Pappy Van Winkle Gets Older, Releases 25 Year Old Expression

Almost three years ago to the day, we were reporting on a Van Winkle 28 year old blend lurking in the cellars of Sazerac. Sadly, this expression was never to see a full release, leaving us no choice but to remain content with thousands of articles about the 23 and 20 year old varieties and nationwide frenzy of lotteries and raffles in an effort to obtain the precious gold.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the announcement broke regarding a 25 year old Pappy coming out of the woodwork. From the press release:

Each decanter is packaged in a handmade wooden box crafted in North Carolina by James Broyhill II of Heritage Handcrafted. The lid is constructed using the oak staves from the 11 barrels that held this bourbon. The outside of the box bears a metal plaque with the Old Rip Van Winkle logo and states “asleep 25 years in the wood.”

This batch came from 11 barrels, resulting in 710 bottles overall. Buffalo Trace has put a suggested retail pricing of $1,800 per 750ml bottle, a well-intentioned recommendation which will no doubt be adhered to by non profit-minded shopkeepers lucky enough to get their anti-capitalist hands on one. It’s looking like the new Pappy has a shipping date of April, so start camping out at your local store now before it’s too late!

Review: High West Bourye (2017)

The latest batch of High West’s Bourye blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys comes with a new label to boot. Now the jackalope is much larger and in full focus, better to connote the “limited sighting” that Bourye always represents.

High West normally tells you more about the individual whiskeys in each bottling, but this year it plays things a little closer to the vest (namely the ages of each individual whiskey in the blend). Here’s what we know about the 2017 release:

• A blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskeys aged from 10 to 14 years
• Straight Rye Whiskey: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP & 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery
• Straight Bourbon Whiskey: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt from MGP

And here’s what it tastes like.

This is a sweeter expression of Bourye (particular vs. last year’s release), which makes it dangerously easy to sip on. The nose is heavily aromatic with gingerbread, baking spices, marzipan, and candied nuts, giving it a real Christmas cake character that makes one wish it had come out two months ago. No matter, we can drink it today just as well.

On the palate, notes of apricot and orange give way to brown sugar, chocolate, molasses, and more of that spicy gingerbread character. Out of all of that, it’s lingering cloves on the finish and some smoldering burnt sugar notes, giving it just a hint of savoriness. All in all, say what you want about sourced whiskey — this just goes to show that High West knows how to find true honey barrels and blend them together with sustained and impressive skill.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch 17A17.

A / $80 / highwest.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch A117 (January 2017)

When Rob referred to Elijah Craig’s cult following in 2015, he barely scratched the surface. Elijah Craig’s Barrel Proof releases, all limited-edition expressions of 12 year old, cask strength bourbon, have become collectible phenomena, snapped up on release and resold for well over asking price.

Heaven Hill is doubling down on Elijah Craig and revamping Barrel Proof beginning in 2017. While previous releases have been numbered with a simple and incremental numeric edition code, the company is doubling down on transparency by switching to a more detailed batch number.

Specifically:

To help catalog the various offerings of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, all releases will now have a unique batch number identified on the label — beginning with our most recent. The first letter indicates which of that year’s releases the bottle was a part of starting with “A,” while the second digit is a number that determines the month of the year the bottle was released. The third and fourth digits indicate the year.

So here’s a look at the first release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, under the new labeling system. Released in January, it’s denoted as Batch A117.

This is rather low proof for Elijah Craig, but there’s ample life here and plenty to love. The deep copper-colored bourbon offers a lively nose of caramel corn, vanilla syrup, and a bit of barrel char. The palate is approachable without water, revealing some clear sweet tea notes, backed up by a bit of cola, orange peel, and faint chocolate notes. The finish is spicy and racy, but not overwhelming, leaving behind a light bitterness alongside lingering notes of cloves and oak. Altogether it’s a straightforward bourbon, but well-aged, balanced, and engaging through and through.

127 proof.

A- / $90 / heavenhill.com

Review: Blanton’s Gold Edition and Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel Bourbon

If you’re a bourbon drinker like me, you’ve gotten used to Buffalo Trace never making enough of the whiskeys you love like their namesake brand or the absurdly rare Pappy Van Winkle and Antique Collection offerings that tease us each fall. Blanton’s Single Barrel, another quality Buffalo Trace product, is also increasingly harder to find these days.

You may not have even known that there are higher proof versions of this bourbon that are distributed only in international markets. That’s not entirely Buffalo Trace’s fault because Age International (former owner of Buffalo Trace Distillery) still owns the Blanton’s brand. Buffalo Trace just does all the work distilling the delicious juice, aging it exclusively in Warehouse H, and bottling it in the iconic dimpled bottle.

Here’s a look at two of those expressions.

Blanton’s Gold Edition – This bourbon is unexpectedly gentle on the nose with aromas of cinnamon and ripe peach. The palate is wonderfully rich and honeyed with layers of vanilla and toffee. The heat builds gradually; it’s almost nonexistent at first and then cascades into a long and slightly drying finish with hints of black tea. For only 5% higher alcohol, the results are surprising. This is far better than Blanton’s Original in almost every way. This bottling was dumped July 16, 2016 from Barrel #1265, Rick #6. 103 proof. A / $65

Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel – On the nose, you know right away this is a barrel strength bourbon. Out from under the alcohol emerge brown sugar and sweet orange marmalade notes. The palate is bold and chewy. It’s full of butterscotch and hints of oak, more of which are coaxed from the glass with a little water. The finish is drying but complemented by subtle flavors of black pepper and dried apricot. This one also edges Blanton’s Original and probably even competes with some of the higher proof Antique Collection offerings. Still, the heat never really lets up, suffocating a few flavors and spoiling some of the complexity. This bottling was dumped January 10, 2014 from Barrel #194, Rick #51. 130.9 proof. A- / $85

blantonsbourbon.com

Review: Old Ezra Kentucky Straight Bourbon 7 Years Old

Luxco has been behind several popular bourbon releases recently, including Blood Oath (Pact No. 1 and Pact No. 2) and Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Years Old. Luxco’s lesser-known Ezra Brooks line, of which Old Ezra is a part, is also quality bourbon for the price point, but before I get into what’s inside the bottle a note about some interesting things on the outside.

Old Ezra has no shortage of graffiti on its label, from “Rare Old Sippin’ Whiskey” to the unnecessary “Genuine Sour Mash” (almost all bourbons are sour mash). The presence of those statements, along with the square bottle and the number seven (denoting its age), are enduring reminders of attempts by the brand’s founders to cut into Jack Daniel’s market share in the 1960s. However, the statement “Charcoal Mellowed” tucked onto the side of the label deserves some clarification.

The kind of “charcoal mellowing” in Old Ezra is actually just a component of chill filtration which involves the use of a small amount of activated charcoal to filter the aged whiskey before bottling. It’s a process typical of most bourbon. In fact, the former Old Ezra label (only recently replaced) advertised “Charcoal Filtered” instead. This is not the same as the famous Lincoln County Process of charcoal filtering used by Jack Daniel’s (or George Dickel, for that matter), which involves filtering new make whiskey through large amounts of sugar maple charcoal before aging.

Even more interesting, the newest packaging for Old Ezra includes the statement: “Distilled and Aged in Kentucky by Ezra Brooks Distilling.” Luxco, however, only began building its first distillery last year in Bardstown, Kentucky. So how are they producing seven-year-old bourbon? With help from renowned whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery, I discovered that, like Ezra Brooks Black Label, Old Ezra is produced by a Kentucky distiller (most likely Heaven Hill Distilleries) which has registered a “doing business as” (DBA) with Ezra Brooks, making the statement technically true, if somewhat misleading.

The bourbon inside the Old Ezra bottle is actually quite good and pleasantly straightforward. The nose is soft for 101 proof, full of sweet vanilla and oak with faint notes of cloves and black pepper. Light on the palate, it’s dominated by vanilla with layers of turbinado sugar and butterscotch. The finish is a medium length with notes of cinnamon red hots and a nice residual heat, which is the only real evidence of its higher proof.

For only a slight price increase, Old Ezra provides more complexity and depth of flavor than the other lower proof, lower shelf Ezra Brooks expression. It’s a very enjoyable, if still simple, sipping whiskey with the bonus of offering plenty of reading material on the label!

101 proof.

B+ / $22 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: 6 Whiskeys From Mosswood Distillers

Berkeley, California-based Mosswood isn’t the first company to source whiskey and finish it before releasing, but it might be the most interesting one operating today.

All of the whiskeys reviewed here are finished, some in relatively traditional barrel types, some in extremely unusual ones. Note that with the exception of the Irish whiskey, all the other releases start with well-aged light whiskey, a seldom-seen style which is distilled to higher proof and sort of blurs the line between white whiskey and vodka when it comes off the still.

The first four whiskeys reviewed below are part of Mosswood’s standard lineup; the final two are members of the “rotating barrel” series, limited release whiskeys (both are single barrel bottlings) that will be significantly harder to come by.

All are 92 proof. No batch information is available.

Mosswood Distillers Sherry Barrel Aged Irish Whiskey – This is a four year old Irish whiskey finished for 7 months in Amontillado sherry casks. Intense, nutty sherry notes on the nose — raisiny, almost Port-like at times. On the palate, an ample hogo funk gives way to a distinctly rum-like character, the fruity raisin and wood notes combining to give the impression of molasses, dusted with notes of cloves and brown sugar. Very unusual. Fool your friends! B+ / $50

Mosswood Distillers Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – This is a seven year old light whiskey from Tennessee, finished in California Apple Brandy Barrels from Germain Robin (time unstated). What a delightful combination this is, starting with a rich and heady nose that offers hints of wood, fruit, and spices. On the palate, the apple brandy really punches up the fruit component of the whiskey, lending the caramel and vanilla in the core some hints of apple pie spice, particularly cinnamon. The finish is sweet and clean, but echoes barrel char late in the game. A- / $48

Mosswood Distillers Espresso Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – What is an espresso barrel? This is the same seven year old Tennessee light whiskey, finished in a barrel seasoned with Four Barrel Coffee Espresso Roast. The nose is hard to place, relatively whiskey-traditionalist but with notes of cloves and some dark chocolate. The palate is where the espresso notes start to show themselves much more clearly, melding with the spices to showoff notes of fresh berries, more bittersweet chocolate, and a lingering finish that is reminiscent of chai tea. Another perplexing combination that comes out more nuanced than expected. B+ / $48

Mosswood Distillers Sour Ale Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Tennessee light whiskey finished in sour ale barrels from Drake’s Brewing. It’s initially moderately “beery” on the nose, with notes of hops mingling with floral notes, brown sugar, and a hard-to-pin-down note of what comes across like grapefruit peel. On the palate, all of these things come together beautifully along with notes of baking spice and gingerbread, Mexican chocolate, and, finally, a lingering, floral-heavy hoppiness on the finish. While it never really connotes the sourness of the original ale, it nonetheless does wonders with the whiskey it has to work with, elevating the spirit with an infusion of flavors I didn’t know it could show off. Highly recommended. A / $50

And now for two limited edition whiskeys…

Mosswood Distillers Umeshu Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – These appear to have the same Tennessee whiskey base, it’s the finishing that’s off the wall. Umeshu is a tart Japanese plum wine, and Mosswood made its own, then put the umeshu in a barrel for one year. After that, the umeshu was removed and the whiskey was finished in that barrel for six months. Results: A nose that is very floral, almost perfumed, and particularly heady with alcohol despite being bottled at the same 46% abv as all the other whiskeys here. Those flowers give way to a body that is lightly tart and full of fruit — plum and otherwise — with added notes of fresh ginger, honey, red wine vinegar, and a finish that leaves notes of vanilla-heavy sugar cookies and milk chocolate on the tongue. While imperfectly balanced, the whiskey makes up for that with an exceptional uniqueness. B+ / $49

Mosswood Distillers Nocino Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Nocino is a walnut liqueur, and of course Mosswood makes its own; here a nine year old light whiskey goes into the emptied nocino barrel for about six months. The nose is savory, nutty, and chocolatey all at once — with encroaching aromas of overripe fruit building as it goes — but once you sip it the sweetness really takes hold. Cocoa powder, candied walnuts, and peppermint all give it an essential, wintry flavor, while a finish of maraschino cherries plus lightly bitter, slightly salty nuts remind one of that walnut liqueur. Beautiful stuff. A- / $49

drinkmosswood.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond Bourbon

It’s no secret that we now live in a world where a whiskey like Booker’s can almost double in price overnight. Thankfully, there are still some very good bourbons out there that don’t cost a whole lot of money. Referred to as “table bourbon,” these bottles are priced for frequent drinking (never more than $20 a bottle), are good enough to spare the mixer, and come from the same quality distilleries that turn out the increasingly more expensive bourbons we love. J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond is one such “table bourbon” worth seeking out.

This bourbon even comes with a little Kentucky history. It takes its name was a famed liquor wholesaler who, along with his half-brother George Garvin Brown, started in the later 1800s what would become Brown-Forman, makers of Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, and Jack Daniel’s. The last distillery to carry the J.T.S. Brown name is now Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The brand is owned and distilled today by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown.

J.T.S Brown Bottled in Bond is a no age statement (NAS) whiskey, but it’s at least four years old by law. The youth is evident in its light gold color, but even more so on the nose where candy corn dominates all other aromas. The corn is there too on the palate, but thankfully not as much as the first whiff would suggest. The body is somewhat thin, but it carries cinnamon and a little toffee, plenty of gentle spice, and just the right amount of heat. On the finish, the cinnamon gives way to fading dark cherry notes.

A non-bonded version of J.T.S. Brown is also available (at 80 proof) for even less money, but a few extra dollars buys an exponentially better product with more flavor than whiskeys twice the price. It’s not widely distributed, unfortunately, but put this one on your shopping list if you’re ever in Kentucky.

100 proof.

A- / $15 / heavenhill.com

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