Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon


Bourbon finishing is becoming a huge trend today, and Buffalo Trace-owned A. Smith Bowman has been finishing its Virginia-made whiskeys pretty much for as long as we’ve been writing about them.

Up next in the Abraham Bowman line is a duet of bourbons, both traditionally aged in new oak barrels, then finished in used barrels (of different types). The question really isn’t though what used to be in the barrels, but how many times those barrels were used. The first of these whiskeys were finished in barrels that had already been used for bourbon (aka second-use barrels). The second whiskey is finished in barrels used to age bourbon, Port wine, and bourbon again (aka fourth-use barrels). Can a barrel’s character stand up to all that abuse?

Before we find out, here’s the nitty-gritty from Bowman on the full experiment:

This limited release explores how flavor profiles are affected when bourbon, first aged in new charred white oak barrels, is then finished in different kinds of used barrels for its final years, and also explores how the barrel entry proof affects the finish.

This release is comprised of two expressions, each finished in two different kinds of barrels. The first expression was aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels before being transferred into barrels that had previously held bourbon for nine years. Half of those bourbon barrels were barreled at 125 proof and half were barreled at 115 proof, before finishing for three years and five months.

The second expression was aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels before being transferred into barrels that had previously been used to age bourbon and port wine, and then were used to finish their Abraham Bowman Port Finish Bourbon, which went on to be named the 2016 World’s Best Bourbon by Whisky Magazine. Half of these fourth-use barrels were barreled at 125 proof and half were barreled at 115 proof before finishing for three years and five months.

And now on to the tasting. Both are bottled at 100 proof.

Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon – 2nd Use Barrels – This bourbon has a bright nose with some clear orange notes, lots of vanilla, and classic baking spice character. The palate sees some fun chocolate notes, sweet caramel, and a reprise of those citrus notes. The finish is clean but a bit hot (this is 50% abv, remember), but otherwise a really lovely expression of well-aged bourbon. Finishing a nine-year old bourbon in another, old bourbon barrel shouldn’t really have much of an impact, though there are some unusual characteristics in this whiskey that at least make me wonder whether something percolated through all those years and into the spirit. Well done, regardless. A-

Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon – 4th Use Barrels – The nose on this whiskey is immediately duskier, with a stronger wood-driven aroma and a clear tobacco character. Chocolate is here on the nose — but it’s a very dark cocoa, not the silky milk chocolate of the 2nd Use Barrel bourbon. The palate feels less hot (and more complex) than the 2nd Use, and it’s loaded with cigar-room flavors of tobacco, more dark chocolate, and dark cherries (the clearest sign of the Port wine influence). I love this whiskey — though it’s a totally different experience than the 2nd Use Barrel expression, with a lingering, fruit-filled finish that hangs on for quite awhile. Grab this one if you can. A

For kicks, I mixed the two, roughly 50-50. I didn’t like the blend nearly as much as either whiskey on its own, which just goes to show… blending is tough!

each $40 (375ml) /

Review: Early Times Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

Early Times is a well-known name in American whiskey, residing on, well, if not the bottom shelf then one shelf up from the bottom. But Early Times isn’t bourbon (since some of it is aged in used barrels). Special editions have hit the market over the years — some bourbon, some not — but now there’s this little number, an honest-to-god bottled in bond version of Early Times, four years old and bottled at 100 proof.

Says the distillery (Brown-Forman owns the operation): “Early Times Bottled-in-Bond is crafted with pure water, a mash bill composed of 79% corn, 11% rye, and 10% malted barley, fermented with a proprietary yeast strain and carefully distilled. It is matured for a minimum of four years in new charred oak barrels, resulting in a classic, smooth bourbon, rich in taste and character.”

As bourbon goes, this expression of Early Times isn’t bad at all. The nose is a bit hot, as many a bottled-in-bond bourbon tends to be, with a solid caramel base on the nose, backed by a modest barrel char note and a surprising level of spicy red pepper. Some cloves quickly find their way into the palate, and though there’s a bit of popcorn-heavy youth on the tongue, there’s also big brown butter, cinnamon, and lingering brown sugar notes — all the stuff of classic, if sugar-forward, bourbon — which meld quite nicely with that popcorn underpinning to create a surprisingly capable little whiskey.

B+ / $23 (1 liter) /

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 Edition “Al Young 50th Anniversary”

The latest Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses has arrived. Featuring a radically revised bottle and label, the whiskey is bottled in honor of Al Young, who has been with the distillery for a full 50 years.

Who’s Al Young, you ask? Says Four Roses:

Al Young has served in a variety of roles at Four Roses for the past 50 years. In 1990, he became Distillery Manager and in 2007 was named Four Roses Brand Ambassador, a role that has him crossing the country sharing the story of Four Roses and its Bourbon. He is also historian for the storied 129-year-old Kentucky Bourbon brand, having researched archives, distillery records, news accounts, photos and artifacts in order to write the coffee-table book Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, published in 2010. Al Young was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2015 and is also a member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

The whiskey released in his honor is a blend of:

  • 20% 12 year old OBSF
  • 50% 13 year old OESV
  • 25% 15 year old OBSK
  • 5% 23 year old OBSV

Let’s get on to tasting!

The nose of the whiskey is exotic, offering notes of Asian spices, dried flowers, intensely dark caramel, vanilla, and dark chocolate notes. This heady experience leads you into an equally intriguing palate that features raspberry and strawberry fruit, coffee bean, and ample sweetness driven by slightly salty caramel and chocolate notes — with a distinctly butterscotch-fueled finish, with lasting overtones of mint and thyme. As those descriptors might indicate, there’s a massive amount of complexity in this bourbon, and it invites repeated exploration and investigation. While the flavors and aromas come at you from left field, the whiskey itself is balanced and offers so much character it’s impossible to put down.

All told, it’s one of the best Four Roses Small Batch releases in years. Love it. Congrats, Al!

108.98 proof. 10,000 bottles produced.

A / $150 /

Review: Single Cask Nation Whiskies Outturn #1 – Girvan 10, Ardmore 8, Glentauchers 8, Glenrothes 8, Ben Nevis 8, and Ben Nevis 20

Let’s welcome a new independent Scotch whisky bottler to the scene: Single Cask Nation.

Decidedly unlike the old guard of G&M, Signatory, and the like, SCN is a brand being launched exclusively for the U.S. market by the Jewish Whisky Company. Who knew?

Some details:

Jewish Whisky Company has announced that it will release a series of Retail-Only Single Cask Nation bottlings for the California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York markets.

The retail line of Single Cask Nation whiskies focuses on young, vibrant whiskies between 7 and 14 years of age. Consumers can expect whiskies to be bottled at full cask strength without chill-filtering or added coloring and be from a host of different distilleries from around Scotland, America, and other whisky producing countries. Releases, however, may not be limited to this age range.

Retail-Only Single Cask Nation whiskies will complement the current online membership-only series of bottlings. Both consumers and Single Cask Nation members can expect the two separate lines to continue to grow in offerings. The two lines will remain separate. Casks bottled for retail will not be available for online purchase from Single Cask Nation. Similarly, Online-Only bottlings will not be available on retail shelves and all orders will continue to be fulfilled and shipped directly to Single Cask Nation members.

The company expects to bottle 12 to 18 single casks per year for the Single Cask Nation Retail-Only line of whiskies. Similarly, 12 to 18 different single casks will be bottled for the Single Cask Nation Online-Only line which is available through membership. Single Cask Nation members will continue to have exclusive access to Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings. The 12 to 18 Online-Only bottlings available to Single Cask Nation members include the Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings.

So, it’s not just Scotch, but for this first outturn of six whiskies, we’ve got five single malts and a single grain, all sourced from Scotland and all retail-only bottlings. We took a look at all of them. (Note that additional whiskies have since hit the market.)

Note that only a few hundred bottles were produced of each of these spirits. All were bottled between September 2016 and January 2017.

Single Cask Nation Girvan 10 Years Old – Single grain whisky from a refill bourbon hogshead. Single grain whisky this young is often brash and off-putting, and this expression is equally rough and tumble. Somewhat weedy on the nose, the palate offers notes of mushroom, licorice, and dusky hint of coal and coffee grounds. Despite some apple cinnamon notes that arrive late in the game, unfortunately it’s just too young at this stage to offer much engagement. 115.4 proof. 228 bottles produced. C / $71

Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill bourbon hogshead. Moderately peated (considerably more so than a typical Ardmore bottling), the nose is sharp with wood smoke and a hint of bacon. The palate falls largely in line with this, featuring a sweet counterbalance that offers notes of pears, maple, and some golden raisins. Isley fans will find plenty to love here, though its youth prevents a flood of secondary flavors from developing. 113.8 proof. 228 bottles produced. B / $83

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Potent sherry on the nose, with malty vanilla and some banana adding intrigue. The palate is quite creamy, building on all of the above flavors with stronger citrus, some coconut, and a lick of chocolate on the back end. Particularly worthwhile thanks to the bracing abv, which gives it a lengthy and seductive finish that belies its youthful age. 116.2 proof. 222 bottles produced. A- / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill sherry butt. Again, quite sherry-forward on the nose, with some salted caramel notes. The palate takes things in a considerably different direction, though, quite nutty with oily furniture polish overtones. The sherry notes here run to amontillado, with notes of dates, cherry pits, and prunes. Almost syrupy on the finish, here’s where you find the more cereal-focused notes of roasted grains amidst all the winey character. 129.6 proof. 663 bottles produced. B- / $78

Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Probably the biggest name in this outturn, this is a youthful but expressive whisky with aromas of sharp citrus, walnuts, and spice. The palate shows the youth more clearly, with some heavier cereal notes, tempered by bold tangerine and mango notes, grassy heather, and a finish that layers some coal dust into the experience. Lots going on here — it’s a whisky that drinks above its mere eight years of age. 112.6 proof. 318 bottles produced. B+ / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – The sole double-digit whisky in this outturn (and an exception to the “young whiskies” rule outlined above), this is single Highland malt from a refill sherry puncheon. Interesting apple notes on the nose here, with plenty of citrus-fueled sherry right behind them. In the background, aromas of roasted meats waft up from the glass. The palate is sharp and heavy with citrus — orange and some oily lemon, with hints of grapefruit. The slippery, oily body leads to a lengthy finish, just as sharp as the palate proper, with nutty overtones. An enjoyable and enchanting whisky on the whole. 111.2 proof. 321 bottles produced. A- / $190

Review: Compass Box Double Single (2017)

Compass Box released its first version of Double Single way back in 2003. A second version followed sometime after, and now this expression, the third, has arrived.

What’s Double Single? Simple: It’s a blend of two whiskies — one is a single malt, one a single grain. Double single. Get it?

For this batch, the single malt is from Glen Elgin (72% of the total blend), which was aged in re-charred bourbon hogsheads. The single grain is from Girvan, also aged in re-charred bourbon casks. There’s no age statement for either, or for the whisky as a whole.

Let’s give it a try.

With its classic malt-forward nose, the whisky offers aromas of green apple, hearty baking spices, and salted caramel — a strange but surprisingly compelling combination. The palate is lean but silky, showing some surprisingly bold citrus notes, lots of malty cereal, banana, and lingering nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish. The whisky is so gentle on the whole that it’s hard to be overly effusive about it, but at the same time it is so pure and full of flavor that it’s quite impossible not to love.

92 proof.

A- / $175 /

Review: Kavalan Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky

Taiwan’s Kavalan is on a tear of late, winning award after award as it shows that great whisky can come from unexpected places. The latest from Kavalan is a series of five whiskies called the Sherry & Port Cask Series. As you might expect, these all spend time in fortified wine casks — what’s not entirely clear is whether these are fully matured in their respective casks or if they’re finishing barrels, though the former seems to be the case. As usual with Kavalan, none of these releases is bottled with an age statement.

Three of the new whiskies are reviewed below. Two — Moscatel Sherry and the Port cask release — are sadly missing.

Thoughts follow. Bring your Visa card.

As these are single cask releases bottled at cask strength, all are noted on my review samples as “50 to 60% abv,” so figure 100 to 120 proof, depending on the bottle.

Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Intensely colored, it’s perhaps the darkest shade of mahogany I’ve seen in a whisky in a long, long while. The nose is incredibly nutty, with aromas of walnut, old wood, flamed orange peel, and classically burly, lightly spicy Amontillado notes. The nuttiness is the strongest of these by far, and on the palate this takes on an austerity and intensity that is hard to fully elucidate. Rich with coffee notes, it also showcases salted caramel, gunpowder, and cloves — but those rich, spiced nuts hang on for days. Truly unique. A / $599

Kavalan Manzanilla Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Manzanilla is a very dry sherry, but the relatively dark color of this whisky could fool you into thinking you’re drinking something else. While the Amontillado pushes you around, the Manzanilla coaxes you in with a nose of bright citrus fruit and pungent spice, leading the way to a palate of toasty almonds, more classic sherry citrus, and a briny, spicy conclusion. It’s a more gentle sherry cask bottling, but it’s still got a ton going on. A- / $599

Kavalan Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – PX casks are relatively common as finishing barrels, but this expression is a departure from the usual fare from Scotland. The nose is nutty like the Amontillado, but filtered through toffee, espresso, and cola notes. The palate is similar, but gentler than expected with notes of chocolate, cherries, and loads of fresh gingerbread. A rich coffee note emerges on the lengthy finish. Again, compelling and enticing stuff through and through. A / $699

Review: Cask & Crew Rye, Ginger Spice, and Walnut Toffee Whiskey

Order a “caffè corretto” in Italy, and you’ll get an espresso with a kick of something extra. ­The legendary drink was the inspiration for Cask & Crew whiskey, an imaginatively crafted and inventively flavored premium brand that LiDestri Spirits calls a “whiskey corrected.”  Not that it needs correcting; the word communicates the infusion of flavors that unite, yet respect, the whiskey’s blend of rye and corn.

Such is the tale behind this new whiskey brand from Rochester-based LiDestri — and one which begs the question, “Does whiskey need correcting?” Flavored whiskey is always a controversial topic, but Cask & Crew at least is releasing the unflavored expression alongside the two flavored versions (which are based on the same initial product, and dropped down to 35% abv). We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey – This youngster is a blend of 51% three year old rye from Canada and 49% barrel aged American corn whiskey (age unstated). As young stuff goes, it’s got a surprising amount of life to it. The nose is a bit heavy with maple syrup notes, plus layers of brown sugar and popcorn. The palate is heavy with popcorn, but quite sweet as well, with some savory herbs and cola notes mingling with the sugar. The overall impact is perfectly acceptable as a mixer, and at least approachable on its own as an exemplar of a relatively immature — but flavorful — spirit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch 1. B- / $28

Cask & Crew Ginger Spiced Whiskey – Sweet ginger beer notes on the nose, with nothing much else behind it. The palate is closer to a ginger liqueur than a whiskey, with some racy spices and a quieter showcase of berry-driven fruit. The finish echoes peaches, pineapple, and — as it lingers — vanilla and chocolate notes. A pleasant surprise, though only vaguely whiskeylike in any way. 70 proof. B / $25

Cask & Crew Walnut Toffee Whiskey – This is immediately off-putting with the overwhelming sweetness one typically finds with highly-sweetened flavored whiskeys — not particularly evident as toffee but rather a vanilla-heavy brown sugar and caramel character that dominates the aroma completely. The palate is even more overblown, a sugar bomb that coats the mouth, offering just a hint of nuttiness amidst all the saccharine funk. Definitely not whiskey “corrected.” 70 proof. D+ / $25