Review: Blanton’s Single Barrel Select Private Selection from Quality Liquor Store

blantonsFour Roses and Jack Daniel’s aren’t the only single barrel private selection bottlings out there. Check out this bad boy from Quality Liquor Store, which is based in San Diego but which has a nice online selection of spirits.

Today we’re looking at QLS’s private bottling of Buffalo Trace’s highly regarded Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. This bottling was dumped on April 7, 2015 from Barrel #36, warehouse H, rick #10.

What an amazingly soft and incredibly drinkable bourbon this is. The nose is a bit restrained, showing pencil shavings, barrel char, brown sugar, and a touch of eucalyptus. That may sound like the intro to a huge whiskey, but the body turns out to be remarkably soft and seductive. The palate is filled with luscious vanilla ice cream, butterscotch, banana pudding, creme brulee… if you’re not picking up that this is a dessert-like confection in a glass by now, there’s something wrong with you. The finish is moderate, beautifully sweet with just a hint of lumber influence but also some lingering milk chocolate notes.

Entirely engaging but light as a feather, it’s one of the best bourbons I’ve encountered all year.

93 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #200/264.

Want a discount at QLS? Use code DRINKHACKER10% for 10 percent off!

A / $70 /

Review: Wicked Spirits Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey, Wicked 84 1/2 Whiskey, and Wicked Lightning Moonshine

wicked tangoOh, how I’ve procrastinated on these reviews, a collection of light whiskeys and moonshines bottled by a Kansas company called Wicked Spirits, aka Wicked Tango. With their mascot, Dirty Darcy (ahem), Wicked wants to rule the college shot market with this collection of minimally aged spirits made from 100% corn. Before I lose my nerve, let’s dive in.

Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey – Light whiskey isn’t like light beer. Rather, it’s a type of whiskey that is distilled at higher proofs and aged in used barrels, rather than new ones. The impossibly dark in color Wicked 87 is an off-putting experience, starting things off with a gumball and cotton candy scented nose. On the tongue, an enormous butterscotch candy character overwhelms, lingering until it fades into something closer to a pink bubblegum character. Vanilla lingers on the finish — but it’s more like vanilla ice cream… melted, with lots of sprinkles. Clearly packaged as an alternative to Fireball and other “party whiskeys,” this one just goes too far into sugar land for more than a few sips. A shot would probably kill you from the sugar shock. 87 proof. C / $NA

Wicked 84 1/2 Premium Reserve American Light Whiskey – This tastes almost exactly the same as Wicked 87 though, surprisingly, the slight downtick in proof is noticeable. That slightly lower alcohol translates to slightly more sugar, though, so any “premium reserve” translates into “extra sweetness.” It’s hard to tell much of a difference vs. the 87 though, and this bottling doesn’t appear on the Wicked website, so it’s unclear if it’s even on the market any more. 84.5 proof. C / $NA

Wicked Lightning Moonshine – Slight popcorn on the nose. Buttered. Classic, lightly corny on the body, but quite mild thanks to it being watered down considerably. Who’s looking for underproof moonshine today? I’m unclear. Harmless, but a bit pointless. 60 proof. 60 proof. C+ / $24

Wicked Lightning Peach Pie Moonshine – Strong chemical flavoring notes on the nose, unlike any peach pie I’ve ever had. Imagine melted peach-flavored Jolly Ranchers, muddled with that popcorn character outlined above and you’ve got this oddity. 60 proof. C- / $24

Wicked Lightning Pumpkin Spice Moonshine – Pungent with cloves on the nose, and even more on the body. Earthy and spicy, it eventually evokes a character more akin to a a cinnamon roll than a pumpkin pie, but it’s close enough to merit at least some attention. 60 proof. C / $24

Review: The Exceptional Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

exceptional blend

The Exceptional Blended Malt is a line extension of The Exceptional Grain Whisky, which came out earlier this year.

The Exceptional Malt is a blend of single malts, with no grain whisky added, including: a 16-year-old Ben Nevis, a first-fill sherry butt of Glenburgie, a vatted barrel of Balvenie, Kininvie, & Glenfiddich, a 13-year-old Speyside, a 25-year-old Speyburn, and a 30-year-old Macallan. The conflagration is then blended for further aging in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks.

There’s not much to dislike in that lineup, at least on paper, and The Exceptional is a mighty and quite engaging whisky. The nose starts things off with a ton of malt and big, roasted cereal grains. No sugary breakfast cereal here, this is a hearty bowl of toasted barley, straight off the stalk. Sherry makes a moderate appearance after that, along with some lighter astringent/hospital notes.

The palate runs straight to the sherry, with grainy notes folding in atop that. Initially it’s a bit simplistic — a friendly duo of citrus and cereal — but over time notes of green banana, pound cake, and a slight vegetal character emerge. This adds a bit of depth, but the finished product isn’t 100 percent cohesive. I wonder if the collection of barrels that went into this blend were ultimately a bit random? Stuff that wouldn’t cut it as a single malt so, what the hell, let’s blend them all together.

As the finish emerges, nice caramel notes soothe the palate and smooth out the whisky — which has the tendency of making you forget many of your complaints. What was I saying, then?

86 proof.


Review: Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton


Green Spot Whiskey 2015

Available in the U.S. for about a year and a half, Green Spot has deservedly taken earned its reputation as one of the best Irish whiskeys on the market. And now for something completely different: Green Spot… finished in used Bordeaux wine casks.

Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton takes the original Green Spot — matured in a mix of sherry, new bourbon, and refill bourbon casks — then transfers the liquid into Bordeaux casks from Chateau Leoville Barton, where it finishes for 12 to 24 months.

This expression immediately cuts a spicier, more pungent figure. The nose showcases honey, vanilla, and banana notes, but it’s undercut by subtle and tannic red wine notes. You might initially find this confluence off-putting, but give it some time and things start to gel. On the palate, the wine influence is stronger, the tannin hitting first alongside some austere wood notes, the wine cask then adding a raisin note atop the more expected notes of marshmallow, toffee, and vanilla. The finish is huge, again bringing out more winey elements, chewy and powerful and punchy with some Christmas spice notes to polish things off. (Also of note is that this expression is considerably higher in alcohol than standard Green Spot, which is bottled at 80 proof.)

All told, this is a fun expression and an exciting spin on a whiskey that never had anything to prove. It isn’t quite as cohesive as the original, but it’s wholly worthwhile in its own right.

92 proof.

A- / $65 /

Review: Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition Irish Whiskey

caskmates_smallIreland pretty much has two national beverages — Irish whiskey and stout (and no, I’m not counting poitin). Why not combine the two, you say? Say hello to Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition. (Perhaps implying that other editions are in the works.)

It’s a simple idea at work here: Take Jameson Original whiskey and finish it in casks of Franciscan Well, an Irish microbrew stout. (No, it’s not Guinness, but that really isn’t barrel aged any more, anyway.) Actually, the barrels start at Jameson, then they go to the brewery, then they go back to Jameson for reuse as finishing barrels. There’s no word on how long the whiskey spends in the barrels in this final step.

The results are interesting if nothing else. Slightly darker in color, Caskmates immediately showcases a sharper nose with notes of oatmeal, nuts, and cocoa powder, a contrast to malty, fruity notes on the Original bottling. On the palate Caskmates is a more intense whiskey with flecks of coffee, chocolate malt balls, and apple cider. Standard Jameson: simple and sweet, with a mix of fruit and nuts and a backing of gentle grains. I don’t get a distinctly stout character in Caskmates — maybe a touch of hops on the finish — but on its own merits it’s a whiskey worth picking up, particularly if you’re an Irish fan.

80 proof.


Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Triticale and Six Row Barley

JB_SC_Harvest_TriticaleIt’s been over a year since Jim Beam announced the Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection (see here, here, and here), a series of six bourbons that include an unusual grain — or a standard grain in an unusual proportion — in the creation of the whiskey. Now, the last two whiskeys are here, which include triticale and six row barley in the mash, respectively.

Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye that is starting to show up in distillery products of late. Beam must have gotten a big jump on this trend considering, as with the other Harvest Bourbon Collection bottlings, the whiskey is bottled at 11 years old.

Six-row barley is a type of barley, of course. Unlike two-row barley, which is used primarily in malted barley components, six-row is said to produce a grainier note to the mash, particularly when used in beer.

Let’s dig into these last two releases and see how they turn out. As usual, both are 90 proof.

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Triticale – Racy on the nose, very rye-like, with cloves, nutmeg, and some red pepper, plus ample vanilla underneath. On the palate, it’s surprisingly easygoing — perhaps this is the wheat component of the hybrid showing through — offering gentle notes of baked dessert pastries, apple pie, and a little mint chocolate on the finish. A simpler style up front, it reveals more charms as it opens up over time. Give it that time and see for yourself. B+

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Six Row Barley – The big question: Does more grain character come through with this experiment? I think it does, but so much time in barrel means it plenty tempered by wood. On the nose, it’s surprisingly heavy with alcoholic burn, then menthol and some fennel/licorice notes. The body is almost brutish — which is surprising, considering barley has the opposite reputation — tight and holding back, eventually giving up butterscotch, buttered popcorn, and some of those promised grainy notes, showing here in the form of buttered, toasted wheat bread. Despite all of this, the whole thing feels a bit undercooked, which is strange considering its age. Of all the HBC releases, this is the one whiskey that could probably stand another few years in the barrel. B-

each $50 (375ml) /

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon

ABW Hi Rye BourbonThe Sazerac-adjunct A. Smith Bowman Distillery is out with its 12th release in the Abraham Bowman line — a high rye expression distilled in September 2007 and bottled in July 2015. That makes it seven years and nine months old (technically speaking). Don’t try calling your local liquor store for a handle of it: This limited edition will largely be available only in its home state of Virginia.

The nose is very heavily woody — going into this blind I would have guessed this was a significantly older bourbon. Undernotes of greenery and some fruit are present, but all are outweighed by the wood.

The body tells another story, and here some fruit finds its footing. Orange and plum mingle with milk chocolate notes, ample caramel, and burnt marshmallow. There’s not as much spice as you might expect, but it kicks in later in the game. The wood notes are present but it isn’t nearly as domineering as on the nose. Here it makes for a well-integrated companion to a nicely crafted spirit.

Abraham Bowman High Rye doesn’t gel quite as well as I’d like, but it’s easy to enjoy and makes for interesting conversation. Give it a spin should you find yourself in Old Dominion!

100 proof.

B+ / $70 /

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2015 Edition

OF BB 2015

At this time of year we celebrate two big birthdays: Brown-Forman founder Garvin Brown, and yours truly.

Only one of us gets a “birthday bourbon” in his honor, though. Today we tuck into the 2015 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a 12 year old bottling, in keeping with past expressions. Old Fo notes that this batch was all matured in the same warehouse instead of at multiple sites, and near a heat cycling duct, where it was exposed to very high temperatures.

The 2015 edition has a sharp nose, almost astringent as it reveals menthol, burnt sugar, and some hospital character. On the palate, things settle more into traditional bourbon character, but it’s still a bit of a bruiser in comparison to previous years’ releases. On the palate, Bit-O-Honey, more dark brown sugar, and big barrel char notes hit up front. As the finish builds, it takes on a sharp citrus character — flamed orange peel — along with some vanilla-chocolate character. An echo of menthol emerges on the back end, along with a not insignificant level of heat.

All in all, it’s a whiskey that’s missing a sense of balance. Though water helps to bring things together, it has the side effect of turning things a bit boring. There’s nothing offensive in the 2015 Birthday Bourbon, but it isn’t nearly as well structured as some of the past releases. (I re-sampled them back to 2010 and this was my least favorite; 2014 is drinking the best today, with 2010 faded quite a bit.)

Hey, not every birthday is going to be your favorite.

100 proof. 13,200 bottles produced.

B- / $70 /

Review: Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky

hibiki harmonyA little of this and a little of that, Hibiki’s latest is a blended whisky, something we don’t see often represented from Japan on American shores. If you can’t find something to like in this dram, well, you shouldn’t be drinking whisky at all.

Let’s back up a bit, though, with some Suntory time background:

Hibiki Japanese Harmony pays tribute to the original Hibiki first launched in 1989 to commemorate the Suntory philosophy to live in Harmony with Nature and People. Suntory Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo challenged himself to design a quintessential Hibiki blend by meticulously refining it to capture the core of a true Hibiki as a no age statement blend. Hibiki Japanese Harmony leverages the exact same key malt and grain whiskies used in the first Hibiki blend. Here at least 10 malt and grain whiskies, aged up to approximately 20 years, blend together to create a luminous harmony of flavors and aromas.

This is an entry-level expression — the new “foundation of the Hibiki range” — and the nose is relatively youthful. There’s lots of grain influence here, with evident oak, smoke, and fruit mingling on the nose. On the palate, that grain is tempered quite a bit, with notes that offer a complex melange of toasted wood, tea leaf, crushed berries, orange/sherry character, and a finish that evokes tart green apple and a little sweetened tea. The denouement is fresh and clean — an enjoyable break from the rush of flavors that arrive when it first hits the tongue.

86 proof.

B+ / $65 /

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Edition


As bourbon (and rye) mania continue to sweep the nation, this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is setting up to be one of the hottest releases ever. (Surely you’re heard about Stagg? If not, read on for the spoiler…) As always, these are all highly capable, unique, and for the most part worthwhile whiskeys. But here’s the particulars on how each one breaks down for me this year.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – As it has for many years, this is 18 year old rye distilled way back in 1985 that has been sitting in a big metal tank since it hit its 18th birthday in 2003. Sazerac 18 changes a little each year, but not much. But now pay attention: This is the final release from the old tank. Next year’s release will feature whiskey distilled in 1998, and going forward, Sazerac 18 will be drawn from barrels filled 18 years prior. So — if you like what Sazzy 18 has been like in the past, get it now, as this is your last chance. In 2015, the nose offers exotic notes of brandied cherries, graham crackers, and whipped cream. This beautiful dessert character leads to ample wood on the initial rush of the palate — but this quickly segues to Christmas spices, more gingerbread, mulled wine, marzipan, and spiced, baked apples. The finish is long, soothing, and festive with its hefty spice character — perfect for holiday tippling. All in all, it’s a similar Sazerac 18 to the whiskey we’ve seen before, but like an old friend it’s one you still want to spend time with from time to time. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – A 17 year old whiskey from the bottom three floors of Warehouses Q and I. Punchy with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, this is a cocoa lover’s dream come true. A classic bourbon drinking at full maturity, it eventually reveals some allspice, barrel char, and a bit of menthol. This year’s whiskey is a fairly straightforward bourbon, one that even hints at its origins with some popcorn notes emerging on the finish — not something you often see in a whiskey of this age. Solid stuff on the whole, as it usually is. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – There’s quite a tale to go away with this one. Buffalo Trace says that it opened up 128 barrels of whiskey distilled in 2000 (making this 15 years old), but many of them only had 1 or 2 gallons of bourbon left in them. The shocking statistic: 84% of the original distillate evaporated! That’s quite an angel’s share… which means you are not going to find much Stagg on the market this year — one source I’ve seen estimates just 5000 bottles of this coveted whiskey will hit stores. 2015 is quite strong on the nose (this is 69% alcohol and dark as night, so prepare thy liver), but push through the alcohol to reveal intense vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves on the nose. The body is equally intense — lots of vanilla extract, cloves, and, surprisingly, licorice, plus a bit of barrel char on the back end. Give it water and it settles into a groove of burnt caramel and brown sugar with a little licorice kick. There’s not a lot of nuance this year — Stagg can often take on a dark coffee/chocolate tone — but it’s a very capable and highly enjoyable bourbon from start to finish. What else were you expecting? 138.2 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – 12 year old W.L. Weller, from the second and sixth floors of warehouses I, K, and L. Appealing nose, and approachable even at this hefty proof (just 2% abv less than Stagg). It’s got a distinctly lighter style, with a nose of distinct butterscotch notes, fruit salad, and vanilla. On the palate, the butterscotch comes on strong, along with some marzipan and orange oil. Add water and the whiskey takes on an evergreen edge, though it’s still tempered with that almond paste/butterscotch sweetness. Kind of an odd combination of flavors — each enjoyable enough on its own, but all together a little bit scattered. 134.6 proof. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Six year old rye, as per the norm, from the fourth and seventh floors of warehouses I, K, and M. Slightly light in alcohol for Handy vs. previous years’ releases. Restrained on the nose, far more so than anything else in the collection. It’s just not altogether there, aside from some nutty and grainy overtones. On the palate, at full bottle strength, it features hot, toasty grain, some citrus/orange marmalade notes, and more than a bit of astringency. Water helps, bringing out more sweetness and some baking spice, but also tons of grain and some antiseptic notes that make the whole affair seem undercooked. There’s nothing wrong with young whiskey, but I question whether a rye that’s drinking so youthfully has a proper place in this collection. 126.9 proof. B-

$80 each /