Review: Not Your Father’s Bourbon

After giving alcoholic root beer, ginger ale, and cream soda a spin, the “Not Your Father’s” brand has moved on up to hard spirits. Its first product in the category is an obvious one: Not Your Father’s Bourbon, a flavored bourbon which claims “a touch of vanilla” as its only adulterant.

Let’s give it a shot.

The nose is plenty sweet, with notes of sugar cookies, ample vanilla, and hints of cinnamon red hot candies. It’s whiskey, to be sure, but particularly bourbonish notes are elusive; though the hint of caramel corn and some rustic burlap notes at least nod in that direction.

The palate is well-sweetened although, perhaps, it is indeed “not too sweet” as the label indicates. For those with a distinct sugar fixation, NYFB will hit the spot with a candylike vanilla hit, a light note of milk chocolate, cinnamon, and a more evident popcorn note. The finish is on the racy side, again calling back more to cinnamon than vanilla, though both linger on the tongue.

It’s perfectly acceptable for a flavored whiskey, nothing to write home about but harmless, at least as a mixer, though one has to wonder: What was wrong with your father’s bourbon? It wasn’t sweet enough? Hands down I prefer my bourbon with less sweetness than this, as sugar tends to overpower the more delicate flavors that the whiskey might possess.

The back label of the bottle asks, “Why do flavored whiskeys always taste more like the flavor than the actual whiskey?”

To which I reply, “Why flavor the whiskey at all?”

86 proof.

B- / $25 /

Review: Nine Single Barrel Bourbons from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, Jack Daniel’s, and Russell’s Reserve

The state that brought you 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and 9 single barrel tequilas is back again with a mountain of single barrel bourbons from some of the biggest names in the industry.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission recently went down south and came back with a whopping 62 barrels of spirits from just about every distillery there is. The haul included 17 barrels of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, 4 barrels of Weller Reserve, and even a barrel of Blanton’s. The NHLC sent us nine of the 62, including four barrels of Woodford Reserve Private Selection, two Knob Creek Single Barrel releases, two Jack Daniel’s Single Barrels, and one Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bourbon.

Ready to dig in? Thoughts on the full collection follow. (Proof levels and prices were not readily available for the collection.)

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9220 – Oak-forward on the nose, with hints of mint and cloves. Tons of oak on the palate recall a classic Woodford construction, with a hint of cherry on the back end. B+

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9221 – Wildly different, this is a popcorn bomb with a very youthful, pastoral construction. Frontier-style, with a chewy body and a rather pungent finish. Not a favorite, but a real outlier here an an otherwise engaging field. C+

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9222 – Sweet and quite oak-heavy, with an unusual maritime note that fans of Islay scotch may grab onto. Very savory, with a conclusion of toasty oak and dark chocolate. B

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9223 – Tons of eucalyptus and menthol here, with a finish that winds its way toward chocolate and caramel sauce. The conclusion recalls vanilla marshmallows with an ample amount of spice. B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Barrel #4507 – The essence of burly Knob Creek — high proof, big lumber and spice notes, and a lingering sweetness that offers some orange peel, tea leaf, and caramel corn notes. Nice balance, while still evoking youth. B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Barrel #4926 – Heavier on the caramel corn notes, with ample spice (and less heat) behind it. This is a mellow bourbon that is silky on the tongue, with layers of caramel, vanilla, and nutmeg/cinnamon that linger through a quite satisfying and well balanced finish. A surprising departure from #4507. A

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Barrel #1597 – Corny Jack, with an aggressively savory edge, a bit tough with some vegetal notes, but also sultry with a lashing of butterscotch, vanilla custard, and a bit o’ Bit-O-Honey. Nice balance between the sweet and the savory here. B+

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Barrel #1598 – An aromatic and beautiful whiskey, with notes of graham crackers and apple pie, with a finish that approaches whipped cream. There’s also a spice element of clove and nutmeg that really starts to creep out as the finish develops. Hard to put down. A

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Barrel #218 – Fairly corn-heavy, this is a big Wild Turkey release with notes of maple syrup and spice, but savory on the finish with a leather and tobacco character that belies its upfront sweetness. Chewy on the tongue, there’s a certain spiciness to the whiskey that’s more evident on the lingering finish. B+

Review: 1792 Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

Sazerac’s 1792 Distillery can’t be stopped, with its latest bourbon expression, the seventh in a series of limited releases. (If you’ve been following our coverage of 1792’s special editions and wondering what happened to #6, it was a special edition to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Kentucky’s statehood and was only available in very limited quantities in Kentucky.) This one’s bottled in bond release. Some product details:

Barton 1792 Distillery unveils the most recent limited-edition whiskey in its line of 1792 bourbons, 1792 Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This Bottled-in-Bond expression remains true to its heritage and is a testament to the Bottled in Bond act, established in 1897, which revolutionized the quality of American whiskey and gave whiskey drinkers confidence is high quality whiskey made by a legitimate distiller.

This well-aged bourbon came from barrels which were each filled during the same distilling season at Barton 1792 Distillery. 1792 Bottled-in-Bond was then bottled at precisely 100 proof and packs a bold taste followed by a lingering finish. One batch of this Bottle-in-Bond Bourbon will be released each year, in the fall.

Wood-forward and burly, this is one of the most savory, oaky expressions in the 1792 lineup to date. The nose is intensely lumber-heavy, with mild notes of almond and eucalyptus to (slightly) round it out. On the palate, there are hints of spice — cloves, nutmeg, and powdered ginger — but they can’t really stand up to the tannic, wood-driven character that dominates the experience. The finish sees some vanilla and dark chocolate notes, but again these are beaten back by all that sawdust and charred oak. A little air is beneficial on all of these fronts, but even time can’t dull the heavy-duty oakiness that pervades the whiskey from start to finish.

100 proof.

B / $36 /

Review: New Riff Distilling O.K.I Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey 10 Years Old

New Riff Distilling opened in 2014 in northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Like many new distilleries in recent years, it has been aging and bottling sourced whiskey from MGP to generate revenue while its own make comes of age. They’re honest about the source of this whiskey, which is thankfully a growing trend among craft distillers. So honest in fact, that it’s stated right on the label (once you break down the acronym). Their O.K.I. Reserve bourbon stands for “distilled in Indiana, bottled in Kentucky, and loved in Ohio.” While the Ohio bit is a little confusing (wouldn’t you want it loved everywhere?), they do claim to embrace the whiskey history of the Cincinnati area, which served way back when as a major port for the bourbon trade along the Ohio River.

New Riff purchased a large amount of MGP stock for the O.K.I. brand and has been releasing it in successively older batches. We recently got our hands on a bottle of 10-year-old O.K.I. Reserve. Thoughts follow.

This whiskey has an incredible nose. It’s immediately evident that this is high rye bourbon with the smell of clove and fruity rye spice atop mounds of butterscotch, oak, and tobacco. The nose prepares you for a bold, even perhaps “chewy,” bourbon, but it’s actually surprisingly light-bodied and somewhat restrained on the palate. It’s sweet, but not overly so, with good heat and balanced layers of traditional bourbon flavor. There’s vanilla bean and soft baking spice, a little cinnamon Red Hots note, and some subtle fruit notes: orange and apricot. It all wraps up with a medium-length finish that leaves just a hint of chocolate on the tongue.

If you’re a fan of the high-rye style MGP bourbon, O.K.I. Reserve is some of the better I’ve tasted, especially at its price point. Now for the bad news: New Riff doesn’t plan to release anymore O.K.I. beyond fall of 2018, when its own make bourbon and rye will hit the shelves, so grab a bottle while you can.

97 proof. Reviewed Batch 30, Bottle 771 of 817.

A- / $48 /

Review: Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky, Italia Bourbon, Copper & Kings Bourbon, and Copper & Kings Rye

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits recently dropped a pile of new whiskeys, all limited editions (with some of them single barrel releases). Stylistically, they’re all over the map, so pay close attention here — and nuzzle up with your local spirits merchant if they sound enticing — to get the lowdown on each of the quartet.

Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky – Distilled from 100 percent malted barley, a portion of which is smoked with cherry wood. No aging information provided. Instantly weird, with a nose of roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and grainy horse feed. That grassy, hay-heavy note continues on to the palate, quite smoky at times and heavy with notes of the field — pastoral cereals, dried weeds, and campfire embers. The finish is lightly sweetened with honey and just a squeeze of lemon. Undercooked, but not without some charms. 93 proof. B- / $70

Few Spirits Italia Bourbon – A collaboration between Few, Eataly, and Folio Fine Wine Partners, which provided casks from Sicily’s Donnafugata (which specific wine is unclear), used for finishing. This is a young and initially quite savory whiskey, heavy with wet earth and popcorn notes on the nose, though it’s cut with a spice one seldom sees in bourbon of this age. Hints of sweet red fruit on the palate offer more promise here, but the sweetness is quickly overpowered by a thick layer of asphalt and tannin, leading to a sultry and earthy finish, heavy with tobacco notes. That said, enough of that wine-driven fruit manages to shine through here, brightening up the whiskey with notes of blackberry and baking spice, to elevate it into something unique, approachable, and worth sampling. 93 proof. B / $50

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Bourbon Finished in American Brandy Barrels – A single barrel bottling, which consists of Few Bourbon finished in C&K’s brandy barrels. It’s a racy whiskey, though quite grainy at times, with an aroma heavy with toasted bread, caramel corn, and indistinct spice. The palate is surprisingly chocolaty, with notes of chicory and bitter roots. The finish sees some ginger notes, but it still plays it close to a vest composed of fresh-cut lumber and hemp rope. On the whole, the brandy influence is tough to find. B / $40

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Rye Finished in American Brandy Barrels – Also a single barrel, C&K brandy barrel-finished bottling, only this one uses Few’s rye as the base. A surprisingly different spirit than the above, though the nose is still a bit restrained, here showing a slightly sweeter side, some tea leaf, and a savory, dill-like herbal component. The palate finds a melange of new flavors, including notes of strawberry jam and a bold, powerful spiciness that really gets to the heart of what rye is all about. With an almost chewy body, that spice finds plenty of purchase on a platform that finishes with hints of dark chocolate and rum raisin notes. Worth checking out, particularly at this price. 93 proof. B+ / $40

Review: Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2017

After its perfectly acceptable — but relatively straightforward — 2016 limited edition bourbon, Limestone Branch is out with another special edition of Yellowstone for 2017. This year, the company takes things in quite a different direction, with a few surprises under its cap.

The big news: This is the first time Yellowstone is using its own spirit in the blend, alongside the usual sourced stock. Per the company, “This year’s limited edition combines hand-selected, seven and 12-year Kentucky Straight bourbons, with a special addition of Limestone Branch Distillery’s first available, 4-year Kentucky Straight bourbon. The bourbon is then rested in once-filled, double seasoned barrels, which are toasted and then lightly charred.” The whiskey is finished in “charred wine casks” (no further details on that finishing are provided).

“By finishing the bourbon in charred wine casks, we allowed the juice to intensify and evolve, creating a wonderful result,” says Beam. “While last year’s edition was more about subtle nuances, this year’s edition we focused on intense flavors and a richer final product.”

So let’s give it a spin.

This is a whiskey that you need to take your time with, as it really manages to grow on you. Initially young and a bit closed-off, the whiskey is redolent of wood and dark spices. But give it some air and 15 minutes or so and the aroma opens up to show a sweet berry note, some notes of incense, and a slightly doughy, almond note.

The palate is expressive. There’s lots of wood here, but it’s tempered with notes of dark chocolate, raisins, and orange peel. With a surprisingly long finish, Yellowstone 2017 endures with notes of clove, some eucalyptus, and even more of that dark chocolate, which is what hangs on with you the longest. It’s a far cry from a whiskey that can initially come across as muted, and one that I highly encourage you to try, as long as you are patient with it.

101 proof. 7000 to 8000 bottles produced.

A- / $100 /

Review: Michter’s US-1 Toasted Barrel Finish Rye 2017

Michter’s Toasted Barrel whiskey releases are arguably its most sought-after spirits. The whiskeys are unique in that they are first aged in new oak, then finished in barrels that have not been charred but rather just toasted — lightly torched, but not burnt to a char. As this is a single-barrel, cask strength release, proof will vary.

While the 2015 release of Toasted Barrel Finish was a bourbon, for 2017 (we’re a bit slow getting to this one), Michter’s is going with a rye — and it’s bottled at a considerably higher proof.

As with prior releases of Toasted Barrel, this one is hefty with wood right from the start, its nose loaded up with straight lumberyard aromas, plus undercurrents of cherry and sandalwood. The palate finds a similar character — plenty of wood, almost smoky at times, with dense notes of licorice, tobacco, and cloves on the palate. The finish is quite tough and leathery, with loads of charcoal dust, black olives, and throat-clearing menthol that lingers on the back end.

Toasted Barrel, as with prior releases, is clearly designed for wood fanatics. If that’s your jam, you’ll probably find this one a lot more enjoyable than I did.

110 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #17C570.

B- / $75 /