Tasting Report: Jack Rose Premier Drams 2023

Tasting Report: Jack Rose Premier Drams 2023

After a bit of back-and-forth on the date, whiskey mecca Jack Rose Dining Saloon finally landed on October 2nd for this year’s Premier Drams festival. We would have honestly rescheduled a liver transplant to make it, and after the embarrassment of brown water riches on offer this year, we just might have to in 2024. Two intrepid Drinkhacker writers were lucky enough to attend and offer their own tasting notes for some highlight (and the rare lowlight) drams. As always, this has been recounted to the best of our recollections. We’ll have full reviews of most of these up in the near future. Enjoy! — Jonathan Glover and Drew Beard


Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged – This was such a popular request, the Suntory Beam table had to hide it in a Laphroaig-branded Hunter boot. “Ask for the boot pour,” they said! It didn’t really hold a candle to the single cask Scotches on the same table, but I’m beginning to get the hype around this one. It’s what many bourbon fans who cut their teeth on Maker’s have secretly wished for from the brand for years now: a deeper, richer profile, showing an older oak dimension but still balanced, and caramel sweet while still being nuanced and complex. A- DB

Green River Single Barrel Bourbon – Whiskey festival pro tip: always taste the bottles with “Sample” labels on them. Green River rolled out its first full proof single barrel offering earlier this year, and while that whiskey was initially limited to the gift shop in Owensboro, the distillery has been sharing other examples widely at festivals to build excitement for their single barrel program. This example clocked in a year older and slightly higher proof (124.5) than what I reviewed initially, and it was equally impressive. Peppery and full of baking spice on the nose with that same bright and sweet stone fruit note on the palate, accentuated by an oily and balanced body. A- DB

Bardstown Bourbon Discovery Series #11 – In mid-February, I attended a launch event for Bardstown’s Origin Series where I presumptuously asked VP Dan Callaway how the Discovery Series would transform with the introduction of their own juice. In retrospect his response was painfully polite given the implication that future blends would be compromised in some way with the introduction of house distillate. This self-reflection occurred the moment I put liquid to lips. A cinnamony, Beam-ish Kentucky delight rivaling the earliest Discovery batches. Exceptional.  A- JG

Bardstown Bourbon Collaborative Series Goose Island – Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout (along with Founders Breakfast Stout) was one of my largest gateways into the realm of craft beer. So I was obviously excited to try this collab featuring a 9-year old Kentucky bourbon blended with 6- and 7-year Kentucky bourbons aged in stout barrels for 12 months. And, boy, do I imagine it to be a grower. Dark, malted chocolate and raisins on the nose and palate segue into a funky, lingering finish. What I expected to be comfort food was challenging and mushroomy within the context of the day. C+ JG

Barrell Foundation Bourbon – “Why does this need to exist?” I, an idiot, asked a few months ago upon seeing this label show up on the TTB website. “Because it can,” Barrell, an award-winning brand and blender, responded on the day of Premier Drams. What a delicious, easy-drinking surprise. Pastel grape and cherry enrobed in bright, crunchy toffee. While I’m unsure of the $60 price point, I can’t deny it’d be a welcome luxury as a daily drinker and mixer. B JG

New Riff High Note Bohemian Wheat Bourbon – New Riff is at its best when at play with interesting and heirloom grains and, for my money, this is up there with their finest experiments. Featuring Bohemian wheat, a grain typically used in hefeweizen and witbier, it shows well in this context. Where I expected coriander I got warm bread, where I feared banana I got candied raspberry. A different-yet-accessible spin on the barrel proof wheater. B+ JG

Willett Family Estate Bourbon “Slacker #5” 10 Years Old 139.4 Proof – The longest line of the day. A line so long that it just about went out the door. A line so long that I missed out on all of the goodies at the A. Smith Bowman booth which were obscured by said line. Was it worth it? I’m not sure, but this single barrel made a large enough impression on me that, of the six offerings, I remembered its name. Roasted peanuts, leather, burnt caramel, and a dusty funk reminiscent of my favorite Family Estate hazmats. A- JG

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Finish #2 – I was luckier than Jonathan and managed to sip a few Bowman goodies in addition to a Willett pour (although the throngs of Willett bros kept me from knowing exactly which). An unreleased 15-year-old cider finished Bowman bourbon was impressive, if a little hot, but the star of the table was this limited-edition release from 2020, a 10-year bourbon that spent three full years in Gingerbread Stout casks. Deep and dark with an intense baking spice profile, this was everything you could want in a winter bourbon from its praline and pie spice aroma to a rich palate of graham cracker, dark fruits, and milk chocolate. A DB

Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch – While the tidy, winding line for Willett led all the way to the threshold of Jack Rose, the basement of The Imperial next door held a most-untidy collection of bodies funneling toward the Four Roses booth and five years of Limited Edition Small Batch. Can you blame us? Everyone has their favorite (I prefer(red) the 130th Anniversary LE), but this was my first tasting of the newest release and I found it interesting just how… exemplary it was. It almost reads like a love letter to the 10 recipes of the brand, most likely due to 40 percent of the blend being OESK, the fruit-forward, herbal backbone of a lot of the brand’s flagship releases. The stingy five percent 25-year old OBSV recipe does rear its head, giving the bottle a bit of heft and agedness without ever appearing over-oaked. It’s fruity, it’s spicy, it’s Four Roses. And just maybe the best one yet. A JG


Green River Rye Whiskey – You go to Premier Drams for the limited editions and the long-gone favorites but also for things so new they haven’t even hit the shelf yet. This Green River rye was one such example, aged 4-6 years and distilled in Owensboro from the well-established 95/5 recipe. Clean and bright, this was a light-bodied but still well-rounded rye with a honeyed sweetness, soft spice, and gently herbal profile. If it clocks in as affordable as the rest of the core range, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. B+ DB

Hughes “Belle of Bedford” Toasted Rye – Pennsylvanian by way of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the toasting process tones down or eliminates all of the notes typically associated with MGP’s 95/5 rye (and by extension most modern rye). It’s dessert-like: creamy, nutty, with a little bit of spice that shows as black pepper, and not a dill pickle in sight. It’s a facsimile of a bygone era of Pennsylvania rye then and, like its ornate bottle, a pretty decent one at that. B JG

Peerless Absinthe Barrel Finished Rye – This is one of those bottles I’d seen floating around on socials that I’d never encountered in the wild. I learned firsthand that a) it’s intended for socials as it’s apparently something produced on-demand for tastings and b) it’s delicious. I was afraid it would lean medicinal, but it’s predominantly hyper-sweet, stone fruit-forward anise. Cherry and strawberry Twizzlers; this isn’t just touched by the finish but transformed by it and, as such, a surprising highlight. B+ JG

Wilderness Trail Rye Whiskey 7 Years Old – He may have made headlines with his massive Campari payday, but Wilderness Trail co-founder Pat Heist was far from retirement and still showcasing his labors of love which included this well-aged rye from some of the Danville-based distillery’s earliest column distillate. Balanced and round on the palate, this rye sings with dark brown sugar and loads of fresh, floral mint. A ready-made Derby Day cocktail. A- DB

Leopold Bros Three Chamber Rye Bottled in Bond – A great example of how Premier Drams is so much more than your standard whiskey festival was found at the George Dickel table where Master Distiller Nicole Austin was seated with Leopold Bros co-founder and distiller Todd Leopold showcasing their collaboration rye and diving deep into its components. For those who took the time to engage them, it was a CliffsNotes masterclass in modern distilling, booze marketing, and innovation. I walked away with a new appreciation for this classic rye style, the kind of whiskey that could (and would) only be made by a smaller-scale craft producer. Unlike most anything on the market today, it showcases a memorably creamy palate with balanced rye spice and flavors of chocolate, caramel, and mint. A- DB


Laphroaig Jack Rose Single Cask “PX I Love You Too” – Since the pandemic, Jack Rose has been leaning hard into single cask selections, featuring their picks at frequent tasting events and also selling them on-premise. Unique and delicious selections like this cask strength, PX-aged Laphroaig are a prime example of how this whiskey bar isn’t offering merely the same old single barrels. Nutty, smoky, and sweet, this single malt was everything I love about Laphroaig slathered in Kansas City BBQ sauce and roasted over a beachside campfire. A DB

Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 8 – The new Glenglassaugh portfolio was poured freely all day, along with an impressive selection of Benriach single casks, but if you wanted a Glendronach, it took something of a wink and a nod, as those bottles hid on a back shelf. Perhaps they were just limited on space. Either way, I was excited to revisit this 2019 bottling of cask strength Glendronach, a big, brashly-sherried single malt that pulled no punches with notes of roasted nuts and marmalade on toast. B+ DB

SMWS 1.279 DEEEP – The members-only Scotch Malt Whisky Society always brings a few gems to Premier Drams (the bar’s late partner, Harvey Fry, was one of the biggest private collectors of SMWS bottlings). There were several standouts, but this first-fill oloroso Glenfarclas took the crown with a vibrant, fruity profile. Wine-poached fruit on the nose gave way to an oily, rich palate of lemon curd and almond cake with chocolate and citrus peel on a forever finish. A DB

Single Cask Nation Inchgower 10 Years Old – Toward the end of the festival’s three hours (not enough!), I noticed several whiskey lovers discussing their top drams of the day. Granted, no one was exactly sober, but this obscure Inchgower single malt from independent bottler Single Cask Nation made enough lists that I quickly grabbed the very last sip before the house lights came on. Sober or no, those folks weren’t wrong. This marriage of refill bourbon and first-fill oloroso hogshead was rich with dark barley sugar and impressively earthy notes of cigar wrapper and old oak. A fitting cherry on top of another great Premier Drams festival. A- DB

Photos by Drew Beard and Sara Glover

Drew Beard is assistant editor for Drinkhacker and winner of several booze-related merit badges, including Certified Specialist in Spirits and Executive Bourbon Steward. A former federal employee turned hotelier and spirits journalist, he looks forward to his next midlife crisis.

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