Posts from the ‘Phil’s Favorite Whiskey Series’ Category

Phil’s Favorite Irish Whiskeys

Of course I’m giving the nominees for my favorite Irish whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day.  What other day would be appropriate?  Be safe, and try not to do something stupid.  St. Patrick did not approve of stupidity.  Without anymore chatter, here are my Irish whiskey nominees.

Name: Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve

Style: Blend

Age: No Age Statement

Batch: 2011 Release

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $300-350/750ml

Notes: Although this Jameson does not contain an age statement, this particular release was a blend of older grain whiskeys (the oldest of which was 31 years old) and younger pot-still whiskey aged in port pipes (the oldest of which was 15 years old), which is why the price point on this whiskey is so high.  This is a rich, creamy, expressive whiskey with a lot of different flavors going on.  The flavor profile works everywhere from espresso and mocha flavors to crème brulee and rich toffee sweetness.  This is a hard whiskey to find, but well worth it if you can find it.

Name: Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength

Style: Single Pot Still

Age: 12 Years

Batch: B1/13

Proof: 119.8 (59.9% abv)

Price: $60-70/750ml

Notes: Most Irish whiskey has the reputation of being silky and smooth, but this is not that type of Irish whiskey.  Every year, Redbreast releases a limited edition of their 12 year-old at cask strength.  There are several batches of this juice that could have made this list, but this particular batch was my favorite.  This batch was aged exclusively in refill Sherry casks, and it yielded flavors of toffee, raisins, espresso, and rich vanilla cream frosting.  At cask strength, this is a big, bold beauty of a whiskey.  Although this is a limited release, it is available at higher end liquor stores with larger selections of Irish whiskey.

Name: Redbreast 15 Year-Old

Style: Single Pot Still

Age: 15 Years

Batch: N/A

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: This expression of Redbreast offers a different take on the Redbreast house style in that unlike most Redbreast whiskeys, this is aged in a combination of ex-Sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks.  The result is a whiskey with malty notes, reminiscent of Irish soda bread.  There are also orchard fruits present, dark chocolate, and some bitter orange peel, flavors not present in other Redbreast expressions.  This Redbreast drinks more like traditional aged blends of Irish whiskey, a great different take on Redbreast.  This one is readily available, and comparable in price with many single malt Scotches of the same age and casking.

Name: Redbreast 21 Year-Old

Style: Single Pot Still

Age: 21 Years

Batch: N/A

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $200-225/750ml

Notes: This expression of Redbreast is the same pot still whiskey that has always been a part of the standard 12 year-old, aged in the same Oloroso Sherry casks.  The only difference is 9 years, and those 9 years do wonders to bring forth rich baking spices, mango cream, and blackberry cream cheese flavors.  This is a difficult whiskey to find, but not impossible.  And, if you’ve got an Irish whiskey lover in your life, this makes one hell of a gift.

Name: Teeling Single Malt

Style: Single Malt

Age: No Age Statement

Batch: 2015 Release

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: Teeling has been sourcing and bottling great whiskeys for a few years now, and this expression is no different.  Although there is no age statement on this whiskey, the label states that there is whiskey as old as 23 years in the bottle.  There is also whiskey from five different cask types (Sherry, Madeira, White Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port) in the final product.  The result is a stunning whiskey with flavors of fresh raspberries, white grape preserves, bread pudding, and fresh red apples.  This whiskey is hard to find because of its limited release in the United States, but it is not an especially sought-after whiskey, which makes it available for those who know where to look.

Phil’s Favorite Canadian Whiskies

If there is a category of whisky that aficionados are quick to defame, its Canadian whisky.  Unfortunately, most of the negative stigma towards Canadian juice comes from the days in the early part of the 20th century when Canadian distilleries were simply shipping in hellacious swill from north of the border.  In some ways, that legacy lingers in that most Canadian whisky is used in mixed drinks, but there are also a number of Canadian whiskies that are well worth drinking neat for their own merits.  It is those whiskies I will be nominating here.

Name: Crown Royal 75th Anniversary Blend

Age: No Age Statement

Batch: 0068

Proof: 80 (40% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This bottling was a limited edition to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Crown Royal brand.  There were several batches of this whiskey, and some of them may still be available if you look hard enough.  This particular batch was a rye-forward whisky that provided a very dry palate with a lot of rye spices and drying oak.  There was also some bitter dark chocolate and mocha, all balanced out by a lovely mango sweetness working its way through the whisky.  I only tried this one batch, but it was a worthwhile whisky for sure.

Name: Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend

Age: No Age Statement

Batch: N/A

Proof: 80.6 (40.3% abv)

Price: $60-70/750ml

Notes: This whiskey was the first release in Crown Royal’s Noble Collection, and it did not disappoint.  It is comprised of a corn whisky, a rye whisky, and a Coffee still whisky, blended together and shipped out in the iconic Crown Royal purple pouch.  This whisky is creamy all the way through with typical Crown Royal flavors of cherry vanilla and bitter oak.  The balance in this whisky is fantastic.  As this was a limited release, if this whisky interests you, go and get it now.

Name: Crown Royal Reserve

Age: No Age Statement

Batch: N/A

Proof: 80 (40% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: This is a cornerstone of Crown Royal’s Master Series, and its long been a go to gift bottle for me.  The flavors presented here are often crowd pleasers, dried pineapple, raisins, drying oak, and sautéed pears.  This is not an immensely complex whisky, but the flavors are well-presented and delicious.  This is certainly a benchmark of Canadian whisky, and it is readily available in almost every liquor store across America.

Name: Lot 40

Age: No Age Statement

Batch: N/A

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $50-60/750ml

Notes: This is a rye whisky out of the Hiram Walker distillery in Ontario, and although there is no age statement, most of what I have read indicates that this whisky is bottled around 7-8 years of age.  This is a classic rye profile, with fresh cut evergreen trees, vanilla extract, and freshly baked rye bread.  This can be a hard whisky to find in the United States, but I’m told that if you head north of the border, it’s not too hard to wrangle yourself up a bottle.

Name: Wiser’s 18 Year-Old (circa. 1975)

Age: 18 Years

Batch: N/A

Proof: 80 (40% abv)

Price: Unknown

Notes: Some time ago, a dear friend of mine’s grandfather tragically passed away sitting on a rather eclectic collection of spirits, some in miniatures, some in larger bottles, and my dear friend was kind enough to pass some of the whiskeys on to me.  One such whisky was this bottle of Wiser’s 18, which I have not been able to put a concrete date on, but as best I can figure it, this whisky was bottled around the mid-70’s.  Cracking this bottle open was a real treat and so was the whisky inside.  Unlike most Canadian whiskies nowadays, which are rye-based, this one tasted like it was based in malted barley.  Some of the heather notes common in Scotch single malts were present, coupled with a nutty sweetness, baking spices, cinnamon apples, orange peels, and creamy Amontillado sherry.  Nowadays, it is rare to find a Canadian whisky with any sherry influence, but forty years ago, sherry was a much more common drink, so sherry butts were easy to come by, not like today when sherry butts are a prized commodity for aging whisky.  Unless you are lucky enough to find a dusty bottle of this stuff, it’s gone for good, but it was a damn fine whisky.

Phil’s Favorite American Craft Whiskeys

There is no section of my local liquor store expanding quite so rapidly as American craft whiskey.  New distilleries seem to be emerging every day, as do new whiskeys.  I have to admit that I have not been impressed with all of it, but I have really enjoyed some of the craft whiskeys released in the United States over the last few years.

For the purposes of this series, some of these whiskeys could be included in different categories (i.e. Dad’s Hat is also a rye whiskey in addition to being a craft whiskey), but I stated at the beginning that each whiskey could only receive one nomination, so that is why each of these whiskeys appears here as opposed to on another list.  So, here are the nominees for American Craft Whiskey:

Name: Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt

Distillery: Balcones

Batch: SM 12-9

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 106 (53% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This was one of the first batches of Texas Single Malt released, and it did not disappoint.  This whiskey elicited rich banana bread notes, a nutty sweetness, and a rich berry creaminess.  This whiskey really worked to forge a new style all its own, and it worked beautifully.  The only caveat to this nomination is that I have tried a few successive batches of this whiskey that I have not liked nearly as much as I liked this first batch.  That said, this particular batch was brilliant whiskey.  “1” Texas Single Malt is available on a limited basis the further one gets from Texas.

Name: Corsair Triple Smoke

Distillery: Corsair Artisan Distillery

Batch: 84

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 80 (40% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: This whiskey is a blend of three different malted barley samples, one smoked over cherry wood, one smoked over peat, and one smoked over beechwood.  The resulting whiskey is a unique take on smoked malt whiskey, yielding flavors of fiery peat, sweet barley, and freshly cut oak.  This is definitely a young whiskey that is a little rough around the edges, but the flavors are unique and they are bursting out of the bottle.  This is a hard whiskey to find, but if you do, it’s worth a try.  They are not too many like this one floating around.

Name: Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye

Distillery: Mountain Laurel Spirits

Batch: N/A

Age: 6 months

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $35-40/750ml

Notes: This rye is made in the authentic Pennsylvania style, meaning that corn is not included in the mashbill as found in Kentucky ryes.  Dad’s Hat is then aged in new oak quarter casks for a minimum of 6 months.  You would probably think that after only 6 months, this whiskey would be hot and brash, but it is nothing of the sort.  Even at its young age, this is a quality whiskey, with cocoa dust, rich black cherries, fresh oak shavings, and white chocolate.  This is one of those whiskeys that is really good and gets you really excited about tasting such a well-made spirit at an older age (Dad’s Hat will be rolling out a 3 year-old rye this spring).  This whiskey was awarded “Craft Whiskey of the Year” by Whisky Advocate magazine for good reason.  It is widely available in the mid-Atlantic, but gets harder to find the further one is from Pennsylvania.

Name: High West Campfire

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products/Unnamed Scottish Distilleries – Blended and Bottled at High West

Batch: N/A

Age: 5 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $40-45/750ml

Notes: I had trouble decided whether or not High West belonged in the American Craft Whiskey category or not, but as they were undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the American craft movement, I have included their whiskeys here.  This particular whiskey is a blend of a rye whiskey, a bourbon, and a peated blended malt Scotch from an undisclosed source.  The result is something both unique and special.  Sweet flavors such as caramel, honey, and vanilla are present, as are herbal flavors like pine and juniper.  All these flavors are accented wonderfully by a twinge of rolling smoke.  This whiskey is widely available; you can find it in almost any liquor store where High West products are sold.

Name: High West Double Rye!

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products/Barton 1792 – Blended and Bottled at High West

Batch: N/A

Age: 2 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $40-45/750ml

Notes: Double Rye! is made at the High West Distillery in Utah by marrying two different whiskeys – a 95% rye mashbill, 2 year-old whiskey from MGP in Indiana, and a 16 year-old, 53% rye mashbill from the Barton Distillery in Kentucky.  The resulting whiskey is a tour-de-force of rye flavors.  All the spice cabinet range of a great rye is present here, but it is all buttressed by rich honey and vanilla notes to round out a great profile.  The great part about this rye is that it is available almost everywhere in the United States, and it won’t break the bank.

Phil’s Favorite Rye

Rye is making a huge comeback, and is quickly regaining its prominence as one of the very best spirits around.  It is the shining star of many classic cocktails, works great on the rocks on a sunny summer day, and a good rye sips just fine straight up and neat.  Some of the following ryes are made exclusively of rye grain, while others have only the 51% rye necessary to make a straight rye.  Like many of the other posts in this series, these whiskeys are based solely on the flavor and quality of the whiskey, not on the price or availability.  Without further ado, the nominees for my favorite rye whiskey:

Name: Jefferson’s 25 Year Presidential Select

Distillery: Not Stated (Most likely Alberta Distillers)

Batch: 1

Age: 25 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: This whiskey most likely comes from Alberta Distillers’ 100% rye mashbill, but since I cannot confirm this, I have put this one into the rye category as opposed to the Canadian whisky category.  There is something magical that can occur to rye whiskies after they’ve spent a long time in the barrel.  All that brash rye spice gets tamed by the wood into something truly special.  Sipping one such whiskey is like listening to an elderly person who was a firebrand in their youth talk about their life story.  This is a rich, sophisticated whiskey with layers upon layers of old wood, maple fudge, and cinnamon spice.  Nosing this whiskey is pure heaven.  Unfortunately, this whiskey is released in very small batches, and is very hard to come by.  And, to boot, with the heightened popularity of rye whiskey, the price is only going up on this gem.

Name: Masterson’s 10 Year

Distillery: Alberta Distillers

Batch: 005

Age: 10 Years

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This whiskey could just as easily be categorized as Canadian, but since I usually see it in the rye section, I have included it here.  This is one of several Alberta Distillers 10 year-old rye whiskeys sourced out to other bottlers.  Of those that I have had, this one is one of my favorites.  It provides great balance between spicy and sweet notes, while also mixing in notes of mint, pipe tobacco, and drying oak.  This is not a cheap dram, but it is a consistently good, well-aged rye whiskey.

Name: Sazerac 18 Year

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Batch: 2012

Age: 18 Years

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: Like many of the Antique Collection whiskeys, there have been many great Sazerac 18 releases.  I’ve simply chosen the one I enjoyed the most.  As I said above, something magical happens with old ryes, and this is no exception.  This whiskey unloads a full complement of rich oak, baking spices, and luscious vanilla cream.  This is a complex dream of a whiskey from start to finish.  Like other Antique Collection whiskeys, this is released once a year, and is often difficult to come by.  When found on the secondary market, this one tends to command a very hefty price tag, but it comes awfully close to being worth every penny.

Name: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Batch: 2012

Age: 6 Years

Proof: 132.4 (66.2% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: Like the Sazerac 18, there have been many brilliant Handy releases.  This is a young, brash, exhilarating whiskey that packs a rye punch like few others.  Drinking this whiskey is an experience akin to chewing on a hot cinnamon candy that had been dredged in vanilla frosting.  The rye spices are in full force here, more so than in older ryes, but there is enough sweetness to bring complexity and body to it.  Few whiskeys will warm you better on a cold night.  Like the Sazerac above, it’s a tough find nowadays and usually ends up being priced awfully high when floating around the secondary market.

Name: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products

Batch: Barrel #148

Age: 6 Years

Proof: 114.6 (55.8% abv)

Price: $50-60/750ml

Notes: There have been many memorable MGP ryes bottled under the Willett label, but this one was my favorite of all the ones I have tried.  It has all the underpinnings of this series, with some briny notes and sharp rye, but what brought to love this whiskey was the creamy texture on the palate that supplemented the spiciness with sweet vanilla and cinnamon sugar notes.  It is highly doubtful that this particular barrel is still available anywhere, but Willett has begun bottling their own ryes, and what I’ve had so far has been pretty promising.

 

 

Phil’s Favorite Bourbon

What better way to kick off my favorite whiskey series than bourbon?  In honor of awards season, I will present five nominees for the category, with the winner being revealed along with other winners at the end of the month.  In cases where two of the same whiskey might be nominated (i.e. two different releases of George T. Stagg), I have chosen my favorite iteration of the bourbon to be nominated.  These nominees achieved their status based on their taste profile alone; unlike most of what I do at Bargain Bourbon, price was not a consideration.  Without further ado, here are the nominees for Phil’s favorite bourbon (in alphabetical order).

Name: Booker’s

Distillery: Jim Beam

Age: 7 years, 5 months

Batch: C05-A-12

Release Year: 2012

Proof: 128.5 (64.25% abv)

Price: $50-60/750ml

Notes: This uncut, unfiltered, barrel strength bourbon rarely disappoints, and each batch tends to have something worth enjoying about it.  This particular batch was my favorite because there were some cinnamon and oak spice notes that rounded out the big caramel and vanilla notes that Booker’s is known for, giving the whiskey a depth and complexity that stood out above other Booker’s batches I have tried.  Unfortunately, as this was an older release, it is extremely unlikely that there are still unopened bottles of this juice floating around, but Booker’s bourbon is readily available at most liquor stores.

 

Name: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Distillery: Heaven Hill

Age: 12 years

Batch: 3rd release

Release Year: 2014

Proof: 133.2 (66.6% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: This barrel strength bourbon is another one that could have placed multiple releases on this list.  What set this particular release apart for me was the layers that the bourbon had when diluted at various levels.  The flavors were deep and complex at barrel strength, and as water was added, the bourbon just peeled back layers of flavor to reveal a sweeter profile, softening some of the coffee and dark chocolate notes that stood out at full strength.  Unfortunately, this release is probably long gone, and people have started to realize the quality of this bourbon, so current releases are harder to find, and they are selling for a good deal more than they did three years ago.

 

Name: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch

Distillery: Four Roses

Age: 11 years

Batch: 2012

Release Year: 2012

Proof: 111.4 (55.7% abv)

Price: $90-100/750ml

Notes: Four Roses could have had multiple limited edition releases make this list, but their 2012 small batch release is my favorite because of the balance between all the flavors that make bourbon great.  It was sweet, oaky, and spicy, all in perfect harmony.  Like many great whiskeys, a little water brought out different twists on each tasting note, making for an even more diverse experience.  Four Roses releases a limited edition small batch bourbon every autumn, but this specific release is undoubtedly unavailable excepting only the rarest and most esteemed of bourbon collections.

 

Name: George T. Stagg

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Age: 15 years, 11 months

Batch: 2013

Release Year: 2013

Proof: 128.2 (64.1% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: This is one of the most famous and most sought bourbons in the world, and for good reason.  Many years, George T. Stagg could make an argument that it’s the best bourbon released that year.  However, the 2013 release caught my taste buds because it was bottled at a slightly lower proof than the Stagg usually is, and I believe it did the Stagg a lot of good, peeling back rich oak and cigar box notes not often found in bourbon.  This was a bourbon that worked to transcend bourbon.  If you know where to look and are willing to pay the price, there are always bottles of Stagg floating around, but this one is going on 4 years since its release, which makes me think that it is probably extinct.  However, more Stagg is coming this fall, so keep your eyes peeled.

 

Name: William Larue Weller

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Age: 12 years

Batch:  2012

Release Year: 2012

Proof: 123.4 (61.7% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This wheated bourbon was one of those bourbons that brought wave after wave of rich, sweet flavors set upon a board of rich mahogany and oak.  Dried fruits, maple fudge, and vanilla all roared over the palate when sipping this bourbon.  There have been many worthy Weller releases, but this one was my favorite to pour after a delicious meal.  This one falls into the same category as the Stagg as far as availability.  There will be more coming out this year, but the old releases are hard to find and often have massive price tags on them.

 

Phil’s Favorite Whiskeys

Without question, the most common question I get asked is, “what’s your favorite whiskey?”  Of course, this is a nearly impossible question to answer.  It would be like choosing your favorite child or favorite Star Wars character.  I’ve avoided doing something like this for a long time so as not to give into all the questions, but what better time to ruin that streak than the 5 year anniversary of Bargain Bourbon?  Yes, March 2017 marks the 5 year run for the blog, so it’s time to satiate my readers with such questions about favorites.

So, over the course of March, I’ll be unveiling my favorite whiskeys in eleven different categories: Bourbon, Rye, American Craft, Irish, Blended Scotch, Speyside Single Malt, Islay Single Malt, Highland Single Malt, Island/Lowland/Campbeltown Single Malt, Canadian, and Value (Under $50).  I have chosen the categories based on the similarities of whiskeys and the breadth of whiskeys I have tried for each category (i.e. I have not tried enough Indian, Australian, or Japanese whiskeys to warrant categories here).  It is important to note that there are countless whiskeys in the world that I have not yet tried, and a great deal more that I will never try.  As Judge Holden has said, more things in this world exist without our knowledge than with it.  Thus, my favorite whiskeys should not be taken as some sort of universal truth about whiskey, just my personal favorites among drams that I have tried.  For each category, I will present five nominees, and I will conclude the month of March by posting the winners in each category.  Each whiskey will only be nominated for one category, whichever category suits it best.

I am making no claims that the whiskeys that will follow are the best of all-time in each of these categories; they are just my favorites.  Everybody has their different opinions on whiskeys, and that is precisely what makes whiskey such a fun exploration.  So, over the coming weeks, enjoy reading about my favorite whiskeys and as always, leave your comments and let me know what you think!

Thanks for hanging out for the last five years!  Let it ride!

 

– Phil