Posts from the ‘Bourbon Reviews’ Category

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.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon Review

Kind of makes you want to drink a little bourbon, doesn't it?  getintravel.com

Kind of makes you want to drink a little bourbon, doesn’t it? getintravel.com

Every time of year is a great time of year to drink bourbon, and every part of the world is a great place to drink bourbon, but there is something special about a glass of bourbon in the cool autumnal months in New England. The leaves are painting the landscape vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows, and the breeze is crisp enough to warrant the type of warmth only bourbon can provide. Now that I’ve got the romance out of the way, on to the bourbon…

Today, I am reviewing a relatively new bourbon product from Woodford Reserve. About two years ago, Woodford Reserve released their Double Oaked bourbon (90.4 proof/45.2% abv), which starts its life as standard Woodford Reserve before it is transferred into heavily toasted (only lightly charred) barrels for a finishing period of approximately 9 months. The result is a quality bourbon, indicative of Woodford’s craft, but a bourbon that brings a slightly different flavor profile to the finished product.

On the nose, this bourbon is pleasantly sweet with marzipan, toffee, cooked apples, and a bit of cinnamon sugar. The palate is sweet, creamy and medium-bodied with a lot of butterscotch, caramel, toffee, marzipan, candied almonds, and apple pie. The finish is medium in length, with butterscotch and caramel hanging around for a good while. Overall, this is a very sweet inculcation of Woodford Reserve, but it is hardly cloying.

Overall, to my palate, the Double Oaked is a sweeter representation of Woodford Reserve. The rye content of the bourbon seems to get swallowed up in the flavor waves of toffee and butterscotch, which is hardly a bad thing. This bourbon is not quite my favorite style, as I tend to like sharper bourbon, but this is a soft, sexy, approachable bourbon that is soundly worthy of the Woodford name. My grade: B. Price: $45-50/750ml. This is a great bourbon for after a large meal because it is soft, sweet, and it just might be sexy enough to prompt a little lovin’.

Staying Power: A Few Bourbon Staples

One of the unique aspects of whiskey brands is that they do change over time. When you combine that change with the change in our palates, you can get some pretty intense discrepancies regarding the quality of different bourbons, especially over time. Personally, there are several different bourbons that I have found to vary a lot from batch to batch, barrel to barrel (Booker’s, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms), but there are also some bourbons that I have found to stay rock solid over all my years drinking the blessed spirit. Recently, I picked up two bourbons I had not had in a while to see if I liked them as much as I used to…

Ever since Heaven Hill came out with their Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases, bourbon lovers have been clamoring to get their greasy paws on some of this juice. The first release got rave reviews, as did most of their successive releases. I recently finished a bottle of their fourth release (134.8 proof, 67.4% abv), and it was absolutely fantastic stuff. It was every bit as dark, ominous, and beautiful as its predecessors. This is a complex, sweet, woody, and intense bourbon. Judging from what I have tasted to this point, I see no reason that this bourbon is going to slow down. All three bottles of this stuff that I have grabbed have been fantastic. If you see a bottle of this stuff chilling on a shelf at your local liquor store, grab it and thank me later.

The second bottle I picked up was a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel (Barrel 87-4I), and it also did not disappoint. With some single barrel bourbons, there is definitely a lot of variance from barrel to barrel, with some barrels being great, and others being just average. Four Roses is not in that category. Every different barrel of their beloved OBSV juice is aged to damn near perfection. This particular barrel was a little bit spicier than some previous inculcations that I have had, but Four Roses’ bourbons always tend towards some spiciness anyway. Like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, when you see a bottle of this juice on the shelf, you are never missing the mark if you decide to walk out with a bottle or two.

Really, this is less of a bourbon review, but just a reiteration to all of my readers that there are still a lot of good bourbons out there. So many of the blogs are heralding the end of the great bourbon era with all the new craft distillers sourcing young bourbon, and the no age statement bourbons being released. To be sure, there is plenty of gimmicky bourbon out there, and even some of my old standards have let me down a bit recently (Booker’s, cough-cough), but that does not mean that all hope is lost friends. In a bourbon universe that occasionally looks bleak, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Four Roses Single Barrel are still standing tall as testaments to making really good bourbon with time-tested precision and patience.

Old Crow Bourbon Review

The Old Crow label is one of the most recognizable bourbon brands in the world, with constant music and movie references.  Interestingly enough, despite the bird on the logo, the brand itself is named after James Crow, a Scotsman who distilled in Kentucky in the early 19th century.  Nowadays, the brand is owned by the Beam Suntory giant, and is distilled at the James Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.  The bottle indicates that this juice is at least 3 years old, and it is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

On the nose, this is a pretty straight forward bourbon with a lot of corn, candy corn, caramel, and vanilla.  This is young and spry stuff, but not at all bad. The palate is a simple, sweet presentation of bourbon full of caramel and vanilla flavors.  Wood is hardly integrated, but that is to be expected.  The finish is short and sweet with caramel and a wee bit of sawdust.

On the whole, this is hardly an offensive bourbon.  It is noticeably young, which makes it a bit simple and straightforward, but I do not really find anything in this bourbon to be especially off-putting.  My biggest complaint is simply that the bourbon is too quick, which makes it a pleasant but uninteresting bourbon experience.  Jim Beam has a quality product here that just needs a little extra loving from the barrel.  My grade: C-.  Price: $10-15/750ml.  What is most appealing about this bourbon is the price point, and how good it really is for $12 a bottle.

Breaking & Entering Bourbon Review

Today’s review is of Breaking & Entering bourbon, a fitting whiskey to review following Independence Day weekend since bourbon is a domestic product, and the United States is responsible for way too much “breaking and entering” over the course of its time.  No matter what side of the fence you fall to on this one in terms of whether or not the United States should have broken in and entered, we have done it an awful lot.  In the bourbon world, Breaking & Entering is a small-batch bourbon out of St. George’s Spirits in California.  None of this bourbon is distilled on site, hence the name of the whiskey.  The guys at St. George’s went to Kentucky and came up about 400 or so barrels of bourbon, which they have then blended into a series of small-batch releases.  There is no age statement on this bourbon, which leads me to guess that the ages of the bourbon barrels brought back probably varied.  The specific batch that I am reviewing is No. 050624, and it is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose smells of cornbread, caramel, banana bread, and rye.  The palate brings some bitter oak, toffee, caramel, banana bread, and herbal components.  The finish is medium, slightly tannic, and a wee bit sweet with caramel.  With a bit of time in the bottle, this got a little sweeter, but overall it held well with time.

In theory, taking the best of Kentucky’s different flavor profiles and turning into a bourbon-blending playground is a great idea.  In practice, it is a good result, too.  St. George’s has succeeded in making a straight-forward bourbon that gives you an overview of what Kentucky bourbon is made of.  Obviously, the specific potential of individual distilleries is lost in the final product, and I do not think Breaking & Entering bourbon is an instance where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  That said, this is a good bourbon, and it is very reasonably priced for a craft distillery; the only problem is that none of this bourbon is actually small-batch craft bourbon, just bourbon blended into small batch at a craft distillery.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  This is definitely worth a shot, and since it varies from batch to batch, your next experience with Breaking & Entering could be a memorable one.

Baker’s Bourbon Review

Baker's BourbonSince today is Memorial Day, I thought it important to review an American spirit, specifically a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Perhaps no distillery in the United States is synonymous with bourbon in the way that Jim Beam is, which is why I have chosen today to review Baker’s, the final member of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection left to review on the blog.  I have already reviewed Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s, and Knob Creek, and they are all solid bourbons.  Baker’s is a 7 year-old Beam bourbon, and it is bottled at 107 proof (53.5% abv).

Upon pouring a measure of Baker’s, the dark amber in the glass is truly beautiful, as is the smell wafting out of the glass. On the nose, Baker’s is a pure bourbon nose of caramel, cinnamon, corn, leather, and oak.  The palate has a medium to full body, with caramel, black peppercorns, oak, corn, deep vanilla, and some bitter tannins.  The finish is slightly bitter, but sweet enough to round it out with corn, caramel, and some lingering vanilla sweetness.

Overall, Baker’s is straightforward bourbon with a lot to offer if you love bourbon.  If you are not a bourbon fan, then this bourbon is likely to change your mind. It is deep, robust, and pleasantly sweet.  The added proof gives it nice depth, and the depth is indicative that this is quality bourbon regardless of how “small batch” it actually is.  This bourbon won’t blow your mind; it will merely remind you that tradition and quality make for good bourbon.  My grade: B/B-.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  If there is a beef to have with this bourbon, it is that there is nothing that especially stands out about it, and it usually runs for close to $40 a bottle.

Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon Review

Sorry for the break in posts, folks, but a few new jobs have made life rather busy of late. Today’s review concerns a relatively new small batch bourbon from the Heaven Hill Distillery: Evan Williams 1783. There is no age statement on the bottle, but Heaven Hill claims that this bourbon is “extra-aged,” but that is hardly an official term.  As far as the term “small batch” on the label, Heaven Hill claims that each batch of this bourbon has a maximum of 80 barrels dumped; I will let you be the judge as to whether or not that constitutes a small batch bourbon. All that said, this bourbon continues on the tradition of well-priced whiskeys from the Heaven Hill Distillery. It is bottled at 86 proof (43%).

On the nose, Evan Williams 1783 presents a classic Heaven Hill bourbon flavor profile. Soft and pleasant, there are notes of caramel, vanilla, and freshly cut oak. The palate is soft and mellow, with classic notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak, but with a little herbal underbelly. The finish is short and sweet with a slight tannic bitterness offsetting the sweet caramel.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable bourbon, perhaps a dangerously drinkable bourbon. It is not overly complex or hard to understand, which makes it a great bourbon to start your bourbon journey with, or keep around the cabinet for those events when not everybody is an experienced bourbon drinker. My grade: C/C+. Price: $15-20/750ml. Truth is, this is one of those really solid bourbons under $20 on the market today.

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