Review: Spirit of America Handcrafted Bourbon Whiskey

spirit of americaThe flag-emblazoned eagle and red-white-and-blue color scheme aside, Spirit of America doesn’t come across like a pioneering bourbon. Even the promise that it is “handcrafted” obscures the fact that this is MGP-produced juice.

Turns out though that there’s something unique under the hood here: Spirit of America isn’t just a wheated bourbon, it’s the first to be commercially released based on a new MGP recipe.

That recipe is 51% corn, 45% wheat, and 4% malted barley, and this bottling is aged for two years (per the fine print). The finished product is blended and bottled by the Hobson & Roberts Distilling Company in Indianapolis.

Let’s give it a taste.

On the nose, the whiskey is surprisingly muted, particularly for a two year old. Perhaps it’s all that wheat talking, but the expected overtones of popcorn and toasted bread don’t manifest here. While light a grain character appears in time, it takes a back seat to gentle vanilla and caramel, though some light acetone notes later in the game belie its youth.

The body is, again, much more gentle than a two year old whiskey has any right to be. Very light on the tongue, indistinct caramel notes kick things off, followed by notes of cinnamon apples, and just a hint of vanilla cream soda. The experience is short and quick, with the cinnamon leading fast into the finish, which is (ultimately) on the hot side.

While early expectations might be low, just about everything about the actual spirit of Spirit of America is surprising. This young wheated bourbon doesn’t have a whole lot of nuance to it, but it’s much more drinkable (and mixable) than you may expect.

$1 from every bottle purchased is donated to the Hope for the Warriors charity.

86 proof.

B / $38 / soaspirits.com

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood Bourbon

EH Taylor Seasoned Wood Bottle & CanisterIt’s been nearly a year since Buffalo Trace’s last release in the Colonel E.H. Taylor line, and now the eighth of these whiskeys is here, and it’s got quite a story behind it.

First, it’s critical to note that this is a wheated bourbon, while the others are all rye-focused bourbons, except for one straight rye. Discussion is already heated up about how a single line of whiskeys can have so much variety; Chuck Cowdery has an excellent post wondering whether this should have just been an “Experimental Collection” release or whether the higher prices commanded by the E.H. Taylor label had something to do with it. Hey, I don’t judge.

The process behind Taylor’s Seasoned Wood release certainly sounds experimental. Sayeth BT:

The barrels in this release underwent a variety of special seasoning processes, including barrels made from staves that were immersed in an enzyme rich bath with water heated to 100 degrees. After spending time in this proprietary solution, these staves were then placed into kilns and dried until they reached an ideal humidity level for crafting into barrels.  Other staves were seasoned outdoors for six months, and still others were left outdoors for a full 12 months before being made into barrels and sent to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be filled and aged.  All barrel staves were seasoned, dried, and crafted at Independent Stave Company, who consulted on this project with the premiere expert on oak maturation, Dr. James Swan.

The whiskey is aged for “well over a decade,” but carries no formal age statement.

Whether it’s enzymes or whatever, what BT has put into the bottle here is outstanding. The nose is loaded with maple syrup, light cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger, and ample wood-influenced vanilla and caramel notes. On the palate, the initially intense sweetness is backed up by an explosion of flavor: Sweet vanilla backed up by black pepper, salted caramel, some barrel char, and a touch of herbal character on the finish. At 50% abv, it drinks a touch hot, but everything’s fully manageable as it warms the body late in the game. Over time, notes of gentle citrus fold into the maple syrup notes, giving it an orange marmalade character. Highly drinkable yet also unique and complex, it’s a fantastic little whiskey.

Doesn’t remind me at all of other E.H. Taylor releases, but that’s a story for another day.

100 proof.

$70 / A / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Coppersea New York Corn Whisky, Green Malt Rye, and Excelsior Bourbon

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Coppersea, based in upstate New York, has been on a real tear lately with a flood of new (and very young) whiskey releases, running the gamut of American styles. Today we’re looking at three of them.

Thoughts follow.

Coppersea New York Corn Whisky – 80% corn, 20% malted barley, aged at least six months in a variety of second-fill bourbon, brandy, rye, and wine barrels. Powerful with grain and popcorn notes, with overtones of coal fire and sawdust. Green and weedy on the finish, with intense maltiness. Meant to be a throwback to ye olde days, but it has very little charm. 96 proof. C- / $70

Coppersea New York Green Malt Rye – 100% Hudson Valley rye malt (malted on Coppersea’s own malt floor), aged 7 months in new oak barrels. The nose is loaded with exotic incense, anise, and Asian spices, some menthol, and a slight rubber character. On the palate things settle down fairly nicely into a quite spicy groove. The base grain doesn’t stray far from the tongue, but it’s tempered by notes of cloves and rose petals. On the finish another flick of anise finds a companion in more toasty grain notes. 90 proof. B / $94 (375ml)

Coppersea New York Excelsior Bourbon – 55% corn, 35% rye, 10% malted barley, aged under one year in new American white oak barrels. Very grainy (though not terribly corny) on the nose, the whiskey offers lengthy barrel char aromas as well. On the palate, there’s surprisingly little going on, including some emerging sweetness that comes across on a slightly chalky texture with hints of graham crackers and sugar cookies. Again there’s the wood influence and youthful grains on the finish, with some gentle sweetness to temper the experience. 96 proof. B- / $110

Update 4/22/2016: Several errors regarding Coppersea’s production methods have been corrected in this post.

coppersea.com

Review: Russell’s Reserve Bourbon 10 Years Old and Rye 6 Years Old (2016)

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Wild Turkey has been on a rebranding tear of late, updating its labels and corporate design in a push of gentle modernization of its image.

We took the opportunity to crack open two new bottles of its Russell’s Reserve line — the 10 year old bourbon and the 6 year old rye, both staples of the world of mid-level premium whiskey. Both have undergone their second rebranding since launching in 2007-08.

So, without further ado, let’s tuck into a fresh look at these widely available bottlings.

Both are (still) 90 proof. Pricing is current.

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon 10 Years Old2008 review; 2010 review. Classic ‘Turkey. The astringency hits you first on the nose. It needs to aerate and blow off a bit before settling into its groove, where those classic, big citrus notes come to the fore, alongside a touch of roasted nut character. The palate loads up with vanilla and caramel, more of those nuts, and a malted milk character that becomes evident, almost chewy, on the back end. A scant touch of hospital character grips on tight at the finish, but as with the somewhat funky nose, it eases up over time. Current rating: B+ / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye 6 Years Old2007 review; 2010 review. Fresh rubber and banana are immediate on the nose, with cotton candy notes. The nose would indicate that it’s an ultra-fruity rye, but the body takes things in another direction. Namely: Classic rye spices, with cinnamon and clove notes, black pepper, more banana, and marzipan. A bit of gumminess on the finish makes the farewell feel a bit clammy as it fades away, though. All told, I prefer it slightly to the bourbon. Current rating: B+ / $38  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

wildturkeybourbon.com

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