Saturday, December 14, 2019

And, the 2019 Whiskey of the Year is...







It seems like everyone and their brother hands out whiskey awards. While I'm no exception to this rule, the Whiskeyfellow Awards are different from any other list. Before you roll your eyes and say, "Whatever," let me explain. My list is geared toward the average whiskey drinker.

I don't put out my list in October. Why?  Because this is a list of the Best Whiskeys of 2019, and there exists something called November and December. Except for the need to be first with a list, I really don't understand the need to rush the release.  

To even contend for an award, it has to be something that's actually crossed my palate. I don't have a team of interns who vet everything for me and then present me with their best of what they've tasted. If you're following me because you agree with my palate, then it is my palate on the line, not some intern's palate.

Because my demographic is the average whiskey drinker, here's what you won't find on my list: 

  • Anything allocated.  That means nothing Van Winkle, no Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, no Birthday Bourbon, etc.  The average whiskey drinker isn't getting his or her hands on an opportunity to a bottle unless they're very lucky.
  • Anything unaffordable.  This one is more subjective, but it means no Johnnie Walker Odyssey and no Macallan M.  The average whiskey drinker isn't spending thousands on a bottle. Heck, because even a few hundred is out of reach of many, everything on this list is well below $200.00.
  • Anything you can't reasonably expect to get your hands on.  The average whiskey drinker in Florida isn't getting a store pick from Wisconsin that's already gone by the time they get there, and I'm not a big fan of the secondary market. 

In my opinion, for one of these Best Of lists to be worth anything is when it contains things you can actually buy for yourself and enjoy.  Otherwise, what's the point other than to post a Ha Ha! Look What I Have! Sucks To Be You! article?

Unfortunately, due to our silly, fractured distribution system, I cannot guarantee that everything on my list is available in your market. But, everything on this list is on the market and reasonably available, even if it means having to travel to another state (meaning, when you get there, it isn't magically gone).

Finally, I'm not hitting every possible whiskey category. If you don't see something in the category you're looking for, it means I either didn't drink anything in that category that comes to mind or if I did, it wasn't worthy of a Best Of award.  So, without further ado, here we go.


Best Bourbon of 2019 - Lux Row Double Barrel Bourbon - $149.99



Lux Row's Double Barrel Bourbon may be the most difficult one to obtain, as you'll have to travel to Kentucky to get it.  It is also the most expensive. But, this one is going to be around for at least the near future, so if you head there in the next several months, you should be able to pick up a bottle. Lux Row told me it is at the distillery and at least one other retail outlet. 

While this is the most expensive whiskey on my Best Of list, it is worth every penny you'll pay. The distillate is likely Heaven Hill's, but it is unlike anything they've put out before, which is how it made my best Bourbon of the year. I reviewed Lux Row Double Barrel Bourbon in October.



Best Rye of 2019 - Blaum Bros. Straight Rye - $49.99


Mike and Matt Blaum are known for their Knotter whiskeys. Knotter is a play on words (sound it out). They picked some great barrels from MGP.  But, that was while they were waiting on their own distillate to mature. In July, they released their four-year Straight Rye Whiskey.

I had their four-year Straight Bourbon released in May, and after enjoying it, I was admittedly looking forward to the Rye. As you can read in my review, this one had a finish that was very eye-opening, and that's what solidified its spot as my best Rye. It is also the most affordable whiskey on this year's Best Of list.



Best Scotch of 2019 - Bunnahabhain Toiteach Single Malt - $69.99


This category was very difficult. I've had some lovely Scotches this year and, until November, I thought I had my winner figured out. But, then a friend gave me an opportunity to try Bunnahabhain Toiteach, and this one made the other contenders take a back seat.

This one is a peated Scotch, and if you're not a fan of peat, this one may be the one to change your mind, as the peat is not front and center. And, moreover, in the land of very good Scotch, this one is easy on the wallet. You can read my review to read more about it.




Best Irish Whiskey of 2019 - Powers John's Lane Single Pot Still -  $72.99


I didn't get to try a ton of Irish whiskeys this year, but the ones I did have been excellent - I don't believe I had anything under a Bottle recommendation all year.  The shining star was easily Powers John's Lane, which I first tasted in November and, because of my lack of preparedness, had to sample again in order to pen a review. 

This one grabs your attention from the start with a wonderfully complicated nose and somehow getting an entire orchard of fruits in your mouth. You can learn more from my December review to read more about why this was so good.





Best World Whiskey of 2019 - Fukano Whisky Vault Reserve #1 - $74.99


This year I tried some very interesting whiskeys from around the world:  Europe, Australia, Africa, India, South America, and Japan.  I considered splitting "World Whiskey" into separate categories but some of it was very difficult to obtain, very expensive, or you'd have to buy from an overseas retailer.

Fukano Whisky Vault Reserve #1 was so interesting that it became a stand-out from the others. And, again, when the price comes into the picture, it became even more attractive.  This one's distilled from white rice, and you can read my review from November to learn more about it.



Best Whiskey of 2019


Now that you've seen my best in each category, it is time to crown this year's best of the best. Choosing my favorite was not easy. I danced between three of the category winners several times before making my final decision. The winning whiskey comes from distillers who pawn themselves off as just two guys making whiskey with no prior experience, they've managed to take a very serious attitude toward distilling something that isn't a me-too product and is very special.

Congratulations to the Blaum Bros. Distillery Co. for the most unique American Rye I've ever tried. That smoked malt put this one over the top and earned the Whiskeyfellow 2019 Whiskey of the Year Award. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"Sweet Carmella" Elijah Craig Single Barrel Review & Tasting Notes


Reasons exist why you should get excited over Elijah Craig store picks. First and foremost, they're super affordable. Second of all, they are fairly easy to pick. I've done several of these and the number of samples that I didn't care for I could count on one hand. Third of all (did I mention this?), they're easy on the wallet.


So, if you can just go just about anywhere and get an Elijah Craig store pick, can you just choose anything and be fine? There are absolutely some that are superior to others, and as I pointed out, I've had some samples that wouldn't pass my strict standards.


Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, WI recently selected a pick for their store, and they provided me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. In full disclosure, I have been involved in picking barrels for Niemuth's, but this one is not one of those. I do thank them for their generosity.


Barrel number 5189718, called Sweet Carmella, rested in Heaven Hill's Warehouse N on the second floor for just over 13 years before it was deemed mature. If you consider entry proof for Heaven Hill is 125°, when I tell you that Sweet Carmella was dumped at 137.5°, it gives you an idea as to how much the angels stole. This is up at the higher end of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases! Niemuth's is charging $28.99 for a bottle.


Before you turn off the review and hop in the car, you should know that Barrel Proof is not an option for store picks of Elijah Craig. Every store pick is bottled at 94°, the same as the Small Batch version. And, when you see the bottle and see the embossed words Small Batch in the glass, don't think you've been ripped off. Every store pick is a single barrel but is bottled in their standard small batch bottle.


And, anyway, don't you want to know if Sweet Carmella is any good before you head on over to the store? Remember, I said there do exist barrels that I don't care for.  Time to #DrinkCurious and find out.


In my Glencairn glass, Sweet Carmella presents as a brilliant amber. It left a thinner rim that made fat legs. Those legs raced their way back down to the pool of liquid sunshine.


Typical of Elijah Craig, caramel and oak were heavy on the nose. But, floral rye is much less so, and that followed the obvious.  It closed up with an also atypical aroma of butterscotch. When I inhaled through my mouth, vanilla and oak rolled over my palate.


At first sip, Sweet Carmella offered a creamy, coating mouthfeel. Up at the front was vanilla, brown sugar and caramel. Mid-palate was another different quality for Elijah Craig. I tasted berry, with the caramel hanging on for good measure. Then, on the back, it was a complementary blend of black pepper, oak, and vanilla. 


While the requisite Elijah Craig oaky finish was there, it was married to a definitive sweet quality. Spicy clove and barrel char left the mouth and throat something to think about before falling off after what seemed to be an eternity.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Now that the tasting notes are done, is it worth a drive over to Niemuth's?  This would not be a sample I would have rejected and, in fact, can envision myself being quite satisfied with myself were I at the Secret Midnight Whiskey Club that day. There is a lot going on and I'm always interested in a different twist out of Elijah Craig. Sweet Carmella does that on all three fronts: the nose, the palate and in the finish. There aren't a ton of 13-year Elijah Craigs available, and when you realize it is only $28.99, this becomes a no-brainer Bottle. Hop in the car and start driving. Cheers!



Monday, December 9, 2019

Rainmaker Superior Bourbon Whiskey with Strongly Charged Coffee Liqueur Review & Tasting Notes


My experience with flavored whiskeys tends to be negative. That isn't to say I've not had some tasty flavored whiskeys, rather, they're just hard to come by. Usually, they are overly flavored, often not even doing a good job with that, and then can be sickly sweet. I find the producers are trying to hide a bad whiskey under all of that flavoring. So, when a friend came over and poured me "Legendary" Rainmaker Superior Bourbon Whiskey with Strongly Charged Coffee Liqueur, you can understand that I came at it very skeptical.  But, then there's that whole #DrinkCurious lifestyle thing.


There isn't any information online that I could find about Rainmaker. I do know that it is produced by World Wide Distillers Company out of Philadelphia. When I visited the company website, they mention several sourced items but, curiously, not Rainmaker.  What I do know is what I could get from the label. It is 37.5% ABV (75°), it has added caramel coloring, and the back label simply tells you what a rainmaker is while providing four recipes.  That's not very encouraging for something that is supposed to be "superior bourbon whiskey." I can also tell you that Rainmaker retails for about $23.99. 



So, without any background, without knowing anything about the company or the whiskey they have sourced (because it says produced on the bottle, not distilled), I can only give my tasting notes and recommendation. Without further ado, here we go...


In my glass, Rainmaker presents as deep and dark.  Of course, with the artificial coloring, that really means nothing except that it looks good in a glass. It did leave an ultra-thin rim that created super-fast legs on the wall of my Glencairn.


The nose was a very enticing mix of coffee ice cream and coconut. While I'm not a coffee drinker, I do appreciate the flavor in other things, and I'm a big fan of coffee ice cream, Kahlua, White Russians, etc. And, the coconut gave it an additional level of interest.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was absolutely pure coffee. 


Rainmaker had a very thick mouthfeel, again, reminding me of the aforementioned Kahlua. The palate was a combination of espresso and rich caramel and offered a finish of chocolate-covered cherries that was, thankfully, not short-lasting. 


As much as I tried, I didn't pick up any whiskey notes.  Again, it makes it difficult to tell you whose Bourbon this might have been, but if they used a superior Bourbon, it was completely wasted. My guess is that it was much less than superior, only because it would have been stupid to do otherwise.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Here's the weird thing. This stuff is absolutely delicious. I could drink this neat all day.  It would probably be excellent as the base of a White Russian. Yes, that's right, you're reading me giving a flavored whiskey liqueur that coveted Bottle rating. Finally, if you can find any background on this, please let me know. Cheers!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Happy Repeal Day!



December 5th is just an ordinary day unless freedom is meaningful to you, in which case it is a landmark day. You see, today is Repeal Day, the day in 1933 that Utah cast the 36th vote at 5:32pm (Eastern) to pass the 21st Amendment. The 21st repealed the 18th Amendment and ended that horrific experiment called Prohibition.


For several years, I've been sipping on High West Distillery's The 36th Vote to celebrate Repeal Day. It really is the only time I ever get into the bottle. The 36th Vote is a barreled Manhattan, and while I'm generally not a fan of pre-mixed cocktails, High West does a good job with theirs.


What will be in your glass to celebrate the passage of the 21st Amendment?  


Happy Repeal Day!  Cheers!



Wednesday, December 4, 2019

J Henry & Sons 10th Anniversary Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


It would be improper of me not to admit my bias with regard to J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon. I've been a fan since discovering Batch 1 at Ski's Saloon five years ago. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow and I were the first touring visitors in their completed tasting room. As far as I'm aware, I'm the first reviewer who covered their whiskey. I've experienced with Henrys various major milestones from Small Batch to Patton Road Reserve, then to Bellefontaine Reserve, and then to their 7 Year Bourbon and just this past weekend, their 10th Anniversary Limited Release


I just want to lay all my cards on the table. You, as my readers, deserve the same transparency that I look to from the distillers and producers of the whiskeys I review.


When the 10th Anniversary Edition was announced, I was excited.  I stood in line in the freezing cold (the wind was mostly the issue), hoping to get my hands on one of the 300 bottles available Sunday afternoon. 




I accomplished my goal. The tasting room was packed, the Henrys were giving out finger foods and pouring cocktails. They know how to put on a party, and this wouldn't have been my first. Again, disclosure is key.


If you don't know the story of J Henry & Sons, it starts with patriarch Joe Sr., his wife Liz, and their sons Joe Jr., and Jack. Joe Sr. is a third-generation seed corn farmer in Dane, Wisconsin. One day, after a trip to Kentucky, he and Liz determined they were going to have their own brand of Bourbon that would be created only from Wisconsin ingredients.


They wanted to do things slow and purposefully. They didn't want to source whiskey from someone else. They didn't want to have white spirits while they were waiting on their own whiskey to age. They contracted with 45th Parallel Distillery in New Richmond, Wisconsin to do the actual distillation, but the Henrys would provide the corn, rye, and wheat used in the mash. The malted barley would come from Wisconsin as well, just not from the family farm.


The Henrys also didn't want a "me too" Bourbon with using the same yellow dent corn that many others do. They wanted something unique. Working with the University of Wisconsin, they were able to resurrect a strain of heirloom red corn created by the UW back in the 1930s. Joe planted and grew it on a section of the farm.


They sat on the whiskey while it aged in their rickhouse that was once the family dairy barn. It has no climate control and everything inside is exposed to the hot Wisconsin summers and brutally cold winters. They waited five years before Batch 1 was ready.  From there, they released Patton Road Reserve, the cask strength version of their Small Batch Bourbon. After that, Bellefontaine Reserve, which is basically Patton Road Reserve that was then finished in ex-VSOP Cognac casks. Last year they released a 7-Year Bourbon. And, here we are closing up 2019 with the Henrys celebrating a decade in Bourbon.


I know I'm throwing a lot at you.  I'm almost done with the backstory, I promise. The 10th Anniversary Edition is strictly a collaboration of Joe Jr. and Nancy Fraley (a/k/a The Nose), owner of Nosing Services. Joe Jr. and Nancy selected five barrels of Patton Road Reserve, all aged between five and nine years, and blended them to create what they believed would be something very special. Joe Sr. and Liz stayed out of it to let Joe Jr. use his knowledge and skills to add a new direction for the J. Henry & Sons brand. 


Like all of their expressions, the 10th Anniversary is a four-grain Bourbon distilled from a mash of 60% red heirloom corn, 14% rye, 14% wheat, and 12% malted barley.  Barrel proof on this is 126.56° and is easily the highest-proofed J. Henry & Sons I've ever had. It does not carry an age statement despite our knowing the youngest barrel was five years old. Retail is right around $110.00, and with distribution to stores, there are 1200 bottles available. Mine was #333.


In my Glencairn glass, it appears as a dark, caramel amber.  It created a very thin rim on the wall which generated slow, thin legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.


While I was letting it breathe, aromas of dark chocolate and cherries filled the room. When I brought the glass to my face, the dark chocolate remained, but the cherries vanished. Caramel and oak took its place. Behind that, vanilla custard. And, just when I thought the nose was done, an essence of cherry returned. When I inhaled through my lips the vanilla custard remained, adding a hint of butterscotch for good measure.


With my initial sip, the mouthfeel was creamy and coating. On the front I tasted berries and caramel. Mid-palate provided an interesting combination of crème brulée and oak. On the back, my mouth was coated with clove and dark chocolate.


The 10th Anniversary had a very long finish, one of those where just when you think it is done, it loops back and gives you more. It started off with that clove from the back of the palate, then changed to dry oak.  As the oak tapered off, vanilla and cinnamon took over. Then, it faded out for about a minute. Just as I was ready to take another sip, dark chocolate works its way for a return trip before the finish finally gave up... Except it didn't. The cherry from the nosing showed up and gave a tiny adieu. And then, it was over.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  This is a pricey Bourbon, at least in my book. When you start approaching (or exceeding) $100, that becomes a big deal to me. Let's get something out of the way. I've become very familiar with J. Henry & Sons and what they've put out there and because of my familiarity, I didn't go into this purchase completely blind. I did go into my tasting assuming I'd find similar notes typical of Patton Road Reserve. While I found some of those on the palate, it was the nosing and finish that knocked it out of the park. Jotting down my notes was a bit crazy because just as I wanted to sip or sniff again, that finish would go, "Whoa there, mister, you ain't done here yet."

Personally, I think this is closer to a $90 Bourbon than a $110 Bourbon. Am I going to quibble over $20? When we're at this level of whiskey, no. I thoroughly enjoyed the 10th Anniversary and given another opportunity, I'd do it all over again, and as such, it earned a Bottle rating. Cheers!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Powers John's Lane Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Usually, I don't get caught with my pants down. Last month, I was in Colorado visiting my parents. I brought all of my "equipment" with me on the trip, including a Glencairn glass, notebook, pen, etc. in the event that I might stumble on something interesting. We went to dinner at one of the dining halls in their retirement community and had to wait in the gathering area while waiting for an open table.  My folks ran into some friends, everyone got to talking, we decided to all have dinner together and, oh yeah, while we're waiting for a table, who would like to have a drink?


The last time I was there, the bar had nothing overly exciting. But, I got up and wandered over to see what options existed and, lo and behold, there was something I'd never had:  Powers John's Lane. What else didn't I have? My notebook or pen.


In Madison, there exists a pretty awesome whiskey bar called Cask & Ale, located on State Street. Every time I mention how many whiskeys they have on the wall, my buddy Ken (one of the owners) corrects me. I think it is a running joke at this point. Anyway, last time I asked, they had 750. To wrap things up, I visited Cask & Ale on Black Friday with the expressed purpose of gathering some tasting notes on Powers John's Lane.


James Powers founded his distillery in 1791. What many people don't know is his was the very first Irish whiskey to ever be bottled. It remained a functional distillery until 1966 when, after a steep decline and decimation of the Irish whiskey industry, Irish Distillers Ltd. (the controlling entity of the remaining distillers), shut down every distillery and transferred all production to their brand new Midleton Distillery


The official name of the original distillery was Powers John's Lane. And, while Powers has continued to be available, they have a special release named after that distillery. It is a mash of 100% malted barley, non-chill-filtered single pot still whiskey aged 12 years mostly in ex-Bourbon barrels and a small amount of ex-Sherry casks before being bottled at 46% ABV.  Retail is approximately $72.99.


In my Glencairn glass, Powers John's Lane appeared as a deep, rich gold. It left a medium-thick rim on the glass and created fast legs to drop back in the pool.


A complicated nose greeted my nostrils. First, it consisted of chocolate and lemon zest. Aromas of leather, candied fruit and charred oak followed. When I inhaled through my lips, the chocolate and lemon took center stage.


The mouthfeel was light and coated my entire palate. At the front, it was a mouthful of chocolate. As it transitioned to the middle, caramel, apple, pear, and apricot took over. It was as if there was an entire orchard in my mouth! Then, on the back, sweet vanilla started to close up shop.


But then, a creamy, long finish of honey and oak remained, adding a huge smile to my face.  


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  The first time I tried Powers John's Lane I was impressed. The second time I tried it, it was better than I remembered. There are several excellent Irish whiskeys on the market today, and Powers John's Lane is one of those. When it comes to availability and affordability, Power's John's Lane becomes a shining star in that galaxy. It is a definite Bottle recommendation. Cheers!


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!


Have a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving!  Please take a moment to reflect on your blessings. I promise you no matter how difficult that may be, there is always something to be thankful for.


Cheers!