Posts tagged ‘Barrel Strength’

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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Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof Tennessee Whiskey Review

Out here on the East Coast, we just got slammed with the first big snowstorm of the year, dropping about 30 inches or so on my residence.  Thanks a lot, Jonas.  So, a tipple or two, perhaps.  Today, I am revisiting a distillery that I often disrespected in my early days of whiskey-ing, but I have come to respect it more.  There is something to be said for a distillery that comes out with a consistent product time after time and that whiskey maintains its status as a worldwide best-seller year after year.  However, nothing swings a label over to my good side like some high proof juice, which is exactly what we’ve got here.Snow

Jack Daniel’s has always released the single barrel series, and some of them are good.  But, in 2015, Jack Daniel’s launched a nationwide release of a barrel strength single barrel product.  My beloved uncle and aunt bestowed a bottle for the Christmas holiday, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.  The bottle I am reviewing was bottled on November 5, 2015 from barrel 15-6410 from rickhouse L-25.  There is no age statement on the bottle.  It clocks in at a sexy 131 proof (65.5% abv).

The color is a rich, amber hue with some orange tints.  The nose is smells of off-piste bourbon, with vanilla, burnt caramel, brown sugar, mahogany, and oak.  At its full strength, it is a little bit of a boozy nose, too. The palate is rich and creamy, with oak, vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, and some alcohol heat.  The finish is warming, full, and medium in length, with a balance between brown sugar and vanilla, and some old leather notes.  Water brings out a little more Jack Daniel’s character, with some tannic woodiness present on the palate, rich caramel, bananas, maple syrup, but maintaining the warming oak throughout.  However, water also brings out some cinnamon and pipe tobacco notes that I was not getting before.

Some people had informed me that if I did not like Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, I would not like their barrel proof juice.  However, it was precisely the opposite.  I love what Jack is doing here.  I found this more complex and deeper than standard Jack Daniel’s.  I did not start to see true Daniel’s character until I added a little water, but the notes I usually find in Jack Daniel’s like bitter wood and bananas were tempered and rounded into the whole profile of the whiskey.  I have enjoyed this bottle immensely, almost as much as I enjoy the people who gifted me the bottle.  My grade:  B+.  Price:  $60-70/750ml.  This is right up there with barrel strength bourbons in its price range and gives Jack’s fans their favorite juice as God intended it.

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.

Why Bottle Whiskey at Barrel Strength?

Recently, I have had a few folks inquire as to what is better about a barrel strength whiskey and why a distillery would consider bottling a whiskey without cutting it with water.  So, I thought I would provide the basics as to why distilleries might bottle their whiskey at barrel strength.

First, it is important to remember that “barrel strength” does not necessarily that a whiskey is a monstrous proof point.  Not all whiskeys are George T. Stagg at 140 proof.  Some old Scotches are bottled at barrel strength and are only 85 or so proof.  It all depends on the temperature and the humidity of the site where the whiskey is aged combined with the proof that the whiskey entered the barrel.  In Kentucky’s heat and humidity, a whiskey tends to increase proof in the barrel, whereas in Scotland’s damp, cool environment, a whisky tends to decrease proof in the barrel.

Secondly, not all high proof whiskey burns (I only mention this caveat because it is what some folks immediately think when they see a barrel strength whiskey on the shelves).  When a whiskey is in the barrel, whiskey escapes (the angel’s share) and air enters to soften the whiskey.  That reaction is part of what helps a whiskey mellow over time.  As a result, a whiskey at 80 proof right off the still is likely to be harsher than a barrel strength whiskey that is 15 years old.  There are many barrel strength whiskeys that I enjoy best at their full strength.

From an economic standpoint, bottling at barrel strength does not always seem like the best option because a barrel can go much further with water added before bottling.  This is precisely the reason Maker’s Mark threatened to decrease the proof of their bourbon.  They were running low on their stocks, and they wanted to get more bottled product out of each barrel.  This is also the reason that barrel strength whiskeys are more expensive; there is just less of it to go around.

Even with the economic and stocking disadvantages, there are still important reasons that distilleries choose to sell their whiskey at barrel strength.  Chief among these reasons is taste.  In many cases, barrel strength whiskeys are deeper and more complex because all of the fats and flavors are still left in the spirit.  When a whiskey is at its full strength, there are no tasting notes left out.  Furthermore, whoever is drinking the whiskey has the freedom to add water to his or her liking.  As water is added and the proof is lowered, the whiskey will evolve, giving more and more layers as the drinkers sits and sips.

Essentially, bottling a whiskey at barrel strength allows the full whiskey experience to shine through, allowing the consumer to choose what proof they would most like to enjoy the whiskey.  As an illustration, compare my review of Laphroaig 10 Year with my review of Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength.  The latter packs a level of depth that the former cannot hope to measure up to at a mere 80 proof.  In the bourbon world, a great example is W.L. Weller 12 year compared with William Larue Weller.  The W.L. Weller is a very good wheated bourbon, with soft, sweet flavors of maple sugars, vanilla, and butterscotch.  However, in William Larue Weller (bottled at barrel strength), those sweet flavors are compounded with plums, dark berry fruits, and a rich mahogany woodiness.  Of course, the rub is that both Laphroaig 10 year and W.L. Weller 12 year are very good value, whereas their barrel strength siblings are significantly more expensive and hard to find.  But, if you have ever been curious, take a shot and snag a bottle of your favorite whiskey at barrel strength and let it ride!

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Review

Campari America

Campari America

Today, I am reviewing a barrel strength monster from Wild Turkey, the Rare Breed.  It is a small-batch bourbon, made from a combination of 6, 8, and 12-year old stocks.  It is then bottled at its barrel strength, which will vary slightly from batch to batch.  The bottle I am reviewing is from batch WT03RB (54.1% abv, 108.2 proof).  Unlike some of the giants from Buffalo Trace (George T. Stagg, E.H. Taylor), Wild Turkey Rare Breed’s strength out of the barrel is pretty mellow.  This is because Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell has always believed that the less water you add to whiskey, the better it tastes.  So, unlike many bourbons that enter the barrels close to the legal limit of 125 proof, Wild Turkey whiskey goes into the barrel around 95 or 100 proof.  So, when the whiskey comes out of the barrel, it doesn’t require much water to be added to get the whiskey to 101 or 81 proof (the two most common bottling proofs for Wild Turkey).  And, in the case of this batch of Rare Breed, the barrel strength is only 108.2 proof.

In the glass, Rare Breed is a rich, dark amber.  On the nose, it is dense and musty.  It smells like a much older bourbon than it actually is.  There are notes of fresh leather, tobacco, some rye, burnt pine needles, some cinnamon, and a bit of nutmeg.  The palate is where this bourbon shines best; it enters sweet with vanilla and maple syrup, moving to wet oak before it rumbles across the back of the tongue.  The finish is long and robust, moving from a menthol/tobacco note to a warming, sweet vanilla, back and forth.  Even at its full 108.2 proof, this whiskey is very drinkable.  Water does this one no good; it brings those leathery notes to the fore in full force.

Overall, this is a very good rye-forward bourbon.  I am a big fan of Wild Turkey’s lineup, especially because they are damn good whiskeys at damn good prices.  This one fits nicely into the lineup, and presents different notes than other whiskeys in Wild Turkey’s range.  Occasionally, I taste some tannin off flavors in this one, and it doesn’t quite have the waves of flavor of Russell’s Reserve 10 year or Wild Turkey 101, but it’s close.  My Grade: B-.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  This compares well to whiskeys at its price range as it is deep and complex, continuing the tradition of Wild Turkey value bourbons.