Showing posts with label spirits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spirits. Show all posts

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Rye Review & Tasting Notes

Jack Daniel's has been around for what seems to be forever. In fact, they've not changed their mashbill since 1866, back when 14-year old Jasper "Jack" Daniel started his own distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, producing a charcoal-mellowed whiskey after learning his art from Reverend Dan Call and slave Nathan "Nearest" Green. Back then, the mash was 80% corn, 12% malted barley, and 8% rye. That's remained unchanged through today.

Except in 2012, Jack Daniel's started tinkering around and released its Unaged Rye, using a mash of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley. That then led to Rested Rye in 2014. Neither were greeted with big accolades. But, then, in 2016, the Single Barrel Rye release started to turn heads. 

The Rye goes through the same Lincoln County Process (LCP) that its world-famous Tennessee Whisky does. That involves filtering newmake through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal prior to barreling in new, charred oak. This LCP is supposed to mellow the whiskey. 

As a single barrel whiskey, every release is going to be at least slightly different. It carries no age statement, although it is rumored to be between four and five years old. It is packaged at 94° (although barrel proof is newly released). A 750ml bottle runs around $55.00.

If you're thinking that $55.00 seems a lot for a four or so-year American whiskey, keep in mind that American Rye tends to mature faster than its Bourbon counterpart, and four years is plenty adequate in most cases.

Today I'm reviewing Barrel 18-5485 from rick L-23.  It was dumped on August 14, 2018. Is it any good? The only way to answer that is to #DrinkCurious, so let's get to it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Rye was a bright, clear amber color. It left a very thin rim but generated fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Stewed fruits and a hint of mint started things off on the nose. Aromas of brown sugar and toasted oak was next. And then, strangely enough, I smelled corn. When I inhaled through my open lips, minty vanilla rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was soft and silky. I picked up no ethanol burn. The first flavor to hit my palate was sweet, creamy vanilla. The mint was absent. Mid-palate was rye spice and corn (again). On the back, it was muted oak. 

Finish:  As light as this whiskey was, it had a surprisingly long finish. Pepper and smoky oak started the show, and it ended with, and I can't believe I'm saying this, corn. Corn? Corn is only 18% of the mash. It blows my mind that corn would be a heavy player in something other than a barely-legal Rye.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This whiskey had a very interesting, appetizing nose. It had a nice mouthfeel. The palate was not complicated and lacked any real panache. The corn was baffling, making for a very different American Rye. As most people who follow me know, different is something that's typically appealing. However, different also has to be exciting. The heavy corn presence was distracting and, frankly, I found this Rye boring and not worth $55.00.  As such, it takes a Bust. Cheers!

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Select Club Pecan Praline Ultra-Premium Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

Flavored whiskeys... I've been trying to have a more open mind regarding them, particularly since I've tasted some shockingly good ones. But, if I'm going to be intellectually honest with myself, I don't go in with much expectation. That allows me to be less disappointed when they taste phony and, to me, is a ploy to sell bad whiskey by drowning it in flavor. But, it also allows me to be happy when I'm wrong.

When a local distributor asked me to try Select Club Pecan Praline Ultra Premium Whisky, I was more open-minded than usual. The first pecan flavored whiskey I tried was William Wolf Pecan Bourbon and I found it enjoyable. When I saw Select Club was Candian Whisky mixed with neutral grain spirits, that open door creaked shut just a little bit. For the record, neutral grain spirits are akin to vodka, but can basically be anything that is pure grain alcohol distilled to a very high level of ethanol. 

Select Club is owned by a company called Mextor, a family-owned company located in Houston. They don't do any actual distilling as far as I could tell, rather, they just import various wine, beer, and spirits and then distribute to 46 states.

Mextor bills this as something that is "a tasty shooter, great straight, or pairs perfectly with other flavors to serve up an amazing cocktail." It is bottled at 70° and has a suggested retail of $17.99. The actual distiller is undisclosed, and considering there are over 250 working distilleries in the country, your guess is as good as mine who it actually is.

So, is Select Club good, bad or ugly? The only way to answer that is to #DrinkCurious. Here we go...

Appearance:  In my glass, Select Club appears as a pale amber. It left a thick rim on the wall of my Glencairn, which led to fat droplets that stuck like glue and never really went anywhere.  

Nose:  Within about a foot of my face, the aroma of pecan pie greeted my nostrils. No matter where I positioned my glass, it always came up as pecan pie, both the nuttiness and the sweetness. When I stuck my nose inside the glass, I was able to pick up mild ethanol, but it required work to find it. Interestingly enough, inhaling through my mouth brought absolutely nothing:  no pecan, no ethanol, nothing.

Palate:  Select Club had an incredibly thick mouthfeel, almost like drinking cream. In fact, the more I sipped it, the thicker it became. As expected, pecan and brown sugar dominated the palate. There was a certain wood quality that I would not define as oak, but also not to be mistaken by either nuts or nutshells.

Finish:  A medium-long finish was made of brown sugar, cream, and smoke. And, on a side note, when I ran my tongue across my lips, I picked up more brown sugar, which seemed to reboot some of what was on the palate.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Select Club Pecan Praline Ultra Premium comes with a very un-premium pricetag. Inexpensive is nice so long as it isn't cheap. I can see sipping this with many non-whiskey drinking friends and having them enjoy the hell out of it. It would make a nice campfire drink. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow enjoyed it so much she informed me we were buying a bottle, so we did. And, that, my friends, means this gets a Bottle rating. Enjoy this one, cheers!

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

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Old 55 Sweet Corn Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

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

But, does it make good Bourbon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2020

Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Shenk's Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey 2019 Release Review

If you've never heard the name John Shenk, then you've missed one of the pioneers of American distilling. You have to go all the way back to Pennsylvania in 1753, when Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer, started distilling rye. His whiskey was purchased by some obscure guy named George Washington, who gave it to his troops during the Revolutionary War when stationed at Valley Forge. 

Shenk's distillery changed hands many times, most famously to Abraham Bomberger, who renamed the distillery after his family name. For the record, Bomberger and Shenk were distant relatives. The Bomberger Distillery continued to operate until 1919 when a bunch of bad people gave us Prohibition. The distillery reopened in 1934 by Louis Forman, and after briefly selling it, repurchased it again with partners from Schenley Distilleries.  And, then, the most famous family in American whiskey got involved with Master Distiller Charles Everett Beam. Beam and Forman created a pot-still whiskey they named Michter's Original Sour Mash, named for Forman's sons Michael and Peter. Yeah, Michter's Distillery.  

Coming back full circle and here I am reviewing Shenk's Homestead Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey which is distilled by Michter's. This is a vintage-stated American Whiskey, meaning each year the whiskey inside is different from the previous year. The mashbill itself is undisclosed. I can make educated guesses as to what grains are used, but it is classified neither as a Bourbon nor a Rye, and as such, we can assume both corn and rye are less than 51% of the content.  It also carries no age statement. What is unique is the distillate was aged in Chinquapin barrels.  If you're like me and had to Google the term, it is a type of beech tree.  After aging, it is dumped and Michter's proofs it down to 91.2°. Retails starts at around $69.00.  I picked up my bottle at a charity auction.

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

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey presented as a deep chestnut. I don't have a familiarity with what beechwood does to whiskey, but the color was very inviting. It left a medium rim and fast, heavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of stone fruit filled the room. In fact, the stone fruit was prevalent from the second I pulled the cork. That was married with barrel char and dark chocolate.  As I continued to explore, I picked up rye spice, citrus, and brown sugar.  The blending of these smells really made my mouth water. When I inhaled through my lips, it seemed like honey rolled over my palate.

Palate:  An oily and thin mouthfeel led to a somewhat complicated palate. At the front, it was as if I bit into a dark chocolate bar, one very heavy on the Cacao. It was joined by mace. Strangely, as it moved to mid-palate, it became orange candy and charred oak. Then, on the back, it was a union of tobacco leaf and cocoa. 

Finish:  The long-lasting finish consisted of orange peel, clove, and dry oak. It was warming but nothing to set my mouth on fire. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:   I'll get right to the point here. I think Michter's knocked this one out of the park. I loved every bit of Shenk's and it is one of my favorite American whiskey pours of 2020. The price is less than obnoxious and, frankly, I believe it can compete with more expensive whiskeys that I've had in the last year or so. As such, it snags the coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

Spirits of French Lick Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon Review

Small distilleries can be a ton of fun. Nothing at all against the big dogs, I have a fine appreciation for what they do. But, small distilleries allow for great innovation and experimentation that can lead to a unique tasting experience. And, you know me, I'm big on unique.

Spirits of French Lick is one such distillery. They don't even call themselves craft. Instead, the term artisan is used. It is located in Indiana and is attached to the French Lick Winery in West Baden. Alan Bishop is the master distiller. They distill Bourbon, American Whiskey, Brandy and botanical spirits, and claim it is in pre-Prohibition fashion. By locally sourcing their grains, they use what's on theirs and neighboring farms, keeping it all in Indiana. 

Today, we're talking Bourbon, and in this case, it is Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon. Who is this Lee W. Sinclair, and why is his name on a Bourbon label?  Sinclair was a turn-of-the-[twentieth] century businessman in West Baden. He built a hotel in 1902 which became known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It wasn't just a hotel - it had a casino, a two-deck covered bike and horse track, and an opera house. The hotel burned down, but the legacy remained. 

As far as the Bourbon is concerned, despite the fact it says Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey on the label, this is not MGP or anyone else's distillate. It is double-pot distilled on-premises and made from a mash of 60% corn, 17% wheat, 13% oat, and 10% caramel malt. There are two yeast varieties designed to pull different flavors. Fermentation takes four days. It has a lower entry proof of 105°, then placed in #2 charred new 53-gallon American oak barrels, which are toasted prior to charring. The barrels then age in its Chai/Cellar, which has a lower standard temperature than an average rickhouse.  When ready, it is bottled at 90° and retails for about $34.00.

I obtained my sample of Lee W. Sinclair from a friend seeking my opinion. How's it taste? Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon appeared brassy. It had a thin-to-medium rim that created fat, slow droplets to fall back to the pool.

Nose:  As I brought the glass to my face, I immediately picked up the smell of malt. As I hovered it under my nostrils, I found sweet vanilla and butterscotch. A light waft of milk chocolate joined in. Hidden beneath all of that was citrus. Inhaling through my lips brought the return of malt.

Palate:  When I tipped the glass for my first taste, it felt very thin in my mouth. There was no real burn to speak of, which is nice to experience at 90°. An additional sip increased its weight as it became creamier, likely due to the oat content. Sweet corn was obvious at the front and carried through mid- and back-palate. As it crossed zone-to-zone, I could pick out vanilla on the front, cherry mid-palate, and toasted oak on the back. I could not describe this as complicated and, if anything, the opposite was true. It didn't require much to figure it out.

Finish:  The finish was toasted oak and caramel. The caramel outlasted the oak, giving it, overall, a medium-length one.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is an easy-sipping whiskey. That matches my experience with other Spirits of French Lick whiskey. There is nothing harsh about it. If I wanted to introduce a friend to four-grain Bourbon, this could be a good starting point. It offers a different experience from a wheated Bourbon, thanks to the oat and caramel malt, and lacks any real spice due to a lack of rye.  The $34.00 price tag is on the low side of average for craft (or in this case, artisan) whiskey. Yeah, it is only two years old, but I can easily picture myself drinking this on my deck during a warm summer evening. If you're not big on rye Bourbons, I would offer my Bottle recommendation. If you prefer more of a punch, I'll give it a Bar. Cheers! 

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

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Starlight Distillery Cask Strength Single Barrel Rye Review

Back in October, I stopped off in Borden, Indiana, to visit Starlight Distillery. I had tasted its Single Barrel Old Rickhouse Rye and wanted to learn more about this non-MGP distillery. When I was there, I tasted a variety of spirits and wines and walked away with a bottle of Cask Strength Single Barrel Indiana Straight Rye

Everything at Starlight is done on-premises. Starlight uses a mash of 85% unmalted and 15% malted rye. They ferment using a sweet mash, meaning the yeast starts fresh every time, without holding back something from the previous batch. It provides less consistency batch-to-batch than would a sour mash. Fermentation takes between five and six days.

Starlight uses two stills:  one is a copper 80-gallon pot still from Kothe, and the other is a copper 500-gallon pot still from Vendome. Once distilled, Starlight fills 53-gallon, charred oak barrels and then lets it age in their rackhouse. In the case of Barrel 1348, which I am reviewing today, that resting period took four years. Once dumped, the whiskey does not go through any filtration process. It comes out of the barrel at 112°.  Sold in 375ml bottles, retail is $25.99 at the gift shop. At the time of this review, Barrel 1348 is still available on Starlight's website

So, how does this Indiana Straight Rye hold up? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Barrel 1348 appears as a deep chestnut color. It left a thin rim that generated fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool. 

Nose:  This whiskey not overly aromatic, meaning that I didn't smell much while I was allowing it to rest. When I brought my glass to my face, I discovered a floral quality. That's common with American Rye. I also found light oak. But, before that ended, a different fruitiness tickled my nostrils, which I found to be date and fig. When I inhaled through my parted lips, the date became more obvious.

Palate:  A thin and oily mouthfeel greeted the inside of my mouth. It was easy to move it around via the Kentucky chew. I almost forgot it was barrel proof because there was no heat whatsoever with it.  Flavors of milk-chocolate covered raisins and fig were at the front. As the Rye worked its way across my palate, toasted oak and almond were in the middle. Then, on the back, that toasted oak turned dry and was joined by a solid rye spice.

Finish:  The finish was long, and frankly, much longer than I expected. It seemed to fall off quickly and then had a resurgence. Subsequent sips gave me the same experience. I could not get it to level out no matter how many times I tried.  There was also quite a bit going on. It started off minty, then fainted. Then, a pop of clove was joined with dry leather. Finally, it became sweet with raisin.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  2020 has been a very strange year for everyone around the world. We've had this horrific coronavirus that has, at the least, been disrupting everyone's lives and, unfortunately, stolen others. But it has also unusually been a very good year (at least for me) whiskey-wise. I've handed out several Bar ratings, only a few Busts, and many Bottle recommendations. I was impressed with how easy this one went down despite the proof. It had a curious nose, a semi-complicated palate, and an interesting finish. Considering all of that with the easy-on-the-wallet price tag, I'm sold. And, I believe you will be, too. This one is a definite Bottle recommendation. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Woodford Reserve Malt Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

I've really been enjoying malt whiskeys lately.  Sure, I've always had a thing for Scotch, it was my introduction to whiskey many moons ago. When I first tasted American malts, I was not a fan. I may have set myself up for disappointment though because I expected American malt to smell and taste like its Scottish and Irish counterparts. It took me a few years of continuing to #DrinkCurious to accept and understand that American malts were not going to be, nor were they designed to be, competitors to Scotch and Irish whiskeys.

There is also something to be said for quality. When American malts started to become a "thing" the quality was lacking. They were either harsh or under-proofed. It seemed like distillers were exploring what they could or should have been doing and, of course, using us as guinea pigs. 

Eventually, distillers seemed to have a better understanding of how to create malt whiskeys, both in the distillation and aging process. There are many high-quality American malts on the market. This is exciting because this is a fast-growing category.

When invited by Woodford Reserve to review their Kentucky Straight Malt, I jumped at the opportunity. The background on Woodford's whiskey is as follows: 

Coming out of Prohibition, the Federal Government approved four straight whiskey standards: Bourbon, Rye, Wheat, and Malt. These reflected the types of whiskeys produced in the United States prior to Prohibition.  While most people associate malt whiskey with Scotland, Kentucky has a pre-Prohibition history of malt whiskey production. Woodford Reserve Malt draws upon this heritage for inspiration.

It is triple distilled and made from a mash of 51% malted barley, 47% corn, and 2% rye. It was aged in new, charred oak barrels, just like Bourbon or Rye would be. Going with a barely-legal (meaning 51%) malt content in addition to the high corn, it is obvious Woodford is targeting Bourbon drinkers, and that's perfectly fine. This whiskey carries no age statement, but as a straight whiskey we know that's at least two years, and with no age statement, that means at least four. Bottled at 90.4°, Woodford plans to keep this as part of its core offering. The suggested retail is $34.99 for a 750ml bottle.

I'd like to thank Woodford Reserve for providing me this sample in exchange for an honest, no-strings-attached review. And now, let's get to it.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the color appeared as a definitive orange amber. It was clear and inviting. It generated a medium-thick rim that stuck to the wall like glue. Eventually, gravity took over, and fat droplets worked its way back to the pool.

Nose:  From the moment I opened the bottle, this whiskey was very aromatic. As I gave it an opportunity to breathe, it continued to fill the room with sweet apricot and Honeycrisp apples. Once I brought my glass to my face, the fruitiness only got stronger, this time adding in raisin and dried cherry. Candied nuts came next, followed by toasted oak, then, finally, chocolate. When I inhaled through my lips, vanilla and honey rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thin yet creamy. It was almost like clarified butter. At the front, it began with black pepper and oak. At mid-palate, things became fruity, with coconut and pear. On the back, it was a marriage of dark chocolate covered nuts. 

Finish:  The finish started off softly and then built to a quick crescendo of cocoa and oak. Pepper from the front of the palate returned to give it a nice, spicy thump. Overall, it was medium in length. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I absolutely loved the very complex nose. It was almost like someone blindfolded me, took an Irish whiskey and Bourbon, placed them side-by-side, and asked what kind of whiskey I had in front of me. The palate was less complicated, but that's fine.  Personally, I would have preferred the finish to last longer, but that's not a knock, rather, I was enjoying the flavors and didn't want them to end.

It is difficult to say Woodford Reserve Malt is atypical of American malt because the category is all over the place. However, it was very different from any other American malt I've had. Perhaps that was the influence of the corn. Regardless, I think Woodford has a winner here, with or without it being easy on the wallet. Awarding this my Bottle rating is a no-brainer. Cheers!

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Daviess County Straight Bourbon Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

One of the things I find entertaining about Bourbon is the history behind it.  I'm not necessarily speaking of tall tales and marketing backstories, although those can be fun, too. Rather, I'm talking about real history. When I come across a new whiskey, I try to learn what I can about it - whether that is the history of a distillery or the reason behind the name of a whiskey. 

Joseph Hamilton Daveiss had an interesting background. He became a lawyer in 1795 and appeared in court as someone you'd think of from the movie Deliverance. He got involved in a duel in 1799 and wound up becoming a fugitive.  And, yet, he was also the first lawyer west of the Appalachian Mountains to litigate a case before the US Supreme Court.

Daveiss then became a US District Attorney based in Kentucky. He wound up getting a burr (pun intended) under his saddle regarding Aaron Burr. He tried many times to prosecute Burr for treason but was never successful. 

In 1811, Daveiss volunteered to serve in the Indiana militia, where he was placed in charge of the entire Indiana calvary as well as two companies of dragoons. He led them into battle at Tippecanoe, where he died from his injuries.

At this point you're probably wondering if I've got a spelling error regarding his name. For whatever reason, anything named after Daveiss has been spelled Daviess, including a county in Kentucky. In that county was a distillery called Daviess County Distilling Co., one of the original Kentucky distilleries. 

Leave it to Lux Row Distillers to resurrect the name and create a line called Daviess County Bourbon. There are currently three expressions:  Kentucky Straight, French Oak, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Today I'm reviewing Kentucky Straight.

Kentucky Straight is made from two different Bourbon mashbills: wheated and traditional rye. Although Lux Row has been distilling for a few years, the whiskeys used in this marriage are sourced and, while undisclosed, Luxco (Lux Row's parent company) has a history of sourcing from Heaven Hill.  It also carries no age statement, but since it is Straight, we know it is at least two years, plus that no age statement cranks it up to at least four. It is bottled at 96°, and retail is $39.99.

I'd like to thank Lux Row Distillers for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. On a side note, I want to say that what Lux Row sent me is one of the nicest sample packages I've come across.

And now, time to #DrinkCurious to discover what matters...

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass,  Daviess County Kentucky Straight appeared as caramel in color. It left a very thin rim that led to very thick, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  The first aroma to hit my olfactory sense was cinnamon. That was followed by lightly-toasted oak. As I continued exploring, it grew sweeter, with molasses, vanilla, and peach.  When I inhaled through my lips, I found what could best be described as peach cobbler. 

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to very oily. There was a mild warming sensation. I'm curious which char level was used because this is smokier than I anticipated, especially considering the nose.  At the front, that became a big deal. Mid-palate, oak, and stewed fruits became evident. Honey, vanilla, and caramel made an appearance at the back. 

Finish:  Extremely long in duration, this finish starts off with peaches and honey. It then shifted to dry oak and clove which seemed powered by the Energizer bunny. I'm talking for many minutes. I was shocked at how quickly 96° numbed my hard palate. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The more I sipped Daviess County Kentucky Straight Bourbon, the more convinced I became at least one of the Bourbons used in the blend was Heaven Hill-sourced. The wheater was less obvious, but Heaven Hill has that mashbill, too, and as far as I know, I've not tasted a blend of the two.

This Bourbon is definitely off the beaten path. That's something that always grabs my attention, good or bad. In this case, I found it to be the former. While not mind-blowing, it is flavorful and keeps you focused on that never-ending finish. When you factor in $40.00 for a 750ml, this one becomes an easy Bottle recommendation.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System:

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lagavulin 16 Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

Ashes to ashes... dust to dust. Fairly early in my Scotch journey, I was strictly a Speyside guy. Glenfiddich and Chivas are where I parked my palate, and I was happy. But, even at that young stage in my wanderings, I was very curious. I had an invitation to go to my first big whiskey event:  Whisky Extravaganza down in Miami.

As I started moving from table to table, opening up my eyes to more choices than I could shake a stick at, I got to the Lagavulin table. I asked a lot of questions, I held out my Glencairn glass, they poured Lagavulin 16, I sipped, and my palate was absolutely destroyed. I thought I licked the inside of a 1970's American car ashtray and followed it up with a charcoal briquette lozenge. Oh... it was hideous, and I stayed away from peated Scotches for awhile. 

Flash forward a bit and I was brave enough to give it another go.  I started off with some Highland options (Talisker was a favorite), and then dipped my toe into Islay, and quickly becoming a fan of Ardbeg. But, whenever Lagavulin was offered, I shied away because, well, that disgusting memory would cause my mouth to go dry and pucker. 

And then flash forward several more years until, at a local Scotch tasting, Lagavulin 16 was on the menu. My enemy. 

Unfortunately, I had two things against me:  I now have a public reputation and I was in a public venue with a lot of people who know me. And, those people expect me to #DrinkCurious and not turn anything down.  I very much have a love/hate relationship with that philosophy.

So, there was no getting out of this. I was stuck. A friend was pouring and he dumped that Islay devil in my Glencairn...

Ah, before I let the cat out of the bag, there is some product information that needs to be shared. Lagavulin 16 is a single malt that is bottled at 43% ABV.  It retails for about $88.99 and is part of the Diageo portfolio. The distillery itself was founded in 1816 and has a storied history. Before the Lagavulin distillery was built, there were many illegal distilleries built on the grounds. 

Appearance:  In my glass, Lagavulin 16 presented as a brassy, dusky amber. It generated a thin rim and offered long legs that raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  There was no mistaking the aroma: Peat, peat, and more peat. But, with a much more mature nose, I discovered beneath all that peat was brine and sweet caramel.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was all vanilla cream.

Palate:  My first sip was oily and coating, but not what I could describe as heavy. The first thing to strike my palate was, not surprisingly, peat and ash. Like my nose, my palate has matured and developed and I've grown to appreciate peat. And, the best description I can use to describe what I tasted was coffee ice cream. The coffee and vanilla were thick.  Below those, I found brine and seaweed.

Finish:  I found it was very long, smoky and oaky. But, punching through that was a tasty caramel, chocolate, and toffee mixture similar to a Heath bar.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  As I've proven to myself time and time again, always come back to revisit things you don't like. And, don't have it take years for that to happen. I've made this mistake time and time again and I often wind up kicking myself for it.  Lagavulin 16 was godawful - years ago on my then very immature palate. That's all changed. I'm in love with this Islay devil and if you have a fondness for peat, I believe you will, too. This gets an easy Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Friday, May 15, 2020

Luca Mariano Old Americana Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

When you distill in your garage, you have some hurdles to overcome. Particularly legal ones. When Francesco Viola, a first-generation Italian-American, started distilling on his own, he had to cease and desist. Yeah, he found out what he was doing was not legal when his neighbor pointed it out, and then, when he didn't believe his neighbor, he talked to his lawyer. That was the end of his garage distilling operation.

Francesco then decided to do things legally and set up shop with Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville, Kentucky on a contract-distilling basis. His backstory is his recipe is a blend of his grandfather's and modern-day methods of distilling spirits. One of Francesco's goals was to provide a whiskey that people could afford and buy repeatedly. He calls his whiskey Luca Mariano Old Americana Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which is named after his son, Luca Mariano, who, incidentally, is named after Francesco's grandfather, Mariano.

If you visit their website, the tagline states it is a Family-Selected Premium Whiskey. It is "Born in Italy and perfected in Kentucky." Of course, Bourbon is not born in Italy. But, it is a backstory that fits the image he wants to portray.

While the percentages of the mash are undisclosed, it is a Bourbon distilled from corn, rye and malted barley that is aged at least four years.  Once it is dumped, it is blended in small batches and then diluted to 83°. Luca Mariano retails for $44.99.  The batch I tried was 2019-03.

How does Luca Mariano taste? The only way to find out is to #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn glass, Luca Mariano appeared as a chardonnay color.  It left a medium rim and created medium legs that dropped slowly back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

An aroma of sweet corn greeted my nostrils. Underneath was light oak, apple, and grass.  Beneath the grass was an astringent quality.  When I inhaled through my mouth, it was a mixture of sweet corn and smoke.

The mouthfeel was very thin. The palate itself was as well.  Corn was prevalent, and at mid-palate, that astringent quality returned. It was followed by mint and char. All of that led to a thankfully short finish of black pepper and smoked oak.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I understand the need to maximize cash flow, especially when you're first starting out. Even with contract distilling, things get very expensive very quickly. One way to do that is, aside from making vodka and gin, is to lower the proof as mild as possible while still retaining character. While I don't know what different proofs were tested before arriving at 83°, this was not the right choice, at least not for this particular batch. As I said in the notes above, the palate was thin. I've had 80-proofers that perform well, it can be done.  While I always want to see start-ups succeed, unfortunately, Luca Americana one needs a lot of tweaking and rework before it gets a positive recommendation from me. This one is a Bust.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:

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

Friday, May 1, 2020

Bourbon & Banter has a new podcast...

Yesterday, Bourbon & Banter released its second podcast. I cohosted and we interviewed Lew Bryson.

I've been a guest on many podcasts, but it is a completely different world being a cohost.

You can listen to the podcast in its entirety at this link. Cheers!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Four Gate Whiskey Company's The Kelvin Collaboration II Bourbon Review

When Bourbon or Rye approaches $200, it better be damned good. For that matter, any whiskey at that price better blow my mind. 

Today I'm reviewing The Kelvin Collaboration II from Four Gate Whiskey Company.  Perhaps you're wondering who the heck Four Gate is and what kind of cojones they have to charge $200 for something they've not even distilled themselves. Let's get this out of the way.  Four Gate is a blender. They source great whiskeys from wherever and create something special - or at least, that's the theory.

Blending is an art form.  Yeah, I know, blended whiskeys suck, right? Not all of them, not even close! With regard to American whiskeys, a blend can mean several things. But, I'm betting some of your favorite Bourbons and Ryes are blended. Unless it says, Single Barrel on the label, guess what? Its a blend - a blend of several barrels, a/k/a Small Batch. 

If you've ever done a barrel pick, you know that no two barrels are the same.  You can have the same distillate, distilled on the same day, placed in two identical barrels from the same cooperage, coopered immediately after one another, then placed in the same warehouse, set next to each other on the same rick, aged for the exact same amount of time under the exact same conditions, and they can have amazing variances. 

To get consistency, distilleries blend a bunch of different barrels together. That's a small batch.

But, let's get beyond the small batch. The true Master Blender is an artist with a target in mind, and the puzzle is, How do I get there?  The answer to that is, you take different barrels, different whiskeys, different grains, malts, or whatever, and blend them together to reach your goal. Sure, you could start randomly dumping this into that and hoping for the best - and that's an excellent way to ruin potentially good whiskey. Rather, it is an artistic science. I have a ton of respect for good Master Blenders, no matter what type of whiskey they work with.

Now we come back full-circle to Four Gate, which has been blending since 2018.  Bill Straub and Bob D'Antoni have been working hand-in-hand with the folks at Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville. Bill and Bob are Louisville natives and really know their whiskey. Kelvin, of course, is one of the nation's premiere cooperages with a long, rich heritage going back to Scotland. They definitely comprehend wood. And, all of that requires some decent knowledge of science.

But, we're back to $200 per bottle.  What do you get for two Benjamins?

It starts with 12-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon.  While the distiller is undisclosed, I know it is a mash of 74% corn, 18% rye, and 8% malted barley. It leads me to assume that's 1792 Barton since that's their standard recipe. Four Gate then finishes that Bourbon in ex-Cognac and ex-dark rum casks. The yield is only 2,474 bottles, and it weighs in at a hefty 126.4°. Distribution is limited to Kentucky, Tennessee and online at Seelbach's.

So, is it any good?  The only way to find out for sure is to #DrinkCurious. Before I start, I'd like to thank Four Gate for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

In my trusty Glencairn glass, Batch 6 has the color of a deep, dark, orange-amber. It left an almost microscopic rim that generated thick, speedy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

As I let the Bourbon breathe, aromas of rich, sweet, dark fruit filled the air. Once I brought the glass to my face, there was a definitive coupling of molasses and stone fruit. As I continued to explore, I discovered cinnamon and oak.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was all brown sugar.

The mouthfeel was thick and viscous, giving it a luxurious quality. It wasn't overly warm despite the significant proof. At the front, I experienced sweet molasses and a dominating oak. Then, at mid-palate, it was like I was in an orchard of black grapes and sweet apricots. Before it worked its way to the back, I tasted thick caramel that seemed like it stuck. On the back, it became a rather complex marriage of dark chocolate, old leather, dry oak, clove, and tobacco.

The medium-to-long finish consisted of caramel, dry oak, and clove. It was interesting to encounter all the complicated notes on the back and have them funnel into three precise flavors.  And then, something interesting happened. Remember how I started off saying that despite the proof, it wasn't overwhelming?  Well, it may not have been at first, but my hard palate absolutely tingled by the time I figured things out.  

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Asking $200 is asking a lot of me. I felt very weird last year, naming a $150 whiskey my Bourbon of the Year, but I did.  When you consider BTAC, Four Roses Small Batch LE, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and some other heavy-hitters at much less (at least at retail), that's challenging. However, I believe Four Gate knocked this one out of the park. I really, really enjoyed this pour. I loved the nose, how crazy the palate got, and then how all the loose ends were tied up in the finish. Yeah, it is a lot of money. In this case, I believe it is worth the price and snags my coveted Bottle rating.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:

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