Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old

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Once a largely ignored bottom-shelf bottling, Rebel Yell continues its march up-market with this latest release, a 10 year old single barrel bottling crafted from its wheated bourbon recipe. 2000 cases will be made available this year. In 2017, production will expand to 4000 cases.

The nose offers oak first, then layers of anise and tobacco leaf. The iconic vanilla caramel character is here, but it is burnt and crispy, with mild eucalyptus notes — though all in all, fairly steady hallmarks of well-aged bourbon. The palate is where things start to get more interesting. The anise character is distinct and heavy, before notes of peppermint, cloves, and cinnamon red hots come along. The finish is burly with wood, but not overpowering — more barrel char than sawdust — though there’s a bit of lingering gumminess that mars things a bit.

All told, this is a bourbon for fans who like things on the distinctly — even heavily — savory side, and even though it’s not exactly an everyday sipper, it marks a nice change of pace from some of the sugar bombs that tend to be more popular.

Reviewed: Barrel #4744359, distilled September 2005.

100 proof.

A- / $50 / rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: 1792 High Rye Bourbon

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Sazerac/Buffalo Trace’s 1792 Distillery is on a tear, now hitting the market with its 5th special edition in a little over a year, High Rye Bourbon. Some details:

Barton 1792 Distillery releases another expression in its line-up of 1792 whiskeys, 1792 High Rye Bourbon. The flagship product of the collection, 1792 Small Batch, is well known for using a higher percentage of rye than most bourbons, but this special edition High Rye Bourbon brings an even more intense amount of rye to the mash bill. Although very limited, expect to see annual releases of this robust bourbon after its initial release this fall. 1792 High Rye Bourbon was distilled in May of 2008, and aged for a little more than eight years on the second floor of Warehouse K at the historic Barton 1792 Distillery before it was bottled at 94.3 proof.

You can smell the rye influence foremost here, which hits the nostrils with a racy punch of cloves, allspice, and red pepper. The impression of spice is a bit misleading, though, for the palate balances this out with a gentler body that pumps up the vanilla- and caramel-led sweetness, at least on the initial attack. With a bit of time, the rye spices make a triumphant return, muscling their way back to the fore and layering on a bit of heat. The finish is lengthy and offers some drying licorice notes, plus ginger and tea leaf. All told, it comes together with remarkable balance and finds a unique place in bourbondom, riding the line between a traditional bourbon and a straight rye.

A lovely addition to the 1792 lineup. Get it while you can!

94.3 proof.

A / $36 / 1792bourbon.com

Review Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Straight Bourbon

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Officially it’s called: Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey Selected Expressly for Connoisseurs of Small Batch Fine Spirits. There are other honorifics on the bottle, but too much for me to type.

That’s a lot of verbiage for an MGP-sourced whiskey, though it is bottled at at least seven years old, per the back label. It’s a blend of two bourbon mashes, one with 21% rye, one with 35% rye, averaging out at about 26% rye.

For the uninitiated, first a history lesson on the Hirsch name. Adolph Hirsch started distilling small batch whiskey in Pennsylvania in the 1970s under the eye of Dick Stoll, a well known master distiller who came up through the Beam system. By 1989, Hirsch was bankrupt, probably because he never sold any of the whiskey he was making. Eventually it was bottled by the van Winkles (yes, those van Winkles) and sold as A.H. Hirsch Reserve. Several editions were released until it was all gone. Today, some of those dusty old Hirsch 16 year old bottles now sell for up to $3,000.

Somewhere along the way, Anchor Distilling acquired the name and started sourcing whiskey from Indiana to bottle anew as “Hirsch.” Nothing wrong with that, but drinkers should know that the Hirsch of today has literally nothing to do with the Hirsch of yesteryear, though it is “inspired by the quality of A.H. Hirsch.” OK!

So anyway, let’s get to tasting this entry-level expression.

On the nose there’s ample vanilla, caramel sauce, and some hints of pepper. A bit strong with eucalyptus notes and a bit of lumberyard character, eventually it settles down, opening up to reveal some butterscotch and red cherry notes. The palate largely follows suit with the nose, though with time in glass it really starts to exude heavy salted caramel notes, plus notes of peanut brittle, cinnamon, and spicy gingerbread. Again, this is a whiskey that really benefits from some settle-down time, and it drinks with more complexity and depth than I had initially given it credit for.

Definitely worth a look.

92 proof.

A- / $40 / anchordistilling.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish

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The 11th installment in Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release is here. For 2016, standard, “fully mature” Woodford is finished in American brandy casks for nearly two years. Which brandy isn’t stated (but since Woodford’s parent company Brown-Forman owns Korbel, I have a strong hunch where the casks came from).

Woodford notes, “Brandy, a spirit distilled from wine or fruit, is often aged in oak barrels. Unlike bourbon, brandy does not have the new, charred barrel requirement allowing their barrels to be used multiple times. Therefore, this release is technically not a bourbon but rather a finished whiskey.” That’s really splitting hairs, though. Finishing barrels have become quite popular in bourbon country in recent years (see also Angel’s Envy), and the use of one does not, in my mind, disqualify this from being called a bourbon.

And in fact, there is nothing at all not to like in the 2016 Master’s Collection bourbon. Fresh from the start, the nose is moderately woody, tempered by light chocolate, cinnamon (a Morris classic), and plenty of lightly scorched caramel. Some raisin and dried fig notes come forward with time. On the tongue, the whiskey quickly settles into a beautifully balanced groove. Notes of raisin, ripe banana, and gingerbread wash over a spicy, vanilla- and caramel-heavy core. As a reprise, some gentle wood notes bring up the rear, a nice callback to the way things started.

The two years in old brandy casks have worked nicely at mellowing out a bourbon that can sometimes be overblown with wood. The brandy cask adds something in the form of those gently sweet raisin notes, but more importantly is what it takes away, which is some of the heavier tannin and lumberyard notes that standard Woodford can express. As with the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir release, this expression is a whiskey that takes a solid spirit and elevates it even further.

Morris has stumbled upon a really magical combination here. It may be the best Master’s Collection release to date.

90.4 proof.

A / $100 / woodfordreserve.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

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WhiskyFest is always a great opportunity to get a look at new releases — and pre-sampling products I won’t be able to formally review for a few weeks or month is my favorite part of the show. WhiskyFest 2016 was shaping up to be a windfall for these kinds of releases, including Ardbeg Dark Cove, Redbreast Lustau, Glenmorangie Tarlogan, and Writers Tears Cask Strength, among others. Alas, none of these whiskies (and more) ever made it to the show floor. The Writers Tears broke in transit, I was told. The Lustau was sitting on the back bar, unopened and would only be served at the masterclass session. As for Dark Cove and Tarlogan, well, no one seemed to know a thing. They just weren’t there. Making matters worse, more than once attendees complained to me that vendors had long ago run out of certain whiskies, only to have me tell them I’d just sampled the very same spirit minutes earlier.

I can’t and don’t fault the festival for these issues — and I hope it was just bad luck this year — but I also can’t help but feel disappointed to have left without trying all of these spirits.

Anyway, I did manage to suss out a few new and unusual bottlings, including some all-stars, though I opted not to stand in the 150-person strong line for a sip of Pappy Van Winkle this year. Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

Scotch

Glenfiddich 26 Years Old / A- / a classic expression of old Glenfiddich; malty and biscuity, with a sugar cookie finish
031Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength Flagon / B+ / a 57.1% abv release of this vatted malt; bold and herbal, with lemon peel notes
The Deveron 12 Years Old / B- / Dewar’s-owned; restrained to the point of being muted on the palate
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B / quite malty, rough around the edges
Old Pulteney 21 Years Old / A- / a classic, but surprisingly sweet, its maritime note dialed down; just a touch of smoke on the back
Wolfburn Aurora / B / chewy with woody overtones; a bit youthful
The Macallan Reflexion / B+ / a $1200 monster from Macallan, aromatic with dried fruits, but a bit hoary on the back end; I’d have trouble mustering up this kind of coin
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / always worthwhile, rich and malty with plenty of dark fruit notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask / B- / not getting much wine character; restrained and thin at times
Auchentoshan 21 Years Old / B- / heavy with grain, much more youthful than expected
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old / A- / notes of burnt bread and biscuits; lots of malt and wood influence
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old / A / highlight of the show; remarkably gentle but studded with golden raisins and a lovely simple sweetness
Alexander Murray & Co. Dalmore 15 Years Old / B- / oddly smoky, dull on the finish
Alexander Murray & Co. Benrinnes 19 Years Old / B / malty, with big nougat notes and some savory spices
Alexander Murray & Co. Monumental Blend 30 Years Old / B / rounded with ample grain character; somewhat grassy

American

Westland Garryana / B / a bruising whiskey, smoky with meaty, pork rind notes; full review in the works
Wild Turkey Decades / B+ / ancient Wild Turkey, and it tastes like it – wood on top of wood
Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch 16 / A- / Port notes shine here; very sweet but drinking beautifully now
Parker’s Heritage Collection 24 Years Old Bottled-in-Bond / A / another highlight of the show that I’m looking forward to reviewing in full; initially surprisingly fruit, which fades to a drying finish with notes of camphor
Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon / B+ / finally a chance to see what the fuss was about, which turns out to be tons of wood and some toffee notes; not even a hint of the sea

033Japanese

Hakushu 18 Years Old / A- / smoldering with burnt sugar and lingering sweetness; sultry

Irish

Redbreast 21 Years Old / A- / lovely pot still character, punchy yet balanced

Other

Dos Maderas Luxus / A- / a very high-end rum aged 10 years in the Caribbean, then 5 years in Spain in sherry casks; the results are extremely powerful with fruit and sweetness, notes of figs, raisins, and cherries

Review: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Barrel #3402 NHLC Collection

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Remember that time that the New Hampshire Liquor Commission bought 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s, the largest single purchase of JD single barrels ever? Well, they did it again, this time with Knob Creek, purchasing 8 barrels and bottling them as New Hampshire exclusives, all 120 proof, 9 years old.

We got a sample from Barrel #3402, complete with an embossed metal plaque on the bottle.

Let’s give this special edition, available only in New Hampshire, naturally, a spin.

The nose is classic Knob Creek, maple syrup-sweet with moderate to heavy wood overtones, backed up by burnt caramel notes. On the tongue, it’s sweeter and more rounded than the 60% abv would make you expect, but the brown sugar and syrup notes quickly burn off, replaced by notes of cinnamon red hots and cloves. The finish brings out the wood again, here more clearly oak than the spicy cedar you can get in standard Knob Creek, with simpler vanilla and caramel notes rounding out the finish. Don’t be afraid of a little water to smooth out the edges.

The Granite State has done a bang-up job with its single barrel selections of late, and this Knob Creek special bottling stands at perhaps the top of that list.

120 proof.

A / $47 / liquorandwineoutlets.com

Review: Trail’s End Bourbon

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In my daily life, Trail’s End refers to the popcorn that my son’s Cub Scout pack has to sell every year. Turns out it is also the name, completely unaffiliated of course, of a bourbon brand, produced by Hood River Distillers (which makes Pendleton) in Oregon.

Trail’s End is sourced bourbon from Kentucky, where it is aged for eight years. The barrels then go to Oregon, where they are “steeped with Oregon oak” for a few months before being brought down to proof and bottled. This is a new wood infusion, designed to give the whiskey a stronger wood profile.

The whiskey starts things off with a nose of classic bourbon — woody, lightly corny, studded with vanilla and, here, some almond character. The palate takes a slightly different direction, however. It starts off surprisingly hot — considerably racier than its 45% abv would indicate — then after a bit of time settles into a curious and somewhat exotic groove. I get (in time) notes of fresh mint, eucalyptus, coconut brown butter, and ample (but not overwhelming) wood. The finish is somewhat Port-like, infused with a distinct and initially jarring coffee character. This coffee note is a real rarity in the bourbon world that you don’t see much, and which has little explanation in this whisky. But that finish — both fruity and distinctly mocha-like — isn’t just a rare combination, it’s one that works surprisingly well.

Thumbs up from me.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch No. 0002.

A- / $50 / hrdspirits.com

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