Saturday, March 6, 2021

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17-Year Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Until two years ago, I wasn't the biggest fan of Wild Turkey. Oh, I wanted to be. Jimmy and Eddie Russell are amazing people. I love their dedication to the trade and just what good, decent people they both are. I just wasn't a fan of what I'd tasted.

Two years ago, I got into a barrel pick of Russell's Reserve. I thought this would be an excellent challenge for me since I wasn't a fan. As it turned out, I enjoyed it. I wound up accepting the sample and gave my stamp of approval for the barrel. Then I did it again a bit later. And again. And a fourth time. One of those involved a trip to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, to do a pick with my cohorts at Bourbon & Banter

Needless to say, I changed my mind about Wild Turkey.

When a friend handed me a sample of Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17-Year Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, I couldn't wait to try it. Patience is a virtue, I wanted to have enough concentration to provide a review, especially since the Master's Keep is a pricy series, and I wanted to do this properly.

This Bourbon begins the way Wild Turkey always begins.  It starts with a mash of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. Then it aged 17 years at the Camp Nelson rickhouses.  If you're unfamiliar with Camp Nelson, this is the prime real estate to age Wild Turkey whiskey. Any bottled marked CN comes from those rickhouses.  Like every Bottled-in-Bond spirit, it is bottled at 100°, and retail on a 750ml package was $175.00. This was released in 2020, and only 14,400 bottles were offered, which means very likely you're looking at secondary pricing if you come across one.

For $175.00, a Bourbon better be pretty damned special!  That means it is time to #DrinkCurious to discover what this one has to offer.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Master's Keep showed me an absolute orange amber. While it left a thin rim on the wall, the legs were thicker and sticky.

Nose:  I found the nose to be very fragrant while I allowed it to breathe. Aromas of leather, orange citrus, cherry pie filling, almond, smoked oak, and sassafras took me many attempts to nail down. When I brought the vapor into my mouth, vanilla and cherry rolled back to my throat.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was incredibly oily and offered a fuller body. The front of my palate picked up cherry, orange, cola, and smoked oak. Once it hit the middle, I tasted flavors of vanilla, toffee, caramel, apple, and pear. The back got spicy with rye, clove, oak, and tobacco leaf.

Finish:  Rye and oak persisted with the finish. They were joined by black pepper and old leather.  The finish was medium in length, which was slightly disappointing.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I said earlier, for $175 a Bourbon better be damned special. I found Master's Keep to be proofed correctly. It didn't sizzle my hard palate and it kept me coming back for additional sips to find all the flavors in this complex whiskey. It was overall quite delicious. I mentioned the finish was disappointing. The only reason was that I loved it and wanted it to go on forever. This one is pretty damned special, and it earned every bit of my Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The BenRiach The Twenty One Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes


Founded in 1898 by John Duff, the initial run for BenRiach was very short-lived - only two years. Then, it was shuttered due to the Pattison Crash. If you've not heard of it, the short story is it took out many distilleries. The longer story is it was caused by independent bottlers gaming the system, so much so that when the biggest firm, Pattison, Edler & Company went under, they took out nearly a dozen others in the process. That cascaded and led to the bankruptcies of the distilleries. It was not a good time to be in the whiskey business.

It was then reopened in 1965 by The Glenlivet. During that 65-year hiatus, the building was never torn down because the distillery next door, Longmorn, used BenRiach's malting floor and some other equipment while it was mothballed. Then, Seagrams purchased The Glenlivet in 1978, which was acquired by Pernod-Ricard in 2001. 

And, then, the distillery was shuttered again from 2002 to 2004. It was purchased by Brown-Forman, which owns BenRiach to this day. The Master Blender, Rachel Barrie, runs things "unconventionally Speyside."

What does "unconventionally Speyside" mean? First and foremost, it isn't overly common for Speyside whiskies to be peated. BenRiach offers both peated and unpeated expressions. It also has an extensive collection of various cooperages which, in turn, impart different flavors and characteristics to the matured whiskies.

When presented with an opportunity to review The Twenty One, my heart skipped a beat. Getting into older Scotches is a pricy concept, and there's an admittedly romantic notion of drinking something that is decades old. The Twenty One is a single malt that was aged in former Bourbon, sherry, and red wine casks along with virgin oak. Those barrels were subsequently blended to create a non-chill filtered, naturally-colored Scotch. While we don't know exactly how old the various components were, we do know the youngest was 21 years.

“These older expressions are a beautiful reflection of the landscape around the distillery with intriguing, luxurious layers of flavor imparted by the eclectic casks sourced from around the world. The refreshed Benriach range is for those open to new possibilities, building on a wealth of experience and tradition. I invite the drinker to join me on this creative journey, as we explore the lush rewards of single malt whisky.” - Rachel Barrie

Bottled at 46% ABV (92°), you can expect to pay about $199.00 for a 750ml package. Before I get to the tasting notes, I'd like to thank The BenRiach for providing a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Twenty One shows up as honey-gold in color. It fabricated a husky rim that formed broad, fast legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  This Scotch was plenty fragrant. Oh, it wasn't a blast of smoke, rather, it was orchard fruits mingled with it, and that was just allowing it to breathe. The fruits smelled of apple, apricot, and plum. I also smelled oak and chocolate. When I inhaled the vapor in my mouth, smoky vanilla rolled across my palate.

Palate:  A silky, creamy mouthfeel started the show. The more I sipped, the creamier it became. On the front of my palate, I tasted sweet, smoky peat and peach. The peat was not the star of the production, rather, it was a supporting character. At mid-palate, I tasted chocolate, apple, and pear. Flavors of toasted oak, toffee, and an encore of the light peat constructed the back.

Finish:  It started short-to-medium. Like the mouthfeel, the more I imbibed, the longer the finish became. Eventually, it seemed to last forever. Smoke, plum, honey, pear, and toasted oak danced about.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Just because something carries a decades-old age statement doesn't mean it is great or even good. I've had some mediocre, older whiskies. The Twenty One is absolutely the opposite. If I had to select one word to describe this experience, it would be luxurious. From the amazingly refined nose to the silky mouthfeel, to the fruity palate and what is a near-perfect peatiness, there is simply nothing to complain about. This is a mesmerizing affair and I'm happy to fork over the premium to partake in it. There's not a doubt in my mind that a Bottle rating is owed. Find a bottle, seriously. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Redwood Empire Haystack Needle "AngelSpace" 14-yr Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


There are some bewitching MGP barrels out there, just waiting to be picked out by "craft" brands looking for something special. When you get into a dozen or more years old, those barrels get somewhat scarce. That becomes more exciting. More tempting than that is when someone is offered an opportunity to purchase one for a private pick.

Out in Cal-I-For-Nigh-Ay, there exists a distillery called Graton Distilling Company with a brand named Redwood Empire. The spirits arm of Purple Wine & Spirits was founded in 2015, and it came up with its own schtick. The brand says for every bottle sold, they'll plant a tree. At the time of my penning this review, it has planted roughly 185,000 trees. That's a lot of bottles sold!

The distillery is housed in a former apple canning and processing facility that was called Redwood Empire and sold apple products under that brand name. Fast-forward to the present, Redwood's product lines are all named after iconic redwood trees in the area. The distillery's private barrel program is called Haystack Needle.

I'm drinking Haystack Needle Barrel #2236.  It is a 14-year Bourbon distilled by MGP.  This particular barrel is distilled from MGP's 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley recipe. Some Haystack Needle whiskeys are finished in former wine casks, but #2236 was not. It is bottled at barrel proof of 105.2°.

The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club selected this barrel and it is sold at Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, Wisconsin. While I have picked for The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club, I was not involved in this pick (and as such, it will be rated on my Bottle, Bar, or Bust scale). Retail is $129.99, and it is lovingly named AngelSpace

I'd like to thank The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club for providing me a sample of AngelSpace in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious and find out what this one is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, AngelSpace appeared as a deep orange. I was a bit surprised that, for its age, it wasn't darker in color. It left a thin rim on the wall, and that rim generated thick, fast legs that fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Sometimes as I'm allowing a whiskey to breathe, I can smell it from across the room. This was not one of those instances. Like the color, for a 14-year whiskey, I would have assumed it would be very fragrant. I did find aromas of toasted oak, vanilla, toffee, coconut, and berry. When I inhaled the vapor, caramel rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was super-oily and full-bodied. On the front, I tasted toffee, cherry, and vanilla cream. As the liquid inched across my tongue, flavors of caramel, cinnamon, and nutmeg were on the middle, while cherry (again), oak, and tobacco leaf took control of the back.

FinishAngelSpace had one of those freight-train finishes. It would not quit. Barrel char, dry oak, cherry, brown sugar, and rye spice all stuck around until the very end and fell off together. The proof wasn't huge, but it did leave my hard palate tingling.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  We're talking about an expensive bottle of Bourbon here. I found AngelSpace to be delicious and full of character. I enjoyed the finish enchanting. I'm a bit torn on the price. On one hand, this is a 14-year barrel-proof whiskey. On the other, my standard-bearer of MGP Bourbon is a Backbone Bourbon pick I did with The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club called Unicorn Slayer, which was about half the age and almost half the price, and I felt it was superior.

AngelSpace is wonderful. For the price, I'm going to suggest you give serious thought before making a purchase. If Niemuth's can offer a taste, try it. This one falls under a Bar rating. Cheers!

Niemuth's Southside Market is located at 2121 S. Oneida St. in Appleton, Wisconsin.

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

Friday, February 26, 2021

Border Bourbon Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond Review & Tasting Notes

If I had to choose a favorite niche of whiskey, it would be a no-brainer with Bottled-in-Bond.  I love it because there is some guarantee of quality, at least in the production of it.  This was, not too long ago, a forgotten, overlooked category and everything was dirt cheap. Now, Bottled-in-Bond is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and with that, there is an increase in the average price. That's not to say you can't still #RespectTheBottomShelf with some affordable gems, but they're not getting the attention they deserve.

45th Parallel Distillery is located in New Richmond, WI.  I've reviewed several whiskeys out of this distillery, and for the most part, I enjoy what they slap a label on. They distill both their own whiskeys as well as contract distilling for other brands. The philosophy is one of taking things slowly. 

"When you understand that time is a factor you cannot control, you focus on the ones you can. Temperature and humidity are two very important elements in the maturation process. Many try to speed up the aging process by using higher temperatures and using smaller barrels. This results in the hard and disproportionate amount of tannins. There is no substitute for time. It is a fundamental part to achieve high-quality products.

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

Time is constant and cannot be controlled. We don’t try to." - 45th Parallel Distillery

My review today is of its Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon.  Not only is it bonded, but it is also a single barrel. Barrel 196 was purchased in its entirety by Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, WI.  It comes from a mash of corn, rye, wheat, and barley, and is then placed in a medium-char, Ozark white oak barrel. The staves were seasoned for three years prior to being coopered.  It then rested 68 months (5 years, 8 months).  Because it is bonded, it is diluted to 100°.  Retail is $42.99.

I'd like to thank Niemuth's for providing me a sample of this Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious and find out if this one is any good.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented as honey brown in color. While a thinner rim was created, thick, heavy, slow legs worked their way back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Corn and vanilla were the first aromas I discovered. But, they were joined by mint, nutmeg, and cinnamon. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, caramel rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  An oily, medium-bodied mouthfeel gave me the impression this drank below its stated proof. On the front, I tasted only creamy caramel. The middle expanded to milk chocolate, almond, and corn. On the back, flavors of black pepper, clove, and rye spice were easy to pick out.

Finish:  This whiskey has one of the most confusing finishes I've ever come across. It started as incredibly long. The next sip it was medium-short. A subsequent sip brought the length back. One more it was medium-short. But, the confusion didn't stop there. It began with a slow ramping of spice. Another taste would bring out sweet notes without spice. Additional attempts kept cycling between the two. I was able to discern clove, tobacco, and black pepper that would tango with vanilla, toasted coconut, and toasted oak.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If you've read my reviews for any length of time, I am fascinated with whiskeys that offer something distinct. The finish on this one absolutely fits that bill. This was delightful all the way around, the mind-games notwithstanding. The price is not a major factor and as such, I'm dropping my Bottle rating on it.  You'll enjoy the experience from start to finish. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

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


Thursday, February 25, 2021

What's This? A Shelf-Talker Featuring My Tasting Notes!


A distributor just sent me this photo he took of some shelf-talkers for Nassif Family Reserve, referencing my review from a few weeks ago!  Considering who else he is quoting from on another product, I'm both flattered and honored. 

Look for these shelf-talkers all over Wisconsin!  Cheers!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Spirit Works Distillery Four Grain Bourbon, Straight Rye, and Straight Wheat Whiskey Reviews & Tasting Notes

I have fun with samples I receive from others these because they're often from off-the-radar distilleries. I love that they're blind tastings for me and for the most part, I have zero preconceived notions (again, since they're not on my radar).

One such distillery is Spirit Works Distillery of Sonoma County, California. It is a grain-to-glass operation that was founded in 2012 by the husband-and-wife team of Timo and Ashby Marshall. Ashby is the original Head Distiller, and Krystal Goulart, who trained under Ashby, is also a distiller. One thing of note is Spirit Works was awarded the 2020 ADI Distiller of the Year. All of the grain they work with is organic.

"We make everything in-house from milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling all the way through to bottling and shipments out the door." - Spirit Works Distillery

I'm going to explore their Four Grain Bourbon, Straight Rye, and Straight Wheat whiskeys. Without further ado, let's #DrinkCurious and get these tasted and rated.

Four Grain Bourbon

This is a blend of two of their whiskeys, and has a mashbill of 60% corn, with the remainder rye, wheat, and malted barley. The corn and wheat are from California. The mash was distilled in their German-made hybrid pot still and then aged at least four years in new, charred oak 53-gallon barrels.  This Bourbon is bottled at 90°, and a 750ml runs about $50.00, which is smack-dab in the middle of what craft whiskey is priced. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the whiskey presented as a brassy, orange-amber.  It created a thicker rim that generated slow, medium-weight legs to roll back down the wall into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: The nose on this was sweet and fruity, with brown sugar, honey, berry, cherry, plum, and then oak. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I found a blend of honey, vanilla, and musty oak. 

Palate: The mouthfeel was light and creamy. There was no burn per se, but spice notes were evident. The first thing I tasted was vanilla sugar cookie. That was the only flavor on the front. At mid-palate, flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg took over. On the back, there was an impression of cherry and toasted oak.

Finish: The finish was challenging because it was a flash and then gone. It required several sips to pin anything down. I picked up nuts, nutmeg, and finally, white pepper.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I stated earlier, $50.00 is right in the middle of what most craft distilleries charge.  At 90°, you aren't left with a feeling that the distillery is only interested in mass production. The team has carefully determined what the optimal proof should be. However, I believe this Bourbon needs to age a year or so longer. The almost missing finish gave nothing to round things out. This had a beautiful nose but an average, unremarkable palate. Considering all of that, I'm going to toss a Bar rating.

Straight Rye Whiskey

This one is non-chill filtered and aged a minimum of four years in 53-gallon new, charred oak barrels. The mashbill is undisclosed other than it being a "high rye" whiskey. Suggested retail is $65.00 for a 750ml, and bottled at 90°.

Appearance: Using a Glencairn glass, the Rye appeared as a honey-amber color. It left a medium rim on the wall, which created long, fast legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of oak, cinnamon, mint, and green apple greeted my nostrils, and when I drew the air into my mouth, spearmint rolled across my tongue. 

Palate:  A medium body with a very oily mouthfeel started things off. On the front, I tasted caramel and cinnamon. As it moved to the middle, flavors of cherry and coconut became evident, and then, on the back, I discovered rye spice and oak.

Finish:  I found the finish to be long and peppery, with dry oak and cherry abounding.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The Straight Rye was a fairly basic whiskey. There's nothing not to like, but similar to the Four Grain, there's nothing that stands out. If Spirit Works didn't mention it was a "high rye" whiskey, I would have guessed it was barely legal at 51%. Again, I think this needs a few more years in oak. Were I to keep this in my whiskey library, it would be for mixing cocktails. That being said, $65.00 is way too much to pay for a mixer. Due to that, I'm rating this one a Bust

Straight Wheat Whiskey

Made from a mash of 100% California-grown red winter wheat, the Straight Wheat Whiskey is non-chill filtered and aged at least four years in new, charred oak barrels. It is proofed down to 90°, and you should expect to pay about $65.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Appearance: Being consistent and using a Glencairn glass, the Straight Wheat offered a deep honey color.  It left no rim but generated one heck of a wavy curtain to drop down the wall.

Nose:  Light and floral on the nose, one thing that stood out was bubble gum. When I brought the fumes into my mouth, I was hit with a wave of butterscotch.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was full-bodied and somewhat bitter. On the front, I sampled walnut and sweet tobacco leaf. As it moved to the middle, there was a strange mix of unsweetened tea and cocoa powder. The back was a combination of oak, clove, and black pepper. 

Finish:  Medium-long in length, it consisted of a ramp-up of clove, dry oak, and cola. The bitterness from the mouthfeel continued all the way through.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  There are certain things I'm not a fan of.  Unsweetened tea is one of them. I'm also not big on neat whiskeys that are bitter. Bittersweet I don't mind at all, but this was not that. It, like the previous two whiskeys, was fairly unremarkable, and when I take into account this is a $65.00 whiskey, it becomes an unattractive prospect. This, like the Rye, will, unfortunately, take a Bust from me. 


My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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


Monday, February 22, 2021

Old Wm Tarr Manchester Reserve Kentucky Straight Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


If you think about Kentucky Bourbon, and you wonder who, exactly, was the first federally-licensed distillery to make it in Lexington, you may be surprised to learn it was the Ashland Distillery in 1865.  A mere six years later, a gentleman named William Tarr purchased the controlling stake in the distillery.  Tarr's first venture in distilling was in the Chicken Cock Distillery in Paris, KY. 

But, that's only a minor part of the story. Did you know Ashland Distillery was responsible for the creation of the Lexington Fire Department? It came out of a fire that decimated the distillery in 1879. The city fathers determined they needed a permanent fire department. Once rebuilt, the distillery was renamed the Wm. Tarr & Company. As the distillery grew, they made a sweet mash whiskey called Ashland, and a sour mash whiskey called Wm. Tarr (later renamed Old Tarr). In 1897, Tarr had to declare bankruptcy, and his assets were sold to the Stoll family, and in 1902, and the distilling plants they owned formed Stoll & Company, Inc

Stoll & Company produced brands such as Ashland, Old Tarr, Old Elk, Bond & Lillard, Belle of Nelson, E.L. Miles & Co., and New Hope. Then, in 1908, the Wm. Tarr Distillery was shuttered and dismantled. That was the end of the distillery until the brand was resurrected in 2020 and opened in the famous Lexington Distillery District.

"Our company is committed to the principles and foundations laid over 150 years ago by William Tarr, one of the bourbon giants of the Bluegrass. Today, we stand on the shoulders of his rich legacy. His ideas, philosophy, and daring inspire us. Our mission is to act with Tarr's single-minded determination, guided by our genuine passion for the spirits we create." - Old Wm. Tarr Distillery

Meet the new Old Wm. Tarr Manchester Reserve Kentucky Straight Whiskey. It is a blend of three whiskeys from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery. The first blend, 60% of the recipe, is an 8-year Rye from a mash of 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley. The next component, 30%, comes from an 8-year Bourbon made from 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. The remaining 10% is a 7-year Bourbon made from an identical mashbill. The result is a 114° whiskey that retails for around $80.00.

But, is it any good?  I'm here to answer that question, but before I do, I'd like to thank Wm. Tarr Distillery for providing me a sample of Manchester Reserve in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. You know what comes next - it is time to #DrinkCurious!

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Manchester Reserve presents as a classic orange-amber color.  It created a thinner rim, with medium legs that slowly dropped back to the pool.

Nose:  This whiskey was fragrant from across the room while I let it breathe. If there was ever an example of a caramel bomb, this was it. Additionally, a big cherry aroma was evident. That was joined by plum, cinnamon, cedar, and orange peel. If that sounds complex, it was. When I drew the vapor in my mouth, vanilla rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  I was greeted with a creamy mouthfeel with a medium body. On the front of my palate, I tasted caramel, black cherry, and corn. As it transitioned to the middle, I could only pick up brown sugar and nutmeg. On the back, it transformed to oak, leather, cinnamon, and rye spice.

Finish:  Originally I found the finish to be medium, but additional sips convinced me it was much longer. Oak tannins, dry leather, cinnamon, and sugar plum stuck around for a pleasurable experience.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  For $80.00 I expect a lot. That's my sticking point with Manchester Reserve. This was a delicious, complex whiskey that offers a lot. There's nothing not to like. The 114° worked well and delivered. It was one of those smooth drinkers that left a good tingle to the hard palate. At MSRP or less, I'd give it a Bottle. But, I wouldn't go above that price. Cheers!

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

Friday, February 19, 2021

Redemption "Rusky Business" High Rye Bourbon Tasting Notes


MGP makes some incredible whiskeys. It is the big boy on the block as it pertains to providing sourced Bourbons, Ryes, and Light Whiskeys to various "craft" labels you'll see on your local store shelf. One of those brands is Redemption Whiskey, whose story began in 2010 when Dave Schmier secured some high-end barrels of Rye from Old Seagram's Distillery, which is now known as MGP. 

In 2015, Schmier sold Redemption to Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. They've redesigned the bottle and label, but the whiskey inside remains the same as it is all distilled by MGP.

Fast forward to 2020, and The Speakeasy_WI had an opportunity to choose a private barrel of Redemption High Rye Bourbon with its partner, Neil's Liquor of Middleton. The selection committee consisted of Troy Mancusi, Dan O'Connell (the owner at Neil's), Mike Rusk of Cask & Ale, and me, your friendly, neighborhood Whiskeyfellow.

We settled on Barrel #20-185, which was bottled at 105°.  The mashbill was 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley, and aged for five years.  Dave Schmier will tell you this is, in his opinion, the best mashbill that MGP makes. We decided to honor Mike with the label and called it Rusky Business.  A 750ml bottle of Rusky Business is $44.99.

Last year I stopped rating barrel picks that I've been involved with.  My standards are very strict and I'm perfectly happy to reject all samples and walk away with nothing. If I'm involved in the pick, you can count on it being special.

I'm sure you're interested in the tasting notes, so without further ado, here they are.

Appearance:   In my Glencairn glass, Rusky Business was the color of orange amber. It created a medium-thick rim that formed fat, slow legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  The first thing you'll experience is a giant punch in the nose of caramel. Aromas of dill, mint, sawdust, toasted oak, and orange peel follow. If you inhale the vapor in your mouth, orange peel and vanilla will roll across your tongue.

Palate:  You'll find the mouthfeel thin and oily. Right off the bat, you'll taste bubble gum, nutmeg, and corn puffs. At mid-palate, flavors of caramel and oak will be obvious. The back will highlight cinnamon, vanilla, and mint.

FinishRusky Business has a finish like a freight train with a fully-open throttle.  It begins with candied orange, then leads into bubble gum. Cinnamon Red Hots explode and it ends with mint and barrel char.  Don't be scared, because everything in the finish just works beautifully.

Final Thoughts:  You definitely want to let Rusky Business breathe before delving into it, otherwise it is just going to be hot and you'll miss out on the flavors. Obviously, there are a limited number of bottles available. Neil's is located at 2415 Allen Road in Middleton.  Cheers!

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

Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye & Bourbon Reviews & Tasting Notes


If you hopped in a time machine and set it for 1856, you'd stumble on a brand new whiskey called Chicken Cock. Distilled in Paris, Kentucky, it had a rich history. Fast forward about 64 years, and you'd find Chicken Cock in speakeasies around the country during Prohibition, including the famous Cotton Club in Harlem. 

“During the prohibition period, you could always buy good whiskey from somebody in the Cotton Club. They used to have what they called Chicken Cock. It was a bottle in a can, and the can was sealed. It cost something like ten to fourteen dollars a pint.” - Duke Ellington

Then, in the 1950s, the distillery in Paris burned down, and the brand vanished into history. That is until it was resurrected in 2011 by Matti Anttila while he was researching older distilleries and he purchased the rights to the brand. His company, Grain & Barrel Spirits, entered into a collaborative distilling agreement with Bardstown Bourbon Company in 2017. 

The 13-year-old boy in me just adores the name. It is the holy grail of immature jokes. Will the mature (yeah, right) adult in me feel the same about the whiskies behind it? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious.

Before I get to the tasting notes, I'd like to thank Grain & Barrel Spirits for providing samples in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest reviews.  

First up is Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye.

Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye starts with a mash of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. It then rests for at least two years.  Non-chill-filtered, it is diluted to 90° and has a suggested retail price of $69.99 for a 750ml bottle.

You may be wondering why the bottle is empty. Well, there was an accident during shipping, and while the bottle didn't break, it did crack and leak (but thankfully, not that much). I had to transfer the remainder to a decanter. This, of course, has no bearing at all on my rating.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Chicken Cock presented as an unmistakable orange amber color. It produced a thinner rim, but with amazingly long, thick legs that fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  I found Chicken Cock to be aromatic as it was oxidizing in my glass. The spearmint was obvious, but it was joined by citrus and root beer. When I inhaled through my lips, the root beer continued.

Palate:  The mouthfeel comprised of a medium body and was warming. On the front, unsweetened tea dominated, along with undertones of rye spice.  At mid-palate, I tasted dill, honey, and spearmint. Then, on the back, flavors of grapefruit and tobacco leaf competed with each other.

Finish:  The more I sipped, the longer the finish became. Overall, it wound up as what I'd describe as medium-long. Sweet tobacco leaf, cinnamon, mint, and grapefruit carried all the way through.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Strangely enough, I encountered no wood notes while tasting Chicken Cock Rye. Unfortunately, unsweetened tea and grapefruit are not my favorite flavors. I'm a fan of young Ryes, and Chicken Cock was far more mellow than others. It lacked any sharp notes, and, again, there was that lack of wood.  Someone who wants to pour a less-spicy Rye may find Chicken Cock desirable. My concern is with the price. The market is crowded with more mature Ryes for $70.00 or less. Chicken Cock isn't doing anything, in particular, to stand out and convince me to buy it. As such, I believe this one deserves a Bar rating. You'll want to try this one first before committing to a purchase. 

Next up is Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a blend of two mashbills. The first is 78% corn, 12% rye, and 10% malted barley. The second, older mash is 74% corn, 18% rye, and 8% malted barley.  Non-chill-filtered, it is bottled at 90° and has a suggested retail price of $59.99 for a 750ml.  It carries no age statement, but we can assume since it is straight, it is at least two years old, and because there's no age statement, it is at least four.

Appearance:  The Bourbon was the color of dull gold. It created a thick rim that didn't hold the weight of the heavy, fast legs which crashed back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  If bananas are your thing, you're going to love the nose on Chicken Cock Bourbon. The aroma was unmistakable. But, vanilla, corn, cherry, and plum weren't hidden, either. There was also an earthy quality that I couldn't quite nail down. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, the banana continued.

Palate:  A light, creamy mouthfeel greeted me as I took my first sip.  The front of my palate tasted caramel and corn. In the middle, it was butterscotch and apple. Oak, caramel and black pepper constructed the back.

Finish:  A medium-long finish started with caramel-coated apple, oak, and black pepper.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This Bourbon is a very easy sipper. Nothing on the palate stole the show, and while there aren't a lot of notes, it seems to make sense. There is, however, nothing that particularly screams for attention. I would love to revisit this after a few more years in wood. Like the Rye, this Bourbon will get lost at its current price point. The Bar rating seems best for Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Cheers!

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Obtanium 5-Year Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Despite the fact I've been writing about Obtainium whiskeys for the last year, I've never really thought about what obtainium means. Curiosity got the best of me and I looked it up. It is a slang term that represents things that have been taken or stolen that others have discarded. When you consider what Cat's Eye Distillery does, the name is fitting (no, they don't steal). They've been grabbing up MGP Light Whiskey, which is something many non-distilling producers (NDPs) have overlooked.

Today I'm reviewing Obtanium 5-Year Single Barrel Bourbon out of Cat's Eye. This, too, is MGP-distillate, although which Bourbon mash is undisclosed. It is from barrel SC-88, which aged five years and is bottled at 118.3°, which is barrel strength.  It is non-chill filtered. You can expect to pay about $50.00 for a 750ml bottle.

I'd like to thank the Wisconsin distributor for Cat's Eye for a sample of this Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  Now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the color presented as orange-amber. It generated a heavy rim that collapsed into thick, fast legs that dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  I found the nose corn-forward, along with aromas of nutmeg, caramel, and boysenberry. When I inhaled the vapor in my mouth, salted caramel rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was coating and full-bodied. On the front, I tasted caramel and corn. On the mid-palate, some complexity was added with black cherry, cocoa powder, and almond. The back consisted of rye spice, clove, and toasted oak.

Finish:  The longer finish offered toasted oak, nutmeg, rye spice, and more of that salted caramel. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  While not an overly complicated Bourbon, this was very tasty. I loved how the caramel switched between classic and salted and then blended with the rye spice and oak at the end. It also doesn't drink at its stated proof, I would have guessed it to be about 15 or so points lower, which made it an easy drinker. Considering everything, including the bang for the buck, I have no issues handing over my coveted Bottle rating.  Cheers!

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

Monday, February 15, 2021

M&H Elements Red Wine Cask Single Malt Whisky Review & Tasting Notes


Two months ago, if you had asked me, "What do you think about M&H Distillery?" I would have had no clue what you were talking about. I'd never heard of them. Whisky? From Israel? I didn't know that was even a thing. And, yet here I am, two months later, and I'm penning my third review of one of its whiskies.  This time it is the third entry in the M&H Elements series:  Red Wine Cask

For some background on both M&H and its Elements program, I'll direct you to my first review, Elements Peated.  All of the M&H expressions begin with the same base Single Malt Whisky. What happens beyond that is where the real magic happens. 

"Ex-red wine casks that were sourced from Israel's finest wineries were picked for this part of the Elements trilogy. The Mediterranean's climate, variety of soil types, hot sunny days and cool nights bring a spicy and unique flavor to Israeli wine - and in turn, our casks." - M&H Distillery

The wood used starts with 60% ex-Bourbon barrels, then 26% red wine casks, 10% STR (shaved, toasted, and re-charred), and 4% virgin oak. While it carries no age statement, the Elements series is aged a minimum of three years. You should expect to pay about $56.99 for a 750ml and is bottled at 46% ABV.

I'd like to thank M&H Distillery for providing me a sample of Elements Red Wine Cask in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. I'll #DrinkCurious and get to it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this single malt presented as dull gold in color. While it left a medium rim, the legs were fat and heavy while racing back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Toasted coconut is not all that unusual of an aroma. But, it is rare to be a dominant smell. That was joined with cranberry, cherry, ripe plum, chocolate, and oak. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, vanilla and nutmeg danced across my tongue.

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be light yet coating. Flavors of red grape, vanilla cream, and toasted oak launched the experience. As it moved mid-palate, nutmeg and black cherry took over, which transitioned to black pepper, dry oak, and dark chocolate on the back.

Finish:  Black pepper and dry oak carried into the finish. Cherry, plum, and vanilla cream assisted. While only 46%, I found it interesting how tingly my hard palate became.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Single malts finished in wine casks is a thing now. Admittedly, I'm fairly new to it. For the most part, I've enjoyed what I've tried. Elements Red Wine Cask is no exception and is in the upper-echelon of what I've sampled from that niche. I was a bit shocked how any sweetness was subdued compared to the spices on the back and finish. When I consider the price, this one's a no-brainer Bottle rating. 

One final word - now that I've had all three of the Elements expressions, my favorite was Elements Peated. But, that shouldn't diminish the greatness of Red Wine Cask or Sherry Cask. You can't lose with any of the bunch. Cheers!

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

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Oak & Eden Spire Bourbon and Rye Reviews & Tasting Notes


Distilling whiskey is an expensive undertaking. First of all, you need a facility to do the whole process. You need a warehouse of some sort to age.  You invest in barrels. And, you're earning exactly $0.00 while your product is aging in those warehouses until they hit the market. Waiting can take years. Decades, even, if you're talking about Scotch. That's a long time to have money tied up.

There are other options, of course. You can buy someone else's distillate and then slap your label on it and sell it.  You can distill unaged spirits to keep a cash flow going. Or, you can try rapid-aging what you have to get it on the store shelf as quickly as possible.

There are a variety of ways to rapid-age whiskey. You can use smaller barrels. The smaller the barrel, the faster the whiskey ages. You can create artificial seasons - in the summer you can air-condition your warehouse and simulate winter. And, in the winter, you can heat the warehouse and simulate summer. You then quickly vent out the artificial season and let Mother Nature take over. 

Or, you can do what Oak & Eden does:

"Oak & Eden In-Bottle Finished Whiskey is a first of its kind, pioneering a patented technique called in-bottle finishing™, where we place a 5” long spiral cut piece of wood into every bottle of our fully aged whiskey. This technique “inspires” our whiskey, breathing new life, flavors, and aromas that couldn’t be achieved in a single barrel alone." - Oak & Eden

The "fully aged" whiskey is sourced, meaning, they didn't do any distilling. There's nothing in the world wrong with that, and I appreciate Oak & Eden's transparency in that regard.

Today's reviews are on Oak & Eden's Bourbon and Rye. Both are sourced from MGP of Indiana.  Both were aged for two years.  Both were bottled at 90°.  The wood spires were medium-toasted and remain in the bottle for six months prior to shipping them to stores.  Obviously, the longer a bottle remains on the shelf, the longer it "ages." The Bourbon retails for $39.99 and Rye for $49.99.

How does this technology pan out? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious. For the record, I obtained these samples from a third-party that is not connected with MGP or Oak & Eden.

The first one up is the Bourbon.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented as a very dark brown. It created a very thick rim that generated slower legs.

Nose:  Not unexpectedly, oak was dominating. I also smelled sawdust, corn, and pumpkin spice.  When I inhaled the vapor in my mouth, there was a mineral quality, similar to what you'd expect out of George Dickel

Palate:  The mouthfeel was creamy and had a medium body. On the front, I tasted bitter oak and what I could only describe as artificial wood. The middle offered a mix of baking spice and brown sugar. Then, on the back, the flavors of clove and oak came through.

Finish:  Massive wood tannins ended this tasting. The finish was very brief.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Oak & Eden's Spire Bourbon was absolutely awful. There's no getting around that.  When something has an artificial flavor, that's an immediate turn-off. I don't care if it is whiskey, cola, or anything else.  If I had to say something positive about it, the finish was thankfully short. Obviously, this is a Bust.

Next up is the Rye.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the Rye was the color of mahogany. It produced a thin rim, but the legs were much thicker and slowly crawled back to the pool.

Nose:  There was a blast of spearmint and menthol that, once I got past them, turned to rubber. When I breathed the vapor in my mouth, there was vanilla. 

Palate:  The palate was thick and creamy. Then I tasted tires. Not just rubber, but everything I've imagined a tire tastes like. There was also an artificial wood quality just like what the Bourbon had. The middle was cinnamon and nutmeg, while the back consisted of pepper and burnt caramel.

Finish:  I found a combination of wet oak, nutmeg, and rye spice in the salty finish that was medium-short in length.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Ufdah. I thought things wouldn't get much worse than the Bourbon, and boy was I wrong. The finish was too long. I can't see anyone spending $50.00 for a bottle of this under any circumstances. Another Bust.

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