Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve Cask Finish Bourbon

jefferson grothJefferson’s latest release is this limited edition — a standard bourbon that is finished in wine barrels from the Groth winery, which makes a high-end Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s no age statement on this one, only the promise on the label that it is “very old” Kentucky straight bourbon. (Update: Jefferson’s Reserve says the base whiskey is at least eight years old before finishing.) It must be, right? After all, it does have the word “Reserve” twice in the name of the product!

Kidding aside, Jefferson’s Groth whiskey is surprisingly fruity, with a nose of cherries, peaches, and apricots, plus a vanilla sugar cookie character. Slightly corny, it evokes a significantly younger spirit from the start. The palate continues the fruit-forward theme, pushing more of those peachy notes alongside red fruit. Baking spices including cinnamon and powdered ginger overtake the restrained, barrel-driven vanilla notes, ending things on a note that offers the essence of hard, fruit-flavored candy.

A bit of an odd duck for a bourbon — and one that possibly could have withstood some extra time in barrel before it hit the finishing cask — but one that is not without a few unique pleasures.

90.2 proof.

B / $100 / jeffersonsbourbon.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2015

michters 10-Year-Bourbon 2015

Michter’s latest whiskeys have arrived — single-barrel bottlings of 10 year old and 20 year old bourbons. There’s no production or sourcing information on these limited edition whiskeys (which are not part of the US-1 line), only that they are aged in new oak for 10 (or 20) years, which is, of course, the law for bourbon.

These are actually the first single barrel bourbon releases for 2015, though they were supposed to ship in January. Says Michter’s Master Distiller Willie Pratt, “These two bourbons were set for release at the beginning of this year, but I held them back for a bit more aging. I wanted them to be just right.”

So there we have it. We received the 10 year old expression for review. The $600 20 year, alas, remains elusive.

As for the 10, this is just good, solid, well-made bourbon from front to back. The nose carries a solid caramel punch, with touches of banana and coconut. On the palate, rich and well-integrated notes of vanilla and more caramel take center stage, with some smoky char emerging underneath. The finish is fruity — offering more banana, more coconut, and some chocolate notes, the ultimate effect being something like a nice little ice cream sundae. Altogether it may not be incredibly complex, but it’s so delicious on its own merits that it hardly matters. Definitely worth seeking out.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15J829.

A / $100 / michters.com

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Noe Secret” 2015-06

bookersThe sixth (and presumably final) round in Booker’s 2015 limited edition series of small batch bourbon releases is this, “Noe Secret” (get it?!?!), which is a bourbon aged 6 years, 8 months, and 7 days.

For kicks (and a bit more introduction), compare to batch 2015-04, which we reviewed in September.

Like parachuting into a lumberyard, sawdust explodes around you as this whiskey is poured into the glass. After the initial wood notes fade, the nose evolves with notes of scorched caramel, some menthol, and cloves. The body is just as heavy on wood influence as you expect it will be after that lead-up, with barrel char driving the initial character of the palate. Over time, some caramel and vanilla sweetness emerge, touches of butterscotch, and mixed baking spices — but the massively drying, ash-laden finish wipes a lot of that away, leaving behind a thick layering of tannin and some somewhat bitter/herbal notes.

Fans of more rustically-styled bourbons will undoubtedly find this more to their liking than I did.

128.1 proof.

B / $60 / bookersbourbon.com

Drinkhacker’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

We at Drinkhacker have been busier than ever this year, and yet it seems impossible that it’s time for our eighth annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards.” As always, the list comprises some of the best-rated products we looked at over the last 12 months but is also focused on products that are 1) actually available, 2) worthwhile as gifts, and 3) not entirely out of the realm of affordability.

This year, by popular demand, we’re adding wine to the gift guide. It’s one of the busiest categories on the site, one of the most popular gift items on the market, and something we’ve overlooked for too many years.

As always, the offerings below are only a tiny selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, and we welcome both your suggestions for alternatives and questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle ShotBourbon – Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric 21 Years Old ($100) – So many amazing bourbons hit this year, and so many are already impossible to find. While Diageo took some early drubbing for its curious Orphan Barrel project, this year it really hit its stride. Rhetoric 21 is the best of the lot to date — and part of an ongoing project that will see older and older expressions of Rhetoric shipping every year. It’s still widely available at its original selling price, as is its near equal in the Orphan Barrel project, Forged Oak 15 Years Old ($75). I loved Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak ($75 on release), but you’ll be lucky to find it for $500 today. That makes the over-the-top (but delightful) Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century ($400/1 liter) seem like a downright bargain.

Scotch – The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old ($140) – I’m not going to break the bank this year with my malt whisky pick and rather send you hunting for the 17 year old Ben Nevis from The Exclusive Malts, an indie bottler that has been absolutely on fire with a string of amazing releases. The exotic fruit, sweetness, and cereal notes combine in an inimitable and very compelling way. A big hand is due to Diageo again in this list for its 2014 limited editions (which hit the U.S.) in March this year. If you have the cash, check out Rosebank 21 Years Old ($500), Strathmill 25 Years Old ($475), or Brora 35 Years Old ($1,250), all three from that series. Finally, peat fanatics should head directly for whatever Laphroaig 15 Years Old ($70) they can still find.

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Other Whiskey – Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt ($47) – Craft whiskey in the U.S. is finally, finally, arriving, and this year it’s landing a top spot on our best of the year list. Michigan-based Journeyman is showcasing how single malt should be made in America with this young but exuberant spirit that any whiskey fan owes it to himself to try. For another top craft pick, consider Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey ($75), a young wheat whiskey that is the best of this series so far. The Irish Yellow Spot ($95) maintains a special place in my heart next to its Green sibling — and don’t forget that rye is making leaps and bounds. One of the best is Woodford Reserve Rye ($38) — where it is actually made instead of trucked in from another state.

Gin – Oppidan American Botanical Gin ($30) – Our top gin pick this year comes from a Chicago microdistillery where a bounty of botanicals is used to spice up a London Dry style gin, giving it a delicate, floral character that should not be missed. Other great options include Tanqueray Bloomsbury ($33), Anchor Distilling Old Tom ($30), and the exotic Painted Stave South River Red Gin ($22/375ml), which really is red.

Vodka  Square One Bergamot Vodka ($35) – If you must give vodka this year, try this unusual, citrus-flavored vodka from Square One. Other good (and unflavored) options include Vodka Mariette ($30) and Tigre Blanc Vodka ($90), proceeds of which go in part to support large cats in the wild.

DP30yrs_white_USAhighresRum – Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old ($425) – New rum brands don’t pop up every day, and when they do rarely do they have a legend in the business attached. Don Pancho (aka Francisco Fernandez) is putting his name on a finished product for the first time, and it’s a doozy not to be missed. For less ritzy outlays, consider the well-aged offerings in the form of Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old ($50) or Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($40).

Brandy – Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare ($179) – A tough call from among these three stellar Cognacs, and really you can’t go wrong with any of them. My slight preference ultimately goes to Giraud and this well-priced rarity. Close runners-up: Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO ($110) and Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2005 Cognac ($100).

dulce vida extra anejoTequila – Dulce Vida Extra Anejo ($160) – Another solid year for tequila, with a flood of excellent extra anejos really showing their stuff in 2015. My favorite of the bunch is from Dulce Vida, aged 5 1/2 years in used wine barrels. Great tequila with a great story behind it, too. Also worthwhile are Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia 2015 Rolling Stones Tour Pick ($150, also available for less sans the Stones imagery), El Mayor Reposado ($30, amazing bargain!), and the luxe Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos ($299).

Liqueur – Spirit Works Sloe Gin ($40) – It’s a light year for quality liqueurs, but I have to give the nod to my hometown heroes Spirit Works and their killer sloe gin. Other top picks include Maraska Maraschino ($27) and Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao ($31), both of which should be home bar staples.

Wine As promised, this year we’re adding a smattering of ideas for some of the best wines we’ve seen this year that would be appropriate for gift-giving. It’s hard to pick a single “winner” (and probably not fair because availability will vary widely) but here are my top seven wines of the year, in no particular order:

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

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

Review: Metze’s Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Metze's Select

It’s not the end of an era, it’s the beginning of one. MGP Ingredients, the Indiana distillery where oh so much bourbon is produced and sold to other companies for bottling under their own label, is finally — for the first time — releasing its own whiskey.

Metze’s Select “2015 Medley” is a limited release of 6,000 numbered bottles. The company is being quite straightforward about what’s inside — which includes three different bourbons made over the years at MGP. Those bourbons are all rye-based and include 38% 2006 bourbon (21% rye), 3% 2006 bourbon (36% rye), and 59% 2008 bourbon (21% rye). For the math disinclined, that about half 7 year old bourbon, half 9 year old bourbon, all relatively high rye in composition.

Metze’s tastes familiar, probably because you’ve had it before in some form or another. Super sweet from the start, the nose is loaded with butterscotch notes, chocolate, and a touch of menthol. The palate takes that sweetness and runs with it, offering a big creme brulee character with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, brown butter, and some cherry on the finish. Slightly overproof, it’s got bite, but it’s wholly manageable without water — and the alcohol really just serves to boost the spicy component.

This is a fun bourbon, but its nearly singular focus on sweetness (with a minor in rye-driven baking spices) comes at the expense of nuance. Hard to complain too loudly, though. I can’t wait to see what MGP decides to pull out of its archives next.

93 proof.

A- / $75 / mgpingredients.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old Experiments

buffalo trace OFSM Experimental Sept 15

The latest round of experiment bourbons from Buffalo Trace are a return to its roots: using an “old fashioned” method to sour the mash.

Wait, isn’t all bourbon made with a “sour mash?” Yes, but as BT explains it, all sour mash is not created equal. I’ll let them take it away:

Distilled in May of 2002, this Old Fashioned Sour Mash experiment used Buffalo Trace’s proprietary mash.  The bourbon was cooked and cooled to standard; however, the similarities stop there. The mash was allowed “to sour” before yeast was added to start the fermentation process, a method long abandoned due to its more laborious process.

This sour mash method differs from the more common process used today by nearly all bourbon manufacturers. The routine method calls for cooking and cooling the mash, and then immediately adding yeast and a small amount of previously distilled mash (or “setback”) as it cools to sour the mash.   The traditional old-fashioned sour mash process fell out of favor many years ago, and it was not until a gathering of distillery “old timers” that Buffalo Trace was inspired to revive it.

The experiment portion of the whiskey concerns entry proof — two versions of the above whiskey were made, one entered the barrel at 105 proof, one at 125 proof. Both were aged for 13 years on the seventh floor of Warehouse I.

How do they stack up with each other? Let’s dig in.

Both are bottled, as usual for the BTEC, at 90 proof.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 105 Entry Proof – This is very uncharacteristic bourbon both for Kentucky and for Buffalo Trace in particular. The nose offers wood and spice, but also notes of camphor and dried flowers. The body takes this and runs — from the fields to the cedar closet and back again — offering drying herbal notes and licorice. A bit of toffee on the back end reminds you this is bourbon and not some weird Scandinavian whiskey. B-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 125 Entry Proof – More going on here. Brown butter, vanilla, butterscotch, and baking spices all find a home in the nose — overall fairly traditional stuff. The body has echoes of the herbal funk of the 105 — particularly up front — but features a sweeter, more candylike character with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. This is easily the more palatable of the two whiskeys, but it’s also the more interesting, as the lightly herbal elements provide some balance and nuance to an otherwise traditional bourbon structure. One to explore if you can grab a bottle. A-

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon, Rye, and American Whiskey (2016)

rebel yell

St. Louis-based Luxco (which also makes Ezra Brooks and Admiral Nelson’s Rum) is behind Rebel Yell, a line of value whiskeys which has recently begun to show up more and more in bars and on store shelves. What’s the haps about “The Yell?”

The Rebel Yell line begins with its core product — old-school Kentucky Bourbon, in the form of a brand dating back to 1849. But recently Rebel Yell has been expanding, both into flavored whiskeys (not reviewed here) as well as a rye and a blended whiskey, both of which we taste below.

Let’s put this trio to the test!

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a corn/barley/wheat mashbill. No age statement, but this wheater is clearly quite young. Heavy roasted corn notes dominate the nose, with just a touch of baking spice underneath. On the palate, there’s plenty more of that corn character, plus some sweet chocolate notes that emerge only after the corniness begins to fade. This sustains for much longer than you’d think, taking the initially quite rustic whiskey out on a nicely seductive note. A very basic whiskey, there’s just not much more to report. Compare to 2011 version here. 80 proof. C+ / $15  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye, corn, and barley. Distilled in Indiana by MGP, aged two years. Much spicier on the nose than the bourbon, with gentler, grain-fueled notes coming up underneath. The palate is surprisingly full of life, with a rounded body that showcases both the spice and the cereal notes, including a bit of cherry fruit on the back end. All in all, the whiskey features a relatively well-balanced structure that belies its youth but showcases an overall better construction. Rebel Yell Rye is a capable mixer at the least, a surprisingly acceptable sipper at the best. 90 proof. B / $21  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rebel Yell American Whiskey – A 50-50 blend of the bourbon and rye above, all in one bottle, but raised up to 90 proof rather than the expected 85. Aged 2 years. This comes across like, well, a pretty even mix of the two spirits — featuring both the baking spices of the rye plus the ample corn notes of the bourbon. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, but the two whiskeys don’t entirely complement each other in a meaningful way. The playfulness of the rye is ultimately dulled by the more brash corn character of the bourbon, though the flipside — the spicier rye giving the corn a boost — could also be said to be true. In the end, the whiskey lands right where it should — somewhere in between the two spirits that go into it. 90 proof. B- / $21  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

rebelyellbourbon.com