Review: One Eight Distilling Rock Creek Rye Whiskey and Untitled Whiskey No. 3

Several distilleries have opened in the nation’s capital in recent years, but only One Eight Distilling can claim to have in their Rock Creek Rye the first grain to glass whiskey distilled, aged, and bottled in the District since prohibition. Also in their sizable portfolio are several quality non-barrel-aged spirits, including Ivy City Gin, and a host of sourced whiskeys released through their Untitled series that showcase various experiments with different finishes and proofs.

As the first distillery to bring whiskey back to DC, you wouldn’t expect One Eight to be satisfied with just a rye. Later this fall, they’ll release their own bourbon with plans to introduce single malt into their line-up in the near future. Drinkhacker got its hands on a sample of Rock Creek Rye along with a sample of one of the more unique whiskeys in the Untitled series. Thoughts follow.

One Eight Distilling Rock Creek Rye Whiskey – The nose on this whiskey has a fair amount of toasted cereal owing probably to the high amount of malted rye in the mashbill. There’s a little spearmint in there, as well, and notes of lemony floor polish and honeydew melon. There’s minimal spice or heat on the nose and none of the grassiness typical of younger rye whiskey. It drinks almost like a bourbon, and a nicely balanced one at that. There’s a little raw honey on the front palate followed by some spice, more lemon, and savory baked grain notes — almost like banana bread with a bit of walnut in it. The spice shows up more on the tail end, and cinnamon and vanilla bean round out a gentle, warming finish. In the increasingly crowded world of craft rye whiskey, this one has a lot going for it. 94 proof. A- / $50

One Eight Distilling Untitled Whiskey No. 3 – This whiskey is one of the more interesting in the growing Untitled line-up, and it displays some real creativity. It’s a product of collaboration with DC-based coffee roasters Vigilante Coffee who provided the roasted coffee beans to fill the finishing barrel for an undisclosed amount of time before a sourced six year-old, wheated bourbon was aged in it. The resulting whiskey has a powerful nose of dark chocolate-covered caramel and freshly ground coffee with a little molasses and cardamom lingering in it, too. The palate has great heat on it with bold notes of dark roast coffee and baking cocoa, along with traces of caramel and butterscotch. The finish is surprisingly long — perhaps this is a bourbon best paired with dessert. Still, if One Eight can make a coffee-finished whiskey this good, I’d love to see what they can do with more traditional wine casks. Batch 3, 92 proof. A- / $78

Oneeightdistilling.com

Review: Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Single Barrel Bourbon

25 years ago Booker Noe created the Knob Creek brand. Today we’ve seen KC undergo a few changes (most notably dropping its longtime age statement), but it’s still sticking with its “pre-Prohibition style” under the auspices of current master distiller Fred Noe. For this limited edition 25th anniversary release, Knob Creek is bottling its spirit at cask strength for the first time ever — and, as a single barrel release, it’s unblended, too.

Compared side by side with the original (with 9 year old age statement) Knob Creek, a few things immediately spring to the fore. There’s more orange peel and a stronger allspice element on the nose in the 25th Anniversary bottling. The wood influence is aromatically stronger, too, though it’s never overpowering on the nose.

The palate’s heat is immediately evident: At over 61% abv, it’s got way more alcohol than rack Knob Creek at 50%. The bitter orange peel is even more noticeable here, along with notes of well-aged wine, red pepper, and intense, ginger-heavy baking spice. Water is a great add: It tempers the hefty alcoholic core and allows more of the wood-driven vanilla, caramel, and chocolate to spring forward. The finish is lasting, complex, and keeps the focus on pepper and wood, with just a touch of toasted marshmallow.

Ready to sip like you’re on the frontier, but considerably upscale? This is probably what those fatcats get to drink in Westworld.

122.1 proof. Barrel date 2/28/2004.

A- / $129 / knobcreek.com

Review: Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon Single Barrel Private Selection from SF Wine Trading

San Francisco Wine Trading Company recently sent us its Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection offering, and while it was a knockout, the truth is that private selections of Four Roses Single Barrel are a dime a dozen — sometimes it seems like every liquor store has one.

No SF Wine Trading is out with another private selection bourbon, this one much more unusual: Wathen’s, which is made by the Charles Medley Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky from a mash of 77% corn, 10% rye, and 13% malted barley. (Wathen’s carries a giant number 8 on the front label, but that’s not an age statement: Wathen’s is officially a NAS whiskey.)

Wathen’s isn’t generally regarded as an outstanding bourbon (and that’s reflected in a price that can run as low as $30), and this private selection (with a 50% premium) isn’t overwhelmingly impressive, either. That said, it has enough charm to merit some attention.

The nose is a bit unusual, with notes of raisin, prune juice, and a bit of petrol atop otherwise straightforward notes of toasted wood and somewhat scorched caramel. The palate is a bit more interesting, taking some of those more exotic notes and flipping the script such that vanilla and caramel take more of a center stage, with dried fruit and some new chocolate notes stepping back into the background a bit. The petrol appears again on the relatively hot finish alongside some new wood notes, but neither is overwhelming, and together they manage to end the experience with a semblance of balance.

94 proof. Barrel #0094.

B / $45 / sfwtc.com

Review: Joseph Magnus Murray Hill Club Blended Bourbon, Cigar Blend Bourbon, and J. A. Magnus Reserve

DC-based Joseph Magnus Distillery seems to have a lot at its disposal when it comes to crafting its whiskey. Besides the list of industry icons that have formed its distilling team, it is sparing no expense in sourcing the very best aged whiskeys as well as the finest used European oak casks in which to finish them. The distillery’s initial offering, Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, showcased the fine fruits of this investment. The folks at Magnus, however, have looked recently to improve an already quality brand by introducing older and even more rare sourced whiskies into their line-up. You’ll pay even more to enjoy some of these new releases (in one particular case, a LOT more), but you can’t deny the skill and quality that’s going into these bottles.

Joseph Magnus Murray Hill Club Blended Bourbon – This bourbon takes its name from the pre-prohibition Magnus flagship brand. It’s a blend of 18 and 11-year-old sourced bourbon, as well as a 9-year-old sourced light whiskey (high-proof whiskey aged in used or uncharred new oak containers). Murray Hill Club has a soft nose with subtle butterscotch and citrus notes and just a little black pepper. The palate is honeyed with ground cinnamon, clove, and buttery caramel. The heat arrives in a perfect wave on the very back end and extends through a medium finish with warming notes of black pepper and vanilla. I’ve only encountered a few blends using light whiskey, most of which ran too hot for my liking. This one hits the mark on heat but leaves me wanting just a little more flavor, particularly at this price. 103 proof. B+ / $92

Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon – This whiskey is the result of Master Blender Nancy Fraley’s desire to create a sipper that would pair well with a cigar. It is also comprised of 11 and 18-year-old sourced bourbon along with about 25% of the Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon, a 9-year-old bourbon finished in PX, Oloroso, and cognac casks. The final blend is then finished in Armagnac casks, which is unique in the bourbon world. The nose on Cigar Blend is sultry, with sweet tobacco smoke, dark fruit, and vanilla frosting. I’m tempted to just inhale this one instead of drink it. On the palate, it’s all kinds of southern dessert: toasted pecan, vanilla bean, and butter brickle perfectly layered with sweet fig jam and dark berry cobbler. It’s got a thick, oily mouthfeel that leaves all of those flavors hanging well into a generous finish that, like Magnus’s other offerings, has the perfect amount of heat. 100.7 proof. A / $150

Joseph Magnus J. A. Magnus Reserve – What I said earlier about paying a LOT more was in reference to this bottle, in particular. The J. A. Magnus Reserve is a marriage of 16 and 18-year-old MGP “honey” barrels, yielding only 192 bottles. On the nose, there’s orange zest, cinnamon, buttered toffee, and a little candy apple all mingled with a great warehouse note that gets stronger as it opens up in the glass. On the palate, it’s candy sweet but not cloying with a buttery mouthfeel and flavors of chocolate covered orange peel, marmalade, and stewed cherry with a very gentle, peppery heat. The finish is a mile long with slightly drying notes of sweet oak and lingering citrus candy. The balance of flavor is simply remarkable. Master Blender Nancy Fraley said that her goal with this bourbon was to create “liquid poetry.” I’m not sure what that would taste like, but I think this is close. And at this price, it should be. 92 proof. A / $1,000

josephmagnus.com

Review: Devils River Bourbon Whiskey

 

Devils River Whiskey is the brainchild of Mike Cameron, who serves as president of the Texas Distilled Spirits Association, and his new microdistilled bourbon brand comes to us from Dallas. The company, which just started selling in the state in April, is taking a largely traditional approach with this whiskey, distilling its mash (high-rye, with “dialed back corn”) in copper pot stills, aging in #4 char barrels, and blending the finished product with local water from the namesake Devils River. The whiskey is chill-filtered before bottling at 45% abv. No age statement is provided.

Let’s give it a whirl.

The nose is wood-forward, with ample barrel char, and while the wood is dominant, it’s not overpowering. The alcohol sears the nostrils in a manner that’s a bit harsh — frontier-style, perhaps — but also provides aromas of cherry juice and some spearmint.

The sawdust notes continue onto the palate, where notes of plum, butterscotch, and tart cherry emerge. Solid body; sharp and a bit burly. The finish remains moderately woody, with notes of cloves and a hint of sweet mesquite… but maybe that’s just the Texan in me coming vicariously forward through this rustically styled whiskey.

Would love to see this with some more barrel time on it.

90 proof.

B / $30 / devilsriverwhiskey.com

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) / asmithbowman.com

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) / earlytimes.com

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