Posts tagged ‘Elijah Craig’

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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Staying Power: A Few Bourbon Staples

One of the unique aspects of whiskey brands is that they do change over time. When you combine that change with the change in our palates, you can get some pretty intense discrepancies regarding the quality of different bourbons, especially over time. Personally, there are several different bourbons that I have found to vary a lot from batch to batch, barrel to barrel (Booker’s, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms), but there are also some bourbons that I have found to stay rock solid over all my years drinking the blessed spirit. Recently, I picked up two bourbons I had not had in a while to see if I liked them as much as I used to…

Ever since Heaven Hill came out with their Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases, bourbon lovers have been clamoring to get their greasy paws on some of this juice. The first release got rave reviews, as did most of their successive releases. I recently finished a bottle of their fourth release (134.8 proof, 67.4% abv), and it was absolutely fantastic stuff. It was every bit as dark, ominous, and beautiful as its predecessors. This is a complex, sweet, woody, and intense bourbon. Judging from what I have tasted to this point, I see no reason that this bourbon is going to slow down. All three bottles of this stuff that I have grabbed have been fantastic. If you see a bottle of this stuff chilling on a shelf at your local liquor store, grab it and thank me later.

The second bottle I picked up was a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel (Barrel 87-4I), and it also did not disappoint. With some single barrel bourbons, there is definitely a lot of variance from barrel to barrel, with some barrels being great, and others being just average. Four Roses is not in that category. Every different barrel of their beloved OBSV juice is aged to damn near perfection. This particular barrel was a little bit spicier than some previous inculcations that I have had, but Four Roses’ bourbons always tend towards some spiciness anyway. Like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, when you see a bottle of this juice on the shelf, you are never missing the mark if you decide to walk out with a bottle or two.

Really, this is less of a bourbon review, but just a reiteration to all of my readers that there are still a lot of good bourbons out there. So many of the blogs are heralding the end of the great bourbon era with all the new craft distillers sourcing young bourbon, and the no age statement bourbons being released. To be sure, there is plenty of gimmicky bourbon out there, and even some of my old standards have let me down a bit recently (Booker’s, cough-cough), but that does not mean that all hope is lost friends. In a bourbon universe that occasionally looks bleak, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Four Roses Single Barrel are still standing tall as testaments to making really good bourbon with time-tested precision and patience.

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.

Whisky Live Boston 2013

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Whisky Live Boston, a massive alcoholic drinks exhibition in downtown Boston.  For nearly four hours, vendors, brand ambassadors, and sales representatives discuss their products, while hundreds of patrons sample the aforementioned products.  Most of the exhibits are whiskeys of some kind (bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Australian, etc.), but rum, tequila, vodka, gin, and cocktails of all kinds can also be found at Whisky Live.  It is a great event to try new spirits, socialize with other whiskey enthusiasts, and eat some very good food cooked with whiskey (Four Roses supplied the entrées this year).

If you ever get the chance to attend Whisky Live (or another similar event), I highly recommend it.  However, an evening at Whisky Live requires planning and pacing.  If you love whiskey as much as I do, it is too easy to become overwhelmed and go crazy.  This usually results in irresponsible drinking, a rough night, and an even worse morning.  But, if you pace yourself, drink plenty of water, and make your rounds well, you can have one of the best evenings of your calendar year!  Here are a few of my highlights of Whisky Live Boston 2013.

William Gemmell (of A Dram Good Time) and I at  Whisky Live Boston 2013

William Gemmell (of A Dram Good Time) and I at Whisky Live Boston 2013

I got to try two bourbons from Heaven Hill that I have wanted to try for some time – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope and Elijah Craig 12 yr. Barrel Strength.  Previous editions of Parker’s Heritage Collection have been some of the best bourbons released in the last decade, but I was disappointed in this particular edition.  That said, it is still a worthy investment, since 25% of the proceeds from every bottle goes to ALS research.  The Elijah Craig Barrel Strength is quite a bourbon.  It is nearly black in the bottle, but it takes water very well and equals a very good bourbon in the end.  I am definitely going to be looking for a bottle to review this fall/winter.

I also got to try two very good rye whiskeys that I will be reviewing in the next few weeks: Angel’s Envy Rye and George Dickel Rye.  Stay tuned to the blog for more information on these fine ryes.

Now, for my whiskeys of the evening…  The three whiskeys that really won the evening for me were Glenmorangie Signet, Redbreast 12 year Cask Strength, and Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Port Cask (if you are reading the blog and thinking about present ideas for me this holiday season, take a hint).

Glenmorangie Signet is a wonderful single malt Scotch that is made with 20% chocolate malt in the grain bill, and then batched together with older Glenmorangie barrels.  It truly is a wonderful sip, with a lot of dark mocha notes, as well as some Sherry influence, and a warming sensation that will warm you up even on the coldest nights.  It is not a cheap or easy to find whisky, but if you find it, it might be worth it to bite the proverbial bullet ($225 or so) and grab a bottle, because this is damn good juice.

Redbreast 12 year Cask Strength is simply a cask strength offering of the single pot still Redbreast 12 year.  At 119.8 proof, this sherry-aged Irish gem leaps out of the glass and across the taste buds with dark fruits, floral notes, sherry, and coffee.  This whiskey is the best Irish whiskey I’ve experienced to date  (although the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve at Whisky Live came close), and it is usually around $70 for a bottle, making it a great choice for the holidays.

Last, but certainly not least, Sullivans Cove French Oak Port Cask is a Single Cask Malt Whisky from Sullivans Cove Distillery in Tasmania.  This juice is very hard to find in the United States, and it usually sells for about $150 per bottle, but it is some phenomenal whisky.  It is a single malt, aged exclusively in a French Port pipe, which lends the spirit dark chocolate notes, plums, port sweetness, all with an upright malted backbone that comes through with some burnt toffee and vanilla pound cake.  This stuff is really good, and its limited availability means you should pick up a bottle if you ever find one.  (Much thanks to Terry from Drink Insider for recommending this one; otherwise, I probably would have never ventured over to the Sullivans Cove booth.)

Those are my thoughts on some whiskeys that impressed me at Whisky Live.  What whiskeys have impressed you lately?  What whiskeys are you looking forward to trying this fall (whiskey season)?

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon Review

Today, I am reviewing John E. Fitzgerald Larceny bourbon.  This is a relatively new product from Heaven Hill Distillery, makers of Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Rittenhouse Rye, all fine whiskeys at good prices.  As it is, Larceny has high standards set for it.  It has to live up to Heaven Hill’s tradition of great value, but it also has to live up to its namesake, John E. Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald was a bourbon maker in the late 19th century, who eventually sold his distillery to Julian Van Winkle to become a treasury agent.  After the sale, Fitzgerald became famous/infamous for sneaking into the Van Winkle distillery to obtain whiskey from his favorite barrels.  Over time, these became known as the “Old Fitzgerald” barrels.  In honor of Fitzgerald’s discerning tastes, Heaven Hill created the Old Fitzgerald line of wheated bourbons.  Larceny is the newest addition to this line, a six-year old bourbon bottled at 92 proof.

Before giving my review, I will openly admit that I am not a huge fan of wheated bourbons.  Maker’s Mark, Weller, and the Old Fitzgerald line tend not to suit my palate as nicely as other bourbons.  That is not to say that I hate all wheated bourbons.  William Larue Weller and W.L. Weller 12 yr. are both very enjoyable (especially the former).  I just want to acknowledge my bias coming into the review.

On the nose, Larceny is dense and rich.  There are notes of caramel, butterscotch, corn, vanilla, and brown sugar.  I think the palate brings the whiskey down, though.  There is a dense caramel sweetness, balanced by hearty cereal grain flavors.  The back of the palate picks up cinnamon and drying oak spices.  The finish is medium to short, with the oak remaining along with some dense caramel.

Overall, this is a solid wheated bourbon.  It is not especially expensive (usually around $25/750 ml), which makes it a very good value if you enjoy wheated bourbon.  In most stores, this is cheaper than Maker’s Mark, which makes Larceny the better buy.  However, I don’t see too much between them in flavor profiles.  Larceny is not the bourbon for me, but that does not mean it isn’t the bourbon for you.  My Grade: C-.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  For me, I leave this one on the shelf.  There are better whiskeys at the price point, and I don’t think this would make a great mixer.

Bourbon Rankings (Taste)

I have had several people ask me to provide a ranking of the bourbons I have reviewed based solely on the bourbon.  Well, here are my bourbon grades.  Check out my grading scale here.

1.  Booker’s (A)

2. Four Roses Single Barrel (A-)

3. Russell’s Reserve 10 Year (B+)

4. Jefferson’s 18 yr. Presidential Select (B+)

5. Noah’s Mill (B+)

6. Rowan’s Creek (B+)

7. Maker’s 46 (B+)

8. Rock Hill Farms (B+/B)

9. Wild Turkey 101 (B+/B)

10. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2002 (B)

11. Woodford Reserve (B)

12. Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel (B)

13. Blanton’s Original (B)

14. Wild Turkey Rare Breed (B)

15. Four Roses Small Batch (B)

16. Knob Creek 9 Year Single Barrel Reserve (B/B-)

17. Elmer T. Lee (B/B-)

18. Basil Hayden’s (B-)

19. Buffalo Trace (B-)

20. Jim Beam Devil’s Cut (B-)

21. Elijah Craig 12 Year (B-)

22. W.L. Weller 12 Year (B-)

23. Willett Pot Still Single Barrel Family Reserve (B-)

24. Jefferson’s (B-)

25. Four Roses Yellow Label (C+)

26. Wild Turkey 81 (C+)

27. Old Forester (C/C+)

28. Knob Creek 9 Year Small Batch (C)

29. Old Grand-Dad Bonded (C)

30. Old Weller Antique (C)

31. Jim Beam Black Label (C)

32. Evan Williams Black Label (C)

33. Bulliet Frontier (C)

34. Berkshire Bourbon (C)

35.  Fighting Cock 6 Year (C-)

36. Kentucky Vintage (C-)

37. John E. Fitzgerald Larceny (C-)

38. Maker’s Mark (C-)

39. Wild Turkey 80 (C-)

40. Jim Beam White Label (C-)

41. Jesse James (D+)

Those are my bourbon rankings ranked solely on my tastes.  That’s the fun of bourbon, you might rank these completely different.  Which ones would you change?

Bourbons for Beginners

Since I’ve been blogging about bourbon, several people have asked a very good question, “What bourbons should I try if I have never had bourbon before?”  Obviously, part of the answer to this question depends on what you normally drink; I would not recommend certain bourbons to folks who usually drink wine, whereas other bourbons definitely cater to wine drinkers.  Of course, like any beverage, the bottom line is whether or not your senses enjoy the whiskey.  With that caveat in mind, here are my suggestions for entry-level bourbons.

Bourbons to start with under $20:  Four Roses Yellow Label, Old Forester, Evan Williams Black Label, Jim Beam White Label.  Chief among this list is Four Roses, because of its great combination of drinkability, flavor profile, and value.

Bourbons to start with between $20-$30:  Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig 12 year, Wild Turkey 81.  Out of this group, Buffalo Trace is probably the best demonstration of a medium-bodied, well-balanced craft bourbon.  Elijah Craig is a solid bourbon to start with if you are looking for an older, more oaky bourbon.  Wild Turkey is a good start to bourbon if you want to try a bold and spicy flavor profile.

Bourbons to start with over $30:  Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, Four Roses Small Batch, Blanton’s Original Single Barrel.  All four of these bourbons are very good and very drinkable.  Basil Hayden’s is very light-bodied for a craft bourbon, which makes it a great craft bourbon to start with.  If you are seeking a bourbon with a little more body, look no further than Woodford Reserve.  Be careful, though; a bottle of Woodford Reserve could very well make a bourbon enthusiast out of you.

Overall, I usually recommend that people try lower proof bourbons to begin their bourbon journey, because lower proof bourbons tend to be more drinkable.  As you drink a few bourbons and learn to appreciate the whiskey a little more, then you can start to branch out and try all sorts of great bourbon whiskeys.