Saturday, December 15, 2018

And the 2018 Whiskeys of the Year are...


About this time of the year, reviewers and publications start announcing their choice for Whiskey of the Year. Generally speaking, I’m not the biggest fan of these types of lists. Why? Because usually, they involve whiskeys most folks will never get their hands on. They seem to be more of bragging points stating, “Haha! Look what I got!” and less of providing a useful recommendation.

Last year, I penned (or typed) my inaugural Whiskeys of the Year list. And, because I want my list to be useful, you will never find anything allocated and no store picks. Moreover, as I’m not a millionaire, everything making the list must be reasonably priced (this year, all are $60 or less). In other words, to qualify, it has to be something that anyone can get their mitts on without having to pay secondary prices or burning through a few tanks of gasoline hitting store after store trying to locate.

These whiskeys are the best in their categories that I’ve stumbled across this year that meets the above guidelines. Last year, I had a broader range of categories. This year, I decided to limit it to three: Bargain Whiskey of the Year, Barrel Proof Whiskey of the Year, and, finally, my overall Whiskey of the Year. If you’re a long-time follower and my palate has led you in the right direction on a regular basis, then you’ll probably enjoy what’s on my list. If you have a different list, that’s okay. There’s a whole big, wide world of whiskey out there.

Without further ado, let’s get started...

Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut - 50% ABV / 100° - $22.99
Reviewed January 23, 2018

The newest whiskey folks seem to be chasing down is Jim Beam Distiller's Cut. Jim Beam? Am I serious?


The newest incarnation of Jim Beam is a 100°, non-chill filtered Bourbon aged anywhere between five and six years. If you caught the words, "non-chill filtered," and understand the term, the excitement suddenly becomes clear. If unfamiliar with the term, it means the fatty acids that naturally occur during distillation haven't been filtered out. Aside from affecting the taste, chill filtering brings clarity to the appearance of lower-proofed whiskeys.

The mash is the standard Jim Beam bill: 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. If you're looking at the mash and proof and you're thinking this is just a relabeled Jim Beam Bonded, let me set the record straight right now. I keep a bottle of Jim Beam Bonded around, and these are two very different Bourbons.

The appearance is a deep, clear amber that may be unexpected by those familiar with non-chill filtered whiskeys. There can be cloudiness, especially if adding water or ice, but once you get above 92°, that no longer becomes an issue. Swirling it around in my glass leaves an almost non-existent rim so thin it takes a bit to find it. But, once found, it produces very slow, fat droplets that eventually fall to the pool.

Aromas of nut are predominant, and at the first sniff, it is all that can be picked up. Underneath that comes pepper, a hint of apple, and finally, oak. Inhaling through my mouth brings a bubblegum quality.

The mouthfeel is thick and oily. It does coat the palate and is incredibly smooth. Flavors of cinnamon and pepper are up front, with an immediate follow of caramel and vanilla. Underneath that is a very light pear. Bringing up the rear is oak.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If you're not a fan of Jim Beam, this is the version that will change your mind. I'm loving it, and not only do I recommend picking up a bottle, but I will also suggest two, especially for the $23 price tag.

Allegedly, this is a limited-edition Bourbon. I don't know how many bottles are available, but they're easy to find. If Jim Beam is listening, you need to make it permanent.

Old Ezra 7-Year Barrel Strength - 58.5% ABV / 117° - $39.99
Reviewed October 17, 2018

Every so often, something in the whisk€y world hits the market and generates excitement. I’m not talking about BTAC or Pappy Van Winkle. I’m talking about things you and I and everyone else can find and actually afford.

Luxco has just released Old Ezra Barrel Strength Bourbon. It is slated to hit shelves nationwide very soon and has a suggested retail of $39.99. Considering this is a barrel-proof, seven-year-old Bourbon, Luxco definitely piqued my curiosity. Of course, age is just a number, there are bad barrels out there, and an attractive price won’t ever make up for a poor product.

How does Old Ezra Barrel Strength fare? Before I spill the details, I’d like to thank Luxco for providing me a sample with no strings attached.

In my Glencairn, the appearance was a very appealing, clear copper color. It left a thin rim on the wall of the glass which produced thin droplets that never became legs. They simply hung on the rim.

When I lifted the rim to my chin and inhaled, sawdust and caramel permeated my nostrils. I raised it higher to my lips, and the caramel became bolder, and I also picked up cinnamon. Letting it hover under my nose changed up the cinnamon to almost Red Hots candy. When I breathed the vapors through my mouth, cinnamon and vanilla flavors raced over my tongue.

The mouthfeel was thin but coating. For 117°, it packed far less of a punch than I anticipated, especially after the nosing.

Cinnamon and oak were definitely upfront on the palate, but it toned down quickly with flavors of caramel and creamy vanilla. On the back, a blend of clove and thick caramel led to a lasting finish that allowed the clove to continue and warm the throat. There was also a very slight stone fruit that came several minutes after the swallow.

Although it wasn’t necessary, I added water to see what would happen. I always use an eyedropper to add exact amounts (two drops). Caramel exploded on the nose, and when inhaled through my mouth, it was all vanilla. The mouthfeel became creamy, and the prevalent pepper on the palate soon transformed into strong cinnamon on the tip of my tongue. The finish was still warming, but that fruit never appeared. Interestingly enough, the clove didn’t manifest but pepper with water was stronger than the clove was on the finish when neat.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Overall, I found Ezra Brooks Barrel Strength Bourbon enjoyable. I would have preferred that hidden fruit to be less so, but I must take the whiskey at face value. I also found the proof to be surprising considering the mouthfeel. There just wasn’t much in terms of “burn” that you’d expect. For $39.99, I would happily add this to my whiskey library and as such, will rate this as a “Bottle.”

Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Lowland Scotch - 43% ABV / 86° - $59.99
Reviewed October 28, 2018

I first tasted Auchentoshan early this year. It was a 17-year independent bottling sold exclusively at Vom Fass, and I fell in love. I felt an immediate need to find other expressions of Auchentoshan to taste what I’d been missing. I went to my favorite whiskey bar and tried the American Oak, the 12-year, and the Three Wood.

Of the three, I opted to buy the Three Wood. I honestly wanted to buy all of them, but alas, my wallet suggested otherwise that day.

What makes this Lowland Scotch stand out? Scotches are commonly twice-distilled. Auchentoshan uses a triple-distillation process, much like the Irish do, which creates a higher alcohol content with fewer impurities in the distillate. The Three Wood implies exactly that - Auchentoshan uses three barrels to age and finish the whisky. First, it is aged a dozen years in ex-Bourbon barrels. It is then transferred to age again in ex-Oloroso Sherry casks. Finally, it is transferred again for final aging in ex-Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks.

While all of that is nice to know, the end result is what’s truly important. In my Glencairn, the whisky was a deep, dark amber, and left a very thin rim on the wall. After several minutes, it created slow, fat legs to drop back into the pool.

Aromas of honey and vanilla exploded on my olfactory senses at chin level. When I raised the glass to my lips, orange citrus jumped in, and when I let it hover under my nostrils, the orange and sherry notes dominated. When I inhaled through my mouth, it was all honey.

The mouthfeel was thin but coated my palate. At the front, dark chocolate, a major food group of my food pyramid, blasted through. Mid-palate brought out sweet orange, which was quickly followed by vanilla and thick honey. It was sweet but not overwhelming.

The honey continued and was joined by oak that produced a long-lasting, building finish.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Some folks find medicinal or peaty qualities in some Scotches as something they don’t enjoy. Neither will be found in Auchentoshan Three Wood. I love peated Scotches. I love unpeated Scotches. This one is something very special, and so long as it isn’t radically changed down the road, it will have a permanent spot in my whiskey library. Buy this bottle. It isn’t a limited edition, but thankfully, is widely available, and very affordable.


I’ve tasted some delicious whiskeys this year and made a lot of new friends in this wonderful industry. Big things are already planned for 2019, including some amazing whiskey workshops, Whiskeyfellow-logoed Glencairn glasses, hats, clothing, and more barrel picks. Thank you so much for your support, and I wish you all a very happy holiday season. Cheers!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Old Ezra 7 101-Proof Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

If you are still knee-deep in the chase for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or anything Van Winkle, you may have missed the accolades received for Old Ezra 7 Year Barrel Strength Bourbon. In fact, I reviewed it back on October 17th, before the hype on that began. And, while I did rate it a Bottle, there is another version out there, albeit discontinued, that is still readily available and quite affordable: Ezra Brooks 7 Year 101° Bourbon.

Ezra Brooks is produced by Luxco, now known as Lux Row Distillers. Produced means that they didn’t do the actual distilling. Instead, they sourced whiskey from Heaven Hill. That’s fine, there’s nothing in the world wrong with sourcing, just so long as there’s no deceit involved on the label. The mash bill is created from 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye. If the label didn’t give the hint, it is seven years old and bottled at 101°. It retails for right around $20.00.

While I loved the Barrel Strength version, and have been a fan of the (also) discontinued 12-year Ezra B, I’ve never had the 101° release until now. Is this an opportunity to #RespectTheBottomShelf, or will this be a dud? Time to #DrinkCurious and find out…

In the glass, this was a lighter-colored amber than I would have suspected, both from a proof and age point of view. The color most resembled citrine. Against the wall of my Glencairn, it created a thin rim that generated fat, wavy legs that were in no rush to get back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

A wave of caramel hit my olfactory senses even while still at arm’s length. As I brought the glass through my nosing range, vanilla and berry enticed. There was a bit of oakiness, but again, not amounts that I would have expected. What was missing was any hint of ethanol. When I inhaled the vapors through my lips, the caramel was king.

The mouthfeel had me again questioning how this could be 101°. There was just no burn. It was, however, thick and coating while it ran over my palate. Up front were vanilla and oak, which dominated everything that followed. I picked up orange slice candy and at that point, the mouthfeel became creamy. Behind the orange was a drier oak, clove and dark chocolate.

A deceptive medium finish held onto the front of the palate. This is where the oak disappeared. Vanilla remained along with that dark chocolate. I waited about two minutes before the clove snuck up and proved how long the finish continued.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: There is a big difference between Old Ezra 101° and Old Ezra Barrel Strength. Sixteen points is a big deal, so much so that the Barrel Strength is about twice the cost. I see Old Ezra 101° on the shelves despite being discontinued, but at some point, that’s going to change. I found this Bourbon to be very enjoyable and full of surprises, and for the money, this is a definite Bottle. Grab it while you can.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Treaty Oak Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Recently, I reviewed Treaty Oak’s Red-Hand Rye. I mentioned how impressed I was with the transparency provided. However, with the Rye, I was left confused and stated, “if you poured this for me completely blind, I couldn’t tell you what kind of whiskey I was drinking.” 


I was provided with additional samples of Treaty Oak’s whiskeys, including their own grain-to-glass Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Whiskey. As before, I thank Treaty Oak for the opportunity to provide an honest review of their whiskeys with no strings attached. 


Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon is created from heirloom grains from Barton Springs Mill.  The mash is made of 57% yellow corn, 32% wheat, and 11% barley. Everything from mashing to bottling is completely handled start-to-finish on premises and aged two years in new, #3 charred American white oak barrels. It is bottled at 95° and retails for $49.99 which is right at the average for American craft whiskey. 


Currently, Treaty Oak distributes its products in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Illinois and the District of Columbia. They do hope to increase distribution as the distillery grows. Is Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon worth checking out?  Time to #DrinkCurious...


In my Glencairn, the color was a darker amber than I expected from a two-year whiskey. It left a thin rim on the glass that produced slow, fat legs to drop back into the pool of Texas liquid sunshine.  


The first aromas to hit my nose were fresh sawdust and cherries. As I perused through my nosing zone, smoked oak and vanilla took over but yielded once again to the cherries.  An obvious maltiness was in the upper zone. Inhaling through my lips was a strong fruitiness that made my mouth water. 


A thin and watery mouthfeel created an almost déjà vu situation. Just like the Red-Hand Rye, my thought was, “What am I drinking?” But, that was the first sip, and as I always recommend, never, ever judge anything on that sip. An additional sip revealed the same watery mouth, and I was able to start discerning flavors. Sweet corn was absolutely up front, however, it was mellowed by the wheat. Behind that, a light fruit, followed by a muted chocolate. Underneath the chocolate was dry oak and bold spiciness, which could cause one to review the mash and look for non-existent rye. 


The finish was shorter than I would imagine, especially considering how quickly the spice built at the end. I typically enjoy whiskeys at higher proofs, and 95° is not a big deal. However, my hard palate was left tingling just a smidge.  There was also a residual smokiness that was reminiscent of peat.  If you’re not into Scotch, peat can be shocking to the palate. Peat is so unusual with Bourbon that whenever it does come up, it is a curiosity. I must stress that the peatiness is very, very slight. 


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Whiskey hits an attractive quality with me, meaning, it is unique and not another me-too MGP product. That’s a good thing for craft whiskeys. A peated finish, even ever-so-slight, is something that will attract Scotch aficionados and can risk turning off those who haven’t experienced it. I was a Scotch drinker way before I ever tasted my first Bourbon, and as such, I look to it as a positive quality.


My rating is going to be a Bar for two reasons:  the non-single malt Scotch drinker and the Bourbon drinker. The Scotch drinker will likely be intrigued and can appreciate what a blended grain whiskey offers. In fact, the Scotch drinker may be more attracted to Ghost Hill than a Bourbon drinker.  The Bourbon drinker might look at the wheat content and expect something like Maker’s Mark, which will not be fulfilled and, if not a Scotch drinker, could find the peat confusing.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Infinity Bottle Review: Stank's Concoction #2


What’s an Infinity Bottle? If you’ve never heard the term, the most straightforward explanation is it is a homemade blend of various whiskeys. Typically, people pour an ounce or so of whiskey into a bottle and repeat the process. Some people wait until the bottle is full, while others sip it as they add to it and taste how each addition changes the taste.

Several months ago, I was invited to taste from a friend’s Infinity Bottle. I honestly didn’t expect much and was shocked to find it was one of the best whiskeys I’d tasted. Stank (his nickname) of the Janesville Bottle Club told me he had everything from BTAC to Van Winkles and other fine Bourbons and Ryes in that batch.

One thing I do know is Stank’s approach to Infinity Bottles is different than many. Most folks pour the last remnants of their bottle and add that to the Infinity Bottle. Stank cracks open bottles and adds fresh pours. This methodology means less oxidization in the whiskeys as they enter the Infinity Bottle.

About a week ago, Stank asked me if I’d review his newest Infinity Bottle, which he aptly named Stank’s Concoction #2. Always up for a challenge; I thought it would be fun. And although this is a fun experience, this is a genuine review. Thank you, Stank, for this unique opportunity. Fingers crossed, and time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance: This whiskey’s appearance is very dark, one of the darkest ambers I’ve come across, leading me to believe there are several well-aged, barrel-proof whiskeys in the mix. I’ve got George T. Staggs and Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs that aren’t this deep! I could not get anything beyond the thinnest of rims to leave on the wall of my Glencairn. However, gravity forced some fat droplets that stuck into place, again suggesting something higher proof.

Nose: The nose was much softer and muted than I would assume from its appearance. It made me wonder if that suggested several wheaters were used. As I sniffed in the various nosing zones, I picked up caramel, oak, cinnamon, cherries, and candied fruits. The closer to my nostrils, the sweeter it became, with almost a brandy quality. Inhaling through my mouth added vanilla.

Palate: A very thick liquid coated my tongue and dispersed through my mouth. It became substantially thinner as it moved to my throat. Up front, the palate was full of various flavors, including coffee, red berries, and caramel. Behind that was cinnamon spice, black pepper, and clove, which led to the caramel coming back full circle. That caramel again gave way to the clove, which morphed into oak and pepper.

Finish: That oak hung around the longest on the finish. Pepper and clove alternated with sweet berries, but the oak remained constant.

I have some suspicions as to what’s in this Infinity Bottle. Of course, as it is all blended together, I have no way to know for sure, but I’d bet Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is one of the whiskeys. I’d suspect Blackened (Dave Pickerell’s final project) because of the brandy-like quality. EH Taylor Barrel Proof or a Stagg Jr (or perhaps both), considering all the berries.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: This isn’t really relevant but were this for sale, I’d be interested, depending, of course, on the price. There was so much going on that I could invest many pours trying to figure it out. At the same time, I will say that I remember Concoction #1 as being better than Concoction #2.

And, as a closing note, I started my own Infinity Bottle after tasting Concoction #1. I’m doing mine more traditionally, using the last ounce or so of a bottle. But I’m using only Bourbons and only those I deem excellent. Time will tell if I’m doing this right. Cheers!