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.
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.
I got lucky. I was checking to see if anything interesting had come in at my local shop, and one of the employees asked what I was looking for. I said something like “Elmer T Lee, or Weller 12”, and she replied that they may have gotten some Pappy in. Well, I realized I stumbled in on that one day of the year when Pappy arrives. I went back later that day, knowing the manager I often talk whiskey with would be there. He told me to give him a couple days & he could get me a bottle of the 12 year. And so it came to past.
I opened it with a friend, and was quite surprised. It was extremely hot. Now, it seems to me that since the 12 year is 90 proof, it shouldn’t be that hot. I’ve opened bottles at 120+ proof that were not this hot. So I put it away.
In my experience, many bourbons need time and oxygen to open up, some taking 6-12 weeks to reach ultimate flavor. I revisited the Pappy about 5 weeks later, and it had really improved.
At this point, the nose had sassafras, slight smoke, bacon, cola, burnt caramel, dust, slight peppermint, and salt. On the tongue, it was rich, sweet, butterscotch, caramel, more bacon and salt, and oak. The finish was medium to long in length, soft and sweet like a wheater should be, a bit of sharpness, black pepper, and mint.
So we all know the hype surrounding any of the Pappys. I have to say that it is a great bourbon, but doesn’t live up to the hype. Frankly, I don’t think a whiskey could live up to the hype that Pappy has reached.
So how should I rate this? Do I rate it high because it does merit it, or do I ding it a bit based on hype? After all, I’m a big fan of Weller 12, and they are similar. Some may say it is the same as Weller 12 because it is the same mashbill etc, but that’s simply not the case because Pappy is the best barrels of that whiskey and always will be.
So I’ll give it an A- because it was so hot when initially opened. It really wasn’t that expensive if you pay suggested retail price or close to that, especially compared to most craft bourbons that are a small fraction of the age. But compared to Weller 12 or something like the old Elijah Craig 12, it is.
We’ll see if I can get lucky next year and get a bottle of the 15.
It wasn’t because of the caliber of the whisky. There is no denying that Macallan makes some very fine Scotch. It wasn’t because of the gentleman who moderated and presented the event. He was cordial, friendly, entertaining, and kept things moving along. And I do appreciate the hors d’oeuvres that were served beforehand. In fact, the bacon-wrapped dates were stupendous.
The problem is that it was a tasting yet they were not really giving you enough scotch to actually taste and evaluate the whisky.
I find there are two kinds of whisk(e)y tastings. The kind where you walk around from table to table sampling many distillers products. The other is when one distiller or company sits you down, make a presentation about their products, then puts the chosen products down for you to taste. This was the latter.
When I taste, I like to first nose the dram, then take that first sip. I roll it around in my mouth, swallow, then wait a couple minutes. This allows my nose and mouth to become somewhat accustomed to this new whisk(e)y. Because of its high alcohol, there is shock to the taste and smell senses at first. But after a couple minutes, my senses are now tuned in and ready to take a more careful nosing, follow by a sip that includes a longer chew. Now I can really note all the characteristics and subtleties of the dram.
But not at Raise the Macallan. The pour was maybe around 2-3 tablespoons. It was really only 1 sip. I found myself taking a very small initial sip, but it was not even enough to coat my tongue. After that, there was not enough left to really nose it anymore, and the second sip was also too small. What a shame.
I’ve been to many of these kind of tastings, and this is the first time they did not pour enough to really get a sense of the whisky. Typically the pours are of an average dram, and you can request a little more if there was a particular expression you wanted a little more time on. You can also go to the next whisky, then come back for comparisons. I’ve even been to a smaller Macallan tasting a few years ago, where the pour was of that average amount. And that night my buddy walked out with a bottle of the 18. So in that case, the marketing worked for Macallan. What happened a few nights ago was more akin to coming to a table in Whole Foods where they are passing out samples of some alcoholic beverage. They give you just a small taste. And that is what I would expect from a grocery store. But not a big event like this.
So am I just upset because I thought I was walking into enjoyment of lots of Macallan? Perhaps. But they spent much money on the hors d’oeuvres, the video presentations during the event, the ipads on the tables so you could record what flavors you tasted (of which they only gave you 8-10 choices they had pre-selected), and cramming 200-300 people in there. If they want to market and sell the product, shouldn’t they allow people to really get a sense of the flavor profile and enjoyment that can be had from the product?
They will be in New York, Boston, LA, & Dallas over the next few weeks. So if you go, just don’t expect much.
For some reason, I’ve delayed writing about this bourbon. Not sure why. I have been working on several bottles since last summer, when I first spotted these at a Binny’s, the Chicago-area liquor chain.
Beam, aka Beam Suntory, puts out Knob Creek, presented as one of their premiere bourbons, along with Booker’s and Baker’s. Regular old Knob Creek is a 9-year, 100 proof small batch, and much less expensive than Booker’s and Baker’s. You can then step up to the Knob Creek Single Barrel, which is again a 9-year, but comes from a single barrel and is bottled at a hefty 120 proof. There is also a Knob Creek Rye & a Knob Creek Maple (in case you want to drink bourbon but don’t like bourbon. Also great for waffles). What Binny’s did, with their huge buying power, was to pick out 8 of their own single barrels, and had them bottled at barrel-proof.
I have two examples here. As you can see from the picture above, each of their 8 barrel picks came from different warehouses, floor, ricks, and tiers, Date barreled and dates bottled differ, tho not by much. Its kinda cool that all that info is on the bottle.
On the nose, there is only a slight difference between these two. Example one is a little less sweet, with a bit of a dryer nose, more sawdust, orange, and a bit of smoke. Example two has more cola, cherry, and maple. On the palate, example 1 is dry, semi-sweet, Example 2 is less dry, a bit creamier, with more caramel, and overall sweeter than #1. The finish on both is medium-length, with black pepper and sawdust. The finish on #1 has a bit of that smokey char coming thru; example #2 has a bit of burnt caramel.
While writing up these tasting notes, I really regret I didn’t write this much sooner. These bourbons had much more going on when they were less oxidized. I do find bourbons often change for the better as they oxidize, altho there are exceptions. I find that most bourbons really open up after 4-8 weeks, with the sweet complexity going up and the burn going down. But, after 9 months, they start to flatten, and the complexity is lost as the flavors start to muddle together. This is the case here. Last summer this was my go-to bourbon, and if I was going camping, going to friend’s, or on the road, this came with me. I loved that it was not too sweet, not too rye-forward, was incredibly strong at 130+ proof, had some age at 9 years and some change, and was only $40 a bottle. A combination you won’t find in a craft bourbon.
This was not a Binny’s exclusive, tho. I was at UFS in Peoria, home of the good-but-not-great-whiskey-selection-at-often-lowest-price. And they had their own barrel selection, tho not eight of them. Chalk it up to volume plus Kentucky proximity. Thought I saw another one somewhere as well, tho I can’t remember where. Clever marketing tactic by Beam.
So what’s the moral of the story? Perhaps don’t let those whiskeys sit around too long. Finish them up and move on. I enjoy having a collection on hand, and I guess I should start experimenting with those inert gas things that can use to take the oxygen out of a bottle. Another moral of the story is don’t poo-poo a brand because it’s produced in massive amounts – it can still be excellent. Beam puts out shitloads of Knob Creek, but if you can get it in a single-barrel, barrel-proof-or-near version, then jump. Beam may be a mega-producer, but you can’t deny they know something about making bourbon.
I’m going to give both of these an A based on my memories of how much I enjoyed them. They didn’t hold up as well over the course of 9 months, but I do remember really enjoying these last summer and telling friends to go get one before they are gone. After all, it’s not just about geeking out on whiskey and its subtleties and industrial politics, it’s also about creating those memories you get from kicking back and enjoying what life can be like with a dram in hand that your really enjoying. Ya, slainte.
I know where I can still get a couple of these. So do I go get a couple more to stash away, or do I gamble on waiting for a new batch of to come out? Well jesus, I think the answer is clear!