Monday, November 30, 2020

Deadwood American Rye Review & Tasting Notes


The old West was full of romanticism regarding ranchers and cowboys, about gunfights in the middle of the street at high noon. And then, of course, there were the saloons. Often the center of attention on the frontier, saloons served as the watering hole, the theater, and the whorehouse.  It was also a source of tall tales and outlandish characters. One such personality was Bill Hickok. He worked a variety of jobs and was rumored to have killed dozens of men until his untimely death. As it turned out, Hickok was a good storyteller and that's about it. He did kill a few men, but the more accurate number was closer to six.  He did some embellishing, no doubt.

Today I'm reviewing Deadwood American Rye by Proof & Wood Ventures. One of the things I appreciate from Proof & Wood is the transparency aspect. While everything is not disclosed, everything you need to know is disclosed so that, with little effort, you can fill in the blanks on your own. You'll notice a few things when you look the bottle over. Go to the backside and you'll see an age statement:  Carefully aged in full-size American oak barrels at least 24 months. Between the front and back are the very bold words, Sourced Small Batch

For example:  Distilled in Indiana and Tennessee tells you this comes from MGP and George Dickel.  They aren't the only distillers in each state, but they're the two that provide a lot of sourced whiskeys to the rest of the country. What's interesting, however, is that Dickel doesn't have its own Rye. Guess where Dickel gets theirs? MGP!  Well then, why isn't this just sourced from MGP?  Because Dickel takes the MGP stock and runs it through the Lincoln County Process (LCP), which is charcoal filtering designed to remove any harshness and add a smoothness factor.

Finally, you'll find the word straight curiously missing. It isn't the age that prevents that statement - all that's required is two years in new, uncharred oak. Is that due to the LCP? Is there some adulteration that takes place? Or, is it missing words? Remember, we're told full-size American oak barrels. Not new and not charred, although the charring quality becomes obvious. Bottled at 83°, a 750ml will set you back a mere $20.00, making this a very affordable choice.

The most important question you should be asking yourself, though, is Is it any good? I'm here to answer that. Before we #DrinkCurious, however, I'd like to thank Proof & Wood for sending me a bottle in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  Let's get to it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Deadwood American Rye appears the color of honey. It is crystal clear and left a medium rim that gave rise to watery, heavy legs.

Nose:  While I was allowing the whiskey to rest, the room filled with the aroma of menthol. Once I brought the glass to my face, the menthol was joined by mint and oak.  As I inhaled through my lips, dill ran across my tongue. 

Palate:  As the liquid sunshine rolled across my mouth, it was thin and watery. Barrel char was the first thing that I tasted. There was also a smoky quality beyond that char. Mid-palate was sweet brown sugar and heavy rye spice. On the back was cinnamon.

Finish:  The cinnamon started as Red Hots candy and very strong black pepper and lasted a few minutes.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:   As I drank it, I was torn between the brash flavors and my desire to slam my fist on the bar and scream Smooooooth! It was obviously young and uncomplicated. With that boldness, it would do well in most cocktails. I can't say that I would choose this for a neat pour. Given its already low proof, I'd not want to experiment with water. If you want affordable rye for mixing, this is worthy of consideration. That's not what I look for in whiskey and as such, this one earns a Bar recommendation. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Still & Oak Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Wisconsin has been coming into its own as far as distilling goes. It has many craft distilleries and some have garnered national attention (and praise). Some do Bourbon well. Some are better at Rye. Others dabble in American Malts and other distilled spirits. I'm not going to pretend they're all great because, unfortunately, they're not. But, my point is we have some smart distillers here that know what they're doing and have real experience.

Once such experienced distillery is Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee. In fact, it is Wisconsin's oldest distillery, the first to open since Prohibition ended. Founded by Guy Rehorst, it offers a variety of spirits.  I've already reviewed KinnicKinnic American Whiskey and Still & Oak Rye. But, today, I'm reviewing Still & Oak Straight Bourbon

Still & Oak is made completely of Wisconsin-sourced grains.  In this case, that's 67% corn, 22% malted barley, and 11% rye.  Once that's fermented and distilled, it rests in 53-gallon, new charred oak barrels.  The Bourbon carries a two-year age statement, is non-chill filtered, and proofed down to 86°.  A 750ml bottle will set you back just shy of $35.00.

I'd like to thank Great Lakes Distillery for providing me a sample of this Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Still & Oak appeared as honey in color and was a bit cloudy. No worries, that's the product of being non-chill filtered. It left a thin rim on my glass that created very fast, heavy legs. But, strangely enough, the rim remained and didn't seem to dissipate. 

Nose:  Aromas of corn and oak started things off. Additionally, I picked up nuts and leather, along with a touch of caramel. What was missing was a blast of ethanol from a younger Bourbon, and that's a good thing. When I breathed the vapors through my mouth, it was all corn.

Palate:  That no ethanol burn thing carried over to the mouthfeel as well. In fact, it could easily be described as soft. Flavors of dark chocolate, nutmeg, and cherry were at the front. Things got spicier come mid-palate with tobacco and toasted oak. A combination of sweet caramel and spicy cinnamon took control of the back.

Finish:  Medium in length, it began with clove and dark chocolate. The clove fell off but the chocolate remained. It also left a decent tingle on my hard palate, something that I typically don't expect for an 86° whiskey.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I liked this Bourbon but there was also something missing for me. Maybe cranking up the proof a few points might do it. I don't believe age is the issue. I found some of the notes to be too delicate. However, I also understand that bold flavors aren't for everyone. For $34.99, this is a very easy sipper and something folks could enjoy, especially on a hotter summer day where you don't want a stiff drink. The Still & Oak Bourbon gets a Bar rating from me. Try this one, see if it appeals to you. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Friday, November 27, 2020

Paul John Single Malt 2020 Christmas Edition Review & Tasting Notes


Indian whiskey can prove to be an... um... interesting category. There's not a lot of rules as to what's required to call a distilled spirit from India Indian whiskey. You can have anything from distilled neutral grain spirits blended with fermented molasses and pre-blended Scotch to Indian Single Malts. The category is undefined outside of Europe, and, in fact, cannot legally be called whiskey inside Europe unless it follows the stricter standards of other EU nations.

Distilling whiskey from India is a relatively new thing. It started in 1982 by Amrut, but they didn't start off with single malts. They did it utilizing the fermented molasses method. It wasn't until 2004 when Amrut launched the first Indian Single Malt on the market. 

John Distilleries, the parent company of Paul John, is located in Goa, which is in the western part of India. While it was distilling blended whiskey since its founding in 1996, it didn't start with single malt whiskey until 2008. The man behind the brand, Paul P. John, was obsessed with creating an Indian single malt that would rival some of the best in the world. He worked with master distiller Michael D'Souza to fulfill that dream.

Paul John sources six-row barley grown in the country, which is said to have a higher protein and fiber content. This leads to an oilier whiskey than two-grain barley. Any peat that Paul John uses is sourced from both Islay and the Highland regions of Scotland. Fermentation takes 40 hours or longer before the mash is distilled through its copper pot stills. 

Today I'm reviewing Paul John's 2020 Christmas Edition. It is aged for five years in former Bourbon, Oloroso sherry, and virgin oak casks. Once aged, those whiskeys are blended together.  The whiskeys aged in the sherry and virgin oak casks were unpeated, whereas the whiskey in the Bourbon barrels was peated. The Christmas Edition is non-chill filtered and is naturally-colored. It is bottled at 46% ABV (92°). The Christmas Edition is allocated and retails for about $85.00. 

If you're thinking that five years isn't a whole lot of time, keep in mind this is being aged in hot, humid India, where the average temperature is 86°F. It has been suggested that a whiskey aged in this region of India for a single year is equivalent to three years in Scotland. 

Is the 2020 Christmas Edition worth the time and effort to buy? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious. Before I do that, I'd like to thank Paul John for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, this single malt appeared golden in color. It created a thin rim and thin, fast legs that fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  An aroma of sweet, mild peat hit my olfactory senses. Once I got past it, apple, pear, plum, and orange peel offered a very fruity experience. Behind those were caramel, brown sugar, and honey. If you're thinking that sounds terribly complex, it was. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, I could swear it was apple cider.

Palate:  A creamy, very heavy full-bodied mouthfeel kicked things off. At the front, I discovered soft peat, caramel apple, and toasted oak. The mid-palate had flavors of sweet tobacco leaf, raisin, pear, and pineapple. The back consisted of praline pecan, coconut, cinnamon, and dark chocolate.

Finish: This single malt had a long, dry finish of soft peat, dry oak, ginger, raisin, and black pepper. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Maybe peat isn't your thing. That's understandable. I found the 2020 Christmas Edition to be incredibly complex - from the nosing to the palate, from the palate to the finish. I loved the fruity, spicy flavors and they simply complement each other. Quite frankly, if peat isn't your thing, maybe this one will entice you to come to the dark side. I loved everything about this single malt, and the $85.00 price seems more than fair considering how wonderful it tastes. If there is a whiskey screaming for a Bottle rating, this is it. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Davidson Reserve Tennessee Straight Rye Review & Tasting Notes


Rye whiskey. It usually comes blended with grains other than rye.  You can have anything from barely legal stuff like Rittenhouse Rye, which is only 51% rye content, or you can go all the way up to 100% rye.  The barely legal stuff tends to attract more Bourbon drinkers who don't care for Rye because, well, it is not too far off of Bourbon. It will have lots of vanilla on the palate. Then, those who say they don't care for Rye typically get into the higher rye mashbills. 

Today I'm sipping a 100% rye mash from Pennington Distilling Co. under their Davidson Reserve brand. Who is Pennington, you might ask?  My recent review of its Genesis Bourbon can provide you all the background of the distillery.  The white cereal rye was grown at Renfroe Farms in Huntigdon, about two hours away from Nashville, where Pennington is located before being mashed and then sent through its pot still.  That's then aged for an undisclosed period of time in 53-gallon new, charred oak barrels.  Pennington then dilutes it to 100°, and a 750ml bottle will set you back about $49.99, which is an average price for craft whiskey these days.

I'd like to thank Pennington for sending me a bottle of this Rye in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. That being said, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey was a definitive chestnut in color. There was no cloudiness. It left a medium-thick rim on the wall that led to just a wavy curtain of legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  As I was waiting for this Rye to breathe, I could smell fruit from across the room. When I approached the glass, the fruitiness was subdued by maple syrup. But, behind that were plum, orange zest, cinnamon, and, finally, toasted oak.  When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, the flavor of baked apples danced across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was very oily and coated everywhere, giving it a medium body.  Toffee was the first thing to it my palate, and on the front, it was joined by toasted oak. Come mid-palate, leather, mint, and rye spice were highlighted. Then, on the back, I tasted black pepper, dry oak, and tobacco leaf.

Finish:  A long sweet and spicy finish consisted of cinnamon red hots, baked apple, and barrel char.  When I thought that was all over, herbal thyme made a brief appearance.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I enjoy barely legal Ryes and I enjoy 100% Ryes. They are two completely different animals. This was one of the better 100% Ryes I've had, offering a gorgeous nose and complex palate. The spice was enough to keep things interesting without being dominating. The sweetness was complimentary. There's absolutely nothing not to like, no matter where on the rye content scale you relish. When I consider the price, this is a no-brainer Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

Stable Rock Horsethief Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


I relish the opportunity to discover new distilleries. If something is completely off the radar, that's something that grabs my full attention.  Sure, what they have to offer may not be their own distillate, what they sell may not even be good, but it is still exciting. I am always curious about what will happen down the road.  Will they be successful? Will they grow? Will they be able to keep customers happy when they switch from sourced distillate to their own?

In Wisconsin, I've been blessed to visit several of these newcomers. Some have enjoyed tremendous success, others haven't yet caught on.  But, one distillery that just opened this summer is Stable Rock Winery & Distillery in Jefferson.  If you're familiar with Lewis Station Winery in Lake Mills, Stable Rock is its sister operation. Owned by Rob and Michelle Lewis, Stable Rock's property is a historical landmark with a colorful past.  The building, nestled against the Rock River, was erected in 1903 as the Boll's Livery & Blacksmith Shop at 123 Milwaukee Street. 

In 1921, Boll bought a Ford Omnibus and ran the Jefferson Bus Line. Then, he ran an auto livery service from the property. Shortly thereafter, Boll passed away and his son auctioned it off. It then became a Buick garage, and in 1931 AO Pop Seeds took it over until the 1960s. Afterward, it was the home to several restaurants and bars before the building was abandoned and fell into disrepair in 2016. Rob and Michelle saved the building from destruction when they agreed to buy and renovate it, finally opening the Winery and Distillery this past summer.

Just released from Stable Rock is Horsethief 5-Year Single Barrel Bourbon.  We can do the math and figure out that if Stable Rock just opened this summer, then there's no way they have a five-year Bourbon from their own distillate. Rob considered sourcing from Dickel in Tennessee, an undisclosed Kentucky distillery, and MGP out of Indiana. He settled on MGP.  After tasting from over twenty barrels, he and his staff found one that they unanimously agreed upon, and was distilled from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley.

"Looking for the Horsethief - the police are looking for a man giving his name as Harry Sims, who hired a horse and buggy in Jefferson, then came to Watertown the following day and sold the outfit to James Dowd. He claimed that he had been on the road selling household articles, but was tired of it and wanted to dispose of the property. The horse was hired at Tony Boll's." - Stable Rock Winery & Distillery

Rob told me he felt the optimal proof would be 100°.  I purchased my 750ml bottle of Horsethief for $45.00. All of this information is well and good, but what really matters is how this Bourbon performs, and the only way to learn that is to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, Horsethief offered a deep caramel manifestation. It created a medium rim that led to slow, thick legs. 

Nose:  A sweet, fruity aroma filled the air.  It began with vanilla and brown sugar. Candied fruit was next, followed by toasted oak and cinnamon. When I inhaled the fumes through my lips, heavy berry and vanilla ran across my tongue.

Palate:  From the start, the mouthfeel was oily and full-bodied. The experience went from sweet to spicy. On the front, I tasted caramel and vanilla cream. At mid-palate, flavors of cherry and plum ended with cocoa. On the back, I found clove, dark chocolate, and oak.

Finish:  Similarly to the palate, the finish was initially sweet, then spicy. Except, it circled back around. Berry initiated the journey, then oak and black pepper showed up, and as that faded, it featured a smoky char and rye spice that lasted for several minutes. When I was convinced it finally subsided, warm vanilla took over. This was one of the more long-lasting finishes I've waded through, and my hard palate had a slight tingle.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The very cool thing is that if you purchase a wine flight, you can include Horsethief in the mix so you're able to try before you commit. I've had some very good MGP barrels and some that are mediocre (or even less so). This is a 5-year single barrel MGP Bourbon that has a lot going for it. It had a welcoming nose, a fairly complex palate, and a never-ending finish that made me anxious for another sip. When you take into account the affordable investment of $45.00, this is the recipe for a Bottle rating.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Starlight "Bazoomka Jay" Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


With this review, I'm starting something different. I'm no longer including a rating on barrels that I've been invited to pick. My standards are strict. It is safe to assume that if I've been involved in the pick, it will always get a Bottle rating, otherwise, I would reject the barrels.

If, when you read the words, Indiana Straight Bourbon you're assuming that means it is sourced from MGP, you should do a hard reset of your mind. Starlight Distillery may be small but they've been garnering a lot of attention, and it is well-deserved.  Starlight was born from the Huber Orchard, Winery and Vineyards, located in Starlight, Indiana. It traces its roots back to 1843 when Simon Huber bought his farm and brought his German winemaking experience with him. Fast forward to 2020, and you'll find the seventh generation of Hubers are still running the place. The distillery was founded in 2001, and master distiller Ted Huber and his team create brandy, rum, grappa, vodka, gin, and, yes, Bourbon and Rye.  I've been there, it is a gorgeous campus. If you're ever in Louisville, Starlight is a very short drive north.

Back in September, The Speakeasy_WI was given an opportunity to pick a barrel of Bourbon. The panel consisted of Troy Mancusi, Jason Waugh, Dan O'Connell, and me.  The choices were between a three-grain and three four-grain samples. We unanimously settled on Barrel 16345, the three-grain, distilled from a mash of 58% corn, 27% rye, and 15% malted barley, and then aged 4.5 years in 53-gallon charred-oak barrels. Bottled at a cask strength of 114.2°, it is available exclusively from Neil's Liquors in Middleton, Wisconsin. You can procure a bottle for $49.99 and there are 188 bottles available.  It has lovingly been named Bazoomka Jay.  You can see my mug on the left.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Bazoomka Jay presented as a beautiful copper-amber color. It generated a medium-thick rim which led to fast, watery legs that raced back to the pool. 

Nose: A strong aroma of berries started things off. That was followed by bubble gum, banana, toasted oak, caramel, and corn. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, it was a blast of vanilla and berries.

Palate: The mouthfeel offered a medium body that became silky. Corn and vanilla kicked things off on the front. Come mid-palate, I tasted butterscotch and mild cinnamon. On the back, I found flavors of cherry, toasted oak, caramel, and char.

Finish:  The experience ended with a very long, spicy finish of clove, black pepper, barrel char, and sawdust. Interestingly, this one drinks much lower than its stated proof. When everything was done, as I thought about what I had tasted, bubble gum came out of nowhere and left almost as fast.

Bazoomka Jay is a wonderful example of what Starlight creates. Grab yourself a bottle before it is gone forever. Cheers!

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Dublin Liberties Oak Devil Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Founded outside the walled city of Dublin in 12th-century Ireland, The Liberties was a district of illicit trade and a bit of chaos. While considered part of Dublin, it was not subject to its laws or government structure. The Liberties was the center of Dublin industry, and you'd think with all that commerce, there wouldn't be impoverishment and destitution, but that is how much of the populace lived - at least until very recently. It has been the center of various rebellions almost since its inception. 

In the 1700s, a carved Oak Devil stood over the entrance to the Dublin Liberties, inciting mayhem and damnation within the riotous quarter known as Hell. The Oak Devil is now gone, some say he was made into whiskey barrels, others say he was seduced by the whiskey angels. - The Dublin Liberties Distillery

If you're wondering why the rumors of the devil's demise include being made into whiskey barrels, The Liberties has a rich history of Irish distilling. Guinness has been there for generations, Jameson, Teeling, George Roe & Company, and Powers were there long ago.  Teeling has been reborn, and The Dublin Liberties Distillery is new to the scene.

Owned by Quintessential Brands Group, who also counts The Dubliner and Dead Rabbit in its portfolio, The Dublin Liberties Distillery is headed by Master Distiller Darryl McNally.  Their five-year release, Oak Devil, is a blend of sourced malt and grain Irish whiskeys that have been aged in former Bourbon barrels. It is non-chill filtered and then packaged at 46% ABV (92°) and retails for about $38.00.

I'd like to thank Quintessential Brands for providing me a bottle of Oak Devil in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, Oak Devil appeared like an oaked chardonnay. It was absolutely golden in color. An ultra-thin rim left surprisingly thicker, fast legs to drop back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: I found this to be light and fruity, with aromas of apples, citrus, and melon. They were followed by fresh hay and ended with floral perfume. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, the only things I tasted were vanilla and brown sugar.

Palate:  Like the nose, the mouthfeel was light - almost lighter than air. Flavors of apple cider and caramel started things off, but it wasn't like eating a caramel apple. Come mid-palate, I found cinnamon spice, and on the back, a blend of nutmeg and milk chocolate.

Finish: As airy as the mouthfeel was, the finish seemed to go on forever. At first, I got a mocha blast, which gave way to charred oak and cinnamon.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Oak Devil was uncomplicated but sometimes that's all you want. It has a low barrier of entry, especially considering it isn't 80° like many of its Irish brethren. The Dublin Liberties recommended pouring Oak Devil over ice or using it as a cocktail base. I did neither - I drank it neat. Guess what? It required neither. I enjoyed it just fine as is and I believe you will, too.  As such, this one takes my Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Guided Tasting and Review


One of the things I respect is transparency. I'm as transparent as possible with my reviews. When a distillery matches that level of transparency, I'm impressed.  Good, bad, or ugly, there is something to be said about not holding anything back.

Back in July, I reviewed The Classic Laddie from Bruichladdich. That batch was 14/009, which means it was the ninth batch bottled in 2014.  I enjoyed it immensely and awarded it my Bottle rating.

The Classic Laddie is an unpeated Islay Scotch. Yes, unpeated whisky from Islay does exist!  This flagship Scotch is meant to compete with Highland and Speyside malts. Every batch of The Classic Laddie is different. Unlike many distilleries, Bruichladdich isn't going for batch-to-batch consistency. Instead, Head Distiller Adam Hannett's goal is to have The Classic Laddie be light, floral, fruity, and unpeated.

Bruichladdich is about as transparent as a distillery can be about any aspect, including divulging what's inside a batch. As a point of demonstration, if you head to The Classic Laddie website, you can enter your batch number to quickly decode it and see everything that was used to create what's in your bottle. A screenshot of that page is shown below. 

When you click Reveal, a new page opens.  In this case, I've entered Batch 20/109, which is the batch I'm reviewing today. You can find your Batch Code on the side of the bottle.

I'm not going to screenshot the entire thing, but as you can see, there are 74 casks, 4 vintages, 3 barley types, and 10 cask types. 

What you can see is almost anything you'd ever want to know about what's inside.  The only thing Bruichladdich redacts is under the Distillation Year, and that's everything except the youngest vintage. The only reason Bruichladdich redacts that is to remain compliant under regulations of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), which is the governing body for the Scotch whisky trade. In the case of Batch 20/109, the youngest vintage is from 2012, making this an eight-year whisky, consisting of:

  • 1 cask distilled from Scottish mainland barley aged in a Spanish sherry butt, then a 2nd-fill Bourbon barrel and virgin oak, then another 2nd-fill Bourbon barrel;
  • 5 casks distilled from Scottish mainland barley distilled in 2012, aged in 2nd-fill French Bordeaux Pessac Leognan (a Cabernet/Merlot blend) hogshead;
  • 2 casks distilled from Islay barley aged in 2nd-fill Bourbon barrels;
  • 4 casks distilled from Islay barley aged in 3rd-fill Bourbon hogshead (segway:  I confirmed with Bruichladdich that this was correct. Apparently as they recooper the barrels, they don't always go back in neat, even sizes), then 1st-fill Bourbon barrels;
  • 3 casks distilled from Scottish mainland organic barley aged in 1st-fill Bourbon barrels.
  • 3 casks distilled from Islay barley aged in 1st-fill Bourbon barrels;
  • 12 casks distilled from Scottish mainland barley aged in 1st-fill Bourbon barrels;
  • 1 cask distilled from Scottish mainland barley aged in a 2nd-fill Bourbon barrel;
  • 1 cask distilled from Scottish mainland barley aged in a 2nd-fill French Bandol (Mourvedre) hogshead;
  • 30 casks distilled from Scottish mainland barley in 2012 aged in 1st-fill Bourbon barrels;
  • 6 casks distilled from Scottish mainland barley aged in 1st-fill Bourbon barrels;
  • 1 cask distilled from Scottish mainland barley aged in a 1st-fill French Vin Doux Naturel hogshead; and
  • 5 casks distilled from Islay barley aged in 1st-fill French Pomerol (a Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend) hogshead.

The Classic Laddie is always non-chill filtered, naturally colored, and packaged at 50% ABV (or 100°). A 750ml bottle will set you back about $55.99.

Before I go any further, as I said earlier, transparency is a big deal for me.  Bruichladdich sent me a bottle of Batch 20/109 in exchange for hosting an online tasting with two non-whiskey influencers:  Saeed "Hawk" of Cocktails by Hawk and Sam of The Frosted Petticoat. The other part of the equation is that Bruichladdich sponsored me beyond providing the bottle to host this guided tasting.

Click here to view the guided tasting (it is the raw footage and runs 47 minutes).  I had a fun time with Sam and Hawk, they learned a lot and I discovered new things from them both. I led them to explore The Classic Laddie, they provided their notes and thoughts. It is well worth the time to watch.  But, if you don't have the time, there is a 10-minute condensed version that I published on IGTV.

What never changes, sponsored or not, is my review and tasting notes. As always, it is my honest assessment of the whiskey, based on my regular Bottle, Bar, or Bust rating system. I felt somewhat safe doing this due to my assessment Batch 14/009.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Classic Laddie presented as brassy gold in color. It left a thinnish rim but yielded fat legs that took their time sliding back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of chocolate and honey started things off. They were followed by orange blossom, pear, and raisin. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, I tasted iodine, seaweed, and honey.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick and oily, offering no problems coating my entire mouth. Full-bodied, the first flavors were cocoa, honeysuckle, and vanilla. At mid-palate, I tasted dry oak, raisin, and apple. On the back, things got sweet and spicy with cherry, plum, and black pepper.

Finish:  To suggest that this batch of The Classic Laddie has a long-lasting finish would be unfair to long-lasting finishes - it simply would not quit. There was a smoky quality that was absolutely not peat. Another aspect was there was no astringent (band-aid) quality that some folks find to be a turn-off. It was, however, very dry, likely from the influence of the wine casks, with white pepper, clove, and iodine.  Just when I thought things were finally over, raw honey and raisin closed things out.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is a $56.00 bottle of Scotch that was incredibly complex from the nose to the palate to the finish.  While the mouthfeel never really changed, each time I sipped I pulled out different flavors. That finish was crazy long. With Batch 14/009 I found a slightly astringent flavor but with Batch 20/109, it was non-existent. Forgetting the price, this was very enjoyable. Bring that back into the equation and nothing is holding back a Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Monday, November 16, 2020

The GlenDronach Port Wood Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


These days several distilleries are finishing whiskey in port casks. Finishing is fine in practice, and I'm generally a fan - not just when a former port cask is used, but most types of finishing. I enjoy seeing (rather, tasting) how whiskey can be changed by having it rest for a few months in a different cask. It is fun to taste the original and the finished whiskeys side-by-side.

Today I'm reviewing Port Wood by The GlenDronach. Port Wood is a single malt from Scotland's Highland region. It started as a tribute to the 19th century when Scotland was importing casked port wine. Port is a fortified wine, meaning it is blended with a portion of distilled spirit, usually brandy. It comes from the Douro Valley region of Portugal. It has a rather high ABV content, 20% or more, versus non-fortified wine, which ranges between 9% and 15%. Port is typically aged in very large casks, called pipes, that are 600 liters (about 127 US gallons). 

But, Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender of The GlenDronach, wanted to do something different. Instead of merely finishing Scotch in port pipes, she went for the full monty and aged the whiskey in the pipes. That was blended with Scotches aged in Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez (PX) sherry casks. To be clear, all three types were aged singly and, once matured, married. Oloroso is typically a dry sherry, offering nutty flavors. PX sherry, on the other hand, is made from sun-dried grapes and is normally thick and sweet. The pipes Barrie used formerly held both tawny and ruby ports. Tawny will often be aged long-term, whereas ruby would characteristically spend two years or less in wood. 

And now, we cycle back to Port Wood. The 2020 release carries no age statement (versus the previous release having a ten-year). It is made from 100% malted barley and after aging, it retains its natural color and is unfiltered. Packaged at 46% ABV (or 92°), you can expect to pay about $89.00 for a 750ml bottle. It shouldn't be overly difficult to locate as it enjoys nationwide US distribution.

Before I get to the tasting notes, I'd like to thank The GlenDronach for providing me a sample of Port Wood in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. It is time to #DrinkCurious!

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, Port Wood presented as a rich, orange amber. It created a thicker rim and left sticky, fat legs on the wall of my glass. Those took their time to crawl back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: A commanding aroma of plum hit my nostrils first. Once I got used to it, raisin, cherry, and strawberry kept the fruit theme going, which then surrendered to honey and, finally, chocolate. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I found raisin and ginger.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was initially thin, but quickly became buttery and coating. Black cherry and milk chocolate caressed the front of my palate.  As it moved to the middle, flavors of plum and blackberry joined with cocoa powder and orange peel. Then, on the back, I tasted red grape, date, and dry oak.

Finish: I found the finish to be warm and long-lasting, with more of that dry oak, ginger, cocoa powder, orange peel, and plum. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I've tasted several expressions of The GlenDronach this year, and this one is my favorite of the affordable choices (it isn't the Kingsman, but it also isn't $1300 a bottle). Port Wood is complex enough that I had to concentrate on what was going on, otherwise, I feared I'd miss something. Conversely, if I was just sipping on my deck, I believe I could relax and lose myself in the moment. There really is nothing not to like, including the price. Do the math and that's the equation of a Bottle recommendation. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Friday, November 13, 2020

Wheel Horse Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


O.Z. Tyler and I do not have a good history.  There was this rapid-aging thing they did to Bourbon and Rye called Terrepure, which in both cases was so hideous that I felt someone should be imprisoned for attempted murder to my palate.  As such, when a sample of Wheel Horse Bourbon came in, and I saw that it was distilled by Owensboro Distilling Company (formerly O.Z. Tyler), I was admittedly scared. I've had Malört several times, and while awful it never frightened me.  But, there's this whole #DrinkCurious lifestyle that I've sworn allegiance to, and, well, sometimes I have to take one for the team if you know what I mean.

Wheel Horse is a collaboration between Owensboro Distilling and Lattitude Beverage. Master Distiller Jacob Call oversaw the project and Batch 1 has just been released. Distilled in copper from a sour mash of 70% corn, 21% rye, and 9% malted barley, it was aged in new, #4 charred oak barrels at Owensboro Distillery for between two and four years. Because an age statement must be based upon the youngest whiskey in the blend, we would say this is two years old.  It was non-chill filtered at 101° and a 750ml bottle will set you back about $27.99.

I'd like to thank Lattitude Beverage for sending me a sample of Wheel Horse Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's get to this, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented as a deep amber color. An ultra-thin rim was left on the wall, and that created thin, slow legs to fall back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of corn and butterscotch tantalized my senses. That was followed by baked apples and cherries.  I didn't come across any blast of ethanol to knock me over, and when I inhaled the vapor in my mouth, all I found was sweet vanilla.

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be very creamy and full-bodied. There was (again) no ethanol punch like there was with the Terrepure whiskeys. On the front of my palate, flavors of oak, cherry, and plum raised some hope. Mid-palate was a mixture of caramel and maple syrup. Then, on the back, I tasted black pepper and pecan praline.

Finish:  A medium-length finish consisted of cinnamon, dry oak, cherry, and that maple syrup. I was shocked by how strong the fruit factor was.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  While I hate to admit it, I enjoyed this pour. I'm now curious about what else Owensboro Distilling offers. This was interesting and well-balanced. When I factor in the affordable $28.00 investment, I'm happily tossing a Bottle rating at Wheel Horse. I believe you'll enjoy it, too.  Cheers!

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Busker Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

Apparently, I'm on an Irish whiskey kick right now. That's okay, I go through various cycles of stuff I like to explore. Truth be told, I started in Scotch. Then I discovered Bourbon and my mind was blown. Since then, I've branched out to Rye, Indian, Japanese, and, yes, Irish. I believe the attraction of Irish is it was at one time, until Prohibition, the most popular whiskey on Earth. Then, for a variety of reasons, including Prohibition (bastards!), the love for this elixir waned. The cool thing, however, is that Irish whiskey is enjoying a resurgence that has exploded.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Busker Triple Cask, Triple Smooth Irish Whiskey, it easily snagged my Bottle rating.  It was a blend of three different whiskeys from The BuskerSingle Pot Still, Single Grain, and Single Malt.  Today I'm drinking one of those component whiskeys - Single Pot Still. 

Distilled by Royal Oak Distillery, which is the source of brands such as Writer's Tears and The Irishman, Single Pot Still starts off with barley. However, the mash is a blend of both malted and unmalted barley. Malted barley is typically going to offer chocolate and cereal notes, unmalted barley typically will lead to spicy notes. It is then run through a copper pot still, which takes longer to process than a column still. Pot stills usually create a more flavorful spirit, whereas column stills are built for speed and consistency. Both provide delicious whiskey, and, of course, so much depends on what happens beyond distillation.

The Busker Single Pot Still carries no age statement, but to fit the definition of Irish whiskey, that means it is at least three years old. It matures in ex-Bourbon barrels and ex-sherry casks, then packaged at 44.3% ABV (88.6°), and a 750ml bottle runs under $30.00.

I'd like to thank The Busker for sending me a sample of this whiskey in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Busker appeared caramel in color. I have to say that's darker than most Irish whiskeys I've perused. It left a thin rim on the wall, which generated fat, slow drops to fall back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  An aggressive aroma of malt started things off. But, I also smelled honey, brown sugar, and apples. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I tasted only honey, and it was fairly thick.

Palate: The Busker had an incredibly oily mouthfeel and heavy body. Again, this is atypical, at least in my experience, with Irish whiskey. As expected, however, was a total lack of any "burn" on the palate. On the front, I found vanilla and sweet honey. That morphed mid-palate to milk chocolate and red grapes. Then, on the back, a compelling blend of toasted oak, apricot, and cereal.

Finish:  The finish began as spicy, with oak and, of all things, rye.  That would be a result of the unmalted barley. When the spice fell off, it became a rich caramel. Unfortunately, the finish was short-to-medium in length. I would have loved to have it remain in my mouth much longer.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Out of nowhere comes this brand called The Busker, and let's just say with two of their four expressions under my belt, I'm impressed. This isn't going to blow your mind like the premium selections from Midleton, but when you're talking return on investment, The Busker Single Pot Still delivers. As one of the three components of The Busker's blend, I could pick out how the Single Pot Still influenced that. At the same time, this is a totally different experience. My only complaint is the finish was too short. I wish it could have gone on and on like the blend did. But, that's not a legitimate gripe, just an observation.  This one is taking a Bottle rating for me, and between the two I've tasted, I believe I like the Single Pot Still slightly more.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Monday, November 9, 2020

Reservoir Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

I respect distillers that do things differently and try to make a whiskey their own. Oh, I may not enjoy the whiskey itself, but I have a ton of respect. There's something to be said for risk-taking, and I mean risk beyond simply opening up a distillery. 

Enter, stage left, Reservoir Distillery of Richmond, Virginia.  Founded in 2008 by childhood friends Jay Carpenter and Dave Cuttino, they wanted to do something unique. They source their grains from farms within a 50-mile radius from the distillery. They use quarter-casks (13-gallons) instead of standard 53-gallon barrels and apply a proprietary alligator char to them. 

But, that's not what's really divergent. The distillery only makes single-grain whiskeys. Their Bourbon is 100% corn. Their Rye is 100% rye. Their Wheat Whiskey is 100% wheat. Everything from the mashing to the bottling is done in-house. Co-Head Distillers Mary Allison and Nick Vaughn utilize a pot still to create their elixir after open-top fermentation runs more than a week. Reservoir's wares are distributed in VA, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, MD, PA, and SC.

Today I'm reviewing their Bourbon. I was provided 2020 Batch 7 in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. After aging at least two years, it was packaged at 100°.  Available in either 375ml or 750ml bottles at a cost of $41.99 and $79.99 respectively.

How did Allison and Vaughn do?  The only way to know for sure is to crack it open and #DrinkCurious. Let's get that done, shall we?

Appearance:  This is a two-year Bourbon that is aged in quarter casks. I had to be mindful of that when it looked at it in my Glencairn glass. The photo above has not been manipulated. That deep, dark mahogany in the picture is the same thing as what's in my glass. I was shocked. I've seen plenty of small-barrel whiskeys before, and I don't recall seeing anything this dark.  It created a thicker rim which gave way to medium-thick legs that slowly fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  A fairly uncomplicated nose of corn, chocolate, and cherry pie filling were all I picked up. The hardest thing to identify was the latter. It wasn't cherry, it wasn't dried cherry. It was the stuff you get out of a can and use your fingers to scoop out every last bit. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I tasted vanilla.

Palate:  Initially, the body started thin, but it became more viscous with additional sips. Despite the age, despite the 100% corn content, there was no ethanol punch. On the front, flavors of coffee and tobacco leaf gave a spiced opening. As the whiskey crossed my mid-palate, I found vanilla and coffee, which was almost a latte experience. Then, on the back, black pepper and oak drove everything home.

Finish:  Cherry, barrel char, and clove left a medium-to-long, warming ending.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I began, I have a ton of respect for folks who take chances and do things differently. Reservoir Distillery definitely does that. I was impressed with the color of a two-year Bourbon. I really enjoyed the nose, despite how simple it was. The palate was decent, but weighed heavy on spices and lacked any sweetness, which is strange considering the mashbill, however, it didn't seem unbalanced. This is priced at the higher echelon of craft whiskey, and my recommendation is to try this one before you buy it. As such, it takes my Bar rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Maker's Mark 101 Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


COVID-19 has been hard on many of us.  It has certainly changed the way that the world goes about its business. If you were wondering what good could come from social distancing and other restrictions, I can offer this suggestion:  Duty-free is no longer duty-free.

It is not unusual for distilleries to offer duty-free exclusive expressions. It sucks for most of us, if we're not flying internationally, we don't get it, or at least we don't get it easily. But, because of a huge reduction in airline passenger traffic, particularly on overseas flights, there is a glut of duty-free-only whiskey on the market, which means duty-free shops aren't ordering more, which means the distilleries need to do something with the stocks that have come to age and need to be sold.  The answer? They take away the exclusivity factor.

Today I'm pouring Maker's Mark 101.  Most whiskey (or in this case, whisky) drinkers are familiar with Maker's Mark.  It is a staple at most bars.  It is affordable, easy-to-find, and consistent from batch to batch. Maker's Mark 101 is the exact same Bourbon as the 90° version, except it is bottled at 101°.  It is made from a mash of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley. Maker's Mark fills #3 charred-oak barrels, with wood that has been seasoned nine months before being coopered. The Bourbon is then aged about six years. Each barrel starts its first three years on the top tier of the rickhouse and is then moved to lower tiers for the remaining three. You can find a 750ml bottle for about $40.00.

Maker's Mark calls this "A rare taste of our signature Bourbon."

For generations, we have welcomed special guests at our distillery to sample our signature bourbon at a higher proof. We're now offering this exclusive bourbon to you through this annual holiday release, so you can share it with special guests of your own throughout the season. Like all of our bourbon, we think there's a lot to discover within it -- front of the tongue bourbon smokiness, but with richer and more intense flavors from the higher proof. It's definitely different, and a rare treat for all that make the pour.

Reading the above, it is implied that Maker's Mark 101 will no longer be a duty-free only item, rather, it will be an annual release. But, there's nothing there saying that it would be an annual release to the general public, and if things change, could go back to being a duty-free only item. But, the big deal is that currently, there is no such restriction.

It has been many years since I've had a standard expression of Maker's Mark. But, I remember it having a synthetic cork closure. I checked my Maker's Private Selection bottle, and it certainly does. Maker's Mark 101 has a screwtop closure hidden under that red wax.

How's it taste? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious, so let's get to it, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Maker's Mark 101 is an unmistakeable orange amber. That's not any different from the 90° version. A medium-thick rim stuck to the wall like glue, but fat, heavy drops raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: Aromas of cinnamon apples, caramel, and toasted oak permeated my nostrils. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I found vanilla and orange peel. 

Palate:  An oily mouthfeel and airy body threw me for a bit of a loop. Subsequent sips added some weight. The first things I tasted were smoky vanilla and orange peel. As it moved to the middle of my palate, I experienced butterscotch, caramel, and nutmeg. Then, on the back, things got very spicy with dry oak and white pepper, but then boomeranged back to sweet with brown sugar.

Finish: That sweet and spice from the back carried over into the finish and built from there. It began with vanilla, then toasted oak, and from there, Maker's Mark 101 brought the heat with cinnamon red hots. As it subsided, I could swear I was eating cinnamon-covered french toast. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: My memory of Maker's Mark was a soft, smoky Bourbon. That "softness" was absent. Instead, Maker's Mark 101 was bold and demanded my attention. I'm not complaining at all, I really enjoyed what I was drinking. I hope this is something that will be available to the general public for years to come because, for $40.00, I'm handing over my Bottle rating for it.  If you see it, grab it. I believe you'll enjoy it, too.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

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

Friday, November 6, 2020

Davidson Reserve Four Grain Tennessee Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Recently, I reviewed Davidson Reserve Genesis Bourbon from Pennington Distilling Co. and rated it a Bottle. It was an annual, limited-edition release.  Today I'm exploring their Four Grain Bourbon, another annual, limited-edition release. 

Distilled in Nashville, this Bourbon is not a standalone product.  Rather, it is a blend of three of Pennington's other whiskeys:  Tennessee Straight Rye, Tennessee Sour Mash, and Tennessee Straight Bourbon. At a later date, I'll provide reviews of the individual three component whiskeys. The four grains used in the mash are Tennessee White Corn, Tennessee White Cereal Rye, Tennessee Red Winter Wheat, and malted barley. The finished product carries a three-year age statement and is packaged at 100°.  A 750ml bottle will set you back $44.99. 

If you're wondering how something that is made a 100% rye whiskey can become a Bourbon, never fear. So long as the main ingredient is 51% or more corn, and everything else in the process meets the definition of Bourbon, you're safe. 

As with the Genesis, I'd like to thank Pennington for sending me a bottle in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn Glass, the Bourbon presented as a copper-amber color.  It left a medium rim that fabricated slow, sticky legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Aromas of cinnamon and almond were easy to discern. As I continued sniffing, I came upon cherry,  plum, and caramel.  When I drew the fumes through my open lips, a mixture of vanilla and mint traipsed across my tongue. There was no ethanol blast.

Palate:  Things began with an oily and warm mouthfeel. It coated everywhere. On the front, I tasted plum, date, and toasted coconut. As it reached mid-palate, I discovered chocolate, rye spice, and oak. Then, on the back, dominating tobacco leaf followed by cocoa powder and nutmeg.

Finish:  This was a very long, very dry finish. It sucked the moisture out of my mouth. It took several swallows to pick out toffee and that big tobacco leaf.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I understand what Pennington was trying to do here and I applaud them for the effort. This wasn't a bad Bourbon, but it was much less impressive than the Genesis. I can handle dry finishes all day long, but this was, in my opinion, way over the top. It also drinks much warmer than 100°, but that may also be the dry finish playing tricks on me.

Overall, $45.00 for craft whiskey has a slightly below-average hit to the wallet.  There are some good flavors here. If you're a wine drinker and enjoy Sangiovese, the finish may appeal to you. For me, I found it distracting. As such, I'm ponying up a Bar rating for the Four Grain Bourbon. Cheers!

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