Saturday, October 31, 2020

Old 55 Sweet Corn Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Sweet corn. Yeah, it's a thing. I absolutely love corn on the cob. In fact, I've been caught holding a cob with melted butter dripping down my arm. Sweet corn is awesome.

But, does it make good Bourbon?

Sweet corn isn't unheard of as a minor contributor to a Bourbon's mash, but it is far from common. Sweet corn is challenging to work with compared to, say, yellow dent. It is milkier, higher in sugar, and lower on starch. For the most part, sweet corn is for eating, not for distilling.

And then, there's Old 55 DistilleryOld 55 is a grain-to-glass distillery founded in 2014. The grains are all grown on the 140-acre Fruits family farm that belonged to distiller Jason Fruits' grandfather, a former navy vet, who bought a feed service and feed mill, or by one of the neighboring farms. Everything from the growing of the grain to creating the mash, to distillation, to aging, to bottling is done in-house. Nothing is outsourced. It relies on a custom-built pot still crafted by Kothe Destillationstechnik of Germany.

The warehouse may be the most interesting aspect of what separates Old 55 from others. That's because it is in a renovated 1942 school.  The top floor is storage for empty barrels. Yeah, I know, big deal.  The actual aging is done completely underground in the basement, where there is high humidity and temperatures range from only 50 to 66 degrees all year long. 98% of the barrels wind up being over-proofed - meaning at least 50% alcohol by volume.

Old 55 took sweet corn, the same corn you'd eat right off the cob, then ground and distilled it for their 100% Sweet Corn Bourbon. This is a unique whiskey that defies the industry standard, and Jason's goal to discover his spotted unicorn.  Old 55 uses only the heart cuts with no heads or tails. After distillation, it is proofed between 112° and 115°, then placed into new, charred 30-gallon oak barrels. It is then bottled at 80°, carries no age statement, and retails for about $117.00.

Yes, you read that right. Before you thumb your nose at it, keep in mind how difficult it is to make a 100% sweet corn Bourbon. From what I could gather from both Jason and the TTB, nobody else does this. Unique comes at a cost.

The question becomes, when does unique become a smart buy? The only way to find out is to #DrinkCurious.  But first, I'd like to thank Old 55 Distillery for providing me with a sample in exchange for an honest, no-strings-attached review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the 100% Sweet Corn Bourbon presented as a strong bronze color. It created a medium rim on the wall, which led to thick, slow legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of corn and oak were easily identified. Underneath them was a floral quality, which then morphed to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and grass.  When I inhaled through my mouth, I picked up Andes mint and, again, grass.

Palate:  A very viscous mouthfeel started the journey across my palate. At the front, it was most definitely corn. At mid-palate, I found creamy vanilla and ginger. Ginger isn't something I typically find in Bourbon. On the back, it was a mix of toasted oak and walnuts.  

Finish:  The finish was medium in length and gave up dry oak and barrel char.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  The neck pour included an astringent quality that I'm used to experiencing in Scotch but not American whiskeys. I allowed the bottle to oxidize for about two weeks and then revisited it and that astringent quality disappeared. The other notes remained unchanged. At the end of the day, unique or not, expensive to produce or not, I demand a serious wow factor for something hitting the $100 and above tier. It just wasn't there. This is a good whiskey, and, because of that, you should try this one first at a Bar before committing to a purchase.  Cheers!

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

Friday, October 30, 2020

Dry Fly Straight Washington Wheat Whiskey Review

When you hear the term wheat whiskey, several people would assume it means a wheater or a wheated Bourbon. However, wheat whiskey is a category all by itself. And, what we know about wheat is that it is a tasteless grain when it is distilled:  It adds a level of "smoothness" and highlights the other flavors in the mash.

There are not too many out there that do it right. Perhaps the most well-known wheat whiskey is from Heaven Hill, and it is called Bernheim, named after the distillery's founder. For the record, when someone is new to whiskey and claims they don't like it, I've been known to grab a bottle of Bernheim because it goes down so easily.

But, what happens when the mash is 100% wheat?  Does that mean that the whiskey itself has no taste? Not at all! 

Today I'm pouring Dry Fly's Straight Washington Wheat Whiskey. This isn't my first rodeo with Dry Fly. Recently I had the opportunity to review their Straight Triticale Whiskey and I loved it. The Straight Washington Wheat Whiskey is distilled from a mash of 100% soft, white wheat that is grown by Wisota Farms, located 30 miles from the distillery. It is then aged for three years in new, #3 charred oak 53-gallon barrels from Independent Stave Company before being bottled at 90°.  Retail is $39.95 for a 750ml bottle.

I'd like to thank Dry Fly Distilling for providing me a sample of their whiskey in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, let's get to it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this wheat whiskey appears as a clear, light gold. While it created a thin rim, the legs were fat and heavy. They fell to the pool of liquid sunshine, but at the same time, left behind big droplets that hung to the wall.

Nose:  Aromas of orchard fruits, particularly peach and apricot, greeted my nostrils. They were followed by oak and, finally, caramel. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a blend of dried hay and peach. The nose was not very complex, but in my experience, that's typical of a wheat whiskey.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was very light and airy but also delivered a spicy punch. On the front, it was dry oak and cinnamon spice. At mid-palate, there was a suggestion of peach and definitive nutmeg. Then, on the back, it was citric acid and nuts. I could not nail down what type of nut (or nuts) were present.

Finish:  Medium-to-short in length, it started off with very spicy white pepper. That subdued to black pepper, and when that vanished, it became sweet.

On a bit of a segway, I did pour some Bernheim to do a quick comparison.  The Bernheim is four years older but also bottled at 90° (and, again, is not 100% wheat). The two are absolutely different in pretty much every way. Dry Fly's version has more on the nose and palate, and Heaven Hill's has no spice whatsoever. Heaven Hill has a much creamier mouthfeel and more vanillas. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Because there are a limited number of easy-to-obtain 100% wheat whiskeys, my experience is admittedly sparse. I found this Straight Washington Wheat Whiskey to be interesting and easy to drink. The spice, especially on the finish, was a bit of a surprise. When I consider the price, it is very fair, especially out of a craft distillery. I happily offer my coveted Bottle rating, and on a side note, I'm so far very impressed with Dry Fly.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Davidson Reserve Genesis Tennessee Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Tennessee is steeped in distilling tradition. The most popular American whiskey in the world is Jack Daniel's Old No. 7.   Then there is George Dickel, the distillery that provides many with sourced whiskeys.  Most folks would stop right there if asked to name Tennessee distilleries. There are many others, they're just not on everyone's radar. One such distillery is Pennington Distilling Co. located in Nashville. 

Founded by the husband-wife team of Jeff and Jenny Pennington in 2011, the Penningtons started with Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream.  Usually, you see distillers start with gins and vodkas, not whiskey creams. But, they had a plan and they ran with it. Next up was Pickers Vodka. Finally, in 2014, the Penningtons started distilling Bourbon.  They named the product line Davidson Reserve

Then, in 2017, they released a limited-edition Bourbon called Genesis. Released every October 17th, and always releasing only 1017 bottles (in case you didn't catch that, 1017 is October 17th). What Genesis is is a blend of three of the original 25 barrels distilled in 2014. This is their Birthday Bourbon, and the 2020 edition is the sixth year of the release.

Distilled from a mash of 70% white corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, Genesis is bottled at 100°.  Pennington suggests in its marketing materials that it is Bottled-in-Bond, although it doesn't say that anywhere on the label. As this is extremely limited (there are, at most, only 1016 other bottles out there), finding retail pricing is $99.99, and if you can find a bottle, like anything else allocated, it is probably above MSRP.

I'd like to thank Pennington for sending me a bottle of Genesis in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Genesis appeared as a reddish-amber. It created a thicker rim that brought about fast, medium legs to fall back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Fruit could be smelled from across the room. As the glass came closer to my face, it was easier to narrow aromas down.  Honeysuckle and raisin came first, followed by green grape and cherry. I didn't pick up any wood notes or ethanol.  When I breathed the vapor in my mouth, vanilla and raisin danced across my tongue.

Palate:  My first sip seemed thin and light. But, the body gained weight as I continued to explore what was in my glass. It never got heavy or full-bodied but did offer an oily texture. Corn and toasted oak were predominant on the front. As the Bourbon moved to my middle-palate, blueberries and cherries blended with candied almond. Then, on the back, I tasted tobacco leaf and vanilla, which made for an interesting combination.

Finish:  A long-lasting finish of cinnamon, honey-roasted peanuts, almond, and charred oak kept things going and warmed my throat.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Tennessee Whisky is a category I don't delve into often. I stick to the professional blenders who source from Dickel or bottles of the higher-end offerings from Jack Daniel's. This is nothing like the standard fare from either of those distilleries. For that matter, this is nothing like the "good" stuff from those, either. 

Instead, what I experienced was unique (always a scary word) and I appreciate what the Penningtons have distilled and aged. I have no idea what the previous three releases of Genesis were like, but this six-year is delicious, and I'm thrilled to have it in my whiskey library. That, folks, means this snags my Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Monday, October 26, 2020

Whiskey Wisdom: Age & Price Can't Beat Taste


My latest advice column is up on Bourbon & Banter

I write this article with the full knowledge and understanding that I’ll probably piss off a lot of folks in the whiskey industry: anyone from distillers to marketing teams to distributors to retailers. However, what I’m suggesting is being said without malice. Rather, I’m just dispelling two big whiskey myths, and both can have an impact on the average whiskey drinker’s bank account. Also, these two myths tend to go hand in hand...

Enjoy, cheers!

Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Pretty bottles concern me. It isn't anything scary, mind you, but it is often indicative of trying to make a crappy whiskey seem better by putting it in a fancy package. As such, when this Solera Aged Bourbon from Hillrock Estate Distillery showed up on my doorstep, I had to roll my eyes and wonder what I was getting myself into.

Unless you're a real whiskey nerd, you're probably wondering what a Solera is.  

Solera aging involves a pyramid of barrels where a small portion of whiskey is removed periodically from the lowest tier of barrels and an equal measure of new whiskey is added to the top barrels. No barrel in the Solera is ever emptied, and over time, the older whiskey in the Solera mingles with younger whiskeys to create unmatched depth and complexity. - Hillrock Estate Distillery

Does that sound like marketing-speak?  I've seen Solera systems up close and personal. There is a distillery (Dancing Goat) about 20 minutes away from me that utilizes one. It is an interesting way to age whiskey and the cool thing is, no two batches are alike. But, you have to know what you're doing with a Solera system. You can't just randomly pull out and add whiskey.

Hillrock started the whole Solera aging system for Bourbon back in 2012. They didn't invent it. Solera systems have been used by brewers, vintners, and distillers for ages. But, Bourbon is fairly new to the process. Hillrock has another first:  it was the first American distillery to have its own malting floor.

Founded in 2012 at Ancram, New York, by Jeffrey Baker and his wife, Cathy Franklin, they reached out to the late, great Dave Pickerell to be their Master Distiller. The finishing process in the Solera uses 20-year old Oloroso sherry casks. Hillrock is a grain-to-glass distillery, meaning it does everything from growing the grains to bottling the whiskey on-premises. A copper pot still is used to create the distillate of 63% corn and 37% rye. The average age of the whiskey is six years, although it carries no age statement.  A 92.6°, 750ml bottle will set you back around $90.00.  

I'd like to thank Hillrock for sending me a bottle in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious. For the record, I'm reviewing Batch 185.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Hillrock presented as chestnut in color.  It left a medium rim that generated fat, fast legs that fell back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of maple syrup and sweet vanilla cream were obvious. As I continued to explore, I found raisin and mint. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, very strong vanilla races across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick, rich, and creamy.  The more I sipped, the heavier the body became. On the front, the sherry influence offered plum, raisin, and fig.  As it moved to mid-palate, a blend of caramel, nougat, and milk chocolate was easy to pick out. Think of a Milky Way candy bar. Clove, cinnamon, and toasted oak made up the back.

Finish:  A long finish started spicy with oak, cinnamon, and the slightest hint of char. But, dark chocolate and raisin fell behind that. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Solera aging is interesting and doesn't always work well. I've had some that have been very meh.  On the other hand, there are some that are mind-blowing. Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon falls into that latter category. I loved every aspect of this whiskey, from the nose to the finish. There isn't a single negative thing I can point out. Yeah, it is a $90.00 Bourbon, but once you crack it open you won't care. This snags my coveted Bottle rating and, in fact, might be one of the best non-allocated, on-the-shelf Bourbons I've had this year.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Wiggly Bridge Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Did you know they were making Bourbon in Maine? I mean, yeah, Bourbon is made in every state, but have you heard of Bourbon from Maine? Until this bottle from Wiggly Bridge Distillery hit my hands, I hadn't. 

A dinner discussion between father and son David and David Woods casually led to a joke about starting a distillery. Soon, that joke became very serious. David Jr. learned how to craft copper, and he designed a 60-gallon, hand-made still, by - get this - watching YouTube videos! Fast-forward to now, and they've released a Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, their first using standard, 53-gallon barrels. All of Wiggly Bridge's products are distributed in Maine, Washington DC, New York, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey with plans to continue expansion.

This Bourbon is twice-distilled from a mash of 58% corn, 37% rye, and 5% malted barley. The Woods use a Scottish whisky yeast to get things fermenting. The distillate is then poured into new, medium-toasted #3-charred oak barrels and allowed to rest four years before being dumped. Obviously, as this is a bonded whiskey, it is 100°. A 750ml bottle will set you back roughly $69.99. 

I'd like to thank Wiggly Bridge for sending me a sample of this Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Now it is time for me to #DrinkCurious and let you know my thoughts.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Wiggly Bridge appeared as burnt umber in color. It left a medium-thick rim on the wall with heavy, slow legs that dropped back to the pool.

Nose:  Corn was the first note I picked up. It was followed by cinnamon, toasted oak, and mint. When I inhaled through my lips, caramel rolled across my palate. 

Palate:  A thick, watery mouthfeel started things off. Considering the proof, the watery quality was unexpected. There was very little ethanol. Similar to the nose, corn was the first thing I tasted. The front was joined by caramel. At mid-palate, the caramel continued and was blended with dried cherry. Then, on the back, I discovered black pepper and dry oak. Very dry oak.

Finish:  The finish had me fooled. First, it was medium in length. I took another sip, and then it became a locomotive, just chugging along without end. Barrel char and clove stuck around for many minutes, and when that subsided, it was oak. The oak was so dry there was almost pucker power to it. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Wiggly Bridge Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon is not complex, but it is far from boring. There are enough surprises to keep things interesting. Frankly, I enjoyed it, even the extraordinarily dry quality on both the back and finish. And, while I'm happy to have it in my whiskey library, the price is a stumbling block. A $70 price tag breaks the glass ceiling of craft whiskey. Were it priced $10-$15 less, it would get a Bottle rating. At this price, my recommendation would be to try it at a Bar first. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Monday, October 19, 2020

Yellowstone 2020 Limited Edition Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Fall is what's generally thought to be the time when special release Bourbons come out. That's the perception, but in reality, these limited editions are released all year long - it just depends on what you're after.

Since 2017, I've been reviewing the annual release of Yellowstone Limited Edition. Sourced by Limestone Branch, brothers Steve and Paul Beam do unique things with what they have.  For 2020, they've done something that, if not unique, is at least very unusual. They took a seven-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon and finished it in Armagnac casks. 

Armagnac is my favorite brandy, although it is considered by some to be Cognac's ugly stepsister. Both have to be completely made in their respective regions of France. The varietals differ. Cognac must contain at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard grapes. Armagnac is made from Baco 22, Colombard, Old Blanche, and Ugni Blanc varieties. Cognac is made on a pot still, Armagnac on a column. Cognac has a lighter nose and is thought to be less flavorful than Armagnac.

According to Steve Beam:

Armagnac is a rustic, full-bodied spirit that contributes dark fruit notes, complimenting the vanilla notes in the Bourbon. Just like a chef adds spices to enhance flavors, I believe cask-finishing should be similar, where it simply enhances the natural flavor in the Bourbon.

There is no transparency as it pertains to whose distillate this is, but Luxco (Limestone Branch's parent company) has a long-standing relationship with Heaven Hill. As such, you can draw your own conclusions. Like the previous Limited Edition releases, this one weighs in at 101° and costs $99.99.  It is important to note that, unlike other annual releases from distilleries, Limestone Branch has held this price for several years.  There are a total of 5000 cases, and for a change of pace, this Yellowstone comes in a different, more eye-catching bottle.

Before I get to the review, I'd like to thank Luxco for providing me a sample of its 2020 release in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Yellowstone presented as true, unadulterated amber. It created a thin rim but fat, heavy legs that raced back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of sweeter fruits started things off. Atypical of the kind I normally find, these come from the melon genre: honeydew and canteloupe. Vanilla bean and chocolate were next, followed by a touch of sweet berry. When I breathed the vapor through my lips, the honeydew stood out.

Palate:  Offering a substantial body, things commenced with a blast. Vanilla from the Bourbon was first and took up the entire front of my palate. Mid-palate, dried cherry, raisin, and prunes made me forget entirely about the vanilla. Then, on the back, the fruit changed to citrus peel mixed with very dry, French oak. 

Finish:  The mid-palate fruits returned for a second appearance and spotlighted the Armagnac influence. Cocoa powder, coconut, and French oak stuck around for an enduring finish that ran for several minutes. There was also a tingling sensation left behind on the hard palate.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I enjoy Cognac-finished Bourbons and was damned curious what Armagnac would do for one. Now I have that answer. If the Yellowstone 2020 Limited Edition is any indicator, this is something other brands should pay attention to. The Brothers Beam did something lovely here, and this earns my Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Busker Triple Cask Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Life can be full of surprises. Right now there is a resurgence in Irish distilling that goes beyond the big boys expanding their reach. What started a few years ago is now coming of age and ready for the market. One such example is Royal Oak Distillery, which is built on an 18th-century estate in County Carlow. Imported by Disaronno International, Royal Oak has both pot and column stills.

The distillery produces four versions of Irish whiskey: Single Grain, Single Malt, Single Pot Still, and a blend of the three.  Today I'm reviewing The Busker Triple Cask Triple Smooth which is the latter. A majority of the blend is made from the Single Malt and Single Pot Still expressions, with the remainder Single Grain. The Blend is matured in three different casks formerly holding Bourbon, Sherry, and Cantine Florio (1833) Sicilian Marsala. 

This is for the wanderers, the sharers of stories, the followers of dreams, living unabashedly. Meet The Busker, its roots now deep at Royal Oak Distillery, the home of Irish Whiskey Culture [...] But only in wandering far has it found its true place in the world here among the spirited, like you. - Royal Oak Distillery

There is no age statement on the label, but all that means it was at least three years, as that's what's required by Irish law. The Busker is 40% ABV and retails for $24.99.  It hit the market in September and while not common, it enjoys a wide distribution in the United States.

All that information is nice to know, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is how it tastes.  I purchased this whiskey at a local store, I've cracked it open, and I'm ready to #DrinkCurious and tell you all about it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Busker appears as an obvious gold color. It created a medium rim that generated thick, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine. When I suggest fast, they dropped as quickly as they formed.

Nose:  The fruitiness was unmistakable. I could smell it before it came anywhere near my face. Aromas of plum and raisin were easy to pick up, the banana and pear less so. When I inhaled through my open lips, it was a palpable flavor of vanilla.

Palate:  A thick, buttery mouthfeel coated everywhere, leaving nothing untouched. There was no ethanol to distract from what I would experience. On the front, I tasted a combination of vanilla and dark chocolate. As the liquid moved to my mid-palate, the only thing I discerned was malt. Then, on the back, it was an interesting marriage of cinnamon, raisin, and toasted oak.

Finish:  A long - very, very long, lasting finish of vanilla, white pepper, and toasted oak would not give up. There was absolutely nothing harsh about it.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is a $25 Irish whiskey and it isn't overly complicated. In fact, it is the opposite. But, it leaves other similarly-priced competitors in the dust. The Busker is everything you've ever heard about Irish whiskey - smooth and simple. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it, especially since this is an off-the-radar distillery. Cutting to the chase, this is about as easy of a Bottle rating as it gets. It is delicious, anyone can afford it, and I can't wait to see what else comes out of this distillery. Cheers! 

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Monday, October 12, 2020

Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition Bourbon Review and Tasting Notes


When a whiskey costs $2000.00, most folks don't have that just sitting around waiting to be spent. To get the painful part out of the way, that's what a bottle of Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition will set you back.

Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, let's talk about what it is.  It starts with the normal Woodford Reserve Bourbon, but, it has been aged an additional three years in XO cognac casks. I've had a handful of cognac-finished Bourbons and they're typically enjoyable, but usually, you're looking at a few months, maybe six, in the cognac casks. Three years is beyond the norm. Just like the standard Woodford flagship Bourbon, this one is bottled at 90.4°. Despite telling us how long it was aged in cognac casks, it carries no age statement. 

What makes this a $2000 bottle? A three-year finish isn't going to raise the price that much.  Instead, the $2000 bottle is, well, the bottle. According to Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris, “Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition is a celebration of history, a celebration of the connections between France and Kentucky -- and a celebration of the finest flavors of bourbon and cognac." 

If you're unfamiliar with Baccarat, it was founded by King Louis XV in 1764. It is located in Baccarat, France, and the crystal maker owns two museums. It started manufacturing stemware, window panes, and mirrors before developing the world's first crystal oven. 

The decanter itself took five days to create. For the record, it looks pretty slick.

How did Woodford do with this cognac-finished Bourbon? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious. But first, I want to thank Woodford Reserve for sending me a sample of the Baccarat Edition in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the Bourbon presented as a dusty bronze color. It left a medium rim on the wall and created thick droplets that were glued until they became too heavy, then dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of chocolate and orange peel started things off. Those were joined by nutmeg, dried cherries, and crème brûlée.  When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, the vanilla and orange peel stuck around. 

Palate:  The Baccarat Edition had a medium mouthfeel that offered no ethanol punch. The very first thing I tasted was vanilla. It wasn't just a little, rather, it was a vanilla bomb. I experienced difficulty finding anything else on the front, but that orange peel slid in before the liquid moved mid-palate. Then, very dark chocolate, cocoa powder, cherry, and apricot took over. On the back, it was an interesting blend of brioche, roasted coffee beans, dark chocolate, nutmeg, and salted caramel.

Finish:  A long-lasting finish of clove, French oak, dark chocolate, and salted caramel remained. The last note to fall off was the salted caramel.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Let's get real. I'm not paying $2000 for a bottle of whiskey. But, I did very much enjoy the actual whiskey inside and am curious if Woodford would offer a future release sans the crystal decanter. It was wonderfully balanced and might be one of the best things I've had out of this distillery. That would score a Bottle rating from me. If you find this at your local watering hole and it isn't prohibitively priced, try it. You'll appreciate what Woodford has done. Hence, it takes an overall Bar rating.

If you've got two grand to spend and you want a gorgeous decanter engraved with real gold, you can buy this limited-edition Bourbon from the distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, or at select retailers around the country. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Barrell Craft Spirits Rye Batch 003 Review & Tasting Notes


So here's the thing... normally when I pen a review, I have the opportunity to delve deep and examine what I'm critiquing. Today, however, didn't go as planned. When Barrell Craft Spirits sent me a sample of Barrell Rye Batch 003, the nice folks at FedEx misread the big red label that said FRAGILE.

The good news?  Two of the three samples arrived intact. The third, the one that contained Batch 003, was nearly drained. But, there was, thankfully enough left to taste and judge. Regardless, I'd like to thank Barrell Craft Spirits for sending me the sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. The breakage wasn't their fault, and, in fact, if these weren't bundled in layer upon layer of bubble wrap, things could have been worse.

Batch 003 has an interesting composition. It is a blend of four- to fourteen-year straight rye whiskeys sourced from Indiana (MGP), Tennessee (Dickel), Canada, and, of all places, Poland. The only one that Barrell discloses for age is the 13-year Canadian.  Were I to take a wild guess, I'd say the Polish one is the oldest. But, that's just a gut feeling.  Because the youngest whiskey is four years old, that's the age statement the bottle carries.  Like everything else from Barrell, this one is barrel proof and weighs in at a healthy 116.7°.  Retail is $79.99 for a 750ml.

And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Batch 003 introduced itself as rather orangish in color, pretty much a classic amber. It left a thin rim on the wall that created fat, heavy legs that fell back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of corn and nuts started things off. That was followed by caramel, dark cherries, melon, and, finally, a delicate oak. There was no blunt trauma of ethanol despite my being prepared for it. When I inhaled through my mouth, thick, cherry jam raced across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel offered a medium body and the whiskey coated everywhere. At the front of my palate, I tasted toasted coconut and caramel. As it worked its way across, cinnamon, brown sugar, and molasses each took a turn. Then, on the back, I found cumin and orange zest.

Finish:  Medium in length and very, very dry, the finish consisted of tobacco leaf, rye spice, toasted oak, and both very late and unexpected, raspberry.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Generally-speaking, I'm always suspect of Canadian Rye.  As the rules are fast and loose, you never quite know what to expect. I've experienced Polish Rye and have been pleased. The MGP and Dickel components were unidentifiable, which was neither good nor bad. It was just an observation. Getting past all of that hoopla, I thought Batch 003 was very well-balanced and the only thing I didn't like about it was that a majority of my sample was lost in shipment. This was delicious. It isn't overly expensive, and I'm happy to hand over my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, October 5, 2020

Wollersheim Single Barrel Rye Review & Tasting Notes

I get excited when a local distillery releases something new. There's just something cool about watching growth and maturity happen. Located just outside of Sauk City, the Wollersheim Winery has been around since the 1840s. The distillery is much, much younger. Due to a change in Wisconsin law, wineries were allowed to start distilling in 2009. Shortly thereafter, they started making brandy. In 2015, a separate distillery building was constructed, and Tom Lenerz, the master distiller, started experimenting with Bourbon and Rye.

Fast forward five years and Wollersheim is getting ready to release its first Single Barrel Rye.  That starts with Barrel 16021, distilled in 2016.  Created from a sweet mash of 66% of rye, 22% yellow corn, and 12% malted barley, all of the ingredients came from Wisconsin. Even the barrels were Wisconsin-sourced. The wood was seasoned for two years, then, after being coopered into 53-gallon barrels, were first toasted then subject to a #3 char treatment.  It came out of the barrel at 110°, and a 750ml will set you back $49.99. 

I'd like to thank Wollersheim Distillery for providing me with a sample of this Rye in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Now, it is time to #DrinkCurious

Appearance:  This Rye appeared as a clear, orange-amber in my Glencairn glass. It made a medium rim, and lead to tiny droplets that eventually became long, slow legs.

Nose:  Floral perfume filled my tasting room.  As I brought my glass to my nose, I inhaled aromas of toasted oak, cinnamon, and vanilla. When I breathed the vapor in my mouth, that vanilla became thick and luxurious. 

Palate:  As this whiskey crossed my lips, it was very creamy and coated everywhere, and was very full-bodied. Flavors of cocoa powder and rye spice hit the front.  Mid-palate I tasted smoked caramel, pecan, and mace. Vanilla cream, cinnamon, and toasted oak were on the back.

Finish:  Rounding things out, if you can call it rounding, was unfiltered, gritty barrel char. The cocoa returned, as did the mace, and those were annexed by black pepper and salted caramel. The saline stuck around for a long, dry finish.

I was curious about what water would do to open things up. Using an eyedropper, I added two drops of distilled water. 

Nose:  The vanilla became very strong and was blended with smoked oak. The cinnamon was reduced.  Inhaling through my mouth offered me light floral notes. 

Palate:  That creamy mouthfeel became even thicker. The pecan took the front stage and morphed into vanilla. Mid-palate suggested black pepper and dry oak. On the back, smoked caramel took over everything.

Finish:  Strangely enough, it seemed like the proof increased with water. Things were bolder. If you took toasted oak and dropped that in cinnamon syrup and let it rest for, say, a month, that's what you would have here. It produced a lot of heat. The barrel char was still there, and beneath all that was berry.  It didn't last as long as the neat pour did, but I was shocked nonetheless.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:   This is a younger Rye.  As a point of reference, I don't compare old Ryes to new ones. It isn't fair. Young Ryes are bold, older ones mellow out. I love each of them for what they are. Saying that I found Barrel #16021 to be balanced while offering a lot of flavors. I particularly enjoyed the transition from smoked to salted caramel. Between the neat and "proofed down" (if you can call it that) pours, I definitely preferred it neat. For $50.00, that's right in the sweet spot for craft whiskey and shouldn't chase anyone away.  I'm happy to have this in my library, and I believe you will, too. It takes my Bottle recommendation. Cheers!

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

Friday, October 2, 2020

Octomore Ten Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review & Tasting Notes


This is the final chapter of a three-part review series of the Octomore 11 release from Bruichladdich. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Octomore is an annual release of whiskies. But, it isn't just another whisky - Octomore boasts to be the heaviest-peated Scotches around.

Two days ago, I reviewed Octomore 11.1, and I also explained what peat was. Feel free to swing back to that review for a detailed explanation, as well as what makes Octomore truly different in terms of Scotch. Yesterday, I reviewed Octomore 11.3.

And that brings me to Octomore Ten Years. Octomore Ten Years is released every other year (it cycles with Octomore x.4 as a biannual release). Before we get there, I'll invite you to check out how to decode the Octomore numbering system, which was composed by Scotch Trooper and MarvelAtWhisky.

As a single malt, it starts with 100% Scottish-grown Optic Barley. It was then aged ten years using a combination of virgin oak, first- and second-fill American oak from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Jack Daniel's.  It is natural-colored, non-chill filtered, and cask strength at 54.3% ABV (108.6°). The yield was 12,000 bottles. 

And then, it becomes time to separate the adults from the kids. We're talking phenols, which is the technical term for peatiness and are measured in parts per million (PPM).  A few of the heaviest-peated Scotches out there top off at 55 PPM (think Ardbeg).  Most are well below that. Then you have the super-heavy peated Octomore collection:

  • Octomore 11.1 is 139.6 PPM
  • Octomore 11.3 is 194 PPM
  • Octomore Ten Years buries all of them at 208 PPM!

Just as I did in my 11.1 and 11.3 reviews, I want to pony up some transparency: I was provided samples of these three Octomore releases in exchange for reviews. I've been recruited as part of a group of US-based whiskey writers dubbed The Octomore Eleven. We were selected to assist with the launch of Octomore 11. However, my review is 100% mine, it is as always my true tasting notes and experience. As you know, my reputation is everything.

I want to make one other thing clear. It would be a huge mistake to pour Octomore into a glass and drink it without letting it breathe. Bruichladdich recommends eight minutes. I recommend between ten and fifteen.

And, with all that out of the way, it is time to #DrinkCurious tell you how this peat bomb holds up.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Octomore Ten Years presents as a dull gold. This is very likely from the virgin oak casks, as the 11.1 and 11.3 were very pale. It left a medium-thick rim that created a fat curtain (I couldn't even call them droplets) that crashed back to the pool.

Nose:  File this one under duh! because the first thing I smelled was the peat. Once my olfactory sense got used to that, it was easy to find citrus, pear, apple, vanilla, honey, and toasted oak.  When I inhaled through my lips, the air brought a rush of vanilla to race across my palate. It was a bomb of vanilla.

Palate:  My initial sip suggested a Scotch with a medium body. Subsequent tastings became creamier. And, as expected, the first flavors were very smoky with some ash. Once the palate shock subsided, I tasted an earthy malt along with vanilla on the front. As the whisky moved to mid-palate, cocoa powder and nutmeg quickly morphed to citrus and apricot. Then, on the back, a blend of toasted oak, brine, and white pepper.

Finish:  Of the three, I believe Ten Years had the longest, smokiest finish. That didn't surprise me considering the phenol difference. Very dry oak, likely from the virgin casks, led to clove, chocolate, pear, and finally malt.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Just as 11.1 and 11.3 were eye-opening for their balance despite the peat, Ten Years didn't disappoint. Unlike 11.1 and 11.3, I prepared myself for the blast and didn't let my brain get ahead of my palate. 

Similar to the other releases, I have no idea what MSRP is on this. But, I've seen Octomore 10.x on the shelf at stores and the prices were in the low-to-mid $100s range.  But, Ten Years wasn't part of the 10.x series (because it would have been an x.4 year). Being twice as old and less available, I'd safely assume higher. 

You absolutely, positively have to be a fan of peat if you're even going to consider any Octomore release. It is not a starting point. 

I do enjoy peated whiskies and I appreciated everything Octomore Ten Years had to offer. Without knowing the price, I'm giving this one a Bottle rating.

So, what's my final verdict on the Octomore series?  They're all bodacious, but I rate them in order as 11.1, Ten Years, and 11.3. Cheers!

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The 30 Days of Bourbon Recap and my Donation to to Help Cure CRPS

September was a ton of fun - a well-needed (and earned) break from the disaster that is 2020. The #30DaysofBourbon challenge was bigger, badder, and better than it has ever been. This year, I relaxed one of the rules allowing for different proofs of the same label to be counted as different Bourbons. You can thank COVID-19 for that.

Truth be told, until the last few years, I've hated being in photos and I still hate being in videos. I don't mind public speaking, I don't mind being a guest on someone's webcast. In fact, I enjoy those things. But, when I'm on my own doing my own thing, I really dislike being in front of the camera. As such, part of the 30 Days of Bourbon challenge is for me to make myself uncomfortable.

Things started off with a video introduction and explanation. Then, on September 1st, the challenge kicked off with Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond.  This is my house Bourbon, the one that I never allow to disappear from my whiskey library.

Day two was a celebration of George Garvin Brown's birthday. He was the namesake of Brown-Forman, which owns Old Forester, and is credited with offering the first bottled Bourbon. Each year, on September 2nd, Old Forester releases its Birthday Bourbon. This release is from 2016.  By the way, check out my t-shirt!

On Day three, I decided to go with something discontinued. In this case, it was Ezra Brooks 7-year, which is a 101° rumored to be sourced from Heaven Hill. If you stumble across this one on the shelf, do yourself a favor and grab it. You can thank me later!

For the fourth day, I decided to crank things up a bit and pour something barrel proof. That led me to EH Taylor Barrel Proof. This one is from 2015 and rings in at a hefty 124.7°. It was the first Bourbon I had that gave me a purely overwhelming blast of berries.

Day Five was my introduction to Barrel-Proof Bourbon:  Elijah Craig.  Not this particular release, but still before the bottle redesign. This beauty came out of the barrel at 139.4° in May 2016. In the current labeling system, it would be called B516.

As day six rolled around, I selected an exemplary reason why it is so important to #DrinkCurious. When I was early on in my whiskey journey, my wife bought me Old Weller Antique. It burned like hell and my palate was just too young to appreciate it. About two years ago, I revisited it, and ever since then I've been kicking myself for passing up all the opportunities I had to buy it while it was easy to find.  Lesson learned:  If you don't like something now, give it a second chance down the road.

To round out the first week, Day 7 was probably the most unusual pour:  Jim Beam Signature Whole Rolled Oat.  This is an 11-year Bourbon whose mash substituted rolled oats for the typical rye content. These Signature releases seem to hit the clearance aisles of liquor stores that I've visited, and they're mostly good stuff.

On the eighth day, I selected another discontinued label, this time from Heaven HillOld Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond went from an everyday opportunity to an allocated, limited edition run. You used to be able to pick these up for about $20.00.  The new version will set you back over $100.00, but carries an age statement and is aged many more years. 

The ninth day went to the first private barrel (a/k/a store pick) of the month:  Maker's Mark Private Selection.  This one was for Mahen's which has a few stores in the greater Madison area. Maker's is customizable by the customer - you get to choose from various staves to add to the finish and make it all your own. 

I'm big on humor. Learn, Laugh, & Enjoy Great Whiskey is my slogan. The 10th pour of the month has a funny name: Cinder Dick. It was the name that encouraged me to first try it, because, good or bad, it made me smile. As it turned out, this is a serious whiskey. 

The choice for my 11th pour was not easy. September 11th is a somber day for the United States. What makes one distillery better than another or more deserving? Bourbon is America's Native Spirit, I don't think any single distillery is more "American" than another. But, the Blaum Bros use red, white, and blue on their in-house distilled labels, of which Old Fangled Knotter Bourbon is not. I selected the 12-year cask strength at 114°.

I had something completely different planned for the 12th day, but as happens every single year, things change. Wiggly Bridge Distillery sent me a bottle of its Bottled-in-Bond expression for a review, and after a few days, I couldn't stand the suspense and cracked it open. 

The 13th day brought a very limited-edition pour from Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. out of Dekalb, Illinois. It is a 5.5-grain Bourbon made from wheat, oats, rye, malted barley, and then two types of corn: green and yellow. Those two corn varietals make the 1.5 of the 5.5 grains.  It was aged only a year, but it was one tasty pour.

I rounded out the second week with Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon. Old 55 is a farm-to-glass whiskey out of Indiana, and their rickhouse is in the basement of a former elementary school, giving it very little change in temperature despite seasonal changes. 

At the halfway point, I decided my 15th pour would be the Bourbon that changed my mind about Texas Bourbons:  Still Austin's The Musician. This two-year-old really impressed me.

I opted out of being in the photo for Day 16 because you'd never see the lettering on the bottle label and it would just look weird. This is Lux Row Distillers' Double Barrel Bourbon, which was my 2019 Bourbon of the Year.

The 17th pour of my challenge was Tumblin’ Dice Barrel Proof. This four-year MGP distillate will knock your socks off, and so will the price. Oh yeah, I'm back in the photos.

The 18th Bourbon was Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond. This is the one that started me on my #RespectTheBottomShelf campaign. It was also my introduction to bonded whiskeys. Unfortunately, this one is kind-of, sort-of discontinued. While still available at 100°, it has lost its Bottled-in-Bond status.

On the 19th day, I poured Wollersheim Distillery's 2020 Spring Release Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon. Drink local, right? Moreover, Drink Wisconsinbly!

At the two-thirds mark, twenty days in, I went in with Fighting Cock 103. This is a Heaven Hill Distillery 6-year bottling which hs been discontinued, but a no-age-statement version is still around. 

My 21st pour was Kentucky Peerless Straight Bourbon. This is done in small batches but is bottled at barrel proof. In this case, it was 109.5°.

At this point, I planned on everything forward to be a store pick. The 22nd pour would be the only one that I'd not personally picked, but it had to be done because, well, what would a month of Bourbon be without Buffalo Trace?  This one is from Monumental Enterprises in McFarland. 

And now, for something completely different: Every Bourbon for the remainder of the month is from a barrel that I personally picked. To start that off, the 23rd pour is “Unicorn Slayer” - a 7.5 year Backbone Bourbon bottled at 119.3° and picked by the Secret Midnight Whiskey Club for Niemuth’s Southside Market.

For the 24th pour, I chose J. Henry & Sons Patton Road Reserve. This was picked for The Speakeasy_WI and Riley's Wines of the World in Madison back in 2018. Barrel number 210!

For the 25th pour, I chose "Scott's Holy Grail" - a 1792 Full Proof picked for The Speakeasy_WI and Neil's Liquors of Middleton in 2019. 

On Day 26, the pour was a Russell's Reserve pick called "The Candyman." Picking Wild Turkey has been an interesting chapter in my life because, until recently, I wasn't the biggest fan. But, I'm at the point in my journey where I appreciate what it is and what it can be. This was a 2020 pick, again for The Speakeasy_WI and Neil's Liquor

I’m going with a George Remus pick from a few months ago called “Bootlegger Bentley's.” Bentley is a loveable Newfie that belongs to Troy, the owner of The SpeakEasy_WI. Given the opportunity, I’d steal him. This is one of the better whiskeys I’ve stumbled across in 2020 and was picked for Neil's Liquor in Middleton.


And then, there's the 28th. Year over year, my 28th pour is the same. Always. This was picked on September 28th, 2013, which happened to be my 11th wedding anniversary. It was my first barrel pick. I really only drink this Four Roses OBSO on September 28th, with my goal to keep being able to take a sip as long as I'm alive. This 10-year comes in at 126.8° and was picked for Fine Spirits in Cooper City, Florida.

With only two days left, I went with Woodinville Whiskey Co's first barrel-proof release in Wisconsin for the 29th pour, picked with The Speakeasy_WI for Neil's Liquor. We called this one "Whassup? Flockers." It weighs in at 119.6°.

And then, finally, all good things come to an end. Day 30, the final day - what to choose? How about an amazing Knob Creek Single Barrel I helped pick for Riley's Wines of the World with The Speakeasy_WI. This one is called "The Rat Pick" and while I've been involved with some incredible barrel picks, this one's my second favorite of all time. Yeah, that's my face on the sticker. 

And with that, we come to the best part of the #30DaysofBourbon Challenge - the giving back. I have selected the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association at as my charitable donation. I support the RSDSA every year because it is personal - Mrs. Whiskeyfellow has been an amazing Pain Warrior and battling this horrific nerve disorder for several years. The RSDSA provides awareness, assistance, and education about RSD/CRPS and helps drive research for a cure. It is my sincerest hope that one day, CRPS will be a faint memory and those afflicted will be able to live pain-free again.

Thank you for taking part in my #30DaysofBourbon Challenge. Cheers!