REVIEW: Belle Meade Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Belle Meade Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery – 90.4 Proof

As fits with my general philosophy of whiskey consumption – that is, if it tastes good, I don’t care where it was distilled or what shelf it belongs on – I’ll start this review by stating that yes, the sample of Belle Meade graciously provided to us was born at MGP; and, no, I could not care less. (I gather that this will be changing in the future, but for now, what you find on the shelves will be the same.) This is a bourbon that I’ve had multiple conversations about but had not tried personally prior to sampling for this review. My expectations were admittedly high—and I wasn’t disappointed.

belle-meade-2The nose on Belle Meade was one of the things I’d been told about; mainly, that it would be crisp and laced with sweet citrus. Ironically, that’s precisely what I didn’t pick up on. For me this was a medley of corn, sweet caramel (more so than more generic vanilla), rye heat, and hints of leather. The nose also gave me the impression that the texture would be silky. On first taste, the texture was lighter than I expected; not quite silky, but still pleasant and buttery. The first sip is a mouth full of heat—and it’s going to overpower the rest of the flavor profile, but be patient and things open up. A few sips in, the heat dissipates and gives way to dark chocolate and cherry, peppercorn, and hints of dried fruit (but still no citrus). The latter won’t come anywhere near the level of a Michter’s Small Batch, but it’s noticeable. On my second go-round, the chocolate/cherry combo remained, but more caramel managed to push through those initial waves of heat. The finish on Belle Meade, somewhat surprisingly given that first pop of heat, is relatively short; more than a vapor trail and a warm stomach, look for a low ember that lingers and builds over time. The real payoff here is an aftertaste of dark chocolate and cherry that sticks around for the duration of the dram and makes this a choice pairing for a mild cigar on the back patio (think: AF Hemingway Short Story).

Value: Slightly Above Medium—Belle Meade is currently going in the $40-$45 range; this is arguably the toughest battleground in the whiskey market. At this price point, you’re going up against virtually every label’s mid-level offerings (Russell’s Reserve, Rare Breed, High West, 1792, Michter’s, etc.) AND getting pretty close to the max a casual whiskey enthusiast is going to drop on a single bottle. In terms of quality, Belle Meade holds its own with this group, but there are just so many choices, it’s difficult to say this is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. That said, this is absolutely worth adding to the collection.

Drinkability: Medium High—Rye drinkers (like myself) are going to enjoy Belle Meade from the beginning; casual bourbon drinkers will come around, but it may take a little time and probably a little water or ice added to the mix.

Overall Rating: 8.2/10

Special thanks to Meaghan Donohoe and the folks at Nelson’s Greenbrier for providing a review sample.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey (10 Years Old)

Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey (10 Years Old)
Michter’s Distillery (Louisville) – 92.8 Proof

michters-bottle-1
46.4% ABV / 92.8 Proof

This review has been three months in the making. Not because I’ve devolved into a Faulknerian writing process or because I’ve lost interest in sampling and writing about some of the best whiskeys in the world. (The day that happens, you’ll also see me in a Florida State shirt, ripped skinny jeans, and listening to Bieber. For those of you who don’t know me, I wouldn’t hold your breath…) No, it’s taken so long to churn out because time has been at a premium since September 8. That afternoon, my daughter was born. She’s absolutely beautiful and, to celebrate her healthy arrival, I opened a bottle of Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey graciously provided by Lillie O’Connell and the folks at Michter’s. To call this a good decision would be an understatement.

The nose on the Single Rye 10 is a perfect blend of mellow spice and pepper, buttery caramel, and a faint (cinnamon/apple strudel) sweetness—almost like a holiday candle. The texture is pure velvet; extremely rich but not syrupy. You’ll start with a low heat on the tip of the tongue. This will gradually build, but in a pleasant way. (It never gets very hot.) This is a mature whiskey at 10 years old, but not particularly woody. You’ll get just the right dose of spice (it is rye, after all, and it should taste like it) but this isn’t a pepperbox. Given the nose, I was expecting some of the other flavors, specifically the caramel, to make immediate appearances, but they just weren’t there for me, and I think it’s a better pour because of the absence. I also didn’t pick up on the traces of dried fruit that have been a hallmark of other Michter’s bottles reviewed on B&B. But if you’re reading this and thinking the Single Rye 10 sounds like an unremarkable pour, you’re jumping the gun. The real reward comes on the finish. That slow building heat translates into a very long but very gentle finish. Over the course of a solid dram, that sweetness does reappear and develops into a lingering aftertaste of warm cinnamon. That will stay with you for quite a while, almost like a very subtle numbing sensation. If this is what the good ole’ boys were drinking in their Chevys at the levy, they chose their final pours wisely.

michters-barrel-1
Mark Twain and Billy the Kid conspiring for a drink from barrel 16A1B.

Value: High—Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This bottle is going to run you $120 to $150. Very rarely will I spend more than $60 on a bottle. And only once in a blue moon will I spend more than $75 (usually involving a raffle win or stumbling onto a dusty gem). But this one is too good not to say retail is fair and still tout it. If you can find it, buy it. Buy as much of it as you can—because in a few years, we’ll probably look back fondly on the days when this wasn’t a $200 bottle.

Drinkability: Highest—Hard to overstate the quality of this bottle from start to finish. Ryes frequently get a bad rap among the uninitiated for being overwhelmingly harsh or spicy. Don’t be fooled: this is as finely flavored a whiskey as you’ll find just about anywhere.

Overall: 9.3

REVIEW: Michter’s US*1 Unblended American Whiskey

US1 Unblended American Whiskey
Michter’s – 83.4 proof/41.7 ABV

There are times when my skepticism gets the best of me, and I wonder if a bourbon company known for providing a quality product should really branch out to try a single barrel, or a rye, or an egg nog.  I was once a strict adherent to the creed that a brand that was known for providing one product of high quality should stick with that product and not, in the words of a workingman’s football coach, “get too fancy.”  I’ve tasted enough false starts in the bourbon world to reinforce my righteousness (you can find examples in the B&B archives), but more than one has made me question it.

Michter’s is one of the latter.  Their US1 line consists of Bourbon, Rye, a very popular Sour Mash, and an Unblended American Whiskey, the spirit featured herein.  The bourbon and rye both received high marks here at B&B, and for those who can find them on the shelf, Michter’s also offers these two spirits in a variety of ages ranging from 10 to 20 to 25 years.

michters uam
Johnson, Jefferson, and Lincoln approve of US1 Unblended American Whiskey from Michter’s.

My preconceived positive notions in no way hindered me from questioning some of the cleverly crafted language surrounding the Unblended American Whiskey.  Now, I understand that it’s not a bourbon because it’s not aged in new charred oak barrels, but in what the brand calls “bourbon-soaked barrels,” meaning previously used.  It’s somewhat unclear as to whether these were used by Michter’s or someone else, but what seems clear is the barrels have a little less to offer the whiskey as it ages.  A second point of linguistic contention is the “unblended” label, which Michter’s offers because the American Whiskey is never thinned with neutral grain spirits.  That is excellent, but It does not meant that each bottle isn’t a “blend” of different whiskies of various ages and experiences.  To be fair, these aren’t incorrect definitions, but excellent marketing.

But perhaps I digress.  A man too consumed with truth will soon find his glass half-empty—or completely so—and this is no way to enjoy life, or whiskey, and as we know, both should be responsibly enjoyed.

It’s unusual for a whiskey’s reputation to be made on the nose, but I’ve read so many remarks on the aroma of US1 American Whiskey that I think Michter’s might consider partnering with Bath & Body Works for a candle and body lotion line.  It really is pleasant, sweet and fruity like a bakery using almond extract, turbinado, and pears.  The palate is excellent—thick and luscious, buttery, candied.  This is delicious.  Yet somehow the finish doesn’t quite bring it together, and I don’t know if it’s due to the used barrels or not.  It’s a bit raw, heavy on corn and light on age.  The barrels sugars are so apparent earlier in the drink; I’m not sure where they go in the finish, but I miss them.

Value: Medium-High—Michter’s is working against itself here.  US1 Unblended American Whiskey is excellent, but at most stores the entire line is the same price, and I’d personally choose the Rye or Bourbon in the same $40 price point.

Drinkability: Other than the finish, High.  A low proof, very full offering that I highly recommend.

Overall: 8.5

Special thanks to Lillie O’Connell at Michter’s for graciously providing a review sample.

REVIEW: Red-Handed Bourbon Whiskey

Red-Handed Bourbon Whiskey
Treaty Oak Distilling Company – 84 proof/42% ABV

Steve Martin once quipped that “writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” Before proceeding with this review, I’d like to provide both an apology and an excuse — though, unfortunately, while my apology is for not writing enough, my excuses are actually for drinking too little. RCP and I have been on a hiatus for a few weeks due to a mix of work, moving across the country, a one-year old boy (RCP’s), and a newborn girl soon to appear (mine). Anyhow, we’re sorry to have been offline for so long and appreciate your patience. We have shelves fully-stocked with samples to review and we’re ready to have Bowtied & Bourboned hitting on all cylinders again. Stay tuned.

Red-Handed.jpgProduced by Treaty Oak Distilling, Red-Handed Bourbon Whiskey is an appropriate choice for my first review as a Kentuckian-turned-Texan because it’s a mixture of whiskey distilled and aged in Kentucky (as well as in Indiana and Tennessee) and then blended and aged again in Austin, Texas. Most of you know where we stand on NDPs at B&B (read: tell me how it tastes, not where it came from) and Treaty Oak makes no secret of it (hence: “Red-Handed”). The nose on this bottle is oak, vanilla, and a just a touch of dry fruit — nothing approaching the level of Michter’s Single Barrel, but it’s there nonetheless. Given that the mash bill has such a high rye content, it’s a little curious that you don’t get a hint of spice before sipping.

Your first taste will be all wood and smoke, which isn’t a surprise given the re-barreling done in Austin.The vanilla, which dominated the nose, is largely absent, drowned out by the oak; fleeting traces of caramel come through but the aforementioned hints of dry fruit do not transfer from the nose to your mouth. The finish is smooth but very truncated, the result of a sub-90 proof. But don’t let that immediately turn you away. Red-Handed surprises with a quick flare of spice on the back of the tongue — that rye content arriving just a bit late to the party. I was pleasantly surprised with this medium dose of heat; combined with the inherent smokiness of Red-Handed, it makes up for much of the missing finish. Again, though, this clearly isn’t high octane stuff — so don’t come to the table expecting Booker’s or Boss Hog or even Weller 107. But if you’re willing to take a chance on something below 90 proof with a unique aging/barreling background you might be surprised to see how far above its weight class Red-Handed can punch.

Value: High. I’m tempted to make this “Very High,” but in the $35-$40 price range, there’s just so much competition. (If Red-Handed were $30, it’s value would be through the roof.) This is fairly priced, generally on par with Michter’s Small Batch and Basil Hayden’s, but much smokier.

Drinkability: Very High. The lower proof and muted finish make this an easy bourbon for anyone and everyone to drink neat, but it’s still got above average flavors. I.e., it’s easy to drink and worth drinking.

Overall Rating: 8.1. Definitely worth a try if you can track a bottle down.

Special thanks to Daniel and Melody at Treaty Oak for providing a review sample.

REVIEW: E. H. Taylor Seasoned Wood

E. H. Taylor Seasoned Wood – Limited Release
Buffalo Trace Distillery – 100 Proof/50% ABV

seasoned wood.pngPerhaps it is best, in the spirit of full disclosure, to open this review with the confession that I am openly enthusiastic about the EH Taylor line from Buffalo Trace.  My bio for this website reveals that I am “currently pouring” the Small Batch expression, which I feel strongly enough about that I recommended it as a gift this holiday season in our Christmas Spirits wishlist.  In that same piece, I mentioned that if you had been especially good, you might receive a bottle of the Single Barrel; apparently I was, because I did.  As an unabashed fan of both the whiskey and its roguish namesake, it’s fair to say that I was pretty excited to receive a sample of the EH Taylor Seasoned Wood Limited Release.

What’s special about the Seasoned Wood?  First, it’s a wheated bourbon, a grain that distillers say ages more gracefully than rye, meaning the flavor profile of the whiskey comes more from the mash than from the barrel.  But the reason we’re talking Seasoned Wood here and not Seasoned Wheat is because this expression pairs the strong flavor of the mash with an equally strong-flavored barrel.  Some of the staves have been uniquely soaked in a proprietary enzyme bath, while others were left to season outside for anywhere from 6 months to a year.

Aye, here’s the rub.  If you know me well enough to know my appreciation of EH Taylor bourbon, than you probably also know that I appreciate simplicity and tradition just as much.  I’m as skeptical of treatments that sound like they belong at a purification spa being applied to distilling as I am of commercializing something that sounds like a happy accident.  What the hell is an enzyme bath?  Is “seasoned” just a marketing term for “left outside too long?”  But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of products with other unusual marketing narratives (Did someone say Orphan Barrel?) so I was still very curious what I’d find in this bottle.

My curiosity was met with a uniqueness typical of the EH Taylor line.  One of the things I like about it is that, like its namesake, this line is willing to take chances to create results that are unmistakable (the Cured Oak version was a smashing success).  This is without a doubt true of the Seasoned Wood.  On opening the bottle, the nose is immediately one of heavy winter seasoning: cloves, mulling spices, gingerbread, fir.  Add the heat of your first sip, which warms you down into your stomach and from the inside out, and I imagine that if a Saint Bernard were to find me snowbound in the Alps, this would be the ideal liquid to have in the barrel around its neck.  But when the dryness kicks in on the finish, leaving me with near cottonmouth, I think that dehydration is probably not the feeling a stranded skier wants.  Unfortunately, the dry heat overpowers what few flavors whisper behind those closed doors of tannic copper.

Value: Medium at best.  With a  $70 MSRP and expected higher prices due to the one time limited release, this has too much competition from lower price ranges to comb the liquor store desert—or snow-capped mountains—for a bottle.

Drinkability: Medium.  While I applaud other EH Taylor iterations for the complicated challenge they represent, making this someone’s first bourbon would be like tossing a JV wrestler into an MMA cage match.

Overall Rating: 82.  The introductory EH Taylor Small Batch remains one of my favorite brands, and the Seasoned Wood simply doesn’t stack up to its little brother.

Special thanks to Kristi Wooldridge at Buffalo Trace for setting us up with a review sample.

DUAL REVIEW: Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
Buffalo Trace/Age International — 93 Proof

In honor of the Derby, we’ve decided to run our first ever dual review. RCP and I each sampled and reviewed Blanton’s separately, and combined our thoughts here. We’d like to thank John Shutt at Age International for generously providing our review materials.

RCP

Blanton’s just seems right to review for Derby week.  I know it’s not the official bourbon of that most historic of horse races, but with its dapper stopper series depicting a horseback jockey in stop-motion stride, it seems fair to call it the unofficial bourbon of bluegrass horse racing.  So after you don your seersucker and quaff that annual mint julep, there’s no need to drop the equestrian tableau just because you bet on some bob-tailed-nag in the hopes of a 50-1 payout.

Blanton’s enjoyed a reputation as “the original single barrel whiskey” prior to the bourbon craze that caused markets to boom, prices to rise, and shelves to empty.  Considered a high end bourbon even before it had so many labels to compete with, its reputation (among consumers and popular media alike) has made it increasingly scarce.  Finding a bottle isn’t the impossibility it has become with Buffalo Trace’s Antiques, but you might just find the one.

The nose is pleasant and warm to me, oaky with notes of orange and lemon and honey, almost like a hot-toddy.  The palate actually is a little hot, still smooth, but the spice seems to drive some of the caramel and vanilla flavors underground, leaving you with fairly flat corn.  The finish is pretty stiff, too, and lasts.  I’ve read others describe this as “lean,” and I taste the appropriateness of that adjective, almost like a scrappy boxer that doesn’t have the moves for a KO but won’t stop punching, either.  There’s something here I can’t quite put my finger on, either, in how the sweet nose turns so hot on the palate, or how that caramel chew tastes different at each stage.

Value: Medium – at $50+, this has some stiff competition in its price bracket from both craft and big name brands.

Drinkability: Medium – this isn’t a beginner bourbon, but it’s challenging without the complexity that some more critical bourbon fans are looking for.

Overall Rating: 8.5

*****

MCH

There’s an indisputable “entity”—equal parts history, nostalgia, and maybe something best described as good taste—that tethers thoroughbred horse racing and Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. No label exemplifies this connection more than Blanton’s. It’s the granddaddy of modern single barrel bourbon as we know it. And it’s known the world over for the series of seven jockey figurines, one which adorns the cork of each and every bottle.

Your first sniff is going to be oaky, but not earthy. There are strong notes of spicy citrus—which is what I think gives the wood a “cleaner” character. A discerning drinker will pick up slighter hints of caramel and vanilla through the spice, but it’s definitely not a candy store nose. The spicy citrus is a harbinger of things to come: your first sip will produce a medium heat on the tip of the tongue, but that will quickly dissipate. The main flavor of Blanton’s is a mixture of oak and peppery citrus—those hints of caramel on the nose are mostly drowned out of the profile, but manage to peak through every so often. The finish on Blanton’s is, in my humble opinion, it’s most endearing quality. Expect a long, warm finish—this isn’t a flamethrower (i.e., Booker’s), though, so think “low and slow”—paired with a much sweeter aftertaste that offsets some of the lingering spice very nicely.

If you’re not initially thrilled with Blanton’s flavor profile, I would urge you to add a dash of water or a pair of rocks. The water will help unlock a little bit of the sweetness hidden down deep in the bourbon and add just a little bit of balance to the wood and spice. At the end of the day, Blanton’s flavor profile makes it a bourbon drinker’s bourbon. And, contrary to what you might be thinking, this is actually a very, very good thing. As the bourbon craze continues to spread and old middle of the road drinks suddenly reemerge as “luxury labels” (with costs to match) and the price tags on more established premiums jump from obscene to outrageously obscene—assuming you can even find it to bankrupt yourself paying for it!—there is something timeless about Blanton’s. There’s something very comforting in the fact that there will always be a consistently good, single barrel bourbon with a great history that I won’t have to win at a raffle or fret about the demise of its “original stock.” In other words, there is something comforting in the fact that there will always be Blanton’s on Derby Day. And perhaps more importantly, on the day after when you find those losing tickets in your coat pocket. (A maiden to win the Derby? What were you thinking…)

Value: High – I’m bullish on Blanton’s as a value buy—there’s an intangible mystique to Blanton’s, something about it paired with a well-lit Hemingway Short Story, that just feels worth the $50-$60 price tag.

Drinkability: Medium – This isn’t a great “starter bourbon,” mainly because some of the flavor profile is fleeting and/or difficult to locate. I would bump this rating to high, however, when rocks are added to the equation. Just a touch of cool water seems to cut some of the spice and lets more of the sweetness – mostly caramel to me – shine through.

Overall Rating: 8.6

REVIEW: Michter’s Single Barrel Rye

Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey
Michter’s Distillery – 84.8 Proof

michrye1.jpg
Michter’s Single Barrel Rye, 42.4% ABV

It will come as a surprise to some of you—and I’m sure is fully expected by others—that there are bartenders out there who do not like to see me walk through the door and claim an empty stool.  This has nothing to do with endless questions about the bourbon list or repeated requests for peanut bowl refills (though both will occur).  Since I generally keep to myself, I doubt it has much to do with irksome inanities (“Some Brave’s game, right?”), and my preference for neat bourbon and traditional cocktails doesn’t send them diving into Mr. Boston’s table of contents or the downstairs buffet’s pantry (“What do you mean no freshly grated cardamon?”).  But when I do order a cocktail, I utter words that cause bartenders and bourbon snobs alike to cringe, the occasional jukebox to halt mid-song and skip.

“Well whiskey is fine.”

I do not call whiskey for mixing.  I will gladly call for something neat or on the rocks, but when adding a hefty dose of sweet liqueur, plain old cane sugar, and garnish, the first thing behind the bar will be fine.  If it’s on a shelf—even the bottom one—I consider pouring it in Coke or ginger a criminal offense.  There is a rule of diminishing returns at work here, in which I hypothesize that the more flavors a whiskey is going to be mixed with, the less you get out of using an expensive whiskey.  This hardly seems controversial, but it’s never that hard to find someone at the bar who’ll brag that they won’t touch a Manhattan without a fifteen-year-old base.

But at home, or in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing, this rule doesn’t always apply.  While traveling a few years ago I happened into an establishment of the type where the bartenders prefer to be called mixologists and the bar approaches the realm of chemistry lab.  Trusting in their skills I relayed some of my preferred tastes and left the final product up to them.  It was delicious, and my first question was about the rye they used.  Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey has been a staple of mine ever since.

In case you missed our sampling of their Small Batch Bourbon, we’re pretty big fans of the Michter’s brand at B&B, and this second review from their US 1 lineup is no different.  Like the bourbon, the rye was only bottled by Michter’s, not distilled by them, and there is no age statement on the bottle.  And, as with the bourbon, I recommend you get past that.  Sure, there’s something to be said for shepherding your product from farm to bottle, but there’s also something to be said for being able to purchase premium distillate with a flavor profile you’ve sought out, to say nothing of the skill involved in proofing—and this rye is a very specific 84.8 proof.

The nose on the Single Barrel Rye is heavy with vanilla bean, a flavor that carries through the first sip, and light with cured tobacco, which does not.  Sweet and aromatic, this opens on the tongue with sugary cola, like an old fashioned vanilla Coke mixed fresh in front of you at a drug store soda fountain or diner.  There’s macerated black cherry and a campfire char—not the smokey peat of a scotch, but something sweet, more maple than oak—just before you swallow, when you get some rye spice but very little burn.  I love the complexity of this stuff.  Neat, it reminds me of some of my favorite challenging bourbons—a compliment that I wouldn’t give out lightly—and it won’t hide in a mixed drink but will noticeably elevate it.

michrye2.jpgValue: Very High—At around $40, this is like going to the track with an inside tip on an unlikely horse that will pay off big.  My advice is to bet on it.  I could see this leaving empty shelf space at $60-$65, though I hope it doesn’t happen.

Drinkability: Medium-High—This is a bold and chewy rye with some of the most distinct flavors I’ve come across.  The thin, airy, constant notes of a highly drinkable whiskey can be easily missed, which is why I give Michter’s Rye a lower rating here.  This stuff reminds you that you’re drinking it, but if you like fuller whiskies, you’ll be glad it did.

Overall Rating: 9.0

* Special thanks to Lillie O’Connell and the folks at Michter’s for a review sample.

REVIEW: Basil Hayden’s

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Kentucky Springs Distilling Company (Beam-Suntory Brands) – 80 Proof

BH1.jpgBourbon, like barbecue, is a topic made for debate and often unwilling to lend itself to consensus. But where most discussions over the use of water or rocks boil down to personal preference and remain good natured, it seems that the quality of Beam-Suntory’s Basil Hayden’s can divide camps quicker than putting a brown sugar sauce on an eastern Carolina hog. The softest of Beam-Suntory’s “ultra-premium” offerings—including Booker’s, Baker’s, and Knob Creek—Basil Hayden’s has the ability to light up message boards with polarized opinions, and while others find much to question here, I find much to like.

Basil Hayden’s, as many of our readers may already know, is oddly not the only bourbon named after Basil Hayden. The other, named by his grandson R.B. Hayden, is Old Grand-Dad. But the two share more than a namesake: they share a high-rye mash, and some of the controversy comes from consumers who eye suspiciously BH’s mellower proof and higher price. Another issue—something running rampant in the entire industry these days—is the recent elimination of an age statement. BH once proudly announced it was 8 years old; now it is simply “artfully aged.” While there are plenty of quality NAS bourbons out there, not knowing whether BH is aged any longer than OGD has lead many detractors to assume that it isn’t, and that the only discernible difference between the two is the water used to drop Hayden’s proof. (If you’re curious how “concerned” we are at B&B about these “controversies,” we were more than happy to recommend BH as a holiday gift last year.)

While I can’t comment with a distiller’s authority on that issue, I can say that the “watered down” charges won’t be rebutted by Basil Hayden’s color. It is the yellow brass of many light wheated bourbons, rather than the brisk copper that draws most drinkers. The nose is light and enjoyable (an appropriate description for the entire sample) with allspice and black tea and mint. It hits the tongue a little flat with an oakiness that I didn’t find in the nose and maybe a drop of vanilla with little sweetness or sting. Like those of you reading, I was prepared for the finish to leave gently, and was pleasantly surprised when it did not. It’s the real draw here, when that high rye mash finally brings some cool-spice and a peppermint that lingers after all the other flavors have checked out. It’s like Ali not throwing a punch for 8 rounds and then delivering a KO. You think, Man, I want to see that again.

It probably goes without saying that I like Basil Hayden’s neat, and those I’ve shared it with agree. The low proof would get drowned by melting ice or branch water—though some people will like how easily that goes down—but it also allows that spicy rye finish to shine through and provide some of the bite that is missing in an 80 proof selection. While many Jim Beam loyalists will advocate Baker’s and Booker’s over BH, I’d recommend it over Knob Creek and the Signature Craft offering anytime.

BH3.jpgValue: Medium-High—Like opinion regarding it, Basil Hayden’s price seems to run the gamut. I’ve seen it for $54.99 and $38.99, and while the former almost excludes it from consideration, the latter can easily put it on your shelf.

Drinkability: Highest—The light body and low proof will appeal to almost everyone, and while it won’t become the nightly dram for cigar-chewing aficionados, they too will find a time and place to enjoy it.

Overall Rating: 8.4

REVIEW: WhistlePig Old World Rye

Old World Rye (12 year)
WhistlePig Distillery – 86 Proof

OW12.jpg
Aslan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Wright Brothers all look on in envy at B&B’s sample of Old World 12, 43% ABV

If you’ve followed Bowtied & Bourboned for long, it’s no secret that we’re fans of WhistlePig. NDP controversies duly noted (I still don’t care, in case you’re wondering), the WP10 scored a stellar 9.1 and the Boss Hog (2014) scored a very respectable 8.8. This offering, dubbed Old World, is a 12 year rye that more than holds up against its two highly-rated siblings. But unlike WP10 and Boss Hog, which came in at 100 and 120 proof, respectively, OW12 is bottled at a tamer 86 proof—but bear in mind that proofs can be deceiving.

The nose is an inviting carousel of rye spice, dry fruit (raisins and apricots), rich cherry, and buttery caramel—undoubtedly the result of OW12’s unique cask finishing process, which equals out to 30% French Sauternes, 63% Madeira, and 7% Port. I mentioned that proofs can be deceiving. Well, so can scent profiles! I can almost guarantee that your first sip of OW12 won’t be what you expect. Be ready for a significant but pleasant burst of spice and a lingering heat on the tip of the tongue. This fleeting shot of rye will give way to traces of slightly mellower caramel and dry chocolate. Despite the obvious fruit notes emanating from the wine finish, almost none of those smells will translate into the first taste. If you’re disappointed, fear not, their absence doesn’t last long. OW12 hits the back of your tongue with a flicker of black pepper and then that whole range of light, floral wine flavors opens up with background hints of caramel, wood, and dark cherry cough drops.

The finish on OW12 is relatively short, which surprised me given the initial wallop of hot spice, but by the time its hitting the back of your throat, all of the dry fruit flavors and that hidden woodiness have had a chance to commingle and mellow things out. And what the finish lacks in duration is more than made up for by a very nice, floral aftertaste and a lip-smacking, syrupy sensation left over from OW12’s thick, velvety texture. To make a long story short, if you’re a rye fan, you really, really want this stuff; if you’re a fan of dry, aromatic bourbons and ryes (think Michter’s US*1 or 1792 Port Finish), you still really want this stuff; and, if you’re just a fan of unique flavor profiles in general, you should still probably want this stuff—or at least a taste of it.

Value: Med—Retailing at $120 to $130 (that is, when you can actually find it in stores), this is definitely priced to be a top-shelf whiskey. In my estimation, it drinks like a top-shelf offering, with a flavor profile you just aren’t going to get anywhere else—but it’s just inevitable that anything in the $100+ range is going to restrict access.

Drinkability: Very High—Incredibly soft texture and a very rewarding second half; maybe the biggest change in flavor from front to back I’ve ever tasted. This is going to be great for anyone willing to take the first 1-2 seconds of heat—but in my house, it’s only coming out for championship games, holidays, and special guests!

Overall Rating: 8.9—The only thing holding this back 2-3 tenths of a point is the price. If you can swing the cost, this is a fantastic addition to your bar.

**Thanks to the folks at WhistlePig for graciously providing a review sample**

REVIEW: Bully Boy Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned
Bully Boy Distillers – 71.4 Proof

bullyboy1
The Old Fashioned – 71.4 proof

Harry Truman was famous for enjoying a snort of whiskey, but my favorite story about imbibing in his White House is not about him but his wife, Bess. The straightforward First Lady, who according to the staff would “stand no fakers, shirkers, or flatterers,” knew her mind well and wasn’t shy about letting others know it, too. As befits our vision of the mid-century White House, she and Harry often enjoyed a cocktail in the residence sitting room before their evening meal. The first time Bess ordered an old fashioned, head butler Alonzo Fields fixed the drinks in classic style: an ounce of bourbon over orange slices, a teaspoon of sugar, and a dash of bitters. Too sweet, the First Lady pronounced, and the following night Fields tried a new recipe.

The next morning, Bess Truman found Fields’ boss and let fly with the kind of unflattering superlative usually associated with her “Give ‘Em Hell” husband. The drinks had been the worst to ever pass her lips, more like fruit punch than a quality cocktail. Alerted of her displeasure, Fields was ready that night when Bess again ordered an old fashioned. Pouring her a stiff double bourbon on ice, he stood by in case of disapproval. Taking a sip, Mrs. Truman smiled. “Now that’s the way we like our old fashioneds,” she said.

Bully Boy Distillers, owned and operated by two brothers in Boston, has its own historical tale, replete with a family farmhouse cellar stocked throughout Prohibition with illicit local spirits. Committed to following tradition but improving quality, Will and Dave Willis— who named their distillery after a favorite farm workhorse (are farm animal namesakes a rising trend in the liquor business?)—now produce rum, vodka, whiskey, and their bottled old fashioned. The latter, I’m afraid, would likely draw the ire of one Bess Truman, but drinkers who like to taste the difference between neat bourbon and a craft cocktail should give this a try.

Bottled cocktails are a tough sell, primarily because half the fun of having a cocktail is in the tradition and lore of the preparation. This could be doubly true of the old fashioned, which is, by Mr. Fields’ tried and true recipe above, one of the simplest to prepare, particularly when compared to a multi-step, multi-glass drink like the sazerac. There are no rinsed glasses, no one-part-this to three-and-a-half-parts that, no flavored syrup that needs to be prepared ahead of time. But that complexity is what mixologists—particularly the amateur ones—love about cocktails, which could also make the uncomplicated old fashioned the ideal pre-prepared potion. And, if I may, allow me to tout Bully Boy’s ingredients—whiskey, bitters, sugar—as equally uncomplicated in the face of infamous extracts and the “carrot coloring” dustup.

Bully Boy’s old fashioned is made with the distillery’s American Whiskey, an 84 proof spirit, but the cocktail is bottled at 71.4 proof, a significant drop that we can chalk up to simple syrup and flavorings. If you’re used to making old fashioneds with 100 proof rye, you will immediately miss the bite of the base spirit. The orange tones come through in the nose as they should, and are joined by the bitters on the palate and in the mild finish with hints of dried apricot. This is a really sweet and syrupy drink, and while Bully Boy suggests muddling an orange wheel and maraschino cherry in the glass, I found those flavors already prevalent and that an extra dose of bitters suited my taste more. They also recommend serving over an ice cube; I will admit that I enjoyed this without adding anything that melted, chilled but neat. The copper-red color itself is intoxicating.

bullyboy2While I’d like this with a bit more kick, allowing for the whiskey to shine without hiding its subtleties, I’m excited about what the brothers at Bully Boy are doing and what this portends for a quality prepackaged cocktail market. I can see keeping this on hand for when you want an old fashioned but don’t bring home an orange, and particularly serving it as an option at your next get together for guests who would rather drink and mingle than mix and muddle.

Value: High—A suggested retail of around $35 puts this craft in a lower price point than some of its big name competitors, and on par with buying a bottle of whiskey to fix old fashioneds yourself.

Drinkability: High—Sweet and straightforward, this will be attractive to many drinkers who would turn down a neat bourbon.

Overall Rating: 8.2

 

**Thanks to the folks at Bully Boy Distillers for providing a sample for review**