Category Archives: Bourbon

Van Winkle Bourbon Returning to Shelves in Late October 2012

This just in. Van Winkle is coming back — remember that the whiskey sourcing for this Bourbon is constantly changing — in just a few weeks. Pricing has already been set:

  • $39.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof
  • $54.99 – Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
  • $69.99 – Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey 13 Year Old
  • $79.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
  • $129.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
  • $249.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old

Note that the 10 Year Old 90 Proof version will no longer be sold.

Get it while you can!

Some bottlings can be purchased from Master of Malt.

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distiller’s Blend of Mashbills Bourbon (2012)

parkers blend of mashbills bourbon 159x300 Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distillers Blend of Mashbills Bourbon (2012)Every year Heaven Hill puts out a limited edition — and highly sought-after — Bourbon, each with a unique spin under the Parker’s Heritage Collection label. Invariably they are awesome.

This year, the 6th edition of the Parker’s Heritage Collection is a unique release called the Master Distiller’s Blend of Mashbills.

As the name implies, this is a blend of a Bourbon recipes: Heaven Hill’s 11-year-old rye-heavy Bourbon mixed up with Heaven Hill’s 11-year-old wheated Bourbon. Both recipes are commonly used in Heaven Hill’s primary whiskey lines, like Evan Williams and Elijah Craig.

Now don’t get me wrong: Marrying (or “batching”) whiskey isn’t easy. I know, I’ve tried. Picking casks, deciding on the proportions of each cask, and having the conviction to see a flavor profile through to the end is difficult. (That said, it’s a whole lot of fun.) Mixing rye and wheat? That sounds even tougher.

But compared to some of the prior Parker’s Heritage Collection whiskeys — including last year’s jaw-dropping Cognac-finished Bourbon and 2009′s Golden Anniversary (which had 40-plus-year-old Bourbon in it), this edition strikes me as a little bit less than thrilling. A blend of wheated and rye-based Bourbons? I’m with you. That’s actually unique. But you have to convince me that this is Heritage Collection material.

Pulling cork from bottle, this is sure enough a fine little Bourbon, and it comes across as quite well-aged. And at 11 years old, it is indeed on the hoary side for Kentucky Bourbon. There’s lots of wood here, with a very drying finish — thanks in large part by the exceptionally high level of alcohol. (Last year’s Parker’s Heritage was just 100 proof.)

Beyond the raw wood character (just look at that color…), the rye tends to muscle the wheat out on this whiskey. Spicy with copious baking cabinet character, backed up with copious notes of caramel and bittersweet chocolate. There’s lots of sugar and spice to go around here, but it’s not exactly drowning in complexity. Adding water makes this an easy sipper, but turns it into a tasty though somewhat simple sugar bomb.

High-proof fans will love this viscous, oily concoction, but at $80 a pop this year is a bit of a tougher sell.

131.6 proof. (Sample bottles and early reviews are mislabeled as 127 proof. Shipping bottle proof may vary.)

B+ / $80 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

There are a few things you can count on in the whiskey world, and one of them is the annual release of Buffalo Trace’s always-anticipated Antique Collection, a compilation of five very old and very rare American whiskeys that pretty much sell out immediately once they land on store shelves. (I’ve seen bars where these whiskeys are locked up behind iron grates.)

Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2012 Collection stack up.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Big rye on the nose, with some honeysuckle in the mix. The body is sweet, with touches of tobacco. More wood develops with time in the glass, and a splash of water. Lots of tannin on the finish, all that time in wood leaving behind a lot of dusty sawdust character. Water helps. 90 proof (as always). 90 proof. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Very sweet, almost no woodiness for a 17-year-old Bourbon. Quite a bit of citrus under the caramel notes, I don’t get the “dry and delicate” character that the distillery describes in its official notes, but rather a classic whiskey with just a touch of tawny port character on the finish. Scarily drinkable though less complex than I might like. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Chocolate and coffee notes a-plenty in this classic heater — 142.8 proof this year. Plenty of wood on the mid-palate, but it’s not overly hoary like the 2011 edition. A warming, sweet finish brings everything together. Make no mistake, this is hot, old whiskey — 17 years old for the 2012 bottling — but complex, burly, and quite delicious. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon –At “just” 123.4 proof, this year’s Weller is a lower-proof baby compared to previous renditions. Less exciting on the nose, this wheated Bourbon is mild, ultimately exhibiting some licorice and nutty, tree-bark flavors. Tannic and drying on the finish, even with water. 12 years old. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Definitely my least favorite of this year’s collection. The nose is innocuous, hinting at dark cherry character alongside cinnamon and some cocoa notes. The body, however, veers into somewhat overpowering astringency. Though just 6 years old, the woodiness is pungent and overbearing, leaving behind an oily, sawdust-driven finish that hangs around for a long, long time. It opens up with time in glass, but the overall effect just doesn’t come together the way it should. 132.4 proof. B-

about $70 each / greatbourbon.com

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

Review: Buffalo Trace Giant French Oak Barrels Experiments Bourbons

With all the hubbub over small whiskey barrels going on, it almost went unnoticed that Buffalo Trace released a whiskey that went the opposite direction: Aged in oversized French oak barrels for a long, long time.

To be sure, the 135-gallon barrel (likely a “puncheon” as terminology goes) is not the largest wooden barrel out there. The biggest I know of is the gorda, which can store a whopping 185 gallons. Still, compared to the standard 53-gallon Bourbon barrel, that’s a big hunk of wood.

The science here should be obvious. Small barrels age whiskey exponentially faster, so large ones should age whiskey much more slowly. What else might happen? According to Buffalo Trace, it saw slower evaporation, too. (Some details follow.)

These barrels had a lighter char — #3 instead of the usual #4 — and the new make spirit put into each employed a rye-heavy Bourbon recipe. Both were aged on the ground floor and chill filtered before bottling at 90 proof. Notes from the distillery are in italics. My notes are in a regular font.

Buffalo Trace 19 Year Old Giant French Oak BarrelThis 135 gallon barrel was filled on January 28, 1993 and was bottled June 28, 2012. It came off the still at 135 proof and was entered into the barrel at 129.8 proof.  The evaporation rate on this barrel was 34.8%, which is considerably lower than a typical 53 gallon barrel, which averages 55-60% evaporation for the same time frame. Very tradition Bourbon character here. One would never guess this was nearly 20 years old. Sweet, with lots of dessert character: Caramel sauce, chocolate-covered cherries, and a woodsy note, particularly evident, almost like lumberyard, on the nose. Really quite pleasing and not overcooked at all. A-

Buffalo Trace 23 Year Old Giant French Oak Barrel – This giant barrel was also 135 gallons, filled on May 17, 1989 and bottled on June 27, 2012. The whiskey entered into the barrel at 130 proof and the evaporation rate was lower at 46.8% than a typical sized 23 year-old barrel. Those extra four years make a difference. This Bourbon offers more citrus notes, with a more wood-forward profile. Racier, but also with a dusty, drying finish. The wood has finally taken hold (evidenced from the much higher evaporation rate) here, giving the whiskey more of a sawdust character. Overdone, but hanging on just barely. B

$46 each (375ml bottles) / buffalotrace.com

Buffalot Trace Experimental Collection Giant Barrels Review: Buffalo Trace Giant French Oak Barrels Experiments Bourbons

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Six

At this point I think I’m the only person not employed by Buffalo Trace to continue the “Single Oak Project” experiment, but I remain excited by it and am committed to seeing it through. This month we look at the sixth round of Bourbons, now a year and a half into the four-year experiment to figure out what really makes the best Bourbon.

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

This round considers the effect of recipe (rye vs. wheat, which so far has been tested in every round), barrel char level (#3 vs. #4), and wood grain size of the barrel (tight, average, or coarse). All other variables — tree cut, stave seasoning, aging warehouse, and entry proof — remained the same.

All of these are 105 proof entry-proof whiskeys, which is a curious choice, and results were all over the map. Both of my favorite whiskeys — #30 and #160 — were both ryes, one with a #3 char and one with a #4 char. None of the wheated whiskeys performed particularly well this time out.

To date, the leader among online reviews remains barrel #106. Thoughts on all whiskeys tasted follow. 120 Bourbons to go!

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #30 – Good all-around Bourbon, classic structure, vanilla, marshmallows, toffee. Long finish, very smooth. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #32 – Spicier, but not overdone, more wood oils here, a bit rough on the finish, and a touch bitter. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #62 – Whole lot of menthol on the nose, some fuel oil. A bit rubbery on the finish. C- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #64 – Hospital notes on the nose again, band-aids and astringent finish. Not quite as severe as 62, but still off. Like it hasn’t properly aged. C (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #94 – Hot on the palate, with a big spicy kick, but it mellows out and finishes with a smooth, dessert-like caramel silkiness. Coming together, but imperfect. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #96 – Very woody up front, and astringent on the back of the palate. Develops licorice notes, black cherry, and a nicely sweet finish. Like #94, it’s got two faces, and the second face is the better one. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #126 – Chewy but with a very light body. Overall a classical structure that reveals caramel and brown sugar in the end, but not a lot of depth. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #128 – Lots of heat on this one, fading in the end and leaving behind a short finish. Not a lot of flavor at any point along the way, though. Harmless. C (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #158 – Big toffee sweetness on the front of the palate, almost cotton candy like, a real departure vs. some of these more reserved and withdrawn spirits. A sugar bomb, almost a bit much. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #160 – Finally a real thoroughbred. This one has it all, up-front sweetness, depth of flavor, a touch of spice, and lush and lacy caramel notes throughout. Touches of citrus raise the game. Best of the lot. A (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #190 – Also very good, but with a bit of heavy alcoholic vapor to it. Racy, with dark molasses, dark chocolate to it. Missing something, but not a bad whiskey on the whole. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #192 – Similar notes to #190, with more of a spicy, chewy character to it. Some greenness on the finish, too, and the dark cocoa notes don’t entirely mesh. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon

The whiskey just keeps pouring out of Utah’s High West. The company’s latest expression: A blend of straight Bourbons, bottled in honor of the American Prairie Reserve Foundation, which, when complete, will be the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states (it’s 5000 square miles sprawling across Montana).

Two bourbons are blended together to make American Prairie Reserve. They are: Whiskey #1: 6 year old Bourbon distilled and aged at the old Seagrams plant in Lawrenceberg, Indiana. Mashbill from 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley malt.  Whiskey #2: 10 year old Bourbon distilled by Four Roses. Mashbill from 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% barley malt.

This is a very citrus-focused Bourbon, with lots of orange, cherry, and lemon on the nose. Easy drinking with a modest sweetness and a very slippery body, it glides on down without much fuss. Surprisingly little wood is evident here, as the citrus notes dominate the whiskey. Candied nut character comes along in the end, which adds a surprising and welcome balance to this otherwise very juicy whiskey in the finish. There’s even a touch of cocoa powder in there. Give it a bit of time in glass before tucking into it.

92 proof. Batch #1 reviewed.

A- / $51 / highwest.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

high west american prairie reserve whiskey Review: High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2012 Edition

We just wrote about Four Roses’ 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel release, now its 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch is hitting shelves. This cask strength whiskey is batched from casks containing four of Four Roses’ vaunted 10 recipes, 12-year-old OBSK, a 12-year-old OESK, an 11-year-old OBSV, and the centerpiece, a 17-year-old OBSV. By comparison, last year’s oldest whiskey included in the blend was 13 years old, so there’s some really old stock in this one.

Lots of flavor in this Bourbon, starting with a surprising surfeit of fruit. Cherry and peach are on the nose, then big on the palate when you take a sip. Chocolate and cedar wood character come along soon after. The finish is long and lasting, with hints of apple in that chocolate. Think Nutella as a snack after school. Er, after work. The finish has plenty of heat, but even at 115 proof, it’s perfectly drinkable without water, a testament to the depth and power within.

All told this is one of 4R’s best Limited Edition Small Batch releases in recent years (if not the best), rich but not overpowering, with a good balance of sweet, savory, and all-around goodness.

115 proof sample (actual bottling proof may vary). 4,000 bottles produced.

A / $90 / fourroses.us

four roses 2012 small batch limited edeition Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2012 Edition

Bourbon Infographic from Wild Turkey

Fun stuff from our pals in Kentucky in honor of September, which is Bourbon Heritage Month. Click for the full-size version.

Wild Turkey 505x1000 Bourbon Infographic from Wild Turkey

Review: Larceny Bourbon

Heaven Hill has just released this new bottling, called Larceny and named in honor of John E. Fitzgerald. Who’s that? A treasury agent with “the only set of keys to the rickhouses,” he reportedly stole whiskey from the best barrels as he traipsed through the warehouses around the turn of the century. There’s a long back story of lies and half-truths about Fitzgerald — the iconic “Old Fitzgerald” brand is named after him — but I won’t delve into all of it on this post. (Chuck Cowdery has tons of info here.) Frankly he had nothing to do with the making of this whiskey.

This is a wheated Bourbon, bottled at 92 proof. No age statement, but drawn from barrels 6 to 12 years old and produced in small batches 100 (or fewer) barrels at a time.

The color is a bright amber, almost orange. The nose offers fresh-cut wood and lots of it, with traditional vanilla notes underneath that. On the tongue, lots of citrus. More wood here, with the more typical Bourbon notes of sweet, burnt sugar/caramel and vanilla coming on at the end.

I’m torn on this whiskey. It’s an easy sipper even at 92 proof but at every step the wood comes across almost like sawdust on the nose. It tastes “ready,” though not exactly young, but also a bit hoary and old at the same time. I appreciate wood in my Bourbon, but there’s something about the balance here that doesn’t quite work out the way it should.

At this price, you can try it for yourself and see what you think. Let me know.

B / $25 / heavenhill.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Larceny Bourbon Review: Larceny Bourbon

Recipe: Wild Turkey Whiskey Sour 101

whiskey sour 159x300 Recipe: Wild Turkey Whiskey Sour 101National Whiskey Sour Day (no, really!) is today, and in honor of the occasion, Wild Turkey offers this concoction, a high-test spin on the classic drink.

Wild Turkey Whiskey Sour 101 (or The Sergeant Whiskey Sowers)
1 1/2 ounces Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce honey
1 fresh cherry
1 ounce Wild Turkey American Honey
Dollop of egg white

Slice cherry from top to bottom five times around pit, and soak in a cup of Wild Turkey American Honey. Combine Wild Turkey Bourbon, grapefruit juice, lime juice and honey in a cocktail shaker. Froth egg white and add a dollop to the mixture. Shake and serve over ice. Garnish with Wild Turkey American Honey-soaked cherry.

Interview: James Carville, New Spokesman for Maker’s Mark

James Carville isn’t just the kingmaker behind Bill Clinton and other Democratic leaders from the last several decades, he’s now the spokesman for Maker’s Mark. Along with wife Mary Matalin, Carville is stumping for the massive Bourbon brand with a cheeky political spin, promoting “The Cocktail Party,” a party that, at last, the famously opposite-minded couple can both get behind.

Recently I spoke to the Ragin’ Cajun – after missing him in person at a Maker’s Mark event – via phone to talk whiskey, politics, and more.

Carville and Matalin Video Party Still hi res 300x168 Interview: James Carville, New Spokesman for Maker’s MarkCarville’s been a fan of Maker’s since 1987, so it was a natural move, he says, to sign on for a promo gig. “I spent the first 50 years of my life not knowing what premium bourbon was. My daddy used to drink Old Crow.” Now a rabid devotee of Maker’s, he says, “I serve it all the time.”

I asked Carville about whether drinking and politics mix – after all, no aspiring leader wants to be seen as a drunk – and Carville laughed. “Of course they mix,” he giggles in his characteristic deep-Louisiana accent, “Do you think you could do politics sober? If you want to get something done together, you gotta drink together.”

Sure enough, it seems like in recent years politicians have been more open to being seen with a drink in hand. Barack Obama, in particular, seems to have few qualms with the touchy subject. Recently it was revealed that the White House now has its own home-brew operation on site, and Obama’s famous “Beer Summit” (following Henry Louis Gates’ erroneous arrest) is now a textbook example of how a bit o’ alcohol can go a long way toward mending fences – and keeping riots at bay.

Adds Carville. “Obama’s a beer man. It’s the one thing that anyone can drink. And no one’s gonna say, ‘I’m a red Burgundy guy.’”

Of course, Carville is quick to point out that Obama could do worse, that there have been many (not so) great moments in alcohol and politics. His favorite: Sargent Shriver ordering a Courvoisier in a blue-collar bar in Ohio in 1972. Did it kill his chances to win the election that year? Says Carville, “I don’t think he had much of a chance to start with.”

The incident would be vaguely echoed when Hilary Clinton – for whom Carville was consulting at the time – had a beer and a whiskey shot on the 2008 campaign trail, only to have it later revealed that she was drinking Canadian whisky and not American Bourbon. (Scandal!) For the record, Carville laughs this off: “You go into a bar and people put a drink in your hand. You don’t ask if it’s Canadian.” Hey, I’m just impressed she actually finished it.

With election season kicking into gear, Carville is calling on politicians to put down the beer and pick up the Bourbon (presumably a Maker’s Mark). “That’s the great American drink: Bourbon,” he says. “These guys should kick it up a notch.”

Buffalo Trace: Small Barrel Whiskey Experiments Are Failures

Buffalo Trace is the leader in Bourbon country at tinkering with tradition and releasing “experimental” whiskeys, which the company pumps out at an almost breakneck pace. (We’ve got reviews of many of these recent experiments coming up soon.)

But today Buffalo Trace announced that not every experiment works, and its work with very small barrels will not be seeing the light of day. Press release follows.

FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (Aug. 22, 2012) Sometimes, not all experiments are successful. Buffalo Trace Distillery learned this the hard way with its small barrel experiments started in 2006.

Using 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels, the company filled each small barrel with the same mash bill (Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1) around the same time, and aged them side by side in a  warehouse for six years.

The results were less than stellar.  Even though the barrels did age quickly, and picked up the deep color and smokiness from the char and wood, each bourbon yielded less wood sugars than typical from a 53 gallon barrel, resulting in no depth of flavor.

While Buffalo Trace is NOT releasing these experiments, the Distillery did feel it was important to release their findings. The company hopes others can learn from such an experiment, just as they have.

“As expected, the smaller 5 gallon barrel aged bourbon faster than the 15 gallon version. However, it’s as if they all bypassed a step in the aging process and just never gained that depth of flavor that we expect from our bourbons.  Even though these small barrels did not meet our expectations, we feel it’s important to explore and understand the differences between the use of various barrel sizes,” said Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley.

Each of the three small barrel bourbons were tasted annually to check on their maturation progress, then left alone to continue aging, hoping the taste would get better with time.  Finally, after six years, the team at Buffalo Trace concluded the barrels were not going to taste any better and decided to chalk up the experiment to a lesson learned.

“These barrels were just so smoky and dark, we just confirmed the taste was not going to improve.  The largest of the three barrels, the 15 gallon, tasted the best, but it still wasn’t what we would deem as meeting our quality standards.  But instead of just sweeping this experiment under the rug and not talking about it, we felt it was important to share what we learned, especially in light of the debate about usage of small barrels.  It’s one experiment we are not likely to repeat,” said Wheatley.

These small barrel experiments are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of these barrels has unique characteristics that differentiate it from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Review: Smooth Ambler Yearling Bourbon Whiskey

This West Virgina-based distillery produces a variety of spirits, including vodka, gin, and several whiskeys. Yearling is the company’s entry-level Bourbon, double-distilled from a wheated (no rye) mashbill and aged 2 1/2 years in small American oak casks. (At least, my sample was 2 1/2 years old; the overall age appears to vary over time depending on the bottle.)

For a young whiskey, Yearling isn’t bad at all. Surprising intensity, with plenty of silky vanilla in the body. Light wood notes on the nose. Secondary flavors include chocolate-covered cherries and some coffee character. Warming finish, with unique notes of mint chocolate as it ends. I never, ever would have guessed this was just 2 1/2 years old… but some whiskeys, like Big Bottom, really can show their stuff at a young age.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001.

A / $62 / smoothambler.com

smooth ambler yearling whiskey Review: Smooth Ambler Yearling Bourbon Whiskey

Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old 1991

Recently named American Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate, this rarity from Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig brand has some big expectations to live up to. Distilled and barreled in 1991, it’s been lingering for 20 years before being bottled for your drinking pleasure.

As John Hansell notes in the blog post linked above, Heaven Hill is one of the masters of dealing with very old American whiskeys — the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel releases are some of the most anticipated bottles to arrive each year at Drinkhacker HQ.

WA‘s praise (based on a limited edition barrel released last fall) is hard to argue with. With Elijah Craig 20 Year, you get a Bourbon full of flavor: the typical vanilla, wood oil, peaches, and a distinct raisin character. Plenty of wood here, as you’d expect with a whiskey this old, but it’s balanced by all these other components. Later on, you get more of a fruitcake character from the whiskey, those raisins taking on cinnamon and nutmeg notes, with a candied finish. The wood’s on the nose, the fruit bats clean-up. Lovely lovely lovely.

90 proof. Reviewed Barrel #1, barreled on 3/13/1991. About 80 barrels/1300 bottles produced.

A / $130 / heavenhill.com

Elijah Craig 20 Year Old Single Barrel 1991 Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old 1991

Review: Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon

Part of the Buffalo Trace empire, Eagle Rare is a 10 year old Bourbon with plenty to recommend. A classically structured Bourbon, it is sweet without being cloying, and there’s barely a trace of its corn heritage here, most of which you catch on the nose. What remains is an intense dessert-like caramel character, touched with vanilla and cocoa notes, and a long, smooth finish. The balance is just about perfect here: Racy at 90 proof but not too hot. The only complaint I have is a body that lacks a lot of oomph to it. It isn’t thin, but a more creamy texture would complement the sweetness even more. Outstanding value. I’ve seen it for as little as $16 a bottle, which is almost insane for a 10 year old Bourbon.

Looking to kick it up a notch? Check out the 17 Year Old version, part of the annual Antique Collection releases. It varies from year to year (and the wood can get a little hoary in some renditions), but it’s great as a point of comparison with the 10 Year.

A / $23 / eaglerare.com

eagle rare single barrel Review: Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Five

Haven’t had enough of the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project? Don’t worry, we’ve got three more years of it to go.

Round Five of this incredibly curious project is upon us, with 12 new Bourbon bottlings up for your consideration. This time out, the three variables being focused upon are recipe (rye vs. wheat — 6 of which are released in every round), entry proof (the alcohol level at which the whiskey goes into the barrel, either 105 or 125 proof), and wood grain size (tight, average, or coarse). All other variables are identical: barrel stave seasoning (level 6), warehouse type (wood in warehouse K), barrel char (#3), and tree cut (top half).

Notes are below, but some rough thoughts pop out. Most notably, the idea that higher entry proofs lead to better whiskeys (the theory being that alcohol ages better than water) didn’t pan out here. With one exception I rated the lower entry-proof whiskeys as better crafted (remember, though, all are bottled at 90 proof). This is oddly enough the exact opposite of the effect I saw in round 4, where higher entry-proof whiskeys scored better. Wood grain size didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Randomness in barrels? You better believe it.

There were a couple of ringer whiskeys here, including one super-spicy whiskey I would have swore was rye based (it was wheat), and a smooth operator I was sure was wheat (which was rye). Just goes to show that you can’t stereotype Bourbon based on the mashbill. In the end it’s the wood that really matters the most.

Need previous coverage or a baseline of what this experimental series is all about? Find it here:
Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four

Curious which whiskeys are rated highest on the singleoakproject.com website? Barrels 10, 106, and 184 are in a tie for the lead. My ratings on those bottlings, respectively: A, B+, and B. Can’t wait to crunch some numbers on this when the final round (12) is over.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #1 – Orange and caramel notes, otherwise a relatively workmanlike Bourbon with plenty of vanilla going on. A bit bitter on the very end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #17 – A sweeter style, but limited on nuance. Nothing wrong here, but it comes across more like a Canadian whisky, blended and young. B- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #33 – Another light style, sweet on the nose with a minty finish. Hints of chocolate, but not heavy enough to really bring much to the table. I’m not in love with the balance. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #49 – Burly, tastes like it has lots of rye (wrong!). Very grassy, but again a touch of mint. Balanced, complex. Plenty of vanilla to calm things down, with a lasting and warming finish. Curious coffee character. Favorite of the batch. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #65 – Skunky with sawdust notes on the nose, perhaps indicating a flaw with the barrel. The palate isn’t really off, though, offering a traditional (yet woodsy) vanilla character. C- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #81 – Tea leaf is huge here, imparting a massive brewed tea character. Feels like a wheated Bourbon (it’s not), easygoing but without a lot of complexity. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #97 – Lots going on here. A bit of a mess, though. Smoky, with heavy wood overtones. Not a favorite. C+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #113 – I’m not in love with the wood-heavy nose but the body is pretty unique. Peaches and vanilla give it a dessert-like (cobbler?) finish that, unfortunately, is at odds with the aroma. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #129 – Very sweet up front, but that fades quickly. Again, lots of wood on the nose. B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #145 – Apricots and sherry on the nose, almost rum-like. Quite a complicated little surprise. The body is a little more traditional, with chewy vanilla caramels taking the lead. My #2 for the night. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #161 – Smells good, though heavy on wood. The body doesn’t take that anywhere, though. Lots of astringency on the finish. C+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #177 – Extremely mild nose, but lots of spice in the body. Woody, overall has a good balance. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wood ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: St. George Spirits Breaking & Entering Bourbon

California-based St. George Spirits offers this “super Bourbon” blended (in Alameda) from 80 different barrels of Kentucky Bourbon, each aged five to seven years and hauled back to Cali from the east. This “barrel thieving” has resulted in one of the few California-bottled Bourbons you’ll find, although that term is of course loaded with plenty of confusion.

Nonetheless, let’s have a taste. This whiskey is straight-up, unshocking Bourbon, without a lot of surprises.

The nose: Surprisingly mild. Oaky, with plenty of vanilla, and touches of citrus on the edges.

The body: Fruitier than I expected, with legitimate apple character, orange pulp, and sherried characteristics, all playing with a deep nougat and milk chocolate core that recalls that dessert-like vanilla character. Not overwhelming in complexity, though all the components work well together. The slightly higher proof — 86 — gives it a bit more heat than it would otherwise have (a wise idea, given its easygoing demeanor), though that ultimately can’t make up for barrel time.

86 proof.

B+ / $53 / stgeorgespirits.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

 Review: St. George Spirits Breaking & Entering Bourbon

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon

This fourth entry into Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr., Bourbon series is notable primarily because it is an uncut and unfiltered Bourbon, weighing in at a whopping 134.5 proof. At seven years old, it’s a youthful bruiser in comparison to its senior brethren in this line up.

It tastes young: Quite sweet, it has more of a sugar syrup character than burnt or brown sugar, and I think this whiskey could stand a few more years in the barrel. Lots of cooked/stewed apple flavors here, too.

As a barrel strength whiskey it is of course very hot, too, but high-proof Bourbon normally has a deeper flavor and body than this. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof benefits from water, but this does weaken its already modest body considerably. On the other hand, it does bring out more of the Bourbon’s charms: big caramel and butterscotch notes, there for the taking. If only the structure was there to support it.

B / $70 / buffalotrace.com

EH Taylor Barrel Proof Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon

Original Recipe: The Noodle & Boo Cocktail

The cocktail I designed for this evening’s festivities. Designed to be simple enough for for-hire bar service and the ability to be prepared in punchbowl quantities, if needed.

The Noodle & Boo Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. 80-proof Bourbon
3/4 oz. St. Germain liqueur
scant dash orange flower water

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

 

Maker’s Mark Granted Trademark Protection for Red, Dripping Wax

Maker’s Mark’s red wax seals are so iconic that if you visit the distillery, you’ll find a massive line of people paying to dip their own bottle of Maker’s into a vat of bubbling wax — a unique keepsake from Bourbon Country, to be sure.

In 1985, Maker’s trademarked the red wax seal, much to the consternation of the rest of the industry, which also tends to enjoy dipping bottles in wax from time to time. In 1997 Jose Cuervo released its own red-wax-dipped tequila, and the lawsuits started flying. Now, an appeals court has upheld Maker’s sole claim to the look — litigation has been going on for the last nine years — giving the Bourbon-maker sole claim to the sealant system.

AP has the story:

In a 19-page opinion affirming that decision, Judge Boyce F. Martin waxed poetic about the history of Kentucky’s most famous distilled spirit. Martin, who noted at oral arguments in December that “Maker’s Mark is not cheap,” displayed a detailed knowledge of the history and manufacture of bourbon, writing that “corn-based mash and aging in charred new oak barrels impart a distinct mellow flavor and caramel color.”

“Distillers compete intensely on flavor, but also through branding and marketing; the history of bourbon, in particular, illustrates why strong branding and differentiation is important in the distilled spirits market,” Martin wrote.

He even cited the bourbon brands preferred by 19th century statesmen such as Ulysses S. Grant and Daniel Webster.

The Samuels family, which created Maker’s Mark in 1958, trademarked the distinctive seal in 1985. The seal, perfected by Margie Samuels in the family’s deep fryer, doesn’t serve any practical purpose in keeping the bottle closed.

The trademark held by Maker’s Mark describes the seal as a “wax-like coating covering the cap of the bottle and trickling down the neck of the bottle in a freeform irregular pattern.” The trademark application doesn’t refer to a specific color, but Maker’s Mark told the court it has sought to enforce the trademark only as it applied to the red dripping wax seal.