Monday, March 9, 2015

How Big is That Barrel? Bourbon Barrel, Hogshead, Sherry Butt

This post will hopefully answer some questions for you that took me far too long to find. Gallons are listed in imperial and standard in case you are in the US, Myanmar, or Liberia.

US GallonsImperial GallonsLiters 750 mL Bottles 700 mL Bottles
Bourbon Barrel5344.1200.6267.5286.6
Hogshead 75.763238.5318340.7
Sherry Butt 158.5132600800857.1

Some assumptions:
  • The bottle yield assumes full barrels, which is, of course, silly, but gives you the ability to make a quick estimate about evaporation. 
  • The size of a hogshead was obtained from Wolfram Alpha. You will find about a billion different definitions of a hogshead. A hogshead is generally made from staves of a palletized bourbon barrel, utilizing more staves than the initial barrel. 
  • Two sizes you will consistently see on Sherry butts is 500 and 600 liters. When Sherry is produced, the practice is to fill the barrel 5/6ths full, which is my educated guess as to why those two measurements consistently appear.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Corti Brothers Exquisite Whiskey

Thanks for the pic, K&L. If I buy from you,
I can steal your pic for my dumb blog. Seems fair
There are some pretty good write ups here and here so I'm not going to go into the background when two people have already done it far better than I could.

Nose: Molasses, fig, and a ton of that earthy, oxidized sherry and port.

Taste: Overly tannic sherry. Some deep dark chocolate notes sneak in at the end. There are no explicit bourbon notes. Digging deeper there might be some rye notes, but that's a reach. A nice mouthfeel of a moderate aged spirit with some light oils.

Finish: Big wine bitters, a green-grape style sourness and acidity. Maybe the highlight of the product.

Balance: It doesn't take much to jump this product out to the top of the list for the most extreme barrel finished bourbon out there. The effort does not go unrewarded, this is a weird bourbon product that tastes a lot more like a dessert wine than a bourbon. There is novelty in this product. But it's a novelty that is executed perfectly. Highly recommended.

Grade: B

Would I buy again: One 375 mL bottle is enough.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary

10/18/14 Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary

Nose: Mulled oak and clove. An oily, mature spirit that is somehow also complemented by a briny, citrus-like new make profile. This nose captures some of that classic Wild Turkey char, spice, heat combo affectionately referred to as Wild Turkey funk, but something is lost with that weird immature note in there.

Taste: Mature, toasted oak followed by a healthy profile of nonspecific bitters. Tart green apples and lemon zest. Coming from a Wild Turkey puritanical viewpoint, this is too tannic, and blows out the traditional balance of char, corn oils, and spice. Low proof contributes to that 90 proof (or 91) and below mouthfeel; the spirit and water instantly separate into their respective components. There’s a reason why bourbon was proofed at 100 from colonial times until the 1950s.

Finish: Bright, dazzling pepper that slowly walks away. The proof really serves the finish well and is most likely the best part of this bottling.

Balance: Believe me, I really want to like a modern WT release, but there a couple aspects that really hold this bottling back. First, let’s get price out of the way. 125 bucks for a 91 proof bourbon? Come on Campari. You need WT fans as much as we need you. Moving beyond price and proof, the new-style WT is still evident with an excess of new make on the nose, and there is too much wood on the palate. This bottling is an unfortunate step down from the clearly superior American Spirit and Tradition 14 year.

Grade: C

Would I buy again: Save your money and find some glut-age Wild Turkey, or even WT American Spirit or WT Tradition 14 year.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Pair of Arran 17 year

Arran 17 Sherry Hogshead bottled for K&L 56.1%
Arran 17 Single Cask Bourbon Cask Cask 539 51.1%

Nose: Both of these bottles capture that Arran terroir: fresh, crisp malt with salinity. Fresh green apple with a surprising new-make style character.

Bourbon: Nothing surprising here. Vanilla, and faint oak. This is a forward, highlighted malt nose with some hints of pepper.

Sherry: The sherry Arran sources is much more herbal than sweet, the traditional Arran malt notes described are sandwiched between two herbal components. No individual spice components, but a flavor profile much more like mulled cider (rancio). A lot of oak in there, too. This was apparently a barrel of newer cooperage.


Bourbon: Green apples (but not tart) and raisins. A flash of cherry, more oceanic salinity, but mostly a big malt flavor. A very fresh, almost green style of malt. No significant under matured or over matured notes. Just a hint of vanilla.

Sherry: Side-by-side with the bourbon shows exactly how much sherry influence is in this product. Traditional malt notes are buried under a lot of spice. It’s hard to pick out individual spice notes on this one, a lot of the earthy sherry elements are here. Brine from the malt is squeezed out through the spices. A nice oak complement brings all this together.

Bourbon: Lingering malt notes, salt, and just a little pepper.

Sherry: Sweet sherry notes finally arrive surrounded by a bitter rind note and a capsaicin heat.

Balance: I could have told you on spec that I am a fan of bourbon over sherry. There’s something to appreciate with the simplicity of a 2nd or 3rd fill bourbon cask properly matured that is not usually found in sherry. This is simply not the case between these two products; regardless of bias the sherry bottling is better than the bourbon. I’m looking forward to future bottlings of 20+ year Arran bourbon barrels but the sherry rules this day.

Bourbon: B
Sherry: B+/A-

Would I buy again: I will buy future older bourbon barrels and similarly aged sherry from Arran.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Heaven Hill Select Stock Gift Shop 130.2 Proof: Revenge of the HH Barrel Proof

Nose: Crisp, sweet new Bernheim molasses. The nose is missing a lot of those less than desirable HH wheated attributes; less dank and less wet cardboard style scents. Overall this could be described as an Evan Williams style nose versus Elijah Craig. Wine-style Cognac notes are detectable with the advantage of confirmation bias. The complement of Cognac finishing is similar to the Parker’s Heritage Cognac finish. More delicate than some of the more brutish American alternative barrel finishes; Beam Spanish Brandy and Angels Envy (especially rye and cask strength). I’m not confident I could pull out the barrel finish blind and frankly I like that. The finishing barrel should complement the whiskey, not compete with it. Nose carefully as you would with any overproofed bourbon.

Taste: Like any Heaven Hill barrel proof product that’s not called PHC1 or PHC4 this one brings the heat. 65% is a lot of ethanol. Those last few proof points between 120 and 130 seem to be exponential. What you do get behind all that proof is a bright, age neutral spirit with a balance of sweet and bitter cherries, light complements of Heaven Hill oak, a light corn spirit influence, and some little specs of traditional bourbon brown sugar sweetness.

Finish: Bitter fruit rind and heat. I’m a baby when it comes to proof but this is a warm, long finish. I’d argue that this is the component of the whiskey that is really helped by the proof. Well done.

Balance: Heaven Hill hasn’t drunk the big barrel finishing kool aid. This is as subtle as the Parkers Heritage Collection (see further notes) and does not sacrifice bourbon characteristics for novelty barrel notes. As always, Heaven Hill seems to shoot over the proof standard. It seems to be working well for them as it seems I’m the only dude out there complaining about it.

Grade: B+ (proofing and price keeps this from an A, I will be drinking this with water from here out and would recommend you do the same)

Would I buy again: Yes

Extra: notes on a side-by-side with PHC5: Parker’s Heritage Collection Cognac is on a short list of my all-time favorite bourbons and is up to this point my favorite in the PHC line. What surprised me in the tasting is the amount of sweet notes in the PHC5. They’re probably bigger than the notes in the HHSS. That’s surprising to me as the classic wheater narrative is that wheat equals more sweet (how poetic). The difference is subtle and there’s a lot more in common with the two products. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the HHSS is a close proxy to the PHC5. I still appreciate the simplicity of taking a bottle off the shelf, putting it in a glass, and drinking it (and more than one glass without a serious headache later) that a traditionally proofed bourbon has to offer over a barrel proof so I'm sticking with PHC 5, but if you've only had one you'll have an understanding of the other.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Parker's Heritage Collection: A Blend of Mashbills

Parkers 6th Blend of Mashbills 137.9 proof.

Not the right proof, you get the idea
Nose: Intensely alcoholic (obviously). Wandering notes similar to the wheated HH stuff, as well as some Elijah Craig character. Wet leather, tobacco (thanks Matt), yeasty bread, fresh char all complemented by a lot of sugar. Some of the elements that I don’t like in HH stuff is missing. The deep barrelhouse character in Elijah Craig 12+ is not fully apparent.

Taste: Small sips! This product is tough. A range of notes occur in succession: an immediate earthy pepper is rapidly followed by an herbal honey and finally a combination of cinnamon rye, toasted oak, and mouth-tingling ethanol sweep through. The opportunity for off notes is limited, everything blown out by that tidal wave of ethanol.

Finish: There’s nothing to even speculate about the four grain whiskey in the finish. It’s a pretty traditional rye/vanilla/oak finish with appropriate balance and light to moderate duration.

Balance: In the two weeks or so I’ve had this open the PHC6 has opened up to me a little bit, but it still has some idiosyncrasies I can’t get past. 68% ABV is just too high to drink with a casual attitude. It has to be approached with water or academically. We can all remember that first big step from 40% ABV to 50% or 107 proof. We can all remember the next step to regular barrel proof (110, 120), but this 137 just seems a bridge too far.

Shifting from what I don’t like to what I do, the palate of this product is fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a product that jumps between flavors I’d attribute to wheat or rye. I don’t know what really causes these flavors, but it fits into the narrative of what to expect from wheat.

Grade: B

Would I buy again: I’d love to see a 100,107,110 proof expression of a blended mashbill product yes. 137 proof? No.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky

Nose: In very simple terms this spirit catches me like a whiskey/tequila hybrid. The nose catches vegetal, grassy, earthy notes.  There’s a distinct nose of young corn in there, but not the murky, oily corn of bourbon; it’s a fresh almost a low proof new-make style nose of corn. Rounding out the nose, baby blue has notes of almonds and sweet tarts.

Taste: This product has a back label that actually explains what the bottle tastes like “Baby Blue isn’t bourbon nor white lightning.” That’s really what it tastes like, a cross between new make and an aged whiskey. Fresh off the still spirit with a touch of oak. Just enough oak to remind us why corn based spirits are better with time in the barrel. Lots of fresh, young notes -- grass, salinity, a little bit of orange rind.

Finish: Some nice bitter notes round out the finish, which really makes this distinctive from the harsh, hollow finish of a new make. A nutty note complements this bitterness.

Balance: It’s hard to evaluate what I think of this in terms of straight American spirits, because, well, it’s not one. It’s a nice detour from bourbon and rye, but preserves some of that American terroir. A fun bottle from a promising distillery.

Stupid Letter Grade: B-

Would I Buy Again: No, but I will be buying Balcones in the future.