Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Exodus Aged Jamaican Rum Review & Tasting Notes


Let's get a few things out of the way here.  I'm Whiskeyfellow, not Rumfellow. My experience with aged rum is very limited, my experience with rum overall involves cocktails. There's nothing in the world wrong with rum, I just enjoy drinking whiskey and there's enough variety to keep me plenty busy.

What, you may wonder, am I doing reviewing a rum, then? Well, this one is special... at least it is marketed as such. You see, this rum has been finished in whiskey barrels!  Whiskey is my jam. I know whiskey. I appreciate whiskey. I love everything whiskey. So, why not?

Being rum-dumb, I wanted to learn something about it before just blindly writing a review. I went to where any spirits-curious person should: Federal Regulation § 5.22 The Standards of Identity.

Class 6; rum. “Rum” is an alcoholic distillate from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugar cane by-products, produced at less than 190 proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to rum, and bottled at not less than 80 proof; and also includes mixtures solely of such distillates.

The rum I'm drinking is Exodus from Proof and Wood Ventures. This isn't your basic white rum. Proof & Wood blends column still rum, pot still light rum, and pot still heavy rum to create this concoction. All of it was distilled in Jamaica. The column still portion was aged for three years in Canada in Canadian Rye casks, then in ex-American Rye casks. The light rum aged for two years in ex-Bourbon casks and then an additional two years in ex-American Rye casks. The heavy rum was aged two years in ex-Rye casks.

Everything remained naturally colored with no added flavors. While we would say everything is aged up to five years, that's not something you'd put on a bottle. Like whiskey, if there's an age statement, it is always the youngest spirit in the mix. Exodus carries no age statement. It is packaged at 84° and you can expect to pay $30.00 for a 750ml bottle. 

Before I sip Exodus and do the #DrinkCurious thing, I'd like to thank Proof & Wood for a sample of it in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance: Normally, I'd be tasting from a Glencairn glass. But, this time, I used a nice, hefty, crystal rocks glass. It presented as the color of light gold, almost as straw. It left a super-thick rim on the wall, and that rim created heavy legs that caused the rum to fall back into the pool.

Nose: The most obvious aroma was vanilla, so much so that if you dumped vanilla extract in a glass, this is what I would imagine it smelled like. I also found scents of molasses, apricot, and sweet, tropical fruits. When I inhaled the fumes through my lips, a blast of butterscotch exploded in my mouth.

Palate: The mouthfeel was heavy and oily. If this was whiskey, I'd be floored. On the front, and pretty much through the finish, that butterscotch bomb continued. At mid-palate, it was joined by vanilla, honeydew, and brown sugar. On the back, I tasted rye spice and green peppercorn - and then something earthy I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Finish: A medium-to-long finish went from very fruity to spicy. At first, pineapple dominated. That was followed by toasted coconut. Then came toasted oak and green peppercorn. It was the peppercorn that stuck around longer than anything else. That earthiness hung around, too.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: This was definitely better than anything I've had out of Cruzan or Bacardi. I recall enjoying Appleton Estate, but it has been too many years and my memory doesn't go back that far. I'm not a rum aficionado so my rating is based purely upon a whiskey drinker's perspective: I liked it. I found the earthy quality somehow complementary to the sweet and spicy notes. As far as a value statement, Exodus seems to be fairly priced amongst other 5-year rums. Does this want me to abandon whiskey and jump on the rum bandwagon? No. But, if the occasional hankering for rum came up, I could easily see myself grabbing this (and yeah, I'd drink it neat). Do the math and that adds up to a Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

Backbone Bourbon: "Unicorn Hunter" and CWBS Reviews & Tasting Notes


Back in January, I wrote about a store pick called Unicorn Slayer.  It was selected by The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club for Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, Wisconsin. I had assisted in that pick, and it was one of those mind-blowing ones that resonate with you for years. At the time, I stated Unicorn Slayer was one of the five best barrel picks I've been involved with.

Today, I'm reviewing one called Unicorn Hunter. It was also picked by The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club for Niemuith's, but this time, I was not part of the selection committee. However, the Secret Midnight Whiskey Club did ask me to review it for them, which I'm happy to do.

Unicorn Hunter is distilled by MGP, and it is bottled under the Backbone Bourbon brand. Like Unicorn Slayer, this is a barrel-proof, uncut, single barrel Bourbon. It is distilled from the same 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley mash. Unlike its predecessor, which was 7.5 years old, Unicorn Hunter is 6 years and a month. It is 117.1° versus 119.3°.  To be frank, two points isn't going to make a lot of difference. You'll find this only at Niemuth's and one of the 168 bottles yielded will set you back $64.99, which is less expensive than Unicorn Slayer was.

I'd like to thank The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club for providing me a sample in exchange for my honest, no-strings-attached review. Let's #DrinkCurious and get this taken care of.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Unicorn Hunter presented as chestnut in color with amazing clarity. A thin rim was created, and it generated wavy legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine but also sticky drops that did not.

Nose:  An aromatic combination of mint, menthol, and stone fruit was easy to pick up. As I continued to sniff around, I detected berries and dark chocolate. When I drew in the vapor through my mouth, a wave of cherry vanilla ran across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was oily and coated everywhere with ease, and was full-bodied. Up at the front, I experienced a sweet and fruity punch of berries and cherry syrup with dark chocolate. In the middle, I tasted rye spice and toffee. Then, on the back, it was coffee, clove, and oak.

Finish:  A blend of charred oak, coffee, cinnamon, and black pepper lasted several minutes before falling off. Cherry syrup stuck around. There was a distinct Indiana hug about it, but despite the proof, it couldn't be described as hot or burn

Bottle, Bar, or BustUnicorn Hunter was tasty as hell and a very easy sipper. Just to get it out of the way, it takes a Bottle rating and if you missed out on Unicorn Slayer, don't make the same mistake. Saying that, between the two, and I am probably biased, I preferred the predecessor. But, you aren't finding that on the shelf.

But Wait, There's More...

Now, in an interesting turn of events, The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club provided me a sample of another Backbone pick, this time for the Central Wisconsin Bourbon Society. It, too, is six years old and also retails for $64.99, and bottled at 120.9°.

Appearance:  The color was a slightly deeper chestnut than Unicorn Hunter. The rim was heavier, but not thick, the legs were similar, but lacked the sticky droplets.

Nose:  The very first thing I picked up was sawdust, which, interestingly enough, was the first thing I picked out of Unicorn Slayer last year. I smelled toasted oak and cocoa powder, mint, and a brush of cinnamon. Breathing the fumes in through my lips led me to uncover vanilla.

Palate:  An airy mouthfeel was a complete contrast to Unicorn Hunter. The body was closer to a medium than full. Caramel and cherry came out swinging. Clove, rye spice, and char hit me mid-palate, with cinnamon, black pepper, and dry oak on the back. This was, undoubtedly, much spicier than Unicorn Hunter.

Finish: I found the CWBS pick to have a longer finish than Unicorn Hunter. It was made up of cocoa powder, barrel char, caramel, and mint. It didn't have the same Indiana hug that Unicorn Hunter did, but it did leave my tongue tingling. As I was considering that, I found myself tasting dark chocolate.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The spice focus of the CWBS pick was interesting and much different than my other experiences with Backbone Bourbon. There was enough going on here to keep me paying attention. I was particularly enchanted by the sawdust aroma because it reminded me so much of Unicorn Slayer. There is no reason to not pick one up, and the price is certainly fair. Add it all up and you get a Bottle rating from me. 

So, between Unicorn Hunter and the CWBS pick, which did I prefer?  I enjoyed them both, but Unicorn Hunter edged out the CWBS pick, mostly because I preferred the fruity flavors on the former. Either, however, would leave you happy. Cheers!

Niemuth's Southside Market is located at 2121 S. Oneida Street in Appleton.

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy it
  • Bar = Try it
  • Bust = Leave it

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

And my 2020 Whiskey of the Year is...

2020 has been one heck of a year. We've been locked up in lockdown, we've had whiskey events canceled, we've lost loved ones and we've had, of course, yet another miserably long election season.  At the same time, 2020 has been an amazing year, at least whiskey-wise. I've had some mind-blowing whiskeys and been introduced to many new (and new to me) brands. Quite frankly, I ran across very few mediocre whiskeys this year.

But now, 2020 has come to an end, and the end of a year means it is time for the 2020 Whiskeyfellow Awards

Yeah, I know, lots of folks do their "Best Of" lists and I'm no exception. However, my annual "Best Of" lists are different (no, really, they are, I promise). My list is geared to the average whiskey drinker.

First of all, the average whiskey drinker doesn't stop drinking in October. Yet, many of these "Best Of" lists come out then. Um, hello? The year is not over in October!  The only thing I can factor is they're desperate to be the first one to render an opinion. Yawn. I actually wait until the end of the year because I'm tasting stuff all year long.

Even more important is being able to get your hands on something that wins an award. After all, if I'm naming something that is hopelessly out of reach for you, what's the point of my naming it as the "Best Of" anything? So I can have the "Best Of" bragging rights? That's terribly self-centered and absolutely unhelpful.

Anything that is up for consideration must be something I've tasted. Unlike some famous but unnamed folks, I don't have a team of interns separating the wheat from the chaff on my behalf. I'm tasting everything I can get my hands on - good, bad, or ugly. This is something I never want to change.  I don't even want one intern. I love the #DrinkCurious lifestyle. Plus it is my palate you have trusted, not someone else's!

After saying all of that, what will the average whiskey drinker not see on my "Best Of" list to make it relevant?

The Impossible. 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 a bottle unless they're very lucky. There is no point to include these.

The Unaffordable. This one is more subjective, I know very few people who can afford to drop several hundred (or thousands) of dollars on a bottle of booze. I know I can't. 

The Store Pick.  Private barrels are awesome. They could very easily sweep a "Best Of" award from me because I pick many barrels each year. But, again, that's not very helpful if the store pick is in Wisconsin and you're in Florida with no reasonable way to get it, or if you do travel, it is gone by the time you get there.

In my opinion, for a "Best Of" list to have any value, it must contain whiskeys you can actually drink. Otherwise, what's the point?

Unfortunately, due to our fractured distribution system, I cannot guarantee that everything on my list is available in your specific market.  I'm not sure anyone with national distribution can. But, everything on this list is reasonably available, even if it means having to travel to another state (meaning, when you get there, you stand a realistic chance of finding it on the shelf).

Lastly, despite the fact I've published over 120 reviews in 2020, I've not tasted whiskeys from every available niche. If you don't see something in the category that you're seeking, it means I either didn't drink anything in that category or, if I did, it wasn't worthy of a "Best Of" award.

Believe it or not, this year I gave a Bar rating to a whiskey that appears on my "Best Of" list. If you're scratching your head about that, the price was the only thing that kept me from handing it a Bottle rating. 

Let's get on with the show...

Best Bourbon of 2020:  All I care about is the liquid inside the bottle. I don't care if it is sourced or someone's own distillate. This year, it goes to Lux Row Distillers for Blood Oath Pact 6, and my April review will tell you why it is so deserving.

Best American Rye of 2020:  I had a few top candidates for the Best American Rye. Some were surprisingly young. But, when the dust settled, Woodinville Whiskey Company's 100% Straight Rye came out on top. It was full of flavor, had an attention-grabbing nose, and easy on the wallet. My July review provides all the details you'd want to know.

Best American Whiskey of 2020:  This is not to be mistaken for the Best Whiskey Made in America.  Rather, there exists a category called American Whiskey, which, at least for me, is any whiskey made in the United States that isn't Bourbon or Rye. I considered Wheat Whiskeys, Single Malts, Triticale, and blends. I tasted some fantastic American Whiskey this year, but the easy stand-out was Barrell Dovetail. Feel free to read more from my August review.

Best Scotch Whisky of 2020:  Here's the issue with Scotches this year - I tasted some stupendous ones. Yet, many of what I sampled are just too difficult for most folks to find (or priced through the ceiling). Hidden amongst that was a shining star called BenRiach Curiositas 10. This Speyside whisky is an excellent way to dip your toe into peated whiskies, and it is shockingly affordable. Check out the review from July.

Best Irish Whiskey of 2020:  This was easily the most difficult category for me to judge. Considering that Irish Whiskey was near-death not so many years ago, its resurgence is a great thing to see, and it came close to a flip of the coin for me to choose my winner, but my favorite Irish Whiskey of 2020 is out of The Dublin Liberties Distillery and it is called Murder Lane. It was finished in Hungarian Tokaji casks and was so impressive, it caused me to run out and buy a bottle of Hungarian Tokaji! 

For what it's worth, I've never had a barrel finish lead to my seeking out what was in the barrel originally, and you can read my review of Murder Lane.

Best Asian Whisky of 2020:  Last year, an under-the-radar Japanese whisky took the award. This year, I looked to mainland Asia and, from India, I discovered Paul John Nirvana. The weird thing is, Nirvana is a Rodney Dangerfield whisky, meaning it doesn't get a lot of respect. My recent review will explain why this undervalued Single Malt earned its place and my respect.

Best Flavored Whiskey of 2020:  This is a new category for my "Best Of" list and one I would have never imagined would ever even exist. Typically, flavored whiskeys are for mixing, but this year I found several that were delicious when drunk neat. The winner is Select Club Pecan Praline Ultra-Premium Whisky. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow may have had some influence here, and you can read why.

Before I get into the Best Whiskey of the Year, I'd like to pause a moment and disclose my Santa Wish. This one violates everything that exists with my "Best Of" list, but it was so amazing and could quite possibly be the best whiskey that's ever crossed my lips. I'm talking about The Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage by The GlenDronach. I can't even pretend to afford the $1300.00 bottle, which is why it was disqualified from my list, but you can read all about this Highland Scotch if you'd like. So, Santa, please?

And the 2020 Whiskey of the Year is... (Drumroll, please!) Last year, it was a Rye that took the top spot. And, while Woodinville was delightful, it didn't come out as the top dog. The one whiskey that drove me crazy with curiosity is the winner of my 2020 Whiskey of the Year, and it goes to The Dublin Liberties Distillery for Murder Lane!

Congratulations to each of the category winners! I'm looking forward to an even better 2021. Cheers!

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

Monday, December 21, 2020

Wisconsin's own Great Northern Rye and New Richmond Rye Reviews & Tasting Notes


I was recently approached by the folks at Neimuth's Southside Market in Appleton to review a few of their store picks:  Great Northern Rye Dapper and Richmond Rye Lil'Nog'n.  As such, today's review will be a twofer.  As a matter of full disclosure, I was provided samples of each in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest reviews.

Great Northern Rye Dapper

Great Northern Distilling is located in Plover, which is just outside of Stevens Point. Founded in 2014 by its president and head-distiller Brian Cummings, Great Northern sources everything locally and is a big supporter of transparency. He started with distilling rum, then potato vodka, gin, and finally, whiskey.

Our rye whiskey is made in an old east coast style, reminiscent of a Maryland style rye. Different than a Kentucky rye, we use a higher proportion of raw rye grain, rye malt rather than barley malt which gives a more savory rye flavor rather than the sharpness of the barley, and just a touch of corn to round out the edges. - Great Northern Distilling

In the case of Dapper, it is a 4-year, 4-month old single barrel, bottled at 96°, and a 750ml will set you back $52.99.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Dapper presented as deep amber in color. It left a medium rim that created slow, fat legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  A jab of caramel was the first thing I smelled. As I continued to explore, I found oak and a big blast of mint. Underneath those was a floral perfume. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, the floral quality continued.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thin and oily. It started off on the front as sweet with a burst of caramel, cherry, and floral notes, then at mid-palate, it got very spicy with rye, mint, and oak.  On the back, I tasted leather, clove, char, and coffee.

Finish:  A long (very long) finish was both smoky and spicy. The smoke started off mild and then built quickly. Once it climaxed, rye spice and cinnamon took over. That then became leather and clove, and finally ended with dark roast coffee that stuck around several minutes.

Bottle, Bar, or BustDapper drinks much higher than its stated proof thanks to how spicy it is. That's not a negative, rather, it is an observation. I enjoyed this, it was interesting, and my favorite part was the finish, particularly the dark roast coffee at the end. Dapper earns a Bottle rating from me.

New Richmond Rye Lil' Nog'n

Richmond Rye is distilled by 45th Parallel Distillery out of New Richmond. That's just south of the Minnesota border on the 45th parallel. The 45th is considered the "halfway" point between the equator and north pole. It was founded in 2007 by Paul Werni, it remains family-owned, with a goal of distilling small-batch spirits. Werni started with vodka, then moved onto whiskeys. But, he was contract distilling, with his most widely-recognized client being J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon. Then, in 2013, he launched New Richmond Rye, and the rest is history.

Werni's philosophy is one of taking his time to make a quality product.

Today many distillers care more about maturing their spirit quickly with wood extracts. A traditional slow maturation process results in a full-bodied flavor that can only be accomplished from years in high-quality wood barrels. - 45th Parallel Distillery

New Richmond Rye is a 65% rye mash with the remainder being corn and malted barley. Entry proof was 116°.  In the case of Lil' Nog'n, it goes a step further - Barrel #134 is a Bottled-in-Bond single barrel, aged for 5 years and 5 months. Like any other Bottled-in-Bond spirit, it weighs in at 100°, and a 750ml is priced at $42.99.

AppearanceIn my Glencairn glass, Lil' Nog'n offered a deep, mahogany color. It provided a thick rim and heavy legs that came down like a curtain. 

Nose:  Caramel and mint were the two dominant aromas. Sawdust, cherry, plum, and cinnamon tagged along. When I inhaled through my mouth, vanilla ran across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was creamy and had a medium body. Flavors of crème fresh, plum, and nutmeg were on the front. As it moved across my palate, I tasted cinnamon and brown sugar. The back consisted of rye spice, toasted oak, and the slightest dusting of char.

Finish:  A long, spicy finish featured cinnamon red hots, mint, nutmeg, and dry oak. 

Bottle, Bar, or BustLil' Nog'n drinks at its stated proof. I found this one fascinating, and I understand the reason for its name - it had all the flavors you'd find in eggnog (without the texture, which some people find off-putting). As for me, I love eggnog, it is a treat I look forward to each winter, and, quite frankly, this one is unique. This takes a very easy Bottle rating.

Final Verdict:  The natural question is, Which of the two did I prefer? These are both delicious ryes, full of character and flavor, but I found Lil' Nog'n came out on top. In either case, you'll wind up with a winner. Cheers!

Niemuth's Southside Market is located at 2021 S. Oneida Street in Appleton.

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

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Rye Review & Tasting Notes

Jack Daniel's has been around for what seems to be forever. In fact, they've not changed their mashbill since 1866, back when 14-year old Jasper "Jack" Daniel started his own distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, producing a charcoal-mellowed whiskey after learning his art from Reverend Dan Call and slave Nathan "Nearest" Green. Back then, the mash was 80% corn, 12% malted barley, and 8% rye. That's remained unchanged through today.

Except in 2012, Jack Daniel's started tinkering around and released its Unaged Rye, using a mash of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley. That then led to Rested Rye in 2014. Neither were greeted with big accolades. But, then, in 2016, the Single Barrel Rye release started to turn heads. 

The Rye goes through the same Lincoln County Process (LCP) that its world-famous Tennessee Whisky does. That involves filtering newmake through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal prior to barreling in new, charred oak. This LCP is supposed to mellow the whiskey. 

As a single barrel whiskey, every release is going to be at least slightly different. It carries no age statement, although it is rumored to be between four and five years old. It is packaged at 94° (although barrel proof is newly released). A 750ml bottle runs around $55.00.

If you're thinking that $55.00 seems a lot for a four or so-year American whiskey, keep in mind that American Rye tends to mature faster than its Bourbon counterpart, and four years is plenty adequate in most cases.

Today I'm reviewing Barrel 18-5485 from rick L-23.  It was dumped on August 14, 2018. Is it any good? The only way to answer that is to #DrinkCurious, so let's get to it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Rye was a bright, clear amber color. It left a very thin rim but generated fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Stewed fruits and a hint of mint started things off on the nose. Aromas of brown sugar and toasted oak was next. And then, strangely enough, I smelled corn. When I inhaled through my open lips, minty vanilla rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was soft and silky. I picked up no ethanol burn. The first flavor to hit my palate was sweet, creamy vanilla. The mint was absent. Mid-palate was rye spice and corn (again). On the back, it was muted oak. 

Finish:  As light as this whiskey was, it had a surprisingly long finish. Pepper and smoky oak started the show, and it ended with, and I can't believe I'm saying this, corn. Corn? Corn is only 18% of the mash. It blows my mind that corn would be a heavy player in something other than a barely-legal Rye.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This whiskey had a very interesting, appetizing nose. It had a nice mouthfeel. The palate was not complicated and lacked any real panache. The corn was baffling, making for a very different American Rye. As most people who follow me know, different is something that's typically appealing. However, different also has to be exciting. The heavy corn presence was distracting and, frankly, I found this Rye boring and not worth $55.00.  As such, it takes a Bust. Cheers!

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

Friday, December 18, 2020

Old Tub Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Several years ago, when I first visited The American Stillhouse in Clermont, Kentucky, I saw Old Tub Bottled-in-Bond in the gift shop. It was a bit on the pricy side, at least in my opinion... $20.00 for a 375ml.  It was hard to justify because, for the same amount of money, I could get Jim Beam Bottled-in-Bond in a 750ml for the same price. Being the price-conscious shopper I can be at times (that's cheap for folks that prefer to call a spade a spade), I passed.

And, every time I thought about it, I kicked myself.  The last time I went to Kentucky, there was no time to go to Clermont, although it was something I wanted to do.

Well, lo and behold, this summer, Jim Beam released Old Tub outside of Kentucky, and they did it for the same price, but this time in a 750ml bottle.

I've been impressed with Beam's limited-edition Bourbons. Distiller's Cut was tasty, affordable, and I grabbed a few bottles.  Repeal Batch was lighter but interesting in its own right. As such, when I saw Old Tub on the shelf, I grabbed the one bottle they had.

Old Tub was the original name of Jim Beam Bourbon, and Old Tub Bottled-in-Bond is allegedly the original recipe back from 1880 for what is now Jim Beam White Label:  75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley.  For the record, James B. Beam changed the name from Old Tub to Jim Beam back in 1943.

Being Bottled-in-Bond, while the Bourbon carries no age statement, it is at least four years old, is bottled at 100°, and came from a single distilling season. Old Tub spent its time in #4 charred oak barrels.  It is not only non-chill filtered, but it is unfiltered, basically, the only thing that's happened is Jim Beam sent the aged whiskey through a screen to catch chunks of wood and char.

The question becomes, did I kick myself all these years for no reason, or did I do good by grabbing the lone bottle I saw?  The answer will be found on my palate, and the way to do that is to #DrinkCurious

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Old Tub was a hazy orange amber. It created a thick rim on the wall, that rim generated medium-thick, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  The first thing I smelled was sweet corn. It took a bit to get past that, and when I did, aromas of vanilla, caramel, orange peel, brown sugar, and banana appeared. I was, frankly, shocked the nose was going to be that complicated, as I've never found that on Beam White Label or the other inexpensive, limited-release Bourbons.  When I breathed the vapor in my mouth, I tasted musty hay and corn.

Palate: The mouthfeel was unexpectedly heavy and very, very oily. Despite being 100°, I didn't feel any heat or ethanol blast. Flavors of corn, vanilla, and honey-roasted peanuts were at the front of the palate. Considering this is Jim Beam distillate, I would have been disappointed if peanuts were absent. At mid-palate, things got complicated with tobacco leaf, berries, and orange peel. Those morphed on the back to oak, clove, and cinnamon. 

Finish:  Initially, the finish was short. But, additional sips proved it was medium-long in length. The oak from the back became smoky, the cinnamon from the back took on a cinnamon apple quality, and then toffee came out of nowhere.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is a $21.00 Bourbon that can compete with more expensive options.  It is full of flavor, much more than you'd ever assumed, and it goes down oh-so-easy. I'm really hoping this limited edition isn't too limited, because I loved it, and not only is this a Bottle rating but an opportunity to #RespectTheBottomShelf. If you see this, get it. No excuses, no hemming-and-hawing. Trust me, just grab it. Cheers!

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


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Paul John Nirvana Indian Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes


There are some Rodney Dangerfield whiskeys out there. In other words, they "get no respect." With some, that lack of respect is well-earned, and with others, unfair. But, everyone has a different palate and there are folks who have certain expectations for whatever they're drinking.

Me?  I try my hardest not to have any expectations. Sure, I've got my own set of biases, but generally speaking, when I have something I've never tried before, I keep an open mind. There have been more times than I can count where something I was sure would be awful wasn't. And, there have been whiskeys with such amazing reputations, yet when I've had them, they're average at best. That's why it is important, even if you have your preconceived notions, to #DrinkCurious and figure things out on your own. 

Today's review is of Paul John Nirvana - an Indian Single Malt.  Indian Single Malts are fascinating. Due to the much hotter temperatures than either Scotland or Ireland experiences along with high humidity, things in India age faster. At Paul John's distillery in Goa, they experience between 8-10% angel's share loss per year. That's significant!

Paul John bucks the trend for things Single Malt.  Instead of the normal two-row barley used in many Single Malts, it uses a six-row varietal. This allows for a higher protein, lower carbohydrate mash that is oilier and sweeter than average. Nirvana, on the other hand, bucks the trend for things Paul John.  First of all, it is their only expression that is chill-filtered. Secondly, it is their only one ringing in at 40% ABV (or 80°). Third of all, it is an unpeated Single Malt.

Nirvana goes through a 60-hour fermentation time before distillation. After distillation in its copper pot still, it is poured into second- and third-fill ex-Bourbon barrels. It is naturally-colored and rested three years before being dumped. You can expect to pay about $30.00 for a 750ml bottle. 

Let's take one more thing into consideration before I get into the tasting notes:  Because of the drastic change in climate conditions, it has been suggested one year of aging in India is equivalent to three years of aging in Scotland or Ireland. If you do the math, that means Nirvana would be comparable to a nine-year Single Malt in the UK.

I'd like to thank Paul John for sending me a sample of Nirvana in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Nirvana was the color of golden straw.  It produced a medium rim on the wall, and once it broke down, long, oily legs dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  Do you like fruit? I had no issues whatsoever pulling out aromas of apple, pear, peach, and raisin. Joining that orchard was honey.  When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I tasted creamy vanilla.

Palate:  As that first sip crossed my lips, I experienced a soft but very oily mouthfeel. On the front, flavors of raisin, orange zest, chocolate, and cocoa were bold and unmistakable. At mid-palate, I discovered pineapple, honeycomb, and cereal grain. At the back were toasted oak and toasted coconut.

Finish:  One of the things some non-Scotch fans cite is a band-aid - or astringent quality those can have. I found none of that with Nirvana. Instead, it was a medium-length finish of coconut, nuts, vanilla, chocolate, and mild oak. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I started this discussion off by talking about a lack of respect. Nirvana has left some reviewers unimpressed. It isn't to say reviews I've read suggest it is a bad whiskey, but it didn't do anything for them. I don't get what they're talking about, either.

Nirvana is a $30.00 Single Malt with a ton of character and flavor.  It is fruity beyond so many fruity Scotches. I'd toss this up against several good 10-to-12-year Speyside or Highland Single Malts and at the very least, Nirvana would hold its own (and, frankly, I believe would win), and it would accomplish that feat for less money.  In my opinion, there's nothing to dislike about Nirvana.  If I was considering getting into Single Malts for the first time, Nirvana could easily make the cut, and I'm happy to extend my Bottle recommendation for it. Cheers!

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Dublin Liberties Murder Lane Single Malt Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


"Named after an unmarked alley between Bow Street and James Street in Dublin, it is said that people who went down that lane never came back. There was an archway with an oak devil hung above it, and it was seen as a place of no return." - The Dublin Liberties Distillery

I've been having some fun with The Dublin Liberties Distillery. This will be my third review of its whiskeys - the first being Oak Devil and the second Copper Alley. I don't talk much about marketing because, for the most part, it is fluff. But, in the case of The Dublin Liberties, these backstories are fascinating and spooky.  Overall, it has no effect on my tasting notes or recommendation, but it sure beats, "My grandpappy's grandpappy was a distiller of yore and we found his secret recipe on the back of a child's painting discovered in the attic of a neighbor at an estate sale."

Today's review is of Murder Lane, a 13-year Single Malt that was first aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, then finished for an undisclosed period in former Hungarian Tokaji wine casks. I'm a whiskey guy. While Mrs. Whiskeyfellow is a cork dork, I've never heard her mention Hungarian Tokaji, and as such, I was curious and looked it up:

"Tokaji is the name used to describe wine from the Tokaj region in northeastern Hungary. Though dry wine is made here, the region’s most famous wines are lusciously sweet, and this is what most people refer to when they use the name Tokaji. The sweet wines of Tokaji are some of the world’s greatest." - Wine Enthusiast

Like everything from The Dublin Liberties, this one is sourced from an undisclosed distillery. It is bottled at 46% ABV (92°) and there were 1278 bottles in the batch. Expect to pay at least $120.00 for a 750ml. That's getting into super-premium pricing for Irish whiskey.

I'd like to thank Quintessential Brands, the parent company of The Dublin Liberties, for providing me a sample of Murder Lane in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  Now, let's #DrinkCurious!

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Murder Lane appeared as a golden amber. It created a thick rim that led to fat, sticky droplets that glued to the wall. They eventually fell back to the pool, but it took a bit.

Nose:  The lusciously sweet note that Wine Enthusiast suggested was appropriate. Aromas of pineapple, Honeycrisp apple, green grape, vanilla, and Whopper candies. As I breathed the vapor in my mouth, it was like eating pineapple. 

Palate:  The mouthfeel was oily and offered a medium body. On the front, I tasted milk chocolate, honey, and toasted coconut. As the liquid moved mid-palate, citrus flavors of orange and lemon danced in tandem, then was joined by apricot. On the back, the sweetness continued with butterscotch, but that then morphed to clove and cinnamon.

Finish:  Where's the wood?  It waited until the finish to appear!  A strong presence of semi-dry oak married with cracked pepper. The spice was long-lasting, but it started dropping off with tobacco leaf, then full-monty sweet with peach before finally fading out.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I don't know who is doing the actual distilling for The Dublin Liberties but I wish I did. I've been impressed with what they're packaging, and Murder Lane is no exception. I'm also damned intrigued about Hungarian Tokaji and want to grab a taste (and that speaks volumes, I'm not really a wine guy). I loved what I drank, and I have nothing to criticize except the cost. At $120.00, I could be persuaded to buy it. But, I've also seen it at $180.00, and Murder Lane just isn't worth that. Take price out of the equation, and this one of the easiest Bottle ratings I'd offer. Factor it back in, and this is a Bar. Find a good whiskey bar and try this one first. I'm sure you'll love it, and you can decide for yourself if you're willing to shell out the dough. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Monday, December 14, 2020

Seven Things Whiskey Reviewers Wish You Knew


"Back in May of 2017, I wrote a piece called The Life and Times of Whiskey Reviewer. The purpose was to tell you what the four worst questions folks ask us and what’s going through our minds when you ask them.

Here we are, three and a half years later, and I find myself with a slew of questions and assumptions that should be addressed en masse. Some come from readers, some come from distillers and producers. No matter who is asking, these questions are more common than you’d think..."

My latest article at Bourbon & Banter is all about things we whiskey reviewers wish you knew. Head on over and give it a read, cheers!

The Presidential Dram Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


The 2020 election is over (thank goodness). I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to hear is anything else about a president - any president - at least for a few months. However, sometimes life throws you for a loop and makes you want to talk about a president anyway.

Today I'm reviewing The Presidential Dram by Proof & Wood Ventures.  Proof & Wood sources whiskeys, usually from either MGP or Dickel, and it has an uncanny ability to pick some of the better barrels from either. The Presidential Dram is part of Proof & Wood's DC Collection, and if you're unfamiliar with it, I've already reviewed The Senator and The Justice.  There is also The Representative and The Ambassador, neither of which I've tried yet.

The Presidential Dram is sourced from MGP and distilled from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. It entered the barrel at 120° and then aged for One Term (four years, although Dave Schmier of Proof & Wood said it "could be" five). It is a single-barrel bourbon, bottled at a barrel proof of 116.9°, and is non-chill filtered. One of the neat things with Proof & Wood is what they offer tends to be priced quite reasonably. In the case of The Presidential Dram, you are looking at $79.99, which is $10.00 more than The Senator, but equally less than The Justice.  The Presidential Dram is a once-every-four-years release.

I'd like to thank Proof & Wood for sending me a sample of The Presidential Dram in exchange for an honest, no-strings-attached review.  And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my trusty Glencairn glass, The Presidential Dram is deep, reddish amber. It left an ultra-thin rim on the wall, and the legs, if you can even call them that, were fat tears that didn't really move.

Nose:  Sweet and fruity aromas wafted from the glass. What was lacking was anything even resembling wood. The sweet smells were chocolate and caramel. The fruity were citrus, plum, and coconut. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, a tsunami of butterscotch raced over my tongue.

Palate:  This is where things got crazy. For me, the first sip of anything is concentrating on the mouthfeel. I don't even care what it tastes like. With The Presidential Dram, my attention deficit disorder kicked in. I was so overwhelmed with flavors that I lost my train of thought. As it turned out, it was thick, creamy, and full-bodied. What distracted me was the punch of plum, cherry, and caramel on the front. At mid-palate, I tasted orange peel, mint, and malted milk balls (think Whoppers without the chocolate coating). Then, on the back, spice finally came into the picture with black pepper, clove, and toasted oak. It was joined by chocolate.

Finish:  There was a slight sizzle on my hard palate, but the finish itself was long and almost silky. It began with high-cacao dark chocolate, charred oak, cherry, and ended with orange peel. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The Presidential Dram is only four years old, but you'd never know it. Heck, I had a rough time buying it. This Bourbon could easily pass for much older MGP stock. This one hits all the right buttons for me. If you're concerned that a four-year Bourbon will set you back $80.00, those will evaporate once you taste it. It is time to start reflecting on the 2020 best whiskeys of the year, and The Presidential Dram is a serious contender. The rating on this is simple:  Bottle. If you see it on the shelf, just buy it. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Wiggly Bridge Small Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Recently, I reviewed Wiggly Bridge Distillery's Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon. My overall rating for it was a Bar.  When Wiggly Bridge sent me that bottle, they also included one of its Small Barrel Bourbon.  That, my friends, is what this review is about.

Something I didn't talk about in the Bottled-in-Bond review is the history of the namesake bridge. Originally constructed in the 1930s in York, Maine, the Wiggly Bridge is the nation's smallest pedestrian suspension bridge. Dave and Dave Woods (father and son) chose to name their distillery after this bridge, suggesting that bigger is not necessarily better. There is a lot of pride, both in the bridge itself and what the distillery creates.

The Small Barrel Bourbon utilizes the same mash of 58% corn, 37% rye, and 5% malted barley as the Bottled-in-Bond.  Unlike it, though, Wiggly Bridge uses 30-gallon barrels instead of the latter's 53-gallon. The Woods have a hand-rolled copper pot still and use Scottish yeast to assist in the fermentation process. It rests in those medium-toasted, #3-char 30-gallon barrels for at least three years before being dumped and then bottled at 86°.  Distribution is currently limited to ME, DC, MA, NJ, NY, and CA. A 750ml will set you back about $50.00.

As always, I'd like to thank Wiggly Bridge for a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. With that being said, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented as chestnut in color.  It produced a thin, sticky rim that eventually spawned slow, creeping legs that fell back to the pool.

Nose:  The very first thing to impact my olfactory sense was fig. It wasn't just a hint of it, either. It was fruity and sweet.  I also smelled toffee, corn, and oak.  When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, thick, rich caramel danced across my tongue.

Palate:  I found the Small Barrel Bourbon to have a creamy, full-bodied mouthfeel. The more I sipped, the creamier it became. An unmistakable flavor of caramel started things off, and that was joined by oak. As it moved to my mid-palate, I could swear I was eating cinnamon apples. Then, on the back, very dark chocolate and nutmeg took over. If it sounds a bit like a recipe for an apple pie, that's what was going through my mind.

Finish:  Everything rounded out with clove, char, cinnamon, and oak in a medium-length finish.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I stated in the beginning, I gave the Bottled-in-Bond version a Bar rating. It was good, but I thought it was expensive for what it was.  With the Small Barrel Bourbon, it is priced in the typical realm of craft whiskey - right at that $50.00 mark.  More important than that, however, is the fact that I enjoyed sipping on this one. The 30-gallon barrels helped this mature quickly, and I frankly loved the creamy texture. This is a well-balanced, flavorful Bourbon that earns my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It