Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Compass Box The Spice Tree Blended Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

I’ve been working my way through Compass Box’s sampler pack, which consists of five 50ml sample tubes. So far, I’ve enjoyed Hedonism and The Peat Monster. Today’s pour is The Spice Tree, a 60/20/20 blend of three single malts: a Highland from Clynelish, a Highland from Teaninich, and a Speyside from Dailuaine. It is bottled at 92° and carries no age statement.

One of the things I applaud Compass Box for is its transparency. In this case, aside from knowing the ingredients in the blend, it also discloses the wood. In this case, 20% comes from first-fill American oak (Bourbon) and 80% new French oak.

I’m taking a slightly different approach with this whisky. Instead of a using a Glencairn nosing glass, I’m using their Canadian Whisky glass. This has allowed aromas to waft around the room while I’m penning the review. It has done an excellent job of making my mouth water. Hopefully, my palate won’t be disappointed.

In the glass, there is a deep, inviting gold. Swirling it around creates a medium-thick rim leading to fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Aromas of various fruits have been dancing around the room. When I hold the glass at chin level, I pick up apple, honey, and banana. Raising it to lip level adds malt. Letting it hover right under my nose brings a toasted oak as well as a much stronger pomme fruitiness. Inhaling through my lips tosses vanilla into the mix.

The Spice Tree has a heavy mouthfeel, but I wouldn’t describe it as “thick.” Rather, it is weighty, if that makes sense. There’s no coating of the tongue, the liquid slips over the tongue and to the back of the throat.

Flavors of cocoa and vanilla are up front, with so much of that fruitiness on the nose not making an appearance, at least initially. Clove and oak then take over, making the reason for the name obvious. A little bit of patience brings apple and citrus, but you have to concentrate on finding that fruit.

Despite my notes of clove and oak, there’s no real burn with the finish, however, these two flavors continue to build well after the swallow. It dissipates and then comes back for a second round. That’s something I find very unique.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: MSRP on The Spice Tree is about $55.00. That’s really a nice price-point for Scotch. Here’s the thing… I’m not completely sold on this whisky. Between Hedonism, The Peat Monster and The Spice Tree, this is a close race for second between the two latter. I would very much recommend trying this one at a Bar to make sure it is something that you’ll enjoy.

So far, I’m really happy I purchased this sampler box, it is fun and letting me explore at a very low entry point of $25.00. For the sampler box, I’m still rating this a good buy. Next up will be Oak Cross. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Review of Misercordias; or, A Tale of Two Whiskeys

I used to love doing book reports. I love reading. I love writing. And, when I was in school, a book report embraced both. When I was in college, I majored in English Literature, where I could read books and write reports to my heart's desire. While I've not stopped reading or writing, I haven't written a book report in three decades. I'm not even sure that I remember how to do it, so I'll do it like I do everything else: my way.

About a month ago I was in Louisville taking a tour of the Old Forester distillery. As I was wandering around the gift shop, a buddy of mine, James Knudsen, told me he just met an author in the store and that I should talk to her. I wandered over, introduced myself, and we started chatting. Her name is Carson McKenna and she recently finished a book called Misercordias. I asked her what it was about, and she explained it was Bourbon fiction and sort of a Hatfields v. McCoys story.

Bourbon fiction? Okay. I had no idea what that really meant. While there are certainly enough Bourbon fiction printed on the backside of many bottles, I knew this wasn't what Carson was talking about. I was certainly curious, and she offered to send me a copy of her book if, in exchange, I promised to write about it. She followed through on her promise, I read it, and now I'm fulfilling mine.

First of all, let me get this out of the way:  This book was addicting as hell and I loved it. 

It is set up just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, and the two feuding distilling families. The Foleys are the absolute kings of fine Bourbon, and the Walshes with their own unique brand of Bourbon, are forced on neighboring properties, with the patriarch of the Foley family threatening to shoot any Walsh that crosses the property line. Forgetting a series of twists and turns in the plot (some of which will leave you scratching your head trying to keep up), there are two main characters:  Blaise Foley and Pat Walsh.

Blaise is the face of Foley Bourbon and based upon Carson's description of her, she is just stunning - and I don't mean just physically. Far from perfect, she is playful, a definite tease but also smart as a whip.  Pat is a happy-go-lucky, good looking Irish lad, but he also comes across as a frat boy.

What we do know very early on is that Blaise and Pat are engaged, and Pat is running away just before the wedding and doesn't want to be followed. But, we don't know why... and the why is what Misercordias is all about. 

Before you wave this off as some romance novel, it is really anything but. It also isn't a chick book. There are a lot of adventures that involve cunning and scheming, plus some downright hilarious parts that will have you laughing out loud. You spend much of the time wondering if Blaise is a femme fatale or just a mischevious tomboy. One word of warning:  If you want stories to have a nice, neat and tidy ending, Misercordias is not the book for you. I won't ruin it except to tell you it ends on a cliff-hanger. Carson informed me that her second book, Domini, should be ready in about six months and will continue the story.

Carson's storytelling is very enjoyable. It is captivating, the words flow easily and there's nothing written that a layperson can't easily understand. She goes into enough character depth and has you think-speaking Irish brogue whenever the Walshes are speaking together even though only some of the elders speak with it. 

I did find minor editorial and technical errors in this 400-page book, but they're few and far between. The English major in me wasn't turned off, and neither was the whiskey reviewer. I know that no matter how many times you read and re-read your own stuff, it is impossible to be perfect every time.

Miscordias is available on Amazon either as an e-book for $6.99 or paperback for $15.99. Go buy this book. I promise you'll love it. I'm anxiously awaiting the next chapter myself.  Cheers!

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.

Appearance:  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.

Nose:  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.

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. 

Finish:  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!

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

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

Union Horse Reunion Barrel Strength Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

When you say, “Kansas,” there are several things that come to mind.  Wheat.  Corn.  Rolling hills and large, open spaces. Tornadoes.  Dorothy and Toto. That’s not a knock on Kansas, it is simply what those of us outside of Kansas think. Trust me, I’m in Wisconsin. Folks think of cows, cheese, beer, the Packers and nine months of winter.  In both states, nobody’s first thought is “distilleries” or “whiskey.” 


In Lenexa, there is a distillery called Union Horse. They currently offer four different whiskeys (Reunion Straight Rye, Reunion Straight Bourbon, Rolling Standard Midwestern Four-Grain and Longshot White Whiskey) and a vodka. The Rye is distilled from a mash of 100% rye, is aged five years, and bottled in both 112° Barrel Proof and 93° versions. Reunion Rye is non-chill filtered. 


Today I am reviewing the Barrel Proof Rye. It is available in both 375ml and 750ml for $30 and $60 respectively. In full disclosure, Union Horse provided me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached review and I thank them for that. And now, time to #DrinkCurious…


In the glass, this Rye presented a rich, caramel color. It left a thinner rim on my Glencairn that led to thick, wavy legs to drop back into the pool. 


A gentle mint greeted my nostrils as I brought the glass to my face. As I moved the glass through the various nosing zones, aromas of nutmeg, floral rye and toffee presented themselves. When I inhaled through my lips, the flavor of stone fruit ran across my palate. 


The mouthfeel was thin and watery. The initial hit to my palate surprised with coffee, toffee, and mint.  A second sip made the coffee stand out on the front, behind that was a mix of vanilla and toffee mid-palate. On the back, vanilla (again) with white pepper. 


While the mouthfeel was thin and watery, the finish was long and creamy. Pepper and oak continued to build and left a slight tingle. It absolutely did not drink like a 112° whiskey, as despite that tingle, there was no real burn to speak of on either the palate or throat. That creaminess also was left behind on the palate, possibly masking any heat. 


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Here’s where the tires meet the pavement.  First, let’s consider the price. $60 for a 750ml craft whiskey is scratching the rafters.  $60 for a barrel-proof craft whiskey is, pardon the pun, more palatable. However, price is nice but taste is king. 100% rye mash can be tricky as to whether something is pleasant or harsh, and Union Horse distilled a very pleasant barrel-proof whiskey that I would be proud to have in my library. The obvious rating is a Bottle.

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.


Monday, November 25, 2019

2019 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Before I get started, I know what you're thinking after looking at this review's photo:  Hey, Whiskeyfellow, that's an empty bottle! And, you'd be absolutely correct. What you see there is a media sample of the 2019 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch bottle that was passed around to a handful of other reviewers and I got the last pour.

If you've never heard of the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch before (many folks simply refer to it as SmBLE), it is an annual release from, you guessed it, Four Roses. It is also one of the most coveted American whiskey releases, along with the Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) lines, that people chase down as soon as they're available.

Four Roses distills ten different recipes of their Bourbon. They are always coded as O__S__.  The O and S never change.  The blanks do. The first blank is always either a B or an E. The B refers to their high-rye (35%) mashbill and the E refers to the low (20%) mashbill. 

The second blank refers to their proprietary yeast strains, which are F, K, O, Q, and V.  F is supposed to have herbal notes, K will have slight spice, O will have rich fruit, Q will have a floral essence, and V will have delicate fruit.  If all that sounds confusing, it is, and the reason I say that is I've tasted these recipes and sometimes the guide and what you're actually tasting don't match!  But, like anything else, these are a guide.

The 2019 SmBLE is a barrel-proof combination of an 11-year OESV, a 15-year OESV, a 15-year OESK, and a 21-year OBSV.  On an interesting side note, this is the first time Four Roses has included a 21-year Bourbon in the blend. It winds up hitting the bottle at 112.6° and the suggested retail price is $140.00, but in all honesty, that number is meaningless because the chances of you finding it at retail for retail are exceedingly slim (sorry, don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger).  The secondary market (call it black or gray) probably has this one closer to $500.00.

I've also been blessed with the fact that I've at least sampled (if not owned) every release since 2012. I mention that because it is important for you to know because I can relate to this year's bang for the buck compared to previous releases.

And, with that being said, let's get on with the tasting notes...

In my Glencairn glass, the 2019 SmBLE presents as a deep, caramel color.  It left a very thin rim and legs which raced back to the pool of Bourbon. 

I was taken back by how mellow the nose was - there was no wallop of alcohol fumes. Of course, that might have been due to my getting the last of the sample bottle.  But, it made for picking up aromas rather easy.  First up was sweet orchard fruits of peach and apricot.  Then came the oak, followed by vanilla and baking spices. When I inhaled through my lips, it was thick vanilla.

The mouthfeel was thick and creamy and I had no problems coating my entire palate. At the front, I enjoyed salted caramel and what I would swear to be whipped cream. Mid-palate, it morphed to candied fruits and honey. At the back, a surprisingly mild oak considering how old the component Bourbons are. 

A medium finish greeted me with clove, white pepper, and cinnamon which, when it fell off, yielded sweet fruit and oak. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I really, really enjoyed the 2019 SmBLE and wish I could score my own bottle. Would I pay retail given the opportunity?  In a heartbeat.  This was a fantastic pour and absolutely worthy of the Four Roses annual release. There were a ton of good things going on from the nosing to the finish.

As far as secondary market pricing, that one is up to you.  I'm not a fan of it and don't participate. The risk of getting a counterfeit bottle is too high for me and so is the risk of getting stiffed if you're in a faceless transaction. Moreover, it isn't legal and if you wind up in either of these situations, you can't exactly call law enforcement to assist. Cheers!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Wollersheim Bottled in Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

In Wisconsin, post-Prohibition Bottled-in-Bond is a very new thing. Unlike the law itself, dating back to 1897, my home state is a little late to the game. My favorite category is Bottled-in-Bond, so this naturally brings a smile to my face and piqued my interest.

On November 16th, Wollersheim Distillery released the second Bottled-in-Bond whiskey in the state since Prohibition. I was there, in line, in the cold, waiting for a chance to buy a bottle. I had tasted this several weeks before the release, but it was straight from the barrel and not proofed down. I enjoyed the straight-from-the-barrel taste I had and was excited about what might wind up in the bottle.

A small, but necessary segway if I may.  There are older Bourbons and there are younger Bourbons.  The same thing goes with American Rye.  Younger Bourbons and Ryes tend to have a much different profile than older siblings. As such, I consider each a unique category and don't compare younger to older unless there is a valid reason to do so.

Wollersheim's Bottled-in-Bond is their first-ever Bourbon release. It is aged four years and, as Bottled-in-Bond legalities require, it is bottled at 100°. I would consider it a younger Bourbon. Wollersheim used five different barrels in the initial blend. The mash is 75% white corn, 15% malted barley, and 10% rye, with the corn and rye grown about a mile from the distillery.  The barley is from Wisconsin, and the barrel staves are Wisconsin-grown and seasoned on site. Retail ranges between $50.00 and $65.00.

Wollersheim even mimicked a Wisconsin tax stamp to show the age of the Bourbon.

Packaging is nifty but can at times be deceiving. We all know there are some gorgeous bottles out there that are worth more than the whiskey inside. Does Wollersheim's first Bourbon fall into that category? The only way to find out is to #DrinkCurious, so here we go.

In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presents as an orange amber. It left a very thin rim on my glass that created no legs whatsoever. It was just a curtain of whiskey that dropped back down into the pool of liquid sunshine. Sometimes that happens with glasses that have an interior hydrophobic coating. I used a glass that I have used many times and am positive does not, so that was a bit of a shocker.

Despite the low rye content, my initial nosing was on the spicy side. First, it was oak. Behind that came cinnamon. Subsequent sniffs unveiled caramel and sweet corn. When I inhaled through my lips, it was corn, but more like standing in a cornfield rather than simply shucked corn. There was something earthy about it.

An oily, coating mouthfeel greeted my palate. At the front, it was corn and dark chocolate. Mid-palate, it became caramel and cocoa. On the back, it was a mixture of tobacco leaf, coffee, and vanilla. Moreover, the mouthfeel went from oily to creamy.

The finish was downright strange. It started off as oak. Then, it slid into caramel. From there, it altered to coffee.  But, these weren't individual change-ups. Rather, the finish notes would melt from one to the other. And, while all that diffusing occurred, my hard palate was sizzling with black pepper.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Mid-point on craft whiskeys is about $50.00. A few bucks either direction doesn't shock me anymore.  If you've read my reviews for any length of time, you know that I'm a fan of the strange and unusual so long as it is pleasant. Well, Wollersheim fits that. This is absolutely a younger Bourbon that has a lot of interesting things going for it. While I did enjoy this more at barrel proof, I'm happy with my purchase and believe you'll find this worth adding to your whiskey library.  

The second bottling of this Bourbon will be in June of 2020 if you are unable to find the initial release. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Blood Oath Pact 5 Review & Tasting Notes

I've really enjoyed what Lux Row Distillers has produced lately. Their distillery-only Double Barrel Bourbon is one of the top whiskeys I've tried this year. Their sister distillery, Limestone Branch, has also done a great job overall.  While both sisters are working distilleries, most of what's out there is still sourced. 

Last year, on Bourbon & Banter, I reviewed Blood Oath Pact 4. My recommendation was to try it at a Bar. As such, when Luxco sent me a bottle of Blood Oath Pact 5 for a no-strings-attached, honest review, my curiosity was piqued. Would it be better than Pact 4? I'd soon have the opportunity to find out. I'd like to take an opportunity to thank Luxco for this opportunity.

One of the consistent qualities of the Blood Oath line is proof:  98.6°.  Why?  Because that's the average human body temperature and its blood inside. Pact 5 is a blend of 13-year high-rye Bourbon, an 11-year wheated Bourbon, and an 8-year Rye.  Then, the concoction was finished in Caribbean dark rum barrels. Retail is $99.99, and while we don't know who the actual distiller is, it is an educated guess that it is Heaven Hill.

In my Glencairn, Pact 5 presented as a medium amber with a very definite orange hue. The rim was thin and the legs were among the fastest I've seen as it raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

There was a complicated mixture of vanilla and raisin on my initial sniff. Beneath that was brown sugar and light citrus.  Just as I was getting ready to move to what aromas would greet my mouth, I picked up wet oak.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was thick molasses that coated my palate.

The mouthfeel was almost like molasses.  I picked up black pepper first, which was followed by oak and honey. On the back, it was a lovely mix of caramel and chocolate. The finish was long, with black pepper, wet oak, and caramel. And, as I was quite impressed, that long finish became bitter, just like I had placed bitters on my tongue.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I really, really enjoyed Pact 5 until the finish finished. I did polish through the sample bottle, and the more I sipped it the more I enjoyed it - again, until the finish, which became a turn-off. With that, combined with the $99.99 price, I'm going to recommend trying this one at a Bar and taste if that finish is a deal-breaker for you or not.  Cheers!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

My Visit & Tour of Waldschänke Ciders

Life is sometimes more than just whiskey. Wait, what did I just say?

Last week I was in Denver visiting my parents. Last time I came out, my mother wanted to visit a distillery. We visited A.W. Laws Whiskey House.  This year, they heard about a brand new cidery called Waldschänke Ciders (pronounced Vahld Shen Kee) and both Mom and Dad wanted to visit. While I don't drink beer, I do love a good hard cider. But, unlike whiskey, I know virtually nothing about hard cider or how it is made, so this prospect was exciting to me, too.

Waldschänke Ciders is located at 4100 Jason Street just outside of LoDo (Lower Downtown). I met with owners Keane, Kelley and John Dufresne. Keane and Kelley appear in the photo below.

Forgetting for just a second what Waldschänke Ciders has to offer, I was able to speak in-depth with Kelley and Keane. These two young entrepreneurs have their heads screwed on straight. They understand the very long, sometimes brutal hours that lay ahead for them, they know they're not going to magically strike it rich next week, and they have a solid business plan. We bantered about ideas for attracting customers and packing the house. They and father John are in this for the love of making cider and having happy customers. 

Now that tangent is over, let's get to what Waldschänke has on tap.  As I stated earlier, this is a brand new business, open just over a month. They are currently mashing their own cider that will be ready soon. In the meanwhile, they pour 16 different Colorado ciders and two specialty bottles. When their cider is ready, they plan to place it side-by-side with their competing brands. Frankly, I like that idea - let the customer explore what they like best and show how your product can shine. No fear!

Ciders are served in three sizes:  16oz for $8, 10oz for $6, or 4oz for $3.  But, the fun part is you can buy a flight, where you can select any four ciders for $11.  That's the route I chose.

Keane has a lot of woodworking experience, and he created these serving trays for the flights. If nothing else, it made for a beautiful presentation. The menu tells you enough about each option as well as whether it is sweet, semi-sweet, off-dry or dry.  I went with Grow A Pear (a semi-sweet pear cider from Talbotts), Sour Cherry (an off-dry cherry cider from Snow Capped), Blueberry Hibiscus (an off-dry blueberry cider from Wild Cider), and Colomosa (a dry cider made with apples, orange juice and lime from Talbott's).  While I enjoyed all of them, Blueberry Hibiscus was my favorite, but I'm admittedly a blueberry freak, so perhaps it had an unfair advantage. 

There is a lot of construction in the area, with revitalization occurring all over and a 400-unit apartment complex going up directly across the street. Connected to that is a Light Rail station, so Waldschänke has a very good chance of being in a high-traffic area once things are over and done.

John gave me a tour of the back of the house, showing me the mechanics and the private tasting room. 

While this is a different way of doing things than a whiskey distillery, I was able to understand the basics.  They've partnered with Mad Loon Roasters and are getting ready to open up a European-style coffeehouse that will serve traditional pour-overs, french presses, and drip coffees for the morning hours. 

I head to Denver at least annually to see my folks. I made some new friends in Kelley and Keane and it should be exciting to see how much has changed when I visit next. While Denver has a ton of breweries and several distilleries, if you're into doing something off the beaten path, I think you'll enjoy Waldschänke Ciders.