Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The past few years, I have largely sat out the fall release extravaganza in the bourbon/whiskey world.  Following them online can be great fun, but knowing so few would make it to Michigan precluded me from searching for them.  Outside of the obvious Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases being hard to find, rarely have I seen an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a Parker’s Heritage or a Elijah Craig 21-22-23 on shelves here in the great Mitten state.

THis year was different, both in selection and my personal hunt.  I decided to go after more of this year’s fall releases, and was pleased to find that many more were coming to Michigan, albeit in very very small numbers.  And earlier this month, when the Bourbonr Blog posted their poll winners for the best of the 2014 Fall releases, I was proud to say I was able to hunt down half of them, including 5 of the top 10.

So now it’s time to start sampling them, and I opened with an absolute doozy – the 8th Edition of Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage, a 13 year old Wheat Whiskey.  And in a word, wow.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker's Heritage 8th Edition - Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The Parker’s Heritage label was started by Heaven Hill in 2007 to pay tribute to their Master Distiller Parker Beam.  Parker Beam (and yes, he is of the Jim Beam family) has been with Heaven Hill since 1960, and been the Master Distiller there since 1975.

The first Parker’s Heritage, in 2007, was an 11-year old cask strength.  Every fall since then, Heaven Hill has issued another limited edition, small bottling of a unique whiskey to pay tribute to Parker.

This year, it is a 13-year old Wheat Whiskey, made from the initial barrels of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.  Bernheim is bottled at 7 years old, so this years P.H. has an extra six years in the barrel – and these barrels were on the top floors of Heaven Hill Rickhouse Y. It has a minimum of 51% soft winter wheat in the mashbill, and to top that off, it was bottled at cask strength and without cold filtering.  This years Parker’s Heritage is the closest thing you can get to drinking it straight from the barrel.  But how was it?

Dan’s Take:

The nose jumped out at me with a real serious burn. And why not – at 127.4 proof, it had better! I let it sit for a minute and tried again, but it was still hot and not giving away anything.  A little water and things were looking up.  There was a deep honey and caramel, and a tang of what I would describe as citrus.  The wood notes were muted, but I got a hint of baking spices and even a fresh biscuit-like smell.

The taste was outstanding.  The first sip was heavy in the oak and baking spices I would expect from, well, a cask strength 13-year old wheat whiskey.  But unbelievably smooth.  The wood taste wasn’t tannic either – there wasn’t a bitterness, just a smooth woodiness and spice.  The sweeter tastes – vanilla, a touch of toffee candy – swirled around as the thick pour subsided into a soft but lingering finish full of cinnamon and clove, and again a biscuity goodness.

The first taste was so good, in fact, that I dove directly into another – and again, it was fantastic.  To have such a sweet nose, a complex taste full of character but not overpowering with bitter or tannins, and a medium, smooth finish that ends dry like coconut and oak, but not harsh in any way.

The Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition is one of my favorite whiskies of all time.  Perfectly blended and delivered.  It just makes me all that more sad that it will not be available again.  Well done, Heaven Hill.

Dan’s Rating: 9.5

Master Distiller Parker Beam was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig Disease, several years back.  In addition to a portion of Parker’s Heritage sales going to ALS research, you can visit his ALS Promise Fund page here, and support a great cause for a legendary man.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Rough week here in the “D,” losing Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.  It’s bad enough they fleeced us on the Doug Fister deal a year ago, now they are just getting greedy.  I’m especially sad to see him go, because aside from being a Cy Young Award pitcher, he was a fellow Mizzou guy.  Oh well, sounds like the perfect excuse to go and drink the troubles away.

And there are increasingly more and more places to partake of the finer things (namely whiskey) as the “bourbon boom” continues.  Here in Detroit, we have become home to several start-up distilleries.  In the next couple weeks, I’ll discuss them – and their corresponding tasting rooms – at greater length.  This week, I ventured to one of the hipper new distilleries – the Detroit City Distillery.

The Detroit City Distillery opened last year in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market.  Only the second licensed distillery to open in Detroit in 80 years (the first was Two James, which we will discuss soon), it was the brain child of a group of close friends with a passion for booze and urban revitalization.

They began by distilling their own vodka and whiskey, as well as preparing for gin, which will be out ‘soon.’ But what about bourbon?

Bourbon is one of the trickier offerings for any start-up distillery.  There are laws and rules regulation how bourbon has to be prepared, aged and bottled.  I won’t break them all down here (a good explanation can be found here), but the hardest one is the aging.  For a bourbon to be called “straight bourbon,” it has to have spent at least two years in the barrel.  If it’s younger than four years, it must have an age statement on the bottle.  So to make bourbon, a new distillery has to sink the money into storage, and barrels, grains and equipment and…wait.

There are, of course, ways around this.  The most popular way is to “source” bourbon, buying from another (often mass quantity produced) distiller and bottle/label it with the new brand name.  Many of the newer distilleries in Michigan are doing this, and Detroit City Distillery is too – sort of.

For their Two-Faced Bourbon, DCD is taking a five year old sourced bourbon and blending it with their own very young (6 month old) house made bourbon, in a 51%-49% mix – hence the name “Two Faced.”  Since their bourbon is locally sourced (including corn from St. Clair County here in Michigan), it is truly reflective of their own recipe (which is high in rye), but has some of the age of an older bourbon.

DCD is very open about this process, unlike other distilleries that are sourcing and a little less forthcoming about it.  And stopping into their speakeasy style tasting room in Eastern Market, one needs only look at their artisan cocktail list to see they are trying to do something both retro and inventive, with a great deal of respect paid to the craftsmanship.

The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery
The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery

With my good friend Eric Oliver joining me, we sat down at the bar to try the bourbon, as well as a few other drinks.  The long bar is impressive – it is made of reclaimed wood from another Detroit building – and the soft lighting and exposed beams set a nice ambiance.  Glasses were poured, toasts were made, bourbon was consumed.

 

 

 

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s take:

Right from the nose, this dog has some bite.  While only 94 proof, the first scent was hot, almost like a high-proof rye would be.  Given a minute, the heat started to part and opened to an unsurprising corn and spice.  There were hints of almond and a touch of toffee, but the prevailing smell was corn.

The taste was softer than I expected.  Fiery on the front, the bourbon has those high-rye pepper notes, with a touch of cinnamon and allspice, but the younger corn seemed to temper it well.  Nutmeg and a slight bitter – almost coffee – were present.  It had a thin mouth feel, almost watery, but that works to it’s advantage – thicker would cause the spice to linger too long.  There was a soft sweetness as well, part corn and part caramel.

The finish was hot but not lingering.  There was a pepper to the finish, and it was the first time I detected a touch of oak. Most of all, there was that ever-present corn, soft and subtle.

The recipe for Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon seems good – it was not overly simple, and blended nicely with the older sourced bourbon.  As a sipping whiskey, it could use more aging to add complexity and depth.  As a main ingredient in some of the totally unique cocktails they are preparing at their tasting room, it works very very nicely.

Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon is not yet available at distributors, but will be soon.  The price point – like most micro-distillers – is still on the higher side ($50 for 750mL), but there is something to be said for buying local now, isn’t there.

And the Tasting Room is well worth a visit!

Dan’s Rating: 7.5

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

First of all…Happy New Year!  Hopefully you had a wonderful holiday season, full of merriment, joy and bourbon.  I most certainly did, so much so that I’m just now saying Happy New Year on the 12th of January!  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the delay in posting a blog was due to football – between my Missouri Tigers winning a New Years Day bowl and my beloved Detroit Lions losing a game to the Dallas Referees Cowboys, I’ve been wrapped up in football fever.

One of the best things about being emotionally invested in football this time of year is gathering with friends and coping with the nervousness of a tight game by sampling a new whiskey or two.  And that is exactly what we did as time ran down on the Lions-Cowboys.  We opened a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye and tried something new.

I first had Angel’s Envy Rye last year at the Bourbon Classic.  I admit, by the time I sampled it, I had partaken of a few other whiskies and my palate wasn’t quite as clean as I’d like for a review.  But even then, I knew there was something very different about this pour.  It took a little longer for the A.E. Rye to make it to Michigan, so in May I purchased a bottle while in Maryland to have for myself.  This seemed the perfect opportunity to try it.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel's Envy Rye
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

Few bourbons have grown on me like Angel’s Envy has.  When I first reviewed it last year, I thought it remarkably smooth and clean – and a little dull.  And I still think that it is one of the less complex bourbons I’ve had, in that price range anyway.  But given the choice between a glass of Angel’s Envy and most other readily available bourbons, I have found I will choose the Angel’s Envy consistently. That has even included Kentucky Derby day!  So what of this Rye?

I remember trying it at the Bourbon Classic and thinking “this is like candy!”  And why not – Angel’s Envy Rye is finished for “up to 18 months” in Plantation XO Rum casks.  So they take a rye whiskey, and then age it for a year and a half in rum casks before bottling it at 100 proof.  Sound interesting?  It certainly tastes interesting.

Dan’s Take:

Angel’s Envy Rye comes in the same style attractive bottle as its sister.  It’s a little pricier ($60-80), and a little harder to find.  I have read from others that it is an MGP/LDI sourced rye, so it shares characteristics with Bulleit. And let’s skip to the chase – if you like your rye whiskies tough, spicy and hot, this isn’t the one for you.  But if you like something with some sweetness, read on.

This rye has a nose that’s as exotic as the trip these barrels have seen.  There is little of the typical whiskey bite – rather, a sweet bouquet of orange peel, brown sugar, coconut and pear melt with a soft rye scent of clove, cinnamon and allspice.  This smells sugary, much more like a rum than a whiskey, and it’s light and pleasant.

The taste has a lot going on.  It has a thickness to it, creamy and buttery but with many of those same rum characteristics.  Honey and cinnamon, with a touch that could even be pineapple.  The toasted oak is very light, and the rye doesn’t fully blossom until the back of the palate.  The higher proof also shows through, and it does have a bit of a bite in the back end (if only because it started so sweet).  Make no mistake, it tastes like whiskey, not rum, but the typical pepper of rye is far offset by the sweetness that envelopes.

The finish is, admittedly, a bit confusing.  The rye notes are there, with their spice and slight burn, but there is the thickness of rum as well.  The sweetness, so nice in the sip, is a bit muddled in the finish.

I like sweet drinks, and I like mellower whiskies, so I rate this one with a pretty big caveat – this is not your grandfather’s rye.  It may share a recipe with Bulleit or Dickel, but the finishing makes it wholly unique.  This is a great whiskey for a summer night, I believe (or a winter night you want to pretend).  As a taste profile, it might even be closer to the glut of “flavored” whiskeys on the market – but it has a few things none of them seem to: it’s made of a solid product to start, and the flavor is much more natural than any maple or honey additive found in one of those products.  So my rating is for someone who, like me, has a sweet tooth now and again.

Dan’s Rating: 8.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Happy holidays! Hopefully you all had a wonderful holiday season as we did here at Baseball and Bourbon, sipping fine bourbon by the fire with loved ones.  We were spoiled here, with a few new bourbons finding their way into our tasting collection as well as some well loved regulars. I can’t wait to pop the cork on all of them, and today I start with a bottle of Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel.

EH Taylor is one of the many labels produced by our friends at Buffalo Trace.  Taylor himself has been referred to as the “father of modern bourbon,”  due to his strict adherence to better bourbon and whiskey aging practices and his importance and influence in getting the “Bottled in Bond” Act of 1897 (the Act required that spirits labeled as “Bonded”or “Bottled-in-Bond” must be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season. It also required that bonded spirits be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof).

Taylor also bought and expanded a distillery on the Kentucky river that survives today as… Buffalo Trace!  So when BT launched it’s E. H. Taylor line of whiskeys, it was made up of spirits aged in the actual Taylor warehouses and using the Taylor recipes.

There are a collection of Taylor products – Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Straight Rye – all of which are aged in the famous Warehouse C on the Buffalo Trace campus, and most considered exceptional.  So how does this stories bourbon hold up?

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

In short, spectacular.  The Col. E. H. Taylor Single Barrel that we sampled was a complex and impressive pour.  There is no barrel or batch information on the packaging or bottle, so I can’t note which bottles it shares traits with.  There is also no age statement – an internet search came back with anything between 7 and 12 years.  Armed with…surprisingly little knowledge, we dove ahead.

(Ed. Note – Buffalo Trace media relations has let me know that the 2014 E. H. Taylor is “between 9-10 years old”)

Dan’s Take:

First of all, the color is quite dark, and made me wonder more about the age.  It was a deep amber, more akin to a 15 year old than a 7.  It caught me off guard, to be honest.

The nose kept me off guard.  There was a sharp bite to the nose – while 100 proof is obviously pretty potent, it had the alcohol burn of a barrel proof.  I backed off a bit, and found myself swimming in the scent of vanilla, cinnamon, toasted oak, a hint of butterscotch and, present and growing as the glass opened, black licorice.

The taste presented what the nose hinted to.  As a small sip, the EH Taylor Single Barrel has a thick almost creaminess to it, with a good push of corn and buttery caramel on the front.  The middle opened up to a spiciness that belies it’s relatively low rye content – cinnamon, all spice, even a bitter dark chocolate, with a peppery, spicy finish.

With a larger sip, the front burns a little more – again that 100 proof seems more like 120 – and while it retains the buttery sweetness in the front, slight bitter in the middle (more oak and tobacco is evident that in the small sip) it has a very long and potent finish, with oak, spice and a hint of peppermint.

The Col. E. H. Taylor is not the most of anything – not the sweetest, or spiciest, or most complex.  But it is a well rounded bourbon, easy sipping and very smooth.  Perfect for a fire and maybe ushering in the new year?

My rating: 8.5

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon – Founders

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon – Founders

Hello, and happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully you had a great one, with food, family, friends and, of course, bourbon.  My wife and I brought a bottle of Old Weller Antique to Thanksgiving dinner ourselves, and it certainly went over well.

Back to talking bourbon, and this week, it’s all about a new one appearing at shops all over Michigan – the Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon, Founders Edition.  Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD) is not a name we are familiar with here in Michigan, so it’s drawn particular note.  Add in the fact that this bourbon is finished in Kentucky Breakfast Stout beer casks from the much beloved Michigan beer maker Founders, and it’s bound to turn some heads.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers  Cask Finished Bourbon - Founders
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon – Founders.  Note, that is a Founders Breakfast Stout in the photo, rather than the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which is very hard to find this time of year.

First, to find out more about the Berkshire Mountain Distillers and this drink, I went to their founder, Chris Weld.  Chris let me know that Berkshire Mountain Distillers (which is in western Massachusetts) first distills their own bourbon and ages it for 4 years, before moving it to the finishing barrels.  Their blend is heavy on the corn – 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley (half of that is malted barley).  They are finishing bourbons in barrels from 10 or so of the best small distillers in America, including Sam Adams (Boston), Big Sky (Montana), Cigar City Brewing (Tampa Bay, FL), Full Sail (OR), Hale’s Ales (Seattle, WA), Brewery Ommegang (NY), Smuttynose Brewing Company (NH), Terrapin (GA), Tröegs (PA) and Founders in Michigan.

Berkshire Mountain Distillery has won some awards, and their bourbon is certainly no slouch.  But even I was a bit confused about taking a bourbon after 4 years in the barrel and finishing it for 9 months in a different bourbon barrel that had held stout beer in between…

To get a good feel for the Founders beer and what it adds, I went to good friend and founder of Good Pour (a beer lovers appreciation and events group), Dave Cicotte.  Dave is a fan of the Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and gave me a review of the Founders KBS (and some useful beer knowledge to boot):

“When…poured in a snifter or tulip glass (around 55-58 degrees), the aromas of chocolate and coffee come to life. You’ll get a hint of the oak bourbon barrels when

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout. Photo courtesy of my Justin Ables, Good Pour contributor

nosing KBS in the glass, but you’ll get the full effect on the backend when tasting. The way it hits my palette is coffee, chocolate, bourbon, finished with the smokiness of the barrels. To intensify the flavor and get the best of both worlds, I like to (with any specialty beer) take a sip, swallow, and then exhale out of my nose. I know it sounds silly, but talk about getting the full effect of specialty beer! I also like to take my time with KBS and other imperials.

As the beer temperature starts to catch up with the temperature of the room, it begins to take new form. You’ll get different flavors along the way. I’ve begun to notice the higher the temperature, the more bourbon flavor you get. However, going beyond 70 degrees doesn’t interest me, and of course I don’t sit with a thermometer, so it’s more of a guessing game at the exact temperature. However, according to some studies (check out beergraphs.com) show that beer temperature, when in a room at a stable 70-71 degrees, will increase throughout an hour at an average rate of about 3.2 degrees every ten minutes, while alternating between holding the glass by the stem and setting it on a table/not holding it.

Getting into pairing KBS with food, I made sure to enjoy it with my thanksgiving dinner. My favorite pairing was with the stuffing. My mother in law makes an amazing mushroom stuffing that includes a little spice, cranberries, pine nuts, and a few other secret ingredients. Although I enjoyed KBS with my main course, I also saved some for desert, which happened at about the 68 degrees. I paired it with homemade flan… and it was amazing! It’s hard for me to pick my favorite beer, but I have to say KBS is up there for me. at least in the top five.”

So with all the knowledge I could put together, how is the bourbon?

Dan’s Take:  The nose of the BMD-Founders is very sweet, rich with caramel, corn, hints of vanilla and a fruitiness of raisin.  What I didn’t notice was the scent of stout beer that is usually up front in beer finished bourbons.  There was the subtlest hint of hops and barley, but so slight that it might have fooled me if I was tasting blindly.

The taste was a bit different.  The sweetness faded a bit, giving way to the cinnamon spiciness of rye.  The Berkshire Mountain Distillery bourbon is a very, very smooth pour, and even with the stout finish, it holds up here.  The sweetness that is there is more of a chocolate variety, with a touch of deep butterscotch.  Finally, there is the stout beer, adding a bit of bitterness to the taste.  Part coffee, part dark chocolate, it is definitely in the background, and far from overwhelming.

The finish is a little more of that dark chocolate with a bit of toasted…pine?

We liked the Berkshire Mountain Distillery-Founders, although the price point ($60+ in Michigan) is a bit high, especially with more and more finished bourbons available for less.  More than anything, BMD Founders is smooth.  Nicely done.

My rating: 7.8

Read more from Good Pour here: Good Pour on Facebook  Good Pour on Twitter

Thank you to Chris Weld of Berkshire Mountain Distillery and Dave Cicotte of Good Pour.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

So, the word is another Polar Vortex is headed down, and we can already feel it here in Michigan.  There is a serious chill in the air, and the briskness plus the earlier nightfall serve as a reminder that winter is right around the corner.

What better time, then, to try out a bourbon that comes to us from the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains – Breckenridge Bourbon from Breckenridge, Colorado!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey (photo taken at the National World War II Memorial)
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey (photo taken at the National World War II Memorial)

Now, Breckenridge has been on the scene for a few years now, ever since it placed top three at the 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition (in England).  This has led to some pretty loud claims of excellence, and a close eye on their methods.

As origin stories go, Breckenridge has a pretty darn good one.  They tout the pure, melting Colorado snowmelt they use in proofing as one of their unique qualities – a shot across the bow to those who believe only Kentucky limestone water can make a proper bourbon.  The award put them in a rarefied air as well, drawing comparisons to BTAC-grade products.

What is very clear is their rye content.  Breckenridge uses a 56/38/6 corn/rye/barley recipe.  This certainly falls on the higher side.  What is less clear is how Breckenridge comes to be.  While some of their bourbon seems produced at their distillery proper (where they keep a custom 700 gallon Vendome combination Pot still, amongst others), they do reportedly source as well, and blend the native and sourced bourbon, before proofing it with their unique Colorado water at one of the highest altitudes of a distillery in the world.

So, with a great story like this, what about the taste?

I purchased my bottle in 2013, and it is different in that it is a Single Barrel selection (from Kakos Liquor in Birmingham).

It certainly has a healthy amber color, and the nose was sweet and spicy.  I noted a very hearty corn, but also raisin, hints of butterscotch and honey.  and a touch of citrus.

The taste was not as sweet as the nose.  It was remarkably smooth, if obviously a bit on the young side (there is no age statement, but 3 years has been the buzz on the internet).  It has a medium thick mouth feel, and the corn lives up front, alongside a slight tingle of rye.  There was almost no presence of oakiness, and the back end was exactly what I’d expect from such a rye content – cinnamon, pepper and the slightest touch of leather.

The finish, now thats where things got weird.  It has a shorter than expected finish – the smoothness slides the taste away quickly.  MAybe that’s because of youth.  But both Jen and I noticed a bit of aftertaste, not unpleasant, but not easily identifiable.  Was it minerals from the runoff snow?  Was it a thicker mouth feel than it seemed?  Do I need to wash my bourbon glasses better?  It wasn’t the last – we tried different glasses.  Jen jokingly called it a ‘splenda aftertaste – like diet bourbon!’ and that was a little bit what it was like.  Unique.

All in all we liked it – it was smooth, and clean.  Maybe it’s effective marketing creating preconceptions, but it tasted cleaner as we thought of that snow melting.  It’s a bit young, and a higher rye than I traditionally like, but it was a very good pour.  I do have a curiousity what it will taste like if it’s left in the barrel for four to eight more years…

Dan’s Rating: 8.2

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye

Well, first of all, Happy Halloween! Once more it’s the time of year with ghosts and goblins, tricks and treats.  Children dressing scarily and wondering through your streets collecting candy.  I hope you and yours enjoy it this year.  It’s also deep into autumn, with the harvest coming up, and I like to think of all the corn, the wheat, the ryes that will soon be mashed and distilled into my favorite treat – whiskey!

Secondly, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who last night won their third World Series in five years.  I feel like the Giants are our adoptive team, as my wife Jen and I went to see them during our honeymoon in 2012.  Particularly amazing was the performance of Madison Bumgarner,  I’m glad I watched this series through to the end!

And now…on to bourbon.  Or in this case, rye.

The Willett name has a long and storied history, going all the way back to pilgrims who arrived in the US in the 1600s.  The Willett family has been responsible for bourbon distilling in Kentucky since the 1860s, and has played an important role in much of the great bourbon legacy there.

In the 1930s, the Willett family started the Willett Distilling Company on the family farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, and it still sits there today.  Willett, which later changed it’s name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers(1984), made bourbons on the family farm up until the 1970s.  At that time, during the oil crisis, they made the decisions to have their whiskey brands made elsewhere and age and bottle them (or just bottle them) onsite.  This allowed them to convert their production facilities to make gasahol fuel.  This venture did not work out, however, and by the 1980s, the Willett location was only used for it’s warehouses and bottling.

Several brands are released under the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers name – Johnny Drum, Kentucky Vintage, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill among others.  They also do aging and bottling for a few other brands, including Corner Creek and the sought after Black Maple Hill.

In the mid 2000’s, the family started work to reopen the Willett production facilities, and by 2012, they barreled the first of their new products.  And in 2014, they unveiled it at last – the Willett Family 2 Year Rye.

I was down in Kentucky in June and visited Willett, and was lucky enough to land a few bottles of the brand new, Willett produced two year rye.  So how’d it taste?

Dan's (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family 2 Year Rye
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family 2 Year Rye

My review:

107 proof – that was the strength of my Willett 2 Year Rye – a nice barrel proof number.  And Willett certainly knows bottling – their Still Pot Reserve has won awards for it’s beautiful bottles, and their ryes come in beautiful bottles adorned with the family seal as well.  In short, it’s a lovely bottle.

It has a nice gold color, and the nose is fantastic.  There is a definite fruitiness in the nose – I picked up cherry, citrus and a hint of raisin.  The woodiness reminded me of something other than oak – more like a cedar or even a Christmas pine.  I soaked it in, and found some vanilla.  What shocked me the most was the lack of a burn.  Despite the high proof, this pour didn’t smell like pure alcohol, and had a surprising richness.

I’ll admit, my first sip was jarring.  The nose had put me to sleep, and I took perhaps too big of a drink, forgetting the high potency of the proof.  But even as I coughed a bit, caught off guard, I noticed how smooth it was going down.  My next drink was more restrained, and I got a good feel for this rye.  It was softer than a 2 year has any right to be, with a great range of flavor that belies it’s age.  It had an earthiness to it, and I thought mint rose to the top, along with a maple.  I didn’t note the usual pepper or cinnamon ryes have – it’s probably too young to have really soaked that in from the wood – but there is far more citrus than I would have ever expected.  Overall, it’s rather sweet.

And it has a nice finish to boot.  Not the longest finish, but smooth and lingering where a touch of spice mixes with an earthiness (that is probably the biggest tip off to it’s age).

On the whole, I’m not as big a fan of ryes as I am traditional bourbons.  But for this Willett entry, I’ll make an exception.   It doesn’t have the ‘graininess’ of a young rye – that taste that lets you know that some of this whiskey has never touched the side of a barrel.  Instead, I would have thought upon blind taste that it was at least four, and maybe even six or eight years old. What really intrigues me is what these barrels will taste like in a few more years!

Dan’s Rating: 8.5

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select

Oh, Frank Sinatra.  There are few voices in music I enjoy more, few people who’s interpretation of a song I respect more.  In short, there are few vocalists who I enjoy more.  The legend of his connection to Jack Daniels whiskey, “the nectar of the gods,” is well documented and very, very cool.  Long before Jack became the libation of choice for rock and rollers, it was three fingers and some rocks for the swingingest cat that ever put on a fedora to take a Las Vegas stage.

My introduction to Frank came many years before my introduction to Jack, courtesy of a Christmas record (Christmas Songs by Frank Sinatra).  A regular in my house at the holidays, I quickly found his versions of the holiday classics to be my favorites.  As I got older, I purchased an anthology on CD (Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years) and it was official – I was a full on fan of Ol’ Blue Eyes.  I started to get all of the albums I could – and believe me, there are a ton.  My favorite era, though, has always stayed that 1955-1969 era, starting with In The Wee Small Hours, and ending with My Way.  Songs For Swingin’ Lovers, Come Fly With Me, September of My Years and on and on, all of them brilliant.

I discovered Jack along the way as well, and throughout my 20s, it remained my drink of choice.  Smooth but punchy, a little bite but flavorful, good with Coke or straight, Jack Daniels was a staple of mine, at bar or home.  Later, when they put out the even smother Gentleman Jack, it took over the coveted position as my favorite cocktail drink.  As a fact I will detail in a longer post sometime in the future, it was my love of Jack Daniels that started me down the path of Bourbon, as a great friend noted my love of Jack and pointed me in the direction of Kentucky whiskey.

The past few years, the team at Brown Forman (owners of the Jack Daniels brand) has introduced a number of specialty releases to their trademark product.  They also embraced the relationship between Ol’ Blue Eyes and Old No. 7 and developed a marketing campaign around it including radio and television advertising.

With this in mind came the Jack Daniels Sinatra Select special release – a unique, limited and (very) pricey tribute to the Chairman of the Board.  I coveted a bottle, and at my birthday, received a wonderful gift from my wife and her family: a bottle of the treat.  So how did it taste?

Dan's (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select

First of all, I do not judge the value of a bourbon (or in this case – whiskey).  If it is one thing I’ve learned in this crazy, often inflated market, it’s that value can only be determined by the individual.  I don’t know that a bottle of anything is worth $1,500 to me, but plenty of folks clamor on Craigslist to grab a bottle of Pappy for just that.  I am far more likely to point out a great deal or value than the opposite.

I bring that up, because the Jack Daniels Sinatra Select is very pricey.Around $175+ in stores, and far more online.  Is it worth it?  That is completely dependent on the collector.  Personally, I’m glad to have it.

The packaging is beautiful, with a case and small book detailing the Sinatra-Jack history.  There is also an ‘invitation’ to the Jack Daniels Country Club, As the website explains:

Founded by Frank Sinatra, the Country Club was only for his closest friends. When Frank once arrived in England decked out in classic British style — gray flannel trousers and a dark blue blazer with a crest — the local media went into a tizzy to determine just what royal house the crest represented. It became clear upon closer examination the crest was crossed golf clubs and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s surrounded by the words: “Jack Daniel’s Country Club.” Frank had commissioned the patch for himself and a few close friends, and had them added to custom-made blazer.

Also, the bottle is a one-liter size (instead of 750 mL), so there is more pour.  The Sinatra Select is aged in casks that have had grooves put into the barrel staves. This allows for more alcohol to stay in contact with the wood itself (increases surface area).

The nose shows this.  Outside of being a sharper alcohol smell than the regular Jack (it’s 90 proof, as opposed to the typical 80), there is a thick wood, as well as smokiness and a hint of tobacco.  Just like Frank would have liked it.

The taste puts you on your heals a bit.  It does not have they typical Jack smoothness.  It is immediately husky, with that oak flavor prominent right from the start.  There are touches of orange peel and molasses, but the wood and some accompanying black pepper take over quickly and remain well into the finish.

The finish itself is on the short size, and smoother than the taste would have you anticipate.  But the biggest item of note is that this whiskey tastes dry! Jack Daniels Sinatra Select has the tannins and dryness that would typically be associated with gin or red wine.  It wasn’t unpleasant, but seemed like a negative aspect of the stave grooving.

The drink is cool, just like it’s namesake.  And it’s fun – and a fine collector piece.  As a glass to have on the regular, you might want to grab some Gentleman Jack or regular Number 7.

Dan’s Rating: 7.7

Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean II: Aged At Sea

Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean II: Aged At Sea

We are here in Kentucky, for the third time this year, for a bourbon event.  Today, we will visit the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown for a bit, before returning to Louisville and gussying ourselves up for a the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala tonight.  MY wife has a lovely dress picked out, and I will actually be in black tie – an event slightly less rare than Haley’s Comet.  I’ll be posting more about it tomorrow, but for today, it’s the review of a bourbon I wanted to try for a while – the Jefferson’s Ocean II: Aged At Sea.

Dan's Bourbon Review of the Week - Jefferson's Ocean: Aged at Sea
Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea

Now, the story of the Jefferson’s Ocean is as interesting as anything.  A few years ago, Jefferson master blender Trey Zoeller put a limited number of aged barrels on a ship, and let it sail around the world.  Upon it’s return, they sampled and bottled it, and Jefferson’s Ocean was born.  The reviews were good – some pointed out that the temperature fluctuations and rolling motion of being on a ship gave it a truly unique taste, while some even pointed out an almost briny salt water taste deep within.

With that success, Zoeller dispatched 60+ more barrels of bourbon for a 6-month trip on a container ship.  The bourbon is reportedly 6-8 years old, and details of it’s source or blend aren’t known.  As the ship (and stored barrels) crossed the equator four times and stopped on four continents, the whiskey rolled in the barrels, increasing it’s contact time with the wood and slightly agitating not unlike a washing machine.  The process is pretty cool, but the question is – “Is the bourbon any good?”

My answer is absolutely yes.

The nose was one of the sweetest I’ve ever experienced in a bourbon.  Rich caramel, vanilla, brown sugar and a hint of what almost reminded me of banana creme wafted from the top.  Oak woodiness around the edges, but the smell of this liquor made me anticipate a rum like sweetness.

Two things struck me immediately at first sip: (1) this bourbon is far sweeter than I had expected, and so very smooth; and (2) the very thick mouth feel.  This bourbon has an almost creamy, sweet feel, and rolls almost like a liqueur across the tongue.  Again, caramel, vanilla, a touch of maple syrup blends with a touch of non-bitter spices and the oakiness of a well aged bourbon.  Others have noted a salt or brine touch on this drink – I did not get that at all.  I did get a good dose of dried or candied fruit, particularly citrus.

The finish was very smooth, and the longer it sat in the glass, the more sweet it smelled.  I don’t want to give the wrong impression – it’s not sweet like a rum or soda.  But it definitely is for the sweeter palate, and that’s perfectly fine with me.  I found it to be delicious.

Dan’s Rating: 9.0

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T. Stagg

A good start to the week – my beloved Detroit Tigers won the first of three against the division rival (and division leading) Kansas City Royals yesterday afternoon, closing the pennant gap to one.  The Detroit Lions beat up on the New York Giants last night on Monday Night Football to kick a new season off the right way.  And the temperature here in Detroit leads one to think autumn is right around the corner.  My favorite time of year.

For this week’s Bourbon of the Week, however, I return to those dog days of summer.  I was fortunate enough this year to accompany my lovely wife on a work trip to Los Angeles back in July.  It was a fantastic trip, full of sun, beaches, wonderful entertainment and great food.  We got to see Chris Isaak (a favorite of mine) at the Hollywood Bowl, and take in a show at the Comedy Store, including Marc Maron and Ralphie May. But, while LA has all the glitz and glamour, there is one thing it is definitely missing: bourbon.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t find some good times and good bourbon.  A visit to the Dresden made me feel like I was in Swingers, and three fingers of Maker’s Mark certainly helped with that.  But from establishment to establishment, it was more of the same: Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Makers.  No Buffalo Trace, no Woodford, not even Knob Creek.  Finally, I went online to find somewhere in this sprawling expanse to procure a glass of something…special.  And sure enough, I found it, in Hollywood, of all places.

The bar is called the Township Saloon, and I will review the bar itself in the near future.  It’s a cool, hipster-meets-divey bar on Sunset, away from the Hollywood hullabaloo, and on that Friday night, kind of quiet.  Perfect for sampling one of the rarest of treats, because they had George T. Stagg.

For some reason, I have been unable to locate a bottle of GTS in Michigan, even third party, and Kentucky has fared me no better.  So I was excited to take a drink of this much respected and crowed about product for myself.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg (photo from Wikipedia, as my camera stopped working that night!)

Some say George T. Stagg is the best bourbon made – another fine member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It’s age varies (I have been told the 2013 was 16 years old), and it is a proud product of Buffalo Trace mashbill #1.

It has a very high proof – 129 on this bottling – so a keeping a little ice handy isn’t a bad idea, although I first tried it neat.  After all the raving I’ve read, I was looking forward to trying it.

The nose took me a minute.  Like most high proofed bourbons, the alcohol sears a bit on first blush, and should be given a minute to breathe.  Then, the world opens on this glass.  There was a dark sweetness to it, toffee and caramel, but not overwhelmingly so.  Plum, raisin peeked through, maple sugar, and a soft oakiness that was dry and had a hint of tobacco.

The taste was dark as well.  The toffee remained, along with an almost dark chocolate character. There was a hint of bitter, like coffee, before giving way to a wood that seemed fresh.  It is a strong drink, so I added a few ice chips, and found the sweetness seemed to dissipate a bit, while the oak and slight bitter remained.

The finish was surprisingly short for such an aged and high-proof pour, although I did get hints of cinnamon on the back end.

Did I enjoy it? Thoroughly.  Is it in my top five?  Well, not this years, but that just gives me a reason to try again next year.

Dan’s Rating: 8.8