Posts tagged ‘Whiskey’

Phil’s Favorite Whiskeys

Without question, the most common question I get asked is, “what’s your favorite whiskey?”  Of course, this is a nearly impossible question to answer.  It would be like choosing your favorite child or favorite Star Wars character.  I’ve avoided doing something like this for a long time so as not to give into all the questions, but what better time to ruin that streak than the 5 year anniversary of Bargain Bourbon?  Yes, March 2017 marks the 5 year run for the blog, so it’s time to satiate my readers with such questions about favorites.

So, over the course of March, I’ll be unveiling my favorite whiskeys in eleven different categories: Bourbon, Rye, American Craft, Irish, Blended Scotch, Speyside Single Malt, Islay Single Malt, Highland Single Malt, Island/Lowland/Campbeltown Single Malt, Canadian, and Value (Under $50).  I have chosen the categories based on the similarities of whiskeys and the breadth of whiskeys I have tried for each category (i.e. I have not tried enough Indian, Australian, or Japanese whiskeys to warrant categories here).  It is important to note that there are countless whiskeys in the world that I have not yet tried, and a great deal more that I will never try.  As Judge Holden has said, more things in this world exist without our knowledge than with it.  Thus, my favorite whiskeys should not be taken as some sort of universal truth about whiskey, just my personal favorites among drams that I have tried.  For each category, I will present five nominees, and I will conclude the month of March by posting the winners in each category.  Each whiskey will only be nominated for one category, whichever category suits it best.

I am making no claims that the whiskeys that will follow are the best of all-time in each of these categories; they are just my favorites.  Everybody has their different opinions on whiskeys, and that is precisely what makes whiskey such a fun exploration.  So, over the coming weeks, enjoy reading about my favorite whiskeys and as always, leave your comments and let me know what you think!

Thanks for hanging out for the last five years!  Let it ride!


– Phil

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Review

Dad's Hat RyeMy father is not a big whiskey drinker, but his birthday is this week and I love him dearly, so there’s no time like the present to give my thoughts on Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye.  Dad’s Hat is distilled for Mountain Laurel Spirits at the Grundy Mill Distillery in Bristol, Pennsylvania, a commonwealth with a rich history in rye whiskey.  Dad’s Hat is a true craft whiskey, distilled and bottled at a small distillery with time and attention given to the craft of making whiskey.  The shelves at liquor stores have become inundated with new products of sourced whiskey from one of about ten different distilleries in the United States.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with sourced whiskey, but there are bottlers that do it right and well, and bottlers that hide their sources and overcharge for inferior whiskey.  Dad’s Hat has come along as a sign of vibrant quality in the craft whiskey world.

According to the bottle, Dad’s Hat is at least 6 months old, aged in new oak quarter casks.  I have to admit that I was skeptical when I read this statement, given the price I paid for the bottle.  Along my whiskey journey, I have tried way too many American craft whiskeys that are just too young to be let out of the barrel yet, much less sold at $40/bottle.  However, a few sips into my first glass of Dad’s Hat, my skepticism turned to the pleasure one gets from enjoying a fine, authentic Pennsylvania rye whiskey.  Dad’s Hat is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).

The nose is a good one, different from what I was expecting.  There is a lot of cocoa, berry sweetness, sawdust, white chocolate, and juniper all wrapped up in a lively rye scent.  The palate is softer and smoother than I was expecting.  There are notes of cola, rye, wood, and cherry sweetness.  The finish is short and sweeter than I was expecting, with a little rye, cherry, and cereal sweetness.

Overall, this whiskey was not at all what I thought it would be.  I was expecting a young, fiery rye in desperate need of a good sleep in a barrel.  I had tried it some time ago at a sampling, and I was not impressed.  This is not that same, brash whiskey.  On the contrary, this is a soft, elegant, dry, spicy, immensely enjoyable rye.  It will be very exciting to see what happens in time when Mountain Laurel comes out with an older Dad’s Hat.  One of the common complaints about this whiskey is that it is not a good cocktail companion, and this is a soft, subtle whiskey that is best on its own, for sure.  The flavors of a traditional rye whiskey are present throughout the whiskey, but the whiskey is not harsh and aggressive like the 95% or 100% rye whiskeys coming out of MGP or Canada.  So, who would want to ruin a well-done whiskey such as this in a cocktail?  If you want a better-integrated cocktail, give it a whirl.  My grade: B/B+.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Despite its age, this whiskey easily competes in its price range, and its worth a buy next time you’re looking for a rye to sip on.

Happy Birthday, Dad!


Wild Turkey 101 Rye Review


Well, needless to say, I was pretty excited when Wild Turkey 101 Rye hit the shelves again after a few years gone from the wide world of rye, almost as excited as I was to see the U.S. soccer team pick up a 2-1 victory over Ghana.  This has long been regarded as one of the finest value ryes that you could no longer find in liquor stores.  Now, Wild Turkey has rereleased this whiskey, and I am pretty excited to get to review this new release.  There is no age statement on this, but I suspect that we are dealing with about a 6 year-old rye here; we do know that this is 101 proof (50.5% abv).


The nose on Wild Turkey 101 rye is quite vegetal, but full of spicy rye characteristics.  Nutmeg, cinnamon, thyme, licorice, and wood shavings all present themselves.  The palate is earthy and a bit vegetal, with some wood, soil, rye bread, and licorice.  The finish is long and sweeter than the palate, with honey and vanilla wrapping themselves nicely behind herbal, earthy spices.


Overall, this is a fine rye whiskey.  It presents a lot of classic rye characteristics with a lot of value.  I would also imagine that this would do wonderfully in a rye-based cocktail if that is your cup of tea/whiskey.  Either way, this one is definitely worth a try, although I cannot say how it stacks up to what this whiskey was five years ago.  My grade: B-.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is most certainly a fine value for a rye whiskey, evident of a great trend for Wild Turkey.

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Jefferson’s 10 Year Straight Rye Review



Today’s review is of Jefferson’s 10 year-old rye whiskey, sourced from Alberta Distillers in Canada.  Alberta Distillers has become famous for their rye, with Whistle Pig and Masterson’s garnering positive reviews along with the Jefferson’s rye.  As with their bourbons, there is no Jefferson’s Distillery that is distilling the whiskey sold under the Jefferson’s label.  However, they have certainly gained a reputation for bottling some very good whiskey, despite the fact that all Jefferson’s is doing is bottling the juice.  Jefferson’s is made from a 100% rye mash-bill, is 10 years old and bottled at 94 proof (47% abv).


On the nose, this is a classic rye whiskey, with big, straight-forward rye bread, a little vanilla, evergreen, pine sap, and a little black licorice.  The palate is full-bodied and rye all the way through.  There are notes of rye spice, rye bread, pine needles, oak, spearmint, and vanilla extract.  The finish is medium in length, with some lingering evergreen notes and vanilla flavors.


Overall, this is a wonderful rye whiskey that really hits the mark if you are a lover of rye whiskey.  It definitely performs well at its price point, especially considering that some of the other ryes from Alberta Distillers are twice the price of Jefferson’s.  It is sharp, spicy, full-bodied, and full of wonderful rye character.  My grade: B+.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  If you are in the mood for a good rye, look no further than this one (and it won’t break the bank, either).


Book Review: Whiskey Opus

Today’s review is my first in a line of reviews of whiskey publications.  For obvious reasons, all sorts of books have been written about whiskey (the obvious reason is that whiskey is a delicious elixir);  I will do my best to give some thoughts on some of the whiskey books I have read, and the ones I readily use.

Today’s review is of Whiskey Opus by Gavin D. Smith and Dominic Roskrow with Davin de Kergommeaux and Jürgen Deibel.  Published in 2012, Whiskey Opus is a large book, spanning 285 massive pages, covering distilleries from all around the world.  Despite the use of the “e” on the cover, the book focuses mostly on Scottish distilleries, although there is significant information on distilleries from other countries as well.  The driving force of the book is distillery profiles, complete with the histories, stories, people, and tasting notes.  As a result, if you are a fan of blended Scotch whiskeys from different distilleries (Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, etc.), this book probably will not be up your street unless you are looking to explore beyond blends into the wonderful world of single malts.  However, if you are looking to learn more about whiskey and the distilleries that make the wonderful spirit, Whiskey Opus is a great place to start.

For most of the distilleries, the authors (all formidable and experienced whiskey experts) do a good job at providing tasting notes for a variety of whiskeys, giving the reader a good idea of what to expect from each distillery.  Of course, there is no substitute for your own palate, but reading the tasting notes of The Dalmore 12 year-old will probably give you a good idea of whether or not you will care for The Dalmore’s house style.  The book is best for you if you are someone looking to expand your knowledge of whiskey, and it is a great, easy-access reference guide.  The book also has helpful overviews of whiskey-making, whiskey tasting, types of whiskey, and whiskey glassware.

Overall, Whiskey Opus makes for a great reference guide for whiskey drinkers with limited or moderate experience with whiskey.  For experienced whiskey drinkers, the facts and anecdotes are interesting, especially for the distilleries you may not have sampled from yet.  Whiskey Opus is usually available for about $40, which is a fair price for a reference guide, especially given the amount of information on each distillery and the quality of the authors.  There are certainly other reference guides on the market, but this one is thorough without being overbearing.  It is easy to use and fun to read.  If you see it on the shelf next time you’re in the book store, let it ride!  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Redemption “High-Rye” Bourbon Review

Today, I am reviewing Redemption “high-rye” bourbon (batch #52).  This bourbon is bottled in Bardstown, KY for Strong Spirits, but it is distilled and aged in Indiana at Midwest Grain Products (MGP).  MGP is most known for their 95% rye mashbill that goes into rye whiskeys such as Angel’s Envy Rye, George Dickel Rye, and Bulliet 95, just to name a few.  As I am fond of MGP’s rye whiskeys, I have wanted to get my hands on some MGP bourbon for a while.  Redemption bourbon is unique in its composition because the grainbill contains 38.2% rye, which is a very high amount of rye, so much so that this is almost a straight rye whiskey instead of a straight bourbon whiskey.  The bottle indicates that the whiskey is at least 3 years old, but I suspect most of the whiskey in the bottle is around 4-5 years old.  Redemption bourbon is bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).Redemption bourbon

In the glass, this bourbon is a hazy, red amber color, which leads me to believe that this whiskey is non-chill filtered, but the bottle does not say one way or the other.  The nose presents a lot of spices that you would expect from a high-rye bourbon.  Anise, sawdust, oregano, and cinnamon are all present, backed up with vanilla extract and corn flavors.  Overall, this is a very good and complex nose, especially given the youth of the bourbon.  The palate is medium-bodied and very drinkable with flavors of dill seed, anise, oregano, corn, and big vanilla.  I am quite sure that if I were to sip this blind, I would think I was drinking a rye.  The finish is medium-short with a nice rye zip and some sweet vanilla.

Overall, I really like this bourbon for what it is; young and tasty.  Redemption bourbon does not presume to think it is an old bourbon with elegance and age under its belt.  It is meant to be a smooth whiskey somewhere between a bourbon and a rye.  The balance is struck well, and the whiskey drinks well neat despite its youth.  Judging solely by the flavor profile, I think this bourbon could be a very mixer to have around for your high-end cocktails.  My grade: B-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  At the price point, this is really a good buy, and a whiskey that makes a great addition to any whiskey drinker or home bartender’s cabinet.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage Bourbon Review

Evan Williams 2003 VintageWith the holidays around the corner, a lot of folks will be enjoying their rare and limited edition whiskeys that only come out on special occasions.  Here at Bargain Bourbon, I believe in the special occasions as much as anybody else, but we ought not lose track of the bourbons that get us through the year, year in and year out.  One such bourbon for me is the Evan Williams Single Barrel Series.  The subject of today’s review is the 2003 Vintage, barrel #603, aged 10 years, 3 months, and 18 days.  As always, Evan Williams Single Barrel is bottled at 86.6 proof (43.3% abv).

The nose on this bourbon is classic Evan Williams.  It is sweet with blackberries, raisins, cherries, but it is balanced out with spicier notes of black tea, cloves, and wood shavings.  The palate is dry with maraschino cherries, caramel, and timber.  The palate is fresh and lively, but with a pleasant oakiness to it.  The finish is medium in its length, with warming flavors of caramel hard candies, cherries, and some bitter tannins.

Overall, Heaven Hill has produced another classic bourbon with this barrel and this vintage.  This is a soft, sweet bourbon that goes very well with the spiciness of gingerbread cakes and cookies around the holidays (seriously, try it).  Even though Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbons are not my favorite bourbon profile, they are very good bourbons that consistently hit their mark.  My grade: B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  In places where this bourbon is available for $20, it is the almost always the best buy on the shelf.

Top Ten Conversion Whiskeys (and Happy Repeal Day!)

Well, it’s Repeal Day, and that calls for some good ol’ whiskey fun.  December 5, 2013 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition in the United States, and I am celebrating with a list of my Top Ten Conversion Whiskeys.

Since most of us whiskey nerds have folks in our lives that do not enjoy whiskey, it is important to remember that evangelism is just as important as enjoyment.  One should not impose whiskey on others, but the introduction to whiskey can never hurt, right?  (Note: I realize that there are ethical problems with tying somebody to a chair and pouring whiskey down their throat.)

This is a list of whiskeys that I have found useful in the conversion process.  Some people do not like whiskey for all kinds of reasons – because it is too harsh, not flavorful enough, does not accommodate their palate, or they are just plain old prejudiced.  So, I have tried to incorporate whiskeys from all over the map, and all across the flavor wheel to help you convert that loved one in your life.  Not all of these whiskeys are personal favorites of mine, but they are all readily available in most liquor stores to help you in your proselytizing.  (I have also limited the list to one entry per distillery, and there are no limited edition whiskeys on here, only standard range releases.)

Honorable Mention:  Wild Turkey American Honey – While this is not technically a whiskey, it deserves a mention here because it is the best bourbon liqueur on the market today at preserving the flavors of bourbon.  This can be a great gateway drug, especially when served on the rocks with a splash of Wild Turkey 101 on a summer afternoon.

10. Ardbeg Uigeadail – This might seem like a strange entry on this list since most folks are turned off by peat, but there is a story here.  The beautiful woman I am currently dating is a coffee drinker who has never found whiskey to her liking.  Ardbeg Uigeadail was the breakthrough whiskey for her, so to the coffee drinker in your life, Slainte!

9. Bunnahabhain 12 yr. – Another Islay entry on this list makes it here because on its simplicity, and its drinkability.  The whiff of smoke works well for beer drinkers, as does the dense sherry on the palate.  For the lover of wee heavy ales, and Belgian Tripels, Bunnahabhain 12 yr. can be very persuasive.

8. Gentleman Jack – I know few (if any) whiskey lovers that love Gentleman Jack, but I know a ton of weekend gin guzzlers that love Gentleman Jack.  It speaks to a unique audience, and works well at converting that gin guzzling neighbor you know.

7. Basil Hayden’s – This is a bourbon on the lighter side of bourbon, and it lacks a lot of the dense, sweet notes that bourbon is known for.  It is a great introduction to spicier, more floral bourbons for that sultry Southerner you’re trying to convert.

6. Bushmill’s 16 yr. – This is a port-finished single malt Irish whiskey that is both sweet and dry, reminding me a lot of port, itself.  If you are seeking to convert a wine drinker, have a bottle of Bushmill’s 16 yr. on hand at your next house party.

5. Crown Royal Reserve – This super smooth Canadian dram is great for this conversion endeavor because of its allure.  The packaging works just as much as the contents of the bottle to convince the stubborn hold out that their life is about to be enhanced by whiskey.

4. Four Roses Yellow Label – This is flat out the most drinkable bourbon available.  It is mellow and sexy, and prime conversion material, which is one of the primary reasons it was one of the first whiskey reviews I ever did.

3. The Balvenie 12 yr. DoubleWood – This is on the list precisely because it works.  I don’t have a ton of analysis beyond the fact that I know at least three people who have told me that this whiskey changed their life.

2. Redbreast 12 yr. – This silky Irish pour will always be the highlight of a dinner party because of its combination of floral, sweet elegance, and its superb drinkability.  It is also an Irish whiskey so the tough, hard-working stockyard workers in your life will be more easily swayed.

1. The Glenlivet 12 yr. – This takes the number one spot on my list because it is the whiskey that converted me.  I was miring in a world of craft beer and rum (both of which are still wonderful) until I picked up a bottle of this juice on a whim one day.  Four years and a blog later, I could not be happier with that decision.  I also happen to know that my good friend, William from A Dram Good Time, could tell you a similar story about this Glenlivet expression.

Those are my favorite conversion whiskeys; what are yours?  What whiskeys do you keep on hand for those hold outs at your house parties?  Are there any great conversion whiskeys I have left out?  Happy Repeal Day, and don’t forget to let it ride!

Angel’s Envy Rye Review

My review today kicks off a few consecutive reviews I will be doing of rye whiskeys with a review of Angel’s Envy Rye (stay tuned for reviews of George Dickel Rye and High West Rendezvous Rye).  Angel’s Envy Rye is the only rye on shelves from Louisville Distilling Company, and it has certainly attracted some different thoughts from whiskey lovers.  Angel’s Envy’s base rye whiskey is 5-7 year-old rye whiskey sourced from Midwest Grain Products (MGP), which is the company that used to be called LDI.  It is the same source of Bulliet 95, Willett Rye, George Dickel Rye, and many others.

Angel’s Envy’s whiskey uses MGP’s standard 95% rye recipe, but then puts a distinctly “Angel’ Envy” twist into it.  Angel’s Envy takes that 5-7 year-old rye, and dumps the whiskey into ex-Cognac casks that most were most recently used to finish Caribbean rum.  Once the whiskey has taken a 12-18 month nap in the Rum/Cognac casks, Angel’s Envy Rye is bottled at 100 proof (50% abv) and sold in the iconic Angel’s Envy bottles.  (The batch I am reviewing specifically is Batch 1D.)  Without further ado, onto the whiskey itself…

On the nose, Angel’s Envy Rye is its own animal.  The profile of the MGP rye is there, but packaged in something new and unique.  Notes of gingerbread cookies, brown sugar, maple, pine, candied yams, spearmint, and molasses are all present.  The palate is medium to full-bodied, presenting notes of gingerbread, pine sap, mint, and rye spice.  There are also darker sweet flavors in the palate, such as maple sugar and molasses.  The finish is medium in length, with a lot of maple wood and sharp rye hanging around the palate, with a hint of crème brulee.  This whiskey takes water very well, taming down the density of the whiskey, leaving for soft sugary notes on the palate, and only subtle spiciness from the rye.

Overall, this is a whiskey that most people will love or hate.  My guess is that if you don’t like rum or sweet desserts, this will not be your thing.  However, I love rum and sweet desserts, and I really like this rye.  It is not always a bargain buy, but if it is on sale, it is worth the try because of how unique of an experience Angel’s Envy Rye truly is.  My grade: B+.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  I love all the different flavors happening in this one, even if it is on the higher end of what I like paying for a bottle of whiskey.

Much thanks to Louisville Distilling Company for the bottle!

Corner Creek Reserve Bourbon Review

Today, I am reviewing Corner Creek Reserve, an 8 year old bourbon bottled and sold by Corner Creek Distilling (which I believe is owned by Willett, but I could be wrong about that one).  The bourbon comes packaged neatly in what appears to be an old wine bottle.  If you were to rip the label off, I suspect most folks would you think you had an old Brandy or Sherry on your hands (just imagine the picture from Corner Creek’s website without the label…  Of course, like all great bourbon drinkers, I am not swayed by the packaging, and my taste buds do all the work in determining the quality of a whiskey (written with a sarcastic chuckle).  Corner Creek Reserve is bottled at 88 proof, but it is only lightly filtered, leading to a nice, hazy amber in the glass.

On the nose, Corner Creek has some nice vanilla, barrel char, tannins, over ripened berries, bananas, and dried bananas.  The palate is especially sweet with berry fruits and corn syrup, and very light-bodied.  Some bitter tannins begin to creep in towards the back of the palate and into the finish.  The finish is a bit tannic as well, but there is also cherry and vanilla along with a bit of the barrel char from the nose.  To me, this bourbon is sweet and sour throughout the whole way through, playing back and forth between the two.

Overall, I do like Corner Creek Reserve, but it is certainly not my favorite.  It could definitely be a great introduction to bourbon because it is so light and easy-drinking, but that only works if a person then goes on to find better bourbons.  If the sweet, berried, oaky flavor profile suits your palate, snag a bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Collection instead.  The real highlight of Corner Creek is the price, which is very reasonable, especially compared to other bourbons the same age.  That said, there are too many other good bourbons on the market to keep this one around my cabinet very often.  My Grade: C.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a bourbon worth trying, but overall I just didn’t find it all that captivating.