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

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

Review: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

Rock Hill Farms is one of the sub-labels of Buffalo Trace/Sazerac, an upscale bottling in a fancy decanter that people really seem to love because it has a horse on the label.

Rock Hill Farms (bottled with no age statement or anything else by way of production data) is a rather typical expression of Buffalo Trace’s house style, a rye-heavy bourbon that’s well spiced from start to finish.

The nose features orange peel, oily furniture polish notes, and loads of nutty sherry (or sherried nuts?). A winey, Port-like character emerges with more time, studded with aromas of cloves, raisins, and dried cherries. On the palate, many of the same notes persevere, though those fruitier notes come with a slightly bitter edge, along with some more exotic notes of dried papaya, allspice, and candied walnuts.

All told it’s a fine example of bonded-style bourbon, though it may be an overly familiar one for hardcore bourbon enthusiasts.

100 proof.

A- / $49 / sazerac.com

Review: Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2017)

Rare Breed has always been a unique bird in the Wild Turkey lineup, a small batch cask strength spirit that changes from year to year, and which — curiously enough — has been on the rise when it comes to proof.

Recently Rare Breed underwent a rebranding. Some details:

Wild Turkey has always been exceptionally proud of their award-winning Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon. One of the pioneers of small batch bourbon, Rare Breed is pure barrel proof whiskey, meaning no water is added to reduce the level of alcohol during the bottling process.

In recent years, Rare Breed has been around 112.8 proof but we’re excited to announce that this year’s breed is a little different.

Hitting shelves this spring, the latest Rare Breed expression coming out of the Wild Turkey distillery pours out of the barrel at 116.8 proof. It’s an unapologetic, bold spirit with tones of warm butter scotch and vanilla, and hints of fruit and spices.

And with a bold new proof, comes a bold new bottle (pictured above).

I was fortunate enough to try the 2017 Rare Breed — and compare it to the bottling we reviewed back in 2010 (a half-bottle, now about half full). Thoughts on the new release — and more detailed thoughts on the original as it now stands — follow.

The nose of the 2017 release is distinct with chocolate mint notes, baking spice, plenty of vanilla, and a bit of pepper. On the palate, it’s an awfully hot whiskey, which helps bring out more of the toasty wood notes alongside those almost candylike notes of sweetness. Water won’t hurt ya: It’s a big help in coaxing out notes of flambed banana, toasted marshmallow, and some coconut notes. The finish is a big one: Bursts of caramel sauce, milk chocolate, and a vanilla reprise.

The 2010 Rare Breed — at just 108.8 proof — comes across today as a much different experience, heavy on the nose with funkier notes of tar, menthol (not fresh mint), and tobacco. Though the palate is somewhat softer than the nose would suggest, it still hits the tongue as rustic, heavy with notes of roasted corn, dusky cloves, and eastern spice market notes. All told I like it considerably less, though, again, water helps temper the beast a bit, helping the minty notes come forward more clearly.

116.8 proof.

A- / $39 / wildturkeybourbon.com

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

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