Friday, January 31, 2020

Backbone "Unicorn Slayer" Single Barrel Bourbon Review



I can remember, not even a few years ago, when everyone was sneering at MGP and calling it junk. Fast forward a bit, and magically here we are with MGP being all the rage. 


If you're unfamiliar with MGP, it is the old Seagram's Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It has its own house brands, but for the most part, they're the major source of whiskeys for new craft brands. Sometimes, these craft brands are waiting for their own distillate to mature. Others are just sourcing barrels and hoping the supply doesn't dry up. 


Today I'm reviewing Backbone Bourbon, which is a brand that sources from MGP.  This is a single barrel release, and it is nicknamed Unicorn Slayer by Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, Wisconsin. As I demand transparency from producers and distillers, I hold myself to the same standard. So, in full disclosure, I assisted the Secret Midnight Whiskey Club in picking this barrel. 



Unicorn Slayer was distilled in May 2012 using MGPs Bourbon mash of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley. It aged for seven and a half years before being dumped in November 2019. The barrel yielded 166 bottles and was uncut at 119.3°.  Retail is $69.99 and is available exclusively at Niemuth's.


In my Glencairn glass, Unicorn Slayer was a deep and dark amber. It created a micro-rim on the wall that led to a thick, wavy curtain to drop into the pool of liquid sunshine. That left behind fat, heavy legs that stuck to the side of the glass.


An aroma of freshly-sawn oak filled the room. I left the glass alone for about 20 minutes just enjoying the smell. Once I brought the glass to my face, the first thing I picked up was berry and vanilla. Upon further inspection, cocoa and nutmeg teased. Then, as I brought the glass to my mouth, mint became obvious. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a blend of cocoa and stone fruits.


The mouth was thin and oily and coated everywhere. Amazingly, there was very little heat.  Berry, vanilla, and cinnamon greeted the front of my palate. As it worked its way back, I picked up a definitive dry oak, white pepper, and caramel. Then, on the back of my palate, it was all rye spice and clove.


All of this enveloped into a very long, warm finish. If you would have told me this was almost 120° and I didn't know any better, I would have challenged you on the claim. Clove and rye spice remained for much of the finish, but as it began to die off, creamy caramel closed everything up in a nice, neat package.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I have a very strict standard when I pick barrels. It has to be something special, and I don't attach my name to anything that is a me-too whiskey. One of the things that really grabbed me was how easy it was to drink. There was nothing harsh about this barrel and, quite frankly, the proof will sneak up on you if you're not careful. The nose was very complex, and the palate offered a wide range of flavors. This is a combination that I find very attractive and it is available at a very fair price.


I'll go one step further. I have picked a lot of barrels. Unicorn Slayer is easily in the Top 5 of what I've picked. Obviously, this one is a Bottle rating. Cheers!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Dry Fly Straight Triticale Whiskey Review



I tend to get very excited about different. It is this whole #DrinkCurious lifestyle. There's nothing in the world wrong with standard-bearers in the Wonderful World of Whisk(e)y, but there is something special about discovering something, well, special.  


Triticale is special. It is a grain developed in Scotland that is a hybrid of rye and wheat. So, when Dry Fly Distilling sent me a bottle of their Triticale whiskey in to review, well, I got damned curious. 


Dry Fly Distilling is located in Spokane, Washington and describes itself as a farm-to-bottle distillery. What that means is they source their grains from the immediate area, most of which from the 117-year old Wisota Farm, with any other farms located within 30 miles of the distillery.  They do their own distilling and age their whiskey in 53-gallon new, American oak barrels from Independent Stave Company


Dry Fly's Straight Triticale Whiskey has been aged four years and bottled at 90°. A 750ml will set you back about $39.95, which is at the lower-end of craft whiskey pricing. I'd like to thank Dry Fly for providing me this sample in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review. And now, let's get to it.


In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey presents as burnt sienna.  It is almost orange, almost brown, but not quite either. It produced a very thick rim that generated fast, slow legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.


To suggest the nose is fragrant would do a disservice to the word fragrant. It filled the room. I put off sipping because of how strong the aromas were, I didn't want to interrupt it. Berries and stonefruits dominated. When I finally brought the glass to my nose, I discovered caramel and nuts, candied fruit, and finally, pepper. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow commented that it reminded her of a cabernet sauvignon. When I inhaled through my lips, it was all caramel and berry.


The mouthfeel was thin and oily. This Triticale Whiskey drank like a Lowland Scotch without any astringent (or band-aid) quality. At the front, I tasted almond and vanilla. When it got to mid-palate, it was an unusual combination of plum and pear.  Then, at the back, caramel and white pepper. That sweet spiciness was interesting in a good way.


The finish was medium to long, at least from the start. It started off with an obvious nutmeg. Underneath that was white pepper and charred oak. And then, it dropped off. As I was putting together my notes, caramel came out of nowhere and hung around. I need to make this clear: I was convinced the finish was over and done with and there was nothing for well over two minutes before the caramel said Hello and then that stuck around.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I couldn't stop talking about the nose.  I don't recall the last time I spent this much time just savoring the nose of a whiskey. In the future, I'm going to grab a NEAT glass to see what that does for it. When I considered my rating, Dry Fly's Straight Triticale Whiskey would be an excellent summer sipper. It is light and goes down easy. There is nothing overwhelming on the palate. And, when you factor in the price, it would be silly to pass this one over. This one earns my coveted Bottle rating and I'm happy to have it in my library.  Cheers!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Taconic Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Review



The whole craft whiskey craze is a lot of fun.  There are some brilliant up-and-coming distilleries out there doing great things in a relatively short period of time. You have others that are doing a marvelous job at sourcing and even blending barrels.  When I discover a new distillery, I get excited - that's my jam and I want to spread the word when it is deserved. Conversely, I want to also spread the word when there's something that should be avoided.


Recently, I was introduced to Taconic Distillery out of Standfordville, New York which has been around since 2016. Its founders are men and women who enjoy the outdoors and good whiskey and decided to pool their talents to create a whiskey of their own. Located in the Hudson Valley, it uses spring water sourced from nearby Rolling Hills Farm in the production process and uses standard, 53-gallon barrels from Independent Stave Company to age their whiskeys.  


Today I'm reviewing Dutchess Private Reserve, a three-year Straight Bourbon they've distilled themselves. This Bourbon is bottled at 90° and is made from a mash of 70% corn, 25% rye and 5% malted barley. Distribution is currently in 16 states, and suggested retail is $43.99 for a 750ml bottle.  I'd like to thank Taconic Distillery for providing me a sample of Dutchess Private Reserve in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.


How does Dutchess Private Reserve hold up?  The only way to answer that is to #DrinkCurious...


In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon appears as a clear, deep copper color. It left a thick rim on the wall that led to slow, fat legs that took their time crawling back to the pool. 


Aromas of maple syrup and candied cherries were dominant. Going through my various nosing zones, I discovered vanilla and sweet corn, with a tiny hint of oak.  Inhaling through my lips brought thick vanilla and butterscotch.


The initial sip had a soft, watery feel to it. A good Kentucky chew helped to coat my palate. Subsequent sips remained soft but it became much thinner. At the front, freshly baked vanilla sugar cookie was a welcomed start. Mid-palate converted that sweetness to honey and cherry pie filling. It also added a menthol flavor that was a bit off-putting as it was reminiscent of cherry cough syrup. On the back, it was a nice blend of rye spice and butterscotch.


The finish was confusing. At first, it was a quick in-and-out of spice. But, like the mouthfeel, additional sips changed things up. It became much longer, consisting of black pepper and oak.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  For the most part, I found Dutchess Private Reserve Bourbon to be interesting both on the nose and palate. I would love to see this aged a year or so longer, or perhaps available at a higher proof. Either of those could help reduce or eliminate the menthol quality, which was really the only thing I didn't enjoy. Value-wise, it is priced at the lower end of "craft" whiskeys, making it attractive. I believe Taconic Distillery has some good things going, but this one earns a Bar rating from me, and you should try it first before making a commitment. Cheers! 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey Review


What's the deal with Whiskeyfellow and flavored whiskeys?  Has he gone over the edge?  No, I've not. I've just had an opportunity to try several of these and rather than just passing them off, I believe it is best to share my thoughts with you so those of you who are interested in flavored whiskeys can make an educated decision, just like with any other whiskey I review.


Today's whiskey is Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey.  This one, like when Fireball was introduced, has taken the market by storm. It isn't a cheap whiskey, a bottle will set you back about $29.99.  


Skrewball was invented by Steven and Brittany Yeng, owners of O.B. Noodlehouse and Bar 1502 in Ocean Beach, California. This was something they served to their patrons, who have been described as "misfits, black sheep, and screwballs" of the community. Brittany got the brand up and going, and the rest is history.


Made from whiskey, natural flavors, and caramel coloring, Skrewball is bottled at 70°.  It carries no age statement, but being a liqueur, you can't assume anything from that.  The distiller of the whiskey itself is undisclosed. Caramel coloring is caramel coloring. But, what catches the eye on the back of the bottle is a warning label:


So, yes, apparently the natural flavoring is from real peanuts!  While I would assume there isn't an issue simply opening the bottle in the venue of someone with a peanut allergy, I'd certainly recommend being careful around them so as to not accidentally cause any issues.


My first opportunity to taste Skrewball was at a family birthday party.  Someone started passing along a bottle, it came to me and I tried it.  SPOILER:  I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it so much I went out and got a bottle.  Why?  I'll give you the details...


In my Glencairn glass, Skrewball appears as caramel color. Again, being artificially colored, it means nothing. However, it left a medium-thick rim that generated a huge, wavy curtain and medium legs that slowly crawled back to the pool of whiskey.


The aroma?  Let's get real.  This is a peanut-butter flavored whiskey.  I smelled peanut butter. Not just peanuts, but processed peanut butter. When I inhaled through my lips, it was peanut butter and a hint of vanilla. Anything else was indiscernible.


Skrewball has an amazingly thick and rich mouthfeel, even a bit sticky - just like peanut butter. The stickiness is typical of many liqueurs and wasn't completely unexpected. On the palate, it wasn't just peanut butter. There was also vanilla and then, my mind figured out this was honey roasted peanuts. 


The finish gave some warmth to remind you it is made from whiskey and not just a kiddie drink. But that thick peanut butter remained for a long finish.


For kicks and giggles, I made myself a cocktail of Skrewball and Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur. If you've ever had a Reeses white chocolate peanut butter cup, this was a darned good copy of it, even down to the creamy texture. No ice needed.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Well, the spoiler earlier makes this rating moot, but I want consistency in my reviews. Spend the $30 and get yourself a Bottle. Skrewball is a flavored whiskey worth having around. Cheers!


Postscript:  In all the years I've been writing reviews, I've never felt the need to add a postscript until today. This review has been "live" for about 48 hours and the social media response has been amazing, to say the least. Essentially, people either love Skewball or they have found it disgusting. There have been 250+ comments and not a single one suggests it is just okay or decent. The polarization is unbelievable. Cheers!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My Not So Aimless Wander Around Kentucky

I've been to Kentucky several times. To me, it is the Promised Land. The distilleries, the great people, the Bourbon culture, the gorgeous scenery - it all gets my blood racing. This time around, the purpose was for a Bourbon & Banter barrel pick and some handshaking, and Mrs. Whiskeyfellow and I decided to make it an extended trip. 






Our first stop was on the way to Kentucky, in Borden, Indiana.  If you're wondering what's in Borden, it is the home to Huber Winery and Orchard and Starlight Distillery



When I was taking part in some barrel picks recently, I was introduced to Starlight via Huber's Old Rickhouse Indiana Straight Rye. Now, I know what you're thinking... Indiana Straight Rye means that this is MGP distillate. I made that same assumption and I was absolutely wrong. Huber's has been around for 170 some-odd years. The distillery is newer, but it is all their own.



Anyway, for $15.00, you get a tour of either the winery or the distillery. Either one includes seven samples. As luck would have it, they had several whiskeys from which to sample, and the only one they were sold out of was the Old Rickhouse.  That's okay because I had a chance to sample their other whiskeys, as well as a Blueberry Port and a Bottled in Bond Apple Brandy.  Reviews of the whiskeys will follow.



I will say this much:  Starlight is a distillery you should pay attention to. I predict big things once people learn about it.





Our next stop was to Louisville Distilling Company, a/k/a Angel's Envy. This working distillery was opened in an ex-elevator and sawblade factory. For $18, they put on a very nice tour that gives you a lot of ins-and-outs and provided some good transparency. What you don't get is a glass to keep at the end of the tour. We had a fantastic guide named Peter who knew his stuff and had a great sense of humor. Honestly, a lot of these tours give you the same basic information on the distilling process. Each has some unique aspect of what makes them special. But, the tour guide makes or breaks these tours, and if you get Peter, you're going to have a very enjoyable one.


We sampled their standard Bourbon finished in Port barrels. Once the tour ends, you're invited to their bar where you can order cocktails or their Rye finished in rum casks.


The gift shop was gorgeous, but things were more on the pricey end of the spectrum.





Then, it was off to Old Forester.  This is a working distillery re-opened original location on Whiskey Row. What makes Old Forester unique is they have a working mini cooperage on-premises. I've been to cooperages before and building a barrel is a fascinating process. Being Sunday, the staff was off, but the equipment was still there. Our tour guide was McKenzie who was full of energy and animated. She made it fun. At one point, after she was done explaining where the various flavors come from, my buddy Jim Knudson and I asked her, "Where does the marzipan come from?" Kudos to McKenzie for not missing a beat and getting halfway through her explanation before she stopped and asked, "Is this some sort of set-up?" We admitted it was and had a great laugh.


We sampled the workhorse, Old Forester 86, then 1897 Bottled in Bond, and then their brand-new release of their Rye. For $14 it is a nice tour that, again, does not include a tasting glass to keep at the end. The gift shop has very fair pricing.






Monday morning was the crown jewel.  We met up with Eddie Russell at Wild Turkey to do our barrel pick of Russell's Reserve.  If you're curious, Eddie is very down-to-earth and an all-around gem. We didn't tour the facility, but we did hang out in one of the rickhouses to sample directly from the barrels. We settled on an absolutely delicious one, but until it is time for release, I'll withhold details.








Next was probably the most unusual tour I've ever been on. We were able to tour the Castle & Key distillery on a private tour. Our guide was Abigail, and she knew everything about everything. What made Castle & Key fascinating was how they're still renovating things on the campus. This distillery used to be the Old Taylor Distillery and was left abandoned and severely neglected. They've done a marvelous job restoring things to their original condition as much as possible while ensuring things are safe and up to code. When they're finished, I predict Castle & Key will be like Woodford Reserve or Maker's Mark, where the campus itself will be a destination beyond the distillery.


Castle & Key is not sourcing anything. Currently, they've got vodka and a couple of gins, but we were able to sample some of the newmake that is aging in one of the original rickhouses.  They've also got a gift shop that is well-stocked with variety and was surprisingly affordable.










From there, we went to Michter's Fort Nelson for a private tour. Our guide was Jacqueline, who had an amazing sense of humor and put up with a lot of our silly jokes, including the marzipan one (and then joined in on the fun). We wound up skipping some of the basics since she knew we were not distillery newbies, and really enjoyed the tasting, which included the Michter's 10 Bourbon and Rye as well as the 20 Bourbon. For the record, the 20 is stupidly amazing. 


Michter's also has a very interesting bar at the end of the tour. Here, you can try pretty much anything Michter's has ever produced, including the famed Celebration. You may need to take out a small loan for that, though. Their gift shop is very nice and what I browsed seemed affordable.




 


The next day was our two final distillery tours, starting with Lux Row DistillersOne of the burning questions I've had was Lux Row's relationship with Limestone Branch. I discovered that these are sister organizations under the Luxco parent company.  Thank you to our host, Vincent.


Lux Row is another one of those drop-dead gorgeous campuses. This was erected on a farm near Bardstown and the scenery is amazing. Too bad I didn't catch much of it on film. We were able to sample Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks 90, and David Nicholson Reserve. We were then given the choice of their Double-Barrel Bourbon and Blood Oath V for our final. I recently reviewed the Double-Barrel Bourbon and fell in love with it, but have a bottle at home and opted for the Blood Oath. 


Lux Row also has a beautiful and affordable gift shop.








The final distillery tour was at Bardstown Bourbon Company.  This distillery landed on the Kentucky scene with one plan and wound up with something completely different. They set out to do their own distillate and took on some clients for contract distilling. From there, the contract distilling business apparently went gangbusters. Every client has their own completely customized mashbill and is then distilled by BBC. I don't recall the exact number, but our guide, Sam, told us it was somewhere around 43 different mashbills they distill. 



The campus itself is very modern, from the distillery to the guest center to the rickhouses. One curiosity for me was the feasibility of the rickhouse design. The inside was fine, it was the outside. Rickhouses grow a lot of lovely mold on the outside as the angels take their share, but the way the BBC ones were designed with glass walls and wood plank siding, looks like they'd need to be regularly cleaned to maintain the appearance of the campus. Of course, I could be way off base here. 


When you come through the front door of BBC, the lobby is their restaurant which, if you're curious, has a very nice menu and the food is well-prepared. Their bar has much more than what you'd find at bars of other distilleries. It is fully stocked with a variety of brands. Their gift shop was minimalistic and could best be described as "new retro-modern" in design. They sold not only their house brand of whiskeys but also those of their clients.


On a side note, in the photo below (the overview of them loading barrels), this guy in the warehouse was very talented. He would spin and flip the barrels to get them in the right place. Spinning and rolling I could understand. Flipping? That looked like it required a lot of practice!





And with that, my time with my fellow Bourbon & Banter colleagues came to a finale.




This was, overall, a really fun experience. As I stated at the start, I've been to Kentucky several times. But, it had been five years since I'd been, and there has been a lot of growth in Bourbon Country. Aside from the wonderful fellowship with my colleagues (and seeing many of them in person for the first time), except for Wild Turkey, these were all distilleries that were new to me.


If you've never been to Kentucky, you should go. And, if it has been several years since you last visited, maybe it is time to consider a return.  As for me, I will not wait another five years.


Cheers!