Category Archives: Bourbon

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Seven

The Buffalo Trace “Single Oak Project” experiment continues! This month we look at the seventh round of these unique, single-barrel Bourbons as we work to figure out what characteristics, exactly, make for the very 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
Round Six

This round considers the effect of recipe (rye vs. wheat, which so far has been tested in every round), stave seasoning (level 6 or 6 months of seasoning vs. level 12 or 12 months of seasoning), and wood grain size of the barrel (tight, average, or coarse). All other variables — tree cut, barrel char, aging warehouse, and entry proof — remained the same.

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Recipe: Sailor’s Punch

sailors punch 224x300 Recipe: Sailors PunchWill you be at Drinkhacker HQ tonight? Here’s what you’re drinking… while supplies last!

Adapted from this recipe at Serious Eats. The bay leaves are what sucked me in!

Update: This punch was a huge hit and was gone in about an hour. There’s no way it serves 40. Maybe 20. I would at least double the recipe for any sizable party.

Sailor’s Punch
2 bottles Bourbon (I used Tennessee whiskey)
12 oz. apple cider
6 oz. spiced syrup (recipe below)
8 oz. simple syrup
10 oz. lime juice
20 bay leaves (dry)

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl. Garnish with apple, lemon, and lime slices. Serves 40.

Spiced Syrup
6 oz. water
12 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves
12 allspice berries

Combine all ingredients, boil, then allow to cool. Strain. More like spiced water than syrup.

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2003 Vintage

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage Bottle Shot 102x300 Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2003 VintageDecember is here, and that can only mean one thing: A new Evan Williams Single Barrel release.

EW Single Barrel is uniformly one of the best values in the Bourbon world, and while the expressions vary from year to year — sometimes widely — you can’t deny that they’re always quality whiskey from top to bottom.

This year’s Vintage 2003 Single Barrel was distilled in February 2003 and bottled in November 2012 (exactly one week ago, actually, as I write this), making it a solid 9 1/2 year old Bourbon.

For a couple of years now, these releases have been becoming bigger and hoarier, with more and more wood influence. 2003 marks a welcome respite from that trend and a return to elegance. Continue reading

Review: Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 7 Years Old

Widow Jane bourbon whiskey 2 202x300 Review: Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 7 Years OldBetter known for its exotic cacao liqueurs (we’re reviewing them in the coming weeks), Cacao Prieto also makes a highly regarded artisan Bourbon whiskey in limited quantities in its compound in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

How then does Widow Jane come to say “Kentucky Bourbon” on the label? Widow Jane is distilled in the Bluegrass state then shipped to New York for bottling, where it is cut down to bottle proof with local water. It’s that water that gives the whiskey its name and its distinction vs. other spirits. Continue reading

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – Limited Edition

Angels Envy Cask Strength 200x300 Review: Angels Envy Cask Strength Bourbon   Limited EditionI’ve been turning people on to Angel’s Envy since naming it as one of my favorite whiskeys of 2010. While Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson prepares his next trick, this very limited edition bottling (600 bottles produced, available only in Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee) of the Port-barrel finished Bourbon is being released: A cask strength version of the original recipe.

Essentially a very small barrel selection of AE, this whisky cuts a different profile immediately upon pouring. Putting it next to the original Angel’s Envy, it’s a night-and-day different whiskey.

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Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

col taylor small batch 196x300 Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch BourbonThe Col. Taylor juggernaut continues rolling from Buffalo Trace. For this sixth expression, Taylor plays it comparably simple and unchallenging: a small batch bourbon, made from batching seven-year old barrels from the hallowed sixth floor of Buffalo Trace’s brick warehouse. Like the other Col. Taylor bottlings, it’s bottled in bond at 100 proof.

Heavy and almost hoary lumberyard notes fill the air when you pour a glass. Fortunately this fades after a time, leaving behind more citrus and light vanilla notes to mingle with the wood. Continue reading

Tasting Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection from Lincoln Whiskey Kitchen

Bobby Fitzgerald is a restaurateur and bar owner in Chicago with a taste for exotic Bourbon. He’s one of those guys that collects single-barrel whiskeys for his establishments — entire barrels, not bottles — and at his Lincoln Whiskey Kitchen you can try a full seven different single barrel whiskey bottlings, from Elijah Craig to Weller to Woodford Reserve. Fitzgerald says he took five trips to Bourbon Country in 2011 to pick out whiskeys for his joints.

For reasons I am still not clear on (but not questioning), Fitzgerald sent us a bottle of his own private selection of Four Roses Single Barrel, just so we could experience it. Here’s the tale of the tape: Fitz’s Single Barrel is made from the OESO (20% rye, fruity/medium body yeast) mashbill, aged 9 years and 5 months in barrel and bottled on February 16, 2012. Bottled at cask strength of 115.4 proof.

Blazing hot, it comes across as far more scorching than Four Roses’ standard Single Barrel (OBSV: 35% rye, floral/creamy/spicy yeast), which is just 100 proof. After bringing it down with water to coax out more of its flavors, I get a lot more wood from Fitzgerald’s single barrel than from the standard Four Roses Single Barrel, with outstanding baked apple, baking spice, and cedar box notes. Plenty of frontier-style wood on the finish, but well balanced.

Compared to similar cask-strength editions of Four Roses that I had on hand, I found it most similar to the 2012 Single Barrel bottling (OESK recipe). But it’s unique in its own way — as any good single barrel whiskey should be.

Congrats to Bobby — you picked a winner! If you make it to Chicago, be sure to give this whiskey a try for yourself. Aside from his establishments and, now, my house, you won’t find it anywhere else.

Want your own single whiskey barrel? The typical barrel yields 200 to 230 bottles of cask strength whiskey. The price to you? It varies based on the producer and the yield, of course. Fitzgerald paid about $6,000 for this barrel — which is less than $30 a pop. Sounds like a good deal to me for enough whiskey to get you through the apocalypse and then some.

Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

You’re full of meat and pie and perhaps meat pie. Now it’s time to think of your loved ones. Were they naughty? Nice? Do they deserve a fancy tipple when the giving season arrives?

For your most favored loved ones, Drinkhacker offers this collection of our favorite spirits from 2012, just a small sampling of the most worthy products on the market. Dig through the category of your choice for other ideas, and please chime in with your own gift ideas!

Also check out our 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Want our gift guide in glorious, full-color, printable-magazine style, complete with the original reviews for all of these products? YOU GOT IT!

four roses 2012 small batch limited edeition 192x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Four Roses Small Batch 2012 ($90) – This bad boy’s been topping “best of” lists all season, and for good reason. Perhaps the best Small Batch from 4R since the distillery re-entered the U.S. market, it’s a huge crowd pleaser. Can’t find it (don’t be surprised…), try Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old ($130), Woodford Reserve’s unique Four Wood ($100), or Smooth Ambler Yearling ($62), straight outta West Virginia.

Scotch – The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old ($130) – I’d love to pick Glenfiddich 1974 or Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 here, but both are long gone from the market and were absurdly expensive, to boot. You’ll have better luck with the new, older DoubleWood — which, by the way, is replacing the highly-beloved Balvenie Peated Cask on the market — which is in wide distribution now. More ideas? I love Arran Malt’s The Devil’s Punch Bowl ($130) and Ardbeg Galileo ($95). But my real connoisseur’s pick is a stealthy one: Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood Cote Rotie Finish 1991 ($80). Yes, it’s available, and yes, this is pretty much the only thing I want for Christmas.

greenhook gin 200x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGinGreenhook Gin ($33) – No knockouts this year, unlike 2011. Greenhook’s elderflower kick makes it a lot of fun. Cardinal ($29) is also a creamy, delicious gin. Update: And due to a tragic oversight, I failed to note the quality of The Botanist ($33).

VodkaSquare One Vodka ($33) – Rock solid, though hardly new to the market. Other excellent choices: Belvedere Intense Unfiltered ($40) or Bully Boy Vodka ($28).

Rum – Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 ($130) – My pick for the most exciting rum of 2012 isn’t sold in the country, but this vintage agricole from Rhum J.M. makes an exquisite gift, too. Lots of great options out there for lower budgets, too, including Blackwell ($30), Ron Fortuna ($22), and Plantation 3 Stars ($24).

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO 214x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBrandy – Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO Imperial ($130) – There’s never much new brandy coming out in any given year, and the good stuff costs a pretty penny. At the top of the list for 2012 is this Armagnac, with Camus’ Extra Elegance ($395) close behind. For more affordable selections, check out Camus’ Ile de Re series.

Tequila – t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra-Fino ($40) – In a year of top tequila and absurdly expensive bottlings, these two affordable blancos stood out. t1 looks a little snazzier, if you’re giving a gift. The amazingly balanced Z Tequila Blanco ($30) will save you 10 bucks. Many excellent choices out there this year, as usual.

Liqueur – Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Method ($25) - Turn the Grand Marnier fan in your household on to this, the best orange liqueur on the market and a pittance at just $25 a bottle. For a different fruit effect, check out Germain-Robin Pear de Pear ($24, 375ml), a spirit that will quickly make you forget about lackluster Poire Williams.

Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Master of Malt a try!

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection “Four Wood”

Every year Woodford Reserve launches a limited edition (and quite expensive) whiskey that shows off the creativity of its master distiller, Chris Morris. This is Woodford’s seventh iteration of the Master’s Collection.

As the name implies, Four Wood is a Bourbon with a unique finishing program. Standard Bourbon, finished in newly charred American oak, is finished in one of three different types of barrels: maple, Sherry wood, and Port wood. (Woodford has experimented with maple in a past Master’s Collection.) The three barrel-finished whiskeys are batched together — the ratio is undisclosed, as are the ages of these whiskeys — and bottled as Four Wood.

The nose offers that big wood rush that’s classic Woodford, lots of lumberyard character that masks what you’re about to get into. On the tongue, it’s woody as expected, but surprisingly sweet. Chocolate notes are prevalent, plus lots of fresh red/black  fruit — the Port finish overpowers everything with black cherry and raisin notes. Sip this whiskey long enough and orange elements, driven by the sherry finish, come along as well. That’s a good thing, but it does give Four Wood a bit of a fruit salad feeling, with a whole lot going on in the fruit department and not enough spice to back it up. Not bad, but there’s a bit of an embarrassment of riches in the sweetness department here.

A- / $100 /

woodford reserve four wood Review: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Another sold-out show this year for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and yet it didn’t feel overly crowded. I missed out on some of the whispered highlights by arriving late, when the rarities were all gone. (John Hansell has some coverage, which I hope to catch up with in coming months.) Otherwise, good times all around. While the absence of a few standbys – Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Compass Box – was grumbled about, I don’t think you can raise a complaint about the quality of spirits on tap.

Brief notes follow (made more difficult by the fact that my pen simply would not write on the glossy brochure provided this year). I made sure to sample some more widely available whiskeys I hadn’t tried in years (Elijah Craig 12, Balvenie 12), for comparative purposes.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012


Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 21 Years Old / B+ / huge nose, lots of grain, chew finish
Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / apple pie, with both the crust and cinnamon/spice notes
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Clynelish 1993 / A- / unique, lots of malt, big body
Gordon & MacPhail Benromach Organic / B+ / heavy on the grassiness
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Tormore 1996 15 Years Old / B+ / big banana notes, apple character
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old / A- / tasted as a comparative to the new 17 year old DoubleWood; a perfect everyday Scotch
Oban 18 Years Old / A- / wonderful peat/sweet balance
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old / A- / drinking well, very rich
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / B+ / showing more grain character, oddly
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / brisk
GlenDronach 18 Years Old Allardice / B+ / raisin notes
GlenDronach 21 Years Old Parliament / B+ / similar, with a toffee character; bitter edge
BenRiach 1995 Pedro Ximinez Cask #2045 / A- / lots of peat at work
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 / A / cherry, nougat, lots of depth; very different than other Black Art bottling
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A / absolutely gorgeous, wood and nougat in balance
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / B+
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / A / peat, sweet, great combo
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / A / dusky earthiness
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / C / an ultra-young Scotch, lots of brash, cooked cereal notes
Glen Grant 16 Years Old / B / basic, simple

United States

St. George Spirits Barrel Strength Bourbon / A / 62.5 percent abv, distilled in 2005; burly and big, delicious
Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cast 7 / B+ / fire and brimstone
Lost Spirits Paradiso / A- / a brutally peated version of Leviathan, with a hint of absinthe in the finish; entire stock has been sold to Germany
Redemption Rye / A / lovely mix of spice and wood (3 years old)
Redemption Rye 14 Years Old (private barrel) / B+ / from private stock; the wood punches out the rye
Koval Organic 47th Ward / B / cereal finish
Koval Organic Raksi Dark Millet / B+ / smoldering and chewy
Hudson Baby Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, drinking well despite a corniness
Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Small Batch Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, but drinking nicely
Four Roses Yellow Label / B- / very hot and tight
Four Roses Single Barrel / A
Four Roses Small Batch / A-

Other World Whiskies

Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Single Cask / B- / aged in ex-Beam barrels; lots of heat, tight
Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Double Cask / B / lots of grain, big field notes
Canadian Club Sherry Cask / A- / very sweet, pretty
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / two offerings from Japan, coming soon to the U.S.; a vatted malt; quite sweet
Nikka Yoichi 15 Years Old / A / more smoke here, very rich, outstanding


HINE Homage / B+ / a blend of 1984, 86, and 87 spirit; good balance
HINE H / B+ / traditional, lots of sugary notes
HINE Antique / A / lush, powerful, a great old Cognac
Frapin Cognac VS / B+
Frapin Cognac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A-
Frapin Cognac VIP XO / A
Frapin Cognac Extra / A-

Bourbon Battle: Booker’s vs. Baker’s

Booker’s and Baker’s can often be found side by side on the back bar, and even seasoned Bourbon fans are apt to confuse them. This is understandable. Allow me to explain.

For starters, there’s the name thing. Baker’s. Booker’s. You might think one was attempting to mislead drinkers by tricking them with a sound-alike, but these are actually both products of the same company: Jim Beam.

Baker’s and Booker’s are two of the four Bourbons in Beam’s “Small Batch” series. The other two are Knob Creek and, continuing the confusing panoply of B’s, Basil Hayden’s. But at least Knob and Basil look immediately different on the shelf. Baker’s and Booker’s are both even bottled in Burgundy-style wine bottles and sealed with black wax. The only easy distinguishing factor is the label: Baker’s has a giant B, Booker’s has a handwritten-esque script on the label. Helpful if you’re looking at the bar. Not so much if you’re reading a menu.

Beam was kind enough to send both whiskeys for our evaluation and comparison. Here’s how these two are both alike and different.

bookers bourbon 102x300 Bourbon Battle: Bookers vs. BakersBooker’s Bourbon is touted as “the highest grade bourbon made by” master distiller Booker Noe at Jim Beam — hence the name “Booker’s.” Noe died in 2004, but his spirit clearly lives on. There’s also a monster statue of him on the Jim Beam grounds that you can check out if you go to visit. Batch age and proof of this uncut, barrel-strength whiskey will vary, but mine (C05-A-12), at 7 years, 5 months old and 128.5 proof, is typical of the brand.

The Bourbon is hot. Though the bottle tag suggests drinking it neat and uncut, this is folly. A healthy splash of water helps Booker’s show beyond the burn. Wood is the primary character here, hefty, chunky, and powerful like a lumberyard. It’s big on the nose and the body, and it takes a good amount of time sipping and savoring for this to fade. Eventually you dig out Booker’s finer nuances. Vanilla and dark chocolate — almost a Mexican chocolate with touches of cinnamon — which rise up on the finish as you finish your first glass. Some fruitiness here — plums, raisins — is in the mix as well. All in all a solid Bourbon, though a bit burly I think for my tastes. B+ / $57

bakers bourbon 100x300 Bourbon Battle: Bookers vs. BakersBaker’s Bourbon is stated at 7 years old and a considerably mellower 107 proof. The Baker in question is Baker Beam, a grandnephew of Jim Beam himself. The twist here involves a special yeast used in the fermentation process, proprietary to Baker’s.

Results: A considerably more mellow whiskey than Booker’s. Beam suggests Baker’s is a Bourbon for Cognac enthusiasts, and I think the distillery is onto something with that. There is lovely sweetness here, plenty of vanilla but also rich chocolate pudding, nutmeg, and fruitcake character. Really a gorgeous Bourbon and my hands-down favorite of the duo. A / $47

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2012 Edition

Old Forester’s annual “Birthday Bourbon,” a limited edition release celebrating the birthday of one of Brown-Forman’s founders, is upon us.

This year’s B-day Bourbon is 12 years old (its typical age), crafted from a single-day’s production of 82 barrels of whiskey. (The twist with this batch is that the mashbill included 2% extra malted barley than the usual Old Forester mash.)

Immediately this whiskey struck me as very light and mild, not at all the smoky, burly monsters that Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbons can sometimes be. Peaches are at the forefront here, along with maraschino cherries, sugar syrup, and touches of orange juice. It is almost like a Manhattan cocktail in a glass.

This is one of the most easy-drinking Birthday Bourbons I’ve encountered, and it drinks much younger than its 12 years of age. That smoothness comes at the expense of some depth and complexity, but there’s no denying the overall quality and craftsmanship of this year’s Birthday Bourbon.

97 proof.

A- / $50 /

old forester birthday bourbon 2012 Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2012 Edition

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 /

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 /

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) /

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) /

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.


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 /

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