first tasted Rough Rider, a straight Bourbon made by Long Island Spirits (which we’ve covered well in the past), I thought I was tasting one of Kentucky’s finest. It’s a common, well-accepted trick: Take a barrel of old Kentucky (or Indiana) whiskey, ship it to your home state, and bottle it there (maybe after a little finishing time in a Port or other wine barrel). Presto: You’ve got your own, very high-end Bourbon.

Nothing wrong with that. Happens all the time.

But Rough Rider isn’t that. It’s homegrown whiskey and it’s good. Mashed, distilled, and aged in Long Island, this is proof that good Bourbon can be made just about anywhere, provided the maker has the patience. (Well, not yet… See comments for correction.)

Inspired by Teddy Roosevelt (a native Long Islander), Rough Rider is made from a mash of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. It’s aged for four years in new oak barrels before a further, complex finishing. From LIS:

“After aging, the bourbon is double-barreled, or finished, in wine casks,” says Rich Stabile, Long Island Spirits founder. “The wine casks include merlot casks and chardonnay casks, and are chosen from among the finest wineries on Long Island.” Before the aged bourbon is poured into the wine casks, though, each wine barrel is washed with a local, Long Island brandy. “The cask finishing wash tempers each wine barrel, resulting in a more mellow, complex bourbon,” adds Stabile. After the bourbon is finished for a few months in the wine casks (the exact time depends on the flavor profile of the batch), each bottle is brought to proof and filled by hand.

That’s a remarkably complex way to finish a whiskey… but it works. Rough Rider is a fantastic Bourbon, and a surprisingly affordable one, too. The nose is punchy and tannic — full of both wood notes and winey ones. The body backs this up. Initially full of sawdust and pencil shavings, it soon settles down to reveal tons of fun. It starts with Bananas Foster, black cherries, and licorice. Chocolate and root beer notes evolve from there, alongside more traditional and expected vanilla and caramel character. A long, Port-like finish comes along after that, offering some of that brandy’s sweet fruitiness by way of a digestif.

Great stuff. Great price, too, especially in comparison to so many wildly overpriced and under-aged craft Bourbons on the market.

Reviewed: Batch #1. 90 proof.

A / $33 /

Review: Stagg Jr. Bourbon

STAGG JR Front 209x300 Review: Stagg Jr. BourbonPutting aside the Van Winkle phenomenon, the next-most-coveted name in the whiskey world is arguably George T. Stagg. Released in limited quantities as part of Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection series, this Bourbon is old, ultra-high-proof, intense, and invariably beloved by both critics and consumers.

It’s also pretty much impossible to find.

In response to the high demand for the stuff, Buffalo Trace is doing a really smart thing: Releasing a version of Stagg that, while not nearly as old or as powerful as the real deal, is a credible little brother… just like the name suggests.

Stagg Jr. is made from eight- and nine-year-old whiskeys, bottled at cask strength, uncut and unfiltered. This first release is 134.4 proof. Future versions will vary, depending on what the barrel outturn looks like. The company says the whiskey will be limited, but probably considerably more available than the regular Staff releases.

Beautiful nose here: Cinnamon and raisins, very dark chocolate, burnt caramel notes. Overwhelmed by alcohol, to be sure, but the soul shines through. On the tongue, plenty more where that came from. Sweeter than I expected, but balanced by ample fruit notes — here some citrus comes along, with caramel apple, plums, and ample cinnamon on the finish. Quite a collection of flavors here, but it’s all in balance and not over-wooded. I find it drinkable straight, but a splash of water is a much better idea, cutting through the burn handily and making it easier to enjoy. (Plus, it lasts longer.)

People are already fussing that “it’s not like the real thing,” that Buffalo Trace is just trying to capitalize on another brand’s name, and those are fair complaints. But if it didn’t say “Stagg” on the label, there’d be lines around the block. Buy it.

A / $50 /


Review: Cyrus Noble Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey

Cyrus Noble Bottle 130x300 Review: Cyrus Noble Small Batch Bourbon WhiskeyAn old brand, Cyrus Noble Bourbon dates to 1871, when it was reportedly a San Francisco favorite during the Barbary Coast days.

Now the brand is being revived — the current owner has had the trademark since 1871 — with a focus on bringing quality Bourbon back to S.F. The Bourbon is sourced from Kentucky and bottled right here in San Francisco, at 90 proof.

The results: This whiskey is spicy and lively. Not at all woody or hoary, it’s got fresh cinnamon and apple character, with just a wispy vanilla character behind it. Gentle on the palate despite packing in 90 proof, the finish is moderate, hinting at pepper long after the spirit itself vanishes. An easy sipper and completely affordable as a mixer.

I almost never see it at bars in San Francisco, by the way.

A- / $25 /

Review: Yellow Rose Blended Whiskey and Outlaw Bourbon

Yellow Rose Blended Whiskey 199x300 Review: Yellow Rose Blended Whiskey and Outlaw BourbonHouston is my hometown, and the one thing it hasn’t had is a distillery. Distilling is surprisingly new to Texas — Tito’s was the sole operator in the state for years — but now folks are diving headlong into their stills here. And now, finally, Houston has its first distilling operation it can call its own: Yellow Rose, named after the, well, not the state flower (the bluebonnet) but the floral touchstone of Texas, at least.

Here we look at the company’s Bourbon and its new Blended Whiskey (just launched in May). A rye, not tasted, is also available. Thoughts follow.

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Review: PennyPacker Straight Bourbon Whiskey

There’s going to be some debate over the name. But “PennyPacker” is, from start to finish, a retro whiskey through and through. From the label design to the bottle shape and embossing. I’m kind of into it. The hipster side of me finds this a refreshingly fun little bottle.

Oh, and there’s Bourbon inside it. How’s it come across?

The mashbill is 70% corn (they call it maize), the remainder rye and barley, a rather typical Bourbon mash. PennyPacker has no age statement and is bottled at 80 proof.

As the name sort of implies, this is simple, young whiskey, and not without some charm. The nose features apples galore, backed with moderate wood notes. On the palate, again it offers that apple fruit, with some caramel notes behind it. Not quite apple pie, but perhaps a strudel of some kind, lightly sweet with a dusting of brown sugar. There’s not much vanilla to be found within, however — even on the finish the apple character rises again, making fruit the dominant component of this whiskey over anything else.

B+ / $28 /

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Nine

We’re over the hump and on to the last half of Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project” experiment. Now two years into the four year experiment, with this ninth round of experimental, single-barrel Bourbons we hope 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

This round looks at the same variables as round eight, considering the effect of recipe (rye vs. wheat, which so far has been tested in every round), wood grain (tight/average/course), and tree cut (top or bottom of tree). The other variables in this round remain the same, though all are different from the standards in round eight — warehouse (concrete), entry proof (125), char level (#3), and stave seasoning (6 months).

All told this was the Single Oak Project’s least successful round, or one of them. Something about this combination — perhaps the lower char level and high entry proof — made for a lot of overly astringent, overly woody whiskeys. Sweetness was generally lacking, with precious few exceptions.

Buffalo Trace hasn’t released any new information about what barrels are in the lead in aggregate ratings on the Single Oak website. Nonetheless, here’s how we feel about the latest round of hooch.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #5 – Heavy apples, very fruity. Light body, pleasant and easy. Touch of citrus on the back end. B+(rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #6 –Slightly more astringent than #5, more burly. Dark chocolate and coffee bean, charcoal character on the finish. Feels overcooked. C+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #37 – Hot heat, fire and brimstone. No fruit left in this, just charred wood and embers. Bad barrel? C- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 16 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #38 – Spicy and fun, lots of cinnamon and baking spices, with a gingerbread finish. Woody but well integrated. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 16 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #69 – Overripe bananas and vegetal notes, a little saccharine. Has something of an Irish whiskey feel to it. The finish is off, lean and unbalanced. C (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 12 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #70 – Lots of grain influence on this one. Tastes young, but not overly brash. Chewy and rustic.  B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 12 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #101 – Lots of raw alcohol notes, a hot burner. Settles down with time, revealing ample wood character, but the finish is still to fiery for easy drinking. C+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #102 – Woody, but with some spice to it. Similar to 101 but with a bit more sweetness and a smoother finish. Astringency on the finish dulls its impact. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #133 – Very woody, particularly on the nose. Hot with burning coals but tempered with some nougat and marshmallow notes. Give it a chance. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #134 – Not bad. Good sweetness level, with decent vanilla and caramel, but tough on the back end. (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #165 – Far more balanced than most of the crowd here. Again, plenty of wood but tempered with some chocolate and cinnamon. Decent finish. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 8 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #166 – Hot. Grains, spice, a big whiskey. Not entirely put together well, with a red pepper and wood char finish. Weird collection of flavors, all out of balance. (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 8 growth rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) /

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon, Rye, and 15 Year Old Expressions of Both

james pepper 1776 bourbon 101x300 Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon, Rye, and 15 Year Old Expressions of BothJames E. Pepper is an old, old name in the whiskey world (Kentucky is plastered with the name), and the heritage of the Bourbon associated with the name is deep, rich, and (if you go to the whiskey’s website) fun to look back upon. In fact, Bourbon has been made under the James E. Pepper label since the 1800s.

James Pepper’s stills went silent in 1958 and in recent years the brand has changed hands and is now owned by Georgetown Trading Co., which produces Pow-Wow Rye and John L. Sullivan Irish whiskey. The company has spent years reproducing James E. Pepper to match the flavor profile of the original, “Old Style” James E. Pepper whiskey. While I’ll never be able to comment on how successful (or wise) such an endeavor might be, I can give some thoughts on the whiskeys — four of them, total — that are now being produced under this banner (in Indiana).

Thoughts follow.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey – The standard bottling of the brand. This Bourbon carries no age statement but has a solid structure to it. Modest wood notes here, with restrained yet polished sweetness. You get less of the typical vanilla notes but more citrus in their stead, a refined and balanced experience that provides a touch of racy red pepper, baking spices, and a little gingerbread on the finish. Very mild for a Bourbon — especially one bottled at 100 proof — this is both an easy sipping whiskey and a capable mixer. It’s far from the powerhouse experience that so many modern whiskeys attempt to create, but I found its hidden charms intriguing enough for repeated visits. B+ / $30

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey – Racier and more powerful than the Bourbon by a mile. Stronger citrus and more grain influence here, this 90% rye (no age statement) is a textbook expression of the spirit. The body is modest, lively, and full of dense bread-like notes on the back end. The finish is long and lasting. It’s just on the edge of being a little too hot, though a splash of water in this 100 proof whiskey can help to even things out. B+ / $28

These 15 year old whiskeys are bottled at barrel proof — actually lower than the 100 proof of the younger whiskeys, a quirky result of where in the rickhouse these barrels were aged. These two are just now arriving on the market.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – Amazing what 15 years in barrel has done to this whiskey. Gorgeous chocolate, lightly burnt caramel, and toasty oak notes — both on the nose and on the body. That dark chocolate character is impossible to get away from, it’s just omnipresent and really quite beautiful. The wood is also well integrated into the spirit, and although I would like a touch more sweetness on the back end, this is a unique and exciting Bourbon, highly worth seeking out. 92 proof. A / $100

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey 15 Years Old – Lots going on here. Racy, lots of citrus, ample spice and some crazy tropical character here — guava and overripe banana. The wood creeps up behind, giving the whiskey a finish that is heavy on alcohol and some of the more astringent notes. It’s definitely an intriguing upgrade over the standard bottling of the rye, but it can’t touch what Pepper’s doing with the 15 Year Old Bourbon. 91.3 proof. A- / $150 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [ALSO HERE FOR THE 15 YEAR OLDS]

Review: Jefferson’s Bourbon and Jefferson’s Reserve

jeffersons bourbon 225x300 Review: Jeffersons Bourbon and Jeffersons ReserveToday we’re filling a glaring hole in our coverage. While we reviewed one special edition of Jefferson’s Bourbon (which is no longer available, actually) four years ago, we’ve been silent on the line’s other expressions.

Today we start correcting that, with reviews of Jefferson’s entry-level Bourbon and Jefferson’s Reserve, the two most commonly available expressions from Jefferson’s. While Jefferson’s is traditionally thought of as a wheated line, that’s not always the case. These expressions don’t reveal their mashbills, but neither are reportedly wheated at all. (The mash is said to be 30% rye.) If you want to find wheat in your Jefferson’s, you’ll likely need to look toward the older and rarer expressions… which come from different distillery.

Thoughts follow.

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Review: Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon

Jim Beam Distillers Masterpiece Sherry Cask Finished 183x300 Review: Jim Beam Distillers Masterpiece Sherry Cask Finished BourbonJim Beam’s been on a tear lately. First came the two members of the new Signature Craft Bourbon series, now there’s Distiller’s Masterpiece, an ultra-premium Bourbon that truly earns its name.

Available exclusively at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Ky., the whiskey is “extra aged” (but released with no age statement) “in the optimal rack-house position, determined by Master Distiller, Fred Noe.” It is then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks before bottling at 100 proof.

This is a lovely, and surprisingly light, whiskey. The sherry character is immediately notable, a brisk citrus character on the nose that’s backed up by moderate wood notes and a small amount of grain character. Pushing into the body it’s loaded with that sherry character, and is rich with complexity. What’s here: Orange marmalade, vanilla, cinnamon and baking spices, toasted wood, and touches of popcorn on the finish. Harmonious and delicious, the finish stays with you but never turns bitter. Even at 100 proof it is smooth as silk, easy to sip on, and gone — sadly gone — far too soon.

A / $200 /

Review: Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Bourbon

hillrock bourbon 199x300 Review: Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera BourbonIt’s surprising that more aged spirits aren’t made in the solera style. For the uninitiated, solera aging involves moving spirits from younger barrels to older barrels, bit by bit, until the liquor in the oldest barrel is bottled — the oldest of the old blended with a bit of spirit from a wide variety of ages. Solera is commonly used in rum as a way to add a high level of complexity to the spirit.

Here, Hillrock Estate, based in New York, uses solera barrels to age its “field to glass” whiskey, taking estate-grown Bourbon and marrying it with mature “seed” Bourbon, then putting it through a series of casks, including a finishing run in 20-year-old oloroso sherry casks. The current age of Hillrock is six years old, with a mashbill that includes 37% rye.

You needn’t delve too far into Hillrock Bourbon to see that this is a spirit of truly impressive pedigree. The nose hits you fast and powerfully: Burnt caramel, dark brown sugar, vanilla, mint, and a modestly woody back end. The body offers immense complexity: Beautiful fruit and layered spices, luscious creme brulee, marshmallow, and an almost raisiny sweet finish. The balance of all of this is nearly perfect, coming together as an altogether brash experiment in whiskeymaking that works far better than you would ever expect.

92.6 proof.


Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old & Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy Bourbon 2013

jim beam signature craft 12 years old 200x300 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old & Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy Bourbon 2013Rob Theakston recently had the opportunity to be front and center for the opening of Jim Beam’s Global Innovation Center this sprint, which culminated in the launch of Jim Beam’s first Signature Craft Bourbon. Rob previewed Signature Craft 12 Year Old, and now its formal arrival on the market is nigh. Launching for sale in August, Signature Craft will be a regular part of (and in fact the senior member of) the Jim Beam lineup.

Now production bottles are making their way to reviewers, along with the line’s first special edition….

Basically I think that Rob’s thoughts on Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old are spot on. Classic Bourbon structure, it’s got vanilla to spare and a good slug of wood — but not too much — on the nose. The body is perfectly integrated, featuring chocolate and cinnamon beneath the vanilla/woody core. And there’s real austerity here, a wine-like character that you just don’t encounter in younger whiskeys and which is a product of picking really great barrels that have been mellowing for over a decade. The finish is more sweet than spicy, but it’s long and soothing. 86 proof. I agree with Rob’s rating: A / $40

jim beam signature spanish brandy 200x300 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old & Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy Bourbon 2013But wait, there’s more! Beam’s plan is to take Signature Craft and use it as the basis for a series of annually-released special editions. The first will launch in August alongside Signature Craft: Jim Beam Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy 2013. This is the Signature Craft 12 Year Old that’s finished not in the traditional way of mellowing in Spanish brandy barrels but actually by pouring some Spanish brandy into the whiskey. That’s unusual, but does it pan out? Yeah, well enough, but it’s a bit of a distraction from the charms of the straight Signature Craft. The brandy adds more sweetness, along with heavy notes of raisins and dates, sending this whiskey’s flavor profile in a whole new direction. It’s still tasty, but more than a little disarming. I’ll keep sipping on it, but the original’s got it handily beat. 86 proof. B+ / $40  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon

elijah craig barrel proof 214x300 Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof BourbonElijah Craig is a Bourbon brand on the rise, and its latest release is another knockout, this time bottled at cask strength.

A whopping 12 years old (the age statement is in the text on the back label of the bottle), Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is an amazing whiskey that should (and will) be sought after by those who like their Bourbons big, old, and hot. (George T. Stagg fans take note.)

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Review: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2013 202x300 Review: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel BourbonThis year’s Single Barrel release from Four Roses trots out the OBSK (high-rye) recipe at 13 big years of age.

Slightly older than the usual Single Barrel bottlings (typically 11 or 12 years old), this release is a monster whiskey. If you’ve been waiting for something incredibly bold from Four Roses, wait no longer.

Four Roses 2013 Single Barrel is a bruiser, punchy with cinnamon, big wood notes (particularly heavy on the nose), and a long, sweet, applesauce finish. Bold and spicy on the finish, this whiskey doesn’t let up. Moments after the sweetness starts to fade, a big, Bing cherry note jumps out at you, leaving this whiskey, woody up front, with a distinctly fruity finish. Unique and lots of fun, it’s altogether another winner in a long string of outstanding spirits from Four Roses.

Sample bottles were bottled at a fiery 120 proof — water was a huge help in coaxing out the Bourbon’s most interesting notes. Actual bottle proof will be considerably lower: 100.6 to 114.4 proof, depending on the barrel. 4000 bottles will be released this April.

A / $80 /

Review: Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon Whiskey

don quixote Blue Corn Bourbon 114x300 Review: Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon WhiskeyI am Don Quixote, a booze of La Mancha!

Chip Tate at Texas’s Balcones Distilling isn’t the only guy on the cob that’s using exotic blue corn to make Bourbon. Said to be especially difficult to work with due to its high oil content, blue corn makes for unique and memorable whiskey.

Made in New Mexico, Don Quixote is made from 75% local organic blue corn, 23% wheat, and 2% barley. The grains are naturally malted and uncooked before mashing. Made in a unique, moonshine-era “thumper” still, Don Quixote goes into new American oak barrels for four years before bottling.

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Review: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon

RR Single Barrel 2 192x300 Review: Russells Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel BourbonThis is one review we’ve been itching to get up for you for a long time, and finally we’ve got our mitts on this latest from Wild Turkey master distiller (and all around good guy) Jimmy Russell: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon.

The name has had many in this biz scratching their heads: Wouldn’t a single barrel release, by definition, also be a small batch? More intriguingly, this release is the first in the Russell’s Reserve series bottled without an age statement. The original Russell’s Reserve carries a 10 Year Old age statement and a $34 price tag. At $50 a bottle, is the Single Barrel older, or is it just a selection of the best barrels of the 10 Year? Who knows? Next time I see Jimmy, though, I’m going to pry it out of him. (Also of note: Bottles are not individually numbered, so there’s no way of tracking what barrel you’re getting… if that’s important to you.)

Another major difference we should get out of the way up front is the alcohol content: 110 proof vs. 90 proof for Russell’s 10 Year. It’s also incredibly dark in the glass, one of the darker Bourbons on the market today. Pouring a glass releases tons of wood character into the room. I thought I was in store for a barrel bomb when I tucked into it, but that’s not the case. The nose straight from the glass once things settle down offers some wood but also coal, cinnamon/baking spice, and just a hint of vanilla.

On the body, it’s a bit hot but easily manageable without water, then sweet. There’s more of a burnt sugar/dark caramel than the typical vanilla profile of younger Bourbons, with a distinct charcoal note (courtesy of the dense alligator char on Russell’s barrels) that leads to an unusual touch of licorice on the finish. Somewhat minty, but more of a dried mint than fresh. Inviting and restrained, this is sipping Bourbon that welcomes conversation, a dense and chewy whiskey with a clearly impressive pedigree. Way to go, Jimmy!


Preview: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old

BeamSignatureCraft 179x300 Preview: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years OldThis past February a cadre of young, good-looking spirit scribes were assembled at Beam’s brand new Global Innovation Center, a $30 million compound with an aesthetic somewhere between a high-tech office and the Hall of Justice. Many new products were premiered for our consideration and tasting. However, the diamond in the rough which caught our eye was the new Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old. I was extremely fortunate enough to receive a preliminary sample; bottles will be shipped to market this coming August.

Similar to many of the Beam extensions (Beam Black, Devil’s Cut), the 12 Year Signature Craft is reminiscent of the flagship white label and boasts many of the qualities which make Beam so popular and drinkable. At first it is heavy on traditional bourbon vanilla, with hints of honey and a bit of chocolate cutting through almost immediately. While lighter on spice and heat than Devil’s Cut, the taste is still quite warm, on the sweet side, and every bit as smooth as you’d expect from a 12 year old American whiskey. On the back end, spice lingers for a bit before an oaky finish wraps things up quite nicely.

This will be the first installment of the series, which we were told by master distiller and all-around great guy Fred Noe will include various finishes over the coming years (though specifically what kinds were held close to the vest by Noe and Beam executives).

Beam has always prided itself on the company’s innovative spirit and the proof is in its activity over the past few years: the small batch collection, Devil’s Cut, and Jacob’s Ghost being but a few examples. The 12 Year is a nice addition to the family, continuing Beam’s legacy of creative variations the flagship brand.


Review: Michter’s US-1 Original Sour Mash Whiskey

michters sour mash 116x300 Review: Michters US 1 Original Sour Mash WhiskeyMichter’s is the It Company of the American whiskey world right now, its from-the-ashes story bringing many fans forward to hear about its charms. Michter’s is a brand that dates waaaay back to 1753 but which went bankrupt in 1989. In 1990 the company was rescued and relaunched, and only in the last five years or so has it really become a hit once again.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, Michter’s US-1 Original Sour Mash was the top-selling product of this Bardstown, Kentucky-based distillery. But this whiskey inexplicably wasn’t revived after the ’90 reboot. Now it’s back after a 23 year hiatus off the market. (Michter’s isn’t exactly making it themselves right now, but that hasn’t stopped people from gobbling it up the way they do for Bulleit. The company is producing again… but that spirit won’t be bottled any time soon.)

There’s a lot of confusion over what “sour mash” means. For starters, it doesn’t mean the taste is sour. It just means that some of the fermented mash is held over from one batch of whiskey to start the fermentation on the next batch, the same way that sourdough bread is made. Jack Daniel’s famously puts “sour mash” on its label, and in reality virtually all Bourbon made today is sour mash. It’s most costly and less effective to make mash from scratch every time out — this is known as “sweet mash” — although this is experimented with at various distilleries, too (particularly when unusual yeasts are being used).

Michter’s doesn’t offer a lot of specifics about the Sour Mash. It is distilled from a proprietary grain mash (the company will only say “the mashbill has a fair amount of rye grain in addition to a fair amount of corn and some barleymalt”) and is aged in new, charred oak — but it is not a Bourbon. (My hunch is that there is not enough corn in the mashbill.) It is also filtered before bottling.

This is a really lovely, very fruity whiskey. The nose is all apples, with a touch of caramel behind it. Supple and silky, that fruitiness continues on into the body, with an apple pie character that is far too easy to drink, and doesn’t taste at all like it’s been bottled at a solid 86 proof. Not too sweet and lightly wooded, the graininess of the spirit is all but gone — a touch of corn on the mid-palate and a bit of popcorn on the finish are all that remind you that you’re drinking a whiskey instead of chowing down on dessert.

86 proof. Reviewed: Batch no. 13A1A.