Friday, April 3, 2020

O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Rye Review & Tasting Notes

I have tasted many whiskeys that use some sort of rapid aging technique. Some distilleries go for smaller barrels. Others try to create artificial seasons by cooling their rickhouses in the summer and heating them in the winter. Others add staves, chips and other wood inside the barrels.

When I was shopping around Kentucky, I saw a 50ml of O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Rye Whiskey. I saw the TerrePURE Fast Filtered label and didn't think much of it. Fast filtered and rapidly aged sound like two entirely different things, yet as it turns out, they are one and the same. What TerrePURE is, exactly, I don't know for sure, but when I did a web search, it came up as Terressentia Corporation. And, as that turned out, they own Terrepure Kentucky Distillers.  Then, if you go to their webpage, you discover they are really Angostura, the company famous for making bitters. If you go to O.Z. Tyler's website, they'll tell you absolutely nothing about their spirits. So much for transparency.

What O.Z. Tyler will provide is a history of their distillery, starting with 1880 when founded as the Eagle Distillery, to its relocation in Owensboro and subsequently renamed Green River Distillery to a host of hurdles including bankruptcies, Prohibition, changing of hands, etc.  They'll also tell you about brands the distillery used to make but lost the rights to, but, again, don't talk about their own distillate.

What some sleuthing did tell me was that TerrePURE is a patented system of somehow replicating three years in the barrel, but having it actually age only twelve hours. That's interesting, except that O.Z. Tyler states their Rye is aged a minimum of six months.   This becomes a curiosity... if you can simulate aging three years in twelve hours, how does that translate to six months in #4 charred oak?

This and several other questions will be answered shortly. O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Rye retails for about $20.00 and is bottled at 90°.  The mashbill is undisclosed, but we know it must be at least 51% rye.  How does this super-aged whiskey hold up?  Time to #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn Wee Dram glass, this Rye presents as a very pale amber, almost like what you'd expect in a naturally-colored Scotch. It left a medium-thick rim and fat, slow legs that worked their way down to the pool.

Aromas of oak and sawdust were predominant, which was followed by mint and then, finally, anise. When I inhaled through my mouth, it was a blend of wintergreen and mint.

The mouthfeel was thick and creamy.  The palate was difficult to discern. It started with a slight citrus, a dusting of oak and... that's it. There was nothing really going on with it. The medium-length finish was creamy and was mostly white pepper with again, that slight citrus.  

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  When you race a product to market, very rarely does it mimic Mother Nature. In the case of O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Rye, the TerrePURE process may have been productive but the results were not attractive. It did not taste like a well-aged whiskey at all. As such, this one is an easy Bust


Monday, March 30, 2020

Are You Ready to Become a Whiskey Master?

Do you know of Lew Bryson? If you enjoy whiskey or beer, he's a prolific writer of those two subjects. He was an editor at Whisky Advocate for two decades, he writes for various publications and websites, and he's penned his share of books. His latest work, Whiskey Master Class, was released in February. 

Full disclosure time. I know Lew. We live in different states, but we've met and I consider him a friend. But, the reason I know Lew at all is that we're both whiskey writers, we've followed each other for a few years, and our paths finally crossed at Distill America in 2019.

Despite that, Lew isn't getting a free pass out of me any more than distillers I'm friends with would get softball reviews on their whiskeys. At the end of the day, I need to be impressed and I need to look at myself in the mirror knowing I was unbiased in my review.

I've not talked to Lew much at all about his book. He knows I own a copy because I snapped the photo below and I posted it to his Facebook page the day it arrived. I told him I'd review it. But, my review and notes are as new to him as they are to you.

I bought my copy at Amazon. It is 256 pages. You can buy your own hardcover copy for $17.94 or you can get the Kindle edition for $14.57. But, the question is, Should you?

Its appearance reminded me of textbooks from high school and college. Whiskey Master Class has an off-white cover with simple block lettering. Inside, there are several segway featured snippets much like you'd find in your average (as I remember them) textbook. But, that's how it presents and something tells me that's what Lew was shooting for.

Let's get past the notion of a textbook.  I don't know about you, but I recall most of my educational textbooks as dry and boring. There was a reason that I majored in English, and it was so I could read real books instead of stuff that made me daydream about anything else. Instead, Lew has a writing style that's similar to my own. He writes in a conversational tone. In my opinion, it eases reading comprehension because it is closer to how most minds process (and retain) information versus simply choking down facts and figures to memorize. 

What if you're fairly new to whiskey? While this is a master's class, Lew breaks it all down in terms that anyone can grasp. He talks about the science of whiskey, but you don't have to be a scientist to understand it. He takes the time to explain things in such a way that you're learning without even realizing it.

What if you know a lot about whiskey?  You won't find Whiskey Master Class boring or Lew simply regurgitating what you already know.  He includes things that would likely never cross your mind, and he doesn't make you feel like an idiot for not knowing them. More likely, you're going to say, Wow, that's pretty cool. I did. Several times.

New to whiskey or not, you're going to be exposed to pretty much everything from the grain to the palate without getting overwhelmed.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  It is weird using my standard rating system for a book. But, that's my schtick and I'm sticking to it. Whiskey Master Class is absolutely informative. About the only thing I can complain about is the dual-column typesetting used throughout the book. For my aging eyes, it added some strain. And, if I am going to get really picky, the dual-column format might have worked if the text was justified. 

I read a lot of articles. I talk to many distillers and brand ambassadors. I do a lot of research because, well, whiskey is my hobby and business. And, after saying all of that, after reading Whiskey Master Class, I walked away with newfound knowledge. I was also entertained. For me, that means I didn't waste money, and that means it earns my Bottle rating.  Cheers!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Did you know there are more distilleries in Indiana than MGP?  Oh, they're the biggest, no doubt, but there are many other Indiana distilleries that create and age their own distillate. I've reviewed a few, and today I'll do that again with Old 55 Distillery located in Newton.

Old 55 is a grain-to-glass distillery founded in 2014. The grains are all grown on the 140-acre Fruits family farm that belonged to distiller Jason's grandfather, a former navy vet, who bought a feed service and feed mill, or by one of the neighboring farms. Everything from the growing of the grain, to creating the mash, to distillation, to aging, to bottling is done in -house. Nothing is outsourced. It relies on a custom-built pot still crafted by Kothe Destillationstechnik of Germany.

Everything that is distilled utilizes a sweet mash method and uses 100% hearts. Entry proof is between 112° and 115°, although Jason is experimenting with entry proofs of 100° to 125°.  What's released now was aged in new, charred 30-gallon barrels, but they're getting ready to release a Bottled in Bond in 2021 that was aged in 53-gallon barrels.

The warehouse may be the most interesting aspect of what separates Old 55 from others. That's because it is in a renovated 1942 school.  The top floor is storage for empty barrels. Yeah, I know, big deal.  The actual aging is done completely underground in the basement, where there is high humidity and temperatures range from only 50 to 66 degrees all year long. 98% of the barrels wind up being over-proofed - meaning at least 50% alcohol by volume.

Jason told me he knows he can't compete with the big boys and as such, he concentrates on quality over quantity.  His goal is to create his own "spotted unicorn" - something that nobody else can offer, which means he is always trying to do something new.

Today I'm reviewing Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon.  This comes from a mash of 80% Hoosier corn and 20% red winter wheat. On a side note, I've been informed the upcoming Bottled-in-Bond mash is the same. It carries no age statement and is bottled at 111.4°.  Jason suggested the age was "four years and some change." Retail is between $70 and $75, and distribution is currently in Canada, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana.

With all of these unusual qualities, how does Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon taste?  The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious. But first, I'd like to thank Old 55 for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

In my trusty Glencairn glass, it presented as true orange amber. The medium ring generated created very fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Stewed fruit was the first aroma I inhaled. Charred oak soon followed. I also picked up light pepper mixed with corn. Despite letting the glass rest for about 15 minutes, ethanol remained trapped in the glass. When I inhaled through my mouth, I again found fruit and oak.

The initial sip offered a thick, spicy mouthfeel. The more I sipped, the thicker it became. Up at the front, cotton candy led to sweet corn. There was no middle whatsoever. The back was very dry oak and barrel char with hints of fruit.

The finish was very, very long and warming. It numbed my lips but left my palate intact. I'd estimate it went on for almost three minutes before finally fading. What hung around was sweet corn, apricot, and white pepper.

Curiosity made me wonder what would happen if I added water. Using my eyedropper, I set two drops of distilled water into the whiskey and gave the Glencairn a gentle swirl.

Cherry came out of nowhere to blast my olfactory senses. The ethanol vanished. The stewed fruit at barrel proof was replaced with apple pie, and the corn remained. When I inhaled through my lips, it was all apple pie.

The mouthfeel became very creamy. There was no spiciness at all. At the front, it was caramel-coated apples. Mid-palate appeared and remained apples sans the caramel. On the back end, the oak remained but was less dry, but the char remained.

The finish was not quite as long but remained spicy yet less intense. White pepper was unchanged, the corn as well, but now caramel joined in for the fun. I found no evidence of apricot or any other fruit notes.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Old 55 Bourbon isn't overly complicated but it is tasty. Between the two, I preferred it proofed down a bit. It isn't unusual for folks to add water to over-proofed whiskey. It was nice to have the caramel and apple together, almost like a special treat. I realize that $5 isn't a lot of money when you're talking $70 to $75, but this is a lot closer to a $70 whiskey than $75. You do pay a premium for barrel proof and I'd be okay staying at $70 or under. With that, it gets a Bottle rating. Above $70, I'd say try it at a Bar first.  Cheers!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Review

Nevada whiskey? Nevada? Really?  It is no secret that Bourbon is made in every state, but when you think Bourbon, one of the last places that would ever cross my mind is Nevada. Nevada is all about tourism, mining, and cattle ranching. 

But, in Fallon, Nevada, there is an outfit called Frey Ranch.  It is a working ranch dating back to 1854 and in the last several years, they've been distilling whiskey. When I say distilling, I mean really distilling, not sourcing and bottling someone else's product. In fact, Frey Ranch is a complete grain-to-glass distillery. Colby Frey, both farmer and distiller, grows his own grains on over 2000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Watershed.

The grains Colby uses in his Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon creates a mash of 66.6% corn, 12% malted barley, 11.4% winter wheat, and 10% winter cereal rye.  He then ages the distillate for at least four years. The entire production process happens on site.  It is placed in an attractive package with a hefty bottle embossed with the ranch's registered brand.

But the craziest (in a good way) part of the package is the stopper. It is bronze and weighs a ton. The entire thing gives you a perception of quality. And, with that statement, I'm going to go off on a brief tangent. 

To state the obvious, packaging is all marketing. It offers nothing with regard to the real quality of the whiskey inside. As a matter of fact (and admitting my own bias), when I see a fancy package, I tend to cringe a bit because I assume fancy bottles are used to sell lesser whiskeys.

Frey Ranch Bourbon is bottled at 90°, is non-chill filtered, carries no age statement, and retails for about $50.00. Currently, it is distributed in Nevada and will be available next in California. 

And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious and learn if this is just another mediocre whiskey in a sharp-looking bottle or something special. Before I get started, though, I'd like to thank Frey Ranch for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

In my Glencairn glass, Frey Ranch Bourbon appears as a definite orange amber. It left a medium-thick rim and medium, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Aromas of apples and pears tickled my olfactory senses. Beneath those was brown sugar which made my mouth water a bit. Then, the smell of baked goods took over.  When I inhaled through my mouth, crisp apple became obvious.

My first sip gave a thin and light mouthfeel. Subsequent sips added some viscosity but it never became what I could describe as thick.  The first flavor to hit my palate was oak. That was soon joined by cinnamon. Then, at mid-palate, something magical happened:  I was suddenly eating a caramel apple. It wasn't caramel and then apples, it was both simultaneously. On the back of my palate, I found black pepper mixed with light char.

That black pepper followed into a very long, slow finish. The black pepper gave way to rye spice. The rye hung around for a bit, then became caramel. The caramel transformed to oak, and the oak morphed to apple. If you can picture these flavors walking down a staircase, that's a good description of how it happened... one flavor for each step.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:   You'll notice that you didn't read anything negative in this review. That's because I didn't find anything that was a turn-off. While the palate wasn't overly complicated, the finish definitely was. When I take into account that this is priced smack in the middle of your average "craft" whiskey, this little Nevada distillery opened my mind to what else the state may offer. As such, it earns my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Bushmills Red Bush Irish Whiskey Review

Did you know that Bushmills is the oldest licensed distillery in the world? That was news to me! But, Old Bushmills Distillery has been distilling since 1608. It hasn't been a continuous run - it was shuttered and reopened a few times, and back in 1885 the distillery was pretty much destroyed by fire. But, they rebuilt and resumed operations and even survived Prohibition, a feat most other Irish distilleries failed to overcome.

Bushmills has also changed hands several times. Founded by an Irish adventurer named Thomas Phillips, it didn't officially become Bushmills until 1784 when it was purchased by Hugh Anderson. It changed hands a few times, and then, in 1972, it was taken over by Irish Distillers, the holding company that controlled all Irish whiskey production. Then, in 1988, Pernod-Ricard took possession, who sold it to Diageo in 2005, who traded it off to Jose Cuervo, its current owner, in 2014.

Today I'm reviewing Bushmills Red Bush. Red Bush is a blended whiskey, meaning it is a blend of single malt and single grain whiskeys. Single malt refers to malt taken from a single distillery. Single grain means the same, except the grain is something other than malted barley. Typical of Irish whiskey, Bushmills triple-distills in a pot still. In the case of Red Bush, it is aged for at least three years in ex-Bourbon barrels. Bottled at 40% ABV (80°), retail is about $24.00 and it is very easy to find at liquor stores everywhere.

How does this very commercial Irish whiskey fare?  The only way to answer that is to #DrinkCurious, so here we go:

In my Glencairn glass, Red Bush appears as the color of golden straw.  It left a thin rim that created both very wavy legs and fat, slow droplets that worked back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

The sweet nose consisted of apricot and honey. It continued with pear before the sweetness tamed and became a mix of spice and oak. When I inhaled through my mouth, it was all apple.

My initial sip was a creamy mouthfeel with medium weight.  Additional attempts didn't change things. At the front, honey and apricot dominated, just like on the nose. In the middle, something interesting happened. It was originally just vanilla cream.  But, after a few subsequent sips, a dark chocolate bomb took over and even overwhelmed the vanilla. On the back, I found cocoa and black pepper.

It ended with a light, peppery finish mixed with dry oak. Medium to long in length, it provided no real warmth but was enjoyable.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Red Bush is a bottom shelf Irish whiskey. It is very easy on the wallet and not something that would otherwise garner attention. And, that's a shame (or perhaps not) because I found it enjoyable and it even brought a smile to my face. Two things happen here: Not only does it get my coveted Bottle rating, but it also snags my #RespectTheBottomShelf label.  Cheers! 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Chicken Cock 8 Year Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Chicken Cock. For many of my maturity level, the name at the very least makes you smile. But, truth be told, Chicken Cock is one of the oldest Bourbon labels around. Founded in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky, the label survived Prohibition before a fire devastated the distillery in the 1950s. Then, in 2013, the brand was relaunched by Grain and Barrel Spirits

Obviously, you don't start distilling and bottling right away. If you're going to bring something back to the market quickly and require an age statement, you're going to do that by bottling someone else's whiskey. In the case of Chicken Cock 8 Year, the source is MGP of Indiana. It was then aged in Owensboro, Kentucky. 

Made from a mash of 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley, Chicken Cock is not the standard distillate from MGP.  While this is a single barrel Bourbon, there were 30 different barrels chosen, creating about 7200 bottles total. Each of the barrels had #4 char for the staves and #2 char for the heads.  Once dumped, they were diluted to 90° and retail was set at $100.00. As this was a special release to celebrate Chicken Cock's 160th anniversary in 2017, bottles are probably still out there but may be difficult to find.

But, the real question is, should you invest your time tracking it down?  I'll help answer that question now thanks to a friend who provided me a sample for review. Time to #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn glass, Chicken Cock presented as a bright coppery amber. It left a thin rim that generated a fat, wavy curtain that took its time dropping back to the pool of liquid sunshine

Aromas of caramel and mint greeted me initially.  Underneath those were oak and orange zest. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a blend of vanilla and oak.

A thin and oily mouthfeel got all over my palate. On the front, it was caramel, which led to oak mid-palate. On the back, it was peppery. This culminated in a medium-long finish of black pepper, charred oak, vanilla, and finally dry oak.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  You'll notice there aren't a lot of notes, especially on the palate. That's not me being lazy, rather, there simply wasn't a lot going on. Chicken Cock was decent, but nothing special. It certainly is not a $100 Bourbon no matter what the company claims it is.  There are a lot of Bourbons and Ryes that cost a c-note and some even earn it. But, there is no way in my opinion to justify the cost. And, because the price way outweighs the value, I'm going to rate this one a Bust. Cheers!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Woodford Reserve Batch Proof 123.6 Bourbon Review

Barrel-proof whiskeys are in vogue and have been gaining in popularity over the last few years.  Some major players are Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Heaven Hill), Stagg, Jr. (Buffalo Trace), Rare Breed (Wild Turkey) and Small Batch Limited Edition (Four Roses).  What many folks may be less familiar with is Woodford Reserve Batch Proof

Batch Proof started off three years ago as part of Woodford's Master's Collection, essentially an experimental product line from Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall.  The 2018 version was 125.8°, the 2019 version was 123.2°, and now, for 2020, it is 123.6°.

Woodford does things a bit differently than many other distilleries. It starts with a mash of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. They use limestone water obtained at the distillery itself. Nothing unusual with that so far, but it is the next steps that matter:  It uses a six-day fermentation process, which is longer than the industry average of three. It is triple-distilled using a blending of whiskeys from both pot and column stills. Entry-proof is also lower than average, brought down to 110° before poured into new, #4 charred-oak barrels.

Aging at Woodford is done in heat-cycled warehouses. If you're unfamiliar with that term, in the winter, they heat the inside of the warehouse. When it reaches a pre-determined temperature, it is then cooled by venting out all of the heat. Think of it as artificial seasons meant to cause additional interaction of whiskey and wood.  

Woodford Reserve carries no age statement but is aged a minimum of four years. The price of Batch Proof is $129.99 for a 750ml bottle.

So, how does this special release taste? Let's #DrinkCurious and find out. But, first, I'd like to thank Brown-Forman for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

In my Glencairn glass, it appeared as a deep but hazy chestnut color. It left an ultra-thin rim that just stuck to the wall like glue. I left the glass alone and the rim didn't generate legs.

The first smell to hit my nostrils was dark chocolate. It was soon joined by sweet, dried fruit. Beneath the fruit was a soft note of wood and, then, mint. If there was ethanol, it fell off entirely as I let it rest. Just as I thought I found everything, a cherry bouquet tapped my senses.  When I inhaled through my lips, I found cherry vanilla.

The mouthfeel was very thin and required help moving it around my mouth. Despite the 123.6°, there was absolutely no "burn." I discovered a mix of cocoa and brown sugar on the front of my palate. Mid-palate was a marriage of clove and dark chocolate. On the back were leather, oak, and caramel.

A finish of oak, chocolate, and caramel was very pleasant, and I wished it was longer-lasting. Don't get me wrong, it lasted, but it was something I wanted to go on and on.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I enjoyed the hell out of Woodford Reserve Batch Proof. There were some delicious notes and I wish my 50ml sample was, say, a 200ml sample. But, as much as I savored it, that $130 price tag is hefty. The standard Woodford is about $36.00. As such, that's about a 3.5 multiple for barrel proof. When I consider the competition (Rare Breed, Stagg Jr., and Elijah Craig), they don't command that hike.

If I was a huge Woodford fanboy, I'd say this is an absolute must-buy. However, the competition is excellent and I didn't find Batch Proof to be a stand-out compared to them. With the exception of Wild Turkey, the rest are limited edition offerings, just like Woodford. I'd have a tough time justifying $130 on this and believe it is fair to offer a Bar rating. Try it before you buy it. Cheers!