Fall time means cherries on the trees.
A few months back, my wife and my good friend Ben Johnson came in to visit from Vermont. His company would have been gift enough, but he did us one better: he brought with him a Vermont bourbon named Smuggler’s Notch. Jen and I sampled it then, but now that the blog is up and running, we went back and tried it again, to see if our initial feelings were the same. They were – it is great!
Smugglers Notch looks a little lighter than most in color, and to be honest, it is a little lighter. But something about it is so fresh and clean tasting, it is truly unique.
The nose is sweet and has notes of vanilla, corn, grains and nuts. The taste, Smooth (with a capital “S”), with a bit of spice but more notably, vanilla, chocolate, even a tiny bit of mint. The finish is relatively short, but with something this smooth, I say just pour another.
Smugglers Notch moves into my top 5. Delicious.
Dan scale (1-10): 8.8
This week’s bourbon and circumstances are pretty special. I am in Chicago to celebrate my first wedding anniversary to my wife Jen. We’re here for a long weekend, and living it up – hotel in the loop, meals at great restaurants like Everest and the Signature Room. Perhaps most fantastic, we’ve gone to two days of Riot Fest, an outdoor music festival at Chicago’s Humboldt Park featuring some of my all-time favorite bands, including (most importantly), the first American concert by The Replacements since 1991.
On Friday, we went to US Cellular Field and saw a White Sox-Indians game, which I will detail further in the future. Then, it was to Everest, where I knew we were going to have a wonderful meal when the drink list included my all-time favorite bourbon, Jefferson Reserve 18 Year. Saturday, it was all day at Riot Fest, where we took in Mephiskaphales, X, The Selecter, Dinosaur Jr, Guided By Voices, Blondie, Rancid and The Violent Femmes. Set after set, we had a fantastic time on a uncloudy, beautiful day. Jen was particularly fond of DeVotchka, a great gypsy-latin-eastern-european band that put on a particularly wonderful performance. It’s not everyday you get to see the hora danced at a punk rock festival! We closed the night on a Ferris Wheel, watching the Femmes perform their first album in it’s entirety. It was a wonderful day.
Day three was wet. Wet and rainy. We had a delicious brunch at the Signature Room, then we headed to Warehouse Liquors, which Yelp had advised us was one of the best bourbon shops in Chicago. Yelp told no lies – this store is truly fantastic. Their selection of liquors – not just bourbons – was amazing, and with so many new sights and bottles to choose from, it was hard to pick one. After chatting with the man at the counter for at least one half hour, we settled on a bottle of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, selected by and bottled for the store.
Back to Riot Fest, and the rain. Bob Mould has been one of my favorite musicians for many many years – since his days in Husker Du and Sugar – so it was well worth getting a little wet to see a personal legend play. Best Coast was another new band I wanted to see and despite the cold and rain, they did not disappoint with their reverb drenched surfer songs. Then, back to a rollicking set by Rocket From The Crypt. We decided to stay at the Replacements stage to guarantee a good vantage point, so we watched the goth-punky AFI before the rain stopped, and The Replacements utterly rocked our world. They played a set drawn from their whole repertoire, old to new. So many of my favorites were played I couldn’t have been more pleased, from “Bastards of Young” to “Achin To Be,” “Hold My Life,” and “Takin A Ride.” And all of it with my beautiful wife by my side. It couldn’t have been better.
Now, for the bourbon – the nose on this bourbon is full of rich, aromatic spices. Cinnamon, allspice, apples, it has it all.
The taste follows this with a spicy punch. Tasty, and clean, this is a great bourbon. Pepper, oak char, that cinnamon, and a bit of vanilla helps with a long finish to boot. This is the kind of bourbon my wife particularly likes. We did notice one unique thing though, neither of us liked the changes adding ice chips made to it. Instead of mellowing it a bit, it made the pepper pop more, and lost some of the sweeter notes. Still, an absolute winner.
Dan scale (1-10): 8.3
Well, a new NFL football season is upon us, and I’m an unrepentant Detroit Lion’s fan, so who knows what this year holds in store. The team hasn’t looked great in preseason, but adding Reggie Bush in the offseason can’t help but make us better, and we still have Stafford, Suh and Megatron, so I suppose hope springs eternal!
For this week’s bourbon, I tapped a local resource. A few years back, when I decided to take my bourbon fandom up a notch, my family jumped in to help me try to find some good selections. In her endless calling around, my mother stumbled upon a store in Birmingham, MI called Kakos Market. The people at Kakos were wonderful, talking with her for long periods of time and making recommendations for other bourbons that might fit her son’s flavor profile. They pointed her toward some absolute winners, which I will reference at another time.
I dropped into Kakos myself last week, looking for a few specialty bottles, and while in the store, they showed their own small batch barrel of Elijah Craig 12 year. I had a taste in the store, and took a bottle home for myself, to try today.
Every once in a while it happens where I can taste a good bourbon, know it’s a good bourbon, but just not feel it myself. This is exactly what happened here.
My take: This is a spicy bourbon. The nose was full of autumnal scents – apple, corn, nutmeg – a lot of fruit and nuts. And wood, lets of wood.
The taste carried this over. The flavor popped with spicy oak, corn and fruit. It fills the mouth, and has a pleasant taste, but as you may know by now, I like sweeter bourbons, and this one has some burn. It’s dry, and has a long, strong finish.
I know it’s a quality bourbon, but (and maybe it was just my mood that day) it was too harsh for me.
Dan scale (1-10): 7.0
Ahhh, Blanton‘s. This is the granddaddy of the Single Barrel bourbon craze. They started releasing it in single barrel form in the 1980s, and it is still produced from barrels in Buffalo Trace warehouse H. One of the cool things about Blanton’s is it’s unique bottle, and the tops. There are eight different horses on the top of Blanton’s bottles, representing a jockey and horse coming to the gate, running a race, and winning – how very Kentucky! I picked up this bottle from the Buffalo Trace Distillery when we were there in June. It didn’t disappoint.
The nose was fantastic – corn, apples, cinnamon, rye, and a hint of…apricot? But the taste – so smooth, so clean. It’s has a nice mouth coat – soft and buttery. It’s got a bit of wood char bitterness, but is as smooth as almost any I’ve tasted. You can taste the corn, and there’s a sweet detection of summer fruits, like apples.
The finish is mild, not overwhelming. I love this bourbon.
Dan scale (1-10): 9.3