Posts tagged ‘Heaven Hill’

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Well, let’s throw down the first bourbon review of 2015.  Henry McKenna is a single barrel bourbon out of Heaven Hill in Bardstown, KY.  This is not one of Heaven Hill’s biggest name brands, but the general quality of Heaven Hill certainly made me think this was going to be a good bourbon.  If the other bourbons I have had in this same age range (Evan Williams Single Barrel series) had any bearing, this was going to be a good bourbon.  The bottle I am reviewing here is from Barrel 1488, and it is bottled-in-bond at 100 proof (50% abv).

The color is a rich, dark russet, just beautiful in the glass.  The color is almost indescribable in its striking beauty, like the rich hues of a summer sunset (pictured).   The nose is dry and woody, like tree bark that has been dipped in a bit of vanilla extract.  The palate is also a very dry presentation, with dry tree bark, caramel, cinnamon, and some nutmeg.  The finish leaves the palate very dry, with a lot of wood and some cinnamon spice. DSCN0470

Overall, this is a much different profile from what I was expecting, given my prior exposure to the Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbons.  This is one of the woodiest bourbons that I have encountered, and most certainly one of the driest in a good way, like that weird uncle everybody has.  This is a rich bourbon that is especially good for this time of year, with its viscous wood notes.  Like many single barrel bourbons, I suspect that this label varies a bit, but if this barrel is anything to go on, its worth giving it a shot.  My grade:  B.  Price:  $30-35/750ml.  For the price point and the age, this is a very solid bourbon.

Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey Review

BernheimToday, I am reviewing a whiskey I have wanted to review for a while now – Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey.  I have always been curious about this whiskey, but I always suspected that I would not like it since I have never been a big fan of wheated bourbons.  However, my experience with Bernheim just goes to show that whiskeys (just like people) can surprise you.  This is a unique whiskey from Heaven Hill, a distillery that prides themselves on making many different types of American whiskey well, and selling them to folks at reasonable prices.  Just like a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bernheim is aged for at least three years in charred American White Oak barrels.  The difference with Bernheim is that the mash-bill is 51% wheat, with the remainder filled in with corn and barley, whereas bourbon must be at least 51% corn.  There is no age statement on the bottle, but my guess is that Bernheim is comprised of whiskey between five and nine years old, averaging about seven years old.  The truth is, though, I have no idea how old this whiskey is, and I would love some insight if anybody knows.  Bernheim Original is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).

On the nose, Bernheim reminds me of a George Dickel whisky more than a bourbon.  There are notes of oats, honey, granola, sweet corn, agave nectar, and fresh bread.  The nose is very pleasant and airy.  The palate continues many of the same notes with a medium-bodied entry.  The sweet, bready notes on the palate remind me of the sweet flavors that come from an all-Pilsner malt beer.  There is also some corn sweetness, some honey, and some clove notes.  The finish is medium in length, definitely longer than I expected it to be.  It is a drying finish, with toasted oak, French bread, malt, and caramel all coming into play.

Overall, this is a pretty good whiskey that really surprised me.  I was expecting to hate it, but there is really a lot more complexity than I thought there would be, especially considering how soft this whiskey is.  Bernheim Original is certainly not for everybody, but if you enjoy the flavor profile and mouthfeel of George Dickel, then I highly recommend giving Bernheim Wheat a try.  It drinks softer than bourbon, but manages complex and sweet flavors throughout the sip.  Heaven Hill continues to impress me with their line of very good whiskeys at great values (see Rittenhouse and Evan Williams).  My grade: B.  My Price: $30-35/750ml.  At the price point, this is a great change of pace from bourbon or rye, and it is always a crowd pleaser.

Rebel Reserve Bourbon Review

Rebel ReserveToday, I am doing a bourbon review that I have wanted to do for a long time.  I remembered it with mixed feelings from my college years, and I finally got around to giving it a whirl again and organizing my thoughts on Rebel Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Rebel Reserve is the big sibling to Rebel Yell, and it is (like Rebel Yell) distilled at Heaven Hill for the Luxco brand.  Also like Rebel Yell, Rebel Reserve is a true wheated mash bill, filling in wheat instead of rye in the grain recipe.  There is no age statement on Rebel Reserve, but I suspect it is about 6 years old, about 2 years older than Rebel Yell.  Rebel Reserve is also bottled at 90.6 proof (45.3% abv), compared to Rebel Yell’s 80 proof.

On the nose, Rebel Reserve is very reminiscent of a younger wheated bourbon.  There are notes of dense caramel, black cherries, and brown sugar.  However, the nose also has that off-putting cherry aroma that can be a part of Evan Williams’ products from time to time.  The palate is very one-tricked with a lot of caramel and sweet corn syrup coming through, with very little complexity.  As the whiskey goes into the medium-long, very sweet finish, those weird cherry notes come up again for me, but more sour this time, as if those cherries have gone rotten.

On the whole, I am not a big fan of Rebel Reserve.  If you read the blog a lot, you probably know that wheated bourbons tend not to be favorite bourbons unless they have a lot of age under their belt.  Rebel Reserve reminds me a lot of Larceny and Maker’s Mark, two other wheated bourbons that I have reviewed and found lacking as well.  That said, if Larceny and Maker’s Mark are bourbons that you enjoy, I think you will really enjoy Rebel Reserve, and it definitely sits at a price point that makes the buy a worthwhile experimental purchase.  Were it my money, I would go for Old Weller Antique for a wheated bourbon under $25.  Since it’s your money, don’t be afraid to give Rebel Reserve a try, especially if you enjoy other young wheated bourbons.  My grade: C-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  At the price point, Rebel Reserve is a fine deal, and it won’t break the bank if you decide that you don’t care for it.

Most importantly, drink your bourbon responsibly, and let it ride!

Rebel Yell Bourbon Review

Today I am reviewing Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, one of the original wheated bourbons.  When most people think of an easy-drinking (smooth) bourbon, Rebel Yell comes to mind.  Like many wheated bourbons, Rebel Yell can trace its roots to the old Stitzel-Weller distillery.  Nowadays, Rebel Yell is distilled and aged at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky (even though the bottle claims it is distilled and aged by the fictitious “Rebel Yell Distillery”).  The whiskey is then bottled by Luxco, a beverage supplier that provides Ezra Brooks and Rebel Reserve.  Rebel Yell is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) with no age statement.

In the glass, Rebel Yell is a beautiful pale gold color.  The nose is very light and sweet, offering baked apples, honey, and vanilla.  The palate is light, with ripe gala apples, honey, some caramel, and vanilla.  The sweetness is delicious.  The finish is rather short, with only some apples and honey hanging on.

Overall, Rebel Yell is a peculiar whiskey for me.  It is not complex at all, but it is downright delicious.  I love the way it tastes and smells, but it does not last for that long, and there is not much complexity to it.  It is sweet all the way through, so if you like that flavor profile, you might enjoy Rebel Yell.  Honestly, there are times when I am drinking Rebel Yell that I think I am drinking an Irish whiskey; it borders on that type of light, ripe fruitiness.  As such, this might be an easy bourbon to get a non-whiskey drinker interested in whiskey.  My grade: C.  Price: $15-20/750ml.  At the price point, I think Rebel Yell is hard to beat for an everyday pour, but it is far from the best that the world of wheated bourbons has to offer.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2002 Review

Today, I am reviewing a product that I have been looking forward to reviewing for some time.  This is definitely a popular bourbon, both among amateurs and connoisseurs – Evan Williams Single Barrel.  I am reviewing this year’s release, the 2002 Vintage.  For anybody curious, I currently have a bottle from barrel 758 in my cabinet right now.  HH- 055

Evan Williams Single Barrel is just what you might think; it is a vintaged version of Evan Williams Black Label, one of the better value bourbons that is readily available nowadays.  The Single Barrel Vintage series continues in that tradition.  I’m gonna take a moment to continue a plug for Heaven Hill’s ability to create very good whiskeys at very good prices.  With the exception of Larceny, which I was disappointed with, Heaven Hill makes some great value whiskeys (Elijah Craig 12 yr., Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond, Evan Williams Black Label).

The Single Barrel vintage series does not put age statements on their bottles; rather, they date their whiskey by indicating when the bourbon was “put in oak.”  It is also always bottled out of a single barrel, so results will vary on the final product, especially from vintage to vintage.  However, every vintage I have tried has been very good.  Evan Williams Single Barrel is bottled at 86.6 proof, and it is usually bottled around 9-10 years old.

On the nose, this bourbon balances nicely between herbal and sweet.  I definitely get notes of orange peel, basil, and cloves.  There is also a healthy sweetness to the nose, with good notes of maple, big black cherry, vanilla, and walnuts.  The palate brings a good amount of substance for only being 86.6 proof.  There are citrus, sweet fruit, and vanilla notes on the entry, and it moves to a warming combination of corn, caramel, and oak.   The finish is medium-length, but very tasty.  Flavors of oak, vanilla, and candied walnuts hang around for a nice while.

Overall, this is very good bourbon.  It is a nice blend of elegance and rugged bourbon quality.  The only note I wasn’t a big fan of was the black cherry that came up now and again on the palate.  However, it is a great bourbon to have around for a daily pour, especially because it won’t blow your doors off.  In some states, it is available for as little as $25/750ml.  That is a great deal for a bourbon of this quality.  The 2003 vintage should be coming out soon, and I have every reason to expect that will be just as solid a bourbon as the 2002 vintage.  My grade: B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  This is very good stuff, and it won’t break the bank.  This is an ideal bourbon for sipping everyday.

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.

Rittenhouse Rye Review

It is widely known that I love bourbon.  However, my enjoyment of whiskey is not limited strictly to bourbon.  My goal for this blog is to expose good whiskeys at good prices.  The other day I had the opportunity to drink a whiskey that certainly fit that bill – Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond.

Rittenhouse is a rye whiskey made at the Brown Forman Distillery and distributed by Heaven Hill.  Rye whiskey is like other whiskeys in that it has to be made from cereal grains and at least 80 proof.  Like bourbon with corn, rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye grain.  Rye whiskeys can be made anywhere, but they are most commonly made in either Canada or the United States.  Rye is a very flavorful grain, which tends to make rye whiskeys a big, bold flavor profile.  If you enjoy rye-forward bourbons like Wild Turkey and Four Roses, then it is definitely worth taking a look into some rye whiskeys.  Rittenhouse is a great place to start.

Rittenhouse Rye is also “Bottled-in-Bond,” which means that it is bottled at 100 proof and made under specific government regulations.  In 1896, when the U.S. government first passed the act clarifying what whiskey should be, being bottled-in-bond was a measure of the quality of the whiskey.  Mostly, the term means that the whiskey was distilled all in one season (not batched between different whiskeys from different years) and aged at least four years in a federally observed warehouse.  Nowadays, the craft whiskey market is a serious business such that being bottled-in-bond does not mean as much in 2012 as it did in 1896.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Rittenhouse Rye is Bottled-in-Bond.

On the nose, Rittenhouse is purely delicious.  The two most prominent notes are the sweet aromas of honey and vanilla.  However, there is a fantastic underbelly to the nose containing floral notes (lavender, lilac) and spiced notes (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger).  The most noticeable flavor once you take a sip is the earthy, spicy rye character to the whiskey.  However, it is balanced very well by sweet cinnamon and ginger and a healthy helping of vanilla.  The finish is long and very good, filled with sweet spice and earthy flavors.  The finish hits at first with cinnamon and rye notes, and moves into the more hearty notes reminiscent of herbal tea.  The spiciness and sweetness often resurge as the whiskey goes on.

Overall, this is a fantastic whiskey.  There is a ton going on here, but it is all in good balance and at a great price.  This is a rare find where I’m at, but I usually see it for around $25 if it’s in stock.  Hopefully this review will kick start a journey outside the comforting confines of bourbon whiskey.  I will try to do some more non-bourbon value reviews in the coming weeks.  My grade: B+.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a great pour at a great price.  This is a pour that you can have often, and your friends will be very impressed.

Evan Williams Black Label Review

This is one of the cheapest bourbon whiskeys on the American market today, so it certainly deserves a review on a value bourbon blog.  Evan Williams is a line of products from the Heaven Hill Distillery, which also includes the oft-acclaimed Evan Williams Vintage Single Barrel collection.  The base line “black label” Evan Williams is a bourbon that tends to get people animated wherever their opinion falls concerning Evan Williams.  It seems that people either love or hate this particular bourbon.  Hopefully, I fall somewhere in between…

On the nose, the aroma most prevalent in Evan Williams is rich oak, but there is also raw corny sweetness.  The palate has good body to it, but it isn’t especially complex.  There is a lot of oak on the palate, only to be mutated by prickly spices in the finish.  There are a few whispers of vanilla throughout the Evan Williams experience, but they can be hard to find.

Overall, I am not a huge fan of Evan Williams Black Label.  That being said, for $11 a bottle, Evan Williams is a pretty good buy.  It is a very drinkable bourbon that I would not be offended if a friend of mine wanted to mix.  It is a solid addition to any liquor cabinet.  My grade: C-.  Price: $10-15/750ml.  This is a cabinet staple if you like making bourbon-based mixed drinks for parties.  It is also a fine pour, too.

Comparison Review: Wild Turkey 101 vs. Fighting Cock 6 Year

I decided on these two bourbons for my first comparison review because they are very similar.  They are both under $30, over 100 proof, have a high percentage of rye in the mash bill, and they are both named after crazy poultry.  The biggest difference between the two is that almost everybody has heard of Wild Turkey, and almost nobody has heard of Fighting Cock.  However, both of them are very good value bourbons.

Wild Turkey 101 comes from the famous Austin Nichols Distillery, producers of the famous Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve bourbons.  There is no age statement on the bourbon, but my guess is that most of the bourbons that make it into the bottle are between 3 and 6 years old.  It has fancy advertising campaigns, and most college students have taken a shot of Turkey 101 at some point in their career.  However, what few college students realize is that they are drinking a damn good bourbon.

On the nose, Wild Turkey 101 is rich and complex.  There are strong notes of brown sugar and rye spices that balance each other well.  Some more fragile notes of dried summer fruits (peaches?), caramel, and pine sap come through as well.  Jason Pyle at Sour Mash Manifesto ( describes Wild Turkey’s mouth feel as “a porcupine running at 60 MPH,” but I think the palate is a bit softer than that.  There are certainly a lot of sharp spices from the rye, which give the bourbon a lot of peppery notes, but there is also good balance to the palate.  The brown sugars and caramels from the nose stick around through the whole experience, calming down the big rye kick on the palate and the finish.  Wild Turkey finishes with a sharp, spicy finish, with just enough caramel and barrel sugar to keep it smooth.  I only wish the finish would stay longer, it always seems too quick to me.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $25-30.  This is a damn good sipper for a damn good price.

Fighting Cock 6 year is a 103 proof bourbon from Heaven Hill Distillery (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, etc.).  It is not easy to find, especially in places that aren’t big bourbon hotspots, but it is worth a try if you find it.  At only about $20 for 750ml, it is a pretty good deal.  It is also available in a limited edition 15 year, which is very difficult to find.  If anyone finds that one, let me know (or just send me a bottle).

On the nose, the rye spices are very clear, with only some soft caramel and oak to balance out the bourbon.  On the palate, Fighting Cock is very full-bodied, with a distinct rye profile.  The bourbon is spicy and peppery on the palate, with some corny sweetness, nutmeg, and light caramel lingering around the front of the tongue.  The finish is monstrous.  Fighting Cock rumbles over the back of your tongue, kicking and screaming all the way.  The finish is dominated by the peppery flavors of the rye spices and drying oak, but there are slight sweet flavors (corn, caramel) that come back after a minute or two.  The finish is definitely longer than Wild Turkey, but Fighting Cock’s finish isn’t as complex, which can make it feel pretty harsh if you aren’t used to drinking high proof bourbons.  My grade: C-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a fine pour, but it is not complex enough to be the daily sipper.

Overall, Wild Turkey is the winner, hands down.  It is the more complex bourbon; it is rich, balanced, and very drinkable.  Fighting Cock is still very good value, but it isn’t as balanced as Wild Turkey 101, which can make it feel like a rough, one-tracked ride.  If Wild Turkey were at the same price point as Fighting Cock, then Wild Turkey might be my favorite value whiskey on the market, but its fame has made it a bit pricy.  In some places, you can still snag a bottle of 101 for $22.  If that is the case in your area, there is no reason not to have a bottle of Turkey 101 in the liquor cabinet when I come visit.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Review

Elijah Craig is a bourbon line from the famous Heaven Hill distillery.  It comes in two editions, a 12 year small batch edition and an 18 year single barrel edition.  As the 18 year is a little out of my price range, today I am reviewing Elijah Craig 12 year small batch bourbon.  It is named after Elijah Craig, the often alleged inventor of the bourbon, a fact which is disputed about as much as it is brought up.  The bourbon itself has two important distinctions in that it is the oldest (aged 12 years) whiskey that I have reviewed on this site so far, and it has the highest proof (94) of any whiskey I have reviewed so far.  Like several of the mid-range craft bourbons I have reviewed on this site, Elijah Craig draws some mixed reviews.  Some love it and some hate it.  I am probably somewhere in the middle.

I love the way Elijah Craig smells.  The nose is rich with oak, but is balanced by burnt sugar, some char from the barrel, vanilla, and roasted caramel.  The palate is also richly oaky, but there is also some burnt sugar, dried fruit, rye spice, vanilla, and caramel.  The finish is long and warming, but it is a little narrow.  The oak rumbles across the back of the tongue, leaving only a little room for some dried fruit and rye spice to come through.

Overall, I really like Elijah Craig.  I wish it had just a little more balance to it, but it still sits quite high among my favorite value bourbons.  The oak is a bit too dominant and single-minded for my tastes (I think Rowan’s Creek achieves it a bit better).  As always, try it for yourself and let it ride.

For other varied opinions on Elijah Craig 12 year, see these bourbon blogs.

Jason Pyle at Sour Mash Manifesto rates Elijah Craig several points higher than Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare, both bourbons that I have already reviewed on the site.

At Blue Kitchen, Elijah Craig is graded lower than Bulliet, another bourbon I have already reviewed.

My grade for Elijah Craig: B-.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is a dense bourbon, but it is still a nice pour to keep around in the winter.  It is not my go-to bourbon, though.