Elijah Craig 18 year old Single Barrel Review

Whiskey Name: Elijah Craig 18 year old Single Barrel

Distillery: Heaven Hill

Whiskey Type: Bourbon

Release Date: I suspect my sample is a 2016 release. But my suspicions have been wrong before...

Price: Depends on the shop. Expect prices to start at £150

Age: 18 years old

ABV: 45%

Mashbill: Standard issue HH rye-recipe bourbon: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley.

22497832_10157045174104896_435671181_n.jpg

Introduction/Background: A bourbon old enough to order itself (in the UK, at any rate). And from the excellent Heaven Hill distillery no less. First introduced back in 1994, before the devastating fire of ‘96, and brought back to shelves in 2015.

Like its venerable stablemates, the 21 and 23, this bourbon is bottled from a single barrel. At the start of the much-protracted binning of their celebrated 12 year old, Heaven Hill announced that part of the decision stemmed from a desire to be able to continue releasing these longer-aged expressions. Probably wasn’t the chiefest priority, but the luxury whisk(e)y market is what it is.

This particular luxury is bottled at 45% ABV; 2% less than the 12-year, which I’m not sure I fully understand. It doesn’t get quite the same press as some of the competition in its price category, and I wonder whether part of that lies in the fairly miserly cut.

Personally I don’t think whisk(e)y always needs to be cask strength; indeed you taste a good few that could do with a little less enthusiasm from the alcohol. But at least bottling straight from barrel affords drinkers the luxury of choice, which you might be forgiven for hoping for when spending 150 of your English pounds.

At that price, age, and proof the obvious competition is Buffalo Trace’s Eagle Rare 17. Generally the most missable of the BTAC, but actually relatively decent in the newest vintage. Let’s see how Heaven Hill’s late-teenager stacks up.

Appearance: A ruddy sort of hazel. 

Nose: Honeyed, with rather a lot of spicy oak influence. Too woody? No, I don’t think so. Not quite. Benefit of the doubt. There’s an intriguing lift of black fruit (blackcurrants, I think) and menthol, which puts me bizarrely in mind with top-end Chilean Cabernet. [ed. We get it – you work in wine]. Overall it’s developed and assertive, without being overly powerful. Not a nostril-scorcher. Good start.

Mouth: Ah. Here’s where the oak was. Slightly bitter start suggests that 18 years might have been a bit of a stretch for this particular barrel. It’s also slightly dilute; that modest 45% has robbed the texture of much of its potential lustrousness. There’s still a lot of honey flavour, and a dab or two of fruit has carried across from the nose, with a little cinnamon and nutmeg threatening to add interest. On the whole though this feels rather ordinary I’m afraid. Tamed, and not especially complex.

Finish: Caramel popcorn precedes a return to light, woody bitterness. Medium length. 

Value for Money: Meh. (A pretty firm one). 

Summary: I loved the Elijah Craig 12, and it makes me sad that ‘loved’ now ends with a ‘d’. I was hoping that my first proper sit-down with the 18 would be a bit of a celebration of that, and an elevation of everything that the 12 is; fuller, richer, more complex.

Unfortunately, to me at least, the 18 doesn’t really deliver. Certainly not to the tune of £150 (which, for the record, I also wouldn’t pay for Eagle Rare 17). That’s a special occasion price, and this doesn’t quite taste like special occasion whiskey. Not when you consider the alternatives available for the same money, or considerably less. (@london_liquor is discreetly muttering “Elijah Craig Hazmat” somewhere...)

The potential frailties of single barrels are also on show, particularly on the palate. Though I admit that I thought the nose was pretty great. And this is definitely an example of a bourbon that needed a slightly bigger engine. Even bottling at 50% would have made a significant difference to the texture. At £150+ I’m pretty sure their profit margin could have taken the strain.

Bottom line: if you’re terribly rich, and just want something pretty old and pretty hard to come by for your collection, Elijah Craig 18 is an option. If, like me, you can’t afford to buy whisk(e)y that you don’t really love to drink, I’d keep looking. 

Overall Verdict: The name “Elijah Craig 18 year old Single Barrel” ticks a lot of boxes. But the whiskey itself doesn’t, to my taste. It’s ok. But you’ll be paying over the odds if you invest in a bottle.

Word by WhiskyPilgrim

Dad’s Hat 3 year old Straight Rye (La Maison du Whisky 60th Anniversary Edition) Review

Whiskey Name: Dad’s Hat 3 year old Straight Rye (La Maison du Whisky 60th Anniversary Edition)

Distillery: Dad’s Hat

Whiskey Type: Straight Rye

Release Date: 2016 

Price: €95

Age: 3 years old

ABV: 60.5%

Mashbill: Presumably Dad’s Hat standard: 80% rye, 5% malted rye, 15% malted barley

Introduction/Background: Before bourbon took over as top US whiskey dog, rye was very much the spirit of the states. Especially rye from the North East.

Times moved on, and rye fell out of fashion to the point of near-extinction. But it’s back with a bang now, and distilleries in the North East are rediscovering their heritage.

Enter Dad’s Hat. They’re based in Bristol, Pennsylvania; one of those many towns whose name lays American creativity open to quite a bit of scrutiny. But there is something rather refreshing about Dad’s Hat itself.

Founded in 2011, they’ve been a rye distillery from the word go, rather than tinkering around with lots of different products. They’ve only released their own juice, rather than doing any sourcing, and their mashbill falls somewhere between the pretty low-rye Kentucky bills, and the 100% rye mashbills that seemingly every other craft distillery has gone with. (And then claimed in their marketing that they are really unusual for having done so.)

Dad’s Hat finally got proper UK distribution this year, and a few of their products are now easily available through the most obvious channels. This one however fell into my hands through Andrew, of the excellent Andrew’s Share blog. We chat a lot at BBS tastings, and he’s visited the distillery quite frequently, having in-laws out that way.

In his broad Dad’s Hat experience, he rated this Maison du Whisky bottling as the dog’s proverbial giblets, and was kind enough to part with a sample for the BBS review vault.

Appearance: Lighter than my typically average photo makes it look. Hazel-ish. 

Nose: Big, as you’d expect. Lots of floral violet and magnolia notes straight away. I’m put in mind of Lot 40, which is no bad thing. I wonder if that’s the malted rye influence? There’s also something a little medicinal/germoline-like. Tonnes of rye bread and grain character too, before a herbal aspect appears; dill, fennel, juniper and pine. Very fresh, all in all. Alcohol is spiky but not overwhelming.

Mouth: A good bit fruitier than the nose, as is often the case with these high-rye whiskies. Candied citrus, I’d say; oranges and lemons. The pine has followed through from the nose, and been magnified, alongside that malty rye. In fact the palate leaves the nose dead for layering and complexity. Alcohol is less aggressive too. More parma violets, and a gentle overlaying of caramel.

Finish: Medium-long. I’m left with a lingering flavour of wafer biscuits.

Value for Money: Steep, but less so than most of the craft whiskey we’ve reviewed here.

Summary: I’m frequently baffled by all the young wheaty stuff that’s coming out at the moment. Wheat simply does not perform well in youth; something which all the distillers I have spoken to so far seem to agree on.

So it’s unsurprising that the quality of this young rye whiskey is a long way ahead of much of the craft whiskey pack. It’s a real celebration of the rye grain; a “greatest hits” list of the notes you’d expect to find in a whiskey of its type.

Certainly I’m left keen to explore more of what Dad’s Hat has to offer; I’ll be adding the three on Master of Malt to my never-ending Drinks by the Dram samples collection.

I do think this one is a little overpriced though, purely in terms of quality. I appreciate that it’s a very limited release (just 240 bottles) but the asking price puts it in the firing line of some serious competition.

For less money you can get Whistlepig and Masterson’s 10 year olds and the exceptional St George’s 2 year old. For less than a tenner more, Michter’s Barrel Proof becomes available. And that’s before we consider the imminent release of Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old. This Dad’s Hat, whilst very good, isn’t quite in the same league.

However, if you’re a rye-lover lucky enough to have the aforementioneds already, and still have cash to burn, a bottle of this certainly won’t leave you disappointed.

Overall Verdict: A big, vibrant, cask strength rye, well worth giving a go.

Thanks Andrew!

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Balcones Single Malt Rum Cask Finish Review

Whiskey Name: Balcones Single Malt Rum Cask Finish

Distillery: Balcones

Whiskey Type: Single Malt

Release Date: 2016

Price: £115

Age: NAS

ABV: 64.2%

Mashbill: 100% malted barley

22091883_10156980536829896_2118587542_n.jpg

Introduction/Background: Having said in the last review that Westland’s 2016 Garryana was my favourite US Single Malt to date, I thought it’d be best to double check. And I thought that the most obvious candidate to change my mind might be Balcones.

Based down in Waco, Texas, Balcones are bottling all sorts of wild and wonderful spirits, but Corn Whiskey and Single Malt are the masts to which their colours are most firmly nailed.

I thought their Cask Strength True Blue Corn Whiskey was rather superb, and in fact I’m struggling to think of a Balcones I haven’t enjoyed. But their Rum Finished Single Malt had somehow passed me by.

As malt fans know, rum makes for rather a finicky sort of cask to finish with. I also think that the term “rum cask” is about as useful as the term “sherry cask”, in that the breadth of rum styles is so vast that simply writing “rum” doesn’t take your consumer terribly far.

Balcones, however, have rather a neat solution. Being distillers of rum, they simply set a few of their used rum casks aside, and poured their maturing single malt into them. How’s that for assurance of provenance?

What’s linked all the Balcones whiskies I’ve tried in the past is “bigness” (totally real word). These are massive expressions; syrupy of body and uncompromising of flavour intensity. So let’s see if the Rum Cask Finish continues the trend.

Appearance: Conker. (Horse Chestnut, if you want to be boring, but this time of year is conker season, so I’m putting “conker”.)

Nose: The typical Balcones rhino-stampede of aromas out of the glass, but these rhinos are wearing eye-patches and brandishing cutlasses, because this whiskey is positively yodelling rum. Molasses, treacle, and so much tropical fruit you’d think this had also been finished in an Um Bongo cask. (Um Bongo is absolutely matured in cask. You heard it here first). There’s bags of dried fruit too – sherry cask fans can have a good time here – and just enough flutter of (burnt) cereal to remind you this is single malt after all. A big whoosh of booze, but not as much as you’d think for the proof.

Mouth: You need a spoon to get at this, it’s so thickly full-bodied! Once you’ve banged on the bottom of the glass enough to get some in your mouth, the carnival of rum flavour continues. More of that molasses character, and thick, dark treacle. (So thick you’re picking it out of your teeth later). More classic Balcones notes of burnt muscovado, caramels and oak, plus some raisin and date characters which seem to sit somewhere in between the malt and the rum. The brobdingnagian body (how’s that for a word du jour?) and insane intensity of flavour utterly dominate any alcohol burn.

Finish: All of a sudden the sweetness is blown aside by a waft of sugar puffs cereal.

Value for Money: Worth it, I reckon, in the grand scheme of things.

Summary: Of the (literally) thousands of craft distilleries popping up across America, only four or five can currently live with the obvious big players in Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee where quality is concerned.

Balcones is unquestionably one of those four or five. In fact, it may well be the best “craft” distillery in America. If it isn’t, it’s certainly knocking on the door. This single malt is absolutely superb, and their rum casks are clearly a perfect fit for their malt. It just works.

It doesn’t have as many dimensions as the Garryana, but every dimension it has is laser-beamed at the pleasure receptors in your nose and mouth. It’s an absolute joy to drink. And, not being peated, it probably appeals to a broader audience than the Westland does. They’re chalk and cheese really though, in flavour terms. Gun to my head I’d take the Garryana. But that’s personal. And really I want – no, I need(!) – both of them in my life.

Yes, it’s very expensive (in the UK). But if you’ve got that money to spend on a bottle, it’s worth it. If, like me, you probably don’t, then get a Drinks by the Dram sample. For the good of your soul, if nothing else.

 Overall Verdict: An immense, wonderful, mouthcoating monster of a whiskey that would turn Jack Sparrow on to malt for life.

Many thanks (again) to Mark Latimour for the sample.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Westland Garryana 2016 Review

Whiskey Name: Westland Garryana

Distillery: Westland

Whiskey Type: Single Malt

Release Date: 2016

Price: $120 (Not available in the UK)

Age: “Not less than 36 months”

ABV: 56.2%

Mashbill: 100% malted barley. Full nerdy details below…

Introduction/Background: I love Westland. I’ve said so here and here, so it must be true. I’m not completely enamoured of their Sherry cask malt, which I found slightly muddled, but their American oak was one of my whiskies of the year in 2016. It was my contribution at the BBS popup bar, and when it featured in a recent Whisky Squad blind tasting lineup, I was thrilled to recognise it straight away.

Having been a barley acolyte long before the charms of mashed corn and rye found me, my affection is perhaps only natural. But Westland genuinely are more interesting than the average distillery, single malt or otherwise. I love the transparency on their website; you can see the malts they’re using, the percentages of different oak and the strain of yeast. I also like that they don’t hide the fact that their whiskey is pretty young, nor trot out the tired old “just a number” line.

Most of all, I love how much they genuinely explore the parameters of what single malt can be, without breaking any of the established “rules”. That primarily manifests itself in their malting. Whereas your standard malt distillery uses only one style of malt: ‘generic’, Westland cite five in their standard expression, and six in today’s Garryana, which you can see in the screenshot from their website below.

More pertinent to this particular expression though, is their experimentation with oak. Unbound by the (increasingly loose) strictures applied to bourbon, Westland have put genuine thought into how to make their whiskey properly unique. So, for their Garryana expression, a portion of their whiskey has been matured in local Quercus Garryana, which differs significantly from America’s standard Quercus Alba.

For the mother of all explanations, and to fully indulge your inner whiskey nerd, Westland have written at length on the properties and importance of Garryana here. For the sake of brevity, I’m simply going to say that it’s harder for coopers to work with than Quercus Alba and that its flavours are more in line with what you might find from European oak. More spice, less vanilla, to use a huge generalisation.

Garryana hasn’t been launched in the UK yet, though I’m rather hoping that changes now that Remy Cointreau have bought Westland. In the meantime, I have Mark Latimour to thank for the generous donation of today’s sample.

Appearance: Copper

Nose: Classic Westland bananas and dark chocolate straight away. Oak influence is more dominant than in the American Oak expression, and balances the light-medium-level peat so that the effect feels more campfire than maritime bog. The signature high-note intensity of malts kicks in, but the smoke adds and earthy depth. The longer it sits in the glass, the more intense and “classic” the peat element becomes, though the oak sweetness always keeps it in check. A little citrus plays around too.

Mouth: Spices of cloves – very prominently – sit at the top of the palate as the whiskey hits your tongue. Smokiness and chocolate malt continue; this is very earthy indeed. A viscosity and an impression of molasses coats your mouth, but the crackling alcohol and youth of spirit maintain vibrancy, without unduly distracting. All sorts of things happening – sweet, then savoury, then back to sweet. Feels like a hybrid of the flavours of classic US whiskey and a west coast or island Scotch. As with the nose, the peat grows as it sits in the glass. Bracing stuff, with good complexity.

Finish: Pretty lengthy. As you’d expect, it’s the peaty aspects that stick with you longest. But the clove spices and a touch of molasses sweetness hang around too.

Value for Money: Slightly problematic. Especially since the 2017 edition is, for some reason, another $40 or so more.

Summary: Probably my favourite US single malt I’ve ever tasted. Balcones manages more intensity, but it doesn’t have the same complexity as this. There are times when the depth and layers of the flavour make it impossible to believe that this is only three years old. And then you get some of those wonderful malty high notes – which, in a standard one-malt whisky, would be pretty dull – and you’re shown that, done well, young whiskey really can have significant charm.

This is a whiskey-lover’s whiskey. Proper thought has gone into the malting, the yeast strain, and the oak, and then they’ve been vatted by someone who really knows what he or she is doing. A single barrel at this age couldn’t live with the complexity this achieves. It’s brilliant stuff.

That said, I think it overreaches itself on price. At present, the standard Westland offerings are pretty much at the top end of what it’d be appropriate to pay for them. When you consider the whiskies available in the USA for $60 or less, pricing at $120 seems rather high. And, as mentioned, a quick peek online suggests that the 2017 entity has been set at $150+. Which means, based on the usual ratio of US-UK pricing, that if it were to appear on UK shelves you’d be looking at £180 minimum. And that’s too much. 

Overall Verdict: A must-taste, if you get a chance. (Though if you don’t like peat, tread carefully!) I do think the price should be reconsidered though.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Rowan’s Creek: Old versus New

Whiskey Name: Rowan’s Creek

Distillery: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers

Whiskey Type: Straight Bourbon

Release Date: 2001 (Batch 15-09) vs 2015 (Batch 01-14)

Age: 12 Year Old vs NAS

Price: £200+ Auction Prices (12 Year Old) vs £55 (NAS)

ABV: 50.05%

Mashbill: Unknown

Introduction/Background:

21297475_10155195903954440_278941761_o.jpg

Back in April, BBS celebrated its First Anniversary by undertaking an old versus new tasting of four different bourbons. While the 'dusties' won it that time, the results were far from conclusive.

In a new series of reviews, I will pitch old bourbons against new releases of the same label. Some of these, including the whiskey in today’s review have now lost their age-statement. Part of the reason behind this series is to see whether the recent disappearance of age statements from several popular whiskies is a genuine cause for concern. I’ll also compare some brands that either never had an age statement to begin with, or have kept the statement but are noticeably difference today. Some bourbon fans have even claimed that the recent increases in production volumes have lowered the quality of the liquid. Let's find out.

For this particular comparison, I’m looking at Rowan’s Creek, which was a 12 Year Old age stated bourbon up until a few years ago when it became NAS. Both bottlings are from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers AKA Willett. Willett has a long history, but until fairly recently, it had primarily been operating as a non-distilling producer (NDP) of bourbon and rye, sourcing their product from various distilleries but barrelling it to their own specification and (maybe) ageing onsite.

Willett started distilling again around five years ago and I’ve quite enjoyed their young whiskies so far, but both the 12 Year Old and NAS Rowan Creek in today's line up contain sourced bourbon from other distilleries (with my guess being Heaven Hill as discussed below).

Appearance

12 Year Old: Almost mahogany

NAS: Amber and much lighter than the 12-year

Nose:

12 Year Old: Almost overwhelmingly sweet. Rich and fruity with plenty of toffee, caramel and vanilla. The oak is slightly musty. Deeper down there is some cinnamon and lemon. A fair bite from the alcohol. To me this has all the hallmarks of pre-fire Heaven Hill liquid.

NAS: Sweet, but in a completely different way. More like candy-floss than toffee or caramel. Banana, a touch of milk-chocolate and cherry. Not as much wood and it’s more of a freshly sharpened pencil than musty oak. There’s quite a bit more alcohol and youth to this one.

Mouth

12 Year Old: Rich, syrupy, ridiculously sweet, with a cinnamon and white pepper kick. It’s actually quite hard to pick out anything that I don’t associate with sugar. There is a slight soapy taste to it. Toffee, caramel, vanilla, burnt sugar, maple syrup. Fairly one dimensional in a way and maybe an acquired taste. I personally really enjoy it but feel it could end up sickly after several pours.

NAS: Very thin and sweet. Banana, acetone, vanilla and corn. There’s a nuttiness to this one and I can feel the alcohol evaporate quickly.

21330646_10155195903979440_1826291139_o.jpg

Summary: I am fairly confident that the 12 Year Old is pre-fire Heaven Hill and the NAS is current Heaven Hill, which makes for an interesting comparison. It is certainly evident that dropping the age statement has led the bottler using much younger whiskey. What I would say is that whilst the 12 Year Old might not be to everyone’s taste, it certainly has a complexity and depth that is lacking in the NAS version, which tastes significantly younger.

In this old versus new comparison, it's clear that removing the age statement has led to a worse product: the NAS is nowhere near the same quality as the 12 Year Old. The NAS almost feels like it should be labelled as a totally different brand, rather than merely a non-age-stated version of the same product. We'll find out next time whether another brand, Wild Turkey, has managed the transition to NAS more successfully.

Words by @MCRBourbon

St George 2yo (That Boutique-y Rye Company)

Whiskey Name: St George 2yo (That Boutique-y Rye Company)

Distillery: St George

Whiskey Type: Rye

Release Date: 2017

Price: £55 (For 50cl)

Age: 2 years old

ABV: 55%

Mashbill: Unspecified. But I have my hunches...(see below!)

21103542_10156841755149896_326040167_o.jpg

Introduction/Background: Another bottling from Boutique-y, this time from California’s celebrated St George distillery. A craft distillery before the term was even coined, St George have distilled just about everything it’s possible to distil. From single malt to shochu, and from absinthe to today’s rye. Their website even talks about having fed oysters and a Christmas tree into their still. Well, whatever works...

Basically, St George was founded by people who were simply interested in exploring the spirit world, but without a Ouija board or a medium. Whisk(e)y only makes up a tiny portion of their range; they just happen to be very good at it. They’ve an annual single malt release that usually flies, and their “Baller” whiskey is a weird and very wonderful thing.

I’ve not tried a rye of theirs before though, except in the form of their rather excellent rye gin. They don’t offer a rye whiskey on the St George’s website, so when tracking down a mashbill, I met with something of a dead end. A squint at the gin shows that they make that with 100% rye though; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder whether they did the same with this Boutique-y Whiskey.

Part of a run of 400 bottles; mine is number 127. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Appearance: Dark for the age. Deep burned orange.

Nose: Intense nose, full of big upfront spices. Pepper, certainly, but there’s a meatiness and smoky herbal quality that comes across as a BBQ rub. There’s also something lightly reminiscent of the school medicine cabinet! Some sweet orange, alongside a touch of the vaguely vegetal. Tomato, but not fresh tomato; more along the lines of cooked passata. (Wondering whether I was going slightly mad, I had a look afterwards, and the MoM tasting note suggests someone called Sam thinks along similar lines. Fine fellow, Sam.) Booze is prominent, but not unduly so. More than enough aroma to keep it in check.

Mouth: Goes in a more classic rye direction on the palate. Absolute lashings of distinct (and lingering) spearmint, to an almost chewing-gum esque degree. Dill, cracked black pepper, and a touch more of that medicine cabinet thing, overlaid by orange juice, caramel and muscovado. Very full bodied for a rye; nicely plump viscosity for the spices to skewer their way through.

Finish: Pine emerges, and hangs around as the other flavours diminuendo. A touch shorter than expected, given the intensity of initial flavours, but still a long way off being “short”.

Value for Money: Pretty much exactly what I said about the boutique-y F.E.W bottling. I reckon this one has a slightly broader appeal though, so on balance I’d say the price is definitely right.

Summary: I’m definitely verging on broken record territory where Boutique-y is concerned, but this is another absolute winner. I tasted it next to five other very different ryes, and this one was comfortably my favourite.

From the colour I’d expected it to be a case of tiny casks, featuring flavours of oak, oak and more oak, but what’s impressive is the robustness and character of the rye spirit itself. For me it hit all the “classic” notes one expects to find on a rye, and added a selection of its own; aromas and flavours I’ve never encountered on a whisk(e)y before. And they were all delicious. Can’t ask for much more than that, really.  

St George is probably the distillery I’d most like to visit in the world, and I’ve made a note-to-self to try as many more of their spirits as I can. If Boutique-y bottle another batch, I’ll be first in line. And not just because I’m in danger of making my way through this one far too quickly.

Overall Verdict: No rye lover should go without experiencing this. There are Drinks by the Dram samples, so you can try before you buy, but I’m pretty confident most will want to follow that up with a full bottle.

Words By WhiskyPilgrim

Bulleit Bourbon Review

Whiskey Name: Bulleit Bourbon

Distillery: Erm…pass

Whiskey Type: Straight bourbon

Release Date: General

Price: Pretty much always findable under £25. Often under £20

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Mashbill: 68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley.

20961038_10156821190699896_571589334_o.jpg

Introduction/Background: Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Which isn’t the fact that Bulleit is sourced whiskey – no real issues there. It isn’t even that in the post-Four Roses era we can’t really be sure who distilled the juice in the glass.

It’s this. I’m not in possession of the facts, and proof hasn’t been concluded either way, so, for the time being, innocent until proven guilty. However, if this is proven to be true, then it’s disgraceful, and I shan’t be drinking Bulleit whiskey again.

This review is of a bottle I bought in July, before we started this month-long series, and before those accusations came fully to light. I bought it because it is a whiskey I know very well indeed, and because, when tasting a few whiskeys at a time, it is useful to have a palate-setter. Something that you know inside out, which tells you all is well with your nose and palate, whilst preparing your mouth for the onslaught of high strength spirits.

This has done that job for me throughout our month-long series, and so I thought it an appropriate pour to throw in close to the end.

So, with that in mind, my thoughts on the Bulleit Bourbon.

Appearance: Amber

Nose: About as rye-focussed as bourbon gets. Loads of herbal, pine-y rye. There’s depth too; oak furniture (and a touch of polish) creeps in, and buttered toffee popcorn reminds you that this is bourbon after all. Has that sharp, super-clean edge that so often characterises high-rye bourbon between 5 and 10.

Mouth: As dry as the nose would lead you to expect. Spicy, piney, woody. Quite sharp and peppery initially, after which the sweeter elements come out to play; a medium-deep caramel, and sweet corn oils. They never overcome the oak or the near-nutmeg quality of the rye though. Deep enough to show that this has a few years under its belt; vibrant enough to show that it isn’t double figures. Light-medium in body, but massive on flavour.

Finish: Those rye aspects linger for longer than you’d expect, turning gradually to pure pepper.

Value for Money: Excellent.

Summary: Whatever may or may not be happening within the company behind it, this is exceptional whiskey for the price. It’s really only Buffalo Trace and Four Roses Small Batch that live with Bulleit for under £25. (Yes, I know you can get ER10 and FR Single Barrel at £25, but only occasionally, and only when on a very, very good offer.)

I’ll be continuing to follow the news, and as a fan of the liquid in the bottle, can only hope there is no truth to the accusations levelled at the brand.

Overall Verdict: The whiskey, for the money, is very good indeed.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Gentleman Jack Review

Whiskey Name: Gentleman Jack

Distillery: Jack Daniel’s

Whiskey Type: Tennessee Whiskey

Release Date: General

Price: £31

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Mashbill: 80% corn, 8% rye, 12% malted barley.

20883539_10156809783779896_1336736589_o (1).jpg

Introduction/Background: It’s a dangerous game, reviewing Jack on a group called the British Bourbon Society, but we’ve always acknowledged ourselves as “not just about bourbon” and I’m pretty good at filtering hate mail anyway.

I can’t be bothered getting into the argument here (or anywhere else for that matter) so let’s suffice it to say that JD describe themselves as a “Tennessee whiskey”, and filter their new make spirit through Maplewood charcoal before committing it to barrel.

Occasionally, to irritate people online, and to prove to myself and others that I’m not a snob (I’m not, honestly) I’ll use the standard JD in a Jack’n’coke. Plenty of the Single Barrels, particularly the Rye, are solid pours neat, too. But the Gentleman had slipped me by. Essentially it’s just the same as Old No.7, but they filter it back through the charcoal again before committing it to bottle.

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Bananas, but confected bananas; those banana sweets you used to find in Woolworth’s pick’n’mix and then not pick or mix because they were horrid. Besides that, honeys (light) rather than deeper caramels, some straw and an elmost metallic element. Basic, sweet, mildly spirit stuff.

Mouth: Barely aware it’s in your mouth; just a sort of watery sweetness really. If I wasn’t holding it on my palate for ages before spitting, booze probably wouldn’t even register. More light brown sugar, the bananas again. Boring, boring, boring. Where’s the flavour?

Finish: Mercifully short.

Value for Money: Leave on the shelf.

Summary: I really wanted to like this, because it looks like I’ve just bashed Jack for the sake of bashing Jack. But this is very not great. I’d much rather have standard issue JD; they seem to have filtered out a load of the flavour after removing it from the barrel, and based on the variation in colour from Old No.7 to Gentleman, I should probably have anticipated that.

Overall Verdict: I don’t see the point of this whiskey...

Words by WhiskyPilgrim 

Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon 2015

Whiskey Name: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon 2015

Distillery: Garrison Brothers

Whiskey Type: Texas Straight Bourbon

Release Date: 2015

Price: £78

Age: 3 years

ABV: 47%

Mashbill: 74% corn, 15% wheat, 11% barley

Introduction/Background: There are no punches pulled on the Garrison Brothers website. “We wanted to make the best bourbon ever made. Anywhere. We’re confident we succeeded” ... “It’ll set you back a little” ... “If you’ve been drinking Kentucky Bourbon all your life, then you’re in for something special...but once you step up, that step backward is a long step back indeed.”

Ballsy rhetoric for sure, but to be fair to Garrison, they’ve a raft of awards and accolades backing them up, and what’s the point not being confident in your product anyway? Sticking to their website, it’s particularly thorough in almost every respect, and well worth spooling through, should you find yourself with a glass of their bourbon.

One thing they’re absolutely right about, before I’ve taken so much as a sniff, is the price. At £78, this is very definitely not cheap. But the same could be said of several other whiskies we’ve looked at in the last month. The question is: is it worth it?

Well, Jim Murray says an emphatic “yes”, if he floats your boat. I’ve never met Jim Murray though, and a fellow BBS member whose bourbon experience far exceeds mine says an emphatic “no”. So emphatic that they warned me off buying a glass at their own bar!

Inconclusive then. So stuff what other people think: here, for what it’s worth, is my opinion.

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Intense. Loads of citrus, but in contrast to yesterday’s Michter’s, here we are talking zest; oranges and lemons. There’s a good whack of liquorice too. A certain nutty-graininess comes to the fore, with corn and toffee combining into a sort of treacle sponge. Lots of character, but the elements aren’t entirely harmonised – they seem to be shouting individually, if that makes sense. But that’s down to the age.

Mouth: More of that toffee and treacle sponge, with the mouthwatering citrus elements trampolining away in the background. Again it’s boisterous, lively stuff on the intensity. Middle-weight in body, as is probably to be expected.

Finish: Caramel joins the party, gently blanketing the other elements.

Value for Money: A touch high.

Summary: I’ve had far worse wheated craft bourbons this month. Absolutely bags of character and intensity; what it was lacking slightly was the harmoniousness and layered complexity that comes with a little more time.

I’d love to try their older Cowboy Bourbon, though there the expense skyrockets, and I don’t imagine many bottles leave the US in any case. And I’m not sure I’m fully in either camp where Mr Murray and my fellow BBS member are. It’s the price, not the quality, that would put me off buying a bottle. Slightly inconclusive once again! 

Overall Verdict: Good ... but not £80 good.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Michter’s US*1 Bourbon Review

Whiskey Name: Michter’s US*1 Bourbon

Distillery: Goodness only knows

Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Release Date: General

Price: £50

Age: NAS

ABV: 45.7%

Mashbill: See “Distillery”

Introduction/Background: Michter’s are one of the higher brow sourced whiskies on the market, courtesy largely of their storied age-statement bourbons and ryes, as well as their excellent cask strength rye.

Unpacking the brand is worthy of a whole separate article in and of itself, which we’ll doubtless write one of these days. Suffice it to say that, for the time being, anything you see with a Michter’s label is sourced, whilst they crack on with distilling in their new facility in Shivley.

Michter’s play their cards pretty close on mashbills, and just as close on distillery of origin. Their idiosyncrasy lies in their particularly low barrel entry proof. Expensive, but the upshot is that sugars dissolve more quickly from the barrel staves into the liquid.

I’ve always veered more towards the ryes than the bourbons, with the caveat that the 20 year old bourbon is probably in the top two or three American whiskies I’ve ever tried. The entry-level US*1 hasn’t always floated my boat though, so let’s see whether time has bred any new affection ...  

Appearance: Tawny

Nose: Slightly quiet, by bourbon standards. Lots of citrus – dried for me, rather than zesty – and some brown sugar. A meatiness lurks in the background, alongside a touch of strawberry lace. “Guess the age” and “guess the mashbill” are difficult games to play...

Mouth: Follows a similar juicy theme; still a little light in body. Caramel seems to play a bigger role here, and the longer you hold it in your mouth, the more a buttery aspect seems to peek through.

Finish: Short to medium. Can’t say that the flavours change dramatically.

Value for Money: Middling.

Summary: Do you know what? I think this is the only whiskey in the Michter’s range that doesn’t entirely float my boat. Which isn’t to say it’s “bad” by any stretch of the imagination; simply that at this price it leaves one wanting a little more.

I remember once being told off at a bar for preferring the rye to the bourbon. It takes all sorts to make a world, of course, but I do genuinely think that in the US*1 range, the rye takes top spot. In fact, to my mind, Michter’s rye tops Michter’s bourbon until you reach the 20+ bracket, and even then I know that plenty of people would disagree when I say I prefer the 20yo bourbon to the 25yo rye on the whole.

I think somehow I hold Michter’s to a particularly high standard, and tasting the US*1 bourbon I’m left thinking of other pours I could have had for the money that I would have preferred. Which, for £50 a bottle, isn’t really the reaction I’m after.

Overall Verdict: I wouldn’t turn a glass down. But I probably wouldn’t buy a bottle.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Makers Mark Review

 Whiskey Name: Maker’s Mark

Distillery: Maker’s Mark

Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Release Date: General release

Price: Depends on the supermarket. Not more than £30 – usually findable for a fair bit less.

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Mashbill: 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% malted barley.

20793799_10156794318774896_1927105105_o.jpg

Introduction/Background: We’ve reviewed a lot of young wheat-recipe bourbon this month, with rather mixed results. But here’s a young wheater which needs absolutely no introduction whatsoever.

According to legend, Bill Samuels came up with the Maker’s Mark recipe after baking a selection of loaves, and picking his favourite. He went on to make his whiskey, sealed the bottle with red, dribbly wax, and the rest is history and ubiquity.

Maker’s is just about the epitome of a distillery looking to maintain consistency. Bill Samuels never branched out from the standard red top (“you don’t see a Château Lafite Reserve”, as he allegedly put it) and there have only been one or two riffs on the original theme since. (One of which is simply a cask strength version of the classic.)

To maintain their profile, Maker’s are constantly moving barrels around the warehouses, aiming for the most even of maturation across their stock. And, contrary to what the Van Winkle Family think, (and, if I’m honest, what I think too) they maintain that wheat-recipe bourbon is best-served youthful. And, obviously, they’d know a lot better than me!

So let’s give this a go. 

Appearance: Toffee fudge

Nose: Light and rather floral. Orange blossoms, caramels and vanillas. Clearly not old, but in a fresh way; there’s none of that acetone or bready character that has popped up so much in the last few weeks.

Mouth: Vibrant and lively palate. Apple joins the caramel, and the floral aspects increase. Again it’s showing off bourbon’s lighter side, and when you hold it in your mouth the alcohol prickles a little, but this is clean, sweet, tasty stuff.

Finish: Butterscotch trails off; a touch of unexpected chocolate and oak briefly ripples past.

Value for Money: A good, solid bet.

Summary: Maker’s were definitely right to reverse their decision to lower the ABV a few years back, and not just because they’d have lost a lot of support. This is definitely a light style of bourbon, and they need that extra 5% to add a touch of engine and substance that would otherwise be lacking.

They are, however, one of the exceptions that proves the rule where young wheat is concerned, and I’m left scratching my head over quite how they manage it. I can only conclude that the secret lies in A-grade blending; that the careful layering of barrels promotes caramel and mouthfeel, and irons out any acetone, immaturity or excessive grain.

Don’t get me wrong, my world is not rocked, but it’s far from the worst thing you’ll find on supermarket shelves; there’s a good deal to enjoy here.

Overall Verdict: Light, and not especially challenging, but very well made and plenty enjoyable. A classic for a reason.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon Review

Whiskey Name: Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon

Distillery: Smooth Ambler

Whiskey Type: Straight bourbon

Release Date: 2017

Price: £83

Age: NAS. About 5

ABV: 50%

Mashbill: I couldn’t find it. But the Yearling, which preceded this, was 60% corn, 20% wheat and 20% malted barley. So that’d be my best guess.

Introduction/Background: I know, I know. We did Smooth Ambler yesterday. But that was their sourced MGPI stock, whereas today’s is all made in-house, so it counts.

For the last few years Smooth Ambler have been releasing a wheated expression called “the yearling”. A little like the Work in Progress series from Scotland’s Glengyle Distillery, it was intended to show followers how their home-made spirit was progressing, whilst they released their Old Scout whiskies on the side.

At the tasting last year, one of the questions we asked John Little was “when do you think your bourbon will be ready?” At the time, the Smooth Ambler Spirit was about four years old, and his reply was that he reckoned it’d start reaching its peak at around seven or eight. So I was a little surprised earlier this year when the launch of their new wheat recipe bourbon was announced.

Intriguingly, their “home-brew” goes in completely the opposite direction recipe-wise to their Old Scout. Where Old Scout is about as high-rye as bourbon gets, their in-house juice is wheat recipe, and at 20% wheat, pretty emphatically so. So naturally there’ll be no similarities whatsoever, which actually isn’t a bad way of going about things.

Appearance: Light Amber. As you can *just* tell. You’d have thought I’d have ironed out my photography thing by now.

Nose: A raging adolescent. Big aromas of cereal, dough, cheerios (!), pencil shavings, and a touch of something animal. Hay perhaps. There’s actually a curiously saline aspect too. It’s a prominent, insistent nose, but it’s also rather raw and visceral. The wheat has put the brakes on maturity rate as it so often does.

Mouth: Much sweeter on the forward palate, and SA’s non-chill-filtering approach means the growl of alcohol is enveloped by viscous body. Caramel overlays the grains and a splash of lightly under-ripe peach is allowed through. A touch of pinewood as well.

Finish: Dries on the finish to grain and macadamia nut.

Value for Money: Bit of a stretch.

Summary: I’ve a lot of respect for John Foster’s admission on releasing this that “it would only get better if we decided to wait again.” I can completely understand their decision to finally release it; five years is a long time to wait to release one’s own bourbon; certainly plenty of other distilleries aren’t nearly so patient.

It’s still very much a whiskey on its journey though, rather than one that has arrived, or even is on the cusp of arriving at, its final destination. It’s a robust, full-bodied spirit, and that fullness of body, alongside the high wheat percentage, means it has serious miles left in the tank to further develop in cask. Certainly it has moved on considerably from the yearling, but there are still miles left to be covered. I look forward to following its progress as it does.

Overall Verdict: Doesn’t (yet) compare to their Old Scouts in terms of quality, completeness and value, but well worth trying a glass of should you find it at a bar.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon 7 years old

Whiskey Name: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon 7 years old  

Distillery: MGPI. Selected, blended and bottled by Smooth Ambler

Whiskey Type: Straight bourbon

Release Date: General

Price: Mine was £50

Age: 7 years old

ABV: 49.5%

Mashbill: 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley

Introduction/Background: A sourced bourbon from Midwest Grain Products of Indiana (hereafter MGPI, or this could get long). Some people seem to have a problem with such things; partially because the notion of a whiskey factory rather takes away from the romance of distilleries, and partially because certain craft distilleries try to cover up the fact that their whiskey is sourced.

From my own point of view, as long as distilleries are open about their sourcing, I don’t have a problem with it whatsoever. Indeed I’d probably rate MGPI in my top 3 or 4 US distilleries, and the guys at Smooth Ambler have long-since proven themselves to have an eye for a great cask. Besides today’s 7 year old there’s a 10 year old bourbon, a range of single casks, and some rather-harder-to-find rye. (As an aside, if you do find the rye, buy it on the spot.)

I first tasted the 7 year old about a year ago, shortly before we tasted our way through the range with CEO and Master Distiller John Little. For some reason I then didn’t come back to it for a while, until a bottle called to me from its shop shelf about a month ago, as bottles are wont to do.

As with all Smooth Ambler products, it’s bottled without chill-filtration, meaning that all the lovely mouthfeel-driving oils and fats stay in the whiskey. It’d be good to see this as standard practice in bourbon, to be honest, but that’s slightly wishful thinking.

Appearance: Chestnut

Nose: For £50, there’s a lot going on. The deeper, sweeter notes are there; caramel, milk chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla etc, but there’s also a ripe banana fruitiness. Intertwining it all and keeping it steady is that rasp of 36% rye. Actually shows solid maturity for 7 years old; spices like nutmeg and cinnamon mingled with cigar tobacco.

Mouth: Just a gorgeous, unctuous, oily mouthful of joy. Alcohol completely receipted and filed by richness of texture and depth of flavour. An explosion of caramel and nutmeg working in tandem; for two cents I’d hold this in my mouth until my teeth started hissing.

Finish: Nutmeg becomes leaner and turns into a grind of black pepper. But sweet, thick caramel and butterscotch remain the guiding hand on the tiller.

Value for Money: Worth every penny.

Summary: Just. So. Good. I love a decent dollop of rye in my bourbon, but what makes this one work so well is that it doesn’t tell the whiskey’s whole story. Sure it’s an unmistakeable presence, cracking its spicy whip and driving that nutmeg, but just as big of an influence is the outstanding mouthfeel, and the huge caramels and chocolates those seven years have ripped from the cask.

In short, it’s a properly complete bourbon experience. The palate follows the nose without mimicking, the story changes with each sniff or sip, and there’s no single dominant characteristic. Rounded, robust, flavour-forward stuff, choc-full of personality.

Overall Verdict: I’m going to say it. My favourite bourbon for under £50.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

American Sour Mash 5 year old (Cask P311) – The Single Cask Review

Whiskey Name: American Sour Mash 5 year old (Cask P311) – The Single Cask

Distillery: Your guess is as good as mine. (My guess is George Dickel)

Whiskey Type: Tennessee Whiskey

Release Date: 2017

Price: £67

Age: 5 years old

ABV: 59.7%

Mashbill: Presumably rye-recipe, but who knows?

Introduction/Background: Independent bottlings of US whiskey aren’t especially thick on the ground. Certainly not by comparison with the Scotch industry, where a new bottler seems to pop up every twenty minutes or so. The culture of store or bar picks seems to be more prevalent in US circles, and there are certainly some exceptionally good examples of such bottles to be found. But for my money independent bottling offers a little more scope for idiosyncrasy and general weirdness. Considerably more scope for experimental misses, I admit, but there’s a niche to be carved out here, and we’re starting to see people explore it.

Today’s explorer is the not-especially-imaginatively-named “The Single Cask”, who have bottled a 5-year-old from Tennessee. Which, realistically, means George or Jack. So. Any clues from the label?

Well, not really. Both Dickel and Daniel’s file themselves under “Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey” (a somewhat meaningless term, incidentally, as Sour Mash applies to more or less every whiskey made in the US.) Unlike some other independently bottled Tennessees I’ve seen, the word ‘bourbon’ is conspicuous by its absence, which means we dodge the obvious argument, but also means that this bottle would theoretically keep the JD legal team happy.

Nothing conclusive then. Let’s dive in.

Appearance: Copper

Nose: Well now. I’ve been drinking a lot of Canadian whiskey lately, and that’s where this nose takes me straight away. Very curious – not experienced that from US juice previously. All about the thick, sweet things: toffee, caramel and – yes – Maple syrup. A touch of mint and a nuance of something floral provide lift, buoyed by the rather enthusiastic alcohol. Aromas-wise, not the most intense nose in the world for the proof though.

Mouth: Incredibly richly textured; ABV wrapped up to an almost astonishing degree. Quite surprising given its prominence on the nose. Corn oil and caramel by the bushel; the corn oil in particular is bellowing. Also a sweet citrus fruit aspect; orange and lemon fruit pastilles-style, rather than the fresh article. That’s when the booze starts to kick in, though it’s still forgiving for 59.7%. A touch of the Bertie Bassett skulks at the rear.

Finish: Medium length; a return to the sweetest aspects.

Value for Money: Reasonable.

Summary: Well, I said I wanted something unusual, and that’s certainly what I got. Mega sweet, as Tennessee often is, but curiously with a distinctly Canadian accent. The palate was very different to the nose; that’s where it owned up to being US juice after all, but the whole thing was very unique, full of lively character, and likely to split opinion.

Whether or not it presses your personal buttons, what it represents is very encouraging. There’s so much scope for independent bottlers to come up with innovative and interesting takes on distillerys’ established themes, or to offer ages and styles not available in the standard lineups. If this bottling is indicative of the attitudes independents will be taking, then I’m all for it. At £67 it certainly isn’t cheap, but if the flavours tick your boxes it’s worth every penny. Personally I’d take the Boutique-y FEW, but that’s creeping towards the realms of subjective.

And I’m still not sure on distillery. It’s a long way off any Jack or George I’ve ever stumbled across. But that, I think, is the point.

Overall Verdict: I’m not sure I’d want more than a glass or two of this myself. But with a character this big, it won’t be short on people swiping right.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

TX Bourbon Review

Whiskey Name: TX Bourbon

Distillery: Firestone and Robertson Distilling Co

Whiskey Type: Straight Bourbon

Release Date: 2017 (now in general release)

Price: $50 (not available in the UK)

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Mashbill: Wheat recipe bourbon. Percentages undisclosed.

Introduction/Background: This popped up in the group after @NNWhisky brought a bottle back from the US. It’s from a craft distillery in Texas, formed by two chaps with the surnames Firestone and Robertson.

To the best of my knowledge this isn’t available in the UK yet, but from what I’ve learned from @NNWhisky the guys behind this juice are keen to see it in more peoples’ glasses, and are incredibly friendly in the bargain. A brief glance at their website certainly shows that they’re passionate about what they do, and there’s some serious whiskey coming out of Texas these days, as we’ve already covered here and here.Besides this bourbon, TX also do a blended whiskey, which I have a sample of to review in the future. But to the bourbon:

Appearance: Amber

Nose: Yep, that’s a wheater. Hello wholegrain loaf. There’s also a green fruit quality; apple rind and pear by my reckoning. Behind all this there’s a woody, ever-so-slightly dusty aspect. Grain? A touch of sawdust? Something along those lines.

Mouth: Nicely medium-weighted palate. Not much burn, which opens up the lushness of the wheat grain a little more. The wheatbread aspect persists, but not too loudly; caramels and vanillins are given some room to spread their wings. I’d compare this to Rock Town in many respects.

Finish: Medium.

Value for Money: Remains to be seen in the UK. $50 puts it against stiff competition in the US.

Summary: Another well-made, solid wheater, which may suffer from the perennial craft whiskey price issues. There’s a lot to like here, and as with so many we’ve covered in the last couple of weeks, I expect this distillery to continue to improve. It’s definitely worth seeking out by the glass, but flavour-wise there’s no huge USP if this ends up priced anywhere North of £50. Thanks to @NNWhisky for the sample.

Overall Verdict: Looking forward to seeing this in the UK. Worth hunting a glass of if you find yourself Stateside.

Evan Williams 23 years old Review

Whiskey Name: Evan Williams 23 years old

Distillery: Heaven Hill

Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Release Date: 2014 (probably)

Price: Really depends how lucky you get at auction. Expect it to sting.

Age: 23

ABV: 53.5%

Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley

20747065_10156780689994896_1865219319_o.jpg

Introduction/Background: Whilst Evan Williams the man did his drinking at the back end of the 18th Century, the brand Evan Williams is considerably more juvenile. Put together by Heaven Hill back in 1957, it’s most recognisable for its entry-level black label edition.

Today’s pour is less entry-level. Any bourbon in this neck of the woods age-wise vanishes as soon as it hits the shelves; frequently considerably earlier than that. A few years back a certain Mr Murray said especially nice things about this one, and the upshot of all this is that Evan Williams 23 is rather thin on the ground.

This sample ended up in my glass after @MCRBourbon asked for my opinion on it. It tasted rather different to an EW23 he had bought and loved previously he said, and he was interested to know my thoughts. So here they are.

Appearance: Dark, as you’d expect after 23 years in casks.

Nose: Deep and very woody. Possibly too woody. Proof stampedes out of the glass in rather raucous fashion for one so venerable. Following closely behind is a mélange of burnt orange, cola and a touch of tropical fruit. There’s also a heavy note of stewed tea though … my soul is prepared for tannin when I come to taste this. It’s a complex nose, but the oak rather shouts over everything else.

Mouth: Palate is luscious and velvety, though initially less complex. A few seconds of deliciously deep caramels … and then the oak kicks back in, and the velvetiness is bludgeoned by anticipated tannin. Lots and lots of nuts. Some old furniture and leather further underline this pour’s considerable years. Deep; alcohol is less prominent than on nose. Also a bit less overtly oaky, until…

Finish: …everything turns slightly bitter. The nuts and leather endure; the sweet aspects have departed.

Value for Money: The days of “good value” EW23 are probably behind us realistically.

Summary: There is much about this bottling of EW23 to admire. @MCRBourbon reckoned it was a 2014 edition, which means there’s every chance that the liquid in the bottle is as old as I am, and it’s not often such bourbons appear in the tasting glass. Some delicious deep notes, and some excellent moments.

However.

When it comes to the likes of Evan Williams 23, I expect the Earth to move. I expect to move into spheres to which few whiskies can transport you. Compared to what I expect of a bourbon with this price tag and reputation I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed. There are several pours for under 3 figures that offer more.

Overall Verdict: A fascinating experience, but this fellow should have been bottled a few years prior. Them’s the breaks when it comes to bourbon this old. Thanks so much to @MCRBourbon for the opportunity to taste it though.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim

Dry Fly 101 Review

Whiskey Name: Dry Fly 101 Washington Bourbon

Distillery: Dry Fly

Whiskey Type: Wheat-recipe bourbon

Release Date: General release

Price: £68

Age: NAS. Apparently about 2 and a half years

ABV: 50.5%

Mashbill: 60% corn, 20% wheat, 20% malted barley

Introduction/Background: Founded in 2007, Dry Fly is another craft distillery that has taken wheat to its heart. Alongside their wheat-recipe bourbon they’ve a range of wheat whiskies, some of which come in cask-finished form, and they’ve also experimented with the Triticale grain, which is a wheat-rye hybrid.

Another we don’t see much of this side of the pond; this is the first of their juice I’ve sat down with, though a couple of their wheat whiskies are rattling around my drinks by the dram sample pile!

Appearance: Hazelnut. Though I understand if you don’t get that from the picture … another black mark in my photo-taking record book. Sorry!

Nose: If this smelled more like wholemeal bread I’d be trying to cut a slice and toast it. Nothing raw-grainy though; this is hearty, ‘fresh baked’ stuff. There’s an orange zest element too, behind which lurk vanilla sponge and custard. The faintest hint of botanical in the background. An assertive, savoury nose. Almost rough-and-ready, but in a positive way, if that makes sense. Primal bourbon!

Mouth: Really lush palate. More bread, but now absolutely slathered in thick, floral honey and caramel. Full-bodied, with direct, intense flavours. Not complex, but the sweet and dry elements are very well balanced. Alcohol growls, but doesn’t bite.

Finish: Long, though no real change to the flavours.

Value for Money: Not great - £68 is a big wodge of cash, after all.

Summary: They’re obviously distilling brilliant spirit in that tiny 450 litre still in Spokane. They’re handling wheat brilliantly, and hats off for dodging any immature notes. Big character, big flavours.

That said, £68 is a heck of an outlay for a bourbon which, whilst good, feels like it still has long yards in the tank before it reaches peak potential. With the size of body, and the development of flavours after two and a half years, you get the sense that this stuff would be fascinating as a 10-12 year-old in the long term. At the moment its flavours are, although very well communicated, still a bit on the young and basic side.

Overall Verdict: Another distillery high up my ‘keep tabs on’ list. But I wouldn’t personally go for a full bottle at £70.

Words by WhiskyPilgrm

Kings County Peated Bourbon Reviews

Whiskey Name: Kings County Peated Bourbon

Distillery: Kings County

Whiskey Type: Peated bourbon

Release Date: General release

Price: £33…for a 200ml bottle.

Age: “Two summers”. Between 14-24 months.

ABV: 45%

Mashbill: As far as I could discover, 70% corn, 15% malted barley, 15% peated malted barley. (No mention of ppm in the peated barley, for those wondering.)

Introduction/Background: A really tiny distillery operating out of the Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The idiosyncratic 200ml bottles are starting to pop up more regularly around the UK, and since the peated entity seemed the most unusual, it’s the one I’ve chosen to cover this month.

Fellow Scotch lovers probably need no introduction to peat. It’s used in several of the malts and blends North of the border; most famously in Islay malts like Laphroaig and Ardbeg. These days it seems almost every Scottish distillery is releasing a token peated expression though, since such things are terribly fashionable. A bit like Scotland’s answer to wheat-recipe bourbon in that sense, I guess. (Though about as opposing in flavour as it’s possible for two whiskies to be.)

It isn’t something that pops up often in the US, mind you. Westland use it in one of their single malts, and doubtless Corsair have tinkered with some at one point or another, but it’s pretty thin on the ground. Finding myself occasionally in irreverent yobbo mood, I’ve mixed peated malt with bourbon from time to time, with mixed results. So with those in mind I was greatly intrigued to see how Kings County’s had turned out.

Appearance: Dark. Walnut.

Nose: Now there’s a rather stately nose. Perfumed, polished wood – I’d put money on tiny casks being involved – with a dark cherry and (very) dark chocolate backdrop. Doesn’t smell especially peaty; what there is is overwhelmed by absolutely massive brown sugar.

Mouth: Deep, complex and very beguiling. Unctuous, oily texture. A good bit of orange, but mostly thick, dark caramel and brown sugar kept in check by mildly tannic oak. Alcohol very much a bit part; only there for structure and support. Against that much flavour and body, 45% really doesn’t stand much of a chance. So rich, so well-weighted. Peat grows quietly in the background.

Finish: Moves to fruitcake, whilst the stick-to-your-teeth caramel and ultra-dark chocolate persist. Peat patiently stays the course though, and when the other flavours have disappeared, that classic salt and wet wool sensation is what’s left in your mouth.

Value for Money: Bad. But, in this drinker’s opinion, worth spending £33 to experience.

Summary: Kings County confirms what I’ve learned from my juvenile tinkering: in a fight between new oak and peat, the new oak wins. Don’t expect this to be along the lines of a peaty Scotch, or even something like a Paul John, because it just isn’t.

What it is, however, is absolutely gorgeous. I really, really love this stuff, and I will 100% be trying anything else of theirs that I come across. Its flavours are unbelievably rich, and its texture in the mouth is as luscious as luscious can be. It flirts with becoming too sweet; perhaps it’s the peat that keeps that in check. Whatever. I adore it. How it’d be at 50-55% I can’t begin to imagine.

I can’t, however, ignore the large elephant in the room. Scaled up to 700ml, the bottle would work out at £115, which is a vast, vast sum. Too much, realistically, for a bourbon of this age, however small the producer.

That being said, the 200ml bottles mean that those adventurous of palate can still afford to taste it, albeit your helping will be less than a third the size of what you’d get elsewhere. But let me put it this way: once I’d tasted my drinks by the dram sample, I didn’t think twice before ordering a bottle. And I am very stingey.

Overall Verdict: Only one or two distilleries share Kings County’s place on the craft whiskey quality hierarchy. Too expensive. But so, so good.

Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 years old Review

Whiskey Name: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 years old

Distillery: Jim Beam

Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Release Date: General release

Price: £35

Age: 12

ABV: 43%

Mashbill: 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley

Introduction/Background: The non-limited entity in the Jim Beam Signature Craft series. Doesn’t seem to get the same quantity of online chatter as, say, Eagle Rare 10 or Elijah Craig 12. I wonder whether that’s because of the ubiquity of the Jim Beam name. Certainly the Beam products most talked about online tend to be those without “Beam” in their title.

In any case, a 12 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the biggest player in the state for less than £40. Surely worth investigating?

Appearance: Rather light for the age. Copper.

Nose: Very fruity. Strawberries and jelly sweets. Rounded; obviously there’s no blast of alcohol at 12 years old and 43%. A dab of sawn wood reminds you of the age, then back we head to the sweet juicy thing. It actually reminds me just a little of the Wild Turkey 13’s nose; another from the light, summery school of aged bourbon.

Mouth: Palate shows a little more overt wood and spice. Dryer, certainly, though still with that hint of strawberry laces. Takes a turn for the nutty; toffee-coated cashews perhaps. A touch of bitterness – perhaps a smidgen more oak than a bourbon of this weight can fully cope with. More flavour than proof would suggest, but an understandably light body.

Finish: Those cashew nuts seem to persist.

Value for Money: Very reasonable.

Summary: Not perfect, and certain to be a little light for many a bourbon drinker. For me, the nose was ahead of the palate. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised. A lot of newcomers to neat spirits can be put off by heavy booze; it’s easy to forget, when one has become accustomed to cask strength kit, that there was a time when all but the lower proofs would cause fire and gasping.

For that reason I think that Jim Beam 12 is an important bourbon. It’s a clear step up from white label, Devil’s Cask and Double oaked, occupies a different point on the flavour map to Elijah Craig or Eagle Rare, and offers a lot of accessible, attractive fruit and demonstrable maturity for a very reasonable sum.

Overall Verdict: A tasty, useful bourbon for converting friends to the cause. Perhaps a little simple for those who have already put the long yards in.

Words by WhiskyPigrim

Wild Turkey 101 Review

Whiskey Name: Wild Turkey 101

Distillery: Wild Turkey

Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Release Date: General release

Price: £30 is about the average

Age: NAS

ABV: 50.5% ABV

Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley)

20616252_10156757703684896_86648542_o.jpg

Introduction/Background: Completing an unintentional 3-day series of reasonably-priced pours from big name distilleries. Wild Turkey 101 is cult stuff. Yes, I miss the old 8 year old, and yes, the packaging is pretty rubbish, but the quality of this juice renders the latter comment redundant and offers a measure of consolation for the former.

A big dollop of booze for the money, and the only ‘modern era’ pour at our anniversary tasting that got close to the quality of the old school stuff. (Albeit the ‘70s Turkey was the best whiskey of the entire event, and blew today’s entity out of the water.)

Appearance: Dull copper

Nose: Deep and brooding, though still vaults clearly from the glass. Rye is a presence, but not in hard-edged, woody, Four Roses or MGPI fashion. Rather it provides nutmeggy backbone to prevent the burlier caramels and leathers and prune juices from seeming dull, flat or cloying.

Mouth: Thick, unctuous body – absolutely loaded with caramel. Add vanilla custard and chocolate to that too. Creamy, with a touch of clove, then a good bit of baked fruit. Alcohol warms without prickling (thunder, rather than lightening, I like to put it!) A touch of fresh-ground pepper offsets the thickness.

Finish: The caramel and spice box characters harmoniously endure.

Value for Money: See the Four Roses Single Barrel. Outstanding.

Summary: Another on the ‘must experience’ page of the bourbon book. A big-boned, burly, meaty sort of whiskey; not as elegant as Four Roses Single Barrel, but possibly even more insistently characterful. If I were a clichéd gunslinger in some dusty saloon, this is what I’d want slid across the bar to me. Though I’d get so distracted by the whiskey that I wouldn’t notice the baddies burst in and riddle me with bullets.

Overall Verdict: Classic, high-proof bourbon from a top distillery for under £30. Another cupboard essential

Words by WhiskyPilgrim