Category Archives: Bourbon

Review: Michter’s US-1 Original Sour Mash Whiskey

michters sour mash 116x300 Review: Michters US 1 Original Sour Mash WhiskeyMichter’s is the It Company of the American whiskey world right now, its from-the-ashes story bringing many fans forward to hear about its charms. Michter’s is a brand that dates waaaay back to 1753 but which went bankrupt in 1989. In 1990 the company was rescued and relaunched, and only in the last five years or so has it really become a hit once again.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, Michter’s US-1 Original Sour Mash was the top-selling product of this Bardstown, Kentucky-based distillery. But this whiskey inexplicably wasn’t revived after the ’90 reboot. Now it’s back after a 23 year hiatus off the market. (Michter’s isn’t exactly making it themselves right now, but that hasn’t stopped people from gobbling it up the way they do for Bulleit. The company is producing again… but that spirit won’t be bottled any time soon.)

There’s a lot of confusion over what “sour mash” means. For starters, it doesn’t mean the taste is sour. It just means that some of the fermented mash is held over from one batch of whiskey to start the fermentation on the next batch, the same way that sourdough bread is made. Jack Daniel’s famously puts “sour mash” on its label, and in reality virtually all Bourbon made today is sour mash. It’s most costly and less effective to make mash from scratch every time out — this is known as “sweet mash” — although this is experimented with at various distilleries, too (particularly when unusual yeasts are being used).

Michter’s doesn’t offer a lot of specifics about the Sour Mash. It is distilled from a proprietary grain mash (the company will only say “the mashbill has a fair amount of rye grain in addition to a fair amount of corn and some barleymalt”) and is aged in new, charred oak — but it is not a Bourbon. (My hunch is that there is not enough corn in the mashbill.) It is also filtered before bottling.

This is a really lovely, very fruity whiskey. The nose is all apples, with a touch of caramel behind it. Supple and silky, that fruitiness continues on into the body, with an apple pie character that is far too easy to drink, and doesn’t taste at all like it’s been bottled at a solid 86 proof. Not too sweet and lightly wooded, the graininess of the spirit is all but gone — a touch of corn on the mid-palate and a bit of popcorn on the finish are all that remind you that you’re drinking a whiskey instead of chowing down on dessert.

86 proof. Reviewed: Batch no. 13A1A.

A- / $44 / michters.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Burnside Double Barrel Bourbon

burnside double barrel bourbon 103x300 Review: Burnside Double Barrel BourbonThis brand new whiskey hails from Eastside Distilling in Portland, Oregon, and the two barrels in question are a traditional new oak barrel, followed by a second turn for 60 days in a new heavy-char barrel made from Oregon oak. Essentially, its Eastside’s 4 year old Burnside Bourbon (mashbill: 75% corn, 10% rye, 15% malted barley) with a burlier finish applied.

Delightful nose. There’s cherry and gingerbread here, a perfect amount of fruity sweetness to lead you in for a sip. And my, what fun is in store once you tuck in. Again you get cherry and gingerbread spices, with a kind of toffee spin to it. It’s high-proof and heady, and a cinnamon kick develops the more you sip and savor it. The body is spot on and the finish is long, clean, and satisfying.

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Review: Peach Street Distillers Colorado Straight Bourbon Whiskey

peach street colorado straight bourbon Review: Peach Street Distillers Colorado Straight Bourbon WhiskeyPeach Street Distillers, in Palisade, Colorado, is one our rising microdistillery stars, named Distiller of the Year in 2012 by the American Distilling Institute.

This Bourbon — you’ll have to look at the fine print to see the distillery’s name at all — is one of Peach Street’s flagships, a very small batch whiskey — and Colorado’s first “legal” Bourbon — made from Colorado corn and aged “over 2 years.”

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Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Eight

Another quarter, another installment of the Buffalo Trace “Single Oak Project” experiment. This month we look at the eighth round of these unique, single-barrel Bourbons as we help analyze what recipes and formulas 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
Round Seven

This round considers the effect of recipe (rye vs. wheat, which so far has been tested in every round), wood grain (tight/average/course), and tree cut (top or bottom of tree). All other variables — warehouse (wood), entry proof (105), char level (#4), and stave seasoning (12 months) — remained the same.

Overall the round was fairly average. Lots of very drinkable whiskeys here, though one pair — 155 and 156 — tasted distinctly off, making me wonder if there was a problem with the tree used to make these two barrels (155 was the top, 156 the bottom). Tasting notes for almost all of the six pairs of whiskeys in this collection were fairly similar, leading me to believe there’s not a lot to be concerned about whether a barrel is crafted from the top of the tree or the bottom. Of course, once all 192 whiskeys are reviewed (two years from now), we’ll have a fuller picture of the variables.

Buffalo Trace says that barrels 97 and 106 continue their reign at the top of the charts right now. If you spot one of the newer barrels on the market, here’s what we have to say about them…

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #27 – Cherries on the nose, some citrus. Sweet on the palate, with similar fruit. A fine, fruity Bourbon without a lot of nuance, but very easy drinking. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, 16 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #28 – More wood character, and more dessert notes on the palate. That said, balance comes along quite nicely as it opens up in the glass, with a silky, long finish. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, 16 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #59 – Not a whole lot of flavor left in this, though the wood character dominates what’s left in the bottle. Drying finish without much love in it. This is an off barrel. C (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, 18 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #60 – Very woody on the nose, but the body brings up cinnamon and baking spices. It’s still a little hot and unbalanced but the “frontier style” whiskey is fun to drink. Lots of vanilla on the finish. A contender. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, 18 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #91 – Not much of a nose on this, but the body features tons of vanilla. Beyond that, not a ton of character, but those in search of a “smooth” Bourbon will enjoy this. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, 12 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #92 – Very woody nose, with a fresh-cut lumber character. On the palate, a bit racy, with touches of licorice and a bit of tannic burn. Lots going on in the lumberyard department. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, 12 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #123 – Overwhelming wood on the nose, with touches of sweetness. The body’s not entirely balanced, tending tannic as it finishes. Some vanilla sweetness comes along late in the game, but too late. B- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, 12 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #124 – Hugely fruity, apples heavy here, with touches of cinnamon. Apple pie? It’s a little too sweet, but I’d see it as a real go-to as a blending Bourbon. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, 12 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #155 – Medicinal, astringent on the nose. And yet, watery and just generally off in a couple of ways. This barrel’s not a great one, though it does settle down after some time in the glass. C- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #156 – Heavy wood on the nose. Better than #155 but with more than a few similarities. Again, it settles down over time but the finish remains on the rough side. C+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #187 – Again that hospital character comes on strong, backed by ample wood character. On the body: Woody, lightly tannic. Not my favorite. C+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, 10 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #188 – Woody and burly with a nicely sweet finish. Lots of spice — red pepper and cinnamon, some cloves. Good balance in the end. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, 10 growth rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

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

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Hot Box Toasted Barrel and #7 Heavy Char Bourbon

buffalo trace experimental collection Hot Box Barrel Toast Heavy Char 7 280x300 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Hot Box Toasted Barrel and #7 Heavy Char BourbonBuffalo Trace’s latest experimental whiskeys are here, and this time out the focus is on barrel treatments, specifically how different heat treatments can impact the resulting spirit. In BT’s own words:

Both of these experiments study the effects of extreme heat on oak barrels and the flavor of the bourbon inside.

The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon involved placing the barrel staves into a “Hot Box” at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the staves were steamed before being assembled into a barrel. The goal was to drive the flavors deep into the wood.  Next the barrels were filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 16 years and 8 months.

The #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey experiment used barrels which were charred for 3.5 minutes, as opposed to the normal 55 second char used by Buffalo Trace typically.  The barrels were then filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 15 years and 9 months.

Both are 90 proof. Thoughts follow. Continue reading

Will Consumers Shun Maker’s Mark at 84 Proof?

makers mark whisky bourbon1 121x300 Will Consumers Shun Makers Mark at 84 Proof?The story of the year in the bourbon biz is (and will continue to be) Maker’s Mark abrupt decision this week to lower the amount of alcohol in its flagship whiskey.

To hear whiskey nuts talk about it, the end of days are upon us. Calls for a boycott — driven by the obvious greed of Maker’s owner Beam Inc., right? — are common. Declarations that Maker’s Mark will no longer be consumed are also rampant.

Maker’s Mark, for the next few weeks anyway, is bottled a 90 proof, or 45% alcohol. This has been a point of pride for the company for years, which has celebrated the little extra kick that gives you over the now-standard 80 proof whiskey.

By dropping down to 84 proof — that’s 6.7% less alcohol than before — Maker’s will be able to stretch its whiskey surprisingly far. Maker’s produced 1.3 million cases of whiskey last year. With the reduction of proof it will be able to add another 90,000 or so cases to its annual shipments. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but figure a wholesale price of $15 to Beam and you’re looking at an annual revenue addition of $16 million to the company. That’s substantial.

So what happens now? Are you going to revolt? If Maker’s is your standby drink, are you suddenly going to start drinking Evan Williams or Old Crow?

Probably not.

First, I believe the Samuels clan when they say its professional tasters can’t tell the difference between Maker’s at 90 proof and Maker’s at 84 proof. I haven’t had the new Bourbon yet, but I look forward to doing the Pepsi challenge myself. I imagine telling them apart will be difficult at best. Most MM faithful will probably have that skeptical first sip, find it palatable, and promptly forget the whole thing.

Second, this is not the first time proof reductions have happened in the world of booze. They’ve been commonplace for years — remember that in the early 1900s, Bottled in Bond whiskey, mandated to be sold at a full 100 proof, was the sign of a quality product. Proof levels started coming down post-Prohibition during wartime years, and the gin industry has been slowly lowering proof levels for decades.

The most notable proof-dropper, however, is Jack Daniel’s. JD dropped from 90 proof to 86 proof in 1987, then to 80 proof in 2004. There was an outcry. There were petitions. There were assurances that JD would vanish from the market as drinkers flocked to competitors.

Today, Jack Daniel’s is — by far — the best-selling whiskey in the world.

Will you begrudge Beam that $16 million for watered-down Maker’s Mark? Probably. But look at it this way: It will give you something to complain about with the bartender who pours it for you.

Review: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

beer barrel bourbon 118x300 Review: New Holland Beer Barrel BourbonMichigan’s New Holland Brewing Company puts my thoughts about its Beer Barrel Bourbon right on the label: Beer finished in Bourbon casks: Sure. Bourbon finished in beer casks: Sounds a little weird.

Beer Barrel Bourbon (no mashbill provided) is first aged in new oak for “several” years at a relatively low 110-115 proof. It’s then finished for 90 days in barrels that were used for the company’s Dragon’s Milk stout — which, in turn, was itself aged in a former Bourbon barrel. The cycle is endless!

The provenance of barrel from whiskey to beer to whiskey may be a little tricky to full grasp, but the results speak more clearly, and for themselves.

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Review: Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye

hookers house bourbon 125x300 Review: Hookers House Bourbon and RyeColor me a bit of a skeptic. Hooker’s House label declares these whiskeys as “Sonoma Style,” as in the California wine country. Where they do not make whiskey. Right? Heck, HelloCello (aka Prohibition Spirits) — best known for its artisanal lemoncello (and other flavors) — makes this whiskey. What on earth do these guys know about Bourbon? How good could it possibly be?

Plenty. And pretty good, it turns out.

Named after a Civil War veteran, Joseph Hooker, who lived in Sonoma, these whiskeys are not actually distilled in California (the company cites only “Bourbon-belt” production; I’m presuming they are born at LDI like pretty much everything else on the market). But Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye, like many of my favorite craft whiskeys, are decidedly non-traditional spirits: Both are finished in (different) wine barrels that have been retired from local wineries.

That, I guess, it was “Sonoma Style” is all about. And you can count me a full-on convert.

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Review: Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Rye and Bourbon Whiskey

Finger Lakes Distilling operates out of, you guessed it, the Finger Lakes region of New York, well known as an up-and-coming wine region but also a hotbed of craft distilleries, too. Finger Lakes makes two young whiskeys which we recently put to the taste test.  Both are 91 proof.

McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey 200x300 Review: Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Rye and Bourbon WhiskeyMcKenzie Bourbon Whiskey – Double-pot distilled from a mashbill of 70% local, heirloom corn (the rest is reportedly 20% rye, 10% malted barley). Aged in 10-gallon, new charred barrels (for unspecified time; reportedly 18 months) and finished in casks that held local Chardonnay. First impressions: There’s lots of wood here, with a hearty corn character to back it up. The grain notes are quite straightforward, and the bigger body — driven by the Chardonnay finish, perhaps — is a help considering the relative lack of sweetness. There’s some glimmers of excitement here, with some interesting incense and raisin notes, but the hefty sawdust character on the finish is a bit too close to the lumberyard for my taste. Batch 09/2012. B- / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: Yahara Bay V Bourbon Whiskey

V bourbon 169x300 Review: Yahara Bay V Bourbon WhiskeyHailing from Madison, Wisconsin, this craft whiskey is a three-year-old Bourbon that is matured in small batches and small barrels. The mashbill (and other details) are not revealed by Yahara Bay Distillers, but the results speak for themselves.

The whiskey is surprisingly dark, and the nose is heavy with wood, but otherwise typical of Bourbon. On the palate, it’s quite sweet, with ample vanilla, plus a tannic, woodsy undercarriage. Beyond that, you’ll find a few secondary characteristics: Cinnamon, apple, and some exotic berry character that’s both unusual for Bourbon and hard to place.

While it’s very youthful, and the wood is a bit heavy at times — a by-product of the small barrel aging, I’m guessing  — but it’s surprising how much it grows on you. Not sure, by the way, if the name is supposed to be a letter V or a Roman numeral five.

90 proof.

B / $40 / yaharabay.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Bulleit 10 Bourbon 10 Years Old

Bulleit Bourbon 10 years old Bulleit 10 133x300 Review: Bulleit 10 Bourbon 10 Years OldOne of the biggest success stories in recent years in the Bourbon world has been Bulleit, a brand that came from nowhere and has since become ubiquitous on back bars throughout the country. Bulleit is affordable, good, and easy to drink straight or as a mixer. It doesn’t hurt that Tom Bulleit is one of the nicest guys in the business, and his daughter Hollis is one of the most flamboyant.

After extending the line with a fine, if uninspired, rye whiskey, Bulleit is back with a third expression, Bulleit 10. Put simply, it’s a 10 year old version of the standard Bulleit mashbill (heavy on the rye), set aside for a few extra years to see what would happen. (“Orange label” Bulleit has no age statement, but it is bottled at six years old.)

That’s a lot more time in barrel, so how does it all pan out? Well, we tasted it.

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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.

Where does the name come from? Per the company:

The water used to create this product comes from the Widow Jane mine in Rosendale, New York. Rosendale Limestone possesses an even higher ratio of beneficial minerals than that found in Kentucky and its sparkling waters are as pure as its namesake, the Widow Jane. The greatest structures in New York are from the gargantuan caissons that allowed the Brooklyn Bridge to soar, to the Statue of Liberty’s 27,000 ton pedestal, to the Empire State Building itself are all held fast and strong by that Rosendale stone.

A combination of unfiltered 91 proof Bourbon and highly mineralized water can lead to a very slight cloudiness (calcium) in the bottle which appears when agitated. It is yet another attractive part of this package. Widow Jane Whiskey is a true New York City whiskey, evocative of both the rock that created the foundation for this city of skyscrapers and the forward looking, DIY spirit that has made Brooklyn the center of a new artisanal food and beverage movement.

However, despite all this, they can still put “Kentucky Bourbon” on the label… Funny thing, those liquor laws!

The company has previously sold a 5 year old version of Widow Jane. Here we have the new 7 year old for review.

Deep copper in color, this is serious whiskey from the get-go. I didn’t detect any cloudiness. The nose is rich with cherry and wood, with light touches of menthol and camphor.

It’s got a gorgeous and lush body, lots of heavy caramel and vanilla, backed up by ample cinnamon and baking spice, orange peel, and banana. Spicy and racy, this is a bit of a bruiser, and I would have pegged the proof level at considerably hotter than it really is. Water goes a long way with Widow Jane. But even then it’s a burly and punchy spirit. This is a whiskey that’s lots of fun, and perfect for reminiscing about what ye olde saloon might have been like — in Kentucky or New York.

91 proof.

A- / $68 / widowjanespirits.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS!]

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – Limited Edition (2013)

Angels Envy Cask Strength 200x300 Review: Angels Envy Cask Strength Bourbon   Limited Edition (2013)I’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.

It starts right with the color: A darker, deeper amber than the original. Then there’s the nose, which is intense with wood and hints of brown sugar.

Take a sip and there’s no doubt this is a cask strength bourbon. Intense and fiery, it cuts a much more traditional Bourbon profile: Lots of wood and vanilla, and a big spicy kick on the back end. Red pepper, cinnamon, and mint are the most notable secondary characteristics.

I highly recommend a healthy splash of water to make this whiskey a bit more manageable, and when it’s cut down a tad it really starts to show its charms. Here that Port character starts to come out, with chocolate and raisins a-plenty throughout the experience. The main difference vs. the original: That wood never quite fades away, leaving you with a bit of a smoldering, Wild West feeling.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have to shoot a man.

121 proof.

A- / $149 / angelsenvy.com

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.

fourroses.us

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 / woodfordreserve.com

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