Monday, August 31, 2020

The Senator Barrel Proof Rye Review & Tasting Notes

It is funny how things change in a short period of time. Not too long ago, if you said you had MGP whiskey (be it Bourbon or Rye), people would roll their eyes and yawn. But, in the last year or so, suddenly MGP is the golden child. Everyone wants it. Everyone needs it. And, everyone is willing to pay top dollar for it.  That's market hype for you.

I'm not suggesting MGP isn't good. In fact, the opposite is true. Before MGP was popular, I was impressed by it. Call me an early adopter, if you will. I'm glad to see how much respect MGP has these days. I'm not so keen on some of the prices that are being charged, but whatever. MGP makes some very good whiskeys and, like anyone else, they have mediocre barrels. So, you can't hang your hat on something that is MGP distillate.

Enter, Stage Right, an MGP-sourced barrel-proof Rye called The Senator. The Senator is brought to you by Proof & Wood Ventures of Bardstown, Kentucky. I've reviewed whiskeys out of Proof & Wood before. They're barrel pickers and blenders.  Headed by Dave Schmier, who founded Redemption Whiskey, they choose what they deem to be the "best" of what a distillery has to offer and from there, they do their magic.

The Senator is a Straight Rye aged-stated at six years. That means the youngest whiskey is that age. As this is not single barrel Rye, it is possible to have older whiskeys in the batch. The Senator is a limited-edition release that states on the label when it was distilled (in this case, 2013) and when it was bottled (in this case, Fall of 2019). Since I said this was barrel-proof, it happens to weigh in at 116°.  The lowest retail price I found online was $69.99. Finally, since it is straight, that means there are no additives aside from water to adulterate the whiskey.  It also comes in a wax-sealed top, so that must mean it is awesome, right?

I'd like to thank Proof & Wood Ventures for providing me with a sample of The Senator in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. With that being said, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Senator introduces itself as a bright copper. Frankly, I was expecting something deeper in color, especially as a barrel-proof Rye. But, whatever. It left a thin rim on the wall, yet, that thin rim created a thick, wavy curtain to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Things started off very floral. That was soon joined by caramel and oak. As I continued to explore, I discovered cinnamon, nutmeg, and mint.  When I inhaled through my mouth, a blend of thick caramel and rye spice tangoed across my tongue. 

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thin, yet bold. I know that sounds weird. Cinnamon and dry wood took demanded time on the front of my palate. Then, oak and char interrupted at mid-palate. Candied orange slices spoke up, too.  On the back, I tasted clove and mint.

Finish:   Closing arguments were long and dry (but not boring). Leather and tobacco leaf came out of nowhere, and the clove from the back kept things interesting. 

Because I was in an overly-curious mood, I decided to add two drops of water to my glass to see what would happen.

Nose:  You know Emeril Lagasse? You know how he'd say, BAM! at anything he wanted to get you to pay attention to?  Well, caramel went BAM!  Cinnamon and sweet cream provided some support, and the slightest hint of orange zest made itself known for good measure. When I inhaled through my mouth, all I could find was that caramel.

Mouth:  The light body remained, but any semblance of boldness was completely sequestered. At the front, I tasted musty oak and cinnamon. Mid-palate was dry oak and barrel char. On the back, the only thing I picked out was clove.

Finish:  Despite the added water, that long, dry finish remained It consisted of clove, rye spice, and tobacco leaf.

I am pretty Type-A when it comes to adding water. I use an eye-dropper. I need to be exact because I want to give everything a fair chance on equal ground. I absolutely preferred this neat.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Forget the water-added version.  The neat pour was flavorful, spicy, and sweet in all the right places. Granted, it allowed for some numbing of my hard palate, but that didn't stop me from discerning flavors. At $80.00, this is probably at the upper-echelon of what I'd pay for it and still be a happy camper. I wouldn't go more than that, though. So, for $80.00, this one takes my coveted Bottle rating. For anything higher, you'll want to try it at a Bar before committing to a bottle. Cheers!

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

If it is September then the #30DaysofBourbon challenge is on!


It is that time of the year again - September means it is Bourbon Heritage Month. This year is also the sixth annual #30DaysofBourbon Challenge!

If you think that sounds sissyish and easy, you're wrong. Lots of folks try it and wind up dropping out for one reason or another. There's also a charity angle here because the whiskey community is filled with awesome people who love doing great things for others!

Head on over to Bourbon & Banter to read all about it, download your calendar, and get started.  By the way, this year, because of the pandemic, one of the rules has been relaxed.

#DrinkCurious and Cheers!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Twisted Path Bottled-in-Bond Rye Review & Tasting Notes


Craft distilleries are a lot of fun. Sure, there are folks out there who only drink the stuff from the legacy distilleries, but in my opinion, they're cheating themselves. Craft has so much to offer, there are so many different approaches these distillers take. Granted, some leave you wondering what the heck they were thinking, and others make you wonder what sort of genius they are.

Then, you get into experiments. These are often curiosities by the distillers. Even the big boys do this (most notably Harlan Wheatley of Buffalo Trace). If they turn out well, they get released to consumers. If they don't, well, who knows what the heck happens.

Today I'm reviewing Twisted Path Distillery's Bottled-in-Bond Rye. What's that? You've never heard of Twisted Path?  Allow me to introduce it to you.  It started in 2013 by distiller Brian Sammons. He's got an interesting past:  He worked for the CIA and Department of Defense. He earned a law degree. Then he got into distilling and taught himself the trade.  Twisted Path is located in Milwaukee, and its philosophy is Life is too short to follow someone else's path. We believe in following your passion. We built a small distillery in Milwaukee, where we make organic spirits from scratch. In life and in making our spirits, we're sometimes traditional and sometimes innovative. We follow our own path. We hope you enjoy the result.

The Bottled-in-Bond Rye is an experimental release.  This is the fourth batch and the only one to date that has enough liquid sunshine available to sell.  The last batch sold out at the distillery in just about six hours!  It is made from a mash of 60% rye and 40% corn. After fermentation and distillation, it rested in #3 charred-oak barrels for about five years before being dumped. Because it is Bottled-in-Bond, it is, of course, 100°. It is also certified both organic and gluten-free (on a brief side note, the FDA this past week declared all distilled spirits to be gluten-free). Retail is $65.00, and this is a distillery-only item. The distillery is located at 2018 South 1st Street in Milwaukee.

Is this experiment any good?  The best way to tell for sure is to #DrinkCurious. But, before I get there, I need to thank Twisted Path for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's get to it.

Appearance:   In my Glencairn glass, this Rye appeared as deep, dark mahogany in color. It was a bit cloudy, which leads me to believe it was non-chill filtered. I reached out to Brian and he confirmed as much. It created a thick rim that generated fat, slow droplets. I wouldn't even call them legs.

Nose:  A dark, rich, fruity aroma started things off. I smelled toasted oak and rye spice as well. Beneath that, I found cinnamon and vanilla. When I inhaled through my mouth, a blast of orange zest and cinnamon ran across my tongue.

Palate:  As the liquid passed my lips, it offered a thick, creamy, and coating mouthfeel. Savory and spicy flavors of cinnamon, tobacco leaf, and mint were on the front. Come mid-palate, I was tasting caramel, red fruits, and citrus. Then, on the back, a combination of cocoa, oak, and rye bread.

Finish:  Here's where things got really crazy. Initially, I thought it was medium and dry. It began with smoky oak. Not overly smoky, but enough to identify. Cocoa from the back was married with coffee and black pepper. Then, it went away... except it didn't. I left the glass alone, I was writing down my notes, and BAM, I took a whollop of pear in my mouth. It came completely out of left field and even writing this, I don't understand how it came about. Because of that pear and how long it stuck around the medium descriptor is unfair. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  It isn't too often when you can say the finish is the best part of the experience, but in this case, it is. That's not to discount the nose or palate, which were enticing and enjoyable. But, that finish threw me for a loop. Twisted Path Bottled-in-Bond Rye is unique in a good way, and this little experiment is nicely constructed. This one earns a Bottle rating.  If you're able, get to the distillery, and if you can't, get yourself a mule before this batch is gone. Cheers!

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

Monday, August 24, 2020

Barrell Craft Spirits Dovetail Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

Barrell Craft Spirits is located in Louisville, KY, and is another one of those Non-Distilling Producers (NDP) that get a lot of attention. It has won some hefty awards, including "Best Of" categories over the last few years. That's not bad for a brand that's been around since only 2012. It shows that founder Joe Beatrice isn't some Johnny-Come-Lately.  He may not have formal distilling background, but as a blender and producer, he certainly has proven he knows what he's doing.

"Our goal is to select and blend products that explore different distillation methods, barrels, and aging environments, and bottle them at cask strength. Every batch is produced as a limited release, and has an intentionally distinct flavor profile." -- Joe Beatrice 

Today I'm reviewing Barrell's Dovetail, which is its best-selling whiskey. It started off as a 10-year  undisclosed Indiana-sourced whiskey (read: MGP) and an 11-year undisclosed Tennessee-sourced Bourbon (read: Dickel). No, I don't have proof those distilleries are the sources, but it also isn't rocket science to determine the sources. Those whiskeys were then finished in Dunn's Cabernet casks, late-vintage Port pipes, and Blackstrap Rum casks. According to Barrell, this process took a full year to perfect. 

Non-chill filtered and bottled at 125.24°, a 750ml bottle will set you back in the neighborhood of $79.99.  I'd like to thank Barrell Craft Spirits for providing me a sample in exchange for an honest, no-strings-attached review. Now it is time to #DrinkCurious and get on with it. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Dovetail presented as copper in color. It could be a smidge lighter than that. It created a thin rim that generated medium-thick legs that slowly worked its way back to the pool.

Nose:  Brown sugar and butterscotch raced out the gate. That was soon overcome by banana and cherry. Oak and oiled leather rounded things out. When I inhaled through my mouth, it was all butterscotch.

Palate:  A thick and viscous wave crossed my lips and rolled over my palate. It began with thick caramel, oak, and cocoa on the front. As it moved mid-palate, that transformed to cherry, plum, and cola. On the back was a blend of black pepper and dark chocolate.

Finish:  A long, warm finish of brown sugar, molasses, old oak, nuts, and clove kept things entertaining and almost mesmerizing.

Because this was barrel-proof, I was curious about what would happen if I added two drops of distilled water. 

Nose:  Brown sugar and honey were the dominant aromas. But, they were joined by banana, nuts, and caramel.  When I inhaled through my lips, a thicker, vanilla cream danced on my tongue.

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be thick and creamy. It was also a total cherry bomb!  I had a rough time getting past the cherry to pick up chocolate, caramel, cocoa, and Dr. Pepper (sweet with the flavor of caramel and prunes).   

Finish:  It was shorter than when drank neat, but was comprised of dry oak, black pepper, and caramel. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is where the pedal hits the metal. I found this complex at barrel-proof, and slightly less-so with water added. If there is something wrong with this blend, I'll be a monkey's uncle. I enjoyed every bit of it. There was no Flintstone's vitamin from the Dickel portion (that's a good thing). For $79 you're getting a barrel proof, 10-year whiskey and that's not blinkworthy.  As such, this one snags a Bottle rating from me. I'd buy this one all day long.  Cheers!

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

Wollersheim Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon (2020) Review & Tasting Notes


Bottled-in-Bond is my favorite category of whiskey. It used to be something you found mostly on the bottom shelf and, good or bad, it has been enjoying a resurgence which has been driving up the price of these American beauties. Bottled-in-Bond (or Bonded) distilled spirits came out of a consumer protection issue. Back in the day, unscrupulous folks used to stretch their stocks by putting things, oftentimes bad things, in the whiskey. Think things like tobacco spit, turpentine, and other nasties that no amount of alcohol content sanitizes. People were getting sick, or worse, dying by drinking adulterated spirits.

Enter the Federal Government. Without getting political, I'm not a fan of big government, but there are times it has its place. The passage of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 renewed consumer confidence in American distilled spirits. In order to quality as Bottled-in-Bond, a distilled spirit must:

  • Be made in the USA;
  • Be distilled by a single distiller, at a single distillery, during a single distilling season (either January through June or July through December);
  • State on the label the name of the distiller and, if different, who produced it;
  • Aged at least four years in a government-bonded warehouse; and
  • Bottled at exactly 100°, no more, no less.

So, in a nutshell, this was good legislation.

Today I'm reviewing Wollersheim Distillery's Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon.  I've reviewed their Bonded Bourbon before, but that was the 2019 Fall Release.  This is their Spring 2020 release.  I'm tasting them side-by-side, and I'm letting you know upfront these are completely different whiskeys. Yes, the mashbill is the same (75% corn, 15% malted barley, and 10% rye) and the grains were supplied by the same farm. Yes, they've both been aged four years.  Yes, they've come from the same distillery. However, when I asked Tom Lenerz, the master distiller, what was different, he informed me they switched barrel suppliers to a Wisconsin-based cooperage and changed the char level from a deep, slow toast and light char to a toasted oak with a #3 level char. The cost of a 750ml bottle remains at $49.99.

It is time to #DrinkCurious and find out just how different these two Bourbons are. But, before I do that, I would like to thank Wollersheim Distillery for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, there was no difference in color between 2019 and 2020. Both were an orange-amber. Both created an ultra-thin rim on the wall, which may have been even thinner on the latter. Unlike the former, this one had thick, slow legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of cinnamon, sweet corn, and orange peel hung in the air.  Beyond that, there was malt and caramel.  When I inhaled through my mouth, orange zest and oak ran across my tongue.  On the 2019 version, the fragrance was spicy. This was far less so.

Mouth:  The texture was creamy and coating, and offered a medium body. As I continued to sip, the creaminess ramped up. On the front, flavors of toasted oak, cocoa, and vanilla started things off.  As it continued mid-palate, I tasted caramel-covered popcorn and cashews. Then, on the back, the caramel continued sans the popcorn and was joined by nutmeg and orange citrus.  Some of the notes from the 2019 release carried over, while others did not.

Finish:  The medium-length finish was comprised of toasted oak, corn, toffee, and pink peppercorn. This was a completely different finish from the predecessor. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I enjoyed the 2019 version and gave it a Bottle rating, but was comparing it to other younger Bourbons. The 2020 version can compete against more mature offerings and hold its own. There were no young notes on this, no sharpness on the profile, and it was overall more mellowed. Between the two, the 2020 release leaves the 2019 counterpart in its dust. The price is the same:  $50.00, and I am thrilled to have it in my library. Yeah, this one gets a Bottle rating, too. Get this, you will be impressed. Cheers!

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Woodford Reserve Straight Wheat Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

If you've never been to Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, you're missing out. It may be one of the most beautiful campuses I've had the pleasure of visiting. Nestled in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by horse country, views abound and it seems like a very intimate, almost romantic setting.  Woodford is owned by Brown-Forman, one of the larger beverage conglomerates in the world.

Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall are certainly innovative. They both embrace uniqueness, which is something I appreciate:

"The idea is to create new and different things with an artisan's touch. Things nobody's ever done before while maintaining the essence of Woodford Reserve that everyone loves." - Chris Morris
"Woodford Reserve is a brand that was built out of pure passion. Every person who touched it was united in building something great. It's all the pieces that make Woodford so unique and special, from the liquid to the bottle, our home place, Woodford County, and all the people that touch it." - Elizabeth McCall

Today I'm reviewing Woodford Reserve Straight Wheat Whiskey. Does that mean this is a wheated Bourbon?  No, not at all!  Wheat whiskey is a legally-defined category, with the requirement of a mashbill of 51% or more wheat as the primary ingredient. From there, it shares many of the requirements of Bourbon or American Rye:  It must be aged in new, charred oak containers, must have an entry proof of no more than 125°, and cannot be distilled higher than 160°.  To be considered straight, it must be aged at least two years and have no additives other than water. 

Wheat whiskeys are not rare, but they are unusual for American distillers. In Kentucky, the only other major distiller offering wheat whiskey is Bernheim from Heaven Hill.  Both are what you'd consider "barely legal" with mashbills hovering around that 51% mark. There are other distillers using much heavier wheat content, such as W Wheat Whiskey from 45th Parallel in Wisconsin and Dry Fly out of Washington state, both of which I've reviewed.

Woodford's version is distilled from a mash of 52% wheat, 20% malted barley, 20% corn, and 8% rye. It carries no age statement, but since that's the case we know it is at least four years. Woodford typically uses a #4-level char on its barrels and its rickhouses are temperature controlled. The final product is 90.4° with a suggested retail of $34.99.

I know I've thrown a lot of information at you, now it is time to get to the tasting notes and review. Before I do that, though, I'd like to thank Brown-Forman for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn Glass, this wheat whiskey appeared as a bright bronze color. It left an incredibly thin rim that generated fat, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  Flowery aromas kicked things off, followed by nutmeg and cinnamon.  As I continued to explore, I smelled baked apple and pear, oak, cherry, and vanilla.  When I inhaled through my lips, there was pear and astringent quality.  Astringent is not something that you'd typically find in wheat whiskeys, at least not in my experience. 

Palate:  Woodford offered a thin and dry mouthfeel, sort of like what you'd expect from a Sauvignon Blanc wine.  At the front, the dominant flavor was oak. That was followed by white pepper in the middle. Try as I might, I couldn't find anything on the back.

Finish:  It wasn't an overwhelmingly warming whiskey, and it left a short-to-medium length finish of dry fruit and oak. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Generally speaking, I have a deep respect for Woodford and what they try to do. They have some expressions I really enjoy and few that I'm not a fan of.  In the case of its Straight Wheat Whiskey, this falls in the latter half. The best thing about this whiskey is the nose. It has an attractive price tag of $34.99, it wasn't bad whiskey, but I also didn't consider it something that grabbed my attention. You may find it more interesting than I did, and as such, this one takes a Bar rating.

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

Monday, August 17, 2020

Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Every so often, I come across something new and different. Sure, every whiskey is different per se, but I mean really, really different. Today, I'm reviewing Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey.

What, exactly, is Spirit Whiskey? I had to look up the definition. According to US law:

“Spirit whiskey” is a mixture of neutral spirits and not less than 5 percent on a proof gallon basis of whiskey, or straight whiskey, or straight whiskey and whiskey, if the straight whiskey component is less than 20 percent on a proof gallon basis.

You can look at that and come to a variety of conclusions, including but not limited to vodka with a splash of 5% or more whiskey, and, in theory, you'd be right. Kansas Clean is a bit more complicated than that. The first step is a mash of wheat, corn, malted barley, and rye.  That's then sent through the column still to create a five-times distilled neutral grain spirit (NGS).  That NGS is then blended with an "aged" Bourbon. That marriage is then double-distilled again.

The concoction is then proofed down to 80°, and retail is about $44.99. Before I get to the tasting notes, I'd like to thank Fabulous American Beverages for providing me with a sample in exchange for a no-stings-attached, honest review.  Let's #DrinkCurious, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Kansas Clean Distilled appeared, well, clean. It had a slight yellowish hue, just like a newmake, white dog, etc. It left a thin rim that generated medium, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of... um... liquid sunshine, I suppose.

Nose:  My first sniff gave me nothing. It might as well have been a glass of water. I was wondering if maybe that's what I got. But, as I continued to smell the glass, I found buttered popcorn, similar in nature to most newmake you'd stumble across. Except, the popcorn was lighter, more along the lines of vodka.  When I inhaled through my mouth, I picked up vanilla bean.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was akin to water. It offered a brief, feathery burn. The flavor of vanilla filled my mouth... And, at this point, I stopped my analysis. I went to the liquor cabinet and grabbed a bottle of Absolut Vanilla. I had to do a side-by-side comparison because I could swear that's what I was sipping.

Except, it wasn't. The vanilla in the Kansas Clean Distilled wasn't artificial like the Absolut. There was no ethanol burn. As I went back to the Kansas Clean Distilled, I found myself tasting sugar cookies and toasted coconut.

Finish:  There was a heaping helping of vanilla cream and something peppery. It closely resembled green peppercorn.  Medium in length, the entire thing seemed strangely balanced.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:   Judging Kansas Clean Distilled may have been one of the most challenging reviews I've put together. It is in a realm by itself. It isn't moonshine. It isn't vodka. It is somewhere in-between the two in a roundabout sort of way. I can see where this has its place, possibly for fans of flavored vodkas or those who concentrate on cocktails. The packaging is absolutely gorgeous, the bottle looks like a giant, glass hip flask. Despite that, for $45.00, that's asking a lot for something in that universe. I don't envision die-hard whiskey drinkers going for this, and for that reason, it takes a Bust for me.  If you're into flavored vodkas or want an interesting, different mixer, this could be attractive, and for those, I'll toss a Bar recommendation at it. Cheers!

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

Friday, August 14, 2020

George Remus "Bootlegger Bentley's" Barrel Proof Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


If you're in Wisconsin, you know a bunch of George Remus picks just hit the shelves... and if you don't know that, now you do. If you're unfamiliar with Remus, it is one of MGP's house brands of Bourbon. MGP is known for making excellent whiskey.

One of the barrels that just hit is The Speakeasy_WI's Bootlegger Bentley's. It is time for complete and total disclosure:  The Speakeasy_WI is a fun, welcoming group I belong to and which is owned by Troy Mancusi. We do a lot of barrel picks, and ours have a history of not sticking around long.  Our most recent barrels have sold out in three days or less.

Bootlegger Bentley's was picked on February 20, 2020, just before the crap that is COVID-19 hit the fan. It was also the last in-store pick I was a part of (subsequent picks have happened remotely). Picking along with me and Troy were Dan "The Candyman" O'Connell and "Lucky Bastard" Terry Sullivan. We were sponsored by Neil's Liquors located at 2415 Allen Blvd. in Middleton, which is the exclusive retailer for this barrel.

We agreed on Barrel #357, which was seven years old and came in at 123.8°.  By the time the barrel was dumped, it was closer to 7.5 years and crept up to 124°.  The mashbill is MGP's 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. A measly 132 750ml bottles are available and retail for $56.99.

Now that all the details have been shared, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Bootlegger Bentley's appeared as a bright amber. It left a very thin rim and generated thick, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  Caramel dominated the air. It was accompanied by mint, cinnamon, and dark fruit.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was mint with a touch of caramel. The bomb of caramel switched places with the mint.

Palate:  The first sip brought a need for a second. The mouthfeel was all over the place, starting off thin and as it worked its way across my mouth, thickened. That's not something you typically find. That second sip became very creamy.  Heavy vanilla was on the front.  It was joined by a very dry oak, which made for an interesting marriage. As the whiskey moved to mid-palate, berries fell from that oak, giving a nice, sweet experience. Then, on the back, cinnamon, not just cinnamon but Red Hots candy along with the berry.   

Finish:  If you can picture a finish like a freight train, this is that. It starts off slow and then once it gets going it never lets up. Six minutes past my last sip and it is still ramping up.  It starts with cocoa, then oak, and finally, black pepper.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Yes, I'm biased. But, let's get real. I require that anything that has my name attached to it must be nothing less than excellent. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking, but keep in mind I've rejected more samples than I've given a thumbs-up to, and I go into every pick prepared to walk away empty-handed. I don't pick something because there's an opportunity.

However, let's look at this objectively. This is a 7-year old barrel-proof Bourbon and it is only $57.00.  On the surface, that's a hell of a good price.  The fact that Bootlegger Bentley's is one that you won't want to chug through means you'll take more time per sip to enjoy it. Obviously, it gets a Bottle rating. Get yours before it is gone. Cheers!

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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Justice Barrel Proof Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

I'm gonna lay all my cards on the table.  I am, generally speaking, suspect of George Dickel whiskeys. It isn't that they're bad, but what I've had has been fairly unimpressive. I've walked away from several barrel picks, not knowing they were Dickel beforehand, but after passing judgment, learned they were, indeed, Dickel barrels. For me, there's always that Flinstones vitamin taste to it.

The #DrinkCurious lifestyle is one of each barrel or bottle considered innocent until proven guilty. That means when you are presented with something you've rejected in the past, you don't dismiss future opportunities. You take them one at a time. Everything deserves a second, third, or even fourth chance.

Proof and Wood Ventures is a company that brands itself as Purveyors and Blenders of American and Global Spirits. Founded by Dave Schmier, it takes what it considers only the best barrels and tries to improve upon them. That's a heck of a task that many have tried and few have found serious success. 

Today I'm reviewing The Justice, which is a Dickel-sourced Bourbon that carries a 14-year age statement. Proof and Wood purchased a dozen barrels and blended them to make this barrel-proof Bourbon. And, when I say barrel proof, you're going to think I'm crazy when I tell you what it is:  94.2°!  That's one of the lowest barrel-proof American whiskeys I've had the opportunity to try, and, in fact, might be the lowest. It was distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2019. Retail is about $89.00.

I'd like to thank Proof and Wood for providing me a sample of The Justice in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's have a trial, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Justice appeared before The Court as a deep, brown amber. It left evidence of a thick, heavy rim and fat, slow legs that dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of cinnamon and vanilla pled the case. Then, cherry, plum, and toasted oak were introduced for consideration. When I inhaled through my lips, the vanilla was insistent.

Palate:  The oral arguments started thick and full-bodied.  Plum, cinnamon, and cherry testified first. Then, midway through, cola, stewed fruits, and citrus bore witness. Finally, dry oak and cocoa established their presence.

Finish:  A long, intense cross-examination of dry oak, spearmint, black pepper, and leather made their cases. Then, cherry offered an objection insisting it was owed due diligence.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I found a few things that impressed me. First, the mouthfeel got thicker and thicker each time I sipped. Second of all, this one drank much higher than 94° - it wasn't burn per se, but there was a definite Kentucky... err... Tennessee hug. The verdict is in:  This one changed my mind on Dickel. I thought this was deliciously complex, it was unusual, and I think this is worth every penny of the $89.00 investment. As such, it takes my Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

Still Austin "The Musician" Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Texas typically does things big.  They're the biggest, they're the best, or at least Texans think so. One thing I've been somewhat unimpressed with, however, is their whiskey. It tends to be hot, one- or two-notes, and they tend to taste the same - corn and wood, wood and corn. 

When Still Austin Whiskey Company asked me to review The Musician, which is a two-year-old Straight Bourbon, I was hoping it would be more than fancy marketing. The fact that Nancy "The Nose" Fraley was involved gave me some added confidence.  Nancy doesn't screw around, and I have a ton of respect for her. Still Austin is a grain-to-glass distillery. It uses only 100% Texas-grown grains and everything it distills is its own.  The Master Distiller is John Schrepel.

The distillate starts with a mash of 70% non-GMO white corn, 25% Elbon rye, and 5% malted barley. After fermentation, that's run through a 50-foot Scottish-made still called "Nancy" (probably not named after Fraley). It is aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years.  

Now, if you think that's young, keep in mind this is Texas. Similar to Indian whiskey, the theory is it ages faster due to the extreme heat. The angels tend to steal a lot in a quick manner.  But, what you miss is the cold climate to force the whiskey out of the wood.

The Musician is bottled at 98.4° and is slated to be the first of a series of artistic whiskeys. Retail is $45.00 and can be found throughout Texas or online at Still Austin's website.

But, before you go out and buy a bottle, wouldn't you want to know if it is any good? The only way to get the answer to that is to #DrinkCurious. But first, I need to thank Still Austin for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Musician appeared as a rusty orange. It produced a thick, sticky rim that gave way to medium, fast legs once they got going.

Nose:  The first note to hit my nostrils was corn.  Oh, boy. This was going to be another typical Texas whiskey. But, as I continued to explore, aromas of banana, toasted coconut, and caramel joined the club. But, that's not all.  Milk chocolate, nutmeg, and toasted oak rounded things out. When I inhaled through my mouth, I tasted pineapple and caramel. 

Palate:  My initial sip was greeted by a medium body that coated everywhere. At the front, flavors of brown sugar and cinnamon started things off. As it moved to the middle of my palate, a sample of hazelnut, coffee, banana, and caramel made me smile.  On the back was a definitive charred oak quality.

Finish:  You know that pink bunny in the battery commercials?  The Energizer Bunny?  The finish on this just kept going and going and going. It was smoky with black pepper and near the end, cherry.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If there was a Bourbon to change my mind about Texas-made stuff, The Musician accomplished the task.  I was surprised to find a complex nose and palate. I enjoyed the smoky finish.  I would love to find something to complain about, but even the price is right. So, yes, folks, you're getting a Bottle recommendation out of me on this Texas Bourbon.  Cheers!

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

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

If you're new or relatively new to American Rye, you might be trying to get past the spiciness this category of whiskey has to offer. Similarly to getting used to peat in Scotch, rye's spiciness is something most people have to acclimate to fully appreciate.  Thankfully, many distilleries offer barely legal Ryes, meaning, they have the minimum or close to the minimum 51% requirement of rye content in the mash.

Many of the legacy distillers hover in this area because the idea is to have a product enjoy mass appeal. Woodford Reserve is no different. They're not targeting drinkers who want 95% or 100% rye content because most casual whiskey drinkers wouldn't become repeat consumers.

"Woodford Reserve Rye uses a pre-prohibition style ratio of 53% rye in its mash bill to pay homage to history’s original rye whiskeys, making spice and tobacco the dominant note among a sea of fruit, floral, and sweet aromatics, which yields a nice sweetness and overall balance. Our rye whiskey can deliver complex flavors – neat, on ice, or in a cocktail. A balanced rye makes a more balanced cocktail." - Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve's Straight Rye has a mash of 53% rye as stated above, however, the remainder is also important.  33% of that is corn, meant to sweeten the pot, and the last 14% is malted barley, meant to round things out and, of course, to aid in the fermentation process. It carries no age statement, but because of that, we know that it is at least four years old. Woodford Reserve uses new, #4-charred oak barrels for a majority of its products. Woodford does utilize climate-controlled warehouses where it tries to make the most out of cold winters and hot, humid summers. And, because it is straight, we know there is nothing added but water to proof it down to 90.4°.  Retail is about $34.99.

How does its Straight Rye taste?  It is time to #DrinkCurious, but first, I want to thank Brown-Forman, the owner of Woodford Reserve, for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey presents as a deep chestnut color. It left a medium-thick rim and generated watery legs that quickly dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Despite being only 53% rye, rye spice was the first thing that hit my nostrils. It was joined by toasted oak, which was unexpected considering the heavy char level. As I continued to explore, I unearthed apple, honey, candied red fruits, and pecan.  When I inhaled through my lips, the pecan continued and was married to tobacco leaf.

Palate:  Things started off with a thin and airy mouthfeel. Generally speaking, American Rye starts off spicy. Well, this one didn't - it started off with sweet honey. The honey was then mingled with black peppercorn and rye spice. Come mid-palate, brown sugar and heavy mint dominated. Then, on the back, vanilla bean and pear completed the trip.  It was strange to have the flavors go sweet to spicy, sweet to spicy.

Finish:  While there wasn't a whole lot going on, that was offset by how long it lasted. Sweet vanilla, almond, and dry oak continued the uniqueness of the sweet to spicy cycle. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Woodford Reserve Straight Rye is a simple but interesting pour. There is nothing overly complicated about it, but weirdly unpretentious as it was, there was also nothing lacking. This is an easy sipper, it is very affordable, and not even challenging to obtain.  All of that is the recipe for a Bottle rating, and I believe this is one you'll enjoy.  Cheers! 

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

Monday, August 3, 2020

Tumblin' Dice Straight Bourbon Heavy Rye Mashbill Review & Tasting Notes

As a reviewer, one of the things I really appreciate is transparency. Actually, as a consumer, I appreciate it even more. So when a brand goes out of its way to not play games or hide behind a cute backstory, I give them props.

One such brand is Proof and Wood Ventures, a company that brands itself as Purveyors and Blenders of American and Global Spirits. Founded by Dave Schmier, it takes what it considers only the best barrels and tries to improve upon them. That's a heck of a task that several folks have attempted, and few with much success.

Today's review is Tumblin' Dice Straight Bourbon Whiskey Heavy Rye Mashbill. If you think that's one heck of a name, I'm guilty of shortening it. Before that big name, it says, "Deadwood Presents." Tumblin' Dice is sourced from MGP of Indiana. It is made from a seriously high rye mashbill. I'm talking 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley.  It carries a four-year age statement, and this one weighs in at 100°.  MGP doesn't have a standard char level for its barrels, but, because this is Bourbon, we do know new, charred oak was used.  Retail of Tumblin' Dice is about $40.00.

All of this, short of the price, is on the label. That's disclosure!

Before I go any further, it is time for my own disclosure. Proof and Wood sent me a sample of Tumblin' Dice in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  Now it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Tumblin' Dice appeared burnt umber in color. I saw a thicker rim that generated even thicker legs to slowly drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of orange peel and stone fruits started things off. Underneath those were cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel.  Finally, I got a whiff of milk chocolate.  When I brought the air through my open mouth, vanilla and oak rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  A warming, oily, medium-bodied mouthfeel presented caramel, plum, and citrus flavors on the front of my palate. As it moved along, dark chocolate, nutmeg, and a hefty cinnamon punch took over. That, in turn, led to charred oak, creamy vanilla, and rye spice on the back.  

Finish:  The cinnamon from mid-palate continued into the very long finish. That was married with toasted oak, cocoa, and at the end, plum.  

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If I'm going to be honest, and that's what you expect of me (and I expect of me), this is a damned good four-year Bourbon. The nose, palate, and even the finish are complex enough to keep things interesting. I loved the plum bomb at the end. As varied as things were, they all seemed to compliment each other. If you tried to describe Christmas in a bottle, this would be it. Think of grandma's fruitcake. Her good recipe, not the garbage that everyone regifts for decades.

Now let's look at the two Andy Jacksons it'll take to get a bottle. I wouldn't blink twice handing that over. As me for an Alexander Hamilton on top of it and I'd not even flinch. If you see this, buy it. You won't be disappointed.  I shouldn't even have to say this, but it earns a Bottle rating from me.  Cheers!

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