Posts from the ‘Bourbon Reviews’ Category

Hooker’s House Bourbon Review

General Joseph Hooker - a man who loved bourbon and ladies of the evening in somewhat equal proportions.

General Joseph Hooker – a man who loved bourbon and ladies of the evening in somewhat equal proportions.

Hooker’s House bourbon is exactly what you would expect – it’s a bourbon that has been distilled, aged, and bottled inside a brothel in Louisville, Kentucky.  Please disregard the opening sentence – it is not the truth.

The truth about Hooker’s House bourbon is that it is a bourbon bottled by Prohibition Spirits out of Sonoma, California, and the name is derived from Civil War General Joseph Hooker (but the double entendre works, too).  The bourbon in the bottle is a very high rye bourbon (rumored around 45% rye) that has been finished in Pinot Noir casks.  From what I have been able to find out, the bourbon is at least 6 years old, and the bourbon was sourced from a now-abandoned start-up distillery.  I’ve had some difficulty nailing down the details on this, so if you’ve got the skinny, let me know!  For now, Hooker’s House is an unfiltered bourbon coming in at 100 proof (50% abv).

The color of Hooker’s House in the glass is beautiful, more orange than amber.  On the nose, there is sweet mandarin orange, white chocolate, vanilla, and rich blackberry jam.  There is no way I would ever guess that this is high-rye bourbon.  The palate is wonderfully full with big sweet oranges, berries, and cherry vanilla.  The finish is long and finally gets around some spices from the rye.  There is some sawdust, oak, and cinnamon mixed in with the sweet blood orange.  Especially on the palate, there is a definite sense of red wine running through the wine.

Overall, this is a unique bourbon, and it really does not taste a lot like a bourbon to me, but that’s not a bad thing because its pretty damn tasty whatever it is.  However, in my opinion, if you like bourbon, you will very much enjoy Hooker’s House bourbon, even though it might not be what you are expecting.  There is a deep sweetness to the whiskey, but it resonates somewhere between a bourbon and heavily sherried Scotch, and that’s a flavor profile I can get behind.  My grade: B/B+.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  This is definitely a unique bourbon, but its reasonably priced for its proof, age, and finish, which makes it a worthwhile bottle to put in the cabinet this winter.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Review

A few years back, Maker’s Mark made big bourbon headlines when they announced that there was not enough 6 year-old stock to go around, and Maker’s Mark’s flagship bourbon was going to be bottled at 84 proof instead of its traditional 90 proof.  Needless to say, there were not a lot of people happy about this announcement – especially since there were a lot of folks that already wanted to see Maker’s at something higher than 90 proof.  Not long after, Maker’s Mark had a change of heart (or supply), and brought back the standard 90 proof.  What ensued was even more mysterious – Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.  The particular bottle I have on hand is from Batch 15-03, and it is 111.4 proof (55.7% abv).  The general consensus among the whiskey-drinking public is that Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bottles are probably about the same age (6 years) as Maker’s Mark, but that does vary from batch to batch.

The nose is wonderful and warm, with sticky cinnamon buns, sugar vanilla frosting, blueberries, blackberry jam, fresh corn, and sawdust.  It is a hot nose at bottle strength, but there is a lot going on (although water opens the nose a little bit, it takes away some of the intensity of the flavor, so I prefer this one neat).  Every time I pour a glass of this bourbon, I enjoy sniffing it for quite a long while.  The palate is medium to full in its body, with some eucalyptus, mint, sawdust, corn, caramel, and brown sugar. This is definitely a soft, wheated profile, but with a lot of body, and a good amount of spice along with it.  The finish leaves toffee, walnuts, caramel, and a warming (slightly bitter) oak note across the palate, lingering for a good long while.  Overall, this is a very good bourbon with a lot going on, and a different side of Maker’s Mark.  There is more spice and oak influence here, but it does come through a bit tannic through the end of the bourbon.

This is a picture of a Reuben sandwich because everyone already knows what a Maker's Mark bottle looks like.

This is a picture of a Reuben sandwich because everyone already knows what a Maker’s Mark bottle looks like.

Maker’s Mark has definitely answered some prayers with this bourbon.  It is big, bold, and is just what you would expect.  It has all the traditional flavors of Maker’s Mark, just ramped up a lot.  Truth be told, this bourbon might be one of the best-smelling bourbons I have ever lifted up to my nose.  In my humble opinion, the palate didn’t quite live up to the nose’s billing, but this is still a fantastic whisky at a fantastic price for a cask strength bourbon.  My grade: B+.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  There just aren’t a lot of bourbons at 111.4 proof that you can find on the market for under $70, which is what makes this bourbon an absolute winner.

Jim Beam Bonded Bourbon Review

James Beam

Jim Beam Bonded is a throwback to the days when Colonel James Beam brought the distillery through Prohibition.

I know it has been way too long since I published a review, but I’ll try to make up for it here in the coming months, as I’ve got a few reviews in the queue.  I’m kicking off my fall reviews with a great bargain bourbon – Jim Beam Bonded (Gold Label) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  I’ve talked about bottled-in-bond bourbons on the site before, and this one is no different.  It is 4 years old, 100 proof (50% abv), from a single distillery, and distilled in a single season.  This is a fairly new product from Beam, and (spoiler alert) I really hope it sticks around.

The color of this bourbon is mild amber, with orange-gold tints.  The nose is rich with big, full vanilla, sawdust, and sweet oak.  The palate is full and sweet with brown sugar, vanilla, creamy vanilla frosting, and rich buttercream.  The finish is long and sweet with vanilla and brown sugar.  Overall, this is a rich, creamy, sweet bourbon with a syrupy sweet, creamy mouthfeel. There is a little oak twinge that runs through it, almost like the wood of a freshly smoked pipe.

In conclusion, this is a very good bourbon, well-made by a distillery that knows exactly what it is doing when it comes to bourbon.  This is sweet, woody, and downright delicious all the way through.  Give this one a whirl, and I suspect it will quickly become a staple of your cabinet with the holidays approaching.  My grade: B.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  At the price, Jim Beam Bonded is certainly one of the best bourbons on the shelf at your local liquor store.

Filibuster Triple Cask Bourbon Review

Today, I am reviewing a limited release from the D.C.-based company, Filibuster. Filibuster is mostly known for their “Dual Cask” series, which features a bourbon and a rye, both of which involved sourced whiskey finished in French Oak ex-wine casks (neither of which have I tried). However, Filibuster recently released Batch 1 of their limited release, “Triple Cask.”

Like the “Dual Cask” series, the “Triple Cask” is a sourced bourbon from an unnamed distillery and finished in our nation’s capital by Filibuster. The “triple cask” moniker refers to the Sherry casks (both Fino and Pedro Ximenez) that finish this bourbon. The sourced bourbon is about 5 years old, which puts the finished product at about 6-7 years, but there is no age statement on the bottle. Filibuster Triple Cask is a limited release bourbon, only being produced in small batches. It is bottled at cask strength, and Batch 1 clocks in at 117.47 proof (58.74% abv). Many thanks to my good friend, Bryan, for the sample on this one!

Let me just say at the outset, I have not yet tasted a whiskey that has evolved in the bottle quite like this one. When we first cracked this bottle, it was rough. The nose smelled mostly of charred rubber and sweaty leather shoes. The sherry influence came through a bit on the palate, but in funky, sulfuric manner. All throughout, the whiskey had a very harsh edge to it, almost in the vein of rubbing alcohol. The finish was long with burnt corn and wet moss notes. When we first opened this bottle, it was hard to drink.

However, after letting this bottle sit for about three weeks, with about one-fifth of the bottle consumed, it opened up quite a bit. Upon a re-taste, the nose was much more pleasant, with candied ginger, tar, burning wood, and some rubber notes. The palate still presented a type of funky sherry (reminiscent of Edradour), but also some macerated grapes and toasted coconut flavors. The finish was pleasant (the best part of this bourbon), presenting notes of sherry, mahogany, caramel, and butterscotch.

Overall, this whiskey was almost night and day. If I would not have gone back and re-tasted this whiskey, I would have given it a “D.” On the other hand, this whiskey would have gotten a “B-” from me if I had just sampled it halfway through the bottle, which is why I have decided to meet Filibuster Triple Cask somewhere in the middle. There are some very good finished bourbons on the market today (see Angel’s Envy), but I don’t think this belongs in that same category. My grade: C. Price: $60-70/750ml. For the price point, I’d be inclined to leave this one on the shelf unless you are extremely curious about a Sherry-finished bourbon.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Today, I am reviewing a bourbon that is quickly becoming a staple of the Buffalo Trace stable – Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel.  This is one of the most readily available bourbons in the E.H. Taylor lineup, presented in the tall, slender, iconic E. H. Taylor bottle.  This bourbon is bottled-in-bond, so it is bottled at 100 proof (50% abv).  There is no age statement on this bourbon, but I have heard that most barrels are between 7 and 9 years old.

The nose on this is a bit tight, with vanilla, caramel, and a mellow, oaked component.  The palate has some good sweet flavors, like candy corn, toffee, butterscotch, and caramel, all backed up with a solid woody backbone.  The finish is short and sweet, with warming oak, caramel, and raisins.  It drinks well at 100 proof, with little to no alcoholic burn, and a good depth of character.

Overall, this is a solid, balanced bourbon.  This is clearly well-made spirit, with good aging.  Considering it was actually Colonel E.H. Taylor (the real person, not the bourbon) that came up with the idea for climate controlled warehouses, it is only fitting to properly age the man’s namesake in your best warehouses.  Okay, that was just a sentence thinly veiled as an excuse for a fun bourbon fact.  Bottom line, E.H. Taylor Single Barrel is a good, balanced bourbon; there is not much that screams at you in either a positive or negative direction.  It is the kind of bourbon that you sip, and say to yourself, “that is exactly what I was expecting out of a high quality bourbon, but there is nothing melting my face here.”  My grade: B.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  My biggest dispute with this bourbon is really the price point; there are better bourbons for $20 less.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Well, let’s throw down the first bourbon review of 2015.  Henry McKenna is a single barrel bourbon out of Heaven Hill in Bardstown, KY.  This is not one of Heaven Hill’s biggest name brands, but the general quality of Heaven Hill certainly made me think this was going to be a good bourbon.  If the other bourbons I have had in this same age range (Evan Williams Single Barrel series) had any bearing, this was going to be a good bourbon.  The bottle I am reviewing here is from Barrel 1488, and it is bottled-in-bond at 100 proof (50% abv).

The color is a rich, dark russet, just beautiful in the glass.  The color is almost indescribable in its striking beauty, like the rich hues of a summer sunset (pictured).   The nose is dry and woody, like tree bark that has been dipped in a bit of vanilla extract.  The palate is also a very dry presentation, with dry tree bark, caramel, cinnamon, and some nutmeg.  The finish leaves the palate very dry, with a lot of wood and some cinnamon spice. DSCN0470

Overall, this is a much different profile from what I was expecting, given my prior exposure to the Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbons.  This is one of the woodiest bourbons that I have encountered, and most certainly one of the driest in a good way, like that weird uncle everybody has.  This is a rich bourbon that is especially good for this time of year, with its viscous wood notes.  Like many single barrel bourbons, I suspect that this label varies a bit, but if this barrel is anything to go on, its worth giving it a shot.  My grade:  B.  Price:  $30-35/750ml.  For the price point and the age, this is a very solid bourbon.

Koval Single Barrel Bourbon Review and Happy Halloween!

Well, Happy Halloween everybody. If I am honest, Halloween was never my favorite holiday, and I have never gotten too into it, but I know it is very popular in certain circles. So, if its your cup of tea, have fun and be safe. If you are in my certain circle, you are probably looking forward to enjoying some good bourbon on a cool New England evening. So, let’s get to that part.

Happy Halloween

Koval Distillery is a craft distillery in Northern Chicago that has been distilling actively since 2008. The proudly make organic spirits from scratch, take all their whiskey from the heart of the run, and bottle all their whiskeys from single barrels. Koval is one of the most refreshing distilleries in America nowadays. Unlike sourcing whiskey from Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill and selling it to the consumer for twice the price, Koval is contracting their own grain, and making unique whiskeys their own way. Koval does a great job balancing time-honored distilling traditions and pushing the envelope. They are not releasing gimmicks; they are releasing good whiskey with their own special touch. I have only sampled their bourbon and their rye thus far, and I was very impressed with both, and I have only grown more impressed I have learned more about the company. Let’s delve into Koval’s single barrel bourbon.

Like all bourbons, Koval is made from at least 51% corn in the mashbill and aged in a new, charred American oak barrel. However, unlike other bourbons, the remaining grain components are not rye, barley, or wheat. In an unprecedented move, Koval has used millet to fill in the grain bill of their bourbon, which adds a dimension to the bourbon that is wholly unique to Koval. The bourbon in the bottle is between 2 and 4 years old, un-chill filtered, and is bottled at 94 proof (47% abv).  For the record, I am reviewing barrel #946.

Koval’s nose takes a while to work with, as it is bringing flavors to bear that are rarely seen in bourbons. On the nose, Koval presents ginger bread, vanilla wafers, molasses, basil, black tea, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is herbal and spicy (but in a different way than rye-forward bourbons), with a backbone of sweetness. The palate is surprisingly light in body for being un-chill filtered and 94 proof. There are notes of sweet corn, gingerbread, molasses, zucchini bread, and black tea. If I tasted this blind, I would probably not guess this was a bourbon. The finish is short and sweet, with some lingering spices, gingerbread, bread pudding, and banana bread.

Overall, this is most certainly a different product altogether. However, once you move past the differences, it becomes clear that this is a very good whiskey, well-made and very flavorful. In the past, I have certainly ranted on “craft distilleries” for sourcing whiskey and peddling it or making gimmicky, flavored whiskeys to dull the palates of America, but Koval is doing none of that. I cannot wait to get my hands on some more Koval whiskeys and pass along my thoughts to cyberspace. My grade: B. Price: $40-45/750ml. The price may seem a little excessive for the age of the bourbon, but that is partly the price you pay for craft products, and in this case, the bourbon in the bottle holds fairly well in that price range, especially when compared to other craft whiskeys.


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