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 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

 

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

OK, two things:

1) As this summer has gotten busier and busier, I have not been good about posting regularly.  I’m still sampling new bourbons, still reading about developments in the whiskey world and what not, but I’m not writing about it enough.

2) Despite the name “Baseball and Bourbon,” I hardly ever write about baseball! I named the blog Baseball and Bourbon because I planned on reviewing two of the things I enjoy the most: baseball parks and bourbons.  However, I discovered two key facts early on – it’s difficult to visit new parks regularly, and it’s way more fun (and easy) to try new bourbons.  This year alone, I have been able to visit one new park (Nationals Park), but will have gone on three separate trips to Kentucky for bourbon related events.

Both of these things will change now.

Not going to more baseball parks – time and money can prohibit that pretty severely.  But introducing more baseball content.  Reviews of baseball books, baseball movies, write-ups of parks I’ve visited in the past and just more baseball chatter will be a priority.  My hometown Detroit Tigers are (again) serious contenders for the title, and I keep pretty well plugged in to baseball.  Time to put it to type.

Secondly, I will include more bourbon reviews, but also, talk more at length about whiskey bars I visit, industry trends, and other whiskeys, especially ryes,

So let the fun begin!

Last night, after what has proven to be a particularly trying week in many regards, my wife and I sat down and opened a bottle that she had picked up a few weeks back out of curiosity.

Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

OK, call this a spoiler alert, but I LOVED this bourbon.  Ezra B (Brooks) 12 Year is a Heaven Hill distillery product, and while Heaven Hill makes some bourbons I have liked (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig) and some I haven’t, none have ever tasted quite like this.

While the Ezra B 12 Year is the classier bottle of the Ezra Brooks line, with its wax cap and ribboned label, it’s not obscenely priced.  A little harder to find here in Detroit, it was still available at a store, and not only through third party sellers.  We opened the bottle and poured a healthy amount into our glasses…

…wow, what a fantastic nose.  Ezra B is 99 proof, but the nose didn’t burn of alcohol at all.  Amazingly, it was a sweet, rich nose, with notes of vanilla, caramel, raisin, rum, pecans and wood.  Not charred wood, mind you, but soft wood, like a new baseball bat.  It was warm and inviting.

The taste was outstanding.  First of all, Ezra B 12 Year is a thick mouth feel – like a melting butter.  But unlike most thicker tasting bourbons, Ezra B isn’t full of those mouth-puckering tannins some people (not I) love.  Instead, it’s incredibly smooth with a layered taste.  It opens with a rich sweetness – raisin and ripe banana, toffee and caramel, before giving way to a warming but not overpowering spice.

The finish is soft and medium, and almost seems to come in waves, but not of spice or rye, but rather, that wonderful citrus taste.

This just became a favorite.

Dan’s rating: 9.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon

I’ve been spoiled a bit lately with the bourbons I’ve been sampling.  Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare 17, even the local spirits have been impressive. And I have plenty more quality beverages to sample in the near future.  But today I turn my attention to a bit of an odd one: The John B. Stetson Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon

Now, I appreciate a good Stetson hat.  Growing up with a love for country music, how couldn’t I?  But a Bourbon produced for a company famous for hats and western clothes – color me skeptical.

I purchased the bottle in Kentucky, unaware that it was available here in Michigan.  It’s certainly an attractive enough bottle, with it’s leather tie and old style label.

My take: On pour, this bourbon is light.  Very light.  Not at all the darker hues I’m used to, it has an amber clearness to it.  Looking online, the belief is that it is a four-year-old bourbon, and there is much speculation as to where the juice is sourced from, before being labeled and bottled for the Stetson company.

The nose reflects this – it is light and airy at first, and slowly opens up to reveal a corn syrup smell, with a sharp alcohol bite.  It’s a rye/wheat blend (in addition to the usual barley and, of course, corn), but has only the lightest spiciness (baking spices, not pepper) in the smell.

To me it tasted very much as I suspected it would: very light and almost watery with a corn sugar opening.  It never really heats up too much, and while very light hints of allspice, and a trace of butterscotch are present, it tastes…young.  The finish is quite smooth, but very short, and didn’t burn at all (which is fine with me).

If you gave me the choice between this and a Stetson hat, I’d probably take the hat.  But it’s not a bad bourbon, just a little young and a little light for my tastes.

Dan’s rating: 7.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Some days, you can’t wait to get home and pour a nice glass of bourbon to celebrate a job well done. Other days, it’s a nice relaxing way to end a hard days work. But sometimes, sometimes you need that drink, to help you remember that the working day is over and to remind your self that your toils are not for naught.

Now, dear reader, I hope that most of your days fall into the first category, with a few in the second. But when those third kind of days arise, that may well be why God gave us bourbon in the first place.

Now Monday and Tuesday weren’t so bad, not really. Just the kind of days where little fires sprung up all day, and there never seems to be enough water to put them all out. Luckily for me, at days end I was in luck: I had brought a new bottle of bourbon into work to ask our staff photographer (and my good friend) Mike Tesh to take a picture of it for this website. Seeing as how it was days end, after all, I certainly saw no harm in sharing some of this new drink.

I’m also lucky to work at a place with a few like minded individuals. So without further ado, I also grabbed fellow bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister and Katie Gleason to join us.  Today’s bourbon of choice came to us from the New Holland Artisan Collection, a collection of which I have tried several different brandings already. Just a few weeks back I spoke to the fun of their Beer Barrel Bourbon, and I’m hoping to get a review posted in the next couple of weeks about one of my favorite whiskeys made by them, the Zeppelin Bend.

Today we tried the smaller batch Brewers Whiskey they have named Black River Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh

The Black River bourbon bottle states it was pot distilled and aged in new American oak, as all bourbon should be. From what I have read, it is my understanding that they barrel this whiskey in smaller barrels to accelerate the aging process. I may have my doubts about the successfulness of aging a bourbon more quickly by changing the barrel size. That said, we all poured a small glass, and went to work, albeit in a more utilitarian setting then I am accustomed to.

Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon
Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon

Our take: if you have read this blog before, you know I have a pretty simple way of judging and rating Bourbons by my palate. First, I try all Bourbons straight. No ice, no mixing, just straight from the bottle to the glass. If a bourbon is impressive in a glass by itself, then it needs no mixing. My favorite Bourbons are all ones that could be had in a glass, neat.

It needs proves to be harsh, or unimpressive, then I will add in a few chips of ice. There are certainly wonderful Bourbons that really don’t become themselves until there is a little ice added. Woodford Reserve, for instance, never tastes right to me without a few rocks in the glass. Woodford may not be my favorite bourbon, but it is certainly a good bourbon and a very nice pour.

If those two methods haven’t given me enough to impress, I will try a bourbon in a mixed drink. A Manhattan, a whiskey sour, etc. Personally I rarely like mixed drinks, so that really is a last method of finding something I like about any particular bourbon. Again, there are fine Bourbons that go well in Manhattans that I wouldn’t necessarily drink straight or on the rocks. But if I had to mix you too enjoy you, you aren’t going to rate very high with me.

Unfortunately, the Black River Bourbon falls somewhere between that second and third category. It’s nose was relatively unimpressive.  There was the strong scent of corn, with an undercurrent of oak. I could pick out raisins, and some earthy tones, but mostly it was the corn and wood.

The taste could only be described as young. The mouth feel was very thin, and as Josh had pointed out to me quickly, there was an emptiness of body. The predominant taste was that of Oakwood. There was a subtle hint of cigar box, some light nuttiness and a general burnt sugar that never grew into something greater, like molasses for brown sugar, but rather, stayed with a slight singed taste.

The finish was mellow, and again the wood returned. There was nothing disagreeable, or unpleasant about this bourbon. Just unremarkable. As we drank our second set, we all agreed: there wasn’t much to say negative about this bourbon, there just wasn’t anything that positive to say either.

Not all efforts are winners. Buffalo trace, four instance, takes big risks with their Single Oak Project, and their experimental bourbon line. If this is an effort that New Holland is using to refine their process, the good news is they’ve made a quality bourbon. It just isn’t anything special. Not yet anyway.

As for us, well, as Josh and I joked, the worst day drinking bourbon at work beats the best day not!”

Dan’s Rating: 6.9

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

T-minus two days until I head to Louisville, KY with my lovely wife for the Bourbon Classic.  I could not be more excited – and I will be posting updates all weekend as I partake in all the bourbon culture this weekend promises.  Plus, I will get to escape the Polar Vortex madness that has settled on the great lakes!

For those curious, the Bourbon Classic is a (now) annual convention/conference/event bringing together distilleries, writers, speakers, master distillers, chefs, mixologists and just about anybody else interested in bourbon for a two day event in downtown Louisville.  This will be my first time going, so I am ready for a weekend of learning about and thoroughly enjoying all it has to offer.

With such a fine event on the horizon, it seemed the best time to pick a sure thing for my bourbon of the week.  And today, that means none other than the legend itself, Pappy Van Winkle. In this case, the 15 year.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

 

I won’t waste your -or my – time recapping the Pappy Van Winkle story. What I will do is review this elusive bottle for those who, like me, have had a *difficult* (read: impossible) time procuring the drink. Hopefully, it can help someone decide for themselves – is it worth it?

When I say “worth it,” I am referring to the hunt for Pappy, or to pay the increasingly higher prices enthusiasts find when searching. For taste alone, I’m not sure ANY bourbon is worth the hundreds of dollars PVW commands. Many of those who are dropping hundreds of dollars for this, or any other rare whiskey, are doing it more for the prestige of having the bottle in their collection than the taste or quality. But that does not mean that PVW does not have those things. It actually has them in spades.

My take: I’ve had the PVW 15 before, and have actually had this bottle for a year and a half before reviewing. Most notably, I had it at Buffalo Trace Distillery at a Pappy Van Winkle tasting event last year, where I sampled the 12, 15, 20 and 23 year. For my taste profile, the 20 year was best (a little smoother, a bit more stately) but many say the 15 year is the perfect bourbon, and I can see why.

It’s nose is unparalleled. At 107 proof, you expect the bite of alcohol, but won’t find it here. Instead, a sweet mix of cinnamon and honey, maple syrup, honey and a bit of sharp oak comes forth. I held the glass to my nose again and again, absolutely in love with its aroma.

The first sip is sharp – the charred oak mixes with a delightful caramel and it’s creamy texture almost separates on your tongue. There is that sweet thick vanilla caramel on the front, and toffee. In the back, the cinnamon pours out, with more oak and a husk spice that is unique in a wheated bourbon. It’s not harsh, but rather, smooth and strong. Clove and more oak come forward if you hold your sip a bit longer.

Then the finish – very very long and warming. Still smooth, but with warming oak flavor and the lingering of caramel.

I found waiting between sips made it even better. The second didn’t catch me off balance, and the sweetness increased with each subsequent sip, the sugar mingling with that smoky oak char.

Did I love it? Yes, even more this time than before. I can’t in good conscience leave it out of my top five, although I still prefer the softness of the 20 year. Is it worth $500 a bottle? Again, I’m not sure anything is. But a glass at a bar is worth the asking price, and if you have the means, you won’t regret it from the taste.

Yum.

Dan’s Rating: 9.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy

It’s cold here in Detroit. Damn cold. A “polar vortex!” The kind of brutal cold that makes you want to curl up by the fire with a good book or, in the case of my wife, all six seasons of Breaking Bad.  At once.  Yikes.

Personally, I prefer the warmth that comes from sipping a great bourbon.  So with that in mind, with the snow shoveling done and the wind howling, I perused my bourbon cabinet, and decided to try the unique looking bottle of Angel’s Envy.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Angel's Envy
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy

I will admit I had a bit of a grudge against Angel’s Envy.  When I first started making myself a nuisance around liquor stores, seeking out new bourbons to try and review, store keeper after store keeper would push Angel’s Envy on me.  It started to get obnoxious – I’m looking on the backs of shelves for a forgotten single barrel, a neglected micro distillery bottle or a dusty bottle of Pappy or Stagg, and aggressive sales people kept telling me “try Angel’s Envy.”  So I began to rebel against the thought of it, and didn’t pick up a bottle.

Well, this Christmas, I received a bottle as a gift, so there was no need to boycott it anymore.  So while the gales blew outside, I popped the cork and poured a glass.

Angel’s Envy has been on the scene for a couple years, a unique bourbon with two claims to fame – one that it was created by the Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, the taste buds behind Woodford Reserve’s introduction in the mid-90s, as well as the creation of Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey; and two that it is a bourbon finished in Port Wine ‘pipes’ or barrels.  Angel’s Envy hit the shelves in 2011, and didn’t take long to make a big splash.

Mr. Henderson passed away this last year, but the spirit he created in Angel’s Envy continues to live on.

My take:  It has a distinctive bottle and it a sharp looking product.  In the glass is is a lighter amber color than most of the bourbons I’ve sampled, more transparent and less thick looking.

But my goodness the nose – Angel’s Envy has a fantastic nose. There is a sweetness, like maple syrup and brown sugar. I also noted something reminiscent of raisins. With eyes closed, the sweetness came with each sniff – slight caramel, hints of vanilla.  This had one of my favorite noses of all time.

After such a spectacular nose, I had a hunch the taste may let me down, and it did, if only a bit.  Not that it was bad – far from.  It was smooth and there were no unreasonable tastes.  Mainly I noted soft corn, a hint of cinnamon and clove, and a very light vanilla.  It didn’t burn, and no particular flavor jumped to the forefront.  It was a fine, pleasant, and rather thin mouth-feeling bourbon.  The finish was long and warm, and only then did you get a hint of the port wine that it was finished in.

When we were done, my wife Jen and I looked for the right words to describe it and struggled a bit.  It was smooth, clean, almost too pure.  I would not hesitate offering a glass to a non-bourbon drinker as something they might well enjoy.  It was like…

…Gentleman Jack.  It hit me that it’s smooth, tasteful but ultimately safe pour reminded me of Gentleman Jack, the smooth, tasteful but ultimately safe pour Tennessee Whiskey I enjoy when I’m not feeling like a bourbon.  The fact that both are recipes from the same man only encouraged this feeling.

I love GJ, and I like AE.  It might not be the bourbon I would pour for the adventurous bourbon palette, and it doesn’t have the aged taste of a great bourbon.  But it is a also a drink you could have anytime without concern it would be the wrong taste for the moment either.  If it was a plain whiskey, I would give it something in the mid or high 8’s, but as it is a bourbon…

Dan’s scale (1-10): 7.8

*there is a cask strength Angel’s Envy, which I am looking to score a bottle of.  I have a hunch in a higher proof, I would like this bourbon even more and note certain flavors much more.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project Barrel Number 136

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project Barrel Number 136

A bittersweet weekend to be sure, but one deserving of a nice bourbon.  My Missouri Tigers beat Ole Miss on Saturday night, propelling them to a number five ranking in the country – exciting times indeed!  Next week it’s a matchup against Texas A&M, for the chance to play in the SEC championship game.

Unfortunately, Sunday led to a feeling all Detroit Lions fans know to well: the dismay of watching our beloved Motor City Kitties grab a defeat from the jaws of victory.  Four interceptions, a fumble, and a blocked punt to boot (pun sadly intended).  A brutal game watching experience while the November cold howled outside.

If that wasn’t enough, this week we raise our bourbon glasses to the passing of one of the best television characters I can remember rooting for (Spoiler Alert): Richard Harrow on Boardwalk Empire.  In my 36 years of television watching, I have grown fond of a lot of shows and certain characters – Silvio Dante (Sopranos), Jim Halpert (Office), Boyd Crowder (Justified), and on and on.  But few, if any, did I root for as much as I did for the sad, sharpshooting war veteran from Boardwalk Empire.  I (and we) rooted for his salvation, and felt true joy when he found it.  He was often the conscience on a show full of dark, evil deeds.  And last night, in the season finale, he was laid to rest after saving those people he cared about most, and was done in by the very soul he had found.  Rest in peace Richard – we drink to you!

So without further ado – our bourbon of the week!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project Barrel Number 136
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project Barrel Number 136

Today we try another bottle from the ever fun and interesting Buffalo Trace Distillery‘s Single Oak Project, and today’s comes from batch number 136.  A few details about 136:

Barrel # 136
Distillation Date: 1/6/2003
Age: 8 years old
Entry Proof: 125 info
Bourbon Recipe: Rye
Char Level: #4 Char
Months: Seasoned 6
Tree Cut: Bottom
Warehouse: L
Warehouse Type: Concrete Floor
Warehouse Location: L-3-27

I do love trying these unique one-of-a-kind bourbons, for the reasons I’ve stated before – much of the fun for me is in comparing the differences, the subtleties of the character that so many bourbons have, and by making each barrel so different, Buffalo Trace has really given us something to enjoy in that special way.

My take: There was much disagreement in the house on this one between my wife Jen and I. This particular batch exemplifies the differences in what each of us likes in our bourbons.

The nose was warm and inviting – a rich caramel and toffee gave way to notes of dried fruits and an almost sticky sense of molasses and honey.  One of the best noses I’ve encountered.

The mouth-feel was rich and thick, although not overwhelmingly so.  The taste was quite smooth, carrying through on the toffee and caramel, with a bit of molasses and nutmeg thrown in for good measure.  It was a little too smooth for Jen, who likes her bourbon spicy and punchier.  The finish was medium and also smooth, not overwhelming or harsh in the least.

To conclude – I liked this one – alot!

Dan scale (1-10): 8.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Old Weller Antique 107 Proof

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Old Weller Antique 107 Proof

Back in the saddle after a pretty miserable week – I had the misfortune of breaking a tooth on my way to a gig in upstate Michigan last week, and by last weekend, I had a fever, an inability to open my mouth more than an inch and worst of all, no appetite for food or even bourbon.  So I skipped my Bourbon of the Week last week, lest I deliver a less-than review.  Also, because consciousness was escaping me at large.  A root canal, some hefty antibiotics and the TLC of my wonderful wife and I’m almost back to full strength.

And of course, for all the weeks for me to power down, it had to be Pappy Van Winkle release week.  I will post later this week with my thoughts about the great Pappy search, the craziness that is ‘collectors bourbon’ right now (and how disheartening it can be for a true bourbon enthusiast) and how vultures are despicably ruining a great thing, but for now let’s just say that it looks like the PVW release of 2013 has left me high and dry.

So for my return, I go to a time tested and trusted friend.  My Bourbon of the Week is Old Weller Antique 107 Proof.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Old Weller Antique 107 Proof
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Old Weller Antique 107 Proof

One of the many things I enjoy about bourbon is the amount of variables can influence taste.  Aging, where the barrels are stored, the char, the oaks, the blend, the sour mash recipe – so many possible variations.  Old Weller Antique 107 adheres to one of the standards that makes the Van Winkle’s so highly touted: it uses wheat instead of rye, and uses the same mash bill.  This is why some have referred to the Old Weller as ‘poor man’s pappy.’  And there are certainly some similar qualities there.

My take: The Old Weller Antique 107 is a fine bourbon, with a fantastic price point. The nose is lovely, even from a distance, with thick notes of caramel, as well as some light apple, citrus, vanilla and even a bit of warm toffee.

The taste is thick and leans a bit toward the creamy, with a soft palate.  Vanilla, caramel comes with the good kick of that 107 proof.  You taste a bit of the earthiness that often comes with wheat.  There’s a soft spiciness in the back, but not overwhelming.  With a chip of ice, it opens up a little bit more and has a touch more zest.

The finish has a slight burn, but really not what you might expect.  It’s a medium-long finish, and quite satisfying.  Overall, a solid bourbon indeed!

Dan scale (1-10): 8.0