Thursday, August 6, 2020

Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

If you're new or relatively new to American Rye, you might be trying to get past the spiciness this category of whiskey has to offer. Similarly to getting used to peat in Scotch, rye's spiciness is something most people have to acclimate to fully appreciate.  Thankfully, many distilleries offer barely legal Ryes, meaning, they have the minimum or close to the minimum 51% requirement of rye content in the mash.

Many of the legacy distillers hover in this area because the idea is to have a product enjoy mass appeal. Woodford Reserve is no different. They're not targeting drinkers who want 95% or 100% rye content because most casual whiskey drinkers wouldn't become repeat consumers.

"Woodford Reserve Rye uses a pre-prohibition style ratio of 53% rye in its mash bill to pay homage to history’s original rye whiskeys, making spice and tobacco the dominant note among a sea of fruit, floral, and sweet aromatics, which yields a nice sweetness and overall balance. Our rye whiskey can deliver complex flavors – neat, on ice, or in a cocktail. A balanced rye makes a more balanced cocktail." - Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve's Straight Rye has a mash of 53% rye as stated above, however, the remainder is also important.  33% of that is corn, meant to sweeten the pot, and the last 14% is malted barley, meant to round things out and, of course, to aid in the fermentation process. It carries no age statement, but because of that, we know that it is at least four years old. Woodford Reserve uses new, #4-charred oak barrels for a majority of its products. Woodford does utilize climate-controlled warehouses where it tries to make the most out of cold winters and hot, humid summers. And, because it is straight, we know there is nothing added but water to proof it down to 90.4°.  Retail is about $34.99.

How does its Straight Rye taste?  It is time to #DrinkCurious, but first, I want to thank Brown-Forman, the owner of Woodford Reserve, for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey presents as a deep chestnut color. It left a medium-thick rim and generated watery legs that quickly dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Despite being only 53% rye, rye spice was the first thing that hit my nostrils. It was joined by toasted oak, which was unexpected considering the heavy char level. As I continued to explore, I unearthed apple, honey, candied red fruits, and pecan.  When I inhaled through my lips, the pecan continued and was married to tobacco leaf.

Palate:  Things started off with a thin and airy mouthfeel. Generally speaking, American Rye starts off spicy. Well, this one didn't - it started off with sweet honey. The honey was then mingled with black peppercorn and rye spice. Come mid-palate, brown sugar and heavy mint dominated. Then, on the back, vanilla bean and pear completed the trip.  It was strange to have the flavors go sweet to spicy, sweet to spicy.

Finish:  While there wasn't a whole lot going on, that was offset by how long it lasted. Sweet vanilla, almond, and dry oak continued the uniqueness of the sweet to spicy cycle. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Woodford Reserve Straight Rye is a simple but interesting pour. There is nothing overly complicated about it, but weirdly unpretentious as it was, there was also nothing lacking. This is an easy sipper, it is very affordable, and not even challenging to obtain.  All of that is the recipe for a Bottle rating, and I believe this is one you'll enjoy.  Cheers! 

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Monday, August 3, 2020

Tumblin' Dice Straight Bourbon Heavy Rye Mashbill Review & Tasting Notes

As a reviewer, one of the things I really appreciate is transparency. Actually, as a consumer, I appreciate it even more. So when a brand goes out of its way to not play games or hide behind a cute backstory, I give them props.

One such brand is Proof and Wood Ventures, a company that brands itself as Purveyors and Blenders of American and Global Spirits. Founded by Dave Schmier, it takes what it considers only the best barrels and tries to improve upon them. That's a heck of a task that several folks have attempted, and few with much success.

Today's review is Tumblin' Dice Straight Bourbon Whiskey Heavy Rye Mashbill. If you think that's one heck of a name, I'm guilty of shortening it. Before that big name, it says, "Deadwood Presents." Tumblin' Dice is sourced from MGP of Indiana. It is made from a seriously high rye mashbill. I'm talking 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley.  It carries a four-year age statement, and this one weighs in at 100°.  MGP doesn't have a standard char level for its barrels, but, because this is Bourbon, we do know new, charred oak was used.  Retail of Tumblin' Dice is about $40.00.

All of this, short of the price, is on the label. That's disclosure!

Before I go any further, it is time for my own disclosure. Proof and Wood sent me a sample of Tumblin' Dice in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  Now it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Tumblin' Dice appeared burnt umber in color. I saw a thicker rim that generated even thicker legs to slowly drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of orange peel and stone fruits started things off. Underneath those were cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel.  Finally, I got a whiff of milk chocolate.  When I brought the air through my open mouth, vanilla and oak rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  A warming, oily, medium-bodied mouthfeel presented caramel, plum, and citrus flavors on the front of my palate. As it moved along, dark chocolate, nutmeg, and a hefty cinnamon punch took over. That, in turn, led to charred oak, creamy vanilla, and rye spice on the back.  

Finish:  The cinnamon from mid-palate continued into the very long finish. That was married with toasted oak, cocoa, and at the end, plum.  

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If I'm going to be honest, and that's what you expect of me (and I expect of me), this is a damned good four-year Bourbon. The nose, palate, and even the finish are complex enough to keep things interesting. I loved the plum bomb at the end. As varied as things were, they all seemed to compliment each other. If you tried to describe Christmas in a bottle, this would be it. Think of grandma's fruitcake. Her good recipe, not the garbage that everyone regifts for decades.

Now let's look at the two Andy Jacksons it'll take to get a bottle. I wouldn't blink twice handing that over. As me for an Alexander Hamilton on top of it and I'd not even flinch. If you see this, buy it. You won't be disappointed.  I shouldn't even have to say this, but it earns a Bottle rating from me.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Daviess County Bourbon Finished in French Oak Casks Review & Tasting Notes

When Lux Row Distillers released Daviess County Kentucky Straight Bourbon, they had three separate expressions:  the standard Kentucky Straight Bourbon, that Bourbon finished in Cabernet Sauvignon casks, and the straight Bourbon finished in French Oak casks.  If you want to know the history behind the label and the name, I'll invite you to read my review on the original Kentucky Straight Bourbon.  To give you a preview, that expression earned a very easy Bottle rating. 

Today I'm reviewing the French Oak Cask release.  In a nutshell, this is the same as the original expression that's then been finished for six months in French Oak. It starts with a mash of two Bourbons - one that is traditional (meaning rye is the second largest ingredient) and one that is wheated (meaning wheat is substituted for rye). Therefore the grains used are corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley.  But, as this is a blend, you really don't want to consider it a four-grain because that's not how it was originally distilled. Lux Row is sourcing these Bourbons, most likely from Heaven Hill. Since it carries no age statement, it must be at least four years old. Daviess County French Oak is bottled at 96° and retails about $44.99.

The important thing, however, is how does this bourbon taste? To answer that, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon appeared as a deep bronze.  It left a fat rim on the wall, which generated thick, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine. However, it also abandoned fat droplets that never really moved.

Nose:  Before I could even bring the glass to my face, it was difficult to not smell caramel. When I sniffed the glass, it seemed to be a caramel bomb. The caramel was joined by oak. As I continued to explore, aromas of honey and raisins joined the parade.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was as if I took a bite of honeycomb and a shot of vanilla. 

Palate:  At the first sip, it had a thin and oily mouthfeel. But, it gained weight during subsequent ones. The dry tannins made a big impression.  That caramel bomb from the nosing also hit me on the palate. Behind the caramel was dusted cinnamon and vanilla.  On the back, things got weird. It was a combination of both sweet and dry oak. 

Finish:  With 96°, you'd think that warmth would be impactful, and you'd be right in this case. There was no burn per se, but this Bourbon definitely let you know it was there. The finish was long and flavorful, with dry oak, dark chocolate, white pepper, and rye spice. The other interesting aspect was how creamy it remained in my mouth and throat. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Like the original expression, the French Oak was unusual, and I love unique whiskeys. This was so different from the original, yet didn't take away from its character. I could still identify what I'm assuming is Heaven Hill Bourbon. The French Oak adds further character. When you take into account the affordability aspect, this one is like the original - another easy Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt/Bottled-in-Bond Single Malt Reviews & Tasting Notes

I've been having a lot of fun with American Malts lately. For a category I initially disliked, I've done a 180-degree turn and I'm at the point where I seek these out.  When Boulder Spirits sent me samples of both their standard American Single Malt and their new, Bottled-in-Bond Single Malt whiskeys, I raised an eyebrow. I mean, yeah, American Single Malt, but a Bottled-in-Bond one to boot?

Bottled-in-Bond is my very favorite category of American whiskey. And, yes, it is uniquely American. To qualify as Bottled-in-Bond (or Bonded), it must be a product of the United States, it must be distilled by a single distiller at a single distillery during a single distilling season (which runs January through June or July through December), it must be aged at least four years in a bonded warehouse, and must be bottled at only 100°, no more, no less.

I've had Bottled-in-Bond Bourbons, Ryes, a Brandy, and even an American Malt, but I don't recall ever stumbling upon a Single Malt.  I was very happy to have a standard release to try side-by-side to see how much the Bottled-in-Bond requirements would change the whiskey.

Today I'm going to review these as they were sent:  side-by-side. I'll start with the standard expression and then the Bonded.  If you'd like a bit of background on Boulder Spirits, I'll invite you to read my review of its Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon.  But, for background on the American Single Malt expressions, Boulder Spirits sourced its barley from the United Kingdom, and it was malted at Munton's Malt, also located in the UK. Once it was shipped to Boulder, the milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and aging were all done in-house.  The fermentation period was 36-hours, it was then twice-distilled in its copper pot stills and then aged in virgin #3-charred oak barrels in an uncontrolled environment. Proofing utilized locally-sourced Eldorado Springs water.

Before I get started, I'd like to thank Boulder Spirits for these samples in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

American Single Malt - Standard Expression 

The standard expression has aged a minimum of three years and is bottled at 92°.  The suggested retail is $53.99.

Appearance:  This whiskey presented as a bright orange-amber in my Glencairn glass. It created a thin rim and fast, watery legs to drop back to the pool. 

Nose:  Aromas of malt, apricot, and honey started things off.  It was both sweet and inviting. Milk chocolate then followed, and then, finally, plum.  As I inhaled through my lips, thick, heavy honey rolled over my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel had a medium-body and then became creamy, although it required effort to have it coat my palate.  A sweet blend of apple, pear, and vanilla introduced itself. Come mid-palate, things changed to raspberry, plum, honey, and crème brûlée.  Then, on the back, the spices took the stage with nutmeg, allspice, and white pepper.

Finish:  A medium-length finish started with toasted oak, then moved to cinnamon, and, finally, cocoa powder. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I enjoyed this Single Malt. It was everything you'd expect in an American Single Malt - it was fruity, and it had both sweetness and spiciness. There was nothing off-putting and while the malt notes were prevalent, they weren't overpowering.  The price is about average for American Single Malt, perhaps tapping a bit on the ceiling.  I'd buy this for my whiskey library, and as such, it takes a Bottle rating. 

American Single Malt - Bottled-in-Bond Expression

The Bottled-in-Bond version suggests four years but according to Boulder Spirits, it is closer to five. It is, of course, bottled at 100°. The retail price is $69.99.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey offered a deep, caramel color.  It left a medium rim that fostered slow, thin legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Malt was the first aroma to hit my nostrils. It was joined by freshly-cut grass and brown sugar. What followed was orange, pear, and oak.  When I pulled the vapor through my mouth, there was a blending of honey and malt.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick and full-bodied. It also tingled the heck out of my hard palate. On the front were spicy ginger beer and rich vanilla. Yes, that combination seems strange, but for some reason, it worked. As it worked its way to the middle, I got a punch of baked apples and thick cinnamon. When it moved to the back, sweet berries and clove took over. 

Finish:  A very long, very strong finish of barrel char, clove, coffee, and berry closed out the show. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I seemed like a game of tug-of-war was taking place between sweet and spicy. My palate tingled as I sipped this and 100° is usually no big deal to my mouth. The mouthfeel was almost dense and I felt like I was chewing through the cinnamon apple on the palate. The price is on the high side, yet at the same time, less expensive than other limited-release American malts I've tried. This one earns my Bottle rating.

Epilogue - My Choice:  Both of these malts were delicious, and shockingly, much different from one another. The standard expression had the benefit of allowing blending from various distilling seasons, was at least a year younger and proofed down eight points, which is significant.  It was sweet and sultry. The Bonded version was an attention-getter. It drank higher than its proof and was spicy and fruity.  It was also more intriguing than the standard release because it was something unusual compared to other American Single Malts I've tried. As such, the Bonded one comes out the winner, but in reality, you'll be a happy camper with either.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Monday, July 27, 2020

Virginia-Highland Port Cask Finished Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

Live, from Bourbon & Banter, it is my review of Virginia Distilling Company's Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky!  I promise you this is much different from most anything you've tasted.

You can read the review in its entirety here.  Cheers!

Woodinville Straight 100% Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

The State of Washington is known for many good things. Technology and industry. Timber. Gorgeous scenery. Wine. And, if you don't know, yes, whiskey.

I've written about Woodinville Whiskey Company a few times. My introduction to it was its Straight Bourbon, which reminded me of Elijah Craig. Then, I was able to take part in a rather stupendous barrel proof pick of the Bourbon.  When a sample of their Straight 100% Rye showed up for review, I was captivated.  Would this be as great an experience as the Bourbons? Only time would tell. And, that time is now.

Woodinville starts off with a mash of, as the name implies, 100% Rye. That could be a blend of both malted and unmalted rye. You'd need the malted stuff to get things fermenting. All of that rye comes from Quincy, Washington, and is exclusively grown for Woodinville. That's then taken to the pot still for distillation. Then, the barrels get filled. Each barrel uses staves that were seasoned 18 months in the open air. Those staves are used to create 53-gallon barrels that are first subject to heavy toasting and then heavy charring. The barrels are then trucked over the Cascade Mountains to eastern Washington where they're aged in open-air rickhouses. 

There is a barrel proof version of it, but that's a distillery-only item. For the rest of the distribution, it is bottled at 90°.  It carries no age statement, but we know that means it is at least four years old and things at Woodinville tend to age closer to five. Retail is about $54.99. 

I'd like to thank Woodinville for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's get to it, time to #DrinkCurious...

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Rye appears as a very orange amber. It produced a medium-thick rim that created very fat, heavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  To suggest this was anything less than very aromatic would be unfair.  As I was letting this whiskey rest, it filled the air with cherry pie filling. That was an attention-getter. As I brought the glass closer to my face, the cherry pie filling remained, and was joined by rye spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and, get this, apple pie filling.  Now I got excited.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was like I was holding a freshly-baked apple pie, the crust and all.  I found this whole nosing experience rather mind-blowing.

Palate:  The first sip was thin and watery. However, it did bring quite the punch of wood.  Subsequent sips kept the mouthfeel thin and when the palate shock ended, I was better able to discern flavors.  Up at the front was toasted oak and honey. Mid-palate was a combination of cherries, leather, and a certain earthy quality. Then, on the back, a definitive rye spice, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  It was strange to have the rye spice on the back, especially considering the mash is all rye.

Finish:  Originally, I thought the finish was medium in length. Again, that cherry pie came into play, which was joined with barrel char and dry oak. When I thought that was the end, I found very long-lasting leather that lasted almost two minutes.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If I could find something to complain about, it would be proof. At 90°, it packed plenty of taste. But, knowing there is a barrel-proof version has my curiosity piqued. The nose was simply gorgeous. The palate was complex. I love the whole idea of pie smells and flavors. When I take all that into account and tack on the reasonable price, this one takes my coveted Bottle rating. I'm positive you'll enjoy this one. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The BenRiach Curiositas 10 Year Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes

Peated whiskeys are almost synonymous with Scotch. If you asked the average person what they thought of Scotch, I wouldn't be shocked to find a majority would tell you they're smoky and ashy. That's peat.

But, that's also not what a good portion of Scotches are all about.  In fact, in Scotland's Speyside region, the region that is home to the highest concentration of distilleries, peated whisky is an anomaly. 

The folks at The BenRiach like to do things differently.  Owned by America's Brown-Forman, they're different just by being American-owned. If you want to know the background of this distillery, you can read my review of their Peated Cask Strength Scotch from July 6th.

Today I'm reviewing its Curiositas 10 Single Malt.  If you're looking at the name and thinking that sounds more Latin than Gaelic, you'd be right. That's also something that The BenRiach does differently than its counterparts. This is, unsurprisingly, a 10-year old single malt that is blended from whiskies aged in Bourbon barrels and Sherry casks. Using about 55ppm of peat, the malted barley is dried by Highland-sourced peat (versus Islay-sourced peat).  As such, it lacks much of the salinity that many peated Scotches offer.  It is bottled at 46% ABV (that's 92° for Americans) and retails for about $54.99.

Before I get started, I'd like to thank Brown-Forman for providing me a sample of Curiositas 10 in exchange for an honest, no-strings-attached review.  And now, time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Scotch appears as the color of straw.  With Scotch, distilleries are allowed to add inert caramel coloring, and I have no information suggesting whether or not this is naturally- or artificially-colored. I'll hazard a guess that, based upon the very light color, it is likely natural.  It left a medium rim and created slow, thick legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  I could smell the peat before I even got started. This was more earthy than iodine and astringent.  Once I got past the smokiness, aromas of banana cream pie (yeah, the whole freaking pie), nutmeg, and allspice made me smile. When I inhaled through my lips, a blast of vanilla ran across my palate. There was no associated peat.

Palate:  Even before I got to figure out the mouthfeel, the peat was there - light but also definitive. Once I got past the palate shock, I discovered a thick, oily mouthfeel that coated everywhere.  Vanilla and apple grabbed my attention. As it moved mid-palate, flavors of old leather and tobacco leaf, something you'd more expect from an American whiskey than Scotch, took over. On the back, it was a blend of banana and very dry oak.

Finish:  A very long finish of dry oak and clove spiced things up and was almost natural considering everything else going on. This was very well-balanced.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I understand that peat isn't for everyone. It wasn't my thing when I first got started in Scotch (which, incidentally, is where I got my start in whisky appreciation). But it grew on me.  Curiositas 10 would be an excellent introduction for those who are peat-curious.  It is there, but not overwhelming. You can easily pick out other flavors. There are no iodine or seaweed notes that you'd find in many Islay or other Island Scotches. It is also unusual for a Speyside. 

I enjoyed the heck out of this, and when you factor in the affordable (for Scotch) price tag, and then you further consider this isn't your average 80° Scotch, this one becomes a very easy Bottle recommendation. Cheers! 

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It