Posts tagged ‘Wild Turkey’

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!

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.

The Best Value Bourbons

After abandoning my quirky numbers system for determining a bourbon’s value, I am resorting to relying on my taste buds and my wallet.  These bourbons are my personal favorite value bourbons, listed from the least to the most expensive.

Evan Williams Black Label – This one is hard to beat simply because it is usually available for under $15.  This bourbon is still raw and uncouth, but it is drinkable and moderately complex, too.

Four Roses Yellow Label – This bourbon is becoming more readily available and more widely recognized for being a very good whiskey.  It is soft, citrusy, and floral.  It makes a wonderful cocktail, but it stands tall on its own, too.

Wild Turkey 101 – This bourbon’s quality and value has been well documented.  It is warming and powerful, but it also brings wonderful vanilla and cinnamon sugar notes into the fold.  Great stuff.  The Turkey 81 is also a good value pour, but I always opt to pay three dollars more for my beloved 101.

Russell’s Reserve 10 year – This bourbon lives up to Jimmy Russell’s legend.  It also happens to be available around $30 in most liquor stores.  It unfolds beautifully in waves, giving complex bourbon and rye flavors throughout.  Wild Turkey at its finest.

Four Roses Single Barrel – Although there is some variance from bottle to bottle, this bourbon is consistently at the head of the class.  It has a wonderfully rich mouth feel that is unsurpassed in whiskeys under $40.

Those are some of my favorite value bourbons, but not the only great value bourbons on the market.  The beauty of bourbon is that you don’t have to break the bank to drink classy.

My Favorite Whiskeys by Price Point

I am often asked, “What’s your favorite whiskey?”  Honestly, that is like asking me to name a favorite child, favorite beer, favorite song, or favorite movie.  I have many favorites, and many of these depend on my mood, and the money in my wallet.  However, I have recently had a request from my good friend, Kate at http://www.kateampersand.com/ for some recommendations for how to give the gift of whiskey.  I have reviewed about 40 whiskeys on the site so far, and here are my favorite whiskeys out of those 40 at different price points.  The prices used are the approximate prices for 750ml of the whiskey.

Best Whiskey under $20:  Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/17/old-grand-dad-bonded-review/).  This is a very good, rye forward bourbon, with a lot of power.  It doesn’t have the complexity of some other high rye bourbons, but it is hard to beat for $18 a bottle.

Runner-up under $20:  Four Roses Yellow Label (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/03/14/four-roses-yellow-label-review/).  In comparison to the power of Old Grand-Dad (bottled at 100 proof), the Yellow Label is a delicate rye-forward bourbon.  There is a lot of light spice that tingles the tongue and the nostrils, but it doesn’t quite have the depth of Old Grand-Dad.  Nevertheless, Four Roses Yellow Label is a great buy.

Best Whiskey under $25:  Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/28/rittenhouse-rye-review/).  Not only is this whiskey a great value, it is a great whiskey.  There is a ton of complexity, ranging from spiciness to sweetness to a rich earthiness.  If you want to impress somebody, buy them this whiskey for their birthday.  Trust me, they will think you spent a good amount on it (especially if you put it in a fancy decanter since the bottle design is not especially flattering).

Runner-up Under $25:  McClelland’s Speyside (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/30/comparison-review-scotch-styles-mcclellands-speyside-vs-mcclellands-lowland/).  This is a fine single-malt Scotch for the price.  It has all the delicacy of a Speyside, with the craft necessary to give it some soft chocolate and smoke flavors that give it character.  (It should be mentioned that if you can find Wild Turkey 101, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10 yr. Single Barrel, or Jim Beam Devil’s Cut for under $25, they are even better.  However, I live in Boston where I am not quite so lucky.)

Best Whiskey under $30:  Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond.  It still reigns supreme; it’s just that good.

Runner-up under $30:  Buffalo Trace (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/03/31/buffalo-trace-review/).  It is the bourbon that turned me on to bourbon a number of years ago, and it continues to impress.  It is not overly sweet, leaving the vanilla to be blended perfectly.  It is like eating a perfectly balanced cheesecake (sort of).

Best Whiskey under $35:  Russell’s Reserve 10 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/12/russells-reserve-10-year-bourbon-review/).  Finally, Rittenhouse was dethroned.  Every time I drink Russell’s Reserve, I am amazed at how wonderfully structured it is.  It is like reading a great novel, where the plot unfolds precisely when it should.

Runner-up under $35:  W.L. Weller 12 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/28/w-l-weller-12-year-review/).  This is exactly what a wheated bourbon can achieve.  It is sweet, but complex, demonstrating the many phases of a sweetness.  It reminds me of eating buttermilk pancakes smothered in cinnamon sugar and maple syrup (except not as filling).

Best Whiskey under $40:  Four Roses Single Barrel (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/14/four-roses-single-barrel-review/).  Although this is a single barrel whiskey (meaning there will be some difference between batches), I’ve never had a bad batch of this whiskey.  It is plainly brilliant.  It has the all the spicy rye character of Four Roses Small Batch, but it demonstrates a whole other layer of complexity with a sweet, dark palate.

Runner-up under $40:  Russell’s Reserve 10 yr.  It has rightly remained high on my list even at a higher price point.

Best Whiskey under $50:  Bunnahabhain 12 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/22/bunnahabhain-12-year-review/).  This is really a brilliant Islay whisky.  The sherry influence is strong, but the Islay peat hangs around to provide a perfect balance.  Although this is not a traditional Islay whisky, it is my favorite value.

Runner-up under $50:  Four Roses Single Barrel.  Yes, it can compete with whiskeys that reach above its price point.

Best Whiskey under $60:  Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/06/21/comparison-review-bookers-vs-noahs-mill/).  This is my favorite whiskey to date, and it should only be given to a true whiskey lover who you love very much.  It is a full, robust whiskey, providing a complexity and intensity rarely seen elsewhere in the bourbon world under $60.  (I have seen Booker’s for as cheap as $47.  If you see it around that price, snatch up a bottle.)

Runner-up under $60:  Bunnahabhain 12 yr.  As many of you are aware, Scotch is expensive.  However, I have yet to find a better value among Single Malt Scotch than Bunnahabhain.

I am stopping at $60, because most people that read this blog are seeking value bourbons.  If you like some recommendations for higher price ranges, feel free to email me at thedagupeir@gmail.com.  I would also recommend that you read the reviews of these whiskeys before purchasing them, just to make sure it sounds like something that will truly be enjoyed by whoever is its lucky recipient.  Let it ride!

Wild Turkey 81 Review

Historically, Wild Turkey has offered their base whiskey at three different proof points: 80, 86.8, and 101.  The biggest seller has traditionally been the 101 proof, and for good reason.  It currently ranks as my #5 value bourbon.  It is a damn good whiskey for under $30.  However, I was not so fond of the old 80 proof.  It was too light, and failed to present much complexity.  In an effort to bridge the gap, Wild Turkey discontinued the 80 proof in favor of a new product, Wild Turkey 81.  Although there is not much difference in the proof of the whiskey, the new 81 proof is aged 6-8 years, which gives it a flavor profile that more closely resembles the 101 than the 80.

On the nose, Wild Turkey 81 resembles the familiar Wild Turkey recipe.  It is light and slightly floral.  There is a solid backbone of rye spice and vanilla that provides the doorway to the bourbon.  When you drink it, Wild Turkey 81 truly shines.  There is a prickly rye spice that holds throughout the bourbon, with balancing notes of vanilla, strawberries, and blackberries.  The finish is long and warm.  There is a lot of heat at first, with a burst of cinnamon and wood spice, but it mellows with time as the notes of vanilla and soft oak re-emerge.

Overall, I think Wild Turkey has made a very good product that is a fantastic step up from the old 80 proof.  This whiskey is still cheap enough to use it in a cocktail, but that would be wasting a good product.  This whiskey can definitely stand on its own, and it is worthy addition to the Wild Turkey family.  My grade: C+.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a good sipper, and it also works well for mixed drinks, too.  Definitely a good one to keep around.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded Review

I have been searching for this bourbon for a while now, and I finally got a hold of a bottle of Old Grand-Dad Bonded.  Most people are familiar with Old Grand-Dad, mostly because of its shout-out in George Thorogood’s “I Drink Alone.”  The standard Old Grand-Dad offering is bottled at 86 proof, but it is offered at several different proof points.  Today, I am reviewing the 100 proof Bottled-in-Bond edition of Old Grand-Dad.

Today, the Old Grand-Dad Distillery is owned by Jim Beam, which makes the other namesake bourbon of the old granddad of bourbon, Basil Hayden.  For those who have asked me about it, Basil Hayden is the man pictured on the label of Old Grand-Dad.  Like Basil Hayden’s, Old Grand-Dad is manufactured with Basil Hayden’s signature high-rye mash bill.

On the nose, Old Grand-Dad Bonded is spicy and citrusy.  There are notes of wood and rye spices, backed up with a big corn sweetness and dried orange peels and lemon peels.  In my opinion, the rest of the bourbon is a bit too controlled by the prickly rye spices.  The palate has notes of the charred barrel, chili powder, black pepper, and some corniness.  The finish is hot and spicy, with the same notes of char, chili powder, and black pepper.  However, the finish does become more complex with notes of cocoa dust and roasted corn that keep it going for a long time.

Overall, Old Grand-Dad is a solid bourbon, especially if you like a robust, spicy rye-character.  I am not a big fan of the rye bourbons, so it is not my favorite.  I definitely prefer Wild Turkey 101 to Old Grand-Dad if all other factors were equal.  However, at $20 a bottle, it is pretty hard to find a better bourbon than Old Grand-Dad Bonded.  My grade: C.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a nice mixing whiskey, especially when blended with other bourbons.

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?