It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the awesome Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish bourbon dropped, but the latest annual release — the tenth to come out — of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection is upon us.
This year’s expression is called 1838 Style White Corn. What happened in 1838? Well, that’s when Oscar Pepper and James Crow began distilling whiskey at the site where Woodford is located today. Did they use white corn back then? Historical records say they did, and Master Distiller Chris Morris adds that they did so for a reason — using white corn instead of the traditional yellow corn complements the other grains in the whiskey well, he says. (Otherwise the mash is the same as standard Woodford: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley.)
Per the company:
The Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Style White Corn was conceptualized and created by respected industry veteran and Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. Drawing from original production records, Morris was able to develop and bring to life a recipe Pepper and Crow might have used. The 1838 Style White Corn release is both inspired by, and pays tribute to, the techniques developed by Pepper and Crow which today have become some of the most well-known and commonly used throughout the industry. In the mid-1800s, Oscar Pepper and James Crow engaged in early distilling at the present day site of the Woodford Reserve Distillery.
“Year after year, our Master’s Collection is always a favorite of mine to produce, as I enjoy seeing how even the slightest of variations can yield a dramatically different whiskey,” says Morris. “What’s truly exciting with 1838 Style White Corn is that by simply changing the corn used, we’ve created a spirit that is new for fans of Woodford Reserve yet still traditional and a perfect representation of our rich heritage.” By using white corn with the same barrels and yeast used to create Woodford Reserve bourbon, the result is a spirit that is lighter in body with a softer, sweeter, fruit-forward profile.
The results are a real step back into time. The nose exudes popcorn above all else, layered just a tad with notes of clover honey and caramel sauce. On the palate that popcorn character utterly dominates, though it also finds notes of leather, tobacco leaf, and white pepper. After that, unfortunately, there’s not much to report. The overall impact is one of considerable youth, the white corn really taking over from the get-go and never letting up. While the traces of caramel and even a dusting of Mexican chocolate that arise late in the game offer some enticing flavors and aromas, on the whole the release is just a bit too staid to get excited about.
90.4 proof. 30,000 bottles produced.
B / $100 / woodfordreserve.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
There is a lot of flowery script on the label of the new Blood Oath Bourbon, but there is precious little information therein.
What do we know about this new bottling? It is sourced bourbon — and not only is the distillery unstated, the state in which it is produced is unstated. (The whiskey is ultimately bottled in Missouri and distributed by the company that makes Ezra Brooks.) Creator/scientist John E. Rempe isn’t the first guy to have this idea, but he says this bespoke bottling is a limited release that will “never be produced again.” Bload Oath Pact No. 2, if there is one, will be a different whiskey altogether.
Pact No. 1 is said to be a blend of three whiskeys: a 6 year old wheated bourbon, a 7 year high rye bourbon, and a 12 year old mystery bourbon. This is aged (at least in part) in barrels with a lighter, #3 char. Otherwise there’s no production information included.
It’s a very gentle whiskey on the nose — as lighter char bourbons often are — with simple vanilla, caramel, and sweet corn on the nose, plus a touch of baking spice to add nuance. On the palate, it is again surprisingly gentle and easygoing considering its proof level. More of those sugar-forward dessert components come to the fore, along with some raisin notes and heavier baking spices, including distinct gingerbread notes. The body is light and floral at times, not at all heavy or over-wooded, making for an easy sipper. The finish is slightly peppery and a bit drying, though the sweetness is sustained until the end.
Ultimately there is plenty to like here, but the mysterious origins and rather high price — which would be steep even for a whiskey that was entirely 12 years old — might understandably be a bit of a turnoff.
98.6 proof. 15,000 bottles produced.
A- / $90 / bloodoathbourbon.com
Elijah Craig 18 Years Old was originally released in 1994 — but you probably haven’t noticed it on the shelves for the last three years, as the expression has been on “hiatus” due to a lack of available 18 year old bourbon barrels.
Now EC18 is finally back, and for my money, this is Elijah Craig drinking at just about the height of its charms. Get much older (see our 20, 21, and 23 year old EC reviews), and the wood begins to get in the way of what can be a delicate and effusive spirit.
Here we find Elijah sporting a lightly floral nose, honeysuckle mixed in with butterscotch and ample vanilla notes plus hints of barrel char. On the palate, things are firing on all cylinders. First a rush of sweetness, but there’s no sugar bomb here. Rather, that sugar takes a darker turn into molasses, dark cocoa powder, and a touch of bitter roots where that dark barrel char makes itself known. The finish is slight sweet relief, a torched, creamy creme brulee that offers a touch more of that floral note alongside an echo of chimney smoke — a balanced whiskey that melds fire and flowers into a cohesive whole.
90 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #4090, barreled on 6/16/97.
A- / $120 / heavenhill.com
With Jim Rutledge retiring from Four Roses and Brent Elliot succeeding him as master distiller, Rutledge has just overseen his last edition of the Four Roses Small Batch, his final release from the distillery.
The 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch is comprised of a 16-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OBSK recipe, a 15-year-old OESK, a 14-year-old OESK, and an 11-year-old OBSV, making this a fairly old installment of the panoply of Small Batch releases.
The Four Roses 2015 Small Batch has a very exotic nose — sweeter than 4R usually comes across, with notes of cherry, floral honeysuckle, and eucalyptus. The body is heavily fruity, with ample vanilla-cherry character up front that leads to a big and syrupy vanilla, butterscotch, and chocolate character that washes over the palate as it heads to a lengthy and quite sweet finish that offers notes of apricot. For those who like their bourbon with plenty of sugar (but also plenty of heat), this Small Batch release will hit the spot perfectly.
I enjoy a sweet bourbon, but I have to say the 2015 goes a bit too far down that road, ultimately leaving little room for subtlety. It’s a fine sipper on its own, but in the pantheon of Four Roses’ Small Batch releases, it is need of some balance.
12,600 bottles produced (a further increase over 2014 — in 2011 they only made 3500 bottles).
B+ / $90 / fourroses.us
Right on the heels of Master’s Keep comes Russell’s Reserve 1998, Wild Turkey’s rarest expression yet. Back in 1998, Jimmy and Eddie Russell laid down some “special occasion” casks — and only now are they getting around to actually bottling them, 17 years later.
These whiskies predate the Russell’s Reserve brand altogether, so it’s not really right to think of this as a line extension (though there is a natural familial resemblance between the 1998 and the Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old bottling). What this is, really, is a very small batch expression of Wild Turkey bourbon from a single vintage distilled in the previous millennium.
From all angles, this is intense and powerful stuff. The nose is spicy and nutty — heavy vanilla-focused bourbon through and through — with some mentholated notes adding warmth. On the palate it’s an outright sugar bomb, loaded with baked apples, a double dose of vanilla-infused sugar cookies, some fresh ginger, and only on the back end, some barrel char influence. Hugely expressive and loaded with flavor from start to finish, I can understand if some actually find it to be too much of a good thing.
102.2 proof. 2,070 bottles produced.
A- / $250 / wildturkeybourbon.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Headlines were made earlier this year when the largest ever single barrel purchase of Jack Daniel’s — 15 barrels’ worth — was completed. Big liquor store? Weathly billionaire? Not exactly. The purchase was made by none other than the state of New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is a “control” state, which means it operates its own liquor stores. As such, it has plenty of money to drop on wacky ideas like this — 15 whole barrels of JD Single Barrel Select.
The Granite State folks sent us samples from two of the 15 barrels so we could see what kind of goodies New Hampshirans (that’s what they’re called) now have in their backyard. Here’s a look at the duo.
Both are 94 proof.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-6 Barrel 15-1778 – Very fruity, not a term I often associate with JD, featuring minimal wood influence, some cherry, and some cinnamon on the nose. On the palate, the fruit comes through the strongest, but ample vanilla and barrel char still shine through. The finish is all super-ripe bananas — almost tropical at times and not at all like any JD you’re likely accustomed to. A-
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-8 Barrel 15-1933 – Much more intense with alcohol and stronger wood char notes, a touch of that banana, plus burnt marshmallow, and supple vanilla notes. All in all, it’s classic Jack Daniel’s, with more of an alcoholic kick. Very good, but awfully familiar. B+
each $45 / liquorandwineoutlets.com
Michter’s has developed a bit of a cult following in the bourbon world, and its Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon is definitely its most famous major release. This limited edition annual release is always in short supply, and it’s made by taking Michter’s US-1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon and finishing it in barrels that are seasoned for 18 months, which are toasted, not charred. There’s no age information on either the original barreling time or the finishing, but given that there’s no information on where this whiskey came from to begin with, it’s unlikely anyone really cares.
This release is one of Michter’s most intensely woody and pungent expressions. Never mind the “toast”: This is barrel char front and center, with a heavy earthiness and ample tobacco/smoke on the nose. That’s a rough and brutish way to start things off, but the body is more refined than you would think. Notes of cherry pits, charred herbs, and licorice hit up front, then a soothing fruit component wallows up behind. There’s a lingering barrel char character that really sticks with you — and it’s probably why people go so gaga over this bourbon: It tastes super-old, with the kind of intense wood influence that you usually only see with extremely well-aged stuff.
But what Michter’s Toasted Barrel doesn’t have is the maturity and nuance that is supposed to come along with very old bourbons. Instead, it comes across like a bit of a shortcut, which is kind of a bummer.
91.4 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #154/667.
B / $53 / michters.com