Review: Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Barrel Size Experiment

 

.36 describes a bullet caliber used Colt “Ranger” pistol — and it’s also the designation used by San Antonio-based Ranger Creek Distillery for its bourbon — “with over two pounds of Texas corn in each bottle.”

With this release, Ranger Creek takes the same new make spirit and ages it two ways. One has been aged in a large barrel (25 to 53 gallons) for at least two years, the other has been aged in a small barrel (usually 5 gallons, but up to 10 gallons) for 11 months. The idea: Put them side by side and see which you prefer.

And so we did:

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Barrel Experiment “Big Barrel” – (This isn’t really an experiment, this is Ranger Creek’s standard .36 bourbon, but it serves as the control.) This is a rustic, but overall quite enjoyable, little craft whiskey. The nose is woody to be sure, but balanced with notes of black pepper, dark chocolate, charcoal, and tobacco. The palate is more engaging than expected, its hefty wood backbone complemented by notes of cloves, gunpowder, and cigar smoke. The finish is dense, continuing on the frontier theme, but nothing that seems unusual for a Texas-born bourbon. 96 proof. B / $55

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Small Caliber Series Batch #48 Barrel Experiment “Small Barrel” – This one’s the experiment, aged in a small barrel for less than a year, as noted. Normally small barrels will dominate a whiskey with wood notes, but I was downright shocked to see that wasn’t the case here. Compared the big barrel, this Small Caliber release is elegant and demure. The nose is a bit hot and moderately woody, with some of that pepper and tobacco, though nothing sweeter immediately evident. On the palate, the story’s a bit different. The wood takes a step back and lets a savory but engaging character to emerge, with notes of coconut, mushroom, banana bread, and some dried plums. The finish is silky, just barely touched with ruddy, winey sweetness, and hinting at fruit. Hands down, this is my favorite in the duo. 96 proof. Reviewed: Season – Spring ’16, aged 11 months. A- / $38 (375ml)

drinkrangercreek.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye

Five long years in the making, I have to give credit to Jack Daniel’s for being ultimately transparent with the creation of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye. JD didn’t call up MGP for rye stock to bottle. They made their own from scratch. In 2012 a sampling was released of unaged white dog. In 2014 a “rested” rye came out to showcase a work in progress. Now the rye, at roughly five years old but bottled without an age statement, is ready for the world in its final form. It’s been a long time coming.

This rye has a composition unlike anything else on the market — which is refreshing, to be sure — composed of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley. After distillation it goes through the same charcoal mellowing process as Old No. 7, before being aged in new oak barrels and bottling at a slightly overproof 45% abv.

So, kudos for taking the time to go through the process. Let’s see how that translates into the finished product.

The nose of JD Rye is instantly curious, with notes of fresh hay, mint chip ice cream, almond, flamed orange peel, and a hint of chocolate. It’s a bit scattered, to be sure, and not immediately recognizable as rye. The palate is quite grain-forward and cereal-heavy with secondary notes of orange peel, licorice, and toasted spices that build to a somewhat strange finish. The trademark spice of rye? Largely lacking.

As it hangs around on the palate, the marzipan/almond note endures, though here it’s a bit chewy, with an edge of mushroom and tobacco that doesn’t really mix well with what’s come before. Ultimately quite drying, one is left in the end with a rather dusty impression of the whiskey as a whole.

What’s the problem here? Is charcoal mellowing wrong for rye? Is the whiskey not quite old enough? I suspect it might be both of those things, though it’s difficult to test either hypothesis. As it stands, you might instead check out JD’s Single Barrel Rye release if you’re curious about what JD can do with an alternative grain.

90 proof.

B- / $27 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2017 Edition

Old Forester’s annual Birthday Bourbon — celebrating the birthday of founder George Garvin Brown — has arrived.

Some details:

The 2017 Birthday Bourbon barrel selection was drawn from 12 year old barrels from different warehouses and floors on May 27, 2005. 93 barrels matured together on the 4th floor of G warehouse, yielding an extremely spice forward expression. The remaining 27 barrels matured together on the 5th floor of K warehouse contributing a rounding sweetness to the blend. Several barrels from both lots basked in the sun, highlighting the effects of maturation along an external wall in Old Forester’s heat cycled warehouses.

The craft of bourbon making- from barrels to bottling- is a mixture of art and science. For this year’s Birthday Bourbon, science plays an integral role in the product story. During the transfer of bourbon from the holding tank to the bottling line, alcohol vapors were lost during bottling, causing the proof to drop. As a result, this year’s Birthday Bourbon will be presented at both 96 proof and 95.4 proof. This distinction is identifiable in the proof statements on the bottle.

The 2017 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon will be on shelves with a suggested retail price of $79.99. Florida and Georgia will receive the 95.4 proof expression and remaining states will receive the 96 proof expression. Kentucky is the only state which will receive both expressions with the 96 proof expression shipping first.

We’re reviewing the 96 proof version. If anyone has the 95.4 proof expression and would like to share their thoughts, please fire away in the comments.

Meanwhile, our own tasting notes:

2017 presents a somewhat thin expression of OldFo, relatively lackluster next to the knockout of 2016. Here we find a dulled nose that hits some of the usual notes — butterscotch, buttered popcorn, caramel, baking spice, and ample wood, but it’s filtered through a muddy haze that puts a damper on things. On the palate, the popcorn dominates, with clove-driven spice, black pepper, and tobacco leaf the dominate secondary notes. The finish is again quite earthy, though more raw alcohol notes redirect the focus as said finish develops.

All told, it’s an acceptable but relatively innocuous entry into the increasingly erratic Old Forester Birthday Bourbon lineup.

96 proof.

B / $80 / oldforester.com

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old (2017)

For the latest installment in the always engaging Parker’s Heritage Collection (which now spans 11 releases), Heaven Hill is making a return to the basics. For 2017, the special release whiskey is an 11 year old single barrel bourbon, aged in the late Parker Beam’s favorite rickhouse location in Deatsville, Kentucky. The bourbon is non-chill filtered, of course, and bottled at a whopping 61% abv.

As has become tradition with these releases, a portion of proceeds ($10 per bottle) go to ALS research, the disease from which Beam passed away earlier this year.

This is a classic cask strength bourbon expression, blazing hot at full proof with a spice-heavy nose that hints at butterscotch and gingerbread atop its vanilla-caramel core. Even though I commonly deal with overproof spirits, this one is barely manageable at full strength, alcohol overwhelming everything. At full proof you do get hits of dark caramel which subtly takes on a dark chocolate tone, albeit it’s one dosed with plenty of fire.

Water and plenty of it is your friend here, as it coaxes out all manner of flavors and aromas, ranging from apple and Bit-O-Honey on the nose to white pepper, rhubarb, and more of a salted caramel note on the tongue. The finish is long and sultry, with enduring notes of baking spice and a lasting taste of Nutella, everything coming together quite beautifully.

All told, this is a knockout bourbon that’s clearly been selected from the very best barrels that Heaven Hill has to offer. This may not have the exotic provenance of, say, the Golden Anniversary bottling, but it’s a bourbon that absolutely shines. Nothing wrong with that!

122 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #5027255, OED 4/10/2006.

A / $130 / heavenhill.com

Review: Virgil Kaine Robber Baron Rye Whiskey

Virgil Kaine, based in North Charleston, SC, is known for its ginger-infused bourbon — and now it’s stretching its brand to reach into straight spirits. First up is Virgil Kaine Robber Baron, a rye. It’s actually a blend of two whiskeys: 4% is bourbon and 96% is rye. Digging deeper, the bourbon is from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. The rye is from a mash of 94% rye and 6% malted barley. There’s no age statement and no information on the sourcing of the whiskeys, but some finishing with port and sherry barrel staves is involved before bottling.

On the nose, lots of spice — heavy menthol and cloves — plus notes of green banana and flowery perfume. A wood influence lingers underneath, but it’s so heavily perfumed and spiced, it’s surprisingly hard to access aromatically.

On the palate, the barrel has a significantly more powerful influence, punchy lumberyard notes that mingle with hints of ginger, more banana, orange peel, and plenty more of that clove-heavy baking spice. The finish is a bit rough, dense with pencil shavings and tons of clove, gripping at the back of the throat.

This is a young whiskey but one that’s incredibly expressive — perhaps overly so, its spicy character in need of a bit of tempering. Still, as it stands today it isn’t something I’d turn my nose up at, even in what feels a bit like an unfinished condition.

91 proof.

B / $36 / virgilkaine.com

Review: Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey Sauternes Finish

In case you missed our earlier review, Texas’s Swift Single Malt Whiskey is a gem in a world of lackluster single malts made in the U.S. Now the distillery is out with a new expression: single malt finished in Sauternes casks instead of the Oloroso sherry casks used for the mainline release.

The distillery gives us a little more info to run with:

We start with a 2-row barley that is grown and malted in Scotland, mostly the Speyside region. This is the same barley as our original single malt (Oloroso Finish).

We double distill on our copper pot stills.  We now have two stripping stills, our original one and a new one we had made to our specifications after spending time in Japan.  The Japanese whisky makers alter the shapes of their stills to extract more flavor, so we decided to do the same.  I believe the new shaped still gives more of a floral note than our original still does.

After the double distillation, we begin the aging process in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels. Here the whiskey remains for 1.5 years (or so), then all of the whiskey is transferred to a Sauternes cask, which comes from Chateau d’Arch in Bordeaux, France.  We traveled to Sauternes a few years ago and picked out the barrels to best match our flavor profile.  We wanted a Sauternes wine that would have balanced citrus notes and mild sweetness.

The whiskey ages 1 year in the Sauternes cask before it is bottled. Overall the Sauternes Finish is 2.5 years old.

The standard (Oloroso) bottling of Swift is well-crafted, but quite young, with a distinctly woody edge to the nose and the palate. That’s all but gone in the Sauternes Finish, the wood replaced by a surfeit of fruit — green apple (a big surprise), quince, watermelon, and some floral notes of honeysuckle and orange blossoms, which take the whiskey in yet another direction. The palate is quite sweet, almost so much so that it can initially come across with a rum note. Those Sauternes barrels have had quite an impact here, although finally the grainy underbelly starts to shine through, alongside notes of golden raisins, eastern spices, and, to a lesser degree, barrel-driven notes that seem closer to cedar than oak. On the finish — there’s the barest hint of dark brown sugar and milk chocolate, with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs on top. Very dessert-like.

This is a whisky that I like a lot, but here the Sauternes finish does seem to some extent to be covering up something rather than enhancing it. In this case, there’s plenty of young spirit that needs to be carefully massaged. As with the standard bottling, another year or so in the barrel would likely do wonders to help temper the beast inside. For now, though, we’ve got a unique offering that shows that some of the best single malt coming out of America can be found, in all places, in Texas.

88 proof.

B+ / $57 / swiftdistillery.com

Tasting: Late 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

What’s new from MashBox? The last couple of packages we’ve received include these samples. (We also received duplicates of the Black Button products below and Black Button’s Bourbon Cream.)

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Spirit distilled from grain distilled and flavored with herbs. Somewhere in the vein of an aquavit, the nose is lightly licorice-inflected, showing evergreen and mixed herbs atop a base of vanilla and caramel. The palate is on the bitter side, again heavy with herbs and a sizable amount of licorice, with a sharp finish of orange peel and dusky cloves. Intriguing as a sipper, but not exactly a versatile spirit. 90 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Citrus Forward Gin – There’s ample citrus on the nose as promised, but it primarily takes the form of dried orange peel and a touch of grapefruit. Some floral aromas can also be found here — rose petals and some potpourri. The palate is a bit on the rustic side, a grainy character muscling aside the more delicate elements, though there’s a sizable amount of that citrus peel on the finish, which is touched with black pepper and grains of paradise. 84 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Four Grain Bourbon – Made from 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye, and 11% malted barley. Aged at least 18 months in 30 gallon barrels. Young stuff, but it’s getting there. The nose is a mix of popcorn and sweet candy, some orange peel, and salted caramel. A touch of smoke and an herbal kick recalls aquavit. The palate is more straightforward, caramel corn, some vanilla, and a smarter of cloves on the back end. It needs more time in barrel to mellow out, but this isn’t a bad start. 84 proof. B

mashandgrape.com

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