Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon

Single Barrel Bourbon, No Age Statement, 40% ABV, $38

Single Barrel Bourbon,
No Age Statement,
40% ABV, $38

I picked up this bottle on a trip to Breckinridge, Colorado a couple of years ago and have been working on it slowly and sharing it with others who have never heard of it.  Today, I decided to jot down some notes and actively work to empty the bottle in order to make room for more stuff.  Cedar Ridge claims that this is the first bourbon to be produced in Iowa and it’s even distilled there, not sourced like Breckinridge Bourbon (and so many others).  It’s a single barrel offering and this is bottle 267 from barrel 189 (can’t find a bottling date or age).

The nose is minty with hints of vanilla, caramel, barrel char and sweet corn.  At only 40% ABV, there’s still a good bit of alcohol burn and you’ll have to work to get past that to smell the fresh-cut cedar, but it’s worth it.  It’s different, but I like it.

The whiskey hits the palate with vanilla, sweet corn, wintergreen and develops a spicy bite before finishing with a mildly woody alcohol burn at the back of the throat.  There are further notes of cardboard, powdered lemon drop, bitter honey, white pepper, black pepper and a hint of persimmon.  The finish mostly lingers in the back of the throat with mild tannins, remnants of mint and a good burn.  It’s not a bad drink, but it’s lacking any kind of balance and comes across more like a minty rye whiskey than a bourbon after you get past the brief entrance.

For me it was worth the admission just to try an Iowa bourbon, but I’m done with it.  It doesn’t really stand on its own merit even at $38.  Get a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel instead and you’ll discover how something like this should really be executed.

StraightBourbon D/FW Gathering #3

Jefferson 21 Year RyeThis time the gathering occurred at the beautiful home of one of the SB members in Wylie.  He had a great collection of whiskey (mostly bourbon and rye) and was very generous in allowing us to taste several good whiskies.  Here’s what I sampled:

Four Roses Small Batch:  I’m surprised that I’ve not tasted this before, but I was glad to get a chance today.  It’s fruity, flavorful and a great value at $25-30 here. It made LiquorHound’s list of 10 best bourbons under $30 and it’s easy to see why.

Parker’s Heritage Collection #7, Promise of Hope:  A very solid and interesting bourbon, but nothing stellar.  I don’t think that this one is worth the effort of seeking out (and it’s very rare).

Rittenhouse 25 Year Rye:  This is by far the oldest rye that I’ve ever tasted and I’m quite certain that I’ll never find or be able to afford a bottle, so it was quite exciting to get a sample.  A very minty profile for sure, with good woody flavor, mild burn (50% ABV) and a nice balance of vanilla and caramel as well.  It doesn’t have the fruit flavors that I favor in a rye, but neither does Rittenhouse 100 Bottled-in-Bond, so this must be the profile of their whiskey.  It’s a very solid and well executed aged rye whiskey.

Jefferson 21 Year Rye:  Another heavy hitter, this time with much less mint and much less bold.  This is an easy drink with good complexity and I enjoyed it a lot while watching the fountains in the pool from the back porch.  There’s not a lot of wood as you might expect from the age and it’s nicely balanced and mildly complex.  I’d like to spend more time getting to know this one… especially by the pool.

My contributions for the gathering were: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon (55.7% ABV), Stagg Jr. Batch #3, Old Forrester Birthday Bourbon 2010, StraightBourbon Blend (60% Old Weller Antique and 40% Weller 12 Year), Copper Fox Rye and Four Roses 9 Year & 3 Month Single Barrel OBSK (59.2% ABV McScrooge’s Selection Barrel QS 88-3D).  I think they were thoroughly enjoyed and you’ll be hearing more about them here as I get to them myself.

St. George Single Malt (Lot SM012)

No Age Statement
43% ABV, $70

I picked this up in Denver a couple of years ago, but it’s now available in Texas.  This was the first lot that received enough praise to generate some interest, so I sought it out for a while before landing this bottle.  A new lot has since been released, although I haven’t seen it anywhere yet.

This single malt has a very fruity nose with notes of apple, pear and maraschino cherry complemented by marzipan, hazelnut, fresh cut straw and a hint of cocoa powder.

The taste is light, sweet and mildly spicy.  There’s some lemon drop, pear, candied fruits, short bread cookie, cocoa and graham cracker.  It’s a lighter profile with none of the thick caramel or vanilla flavors, but it’s still got a nice oily feel to it.  The spice is mild, mostly ginger, and fades into a finish of hazelnut and short bread cookie.

It’s clear that the spirit has been influenced by the wood greatly, but there’s no tannic effect or woody finish.  That means that it doesn’t really taste very young (I guess at around 8-10 years, but I don’t know the age of the whiskey).  I like the unique flavor (more like some younger Linkwood bottlings that I’ve had without any farmy flavors) and the bold, yet light flavors.  It’s a good change of pace and I’m looking forward to see what they’ve done with Lot 13.

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 18 Year Old

Cuban Rum, 18 Years, 40% ABV, $32

I originally learned about this rum a few years ago from Cap’n Jimbo’s Rum Project, where it was put forward as a reference standard for Cuban style rum.  Last year, it was discovered from court documents related to a dispute between members of the Matusalem family that the original recipe included macerated prunes and vanilla.  Since then, the current producers apparently started using artificial flavors resulting in the aforementioned dispute.  In any case, this is a relatively inexpensive rum with quite a heritage that has gone through some unfortunate changes recently.  Let’s give it a go….

Nose is sweet with a rich charred character and laced with overripe banana, vanilla bean, sweet tobacco and a feint reediness.  There’s also a bit of black pepper that comes through with more intense inhaling and overripe stone fruits with a softer approach.  It’s not very complex, but very enjoyable, especially if you enjoy sweet fruity aromas.

The taste is immediately sweet and that sweetness carries through to the finish.  Like the nose, there are lots of overripe fruits, but that’s tempered with a mild bitterness like the caramel at the bottom of a good flan.  The reedy character is more noticeable here while the banana and vanilla are joined with soft cocoa before fading into the mildly bitter finish.  It’s an interplay of spices, overripe fruit and sugar cane that takes you from a sweet entrance through a flavorful cascade ending in a fairly long finish of caramelized banana peel and charred wood.  After a while, the black pepper becomes more evident and seems to linger with the reedy quality… like there’s an affinity between the two.  It’s never strong or pronounced, but it’s more noticeable.  With each sip, the sweetness intensifies as it counters the woody caramel finish and reveals overripe pear, overripe dark cherry, orange marmalade (thanks Cap’n Jimbo) and banana peel.  While these other fruits and flavors are noticeable, the initial ones continue to dominate, namely the overripe banana and vanilla.

This is a moderately complex rum that is very enjoyable.  The sweetness played against the bitterness provides some contrast and keeps things interesting, while the overripe fruit character with mild spice develops over time and then lingers with each sip.  We know that this rum is sweetened and I imagine that this is too counter some of the bitterness that is present.  Unfortunately, the added sugar probably mutes some of the flavors that would be expected with a complex rum.  I don’t mind the added fruit and vanilla, as long as it’s natural (not artificially flavored) and clearly labeled, but the added sugar can’t be helping the quality.

For me, this lies between the demeraran and agricole style rums with characteristics consistent with both while never fitting into either category.  The 15 year old is almost as good as this 18 year old and the price is only marginally different.  I’ll be looking for a new reference for Cuban style rum.  In the meantime, give this one or the 15 year old a try.  Both are pretty good.

Balcones Rumble

No Age Statement,
47% ABV, $49

With all of the mess happening in Waco this week, I thought I should have a drink of Rumble tonight.  This is batch R11-6 bottled on April 11, 2011 and I particularly like seeing the initials “CT” handwritten on the label in the Distiller field.  Of course, CT stands for Chip Tate, the head distiller at Balcones and the creator of Rumble, which is a spirit made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar and Mission figs.  It’s also the first product offering from Balcones and is bottled at 47% ABV.

Nosing Rumble reveals notes of straw, honey, dried fig (really), dusty cocoa, overripe banana, field-burned cane sugar (as in for harvest) and a bit of cigar box.  At full proof, there’s a bit of alcohol burn, but not much.  Just a touch of water tones that down nicely.

The taste is honey, reedy cane, dried banana, grass, straw, bitter cocoa, bourbon vanilla bean, bruised banana peel and a mild amount of toffee.  The mouthfeel is quite good throughout with an oily coating and carries a bit of white pepper into a finish that is mildly tannic and leathery.  The overripe fruits balance well with a mildly peppery spice and fade slowly into the finish.  After a while, ginger and white pepper become more evident just after the overripe fruit entry and the grassy and reedy notes move to the background.  Just a drop of water opens up the flavors even more with a bit more spice, but it does little else to affect the balance.

This isn’t just unique, but it’s quite good.  I’m reminded of rum, but there’s no confusing this with any rum that I’ve tasted.  It’s enjoyable, easy to drink and distinctly different from start to finish.  You really should give it a try if the profile sounds at all interesting.  If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle of Rumble Cask Reserve, then I would opt for that instead… the $20 premium is well worth it.  Although I’ve tasted it, the only bottle I’ve seen for purchase was deferred to a guest from Canada who went home happy (he probably has the only bottle in the country).

Straight Bourbon D/FW Gathering

Heaven Hill Select StockWe held our second gathering of the D/FW contingent of the StraightBourbon forum today in Colleyville and it was a relaxing time with some great whiskey.  Here’s the rundown:

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8 Year Old Straight Bourbon (1789b) – 61.5% ABV, stone fruit, caramel, vanilla, tobacco, not too hot.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 9 Year Old Straight Bourbon (1789b) – 54.5%, more cherry, less tobacco, sweet, less heat.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 Year Old Straight Bourbon (1789b) – 58.5%, good balance of characteristics from 8 & 9, best of bunch.

George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon  2013 – much like old scout with more heat and more flavor, better chocolate and tobacco with dark fruit. Fantastic.

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (around 2008) – mild heat, muted flavors compared to GTS, lots of wood… I was disappointed.

StraightBourbon Blend (dusty) – This was blended at our last gathering from old paper label bottles of Weller 12 Year Old and Old Weller Antique.  It has a similar to profile to the Pappy Van Winkle above, but with more aroma, more flavor, less wood and better balance.  This is fantastic stuff!

Heaven Hill Select Stock 2013 (StraightBourbon Batch #1) – This is an 8 Year Old wheated bourbon finished in second fill Cognac barrel for 19 months and bottled at 63.8% ABV.  It’s spicy and hot with lots of dark fruit and only mild cognac influence that I can detect… fantastic stuff!

Heaven Hill 6 Year Old Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Notes of lemon drop, vanilla, cherry and slightly tannic… a very good whiskey, but not available around here (Kentucky only apparently).

George Dickel Barrel Select 14 Year Old – Mild spice, vanilla, plum, pear, apple, cherry… not as dark as the wheated bourbons. It’s far better than any Jack Daniels that I’ve had, but still not a great whiskey.

Blanton’s Single Barrel #281 Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2014) – Lots of fruit and candy, like lemon drop and cherry, with notes mild tobacco.  Very good!

Blanton’s Single Barrel #244 Kentucky Straight Bourbon (1999) – This one was more woody and slightly medicinal.  I preferred the 2014 with more sweetness and without these characteristics.

Elmer T. Lee Commemorative Edition – Another very good whiskey with a nice balance of dark fruit, candy and wood.  I’m glad I bought a bottle when they were available.

MB Roland Kentucky Apple Pie – This wasn’t at all what I expected… in a good way.  It tasted like liquid Gala or Macintosh apples spiced with cinnamon, allspice and a bit of clove.  It’s not very sweet, but is very rich tasting.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 6 Year Old – Very similar to 8 year old special selection above, but less bold… still very good.

Penderyn Single Malt - Welsh whiskey that is finished in madeira casks.  Reminds me of Stranahan’s without the rustic elements.  For me, the finish mutes the qualities of the malt and leaves the flavor somewhat flat with an overripe black currant flavor dominating the profile.

The highlight for me was the Heaven Hill Select Stock and I’m really looking forward to tasting Batch #2 with 27 months in cognac barrels… it should be even better.  Honorable mentions are George T. Stagg and Old Scout 10 Year Old, which were both excellent whiskies.  I already have a bottle of Stagg (same 2013 vintage) and will be on the lookout for a barrel proof selection of Old Scout.  The surprises of the day were Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old, which was not near as good as I expected, and MB Roland Kentucky Apple Pie, which far exceeded my expectations.

Black Bull 30 Year Old

Black Bull 30

Blended Scotch, 30 Years,
50% ABV, $184

This is a Scotch blend from Duncan Taylor of 50% malt and 50% grain that is aged for 30 years in ex-sherry oak casks and looks to be a batch from March 2009 (065 09/065 12:31… someone let me know if I’m reading that code incorrectly).  I’ve had a dram from this particular bottle before and really enjoyed it.  At our last tasting, my friend offered me the last pour from the bottle to take home and I thankfully accepted.

The nose is great with a bit of honey, cigar box, straw, dark plum, cherry, overripe banana, candied ginger and butterscotch.  It’s a nice mixture that doesn’t overpower, but draws you in to discover everything that’s there.  It’s more inviting with a bit of finesse rather than being bold.  The invitation seems to be to take a sip….

The first sip immediately reveals the sherry influence with the same dark cherry, plum, vanilla, honey, ginger, lemon drop, straw, overripe green apple and lemon zest.  The finish is long with a lingering leathery, overripe stone fruit profile.  There’s not much spice besides the ginger and the wood is delicately revealed without any tendency to overpower the other flavors.  As I continue to sip, the fruits become more evident and so does the spicy ginger and a bit of black pepper, even while the leathery influence of the wood rises up to offer the needed balance.  Despite all the fruit flavors, it avoids any shift towards sweetness and provides a nice experience of overripe fruit, dark stone fruit, candy, spice and mild leathery wood.

I definitely wish that I had more of this, but it’s now gone.  I highly recommend this whiskey if you ever have the chance to taste it or by some miracle you happen upon a bottle to buy (and aren’t deterred by the price).  This is the best Scotch blend that I’ve had to date by a significant margin.