Review: Stillhouse Black Bourbon

While I have trouble believing that “America’s Finest” anything is packaged in the same type of can that they sell turpentine in, I am pleased to see that Stillhouse — best known for its increasingly chaotic line of flavored moonshines (mint chip whiskey, anyone?) — is taking things upmarket. Now Stillhouse is out with a wholly new line, ditching the red can for a black one, which is appropriate because it’s called Black Bourbon.

What’s Black Bourbon? Black Bourbon is a real bourbon (well, “blended bourbon”), made with corn, rye, and barley and then aged in new charred oak, which is then “rested & mellowed” in roasted coffee beans. Yes, there are a lot of questions here about how and where the bourbon is made, how old it is, and what “rested & mellowed” means, but when you’re drinking out of a paint thinner can, one has little need for the answers to such questions. One is mainly concerned with how the stuff actually tastes.

The answer: OK. I’ve had worse cheap whiskey, and I’ve had better. The nose here is fairly basic, quite hot with rough popcorn notes and plenty of raw alcohol/petrol character. On the palate, nothing particularly special leaps forward, either: Heavy popcorn indicates youth, as does the harsh burn on the back of the throat. (This is not a whiskey that anyone is going to describe as “smooth.”) There is a coffee element here, but it’s fleeting at first, and frankly it’s overwhelmed by notes of roasted peanuts, blackstrap molasses, and clove cigarettes. You’ll find a lot of the same elements in bottom-shelf bourbons on the market, but Stillhouse does have a reprise hint of coffee that lingers on the back end, helping to distinguish the whiskey from the fray, at least a little.

80 proof.

C / $30 / stillhouse.com

Review: Kentucky Peerless Straight Rye 2 Years Old

Kentucky Peerless — aka just “Peerless” — isn’t just any old craft whiskey startup in Louisville. While the operation makes bourbon, the bigger focus is on rye — not sourced from parts unknown, but made on site, reportedly in line with recipes that have been handed down for more than 100 years. Some details:

When Prohibition dawned, there was only one way to obtain alcohol: a prescription. Physicians were able to prescribe distilled spirits on government forms for certain ailments including but not limited to: pneumonia, influenza, and depression, among other disorders. But if no alcohol was being made, where did it come from?

Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, originally founded by Henry Kraver in 1889, was one of the few spirits made available by prescription for medicinal use. At the time of Prohibition, Peerless had a significant amount of barrel aging product (63,000) and obtained a governmental license, which permitted them to distribute inventory for prescribed medicinal purposes.

It was not until 98-years later that Kraver’s great-grandson and fourth-generation entrepreneur Corky Taylor revived the family business. Taylor enlisted his son Carson to transform the 130-year-old brick industrial building in downtown Louisville into a state-of-the-art distillery. The family obtained Kraver’s original distilled spirits plant (DSP) number and re-opened the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company in 2015 under DSP 50.

No longer needing a prescription to distribute today, Peerless Distilling Company can be found in over 27 states. Led by head distiller Caleb Kilburn and a small, dedicated team, the historic grain-to-bottle distillery produces craft ultra-luxury, small-batch rye whiskey and bourbon.

The Peerless Rye mash isn’t disclosed, but we do know that this release is two years old — 24 months old to be exact, per the label — and is bottled at cask strength, non-chillfiltered, with nothing added. Let’s taste it.

For such a young whiskey, this is a surprisingly well-rounded, fully-formed spirit. The nose is a little rough around the edges, but underneath some rustic granary notes you’ll find loads of spice, caramel, and vanilla, all classic American whiskey notes though not particularly evident as rye. The palate is a bit clearer, sweet and spicy notes hitting the tongue immediately, building to a cinnamon-dusted Mexican chocolate character that comes as a bit of a surprise. The finish falls back on clearer grain-heavy notes, inevitable in a spirit that’s just two years old, but they aren’t at all unpleasant, giving a biscuity chewiness to the conclusion. There’s a little heat here — also to be expected at nearly 54% abv — but considering all of the above, the entire package is both amazingly drinkable and enjoyable.

This is good stuff as it stands — though I’m baffled by the outsized price tag. When and if Peerless ventures into older spirits (and fixes its pricing), I’m all in.

107.8 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #R150829102.

B+ / $100 / kentuckypeerless.com

Top 10 Bourbons Under $20

The popularity of bourbon in recent years has not surprisingly coincided with an upward trend in prices. It’s now not uncommon to stare at a liquor store shelf full of bottles priced over fifty dollars, with a growing number twice that expensive. This obviously wasn’t always the case. In fact, for much of its post-WWII renaissance, bourbon was more often affordably priced than not. Perhaps as the ultimate sign of our times, those same cheap, good bourbons of yesteryear are commanding obscene prices on the secondary markets and at auction.

It all may seem a bit depressing to fans of good whiskey, but luckily there are still exceptional bourbons out there for less than twenty dollars a bottle. While not exhaustive, we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 in this category. You’ll notice that our favorites are bottled-in-bond which, while largely a marketing device today, still guarantees that you’re getting at least a four year old bourbon at 100 proof. Most of these bottles are also easily recognizable brands. The big bourbon producers know well who helped fuel this bourbon boom, and it’s as much to do with the lifetime loyalists to the big brands as it is to the newer bourbon drinker tempted to pay way too much for a bottle with shiny packaging and little provenance. We’d recommend that the latter group check this list before emptying his or her wallet.

As a disclaimer, not all of these bourbons will be available at these prices everywhere (but they should). Also, we’ve taken the liberty of recommending a few extra bottles just outside the $20 limit that we feel are well worth the few additional dollars.

1. Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Six Years Old – If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in bourbon today, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond tops our list. Folks who are probably hoarding it will also refer to it as “White Label” (other colored labels denote a lower proof version). At six years old, it’s a rare age-stated bottom shelfer and two years older than required for a bonded bourbon. It’s beautifully easy drinking, showcasing more classic flavor – butterscotch, vanilla, and a minty backbone – than its price tag warrants. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to come across outside of Kentucky. For the next best thing, at a similar price point, look for the non-age-stated version that’s still guaranteed to be at least four years old. 100 proof. $15

2. Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – Once a six-year-old bourbon, the bonded version of Very Old Barton has since dropped its age statement but without a very noticeable depreciation in quality. It’s made at the Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky by Sazerac and represents one of their best entry-level offerings. The bonded version packs great flavor with burly oak notes, ample cinnamon, and an almost chewy body (rare for a bottom-shelf bourbon). 100 proof. $16

3. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – Another Heaven Hill product (and also sometimes referred to as  “White Label”), Evan Williams bonded frequently ranks at the top of other budget bourbon lists. We have to agree that it deserves the praise with its rich, creamy palate full of caramel corn sweetness and a marriage of roasted fruit and spice cabinet notes. It’s another great example of classic, affordable bourbon, and while it’s not as complex or rounded as the six year Heaven Hill, it does showcase great flavor and remarkable balanced for the price point. 100 proof. $15 Continue reading

Review: Maker’s Mark Private Select for Star Hill Provisions

In 2015, Maker’s Mark launched one of the most ambitious private barrel programs I’ve encountered to date. The concept starts with a standard Maker’s Mark barrel, but after it’s fully matured, buyers get to drop 10 additional wood staves into the barrel, where they finish the bourbon for an additional nine weeks. Five types of wood can be used for each of these staves: Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice. Each of those wood types has a specific origin and a particular method of toasting/charring which I won’t go into in detail, but you get the idea: You go to Maker’s, check out the staves, then pick 10 to put in your barrel. There are 1001 different possible combinations, so every Maker’s Mark Private Select bottle is likely to be different from the next.

Today we’re looking at one such bottle, with a particular provenance: It is sold only at Star Hill Provisions, the restaurant and bar on the Maker’s Mark Distillery grounds. This bottle’s stave profile includes one Baked American Pure 2 stave, four Seared French Cuvee, one Maker’s 46, one Roasted French Mocha, and three Toasted French Spice.

While normally you can only sample this at Star Hill, we were lucky enough to get a sample for review all the way in California. Let’s give it a shot.

The nose is instantly curious, offering notes of chestnuts, licorice, and tanned leather, sprinkled with mixed spices and a hint of mocha. The palate is quite dry, almost leathery at first, with big notes of gunpowder and a subtle, tempering blackberry note. As the finish emerges, dark chocolate becomes heavy, alongside a more traditional vanilla kick.

This is a whiskey that takes its time to show its charms, so let your glass sit a bit before tucking into it. And when it does decide to open up, watch out — the flavors coalesce into a cohesive whole that takes its savory origins and builds quite a little story out of it.

110.9 proof.

A- / not for sale at retail / makersmark.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Uprising and Battle Cry Single Malt Whiskeys

We’ve covered a number of products from Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Company, located in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, a company that’s best known for seasonal whiskeys like its annually released pumpkin spice-flavored whiskey. The company also runs a small brewery (though the beers are not widely available), and lately it’s been turning those beers into whiskey, too.

Today we look at two of SoL’s single malts, Uprising (distilled from a stout beer) and Battle Cry (distilled from a Belgian tripel ale). Originally released at 80 proof, the whiskeys have been revamped a bit and are now being bottled at a bolder 92 proof. We never saw these whiskeys in their original form, but we’re not letting that stop us from writing about them. In fact, with the samples it sent out, Sons of Liberty took the unique step of also sending the beers from which the whiskeys were made, so the original and the finished product could be tasted side by side. Let’s give both duets a try.

Again, both are 92 proof.

Sons of Liberty Uprising Single Malt Whiskey  – Distilled from a stout ale, 8% abv. The stout is solid, loaded with the traditional flavors of the style — nutty, some coffee notes, slightly winey. It makes for a solid base for a whiskey, which turns out quite soulful despite an aging regimen in new, charred oak barrels of just 16 months or so. A boldly malty attack leads to aromas of black pepper, heavily roasted nuts, and oily furniture polish. On the palate, youth and wood initially dominate, but this is eventually displaced by a deeper, heavier note of clove, bitter amaro, and savory herbs. The connection to the beer isn’t always evident, but when it does pop into focus, it’s surprisingly lush and beautiful. The whiskey also stands well on its own. B+ / $48

Sons of Liberty Battle Cry Single Malt Whiskey – Distilled from a Belgian tripel, also at 8% abv. The beer is extremely fruity, a touch sour at times, with notes of pears, apple pie spice, and Starburst candy on the back end. It’s not a beer that I’m in love with, but that fruit does a nice trick with the distilled rendition, giving it a lot of life. Alcohol is more readily apparent on the nose here, and it dulls the aromas a bit, which run toward dried fruits, caramel corn, and a sherry character. The palate is more traditionally “American single malt” than Uprising, the burly wood making a strong showing, but it is tempered, quite impressively, by all that fruit. Here it showcases apples, some cinnamon, and a brown sugar sweetness that pours on the apple pie notes. Chewy, with nutty, slightly Madeirized notes on the finish, the whiskey grows on you over time as the more raw, wood-heavy characteristics fade a bit. That said, I can’t help but feel like this one might benefit even more from another year in cask. B / $40

solspirits.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 24 Years Old

It’s hard to believe but Diageo’s Rhetoric line is now at 24 years old, in its fifth installment out of what will eventually be a total of six. As a reminder, the bourbon was sourced from Louisville’s Bernheim Distillery and was made from a mash of 86% corn, 8% barley, and 6% rye.

I took the opportunity to quickly run through the full lineup, to see how my impressions of this bourbon — which I’ve found to be exceptional throughout its release cycle — had evolved.

Looking back at Rhetoric 20, wood dominates but otherwise the bourbon finds a decent balance. At 21, I got solid licorice and dark chocolate notes, while 22 found some mint added to the mix. Rhetoric 23 was my least favorite of the bunch at this tasting, a heavy eucalyptus flavor overwhelming the experience, giving it a bitter edge on the finish. I’ll be curious to see what I think about it come 2019 and Rhetoric 25.

And so on to Rhetoric 24 Years Old. It’s a spicy and butterscotch-sweet whiskey with little resemblance to my sample of Rhetoric 23, a chocolate-heavy nose running into notes of barrel char, baking spice, and cardamon. There’s a touch of camphor on the finish, but the bold vanilla extract notes give it sound footing regardless. Past 20 years of age, bourbon can easily get undone by wood, but Rhetoric 24 is still fighting the good fight, at least for one more year.

90.8 proof.

A- / $130 / diageo.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2018

The latest in Michter’s annual 10 year old Single Barrel Bourbon releases is here, this 2018 release formally a collaboration between Michter’s Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann and Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson. What’s a Master of Maturation?

While the position of Master Distiller is well established in Kentucky, the position of Master of Maturation is less common outside of Scotland and Ireland. Wilson’s job is to support Heilmann by managing barrel specifications, barrel procurement, heat cycling and monitoring of liquid temperatures during aging, and tracking the maturation of particular barrels like those evaluated for this year’s 10 year release. Wilson says, “By having two Masters, Michter’s is recognizing that there are two very distinct phases of making Kentucky bourbon. I’m extremely honored to be able to support Pam.” Widely respected for her accomplishments in the whiskey world, Wilson was the first woman to ever serve as Chair of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

As Master Distiller at Michter’s, Heilmann occupies the company’s “Dr. No” position with ultimate responsibility and ultimate authority to approve all Michter’s releases. Before joining Michter’s, Heilmann ran Booker Noe Distillery, at that time the largest bourbon distillery in the world, where she was Distillery Manager. “Our goal is to make the greatest American whiskey. At Michter’s the standards are incredibly high, and we only release something when it’s ready, not just because it’s 10 years and a day old,” offered Heilmann. “It’s great to be able to work with someone as knowledgeable about wood science and whiskey as Andrea. When we tasted this 10 Year Bourbon, both of us were very happy and very excited to release it this year.”

That said, this is still sourced bourbon (from Kentucky, not Indiana), but as with most of Michter’s prior single barrel releases, it’s a standout. Bold and burly, this is a bourbon with a heavy focus on the barrel, its nose racy with wood and red pepper, baking spice, and a bit of menthol. On the palate, the whiskey is punchy with flavor, a little hot at first, but packed with more baking spices, dark chocolate, peaches, and loads of vanilla — all classic trappings of good bourbon. The finish is modest but sweet, a bit chewy, with hints of chocolate-covered raisins.

Ultimately, this 2018 single barrel may play things a bit conservatively, but that doesn’t detract from its quality.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #18B202.

A- / $120 / michters.com

Tasting Report: Jack Rose Dining Saloon’s Premier Drams 2018

Not many bars can throw their own whiskey festival, but when a bar happens to have the largest selection of whiskey in the Western Hemisphere, it becomes an ideal setting. Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, DC held its inaugural and appropriately named Premier Drams festival on March 25, and we were invited. The bar is one we at Drinkhacker have regrettably not yet introduced you to (working on that), but I’m sure many of you have heard of it already. Some may have even left a rent or mortgage payment there on occasion. For fans of whiskey – of all types, ages, and regions of the world – there are few bars more famous.

 

The bar is big but hardly a hotel ballroom, so the number of distillers represented at Premier Drams was carefully curated and featured many names you wouldn’t normally find at your average whiskey festival. Kentucky’s Wilderness Trail Distillery actually debuted their new bourbon at the festival. Willett, a distillery beloved by bourbon and rye geeks, doesn’t typically leave Kentucky for festivals, but they were there and pouring three single barrels of their own make that were simply sublime. Independent bottler Single Cask Nation, whose products we’ve sampled in the past, was pouring a range of very interesting Scottish single malts, while Glenfiddich provided a selection of 15-year-old bourbon- and sherry-aged cask strength single cask bottlings that will never see a liquor store shelf. Kilchoman’s new make whisky was a fun exploration of their distillery character sans the barrel influence, and I even found the 28-year-old Czech single malt I had missed at WhiskyLIVE DC (the only forgettable dram of the night). Thoughts follow on most everything sampled. While I know many of these bottles are not easy (or almost impossible) to find, you at least know where you can find a taste of some of them next year!

American

Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – really enjoyable at only four years old with candy corn and rich caramel notes for days. A-
Willett Family Estate Bourbon “Frosted Yeast Rolls” – chewy and buttery despite the high octane with a great, tutti-frutti sweetness. A-
Willett Family Estate Bourbon “Wheat” – burnt sugar and cinnamon-filled nosed with a touch of candy apple on the palate. Incredible at only five years old. A
Willett Family Estate Rye “Big Poppa” – a big nose of clove, caramel, and ginger; chai spice and black tea on the palate. Another standout of the evening. A
Kentucky Peerless Single Barrel Rye “Fruits & Florals” – a little cereal-forward but creamy with clover honey and a delicate fruitiness. B+
Kentucky Peerless Rye Whiskey – complex for only two years old with butterscotch and vanilla notes; good body and the perfect heat.  A-
Nelsons First 108 Tennessee Whiskey – silky body showcasing smoky maple and spice notes; a promising start for Green Brier’s own distillate. B
Belle Meade Bourbon Mourvedre Cask Finish – full of big berry notes; tart and a little funky. B+
Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finish – great balance; woody and full of spice cabinet notes. A-

Scotch

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – lots of great sherry influence with a creamy palate. A-
Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – bold citrus, toffee and some cereal notes; a bit grassy. B
Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – meaty warehouse funk on the nose with tobacco and clove-studded orange; really enjoyable stuff. A
Single Cask Nation Tormore 21 Years Old – interesting nose (almost cheesy); clean and crisp with a big helping of lemon drop on the palate. A-
Single Cask Nation Cambus 28 Years Old – a smoky and sweet berry nose with a nice balance of malty vanilla notes and sherry. A-
Glenfiddich XX – a bit of a fruit bomb on the nose; nutty with pronounced cinnamon on the palate. A-
Glenfiddich 15 Years Old Single Cask Bourbon Cask – honey for days and days with a bit of citrus and the perfect heat, despite the high abv. A
Glenfiddich 15 Years Old Single Cask (Sherry Cask) – elegant with rich stewed fruits, orange marmalade, and gobs of spice cabinet. A
Glenmorangie Astar – a bit on the hot side with bright citrus (mostly lemon) and a chewy, malty body. A-
Bowmore 18 Years Old Manzanilla Cask Finish – beautifully spiced with big raisin notes that become chocolate-covered on the finish. A-
Kilchoman New Make Spirit – a little vegetal but rich and creamy and full of sweet, earthy smoke; surprisingly drinkable. B+
Port Askaig 110 Proof – soft and light on the palate with delicate citrus, campfire, and dried tobacco notes. B+

International

Ohishi Tokubetsu Reserve Whisky – big with overripe dark fruit and oaky spice. B+
Hammerhead Czech Rare Single Malt Whisky 28 Years Old – tannic, dull, and a bit depressing (like you might imagine a Soviet-made whisky would taste). C+
Amrut Portonova Whisky – big tropical notes on top of rich, spicy dark fruit. A-

 

Review: Wild Turkey Longbranch

It’s no secret that Matthew McConaughey and Jimmy and Eddie Russell have been collaborating on a new whiskey, the culmination of McConaughey’s two years working as the “creative director” for Wild Turkey. Now it’s here: Longbranch, a straight bourbon with a slight twist. It is charcoal filtered twice, once through American white oak charcoal and once through Texas mesquite charcoal — giving the spirit its distinctively regional McConaughey spin.

Here’s the crew talking about its creation:

Longbranch is finally on the market, and while conceptually it sounds gimmicky, my initial skepticism was completely undone by tasting the finished product.

The nose is fairly typical of Wild Turkey, though it steps a bit in a new direction. Aromatically, it is primarily wood-forward, with notes of apple but perhaps just a whiff of barbecue smoke lingering in the glass. On the palate, the fruit immediately hits you hard. It’s much more powerfully fruity than the nose would indicate, those apples stepping back to reveal a strong cherry note, along with a spicy, almost peppery character. Notes of allspice emerge alongside a charred character late in the game, giving the finish a toasted marshmallow note. This burnt sugar sweetness lingers for some time, but a savory hint provides balance, keeping the whiskey from ever developing into a sweetness bomb.

All told, Longbranch is cohesive, intriguing, and unique all at once — especially for Wild Turkey, where tradition is way of life. It’s easily my favorite release from them in the last couple of years — and one of the best whiskeys of the year so far. Pick it up immediately.

86 proof.

A / $32 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Jefferson’s Presidential Select Twin Oak 16 Years Old

It’s been a few years since Jefferson’s released a new addition in their Presidential Select line. While Jefferson’s has a considerable lineup of bourbon and rye, the Presidential Select bottlings have always been the most glamorous, owing to the fact that the first releases, like the now legendary Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 Years Old, included some of the last stock from the infamous Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Like all current Jefferson’s releases, the Twin Oak 16 Years Old is a sourced bourbon. It’s reportedly from a high rye mashbill that was aged for ten years in new, American oak barrels, dumped, and barreled again in fresh barrels for an additional six years (hence the name Twin Oak). The stated goal of this double-barreling process was to add complexity and depth of flavor to the bright notes of a classic bourbon. So did Jefferson’s succeed?

Twin Oak initially has a burly nose full of baking spice, leather, and vanilla that turns bright rather quickly, offering sharp floral and citrus notes that border a little on furniture polish. On the palate, ample cinnamon and golden raisins become Cracker Jack, vanilla custard, and orange marmalade with a big helping of oak. It’s not overly drying, but the slight astringency does get in the way of some of the other flavors. It has an oily sweetness to it that develops into a savory nutty element on the finish, and it all comes together in a kind of praline and cream finale. In the end, it’s an enjoyable bourbon. The extra aging time in new oak has clearly added some welcome complexity and flavor to this bottle, but it doesn’t seem to come all the way together the way it could. As the youngest Presidential Select released to date, it has just a little more growing up to do.

94 proof.

A- / $200 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2018

Hey, look who’s not breaking his foot this year! Last year’s Whiskies of the World Expo was cut extremely short for me, but this year, safety was the name of the game. (Reminder: Don’t text while on the stairs, kids!)

I spent a lot more time than usual on American whiskeys this year, reflecting an amazing surge of craft distilleries appearing at WotW as well as a relative dearth of Scotch. That said, some of the Scottish drams I sampled were some of the best whiskies I’ve ever had — particularly Glencadam’s glorious 25 year old, to which I gave a spot rating of A+, thanks to its delightfully bright texture and fruit-forward palate. There was plenty of whiskey to like in America and beyond, too, but if I had to pick one product I’d like to sample in more depth, it’d have to be Healdsburg-based Alley 6’s bitters made from candy cap mushrooms they forage themselves on the Sonoma Coast.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow, as always.

Scotch

GlenDronach 12 Years Old – Bold sherry, nutty, with spice, but vegetal on the back end. B
GlenDronach 18 Years Old – Richer and better balanced, with big spices and some chocolate notes. A-
Ancnoc 24 Years Old
– A surprising amount of grain here for a 24 year old, with some orange peel notes; perfectly approachable but not overwhelming. B+
Balblair 1983
– Some smoke, barrel char, vanilla and chocolate. Nice balance. A
Glencadam 25 Years Old
– Bright and fresh, with a Sauternes character to it; some coconut, a little chewy; very lush and rounded. Best of show. A+
SIA Scotch Whisky – This has clearly been refined a bit over the years, now showing a youthful but silky caramel and vanilla notes; quite elegant for a blend. A-
The Exclusive Grain Cameronbridge 1992 25 Years Old
– One of the best single grains I’ve experienced in years; chocolate dominates, with a big sherry finish. A
The Exclusive Malts “An Orkney” 2000 17 Years Old
– I’m guessing Highland Park, then; traditionally built, but quite oaky. B+
The Macallan Edition No. 3
– A disappointment; a huge, bold body for Macallan, but surprisingly hot. B+
Highland Park Dark 
– HP in first-fill sherry barrels; the name is no lie, but the sherry takes it so far it ends up medicinal; overdone. B+
Highland Park Full Volume
– Chewy, with gunpowder and grain notes. A bit dull in the end. B
Alexander Murray Bunnahabhain 28 Years Old Cask Strength
– Lightly peated, with a solid Madeira note; gently floral. B+
Tobermory 21 Years Old Manzanilla Finish Cask Strength
– Blodly spice up front, but a bit raw and vegetal on the back end. B+
Deanston 20 Years Old Oloroso Finish Cask Strength
– Big grain base, with notes of cotton balls. B-
Ledaig 1996
– Punchy, with lingering grain and plenty of sweetness. B+

American

Belle Meade Mourvedre Cask Finish – A very rare offering that sold out in 2 days, it’s a beauty of a blend of wine and wood influence. A-
Belle Meade Imperial Stout “Black Belle” Finish – Bold and hoppy, notes of peanut butter, tons of fun. A
Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye
– Soothing menthol notes, but a little mushroomy funk. B+
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 2
– Wheated. Silky but rustic at times, with ample spice. A-
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 3
– High-rye. Youthful, some vegetal notes peeking through, showing promise. B+
Old Forester Statesman
– Special bottling for that Kingsman movie last year. Big chocolate notes dominate, with vanilla and clove. Classic Kentucky. B+
Amador Double Barrel Bourbon
– Quite sweet, with candied pecan notes, vanilla finish. A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Czar
– A burly whiskey made from imperial stout. Lots of smoke here, which would be fine but for the very green character. Overly malty and unbalanced. B-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Frambooze
– Racy berry notes in this whiskey, which is distilled from raspberry ale, plus notes of walnuts and dark chocolate. Lots of fun. A-
High West Bourye (2018)
– A classic whiskey, gorgeous with deep vanilla, spice, and chocolate notes. A
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4
– The deep raisin profile remains a classic, showcasing both power and grace. A-
Do Good Distillery California Bourbon
– Very rustic, gritty with pepper and raw grain. C+
Do Good Distillery Cherrywood Smoked Whiskey
– Pungent, mainly showcasing pet food notes. D
Widow Jane Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old
– Absolutely massive, with notes of minerals, orange marmalade, creme brulee, and milk chocolate. A-
Widow Jane Rye Oak & Apple Wood
– Youthful, the apple really shows itself. B
Alley 6 Single Malt Whiskey 
– Rustic, pungent, but showing promise. B
Alley 6 Rye Whiskey
– Pretty, quite floral. A-
Mosswood Corbeaux Barrel Bourbon 6 Years Old – A private bottling for a SF retailer; a rustic style whiskey. B
Mosswood Sour Ale Barrel
– An old favorite, gorgeous with apple spices and a delightful, deft balance. A

Japanese

Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt – A young malt, gentle but simple, florals and biscuits. B+
Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt 8 Years Old – Surprisingly a bit thin, though more well-rounded. B
Fukano 12 Years Old
– Heavy greenery notes, drinking overblown tonight. B

Other Stuff

Alley 6 86’d Candy Cap Bitters – Insane mushroom intensity, really beautiful stuff. A
Mosswood Night Rum Scotch Barrel
– This is a rum, finished in Ardbeg whisky barrels. What!? The combination of sweet and smoke is almost impossible to describe; working on a sample to paint a bigger picture of this madness. A-
Mosswood Sherry Barrel Irish Whiskey
– A 3 year old Cooley Irish, sherry finished in the U.S. Fairly classic. A-
Amrut Double Cask
– Port finished Amrut from India; peat overpowers the sweetness it wants to show off. B

Review: Old Forester Signature 100 Proof and Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup

Old Forester, “America’s First Bottled Bourbon” has partnered with Bourbon Barrel Foods to launch its line of Cocktail Provisions, a collection of three bitters, two syrups and one tincture, all designed to elevate (but simplify) the home cocktail experience.

Created by Louisville-based Bourbon Barrel Foods and Old Forester Master Taster and Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan, Cocktail Provisions are inspired by the unique and robust flavor profiles of Old Forester. Taking the guesswork out of creating high-end cocktails, Zykan and Bourbon Barrel Foods have developed a cocktail line allowing consumers and trade to craft the perfect Old Fashioned, take the hassle out of Oleo-Saccharum syrup and elevate cocktails to new dimensions of flavor.

I’d like to say we’re going to taste all six of the items in the Cocktail Provisions lineup, but we actually only received one — the Old Fashioned syrup — which sounds decidedly simplistic next to something like a salt & pepper tincture. That sadness aside, we’ll dig into the syrup after we kick things off by correcting a longstanding oversight by reviewing Old Forester Signature, the 100 proof version of OldFo that is a standby of (affordable) cocktailing.

Thoughts follow.

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof – Lots of dark chocolate on the nose, with hints of vanilla extract, graham crackers, and toasty cloves. A bit of heat is evident, but less than the typical bonded whiskey. The palate sees more of that chocolate, some baking spice, cherry notes, and a hint of barrel char — but none of that heavy-duty wood influence that you tend to see with OldFo’s annual Birthday Bourbon releases. In fact, I was surprised to see that I liked this much better than most of those, and I see a common thread between this whiskey and Old Forester 1920, though the latter is a bit fruitier. With its bold attack but silky finish, Signature is engaging from start to finish. Put it another way: It’s much better than it needs to be at this price. Best value. 100 proof. A / $22

Old Forester Cocktail Provisions Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup – Rich demerara syrup spiked with proprietary blend of three Old Forester bitters (ultimately giving it a 2% alcohol level). I have to say, this made for an amazing Old Fashioned (2 oz. Old Forester Signature, 1/2 oz. syrup), and it needed no doctoring at all, just whiskey and this syrup. Tasting the syrup straight reveals lots of cinnamon and nutmeg notes, and while those shine in the cocktail, here it melds with the whiskey to reveal chocolate and vanilla, clear complements to the Old Forester but bumped up a notch here. There’s a touch of orange peel, but if you like your Old Fashioned loaded with fruit, you’ll want to toss a slice of orange and a cherry in there before mixing. For my part, I like it just the way it is. A / $8.50 per 2 fl. oz bottle

oldforester.com

-->