Review: George Dickel Distillery Reserve Collection 17 Years Old

 

Geo Dickel_F

Who doesn’t love a good backstory on a whiskey? Here’s how Tennessee’s George Dickel positions this new 17 year old limited edition release, which is available only at Dickel’s visitor’s center and at a few Tennessee retailers.

When Distiller Allisa Henley first discovered George Dickel Tennessee Whisky’s newest 17-Year Old addition to the portfolio, she wasn’t really even looking for it.  At the time, she was searching George Dickel’s single story barrel warehouses for 9-Year Old whisky to use in the Hand Selected Barrel Program she’d launched in 2014.  However, after pulling a sample from a row of 17-Year Old barrels near the back of one of the warehouses, she knew it was too good not to share as the extra time in the barrel had resulted in a perfectly balanced, flavorful sipping whisky.

The whiskey is made from Dickel’s standard mash — 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley. Its only real difference it sees vs. No. 8 and No. 12 is its time in barrel.

Let’s sample what’s in the bottle.

The nose offers some curious aromas: Old wood, scorched mint, and clove-studded oranges. There’s vanilla sweetness deep down in there, but it’s underneath a thick layer of austerity. On the palate, sweet butterscotch and maple syrup quickly emerge; exposure to air dulls things fast, leaving behind heavy notes of leather, peppercorns, and burnt newspaper. The wood is intense from the start, and this gets stronger as the palate and the finish develop, to the point where it becomes nearly overwhelming.

Old bourbon can be dicey, either soulful and supple or overblown with too much wood. Dickel 17 isn’t quite a bust in the latter category, but it’s definitely getting there. On the plus side: At least Dickel pulled it out of barrel when it did. A few more months and one feels this would have been too far gone to drink.

87 proof.

B / $75 (375ml) / georgedickel.com

Review: Ol’ Major Bacon Flavored Bourbon

Ol' Major with Bacon

Another whiskey from Branded Spirits… this one with a major (and obvious) spin.

To start with the basics: This is real whiskey flavored with real bacon. The bourbon is an 88% corn mash made by Terressentia, the bacon if from an Oklahoma pork producer. The flavoring and bottling operation takes place in Nashville; this involves taking nitrous aerosolized bacon, injecting it into the bourbon, and then filtering it heavily to remove the solids.

Hands down this is the best bacon-flavored spirit I’ve encountered to date. Slightly meaty, slightly salty, the pure bacon essence grows stronger as it evolves in the glass. On the palate a maple syrup character is prominent, with those classic bacon notes building on the lingering, slightly smoky finish.

Consider me pleasantly surprised. While it sips surprisingly well, it’s definitely made for mixing — try it in an Old Fashioned or a Bloody Mary.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / brandedspiritsusa.com

Review: The Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey

Hilhaven Lodge whiskey bottle shot

The Hilhaven Lodge is a funny name for a whiskey. That’s because the name also belongs to a home in Beverly Hills. It’s been part of Hollywoodland since 1927 (Ingrid Bergman owned and James Caan rented it at one point) and is now owned by director Brett Ratner, best known as the director of Rush Hour. What does Ratner have to do with whiskey? Not much — except that, like most of us, he’s a big fan.

Ratner obviously had enough credibility to get a deal with Diageo, and together they blended up a wacky new whiskey. It’s a marriage of “three different styles of whiskey spanning three decades – bourbon from the 2000s, Tennessee whiskey from the 1990s, and rye whiskey from the 1980s.” If I’m reading that correctly, then there is some whiskey in here that’s at least 27 years old — all for 40 bucks.

That said, the producers don’t offer any more specifics than the above (including provenance, proportions, mashbills, or aging specifics). The whiskey however is bottled at Stitzel-Weller and is currently available in California and Florida. (Also of note, a 2015 trademark lawsuit between Ratner and Heaven Hill went in favor of Ratner, and a trademark for Hilhaven Lodge was granted.)

Rye-bourbon blends are becoming increasingly popular, but adding in some Tennessee whiskey, too? That’s definitely a new one. Anyway, let’s give this oddball blend a taste and see what the director of Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson, knows about whiskey, shall we?

On first blush, it doesn’t come across as particularly old, though the nose is loaded with dessert-like notes, including butterscotch, vanilla, and nougat. Some drying, rye-driven spice emerges with time in glass along with a curious and unusual, seaweed-like maritime note.

The palate is dominated by all of the above, but the body is quite light and feathery, a bit of char coming forward at times, with ample caramel notes throughout. Moderately fruity as the finish develops, it’s lively with apple, banana, and just a hint of tropical character — but in the end, it’s some leathery, wood-heavy notes that fade away last, leaving the palate a bit dry but, to be honest, ready for another round.

Despite the exotic blend, Hilhaven Lodge drinks primarily like a bourbon — a solid one, but a rather plain one, to be sure. That said, given its approachable price and solid construction, it’s hard not to recommend whiskey fans at least give it a go.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / diageo.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

JD Single Barrel Rye BottleIt’s no secret that Jack Daniel’s has been working on its rye for the better half of the decade. The company has been putting out works in progress since the beginning. “Unaged Rye” came in 2012; a brash “Rested Rye” hit in 2014. Now, in 2016, the finished product is finally here.

My math pegs this about 3 1/2 years old. The mash hasn’t changed — 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley — and the rye undergoes the same charcoal filtration as all expressions of JD (and other Tennessee-based whiskies). It is worth noting that this final release has a significantly higher abv than either of the preview bottlings — and it is, curiously, a single barrel product.

On the nose, the new rye offers nutty, roasted grains at first, backed up with sweet caramel, some chocolate, menthol, and a little red pepper. Over time, a bit of that characteristic JD charcoal emerges. The big baking spice aromas of a typical rye aren’t immediately evident, but the nose isn’t atypical, at least, of a younger, rye-heavy bourbon.

The palate paints a somewhat different picture, offering a nutty character at first, fading into more grain with a fairly heavy toast. Dark caramel, licorice, some barrel char — elements of a fairly young but relatively indistinct whiskey — are all strong on the somewhat racy body. But the whiskey, at this age, remains a bit shapeless, offering a variety of muddled, barrel-driven flavor components but little to distinguish it from a young bourbon or blended whiskey.

That said, I found the spirit enjoyable and worth a look, though it adds little to the growing universe of rye. It’s clearly a young product — and probably still quite a bit ahead of its time — that will fare best as a mixer in a more intense cocktail.

Fans of Old No. 7 will wonder what the fuss is about.

94 proof.

B / $50 / jackdaniels.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 5 and Barrell Whiskey Batch 1

barrell whiskey

Turns out Barrell Bourbon, first released in 2014, wasn’t a one-off. To date the company has released six small batch Bourbon offerings, all  of which are significantly different from one another. As a trend goes, they’re getting older — significantly so, considering Batch 1 was a mere five year old baby. The last two releases have both topped eight years of age (and the labels now include a clear age statement, front and center).

In addition to Barrell Bourbon, the company has also produced its first release of Barrell Whiskey, which is a blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys aged in oak, including corn, rye, and malted barley whiskeys, in unspecified proportions — with no grain whiskey added. Like all Barrell releases, this first batch of Barrell Whiskey arrives at full cask strength.

Below we take a look at two recent barrels of Barrell: Batch 5 of the Bourbon, and Batch 1 of the Whiskey. Thoughts follow.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 005 – Made from a mash of 70% corn, 26% rye, and 4% malted barley, distilled in Tennessee. 8 years and 3 months old. Rich and traditional on the nose, it’s a caramel-fueled, wood-heavy, and a bit of a blazer of a whiskey when nosed and sampled at cask strength. Notes of fresh herbs and a smoldering finish redolent with barrel char are prominent. Water is a major aid with this one, really helping to clarify the spicier elements that emerge as the palate takes shape. Fresh rosemary and dried sage both come into focus, making for some interesting interplay with the charred wood elements. Some eucalyptus develops with time in glass, giving it a minty finish, with chocolate overtones. Compared to Batch 1 (again, a mere five years old), it’s a considerably more austere and well-rounded bourbon, with plenty of depth to investigate. 124.7 proof. Bottle #4446. A- / $80

Barrell Whiskey Batch 001 – A blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys, as noted above. Distilled in Indiana and aged in Kentucky. Lighter in color than the Bourbon, it has a freshness to it that belies its age — lots of floral elements on an otherwise clean and lithe nose. The palate offers a similarly clean entry, a bit fruity — apples and pears — with more of those white flower notes emerging with just a bit of time. The body is light and airy, almost Canadian in structure at times with just a light smattering of flavors influencing an otherwise gentle, lightly-sweetened core. Though it’s got nearly the same alcohol level, the whiskey isn’t nearly as fiery and off-putting as the Bourbon above. It drinks quite easily at full strength and without water. In the end, the finish (finally) hints at more traditional notes of vanilla and butterscotch, but it’s a fleeting impression as the spirit fades out as rapidly as it comes on. Primarily I see this as something to consider as an alternative to white spirits in cocktailing. 122.5 proof. Bottle #3765. B+ / $62

barrellbourbon.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Head-to-Head

JD NH Single Barrel 2Headlines 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

Review: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century

Sinatra%20Century

Jack Daniel’s is making a second stab at Sinatra’s legendary love of JD with another ultra high-end bottling of its signature Tennessee Whiskey. If you thought Sinatra Select was ostentatious, wait’ll you get a load of Sinatra Century, which arrives at more than twice the price.

Sinatra Century — bottled in honor of Frank’s 100th birthday — is made from the same type of alligator-charred barrels as Sinatra Select but otherwise offers no particular production information (including, as usual, any age statement). What JD has done, however, is work with the Sinatra family to taste and select the barrels that went into this bottling.

Bottles are individually numbered and come in elaborate gift packaging. They are bottled at 100 proof, perhaps another nod to the Ol’ Blue Eyes’ centennial.

You have time to consider this purchase — Frank’s birthday will be December 12, 2015 — but in the meantime, let’s give it a thorough tasting and review.

Sinatra Century is immediately appealing from the moment the bottle is cracked open. The nose is heady, with heavy baking spice notes — highly unusual for JD — loads of cinnamon and nutmeg, plus brown butter, some barrel char influence, and ample vanilla. There’s a fair amount of alcoholic burn given the proof, but it’s manageable and actually quite engaging, working well with the grandiose nose.

On the palate, Sinatra Century keeps it going. Big butterscotch, cinnamon, and a healthy slug of Mexican chocolate lead the way. Some charcoal notes make an entry later on, but the finish runs to bittersweet cocoa, a slight cherry influence, and smoldering molasses left on the fire overnight.

The balance of flavors here is nearly perfect, bouncing from spice to chocolate to char and back again. The higher proof helps keep it alive on the tongue for ages, but it never feels particularly hot and doesn’t need water. Engaging from start to finish, I’m not afraid to say this is the best product JD has ever put into a bottle.

That said, it’s a $400 product (or more) — so it better be good. Damn good.

A / $400 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com