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.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Smooth Ambler Single Barrel Bourbons

SA Old Scout Single Barrel for Drink Up NY (Cask 86) 8 years old, 60.2%

SA Old Scout Bottled for Kimbrough 7 years old 60.5%

Nose: MGPI bourbons have all those dry, earthy, floral notes found in the ryes but instead of being prominently displayed in the nose, they are buried beneath the brute of the corn oils. Cinnamon and cloves and maybe the faintest char. Really hard to nose beyond all that alcohol without pulling out at least some ethanol and acetone.

There’s no real need to note a significant difference between the two barrels. One year apart, .3% ABV difference. For all practical purposes, these smell the same


The most significant part of these MGPI bourbons is this weird mid palate bitter note. It’s hard to describe in food terms, but reminiscent of an orange rind and some aggressive tannins. These bourbons start with bright corn oil sweetness that is quickly dominated by several bitter notes -- coffee grounds (good coffee grounds), grapefruit, allspice, and what I listed above. Those classic rye notes can be found in the palette. Like a good, self respecting bourbon the corn is a big galoot and it covers all else.

Here’s where a (side-by-side) difference can be found. The DUNY barrel offers a smaller bitterness. You could say that it’s better balanced than the Kimbrough, which is totally overpowered by that bitterness. You could also say that the bitterness of the house style is really what sets these bourbons apart from other bourbons out there and embrace what makes it different. Sometimes balance is good. Sometimes balance is boring. You decide.

Finish: Again, no need to really contrast the two. At 60% what really endures more than anything is the alcohol. A nice heat with some light rye and brine lingers for a long time. At 7 or 8 years old there’s no huge oak that smacks you at the end, no faint bitter notes that magically appear after everything else. Clean, good finish. Unremarkable in a good way.

Balance: Like any good distillery, there are great barrels to be picked out and I’m glad Smooth Ambler is giving MGPI the single barrel treatment. The bourbons coming out of Lawrenceburg are different. Bitter. Fun products. Respect should be directed to both MGPI for distilling a quality whiskey, and Smooth Ambler for bottling a quality, minimal hype bottle.

Stupid letter Grades: Kimbough: B
Drink Up NY: B

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Breaking Writer's Block: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel Rye 8 year 60.1% purchased from Astor Wines

Nose: MGP/LDI style dry notes. Grassy, floral clove, light pepper, lemongrass, and mint (thanks for that astute note, Brian). This product is entering into that age neutral territory, where green grain notes have been pulled out, but before any considerable oak notes can really play a considerable role. The only sweet note a tannic dark chocolate.

There’s also that big LDI house style note that isn’t covered by my notes above. Hopefully, someone more observant than I will be able to eloquently explain what that flavor is a la “Beam yeast.” Almost like a wet cut grass.

Taste: Big wet grass flavors. Straw and an intense rye bitterness. Clove. Spicy, peppery rye notes blend into a strong oak oil that is masked in the nose. A sweet vodka-like flavor sneaks out if you look for it.

Finish:  Unbalanced bitterness take over at the end of the flavor profile and the overall product gets a little tarnished at that point. This bitterness is hard to describe in terms of other foods. It’s big and overpowering. Oak tongue hits, the creep is pretty extreme as that weird, final note creeps over your whole mouth.

Balance: This is the best LDI rye I’ve ever had and defines what I am looking for going forward in looking for a 95% rye: appropriate proof, good age, decent price (this one should have been 10 dollars less and I’ve seen other SA single barrel offerings less). This bottle puts Smooth Ambler dead center on my radar and I’m looking forward to whatever they offer in the future. I’m confident that in the right barrel (or the right blend of appropriate barrels) will yield a Thomas H Handy quality LDI rye.

Stupid letter grade: B

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rittenhouse 21 Rye Review

Thanks to a local whiskey friend for supplying a sample.

Nose: Rich, buttery rye with complements of maturity in all the right places. The profile of the rye features a lot of rich, fruity tones. Apricots, honey, cinnamon, and a lot of brown sugar. It is a sweeter rye profile, but not quite as sweet as the Sazarac 6 or THH. A few select briny, salty notes keep this nose from being one dimensional. Smells younger than 21 years. If not for the intense hue of this product I would have blindly guessed it was much younger than it actually is.

Taste: Yeah, never mind about the age of the nose thought. The age comes through on the palate in spades. Intensely dry, sharpened rye delivers a dominant peppery note. It’s hard to translate into other rye flavor profiles, there’s just a pure, loud rye whiskey note that really masks everything else. Wood influence is surprisingly nuanced, but definitely present and contributes a smaller bitter/sour note. The mouthfeel of this product is fully developed. Some floral notes and cloves strike at the back of your tongue when you think you have an idea of where this is going.

Finish: Strong pepper notes with a touch of salty brine ride this one out for a long time, but it’s pretty subtle. Long, but light, if that makes any sense to you. Weirdly salty (in a good way)

Balance: Rittenhouse 21 offers a matured high aged rye that puts maturity in all its right places with a very limited wood trade off. The word that keeps coming back to me on this one is “Pure”

Stupid letter grade: B NOTE: If you didn’t already know I am an age queen and have a really hard time getting into anything even over 12 years. If age isn’t such a deal breaker to you (or even your thing...weirdo) this is getting into A- territory.

Would I buy again: At retail. See above.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

OYO Michelone’s Reserve Bourbon

2/8/14 OYO Michelone’s Reserve Bourbon 45%

This sample was provided to me as a generous addition in a recent trade I made.

OYO is made at Middle West Spirits, which I have never heard of before today.

Nose: I don’t know what is is (besides possibly confirmation bias), but there’s something in this nose that immediately identifies itself as a micro distilled product. Maybe it’s a green note, or something in the phenolic notes, or since I haven’t tried to ID it blind maybe my hubris. There are some expected green notes. This product is identified as a four grain bourbon, but the dominant notes are rye and young corn. Some allspice and pepper round out the nose. If you really dig in there there are some custardy, sweet notes in there too.

Taste: Unlike the nose. Oak vanillins, soft wheat contribute a fruity, dessert-like sweetness that is cut sharply by some younger corn notes. An oily mouthfeel complements this product well. Early on some faint cherry notes can be detected.

Finish: Lingering sweet notes quickly transition to peppery. Alcohol notes, which have been so far evasive, rumble in at the finish to continue to a strong experience. Tiny marks of dry oak creep in there at the end. .

Balance: I’ll skip to the chase. This is the best micro distilled product I’ve had short of a wee sample of Balcones Single Malt. Taking off the qualifiers of ‘micro distilled,’ this product has legs to compete against any straight american whiskey out there. Bottled young and a little wild with all the twists and turns that entails. A quirky product that goes quickly from young and green to sweet, to dry. Great experience.

Before today I also thought that Balcones aside, microdistilled products lacked the production value, numbers, and resources required to make a good whiskey. I’m going to have to reconsider that.

Stupid Letter Grade: B/B+

Would I buy again: Yes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

TheBoy's first Stitzel-Weller Review: Old Fitzgerald Prime 80 proof

2/2/14 Old Fitzgerald Prime 7 Years 80 Proof

Tax stamped mini bottle. Aside from JPS18, this is my first S-W.

Nose: Full, creamy. Surprising amount of alcohol fumes for something that’s 80 proof. Wheated, grainy, bready nose but a little more complexity and murkiness than a modern 80 proofer. Lots of brown sugar, maybe a little bit of raisins and cinnamon. It’s filled with that bright sweetness only a wheated product can bring. The sweetness is cut with a little bit of sulfur-like, briny bitterness that adds to the complexity.

Taste: First flavor I got was raisins. From there some bitter oak and hints of orange rind. Huge mouthfeel, it instantly separates in your mouth into oil and water. Just an outstanding mouthfeel. Specks of flat cherry coke, whisps of pepper. The overpowering element of this is, for lack of a better comparison, a wheated bourbon. Maturity is appropriate. Wood and grain are in check. A balanced product.

Finish: Minty. As the light bitterness drives off there are some aromatic mint notes that quickly dissipates. It’s a light, simple finish; which I welcome compared to the tannic tongue that I encounter with some bourbons. There are worst things in life than being clean and fleeing.

Balance: This met my expectations for my first taste of a standard shelf bottling of a Stitzel-Weller bottling. Specifically, it was good, not great. Wheated products have never been my thing and this isn’t going to change it, but I did encounter a good wheated product today. A common theme I see quickly mentioned in S-W products is the mouthfeel, and I have never seen a mouthfeel like that in a product that’s only 7 years old before

Stupid letter grade: B+

Would I buy again: Maybe, I need to consider the premium before I think about it.

Bonus: I have saved my last two or three sips to compare to the other wheated bourbon I have open in my home right now: a HH Larceny. Here’s a quick comparison

Nose: The OF has serious legs on the Larceny. There is a much heavier spice profile in the OF, and surprisingly way more wood in the Larceny. The Larceny is considerably more dank than the OF, and considerably less sweet. Larceny has a much drier, grainer nose. The alcohol on the nose of the Larceny is considerably less pronounced (Larceny is 92 proof).

Taste: Larceny tastes a lot like the Old Fitzgerald Prime I recently had from HH. Again, considerably less spice and liveliness in the Larceny. It shouldn’t surprise you that a HH product has much more wood in the palate than a contemporary.

Winner: OF by a mile. This surprises me, as I honestly thought I would not find a considerable difference between the two.

My quick grade for Larceny C-/D

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Safari Whisky

This is a real gem of a whisky my sister brought home for me while studying abroad in Kenya. No price sticker, but I seem to recall her stating she did not spend more than a few American dollars on it (it’s 250 mL) I’m going to note a few more things about this product than my usual review.

Label: A feat of marketing. “A REAL FRAGRANCE OF OAK” “Rare Premium Blend” “A blend of RARE OAK and matured whiskies.” The icing on the cake is the proofing. Hidden under the tax stamp it states the product is 40% V/V, 70 proof. Sounds legit.

Color: Light straw, like an Islay product. I swear there’s a tinge of green in there too, but maybe it’s my brain warning me of what’s to come.

Nose: Perfumed oak. Acetone and a smell that smells a lot like oak, but you can tell it’s something synthetic. It’s reminiscent of cheap pancake syrup that smells and tastes like maple, but you know it’s not really maple. There’s no barley, I’d guess this is a grain whiskey; or even more likely a GNS that has been rectified to taste like whiskey.  Really digging into the nose you can pull out some grain notes, but the more you smell it the more it smells like brown vodka.

Taste: Oh boy here we go. My first thought was that this is probably 70 proof (not 40% V/V). The taste is hard to describe. Its mouthfeel is not too bad, very light. All the flavors in there are foreign to me as a spirits drinker. Notes of flat coke, cough syrup, musty cinnamon, orange rind, and the slightest hint of pepper. It should be noted that all these flavors have a weird underlying chemical tinge.

Finish: Well, as you may imagine, something that probably has never been in the same room with a barrel (and if it has that barrel has been devoid of any tannis and vanillins for years), the finish is pretty light. Gentle sweet notes linger.  

Balance: This can be viewed one of two ways: a depressing introduction to cheap “whiskies” available in some markets, or a historical lesson of what the term rectifiers really meant. Either way it’s a gross Frankenstein’s monster of whisky and the best travel souvenir I’ve ever received.  

Stupid letter grade: F

Would I buy again: I would happily welcome another souvenir like this in the future.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 137 Proof (68.5%)

Nose: Intense Heaven Hill style cherry/pepper/oak must followed by a complement of a floral, dry rye. Hints of saline and iodine are followed by a wave of alcohol astringency. The complement of a well aged corn body allows the nose of this product to develop. It’s not nearly as overpowering as it could be because of the matured corn found in the bottle; but that’s a statement that needs to be taken in context. The nose is still very strong.

Taste: ECBP is all about concentrated, intense barrel sugars and oils. The entire HH portfolio seems to offer a musty, barrel-forward vanallin profile and this bottling captures more of the brighter elements of a barrel. Some of the more murky, bitter-sour elements of HH bottlings I have recently experienced in Ezra Brooks 12 and to a lesser extent Henry McKenna 10 (and to an outrageous extent Parker’s Heritage 1st)  aren’t here. Pepper notes are big towards the back of this one, and there is a pretty neat bitter/sweet interaction that happens as the spirit makes its way to the back of your mouth. Mouthfeel is surprisingly light for such a strong, aged product.

Finish: Let’s face it, at 67% you’re lucky you still have a sense of taste when it’s over. The barrel sugars give way to an intense black pepper and clove spice that quickly transforms into a strong ethyl alcohol astringency that quickly numbs whatever you were tasting into submission. On the plus side it’s hard to catch any off flavors when you can’t taste anything

Balance: First of all, big points for both and age statement (back label) and barrel proof. The price point is reasonable and the product does exactly what it says it should -- a barrel-strength offering of a Elijah Craig 12 product. So in that regard there’s not a lot more to add on the thoughts. If you like EC12 and you would like to try a higher proofed expression of EC12, ECBP is exactly what you should be looking for.

Stupid Letter Grade: B+/B

Would I buy again: Yes, in time.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thomas H Handy Sazarac Straight Rye 64.3% 2011 Release

Stock Photos strike again
Nose: Gently musty oak layered below an intense floral rye layer. Clean mineral water. Bright, rich white oak elements. Rye notes are not as dry as some of the offerings from MGP such as Bulleit Rye or Willett 4 Year Rye; nor are the quite as sweet as Jefferson’s Rye or Alberta Premium. Instead THH brings balance. And Cinnamon, anise, and other earthy spices.

Taste: Rich rye sharpness that has been barely just brought out of immaturity. Rich, oily tones match up perfectly with the floral clove notes and herbal honey. Oak influence has been really relegated to the sweet spectrum. This again aligns perfectly to highlight the burly profile of the young, barrel proof spirit.

Finish: Peppery, oily, hints of wood (although this is the bottom of the bottle and I can see barrel particulate in the whiskey at this point, a visceral reminder to mix unfiltered whiskeys before pouring). Light pepper flavors sweep toward the edge of your tongue followed by some of that astringency that usually complements a barrel proof whiskey.

Balance: Thomas H Handy Sazarac Straight Rye Whiskey offers a youthful, bright balance that forcefully captures the elements of rye that I really enjoy. Young, but by no means immature. Balanced, with the corn and new wood interaction sitting at the back instead of the front. A stunning example of exactly what a younger straight American spirit can offer that no other spirit can.

Stupid Letter Grade: A. Up to this point this has been the best bottle of whiskey I have ever drunk.

Would I buy again: Yes.

See all those black specks? Mix the bottle!