Category Archives: Bourbon

Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Hardcore Cider

red stag hardcore cider 109x300 Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Hardcore CiderThe latest addition to the ever-expanding line of Red Stag by Jim Beam is this, called Hardcore Cider. You don’t need a lot of imagination to figure out this is infused with apple cider “and other natural flavors.” Apple is a natural complement for bourbon (and plenty of cocktails mix whiskey and cider), so this combination makes sense.

On the nose, the spirit is full of deep apple character — baked apples in a touch of cinnamon syrup, like grandma used to make. The body follows suit: This is a whiskey where the flavoring takes the reins and runs with it. The bourbon element of this Red Stag is elusive to the point of absence. If the fruit were a bit brighter, you could be excused for thinking you were drinking Calvados. A touch of vanilla at the very end reminds you it’s been in a barrel, but vanilla is such a natural counterpoint for apples that it doesn’t immediately come across as a bourbon element.

This is not a bad product, but the relative absence of bourbon flavors — even with 80 proof whiskey as the base — make me wish for something that showcased the whiskey along with the cider. That said, I’d mix this with ginger ale or use it as a base for a punch and see what happens.

80 proof.

B / $18 /

Review: J.W. Dant Bourbon

4605 6544jwdantoubnbox 199x300 Review: J.W. Dant BourbonFirst, for your consideration, a bit of history: Joseph Washington Dant was a well-known Kentucky distiller who in 1836 gained a reputation for making his whisky using a log still. For those not versed in the distillation arts, that’s essentially a hollowed out tree trunk with copper piping running through the center. The logs would then be filled with mash and steam would run through the copper pipe for the distilling process. Dant would go on to own a proper distillery some 40 years later, and generations of his family would continue to work in the industry. Eventually they would honor his legacy with a bottle bearing his name in the late ’50s. The brand would stay in the family name until Heaven Hill purchased it in 1993; the bottle has stayed in Heaven Hill’s core lineup since, though it is no longer made in a log. (No age statement is offered.)

And now the tasting: At first, Dant seems promising. A fresh, neat pour offers up traces of orange, spices, and a bit of smoke on the nose; ideal for cocktails for the forthcoming autumn season. The first sip and swish ease in with a bit of the usual suspects: vanilla, caramel, and oak, but then follow up with an absolute knockout punch of heat and alcohol which linger until the (somewhat) short, oaky finish. Nothing really changes much over the duration of a glass. It mellows with a bit of ice, but the song remains the same.

Overall it’s not an unpleasant experience, but definitely not a stand-up memorable tasting event either. It’s a bit like that very odd dating situation where things went fine and nothing went wrong, but considering the field is wide open and plenty of options remain available, a second date might happen only with a bit of reluctance. Heaven Hill would be well served in re-tooling the brand to compete on a pedigree with other big names like Stagg, Parker’s, and Booker’s. It’s the least it can do for a man who contributed much to the advancement of bourbon. He certainly deserves the consideration.

B / $18 / no website

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

Antique Collection 525x411 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

It’s always a glorious day when Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection annual samples arrive, letting us stick our noses and tongues in these classics of the American whiskey world. 2013 offers the quintet at ages of up to 19 years old. Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2013 Collection stack up. (Hint: It’s one of the strongest showings for the Antique Collection in years.)

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Beautiful nose. Lovely rye spice meets caramel and spice aromas. The body has an easy sweetness to it, with gentle grain meeting burnt sugar, vanilla caramels, and light applesauce notes. Relatively simple, but wait for the dark molasses to come along in the finish as you let this rumble around in the glass for a while. This is a barrel (er, barrels) picked at just the right time — I don’t get the overly tannic, drying, and dusty character than 2012’s version. As it often is in the annals of the Antique Collection (because it’s essentially the same from year to year), this one’s just about perfect. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Surprise, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is this year actually 19 years old. They didn’t bother changing the bottle, though. This is always a fun, go-to bourbon, and this year it’s no exception. A bigger whiskey, it’s got ample leather and wood on the nose and the initial attack of the body, with a kind of plum/prune/raisin underpinning that arrives quickly. The sweeter, more dessert-like elements come out more clearly as the finish fades, leaving the drinker with a surprisingly complex overall experience. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – This year’s Stagg was aged on lower floors of the Buffalo Trace warehouses, and the proof comes in at 128.2 proof, one of the lowest (if not the lowest) I’ve seen since starting this website. (Higher warehouse locations are hotter, which causes more water to evaporate than alcohol, which leaves higher-proof whiskey in the barrel.) OK, with that resolved, what you’ll find is a classically structured barrel-proof bourbon, heavy with wood notes (and plenty of straight-up alcohol despite the lower proof level) up front but balanced by a surprising fruitiness underneath. Chewy with notes of figs, plums, and currants, it’s got a brooding character you don’t often see in bourbon and which is not the usual way Stagg presents itself. One worth exploring, as always. 16 years old. B+

William Larue Weller Bourbon – The blazing hot nose makes you think you’re in for nothing but burn, but this year’s Weller — never a highlight of the Antique Collection — has much more to show off. Lots of tobacco on the nose — both fresh and smoldering. A 136.2 proof bourbon at the (comparably) young age of 12 years old, it comes across as older than you initially expect. The tobacco and wood notes blow off after a time, bringing on restrained butterscotch sweetness, plus some banana and caramel notes. This is probably the most classically structured bourbon of the lot, with wood meeting ice cream toppings alongside a blistering overproof backbone. Plenty to enjoy for the traditionalists. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As usual, this 6 year old rye is the odd man out in a collection populated by whiskeys two to three times its age. But last year Jim Murray made the untenably insane choice to name Handy his “Whisky of the Year,” cementing its place in the Collection pretty much eternally. This year’s expression is one of the better versions of the spirit. It’s a quite sweet rye, laden with plenty of baking spice and a particularly long gingerbread finish. The exceptional sweetness can become a bit overwhelming in the long haul, but that may be to some drinkers’ tastes. Not a lot of wood influence this year, a stark departure from 2012. I wonder what Murray will say. 128.4 proof. B+

$70 each /

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsBuffalo Trace, no stranger to experimentation, recently released this intriguing series of bourbons as part of its Experimental Collection. The idea: Vary entry proof from very low (90) to fairly high (125), and keep the barrels otherwise exactly the same.

Entry proof, for those not familiar with the lingo, is the term that describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is not barreled at the alcohol level that came off the still. It is rather watered down, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s sealed up to rest for years.

With this series of whiskeys, the white dog came off the still at 130 proof. The recipe is a wheated mashbill, which was then split into four parts, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 7 months in barrel. When bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof.

How are they different, and which is best? Here’s what I had to say…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 90 Entry Proof - Pleasant and mellow, it has a brisk level of heat on the nose, but not overwhelming. The body is moderately woody, with ample vanilla character. Applesauce and cinnamon build to an easy, lasting, and sweet conclusion, with just a lightly woody/sawdusty kicker. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 105 Entry Proof - Much less on the nose here, just wisps of lumber and alcoholic heat. The body: Completely dead, just nothing going on in this at all. Hints of coconut and milk chocolate, but otherwise this could be almost any kind of whiskey. A snooze. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 115 Entry Proof - Nose of butterscotch, some wood. Comes across as hotter as you take in the nose, but reveals banana notes, brown sugar, caramel, and more. On the body, quite unique, with a sweetness that’s spiked with lots of cloves and deep wood character. Still, it’s not overcooked, offering lots of depth in both its fruit and more savory characters. If I was buying one of these, I’d pick this one. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 125 Entry Proof - Racy and spicy, with notes of cinnamon and raisins, both on the nose and in the body. Opens up as you sip it, but wood-driven characteristics take hold over the fruit, leaving behind a slightly bitter, hoary finish. Not unenjoyable, but more difficult than it needs to be. B

Fun stuff, but it might say more about barrel variability than it does about the merits of different entry proofs.

each $46 per 375ml bottle /

Review: A. Smith Bowman Virginia Bourbons

bowman brothers small batch 143x300 Review: A. Smith Bowman Virginia BourbonsYes Virginia, they do make whiskey in, uh, Virginia.

A. Smith Bowman is a boutique bottling now owned by Buffalo Trace parent company Sazerac. It was previously sold with very limited regional availability, but now this unique whiskey, made in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is getting broader distribution that currently totals 17 states (sorry Mississippi!). We were fortunate enough to nab two of the three whiskey expressions it currently has on offer — though oddly, none of the three actually says “A. Smith Bowman” exactly in those words on the label, so bear that in mind if you go on the hunt for a bottle. (The company also makes rum, vodka, and gin.)

Don’t be afraid of Virginia, purists. These are Bourbons made in the accepted, proper way, with a traditional copper pot still, triple distilled. No fancy finishes or other trickery. No age statements are provided on the bottles.

Thoughts on both whiskeys tasted follow.

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Ample applesauce on the nose, with cinnamon notes. On the body, vanilla — slightly saccharine in its sweetness — pours forth, alongside some toasty wood notes that offer balance. Hints of mint throughout. The apple notes come back along on the finish. Overall: Nice body, very pleasant and easy to sip on, as long as you’re ready for a whole lot of fruit. 90 proof. A- / $30

John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – More wood, more vanilla on the nose. Almost chocolatey. The body offers classic, big Bourbon flavor, a well-crafted melange of wood, cocoa powder, rich vanilla, and somewhat less fruit. Here, it’s not apples but rather figs which make a curious — and wholly welcome — entrance, offering a neat twist on this spirit without being overly fruity or dessert like. Great balance, and easy drinking despite the triple-digit proof level. A slight splash of water doesn’t hurt. 100 proof. A / $50 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2013 Edition

2013 OF Birthday Bourbon 217x300 Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2013 EditionAnother year older, another year deeper into your whiskey collection.

This 12th edition of Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon doesn’t offer much in the way of data, but it’s 12 years old and very limited in quantity.

Lots of wood here; that’s evident from the get-go. The nose is classic, older Bourbon stock — wood-driven, but filled with lots of baking spice and vanilla notes. On the tongue, more where that came from, with an initially sweet rush, followed by cloves, baked apples, and more vanilla pastry character. The finish brings the wood back, plus a surprising amount of alcohol, although this has never been an incredibly hot spirit.

All in all, OldFo ’13 is in line with many of the previous bottlings, driven more by the barrel than the grain, and that’s something that will appeal to fans of older stock. Those seeking balance will find this a bit hoary (though I do have a soft spot for the butterscotch notes that come out after it’s had plenty of time to aerate in the glass).

Sample at 98 proof (OldFo says the final version will be bottled at 97 proof).

B+ / $55 /

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]