This site is dedicated to celebration of the art of our finest distillate, whiskey and whisky. I’ll feature my tasting notes, evaluations and info on individual whiskeys, as well as pictures, videos, and general whiskey info I come across. Feel free to be a part of it and add your comments.
I was recently in Washington DC for a shoot, and after the last day wrapped I knew what I must do – visit the world-famous Jack Rose Saloon. Fortunately, it was only 8 or 10 blocks from my hotel, and it was a nice night. So I walked over.
It’s really quite impressive when you enter – the amount of whiskey on the walls would choke a mule. I found a spot on the rail and sat my ass down. Grabbed a drink menu. Its like novel. Theres really that much to choose from.
I started with a small 1 oz pour of 1970’s Old Crow 100 proof. I’ve heard much about older Old Crow, and was anxious to try it. But it was disappointing. The nose was sawdust and old cardboard. The taste was about the same – dry, flat, some wood, a lot of cardboard. Not much of a finish. I took my time with that 1 oz, gradually a little water, and the water and time opening up did bring in a hint of sweetness. But only a HINT – it was hard to perceive. Once finished, I have to say this one sucked.Thats my rating – it sucked.
Next I went with some early 1970s Old Grandad. Again, 100 proof, again a National Distillers product, this one made outside Lexington & just down the road from Old Crow at the famous Taylor Distiller (now Castle & Key). This bourbon is known to be a butterscotch bomb. Wrongo. Not this bottle. When I nosed this one, it brought back a smell I hadnt smelt in decades. (As most know, smell is the sense that can dig out old memories the most). I had stepped back into a Kmart in the mid 1970s. Back then it just smelled like Kmart, but now I can identify that as cheap 1970s plastics releasing their gasses. Yes, the nose, as well as the taste and finish, was all about plastic. Yikes. No butterscotch, just cheap 1970s plastic (perhaps Japanese?).
Same rating. It sucked.
I gave up. I wasnt gonna spend any more money on bad dusties. I paid and left.
Here lies the problem with discovering the tastes, the nuances, of dusty whiskey. You usually have no idea where it has sat for decade after decade. It may have been adequately stored or it could be totally ruined. Unless you have viable provenience of where its been, its a crap shoot. I lost on these. They may have been stored where they were exposed to heat or light. Perhaps the seal was not tight and there was 50 years of oxidation turning it to shit. I can’t accept an excuse of my “personal taste” – I have had plenty of whiskeys that, tho I didn’t especially care for them, didn’t outright suck. I have no idea where Jack Rose acquired these bottles, or where they had been. But I’m surprised they didn’t QC these. The Old Crow was stale, and the Old Grandad was outright repulsive, yet they charge a pretty penny for this swill.
Bernhiem Wheat Whiskey is a Heaven Hill product, clocking in at 90 proof, and with an age statement of 7 years. Initially released in 2005 without an age statement, with the 7 year age added in 2014. This is not a bourbon, and the mashbill is at least 51%, wheat, most likey including corn and malted barley as well. This bottle is a store pick from Smokey Hollow. I’m not sure what that is, it’s not the store I got it from, but that store sometimes buys up leftovers of other picks. It was inexpensive, around $25.
The nose on this one is cedar, mint, salted caramel, juicy fruit, and spice. The mouthfeel is nice and viscous, and coats the tongue well. The palate is pepper, sweet salty caramel, almonds, honey, cinnamon and baking spice, even a touch of berry. The finish first comes back with the cedar and wintergreen, then bit of pepper, a little burn. Its of medium-long length, and at the latter parts of it I finally get the drying oak and some vanilla. I expected less burn with a 7-year-old at this low of proof. Part of it is the pepper that enhances the heat. What baffles me is this reminds me of some ryes, which is totally wrong because it’s the opposite.
I find this whiskey to be pretty light, with not a whole lot going on. Or at least nothing hitting me over the head. That’s not to be confused with a whiskey that is balanced, where not one single taste hits you upside the head; instead it’s a slightly muddled and unremarkably too subtle. Of course, this is not meant to taste like bourbon, just like you can’t judge a corn whiskey on bourbon merits. Perhaps someone who likes a lighter touch would dig this, like fans of the easy-going Speyside scotches which are not meant to challenge the imbiber. Personally, I find it a little boring, though it is not a simple whiskey when you try hard enough to find the complexities. I can’t compare this to other wheat whiskeys because I haven’t had many, partly because their aren’t many; and putting this up to a wheater bourbon wouldn’t really be comparing apples to apples. But I doubt if I would buy another bottle. Since this was a store pick single barrel, I would be very curious to try the regular version to see if I like it better, since store picks don’t guarantee an improvement over the regular stuff. But I’m not gonna buy a bottle to do so. Overall, I’m not too impressed. But hey, it was not much more than twenty bucks. And it doesn’t suck, not at all. I’ll give it a B-.
On January 23, 2018, the heavy-hitters of the bourbon internet world joined together to pick a couple of Buffalo Trace Bourbon single barrels for themselves. A meeting of the minds and palates took place at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY, featuring Kenny Coleman and Ryan Cecil from the Bourbon Pursuit podcast, Blake Riber from Bourbonr, Nick Beiter and Jordan Moskal from Breaking Bourbon, and Brian Haarar from Sipp’n Corn. I was lucky enough to tag along and shoot the festivities, and here is my short film of the event.
Its been quite a while since I’ve posted, but I’m back. Unfortunately, been to busy to drink and write, but now trying to get back into it. On a positive note, I do have lots of notes on whiskeys that are ready to turn into reviews.
Today’s is a real brute – Stagg Jr from Buffalo Trace Distillery. It was first released in 2013 as the little brother of Buffalo Trace’s George T. Stagg Bourbon, which is a once-a-year release of 14-17 year old uncut, unfiltered bourbon that averages around a holy hazardous proof of 130-140. Stagg Jr is the same but about half that age, with batches released twice a year, and proofs are closer to 130-132 proof (the difference in the proof from George T. Stagg is probably the age – perhaps there has been less time for the angels to take water content from the whiskey, thereby producing a lower proof). As of this writing, there has been nine batches released. It uses Buffalo Trace’s mashbill #1, which is lower in rye. It sells for around $50-60.
My bottle was from batch #6, which clocks in at a whopping 132.5 proof. And that proof rears its head with this stuff.
On the nose, there is ALCOHOL. It is hot. If you put your nose too far in the glass, your nose hair will spontaneously combust. With the nose out a bit, I get tobacco, sawdust, leather, burnt brown sugar, and lesser amounts of the usual buffalo Trace caramel and vanilla.
On the palate, I get ALCOHOL. It burns. Beyond the burn is pepper, tobacco, wood, slight vanilla. The finish is lengthy, dry, slightly sour, with wood and an antiseptic flavor.
So now with some water added. This brings to the nose some banana bread and more caramel. But as the alcohol subsides, some acetone appears. The palate becomes more manageable, the mouthfeel more viscous. The palate also has more caramel working with the dry oakiness, and the finish also brings more sweetness, but again with that acetone. But it still has a dry, oaky, slightly bitter, burnt brown sugar and peppery taste and finish. So it might as well be drank without water to get the full effect.
As you can see in the picture above, I waited till the bottle was gone before writing this review. I really wanted to get my hands around this one, but had trouble doing so. It was just so much pepper and heat. On one hand, I do have to recommend you check this one out, because it is a big barrel-proof strong bourbon with a good amount of age at a fair price point. It has commendable qualities. But I’m just not that impressed. I think Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is way better, if you can find it, with way more in-your-face flavor to go with the heat (its also older, 12 years). I also prefer Knob Creek Single Barrel, especially if you can find a store pick that is older than 9 years & clocks in at 120 proof, and is also about $10-15 cheaper. I find the heat to be less evident with that one, perhaps because of all the caramel sweetness. I know some like this one alot, and if you like bourbons with lotsa dry heat, go for it. I will have to try another batch in the future to see if my opinions change. For now, I’m actually somewhat relieved to be done with this bottle. Its been a lot of work. I guess somebody’s gotta do it tho.
Dry Fly is a craft distillery out west in Spokane, Washington. They check many of the needed boxes of small labels, like distilling their own juice and getting all their grain locally within a 30-mile radius.
On the nose, the whiskey is light, with the usual rye notes of baking spices and pumpkin bread. But the wheat brings a sweetness and lightness to the nose. Cake batter. A little dark chocolate. As the glass emptied a bit of skunky root beer.
On the palate the whiskey starts light but creamy. It has a medium mouthfeel, creamy but somewhat thin. I’m a little used to barrel strength bruisers, so this one seems tame but very pleasantly so. An interesting contrast presents itself here. You get the rye backbone, again with the cinnamon and clove spices, but then a sugary sweetness creeps up. Not like a syrupy bourbon sweetness, but a light confectionery sugar sweetness, almost like some rums.
The finish is fairly lengthy, asserting the rye portion again, with only the slightest of burns, rather dry, and the rye spices. In fact the finish is mostly rye. Way into the end of the finish you get small notes of sugary sweetness, but just slightly.
This is no simple whiskey. I have thoroughly enjoyed this offering. I find triticale a very enjoyable grain, as you get get some great rye notes but also a few wheater notes. I have a Beam 375mL Craft Harvest Bourbon I haven’t opened, but that has triticale second to corn as the grain. I think I’ll have to try some other Dry Fly offerings. They are an example of a coming-of-age crafter, and are supposed to release a 10-year later this year.
On Saturday, March 4, 2017, I hopped in my buddy’s car early in the morning and we set sail south to the motherland – Kentucky. Specifically, Louisville, for the last day of the 2017 Bourbon Classic.
I had read about the event in the past and thought it would be cool to attend; this was the 5th annual happening. We arrived a little bit late due to a delay, so we missed a few minutes of the first educational session. There were four to choose from, and because we were late, we chose the Bluegrass Music and Bourbon session, thinking we would be less interruptive with a band playing. The music was good, with story telling of Heaven Hill whiskey and history. There were samples of four HH whiskeys – Elijah Craig (the new non-age statement 94 proofer), Evan Williams Bottled In Bond, Larceny (a wheater), and Mellow Corn (a bottled in bond corn whiskey.
Next everyone went to the theater for a Q&A forum of industry professionals including master distillers and distillery reps. Interesting stuff, though the participants were rather guarded about what they said, and mostly stuck to hyping their products and company.
From there we again had a choice of four educational sessions. We chose one put on by Blanton’s about entertaining with bourbon. There was a bartender with a fruity bourbon cocktail (it was pretty good, tho bourbon cocktails are not my thing) to start things out. This was followed by a presentation about Blanton’s, and entertaining tips like how much whiskey and ice you need for a party. We got a swag bag, which was cool, and I got one of the reps to give me a Blanton’s black t-shirt. Nice.
Lastly was the food and open tastings. I must say the food was very good, and there was plenty of it. Especially loved the bourbon pecan pie. Most of the big distillers had booths, and some small ones as well. Of the tastings, I thought the Jefferson’s Ocean Cask Strength was notable (despite that whole cheezy aging in boats shit and it’s exorbitant price), as well as the 1792 Full Proof (I hope to write up a single barrel store pick version of this soon), and the Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Bourbon. The rest was pretty much the usual suspects. I did taste one that was so bad I had to dump it out (don’t even recall what it was).
Overall, I was glad I attended, but probably won’t go back. Tickets were $155, and was not worth it at all. It was worth maybe $75. I think attendance would have been a whole lot better had they priced it accordingly. Afterward, we walked down to the Haymarket, an unassuming, friendly, downtown whiskey bar. After a few minutes we got some stools on the rail and camped out there for a while, and had some great conversations with some industry folks. We enjoyed the last pours from an old bottle of a Heaven Hill 8 Year – one I had never seen (I believe it is not made anymore). The Haymarket I will be returning to.
Event Grade: C+
Not too long ago I visited the Four Roses aging facility in Cox’s Creek, KY. I skipped the tour because of time, but did manage to check out the gift shop & did a quick tasting of their 3 main expressions (yellow label, small batch, single barrel). Got a nifty Four Roses long-sleeve t-shirt. And best of all, I got a bottling of an OESQ Single Barrel.
As you may know, Four Roses works with two mashbills (“E” being 75/20/5 & “B” being 60/35/5, & that’s corn/rye/malted barley) and 5 different yeast strains (V, K, O, Q, F). This makes for 10 different bourbons. Yellow label includes them all, Small Batch includes 4 of them, and Single Barrel is only OBSV. However, they occasionally bottle other recipes with only one of the recipes, and this one I picked up is just such a case.
Without water added, the nose has wintergreen, peppermint, sawdust, and an overall vegetable and sour note. On the palate its just a little hot (well, it is almost 116 proof) with oak, a touch of caramel, and the vegetable note – something like sweet asparagus. It coats the mouth nicely with a slight burn. The finish is dry, long, with more sawdust and more mint. But you gotta try it with a few drops of water. This is not a big sweet bourbon where the high-proof bite is tampered by an overt sweetness. No, no, no. There is a lot more to this than a big honey bomb.
With just a little bit of water, it really opens up. The nose remains similar, with the mint and sawdust, but adding caramel and vanilla and a bit of char and lakewater. The vegetable note is brought down but it retains that sour note, and with that a kinda bacony-hammy thing. Some sweet onion and pineapple. As it continues to open, it just keeps giving. It’s a nose that doesn’t hit you over the head; its complex, nuanced, and subtle. The palate gives some sweetness, and with less astringency comes a creamy, mouth-coating caramel. Still a peppermint note. It’s almost like mouthwash, but in a good way. There’s that rosewater that I taste in all their stuff. A grassy note. The finish is long, with wood, caramel, mint,
I find this bourbon fascinating. It’s not your normal offering, and I like that. It’s not your normal caramel/vanilla/oak/leather kinda thing. I can understand why some wouldn’t be as keen on it – I’m sure my tasting notes of mouthwash and onion are not everyone’s cup of hooch – but if you want to be perplexed by your whiskey, try this. I keep going back to this bottle every now and then because it changes my bearings after a few weeks of the usual bourbon notes of vanilla/toffee/caramel/honey/oak/cola/cherry/citrus. (Maybe I need to swing back to more scotch?) It seems every time I approach this whiskey, I get different tasting notes. It’s just that complex.
I love Four Roses. They do things different. Just look at their warehouses – they’re all 1 story. They put their distillate in barrels at a lower proof. They use a variety of yeasts. I’ll give this an A because it’s so complex and beguiling.
Balcones is an interesting distillery located in Waco, Tx with a brief but storied history. It was started in 2008 by Chip Tate, a distiller with vision of how to make quality and unique craft whiskeys. During the first 6 years, and under the guidance of its president & founder, it introduced several kickass whiskeys. Demand soared, and capital was needed, so a partner was brought in. Then things got ugly, and the new board ousted Mr Tate. Now Balcones continues, and Mr. Tate is opening a new distillery. So now I guess we will have twice the choices.
The whiskey I’m enjoying is the Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whiskey. No age statement, 46% abv, made from roasted heirloom blue corn. By US law, to be called Corn Whiskey it must be at least 80% corn in the grainbill, and aged in either new uncharred oak barrels or previously-used oak barrels. Their website says nothing about this, but then again the website has scrubbed all mention of Mr. Tate as well.
The nose has buttered corn and sulfur. Ya, the sulfur part may not sound great, but it works. Its kinda like someone saying Laphroaig has a nose of band-aids. – it’s weird but it works with the whiskey overall. There are also some green vegetal things going on in the nose. A faint hint of cotton candy and smoke, even maple. Wet leaves.
On the palate, it has a nice viscous, oily mouthfeel. It hits the tongue with a bitter corn flavor, but it a smokey corn, like a cob slow roasted over a fire but overcooked to the point of slightly burnt. As it develops, the bitter burnt subsides and the sweet butter comes up from below.
The finish is fairly lengthy and complex. It is astringent, with smoke prominent. The smoke subsides as a dry corn taste comes back, then followed by and ending with a sweetness.
It’s pretty complex for a young corn whiskey. It’s obvious that Balcones takes care in producing this, and it shows. A very different whiskey than your typical bourbons and scotches; much more challenging. You have to come to this one with an open mind. Those who do will be rewarded.
I like private bottlings. There is a lot of good things to say about them – they are often single cask, cask strength, and non-chill filtered with no added coloring. They give one a bit of a different take on a distillery’s whisky than the normal, multiple-casks-dump that achieves a particular flavor profile that the distillery wants to adhere to. It’s just a naked taste of what the distiller was putting out that day and effect that one particular barrel had on the juice.
That’s the case with this one. 56.0% alcohol. Single cask, cask strength, non-chill filtered, 19-year-old Signatory bottling for Binny’s from the Glenburgie Distillery. The Speyside distillery (tho the bottle says Highland) was founded in 1810 under a different name, has been closed and opened numerous times, changed ownership several times, and is now owned by Pernod Ricard. This is my first experience with a Glenburgie. It’s a scotch that often flies under the radar because it’s product is mostly used in blends, namely Ballantine’s and Old Smuggler. It seems to me that private bottlings of Glenburgie are more common than their own.
So on to the malt. The nose hits with notes of sawdust, floral, and a fruit basket – citrus, banana, kiwi, and apple. Juicy Fruit gum. Some baking spice. A bit of grain and a bit of a vegetable note under all that floral and fruit. It takes a while to get it; its somewhat subdued. But with patience and repeated nosing it comes forward.
On the tongue, it’s creamy yet astringent. It’ll burn if you don’t add water. Vanilla. The fruit is there, but also with some bitter notes. The citrus is more like citrus rind. Cinnamon. Salt. Banana. Bread pudding. Sweet yet bitter. It’s complex, but the complexity is kinda limited to the play between the sweet fruit and the bitter rind and spice.
The finish is medium to long in length. Here is where the grain comes forward. The citrus rind is there, but then fades to more sweeter notes with spices like cinnamon with sugar. More slat. Sweet yet bitter. It’s complex, but the complexity is kinda limited to the play between the sweet fruit and the bitter rind and spice.
I’ve been on the fence about this one throughout the bottle. The first few drams were a bit rough and not as complex. After about 8 weeks of air time it opened up, and was nice. Its now been about 3 months, and the bottom third is not as good. Of course my opinions of it from opening to this point has been subjective, but hey – isn’t it always? All this is only about my opinions of the stuff.
I’ll give it a solid B. Complex, interesting, and enjoyable, but I’m not rushing to get another bottle before they’re gone.
I was given as gift on my last birthday a bottle of The Balvenie 12 year old single barrel scotch. My good friend had recently attended a tasting put on by Balvenie, and had enjoyed the samples. I guess Anthony Bourdaine made a brief appearance, said a few words about the whisky, then promptly left with his check in hand. Anyway, I was fortunate to be given this bottle of Speyside scotch. Much thanks to him (my friend, that is, not Anthony Bourdaine).
Upon inspecting the cardboard cylinder in which it came, I see it has many positive traits right off the bat. Its 47.8% alcohol, so fairly strong; its non-chill filtered; it has a greenish-straw color, so it appears to have no coloring, tho I didn’t see anything on the packaging that would indicate either way.
Its #109 from cask #4703. It was aged for all 12 years in a first-fill ex-bourbon cask, tho I don’t know from which bourbon distillery it came from. Balvenie is owned by William Grant & Sons, and it is my understanding that they only own Hudson Bourbon; I highly doubt Hudson produces enough to supply the number of barrels that Balvenie would need.
I really enjoy single barrel whisk(e)ys because I love the idea that it is a more organic bottling, rather than being engineered to a profile by mixing casks. You could get a great bottle, you could get a less-than-great bottle, but each cask is somewhat unique.
On the nose, its classic Speyside. Citrus, melon, sweetness, a bit of malt, a little vanilla. On the palate, its sweet, a little salty, and malty. A little unripe apple, cinnamon,but I did not find it that complex here. The finish is medium to long, drying with time, and more complex. A little tart, with vanilla and baked fruit
Overall, there is nothing bad with this whisky, however there’s nothing that really bowls you over either. It’s tasty, its satisfying, but not at all challenging. Balvenie is a popular, good-selling scotch, and this is probably why – it’s a lowest-common-denominator thing. I feel it deserves a solid B grade, because there is nothing at all sucky about it. But it can’t get a B+ or above because it doesn’t go out on a limb. Not much that’s unique, or bold, or complex, or challenging. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being that way, and there is a need in the market for just such scotches. So it may be good for a party or a group that includes whisk(e)y newbies, because it could be a good place to start. It could also be a good first dram in a tasting, setting the bar for enjoyable and not off-putting, and you could then go on to more complex drams from there. Cheers.