Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

 

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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

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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.

Tullamore Dew 12 Year Irish Whiskey Review

I do not know what the weather has been like this spring in your neck of the woods, but here in the mid-Atlantic, its been somewhat Irish.  Windy, rainy, cold, with just enough sun thrown in to keep the grass on the golf courses green.  So, today I am reviewing a lovely Irish whiskey – Tullamore DEW 12 year-old “Special Reserve.”

The Tullamore 12-year is a blended Irish whiskey aged in both bourbon casks and Oloroso Sherry casks, a classic double-matured style Irish dram.  It is distilled at Midleton, the famed Cork distillery.  This expression was originally a travel retail exclusive, but has now been released as part of the standard Tullamore Dew range.  It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The color has a orange-ish tint to it, a beautiful color in the glass.  The nose presents apples, white zinfandel, caramel, dried pineapple, and salted walnuts.  The palate is silky smooth, with dry sherry, green apples, milk chocolate, dried plums, and some bitter white chocolate.  The finish is medium and drying with pineapple, sawdust, and dry white port notes.

On the whole, this is exactly what one would expect from a blended Irish whiskey with a substantial amount of Oloroso influence.  It presents a simple, approachable mouthfeel with balanced sweet flavors alternating from both bourbon oak and sherry oak.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  If you like Irish whiskey, this will be a whiskey worth trying for you, especially if you are interested in trying Irish whiskey with some different aging techniques from standard Irish blends.

The Irishman Single Malt Irish Whiskey Review

Happy Masters week, everybody!  So many folks are talking about this as the year that Rory McIlroy breaks through at the Masters, so let’s reviews some Irish juice!

The Irishman Single Malt is a limited release whiskey that I believe is made at Cooley (but I could be wrong).  It is aged in both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, culminating in a rich golden color.  This particular review comes from Batch #1402/2014.  There is no age statement on this whiskey, and it is bottled at 80 proof.

The nose is rich and vibrant with fresh pears, toffee, white wine, and hazelnuts.  The palate is smooth and bodied, with toffee, vanilla, and green apples.  The finish is medium, dry, and sweet with orchard fruits and a whisper of oak.

Overall, this is a solid, well-built, tasty Irish whiskey.  It is exactly what I would expect from a single malt Irish whiskey, but it is hardly anything beyond that.  Only being bottled at 80 proof, it lacks some depth and punch, but it has a lot of pleasant flavors nonetheless.  My grade: B-.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  If you’ve got a friend that loves an Irish whiskey, drop them a bottle of this juice and make their day.  If you’ve got a friend that loves barrel strength bourbons, leave this one on the shelf.