REVIEW: Noah’s Mill Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Noah’s Mill Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Small Batch)
114.3 Proof – Willett Distillery

Generally speaking, bourbon drinkers are familiar with Willett’s Pot Still Reserve. If you haven’t tasted it, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the still-shaped bottle on a bar or liquor store shelf. Far fewer have had an encounter—sight or taste—with Noah’s Mill, a small batch from Willett with some serious character. Given the number of popular offerings in its price range, from Old Rip Van Winkle 10 and E. H. Taylor Single Barrel to Blanton’s, OB Barterhouse, Belle Meade Single Barrel, and Jefferson’s Very Small Batch, this relative obscurity isn’t a great surprise. But it’s something, to quote William Wallace’s Uncle Argyle, “that we shall have to remedy.” This is for your own good. Trust me.

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Noah’s Mill, 57.15% ABV

Current offerings of Noah’s Mill don’t come with an age statement on the bottle. For past batches, Willett had guaranteed at least 15 years. (The company, which is owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers [KBD], also chooses not to divulge where the product was originally distilled — but this is a debate that’s been slugged out on enough whiskey forums to sidestep here for the time being. On the bright side, eventually more and more Willett products will not just be aged and bottled, but also distilled at home base in Bardstown, Kentucky.) Now, given the spiking demand for bourbons in the fifteen and up age range (read: the near overnight explosion of demand for Diageo’s Orphan Barrel labels and the hefty price tags currently appended to the eldest incarnations of Elijah Craig), it’s difficult to imagine Noah’s Mill is still this old and Willett simply didn’t think it was worth making official. Instead, the bottle now contends it is “aged until fully mature.” Regardless of how old it is—and my personal guess is a blend that averages to somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-11 years—this is a bourbon with deep, bold flavors. The nose is an inviting mix of cherry, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco, and caramel, with a slight wave of heat that suggests the high proof to come. (That said, don’t fear the proof! This isn’t a throat burner and your bravery will be rewarded.) The first taste is buttery caramel on the tip of the tongue followed by a grainier sweetness and a steady heat. Hints of creamy chocolate come through sporadically on the middle and back of the tongue, but are much softer and less pronounced than on the nose.

If you’re drinking Noah’s Mill neat, you’ll get a steady crescendo of heat and spice that gradually overpowers the mellower, earthier flavors (tobacco and chocolate). The finish is very, very (very) long and quite hot—the perfect pour for a cold night out on the back porch, but not a drink to hand someone straight that isn’t expecting what more experienced drinks will know as an extremely pleasant kick in the teeth. A little water (not too much!) tones down this heat and seems to restore the darker notes from the nose. With the teeth of Noah’s Mill dulled just slightly, you’ll also bring out more of its natural sweetness (oaky caramel). After the initial drink, my recommendation is to put away the bourbon stones and get over your aversion to ice; the best bet here is a hearty pour with an ice cube or two and a small peel of citrus.

At the end of the day, however you choose to drink it, the real magic of Noah’s Mill is its combination of smooth and hot, and the number of distinct flavors that aren’t lost to its high alcohol content. If you want a robust change of pace that will give different flavors on successive sips, a bottle of Noah’s Mill should absolutely be a part of your plans for the New Year.

Value: High – In the $55-60 price range, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better. Noah’s Mill stands tall in its class of what I would consider “high end” small batch labels and, while obviously not a single barrel, it outpaces more than a few of those too.

Drinkability: Medium – This is a textbook case of a medium drinkability rating having nothing to do with a lack of quality and everything to do with experience levels. At 57.15% ABV, this is a drink for big boys and girls.

Overall Rating: 8.6

* Special thanks to Hunter Chavanne for providing a review sample of Noah’s Mill.

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REVIEW: The Carry On Cocktail Kit

The Carry On Cocktail Kit
The Old Fashioned – W&P Design

On a transcontinental flight in the much maligned (wrongly so, in my opinion) second installment of Daniel Craig’s run as 007, James Bond foregoes a rest in his lie-flat seat to sit impeccably dressed but alone at the aircraft bar. Pensive, brooding, unable to sleep, he nevertheless maintains his constant air of suave by drinking a perfectly crafted, perfectly clear, perfectly backlit Vesper martini. Despite the fact that he has lost the woman he loves, is constantly taking beatings that would knock out an elephant, and must focus on a homicidal mission of revenge to stave off depression, in this scene, as in so many others in the famous franchise, viewers everywhere thought, He’s got it good.

That’s because, for most of us, flying isn’t usually a respite but an obstacle in the way of respite. We all have horror stories: the middle seat between two people who’ve forgotten how to use soap; delayed on the tarmac while lightning strikes impossibly close to what you can only guess are very important parts of an airplane; the neighbor who breaks out the photo reel after mistaking your “reading” for an intense interest in their rock collection.

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This well curated kit includes sugar, bitters, muddler/spoon, and cocktail napkin – everything but the booze.

W&P Designs has a cure for that. Known for their bar accessories and the immensely popular Mason Shaker, the Brooklyn-based group of designers is dedicated to increasing your enjoyment of food and drink—even when you’re on the road. To that end, they’ve curated several Carry On Cocktail Kits: delightfully packaged, drink specific tins that include everything (but the booze) to craft a delicious libation at 30,000 feet. Available for such classic drinks as the Gin and Tonic, Moscow Mule, and Champaign Cocktail, bourbon drinkers will no doubt opt for the classic Old Fashioned. Included in the kit are an ingenious spoon/muddler tool, a classy linen cocktail napkin, instructions, and enough cane sugar and aromatic bitters for two cocktails. They’re conveniently portioned to mix with the standard 50ml mini-bottles, which your friendly flight staff will be happy to sell you.

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The Carry On Cocktail Old Fashioned.

The kit makes a smooth Old Fashioned, thanks in no small part to the craft bitters that W&P developed with the good folks at PUNCH. The muddler tool works well—you’ll no doubt find a use for it in your home bar—and the napkin adds a touch of class. But the folks at W&P are selling more than just a cocktail—they’re selling a feeling. Crafting a cocktail on a plane conveys that same peace, that treat-yourself something-special, as leaving the office for a 2pm espresso or ordering room service. It’s an indulgence in quality. You’ll feel like you’re in first class even if you’re in coach. And if you’re in first class, you’ll be there with an Old Fashioned in each hand.

I can’t think of a better stocking-stuffer for the road-warrior in your life; better yet, give that special someone a surprise vacation and toss a few kits in your carry-on. As the people at W&P say, prepare to put that seat in the laid back position.

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The Carry On Cocktail Kit.

The Carry on Cocktail Kit retails for around $24 and is available online from W&P Design.

 

With special thanks to Elizabeth Tilton and the Folks at W&P Design for graciously supplying a sample kit for review.

Christmas Spirits: The 2015 Bowtied & Bourboned Holiday Shopping Guide

Christmas Spirits:
The 2015 Bowtied & Bourboned Holiday Shopping Guide

5d31dc860ea7fd604a4e279e14f65cc4.jpgHave someone on your Christmas list that you know would love some whiskey, but not sure what to buy? You aren’t alone. Not everyone can win—or afford to win—local raffles for Pappy 15, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, or a Four Roses Limited Edition. Or maybe you’d like a bottle for yourself, but need to give St. Nick some options? It’s easy to get overwhelmed: new labels seem to appear on liquor store shelves daily; bottle art gets fancier and fancier (while providing less and less information about age and distillation); and prices seem to be rising steadily. So let Bowtied & Bourboned help make sure you get the most bang for your buck! Below are our recommendations for thoughtful holiday shopping on a range of budgets. We guarantee these spirits will keep everyone jolly enough to ward off a visit from the Krampus!

MCH – Picks

Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($25-30) – Henry McKenna isn’t as sought after as its cousins, the older and rarer incarnations of Elijah Craig, but that’s not necessarily to say it shouldn’t be. It’s aged 10 years and smooth enough to constitute a perfectly respectable offering for both friends and family. (Or to keep for yourself!) Moreover, McKenna has the added cache of being a single barrel selection, which is admittedly rare in this price range. At the end of the day, it’s a great workhorse bourbon. Drink it neat, on the rocks, or, at around  $28 in most markets, mix it without an ounce of guilt. This is a widely available label and a very thoughtful choice for smaller budgets.

Basil Hayden’s ($40) – Though priced in the mid-range, this small batch bourbon punches above its weight class. Don’t let 80 proof fool you, this is a smooth sipper but its rye content gives it a spicy, peppery flavor and makes it anything but bland. This one is on similar footing with the E. H. Taylor Small Batch (see RCP’s comments below) and it also happens to be one of the more attractively packaged bourbons in this price range.

WhistlePig Straight Rye ($75) – If you’re looking for whiskey in the upper echelon but can’t track down something from the Antique Collection or a Special Edition, this is your ticket. (And it might be a better choice than some of the aforementioned even if you can get your hands on them.) An incredibly smooth blend of caramel, vanilla, and rye spice, this is a can’t miss gift—and as WhistlePig isn’t as well-known as its counterparts in Kentucky, you might get the added bonus of introducing the label to its lucky recipient.

RCP – Picks

Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey ($20-$30) – Bulleit checks several boxes on the list of “gift bourbon” criteria. Aside from being an easy but respectable pour, it has that unique ubiquitous-from-the-fringe reputation that will engender an “Oh I’ve heard of this but haven’t tried it yet” upon opening. At $25, you won’t swear at the host who spills a dram of your hospitality into their eggnog. Finally, since ‘tis the season for honesty, the bottle actually is cool, and it matches the moniker “Frontier Whiskey” so well that you can be sure they’ll proudly display it and hope guests ask about the time they arm wrestled John Wayne—and won.

history-print-ads-from-wild-turkey-bourbon.w654.jpgRussell’s Reserve 10 Year Small Batch ($30-$40) – Wild Turkey is a household name in the bourbon industry, and this small batch stands on the shoulders of giants and takes a big leap. Russell’s Reserve isn’t like some of the “craft” offerings from other big family name distilleries that taste like leftover well-pours. It’s original and delicious at a responsible value, the kind of bourbon you give your boss or father in law to prove you don’t have to concede quality to stay on a budget.

Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr – If you’re keeping up with MCH’s serialized biography, “Becoming the Colonel,” you have all the reason you need to be enthusiastic about this nattily attired offering from Buffalo Trace Distillery. A unique bottle and container make the introductory Small Batch ($40) a great gift, but I wouldn’t put it in the stocking of a bourbon novice: It’s chewy and spicy, with more nutmeg than cinnamon, but its complexity and 100 proof bottling can be challenging. If you don’t have someone to wrap this for, hope a bottle finds its way under your tree. If your name’s squarely on the “Nice” list, you might just earn the Single Barrel ($70) or Rye ($70), with Happy New Year included.

 

REVIEW: Wild Buck Rye

Wild Buck Rye (Small Batch, 100% Rye)
100 Proof – NJoy Spirits

All along the Bourbon Trail, tour guides at Kentucky’s best-known distilleries tout the state’s limestone filtered water, the combination of its hot summers and cold winters, and its ancient ricks as the perfect environment for producing the highest quality whiskey in the United States. But far from the stomping grounds of Beams and Pogues and Van Winkles, something is lurking in the cypress stands of Weeki Wachi, Florida. On an 80 acre farm and distillery, Kevin and Natalie Goff are making Wild Buck Rye. And they’re doing it the right way, often by hand. If you’re not a Floridian, odds are you haven’t encountered this small batch, 100% rye whiskey yet. (It’s available at ABC Liquor Stores throughout the state.) But once you taste it, I can promise you one thing: you’ll wish you’d found it sooner. Much sooner.

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Wild Buck Rye’s Copper setup.

Kevin and Natalie grow some of their own rye and are happy to disclose that what they can’t produce themselves is locally sourced from a grower about 20 minutes down the road. The operation is about as ecologically friendly as it gets: they grind their own grains daily, utilize collected rainwater in the mash cooking process, and use the spent grain to feed their livestock. Wild Buck Rye is twice distilled and bottled at 100 proof after aging for a minimum of ten months and maximum of seventeen months. (The blend balances out to about a year.) Unlike larger scale distilling operations, which work with standard-sized barrels, Wild Buck is blended from different sized barrels (ranging from 5 to 25 gallons) after they’ve been intentionally exposed to the Florida sun and even frequently rotated to “enhance” the aging process. The constant heat creates a relatively larger loss to evaporation (also known as the “Angel’s Share”) but also works some genuine, Deep South magic on the whiskey that does survive.

The nose on Wild Buck is a mix of caramel, sweet grain, dark chocolate, and wood; not much vanilla and just a hint of rye spice. Despite its scent profile, Wild Buck is not overly sweet. Be ready for an immediate, pleasant heat on the tongue that will give way to a spicy mix of wood and chocolatey-leather. The finish is relatively short for a spirit bottled at 100 proof, but it’s by no means harsh or bitter for such a young whiskey and it comes in two phases: the dissipating heat trail you expect, followed by the quick and unexpected resurgence of spice and wood on the back of the tongue, which more than makes up for the aforementioned dissipation.

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Wild Buck Rye, 50% ABV

Full disclosure: Wild Buck Rye is probably not for newcomers to whiskey, especially if said newcomer has been introduced to the genre on a diet of wheated products or 80 proofs. This isn’t a muted or sweet spirit, and I mean that as a true compliment. This is the kind of whiskey that should come out for company when the folks who won’t know the difference—or who don’t care about the difference—have gone home. It’s hearty and earthy and rye drinkers will love it neat or on the rocks with a single cube. All of this in mind, perhaps the best news I can deliver is that Kevin and Natalie are in the process of upgrading to a significantly larger mash tub, which should increase their production capabilities dramatically.

Value: Med-High—In the $50 to $55 range, this certainly isn’t on the cheap end of the rye spectrum, but it’s appropriately priced. Check here for a full range of shopping options.

Drinkability: Medium—As I said before, this probably shouldn’t be the first sip of whiskey someone ever takes, but it should definitely be in the mix once they know enough to appreciate it.

Overall Rating: 8.3

* Special thanks to Natalie and Kevin Goff for graciously providing a review sample.

REVIEW: Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
90 Proof – Buffalo Trace Distillery

As a distillery, Buffalo Trace has an established reputation and long list of products that anyone who drinks bourbon—and many who don’t—know with second-hand familiarity. Popular tours and tastings draw thousands to their beautiful grounds on the banks of the Kentucky River, said to be the site of the centuries old ford for migrating herds from which the distillery draws its name. While tapping into the natural history of the area and trumpeting “the individuality and pioneering spirit of those early Americans” who first populated Kentucky, their physical plant also boasts historic ground as the original O. F. C. Distillery, and Buffalo Trace claims that of all their awards, they are most proud of their designation in 2013 as a National Historic Landmark.

This is obviously a brand that appreciates history (even its parent company, Sazerac, is a historic name), and one that can be rightfully proud of their distilling lineage: the names of previous O. F. C. owners E. H. Taylor, Jr. and George T. Stagg grace some of their finest—and scarcest—bottles. Indeed,it is probably for another rarity—the elusive Van Winkle series, the younger iterations of which are produced entirely by Buffalo Trace under the auspices of the Van Winkle family—that the distillery is best known.

But consumers who pay attention to Buffalo Trace Distillery purely for the hunt of a trophy Stagg or to share a glass with Pappy are missing an opportunity to enjoy a very fine pour from the brand’s namesake bottle, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Buffalo Trace was first recommended to me years ago by a man who offered as his credentials the fact that he had visited every distillery in Scotland; while I was more interested in his Kentucky travels, I purchased a bottle as a Father’s Day gift before a long drive to spend a week visiting my family. I arrived around midnight to find them sitting around a bonfire, awaiting my arrival with hot dogs and skewers. I proffered the gift, which was immediately opened, shared, and sampled by several participants. It survived the night, but not the week.

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Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 90 Proof

Buffalo Trace is an excellent introductory bourbon, sporting a simple, clean nose of anise and Australian licorice and bottled at a very manageable 90 proof. The light bouquet beckons the drinker by promising a mellow palate, which is smoothly delivered with far more sweetness than spice, conjuring fresh apples baked in brown sugar and very little rye. The finish brings a touch of heat, but overall, the mellow freshness and sweetness are present from sniff to swallow. This is not a challenging bourbon, but an eminently drinkable one. Poured over a single ice cube, you could be forgiven for thinking it belonged to a higher price range.

Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey isn’t a substitute for the distillery’s rarer, more complex brands, but a sweet, inviting, forgiving drink in its own right. It’s the bourbon you pour someone you’re trying to convert, the bourbon you pour on a weeknight for yourself, the bourbon you pour for the unsuspecting critic. No matter which, it’s a bourbon you’ll want to pour. -RCP

Value: High—At around $25, it satisfies for mixing, rocks, or neat drinking.

Drinkability: Highest—This is not a challenging bourbon, but one that will appeal to a wide audience.

Overall Rating: 8.2

*Special thanks to Kristie Wooldridge and the people at Buffalo Trace Distillery for generously providing a review sample.