Posts from the ‘Bourbon Reviews’ Category

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.

Barrel Strength Bourbon Tasting: Four Roses, Booker’s, Elijah Craig, and E.H. Taylor

Last week, some of my best new and old whiskey-loving friends got together for another meeting up of the Boston Brown Water Society.  Last month, we kicked off the society in style with some full-bodied Scotches, and last week we crossed the pond for some full-bodied, barrel strength bourbons.  We tasted the four bourbons mentioned above, and we did the tasting blind so as not to allow our preconceived notions about these bourbons to influence our palates.  I have done my best to summarize everyone’s general thoughts (and some of my own) on these four wonderful bourbons from four of Kentucky’s most notable distilleries.  Bourbon Barrels Aging

The first bourbon we tried was a private barrel selection of Four Roses, bottled for Kappy’s liquor store in Medford, Massachusetts.  It was made from Four Roses’ OBSK recipe, aged 11 years and 4 months, and bottled at 109.6 proof (54.8% abv).  This bourbon got mixed reviews around the table, ranging from really good to a very solid bourbon.  This particular inculcation of Four Roses was especially spicy, with rye zip, chili peppers, and some black pepper.  Those spicy, zesty notes and some alcoholic heat continue all through the bourbon, but are tempered out nicely by  the addition of water, which calms the whiskey down and opens up more sweet flavors, such as caramel and butterscotch.  Overall, this one is quite tasty, indicative of the consistent quality of Four Roses.  My grade: B+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The second bourbon we tried was Booker’s.  This bottle of Booker’s was 7 years and 6 months old, from Batch 2013-6, and bottled at 125.4 proof (62.7% abv).  This bourbon was widely put at the bottom of everybody’s list for the evening.  I have been a bit proponent of Booker’s in the past, but this batch was not the best bottle to ever hit the shelves.  There was a tannic bitterness that stayed throughout the nose, palate, and finish that most of us found off-putting.  There were some sweet brown sugar and caramel notes that stayed throughout the bourbon, but this one did not bring the complexity or depth of the other bourbons of the evening.  Water did not help this one much at all, either.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The third bourbon we tried was the third release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof from Heaven Hill distillery.  It is 12 years old and registers at a whopping 133.2 proof (66.6% abv).  For many folks around the table, this bourbon was the highlight of the evening.  The nose on this bourbon is unbelievably delicious, with all sorts of deep caramel, mocha, brown sugar, vanilla, and oak notes.  The palate is plenty drinkable at barrel strength, but if you find it a little hot, water calms it down beautifully yielding notes of barrel char, spiced nuts, vanilla, and freshly roasted coffee beans.  The finish is long, warming, and sweet.  This bourbon was my personal favorite of the night, and I loved it equally as much at barrel strength and cut with a little water, demonstrating the complexity and depth of this sexy bourbon.  My grade: A.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The final bourbon of the evening was Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof.  This was the only whiskey we sampled without an age statement, but judging by its fiery 135.4 proof point (67.7% abv), I suspect this bourbon probably has at least an average of 10 years or so under its belt.  This bourbon also garnered some votes for the best bourbon of the evening, and for good reason.  The nose on this one is woody in a really good way, described as “funky in a good way” by several people at the table.  There are some citrus notes in this nose as well, along with some spicier notes and some traditional bourbon sweetness.  The palate is pretty hot, but water brings the heat into balance with the sweetness and yields a great bourbon.  It remains quite woody and citrusy, but there are also notes of orchard fruits and a spice cabinet.  The finish is long, warming, and mildly woody.  Overall, this is a rough and ready bourbon in the best possible sense.  It might not fit in at fancy dinner parties, but that’s alright with me.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.

At the end of the day, these are all good bourbons, and none of them are too overpriced.  The E.H. Taylor is the most expensive of the four, but some in our society believed this was the best bourbon of the lineup as well.  The Elijah Craig packs the best value of the bunch, but it is very hard to find.  The Booker’s is the most readily available of these four bourbons, but its variance from batch to batch does not always make this a great buy.  The Four Roses was a limited edition, privately-selected bottling, but judging by what I have tried from Four Roses, if you see a bottle of Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel available, I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the bourbon.  The real moral of the story is that price, popularity, and exclusivity do not determine a bourbon’s quality.  The only way to determine the quality of a bottle of bourbon is to crack the bottle, let it ride, and let the bourbon speak for itself.

Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Bourbon Review

It’s been a while since I did a good old-fashioned bourbon review here at Bargain Bourbon, so today we’re getting into Jim Beam’s new Signature Craft series.  The Jim Beam Signature Craft series is a new line for the famous Beam distillery which will include limited releases (the first release was a bourbon finished with Spanish brandy) and the new Jim Beam 12 year bourbon.  To the best of my knowledge, 12 years is the oldest standard release out of the Beam distillery to date.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).  The release of the Signature Craft series is not the only thing Beam has been up to in the past year or so.  Beam, Inc. was recently bought by Suntory, Ltd., which was followed shortly by the announcement of their new spokesperson, Mila Kunis.

In the glass, Jim Beam 12 is a beautiful amber, russet color.  On the nose, this bourbon smells of a sawmill (in a good way), with cherry cola, oak, some florals, and some vanilla.  The palate develops the oak even further along with vanilla, cherry cordial, and some tannic bitterness.  The finish is medium in length, with those same cherry notes, oak spice, and some lingering bitterness.  This bourbon is plenty drinkable at its bottle strength, and water tends to bring the flavors apart too much.

Overall, Jim Beam 12 year-old is decent bourbon, but in my opinion, it has spent a little too much time in the wood.  Jim Beam makes very good bourbon, and their new 12 year is no exception.  However, there is a reason Booker Noe liked his bourbon between six and eight years old – that is where Jim Beam’s bourbon is at its best.  Booker Noe knew what he was talking about.  This is a bit like a child that lives at home too long.  It is still very good, but it is just too woody to be my favorite bourbon coming out of Jim Beam.  My grade: B-.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  At the price point, there are bourbons I prefer to this one, but its elegance and age give this bourbon a unique spin on the standard Beam line.

Old Crow Reserve Bourbon Review

Old Crow ReserveToday, I thought I would review a pretty good value bourbon from Jim Beam to mark the occasion of the Japanese beverage giant, Suntory Ltd., buying out Beam, Inc., earlier this week.  This review is of Old Crow Reserve, an addition to the Jim Beam’s Old Crow lineup; it is a bit older and a bit higher proof than the standard Old Crow bourbon, but in a similar price range.  Old Crow Reserve is 4 years old, and is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

On the nose, Old Crow Reserve is a soft, bready bourbon.  There are notes of sourdough bread, rye bread, some caramel, and some wet oak.  The palate is light-bodied and very drinkable, with a good balance of rye, corn, cinnamon sugar, caramel, and oak.  The finish is short and sweet, with caramel, vanilla, and a splash of rye spice.

Overall, this bourbon is not going to knock any socks off with its depth or complexity, but it is exactly what you should expect in a 4 year-old bourbon.  I detect no off-flavors that distort the whiskey or make it an unpleasant experience.  That said, there is nothing that really drops my jaw to the floor about Old Crow Reserve, either.  What I like most about this bourbon is that it is priced properly for its age and quality.  This is a versatile bourbon that makes a fantastic cabinet staple and crowd-pleaser.  My grade: C.  Price: $15-20/750ml.  I like this bourbon better than the standard Jim Beam White Label, in both value and overall quality.  Let it ride!

Comparison Review: 2012 vs. 2013 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbons

Four Roses Limited Edition 2013Today, I am reviewing two bourbons that I have been asked about a lot over the past year and a half – the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batches from the last two years (2012 and 2013).  Each year, Four Roses releases two limited edition whiskeys.  Every spring just before the Kentucky Derby, Four Roses releases their Limited Edition Single Barrel.  Every fall, Four Roses releases their Limited Edition Small Batch, especially blended for the occasion by Four Roses’ Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge.  Each year, the bourbons that are blended together are different recipes and ages, meaning that each year, there is a different flavor profile.  The Limited Edition Small Batch bourbons are different from Four Roses Small Batch, which is always comprised of the same four bourbon recipes.  As you may have guessed, neither of these two Limited Edition Small Batch bourbons are particularly “bargains,” but they are both retailed at under $100 for a bottle, which puts them just within the upper limits of my price range for bourbons on the blog.

Before I get to the review of these two wonderful bourbons, I should say a few words about Four Roses’ ten bourbon recipes.  Four Roses uses two different mashbills, one with a medium rye content and one with a high rye content.  In addition, Four Roses uses five different yeast strains.  If you are statistics wizard, you have already realized that Four Roses has ten different combinations of grain and yeast at their disposal.  It is the quality and distinctive flavors of these bourbon recipes that allow Jim Rutledge to create some of the best bourbons you can buy.  If you want to know all there is to know, check out the Four Roses website.

The first bourbon I am reviewing is the 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.  It was made from four different bourbon recipes, expertly blended together by Jim Rutledge.  The oldest bourbon in the batch was a 17 year-old “OBSV,” made from Four Roses’ high rye mashbill and their delicately fruity “V” yeast strain.  The youngest bourbon used in the batch was the same exact recipe (OBSV), just an 11 year-old version.  The final two recipes used were a 12 year-old “OBSK” (high-rye mashbill with spicier yeast strain) and a 12 year-old “OESK” (low-rye mashbill with the spicier yeast strain).  These four bourbons came together at barrel strength (111.4 proof, 55.7%abv) to create a brilliant bourbon.

On the nose, this bourbon is rich and full, with a healthy dose of cinnamon, backed up by French toast (with maple syrup), caramel, vanilla, oak, and a whiff of floral scent.  The palate is full and rich as well, with a nice bit of heat at barrel strength.  It is quite sweet, with vanilla, strawberries, black cherries, but it moves to spicy wood and hot cinnamon.  The finish is very long and very delicious, the highlight of this bourbon.  It starts spicy and woody (with a bit of cigar box), but it fades to a gentle vanilla custard with strawberries after a few seconds.  It goes on and on.  With water, the nose gets a freshly-cut cedar note, and a lot more floral.  Even with water, this whiskey is still hot and delicious.  That cinnamon spice doesn’t leave, but there is a little more caramel in the mouth and a bit of rye in the finish.  Overall, this is a phenomenal batch of bourbon.  It is delicious and incredibly balanced and complex.  Nothing is overpowering, and everything works together.  It gets even tastier as it empties in the bottle, with the sweetness coming to the fore more as the spiciness fades.  It never loses its complexity, though.  My grade: A/A+.  Price: $80-90/750ml.  Quite simply, this is my favorite bourbon that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

Now, onto the long awaited 125th Anniversary bourbon that was the 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch.  After tasting the earliest blending experiments, Jim Rutledge reportedly said that this was the best bourbon he had ever made.  That, in combination with the success of the 2012 LE Small Batch, made this bourbon a very difficult one to find.  Luckily for me, I was able to snag a bottle.  This bourbon is comprised of three different bourbon recipes at three different ages.  The oldest bourbon used in this small batch was an 18 year-old OBSV, very old for a bourbon.  The other two bourbons were both 13 years old, an OBSK and an OESK.  The result is quite a unique, and very delicious bourbon bottled at barrel strength (103.2 proof, 51.6%abv).

On the nose, this bourbon is fantastic, probably the most potent nose I have ever encountered in a bourbon.  As soon as I cracked this bottle open, a sweet, vanilla, floral aroma filled the room, screaming to be poured and savored.  There are also notes of sawdust, tobacco, leather, and cherry cola.  It is a creamy nose that balances sweet notes, floral notes, and old, rustic bourbon notes almost perfectly.  The palate is full-bodied with a lot of those same cherry cola notes, rounded out by vanilla, red velvet cake, Virginia pipe tobacco, strawberries, and dark chocolate.  The finish is medium-length with oak, cedar, and vanilla.  With water, the nose evolves into some citrus notes, and some more antique notes come out (many leather-bound books and rich mahogany if you’re Ron Burgundy).  The palate gets sweeter and loses some complexity with water, bringing out a lot of cherry notes that I don’t like as much.  Nevertheless, it is still a very good bourbon however you choose to drink it.  My grade: A/A-.  Price: $90-100/750ml.  This is delicious, old, deep bourbon that just leaps out of the glass and fills the room.

Overall, I really like the 125th Anniversary bourbon, but not as much as the 2012 version of the Limited Edition Small Batch.  The 2013 bourbon is definitely older with more wood influence, and more elegance.  However, I prefer the sharper, more complex (in my opinion) profile of the 2012 edition.  That is not at all to say that the 125th Anniversary bourbon is not a great bourbon, because it is.  In fact, I suspect that many people with side with Jim Rutledge and say this is the best bourbon to come out of Four Roses because of the combination of sweet, fruity notes with old bourbon qualities.  However, if I could buy but one Four Roses bottle again, it would be the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon, as it was my favorite bourbon to this point in my life.   Unfortunately, both of these bourbons are pretty hard to find on shelves nowadays, unless those shelves belong to a wealthy bourbon collector.  With that in mind, the 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition line figures to be just as good, so be ready to jump on the bottles as soon as you see them.

Much thanks to William at A Dram Good Time and Geno at Kappy’s for helping me get my hands on this year’s LE Small Batch!

Redemption “High-Rye” Bourbon Review

Today, I am reviewing Redemption “high-rye” bourbon (batch #52).  This bourbon is bottled in Bardstown, KY for Strong Spirits, but it is distilled and aged in Indiana at Midwest Grain Products (MGP).  MGP is most known for their 95% rye mashbill that goes into rye whiskeys such as Angel’s Envy Rye, George Dickel Rye, and Bulliet 95, just to name a few.  As I am fond of MGP’s rye whiskeys, I have wanted to get my hands on some MGP bourbon for a while.  Redemption bourbon is unique in its composition because the grainbill contains 38.2% rye, which is a very high amount of rye, so much so that this is almost a straight rye whiskey instead of a straight bourbon whiskey.  The bottle indicates that the whiskey is at least 3 years old, but I suspect most of the whiskey in the bottle is around 4-5 years old.  Redemption bourbon is bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).Redemption bourbon

In the glass, this bourbon is a hazy, red amber color, which leads me to believe that this whiskey is non-chill filtered, but the bottle does not say one way or the other.  The nose presents a lot of spices that you would expect from a high-rye bourbon.  Anise, sawdust, oregano, and cinnamon are all present, backed up with vanilla extract and corn flavors.  Overall, this is a very good and complex nose, especially given the youth of the bourbon.  The palate is medium-bodied and very drinkable with flavors of dill seed, anise, oregano, corn, and big vanilla.  I am quite sure that if I were to sip this blind, I would think I was drinking a rye.  The finish is medium-short with a nice rye zip and some sweet vanilla.

Overall, I really like this bourbon for what it is; young and tasty.  Redemption bourbon does not presume to think it is an old bourbon with elegance and age under its belt.  It is meant to be a smooth whiskey somewhere between a bourbon and a rye.  The balance is struck well, and the whiskey drinks well neat despite its youth.  Judging solely by the flavor profile, I think this bourbon could be a very mixer to have around for your high-end cocktails.  My grade: B-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  At the price point, this is really a good buy, and a whiskey that makes a great addition to any whiskey drinker or home bartender’s cabinet.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage Bourbon Review

Evan Williams 2003 VintageWith the holidays around the corner, a lot of folks will be enjoying their rare and limited edition whiskeys that only come out on special occasions.  Here at Bargain Bourbon, I believe in the special occasions as much as anybody else, but we ought not lose track of the bourbons that get us through the year, year in and year out.  One such bourbon for me is the Evan Williams Single Barrel Series.  The subject of today’s review is the 2003 Vintage, barrel #603, aged 10 years, 3 months, and 18 days.  As always, Evan Williams Single Barrel is bottled at 86.6 proof (43.3% abv).

The nose on this bourbon is classic Evan Williams.  It is sweet with blackberries, raisins, cherries, but it is balanced out with spicier notes of black tea, cloves, and wood shavings.  The palate is dry with maraschino cherries, caramel, and timber.  The palate is fresh and lively, but with a pleasant oakiness to it.  The finish is medium in its length, with warming flavors of caramel hard candies, cherries, and some bitter tannins.

Overall, Heaven Hill has produced another classic bourbon with this barrel and this vintage.  This is a soft, sweet bourbon that goes very well with the spiciness of gingerbread cakes and cookies around the holidays (seriously, try it).  Even though Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbons are not my favorite bourbon profile, they are very good bourbons that consistently hit their mark.  My grade: B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  In places where this bourbon is available for $20, it is the almost always the best buy on the shelf.

Old Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon Review

old grand dad 114Well, Scotchvember is over at Bargain Bourbon, and repeal week is here.  With December 5th right around the corner, I am reviewing a bourbon I have wanted to review for a long time, a throwback bourbon to an older time.  It is one of those bourbons that tempts you from the bottom shelf at the liquor store, with its reputation for wild nights and the big numbers “114” across the black box.  Old Grand-Dad 114 has no age statement, but I suspect it is about 7 years old or so.  Like the standard orange bottles of Old Grand-Dad, this whiskey comes from Jim Beam’s high rye mash bill, (the same juice that comprises Basil Hayden’s with a lot more alcohol).  As the name indicates, Old Grand-Dad 114 is bottled at 57% abv/114 proof, and pays homage to Basil Hayden, Sr., whose portrait still graces the Old Grand-Dad bottle.

The first thing you’ll notice after pouring this bourbon is its rich, dark mahogany in the glass.  There are also some orangish hues to the bourbon, giving it a truly beautiful appearance.  From the moment you dip your nose into this bourbon, it is a heavy hitter. There is a lot of cinnamon, brown sugar, rye heat, sawdust, fresh oranges, dried tea leaves, and potpourri.  There is definitely a dense sweetness to it, but the rye influence is palpable from the get-go.  The palate is big, full-bodied and continues right along with the nose.  Notes of corn bread, caramel, tangerine, orange cream, cinnamon, and berry fruits are all present on the palate.  The finish is long and warming, with caramel, sawdust, red hot cinnamon, and some tannic bite.  This whiskey definitely benefits from time in the bottle and time in the glass.  The first pour out of the bottle was hot and rough, but as the bottle opens up, this bourbon becomes something very enjoyable.

Overall, I am big fan of this bourbon, especially for the price.  It reminds of the great deal that is Wild Turkey 101.  It is not really a bourbon for everybody, especially if you are new to bourbon.  On the other hand, if you are a bourbon fan who needs a solid cabinet staple this winter, look no further than Old Grand-Dad 114.  This is by no means the best thing at your liquor store, but it shines brightly at its price point, for sure.  After all, any bourbon good enough for George Thorogood is good enough for me.  My grade: B/B-.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  For under $30 and 114 proof, this is really a hard bourbon to beat.

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