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.