Thursday, October 31, 2019

Driftless Glen 51 Rye "Wicked Sensation" Review & Tasting Notes

Barrel picks are always a special experience, but sometimes, when you least expect it, you're part of a one-of-a-kind pick. On October 5th, Troy Mancusi, Nathanael Romick of McFarland Liquor, and I were invited to Driftless Glen Distillery in Baraboo, Wisconsin to have an exclusive pick of their 51 Rye Whiskey for The Speakeasy_WI.

Yes, yes I know. Every barrel pick is exclusive and one-of-a-kind. But this is above and beyond that.  You see, this is the only 51 Rye pick in the world. There were only a few barrels total, and the ones we did not choose would be blended together for the rest of the retail universe. 

The idea behind 51 Rye was purposeful. It aged four years and five months in 59-gallon barrels and is bottled at 51% ABV (102 proof). It is distilled from a mash of 51% Rye, 33% corn and 16% malted barley. We tried four different barrels at both barrel proof and our best estimate at retail proof. We wound up selecting Barrel 847 and named it Wicked Sensation as we knew it would drop very fast, probably right before Halloween. Retail at McFarland Liquor is $43.99.

There is always a difference in a whiskey when you proof it down compared to how it comes out of the barrel. Even a few proof points can make a significant impact. Two of us were very unimpressed with 847 at barrel proof. It was dead last for me. I disliked it so much that I drew a line through my notes. But, once we proofed it down, something spooky happened. It got very, very good.

In my Glencairn glass, Wicked Sensation presented as a dull, deep-orange amber. A ghostly rim was barely visible, and it was almost as if the legs were an apparition as they suddenly appeared and crawled down to the liquid sunshine.

A specter of cinnamon and dried fruit tantalized my nose. The dried fruit transformed to orange peel as I continued to sniff, and beneath that, an almost undetectable aroma of oak intermingled with French vanilla.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was back to dried fruit.

Wicked Sensation had a thick, creamy mouthfeel that coated everywhere. At the front, caramel and mocha grabbed hold. The mocha then became an almost fierce dark chocolate in the middle. The phantom of caramel hung on in the back.

Frankly, you'd not know Wicked Sensation was a Rye until the very long finish of oak and white pepper. It remained thick and creamy on the back of the palate and in my throat. There were no typical floral or spice notes until that spice appeared at the very end. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  At barrel proof, Wicked Sensation was a one-note wonder of oak on both the palate and the finish. The fact that it transformed into something incredible once proofed down was almost scary. While I've smattered these notes with little spiritual references for Halloween, they're all accurate descriptors of what I experienced.  As a final reminder, I don't pick anything that isn't special and delicious - I walk away from ones that don't meet my standards. As such, Wicked Sensation is a Bottle, especially for the price.

Finally, the Speakeasy_WI picks have been selling out in just a few days. Our last one, Turkey Drop, sold out in just 48 hours. If you're considering picking up a bottle of Wicked Sensation, the time to act is now before it is too late. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Russell's Reserve "Turkey Drop" Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

As God is my witness, I thought Turkeys could fly!

If you recognize that quote, then you're in the know on what is probably one of the most famous, funny lines uttered on network television.  That's from WKRP in Cincinnati and, if you're unfamiliar with this line, do yourself a favor and do a web search.

Earlier this month, I reviewed Russell's Reserve "WI Whiskey Sipper" pick for The Speakeasy_WI. That barrel sold out in less than a week. Well, lucky for everyone in the area, we did another Russell's Reserve pick, this time for Neil's Liquor in Madison. We had a similar picking crew, consisting of Troy Mancusi, Dan O'Connell of Neil's, and myself, along with special guest pickers, the world-famous Fred Swanson, Greg Kuhlman, and our in-house Wild Turkey expert, Jon Watson

We wound up selecting another Camp Nelson pick, this time barrelled on November 9, 2009. Barrel 19-0533 aged on the first level of Rack 15, and was dumped at 116.38° on September 19, 2019.  It yielded only 180 bottles. Retail is $50.99, and we called it Turkey Drop. Like all Russell's Reserve Bourbons, this one is bottled at 110°.  Turkey Drop dropped today.

In my Glencairn glass, Turkey Drop appears as a medium amber. It left a thin rim and very fat, very slow legs to inch their way back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

The nose was very floral and took a bit to get past that. But, once that happened, aromas of vanilla and light oak appeared, and behind that, it became fruity and spicy.  Inhaling through my lips was very heavy vanilla.

The mouthfeel was thin and coating. This changed a bit from when we picked it, I remembered it having a very thick texture. The first thing that strikes the palate is caramel, which is also lighter than when we picked it, but at mid-palate, it is a vanilla bomb. Not just vanilla, but an explosion of it.  That vanilla moved to the back of the palate, coating everywhere before a subtle black pepper took over. 

The finish is long-lasting with that pepper and light oak. But, the vanilla came back a second time and just hung on the tongue and my throat. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  As I've stated several times, I'm very picky about attaching my name to any barrel pick. If you recall from my previous Russell's pick, I was not a fan of Wild Turkey and my eyes have recently been opened to what can be done with it. You can buy this one with confidence, and if you're even thinking about it, the time to get over to Neil's is now, because this one won't be available very long. This one's a Bottle.



Addendum:  It took just over 48 hours to sell out this barrel!  This was one of the Top Five picks I've ever been part of and I'm so thrilled for those of you who were able to get a bottle. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Root Out Root Beer Flavored Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

Sometimes, as a whiskey reviewer, I run into some outstanding whiskeys.   Then, there are the ones that are okay. Occasionally, something bad that earns a Bust rating.  Then, there are things that are so bad they become more of a Public Service Announcement rather than a review.

My review of Root Out Root Beer Flavored Whisky can be found at Bourbon & Banter.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Starward Nova Australian Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

About a month ago, I had an opportunity to review Starward Distillery's Two-Fold Double-Grain Whisky.  Starward is an Australian distillery located in Melbourne and is part of the Diageo portfolio. When Starward was established in 2007, founder David Vitale suggested this is "what whisky can be" and set out with a vision to create a unique Australian whisky to offer the world with pride. 

Starward's Nova is a single-malt whisky that has been aged two years in Australian red wine barrels. Those Shiraz, Pinot and Cabernet barrels were not charred and were used exactly how they came from the winery. Nova is non-chill filtered, not artificially colored, is bottled at 41% ABV and can be found at about $54.99. That's affordable for a single malt anything in today's market.

I'd like to thank Starward for providing me with a sample of Nova for a no-holds-barred, honest review of their whisky. And now, let's get on with it, shall we?

In my Glencairn glass, Nova appears as a reddish copper.  It left a thin rim that generated medium-thick legs that slowly dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Aromas of honey and malt were upfront, leading to an enticing start. Behind those was nuts and beneath that a fruitiness that is undoubtedly attributed to the wine casks. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a chocolate-sherry blend that I found quite interesting.

Nova's mouthfeel was thin yet creamy. On the front of my palate, it was all heavy, thick honey. Then, at mid-palate, the honey changed to red wine, and then, at the back, it was a combination of raspberry and sherry.

The finish was a short hint of black pepper, an astringent quality, and long-lasting honey. The astringent honey hung on and was very sweet.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I routinely suggest when sipping whisk(e)y that you never judge something on the first sip. You have to give your palate a chance to get over the "shock" of whatever is initially presented. Nova starts off very bland and muted but does get more flavorful as you continue to sip it. To me, Nova was akin to drinking sherry, but at the same time, it is not what I would describe as a "sherry bomb" that many Scotch fans would recognize. 

The best thing about Nova was the nosing experience. The problem is the tasting itself never became enjoyable. I returned to this one again, particularly since I enjoyed Two-Fold so much, hoping for a different result but ended at the same place. Nova winds up in the unfortunate position of a Bust on my scale. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Lux Row Double Barrel Aged Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

The world is full of expensive whiskeys and, for the most part, I'm a pretty price-conscious shopper. Whiskey appreciation can very easily become a rich man's (or woman's) game and that does not describe me very well. So, when a $150 new Bourbon comes on the scene, my gut reaction is to question its value. There is always the #DrinkCurious factor with no matter what I'm trying and Is it worth it? is always part of the equation.

Enter Lux Row Distillers Limited Edition Double Barrel Bourbon into the mix. This is a 12-year Kentucky-only whiskey that weighs in at a purposeful 118.4°.  Obviously, this isn't Lux Row's own distillate, they've not been distilling that long. Based upon prior Lux Row/Luxco releases, chances are this comes out of Heaven Hill.

The kneejerk question becomes, isn't this just some version of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and, if so, why would I pay nearly twice the price for it?  Excellent question. Let's examine this further.

I'm a bit of an Elijah Craig junkie. Of everything in my whiskey library, there are more editions of Elijah Craig than anything else. It may be Heaven Hill's distillate, but this is certainly not Elijah Craig. This was, however, aged in two different barrels for a dozen years before being married. This is also not barrel proof. According to Head Distiller and Master Blender John Rempe, "Even the proof, 118.4°, commemorates the distillery's grand opening of April 2018." It was distilled from a mash of corn, rye, and barley and yielded about 6,000 bottles. 

I'd like to thank Lux Row Distillers for providing me a sample bottle in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review. And, that being said, let's get on with it.

When I first unpacked it, there was an Oooh, Ahhh moment. Even Mrs. Whiskeyfellow said, "Look at that color!" In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented itself as a deep, dark, reddish amber.   It left a thin rim and thick, wavy legs that raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Aromas of vanilla and caramel thwapped my nostrils, which was quickly followed by cherry and cinnamon. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a thick bouquet of dried fruit.

The mouthfeel was very light and the front offered vanilla with a hint of orange peel on the palate. Mid-palate, it was a blend of toasted oak and mace. On the back was a serious rye spice that morphed to clove. It culminated in a long, spicy, black pepper finish. I had expected the clove to keep going but it was subdued by the pepper.

Just for kicks, I added two drops of distilled water to the glass. The nose transformed into a massive caramel bomb mixed with heavy stone fruit. The mouthfeel, as expected, became creamier. Caramel and pumpkin pie coated my tongue before cherry and light rye usurped it.  The finish was much shorter, and it was heavy on pumpkin pie. That's how much the mace was affected. It became a liquid dessert.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I'm back to the $150 price tag on this. I found this Bourbon to be very well balanced when sipped neat, and there was a bit of a Wow! factor with adding the two drops of water. They became very different whiskeys, and I enjoyed both immensely, leaning slightly to the neat version, but I would have gladly sipped it either way with a smile. It takes a lot for me to give a Bottle rating to such a pricey whiskey, but dagnabit, Lux Row knocked this one out of the park.  Cheers!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Alacrán Tequila Blanco Review and Tasting Notes

Wait a sec... why is Whiskeyfellow writing a review on Tequila?  I've done it before, and it was fairly worthless because I readily admit I don't like it and I can't pick up anything but, well, tequila.

But (and this is a big one), my wife, Michelle, the woman I refer to as Mrs. Whiskeyfellow, happens to be a tequila sommelier, and while I did the wordsmithing, she is the true author of this review of Alacrán Tequila Blanco.

And the cool thing is, the review is up on Bourbon & Banter!


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Knob Creek 120 "Cellars WS" Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

I'm always honored to have a store ask me to review one of their private barrels. I do realize that I've been reviewing quite a few of these picks as of late and that's just how the rotation comes up.

Today, I've got a sample of Knob Creek 120 Bourbon from Cellars Wine & Spirits in Neenah, Wisconsin. This one was aged nine years before being barreled. If you're unfamiliar with Knob Creek, this is a Beam Suntory product and the number refers to the proof. Knob Creek is one of those brands that enjoys an almost cult-like following. And, if you are familiar with Knob Creek, it is in the process of going through a price increase. Cellars sells this Bourbon for $39.99 and this may be one of the last ones you see at about this price point. 

I'd like to thank Cellars for providing me with a sample of their pick in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review.

In my Glencairn glass, this presented as a fairly typical Knob Creek 120. It was a bright amber and left a thin rim on the glass that created thick, fat legs.

Aromas of candied oranges and butterscotch made for a very interesting nose. There was nothing else that I could pick up, and for Knob Creek to have only two notes on the nose is a curiosity, especially when there is no oak, which is also a typical note. When I inhaled through my mouth, I picked up what reminded me only of a creamsicle - all orange and vanilla. 

This Cellar's pick had a mouthfeel that was thin, oily and coating. At the front of my palate, it was simply heavy orange cream, again, just like a creamsicle. Mid-palate, it switched to cereal and vanilla. On the back, it was a punch of clove. 

A very long and spicy finish from the clove remained, and the orange cream snuck back for yet another round. When the orange cream finally faded, it left behind a pleasant rye spice.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I've tasted many, many picks of Knob Creek 120 and truth be told, to stumble on one that doesn't perform well is like finding a needle in a haystack. This particular barrel may be the most unusual one I've ever tasted. I pick up fruits and vanilla from Knob Creek all the time, the fruit and the level of vanilla differ. But I can't say that I've had one where the orange flavor was this dominating. Plus, for $39.99, I don't see where you can go wrong. This one deserves my coveted Bottle rating.  Cheers! 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Russell's Reserve "WI Whiskey Sipper" Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

I hate to admit this because it gives an aura of bias, but I've not been the biggest cheerleader for Wild Turkey. I have a ton of respect for Eddie and Jimmy Russell, but I've never felt the need to chase down various releases. When approached with an opportunity to do a Russell's Reserve barrel pick for The Speakeasy_WI and Monumental Enterprises, I was determined to keep an open mind. It had been a while since I had my last Wild Turkey pour and, after all, there's the whole #DrinkCurious thing to deal with. Lord knows I've come back to previously overlooked whiskeys and found out I really did like them after all.

When we selected our tasting panel, we invited Jon Watson, a Speakeasy member who is one of the biggest fans of Wild Turkey who I've run across, to be the Special Guest Picker. This was a big asset because he seemed to know everything inside and out about Wild Turkey.

Jon explained to us that Camp Nelson is where the premiere barrels are aged. This Bourbon was distilled from a mash of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley on December 22, 2009, and rested in #4 charred barrels until July 2nd, 2019. We selected Barrel 0125 from Warehouse A on the 4th Floor. It is non-chill filtered and because it is Russell's Reserve, it is bottled at 110°.  We named this pick WI Whiskey Sipper because that's the name of Jon's Instagram account. WI Whiskey Sipper is available exclusively at McFarland Liquors and retails for $52.99.

In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented as a bright amber with a thicker rim that gave way to fat slow legs.  Aromas of caramel and berry fruit were thick on the nose, and underneath those were oak and a light mintiness.  When I inhaled through my lips, there was a strong vanilla with a bit of orange peel that rolled across my palate.

The mouthfeel was very thin. At the front, it was an obvious vanilla and caramel. Once I got past those flavors, it offered a pleasant orange mid-palate. On the back, it was a combination of dry oak and mint. All of this completed in a medium-length finish of pepper and rye spice. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  When I'm involved in barrel picks, I'm always prepared to reject all the samples and go home empty-handed.  I'm very selective of any whiskey that I am attaching my reputation on. I went into this pick not appreciating Wild Turkey and I came out with newfound respect. As such, the obvious ranking is a Bottle.

There are a few things that I'd like to say before I close. First and foremost, we've been blessed that Speakeasy picks have become very popular, and the last several have sold out in just a few days. 

Secondly, I've pushed out this review after being informed that, in only 24 hours, half the 144 bottles have already been sold. This means there is no time to dilly-dally. 

Finally, I've subsequently been involved with other Russell's Reserve picks and am heading to Kentucky to do another in a few weeks. Apparently, it tuns out I'm a fan.  Cheers!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Border Bourbon Cask Strength and 92-Proof Niemuth's Pick Review & Tasting Notes

Being the first with something can be really exciting, especially if things turn out well. Then again, it can be very disappointing if things don't quite turn out as expected. Think of it like virginity. For some, losing it was exciting, for others, not so much. 

Now, I know what you're asking yourself... Why on earth would he bring up losing your virginity in a whiskey review? I swear I do have a purpose. 

Border Bourbon has been around for several years. If you're not familiar with it, it is distilled in New Richmond, Wisconsin by 45th Parallel Distillery. They aren't new to the game, they've been distilling since 2007, both for themselves and as contract distillers. What they've not done is have anyone do a barrel proof store pick before... until now.  Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, WI took the risk and named their pick Like a Virgin, which is Barrel 141.

Like A Virgin actually comes in two versions:  The barrel-proof and a 92° from the same barrel.  The former is bottled at 120° and retails for $49.99, while the latter retails for $39.99.  It carries no age statement (I could make a crass joke but will pass), it is pot-stilled from a mash of corn, rye, wheat, and barley.  45th Parallel uses grains sourced from eight miles from its distillery, and ages in medium-char, Ozark white oak barrels. 

I am reviewing both versions, and want to thank Niemuth's for providing me samples in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review of each.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn, Like a Virgin presented as a deep, dark amber. It left a medium rim on the glass that created fat droplets. And, despite how heavy those droplets appeared, they took over 60 seconds to even start working their way back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of sweet corn, cinnamon, and vanilla permeated the air. As I continued nosing, I picked up caramel and then, behind that, what I can only classify as raisin bread. That's a new descriptor for me.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was all thick, rich caramel.

Palate:  As I sipped Like a Virgin, the first thought that hit me was, This is 120°? Really? It was very light and airy in my mouth. That was the mouthfeel. The palate? That was a completely different story.

On the front, vanilla abounded. That yielded to a blend of light rye spice and black cherries mid-palate. But, then, on the back, BOOM!  White pepper and coffee hit hard. 

Finish:  The finish, or in this case, the climax (I tried not to have any more jokes, but hey, sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns) was very long, with oak and white pepper. It seemed to go on forever, wave after wave.

Standard Proof 

Appearance:  Despite a significant dilution of 28°, the color of Like a Virgin didn't change much. It was a few shades lighter, but I would still describe it as dark and deep. The rim on my glass was much thinner that left very small legs, but they dropped quickly into the pool.

Nose:  The aromas of sweet corn and vanilla remained, although more muted. While there was no cinnamon, an addition of toasted oak arrived just before the dried fruit. When I inhaled through my lips, it was pure vanilla.

Palate:  As I sipped Like a Virgin, it had a heavier, creamy mouthfeel. That can be fairly common with dilution. The vanilla bomb from the barrel-proof version remained. Mid-palate kept the light rye spice, but instead of black cherry, it was dry oak. And then, almost out of nowhere, black cherry and walnut dominated the back.

Finish:  This climax from Like a Virgin was long with black pepper and oak. The length wasn't nearly as long as the barrel-proof version, but it was enough to make you remember it afterward.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust

Here's where you get to ask, So, was it good for you?  I find whiskeys that offer me something unusual attractive. In the case of Like a Virgin, that raisin bread was definitely unique. The airiness of the mouthfeel with the barrel-proof version was certainly an attention-getter.  I really enjoyed the barrel-proof version. I enjoyed it a lot. And, for $49.99, that's very affordable. It definitely takes the coveted Bottle rating.

With regard to the 92°, I enjoyed it, but I have to admit I didn't enjoy it as much as the former. I do realize comparing the two might seem unfair, but remember, these are literally the same Bourbon from the same barrel, just at different proofs. While I did enjoy the creamy mouthfeel, I much preferred the nose, palate, and finish of the barrel-proof version. $39.99 is certainly affordable and this is rated as a Bar with the understanding that you can't get it at a bar. You can always ask the folks at Niemuth's if they have a taster available (no promises on that). Cheers!

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

#30DaysofBourbon Challenge: The Results Show

The 2019 #30DaysofBourbon Challenge is now over!  All 30 Bourbons are below, along with my calendar.  This was the fifth annual Challenge and it was bigger and better than ever.  Thank you all who participated, and a special thank-you if you donated to a charity of your choosing.

My donation went to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA), which is an amazing organization that caters to the community battling RSD/CRPS by providing education, support and driving research for a cure to this horrible nerve disorder.  This has a special place in my heart because Mrs. Whiskeyfellow has been battling CRPS for a number of years.  I even took the RSD/CRPS Ice Challenge (video at the bottom of the page) to help bring awareness. 

Most new people who take part in the Challenge find it is much more difficult than it initially sounded. They don't necessarily get hung up on drinking Bourbon for 30 days, several make that assumption and quickly tell me this won't be different than any other month.  What becomes challenging is not repeating the Bourbon at any point in the month. This is a great way to discover new favorites or revisit a Bourbon you may have even forgotten about. I find Bourbons tucked away on my shelf every year.

If you took part in the Challenge, did you find it difficult or easy?  Also, feel free to give a shout-out to your charity.

Thank you so much for taking this journey with me over the past 30 days. I'm already looking forward to 2020.


September 1:  Elmer T. Lee
Commemorative Edition (2013)
September 2: Old Forester
Birthday Bourbon (2017)
September 3: EH Taylor
Barrel Proof (2015)
September 4: J Henry & Sons
Patton Road Reserve
Barrel #210
Speakeasy_WI Pick

September 5:
Very Old Barton
Bottled in Bond
September 6:
Buffalo Trace
"Lucky Bastard"
Speakeasy_WI Pick
September 7:
Jim Beam White Label
September 8:
Four Roses
2015 SmBLE
September 9:
Woodinville Pot
Still Bourbon
September 10:
Tom's Foolery
Bottled in Bond
September 11:
High West
American Prairie
ACE Spirits pick

September 12:
JW Dant Bottled in Bond

September 13:
Knob Creek 120
"The Rat Pick"
Speakeasy_WI Pick
September 14:
Border Bourbon
Cask Strength
Barrel 141
Niemuth's Pick
September 15:
Old Fitzgerald
Bottled in Bond
September 16:
Whiskey Acres
5.5 Grain 
September 17:
Traverse City
Barrel Proof
September 18:
Bourbon Company
Fusion Series 1
September 19:
Rebel Yell
September 20:
Elijah Craig

September 21:
George T. Stagg (2015)
September 22:
Fighting Cock 103

September 23:
Evan Williams
Single Barrel

September 24:
Joseph A Magnus
Triple Cask Finished (MGP)
September 25:
Two George's
High Wheat
Vom Fass Exclusive

September 26:
Stagg, Jr. 131.9°

September 27:
Old Weller
Cask & Ale Pick
September 28: Four Roses OBSO
picked 9/28/13 for Fine Spirits
(my first ever barrel pick)

September 29:
Willett WFE
Barrel #4177

September 30:
Early Times from 1979

I took the RSD/CRPS Ice Challenge!