Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

 

Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Review

While I’m on the subject of peat, I’m going to give my thoughts on one of my new favorite winter drams – Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Cask Matured.  I haven’t written much on the blog about Bowmore, the oldest distillery on Islay, and that is mostly because I have never been a Bowmore lover.  That is not to say there aren’t Bowmore whiskies I like, but it’s hardly my favorite Islay distillery.  I enjoy Bowmore 18 year, I have tried some very good independently bottled Bowmore juice, and The Devil’s Casks releases have been some home run hitters.  However, all of the aforementioned whiskies are expensive and not always easy to come by.  Thus, I have not discussed Bowmore a lot.  Hopefully today’s review makes moves in an upward trend.

Bowmore’s new small batch bourbon cask release replaced their Legend bottling here in the United States.  Like the Legend, this is readily available and moderately priced.  However, although neither has an age statement, I suspect the new Small Batch release has a higher percentage of some older whisky in it, as well as a higher percentage of whisky from first-fill bourbon casks.  I have no facts on that, just a hunch.  Bowmore Small Batch is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The color is darker than I would expect from exclusively bourbon cask maturation leading me to believe that there is some caramel coloring in this bottle.  The nose here is not what I was expecting, it lacks the burning plastic note I get out of some young Bowmores.  Here, there is lime, honeysuckle, brine, sea spray, and damp earth.  It is really a delightful nose, although a bit thin.  The palate is light to medium in its body.  It enters with a big citrus note, salted oranges and lime zest.  It rolls into vanilla, lightly smoked earth, and salted caramel.  The finish is medium in length, with some barbeque, lime zest, and soft peat smoke.

Overall, this is a light whisky, but the flavors are in good balance, although they are not all that intense.  I probably would not pick this out as Bowmore juice were I to have tasted it blind; it lacked some typical Bowmore markers for me, which is a good thing for me because I have not always enjoyed Bowmore juice when I have tried it in the past.  This is a fine whisky, and I highly recommend it if you are someone looking for a lighter introduction into the magical island of Islay.  My grade: B-/B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Definitely a step-up for Bowmore’s base malt range, and a great value buy.

Compass Box Peat Monster Scotch Review

monsters-inc

Not all monsters are scary, especially not peat monsters.

Before winter is up here in the Mid-Atlantic, I’m going to talk about a little whisky from my favorite style to sip on in the wintertime – Peated Scotch.  Thus my review today of one of my favorite blended malts, Compass Box Peat Monster.  Peat Monster is a blended malt Scotch, meaning that it is comprised of only single malt whiskies, as opposed to most blended Scotch whiskies which are comprised of both malt whisky and grain whisky.  Despite its name, Peat Monster is hardly a peat-bomb.  It is comprised of peated whiskies, some heavily peated and some lightly peated, from all over Scotland, not just Islay.  It is non-chill filtered, naturally colored, and bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).

The nose is absolutely brilliant on this whisky, with a good ashy, Caol Ila peat coming together with full, fresh oak, salty sea spray, and big vanilla.  There is a nutty, earthy peat going through the nose, too.  It just leaps out of the glass and has great balance between the peat and sweet.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the palate holds up to the nose.  The palate is medium-bodied with medicinal, rubbery peat, a bit of smoke, and some spicy sandalwood. Those sweet notes from the nose don’t quite follow all the way through to the palate in the full force they possessed at the outset.  The finish is medium-long, elegantly peaty with twinges of vanilla.

If you are looking for a warming whisky to sip by the fire, but one with great balance between smoky and sweet, then look no further.  It is all too often that single malt drinkers are afraid to spend money on a blend thinking they will be sacrificing quality because of the input of multiple distilleries.  Compass Box makes a host of whiskies that prove this is not the case, and Peat Monster is very much in that realm.  My grade: B+.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  At its price point, Peat Monster competes very well with other smoky base malts, like Laphroaig and Ardbeg, and the juice in the bottle stands right there as well.

Getting Weird with Homemade Blends: Some Thoughts

If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to spend some time with me, you are probably aware that one of my favorite sayings is, “If you ain’t gettin’ weird, weird is gettin’ you.”  And, it is upon that basis that a few years ago, I began to take to experimentation with blending my own whiskeys at home.  If you are one of those folks who believes that each whiskey you buy should be drank neat, then you’ve got to expand your horizons, my friend.  And, as opposed to leaping straight into making Laphroaig cocktails, why not do some dabbling with homemade blends (especially around the holidays when you’ve got all sorts of in-laws blowing up your spot)?

The biggest reason I started working with homemade blends is because of whiskeys that I was not the biggest fan of on their own merits, but saw potential in their flavors.  The first ever blend I created at home (and I always recommend starting with a glass and then working up to a full batch) originated from my having a bottle of Willett rye that was a little hot for my tastes, with some heavy herbal notes that were not my favorite.  To be sure, this Willett was not bad whiskey, merely not my favorite.  So, to bring in some sweetness, but not too much, I created a glass of whisky with 1.5 ounces each of Willett rye and Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  The result was a fantastic dram, but big vanilla and spice, backed by a whispering herb garden.  I was hooked on blending.

My favorite blend that I have ever made came out of the search for good uses for Balcones Brimstone, a Texas Scrub Oak whisky that resembled a mix of gasoline and barbecue sauce.  The flavors were intense and powerful, but hot and unpleasant (it turned out to be a great cooking whiskey, too, but more on that in another post).  At around this same time, somebody gifted me a bottle of Old Crow Reserve bourbon, hardly my favorite bourbon, but decent bourbon at $15/bottle.  I started teaspooning full measures of Old Crow Reserve with Balcones Brimstone, and magic happened.  The result was a bold, brash, and balanced whiskey wafting back and forth between spicy, earthy notes, and sweet cereal flavors.  If you’ve ever thought sweet corn would taste good smothered in caramel and a Cajun dry rub, this was the blend for you.

Not every blend I have ever tried has worked out, but not every person you date ends up being your spouse, but that’s why you date them.  The reason I blend whiskeys at home is because whiskeys are like people – sometimes that friend of yours growing up that always gets the group into trouble just needs to find the right person to be with to smooth out those rough edges and create a masterpiece.  Happy blending, y’all!  Let it ride!

Crown Royal 75th Anniversary Blend Review

Well, with everybody threatening to move to Canada, I thought it was high time I review a great Canadian whisky.  Crown Royal’s 75th Anniversary blend has been produced to honor the origins of the brand, first blended for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Canada some 75 years ago.  It is a rye-forward blend bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose is dry and oaked, with some vanilla extract, caramel, and dried mangoes.  The palate is dry and woody as well, with caramel and a light rye spice.  The finish is long and very dry with oak, dry cocoa, dark chocolate, and cinnamon sticks.  There is a unique combination of fresh oak/sawdust notes and old, mature oak in the finish.

Overall, this is a smooth as silk blend with a lot of wood influence, but it lacks complexity to be a truly epic whisky.  Even still, this is a top of the shelf Canadian dram, and a worthy pour for the purpose of such a milestone anniversary.  My grade: B+.  Price: $70-80/750ml.