Garrison Brothers Tasting

VoorhesBotleCropped1Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas hosted a Garrison Brothers tasting tonight with Charlie Garrison and their master distiller, Donnis Todd.  This was a different kind of tasting… we had 3 vintages of the same whiskey, providing an opportunity to compare releases and observe any trends represented by them.  This was the lineup… all vintages of the same Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey:

Fall 2012 – A sweet nose of caramel and vanilla. A briefly sweet and bright flavor followed by grass, straw, honey, then becoming tannic and astringent.  The finish is leathery, spicy and woody.  Water lessens the astringent quality (only took a drop) and brings out more of the sweet flavors to produce more balance, while notes of lemon and pear appear.

Spring 2013 – Similar sweet nose with a hint of menthol and pecans.  Also, a similar flavor profile, but less astringent and the finish is less bitter/tannic.  Water produces a nuttier and spicier profile, but the balance isn’t maintained and the finish has more burn, bitterness and a less leathery mouthfeel.

Fall 2013 – Another great, sweet nose with more menthol.  The sweetness is more subdued compared to the Fall 2012 release with less bitterness and more spice (but less of the latter than the Spring release).  This one has a nicely balanced finish. Water did not bring about any appreciable change to this one.

This was a very interesting exercise and here’s how I ranked them:

  1. Fall 2012 – Without water, this was the worst of the bunch.  With just a drop or two, a nice balance was achieved and it just edged out the Fall 2013 release with a bit bolder flavor and an added sweetness that carried through to the finish.
  2. Fall 2013 – Least impacted by water, this one maintained a nice balance with a bit of menthol that the Fall 2012 release lacked.  Still, a bit more sweetness to balance the woody characteristic was missing from this one.
  3. Spring 2012 – Although it improved significantly with water, this one was far behind the other two.

At $75, I can’t recommend any of these whiskeys, but I can offer this buying advice if you want to try one… stick with the Fall releases!  If you like heavily wooded bourbon (like Woodford Reserve Double Wood), then you might like this style.  It’s too woody for me.

Blind Whiskey Tasting

tastingTonight, I attended a different kind of tasting at Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas.  This one included 4 pairs of similarly styled whiskey, which had to be identified as either the named flagship offering or a specific premium offering.  Here was the lineup:

  • Bulleit Bourbon ($20) or Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon ($35) – The 10 Year is a new offering from Bulleit that was introduced in 2013 and I haven’t read any favorable reviews or received any favorable recommendations on it.  I had tasted their regular Bourbon almost 2 years ago and wasn’t impressed.  I approached the judging by expecting the flavor of the 10 year to reflect it’s age, but I was duped. The 10 Year is worse than the original and a definite waste of money.
  • Crown Royal ($18) or Crown Royal XO ($45) – I’ve not had many Canadian whiskeys, so this was new for me.  The cognac influence of the XO was subdued (as was the general flavor of both whiskies), but discernable. I didn’t find either one very interesting, so I would pass on both of these.
  • Bushmills Black Bush ($30) of Bushmills 1608 400th Anniversary ($100) – This was the most difficult to identify because both of these blends have sherry influence.  Black Bush is finished in sherry casks, while 1608 includes whiskies which have been aged in sherry casks.  For me, the 1608 had an added depth of flavor and richness that caught my attention more.  Both of these were good, but I prefer Jameson 12 Year ($39) or Jameson Gold Reserve ($63) over either of them.
  • MacAllan 10 Year Fine Oak ($38) or MacAllan 17 Year Fine Oak ($150)  – This was probably the easiest to identify even though both of these are good.  I had tasted both of them at a previous Trinity Hall event and this helped as well.  The 17 Year just had enhanced flavors and complexity over the 10 Year, but it’s still not worth the price difference.

If you’re keeping track, then you know that I correctly identified 3 out of 4.  I don’t know of anyone at the event who correctly identified them all (like I said, Bulleit duped everyone with their 10 Year Bourbon by making it worse than their original).  This was a good test of whether premium offerings really offer anything special and it was a fun event to attend.  In general, premium offerings need to be approached carefully.  There are those who will offer inferior products with a premium label (e.g. Bulleit), while others will price their premium offering far too high to make them worthwhile (e.g. MacAllan).  Still others, take mediocre products and enhance them to create mediocre premium products (e.g. Crown Royal).  What you’re looking for is the honest producer who will masterfully or cleverly work to create a superior product that is worthwhile.  The closest example of that tonight was Bushmills 1608… even though it’s not a whiskey that I would seek, the premium blend definitely demonstrated a richness, depth and complexity that I expect in a premium offering.

Knob Creek 9 Year Old Single Barrel Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Straight Bourbon, 9 Years,
50% ABV, $34

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve is a hand-selected higher proof offering of their flagship bourbon.  This barrel (#464) was selected by Simon Taylor of Spec’s in Dallas and it’s #10 for this year on my advent list.  I talked about this whiskey with Simon and that discussion convinced me to try his selection (I even had him sign it for me).  There was another barrel selected by Spec’s that day and I may have to try that one as well, since Simon said that it was a close second for him (he described it as “caramel fruit salad”).  Hold on a minute… I’m getting ahead of myself.  I haven’t even poured the whiskey yet.

Okay, it’s in the glass smelling grand!  There’s straw, caramel and a good spicy burn with notes of vanilla, cherry, cocoa, black pepper and pear.  The aroma is fairly bold without water.  A bit of water tones down the burn and brings the pepper and other flavors into balance; however, I don’t notice any other flavors.

The taste is hot and bold, with plenty of vanilla, cinnamon, honey, caramel, tobacco, lemon and apple.  Adding a bit of water causes the peppery spice to mellow and persist into the finish.  Additional notes of cherry, ginger and overripe pear arrive and the tobacco becomes more a hint of powdery cocoa.  The finish persists very long with a good chewy feel and a spicy, woody flavor with just a hint of that cocoa I mentioned earlier.  There’s a mild lemon sourness midway through that retreats about as quickly as it arrives – over a couple of seconds – and works well with the spices.

This is a very good whiskey and one that I enjoy quite often.  I don’t expect that it’ll last very long, so I’d best secure that other bottle before they disappear.  It offers a lot to keep your interest and is easy to drink without demanding too much attention.  I recommend a splash of water with this one as well.

W. L. Weller 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Straight Bourbon, 12 Years,
45% ABV, $20

Due to a slight mishap, I have some tasting time on my hands, so I’m going to attempt to make some major progress in catching up on my advent tasting.  We’ll see how that goes.

First up is Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon, a reasonably priced wheated bourbon (like Pappy Van Winkle).  Price-wise, this offering from Buffalo Trace is slotted in-between Weller Special Reserve and Old Weller Antique (107°), but many prefer it to the latter.  In fact, members of the Straight Bourbon Forum have created their own blend of 50% Weller 12 and 50% Old Weller Antique as a compromise (or is it improvement?).  If you’re really serious about your whiskey (I am), then Buffalo Trace also offers William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon as part of their Antique Collection (a limited annual release of 5 whiskies).  It’s a barrel-strength offering (my 2012 bottle is 123.4°) that is quite popular and very hard to find in most parts of the country.  Enough background, it’s time to smell this baby.

There’s a bit of straw in the mix, but it’s more subdued than the malts I’ve been drinking lately.  A spicy ginger and pepper reach my nose with a bit of burn while the sweetness of the honey, caramel, dark cherry, vanilla and sweet tobacco provide balance.  This is a decidedly different experience than nosing a rye-forward bourbon (most of them out there) and I enjoy it a lot.  For me, it’s the dark fruits that come out in the wheated offerings that I like so much and this $20 whiskey provides an ample demonstration.  It’s a less spicy and sweeter aroma that I find more enjoyable (not that I don’t enjoy the rye-forward bourbons or rye whiskey… some of those are coming up).

That this is a different kind of bourbon, is immediately evident.  The dark cherry, overripe apple, vanilla, caramel, honey and plum arrive first along with a bit of lemon drop tartness.  The spices arrive next as ginger, cinnamon and black pepper and are accompanied by the onset of the wood tannins, which build as the mouthfeel becomes somewhat chewy.  The finish is spicy and mildly leathery with a bit of charred oak flavor that linger for a long time.  The black pepper fades very slowly and I’m left with remnants of sweet tobacco and oak.

I really enjoy this bourbon and highly recommend it if you’ve never tasted a wheated bourbon (for me, Maker’s Mark doesn’t count… this is much better).  For me, it’s the best wheated bourbon value out there and, yes, I do prefer it to Old Weller Antique.  If you end up liking it as much as I do, then you’ll be pleased to know that it’s offered in handles (1.75l) as well.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Boirbon

Straight Bourbon, 9 Years, 45% ABV, $20

I’m still playing catch up from the North Texas ice storm that somehow put a damper on my whiskey advent activities. Here is #7 – a familiar pour that I’ve been through several bottles of – Buffalo Trace.

With a medium amber color and viscosity that provides a nice coating on the glass, BT looks really nice. The nose is of vanilla, cherry, plum, honey, old cigar box, lemon drop, black pepper and a bit of charred oak. Sometimes I notice a bit if green grass and green pepper.

The initial taste is lemon, vanilla, caramel, cherry and honey, which gives way to a bit of white and black pepper on the way to a mildly wooded finish. Eventually, some grass and ginger join the fray between the initial burst and the finish. There’s also a bit of leathery cocoa… like cocoa powder just before the finish arrives. I continue to sip on this whiskey and a tobacco flavor develops on the background… not as forward as on the Eagle Rare 10 that I like, but a nice addition nonetheless.

This is a very solid whiskey at a great price and still one of my favorite bottom-shelf bourbons. I tend to step up to Eagle Rare 10 or Evan Williams Single Barrel for a few dollars more, but I like this for any mixing that I do since it’s available at a good price in 1.75l bottles.

Parker’s Heritage Collection 1st Edition – Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Bourbon, 11 Years,
63.7% ABV, $90

A very generous friend shared a pour of this rare whiskey with me today. It’s an 11 Year Old whiskey with notes of cocoa and tobacco with an evident wood character. That’s about all of the detail that I could get in the brief tasting, but it was generally impressive with good chewy mouth feel and only moderate burn at 127.4°. I wish that I could spend more time with this one or any of the other older editions from this collection. I have a bottle of the 6th Edition Blend of Mashbills (batch #4) and passed on the 7th Edition Promise of Hope, which is still available.

Bourbon Essentials

Glencairn GlassToday, I attended a Bourbon Essentials class offered by Total Wine & More in Dallas.  After a brief presentation on the history of bourbon and some useful information about bourbon and whiskey in general, we set out to taste 13 bourbons (listed in order of tasting):

  • Jack Daniels Black
  • Buckhorn
  • Jim Beam
  • Southshot
  • Maker’s Mark
  • Winchester
  • Weller Special Reserve
  • Watkins Select
  • Knob Creek 100
  • Old Bardstown
  • Buffalo Trace
  • Wathens Single Barrel
  • Angel’s Envy (TW selection)

For me, Angel’s Envy was easily the best of the bunch, while Buffalo Trace and Wathens Single Barrel were honorable mentions. Buffalo Trace was easily the best value. The really disappointing news was that most of these were not very good.  The only other acceptable offerings for me were: Weller Special Reserve (fourth on my list), Old Bardstown, Watkins Select, Winchester and Maker’s Mark.  I could not recommend any of the remaining whiskeys.

Prior to this class, I was only familiar with Angel’s Envy and Buffalo Trace and I still highly recommend both of them.  Beyond those, I would still recommend Evan Williams Single Barrel, Weller 12 Special Reserve or Eagle Rare 10 over Wathens Single Barrel at about the same price (actually, all of them should be a few dollars less). Another great value, if you can find it, is Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond (White Label).

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 Year Old Bourbon

Straight Bourbon, 23 Years, 47.8% ABV, $200

I really never thought I’d even get a sample of this legend, but I was graced with a bit from my friend, Sorin (a huge thanks to him!). The entire Van Winkle line is very elusive and extremely hyped, so I feel special getting this brief glimpse into history. It truly is a bit of liquid history as this juice hails from the famed Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which closed many years ago. It’s rumored to be in the plans for a re-opening, but the whiskey distilled there is highly sought after and almost depleted. Well, enough of the history and on to the whiskey.

The nose is full of toffee, caramel, straw, cocoa, dark cherry and a bit of cigar box. The flavors are massive! In general, its a hot whiskey with lots of spice, candied fruit, tart fruit and wood. It’s unlike anything I’ve had before. The finish is long and much less woody than I expected. The tastes up front are honey, vanilla, apple, cherry, gingerbread, pear, caramel, cocoa, lemon drop, fruit cake and tobacco. It’s nicely chewy on the palate with a nice spicy transition to the finish. Everything just merges together perfectly on the way to a mildly woody, but not leathery finish, while the subdued flavors persist in the background. This is one experience I wish I could extend!

Simply put, this is amazing stuff! I really hope I can land a bottle someday. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, since hyped products rarely are. This is definitely an exception and I’ve heard that some people like the 20 Year Old and even the 15 Year Old better. Unbelievable! If you get a chance to taste a Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, then don’t pass it up!  By the way, the price listed is suggested retail.  If you can find a bottle (a big “if”), then you’re likely to pay much more.

Found Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010

I stopped into a store that I’d never seen before and happened upon a bottle of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010 for $24.  That’s about the best deal I’ve found yet.  Aside from the inaugural release in 2002, the 2007 is widely considered to be the best release and the 2009 release is generally considered to be the worst.  The 2010 got a lot of praise from Jason Pyle on his Sour Mash ManifestoGeoff Kleinman on Drink Spirits and Lance Mayhew.  Chris Morris, Brown-Forman Master Distiller told BourbonBlog,

This year’s vintage release of Old Forester is crafted from a 72 barrel batch that was put into barrels on October 24, 1997. These barrels were evenly matured together in the very middle of Warehouse K, on the 5th floor in ricks 42, 43 and 45, surrounded by open space. This environment allowed the barrels to easily breathe during maturation and develop a rich fruit and spice character.

There have been many who have generally been critical of all of the releases and didn’t like this one either. Personally, I’m excited to have found this one, especially at this price, and I’m looking forward to giving it a taste.

The 2013 Spirit Journal World’s Top 120 Spirits

Spirit JournalF. Paul Pacult has published his Top 120 Spirits for 2013 and here’s how I fared with the list:

7. Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distiller’s Blend of Mash bills Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 63.5% abv, $80.

I know of 4 batch releases of this sixth release from the Parker’s Heritage Collection, but this doesn’t match any of them.  Perhaps this was a pre-release batch that he reviewed, after all he is a special guy in the world of spirits.  My bottle is the most current release at a whopping 69.7% ABV and considered by many to be the best batch of the four.

32. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (USA-2012) 66.2% abv, $70.

I have the 2011 edition of this limited annual release from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but I’ve yet to open it.

56. Merlet Crème de Cassis de la Saintonge Boisée Liqueur (France) 20% abv, $25.

I have a bottle of this that a friend of mine picked up for me in Paris last year.  It’s quite good!

60. William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 61.7% abv, $70.

This is another one in my cabinet from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and I’m looking forward to opening it.  It’s a wheated bourbon and I don’t have any experience with this type, so I need to open it soon.

67. El Tesoro de Don Felipe Añejo 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico) 40% abv, $59.

This is my favorite tequila and I’ve still got another bottle of it left from a clearance deal I happened upon over a year ago.  I also have the blanco and reposado from El Tesoro and they’re quite good as well.

85. Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland) 55.3% abv, $60.

I’ve had a sample of this from a friend and it’s a bold Islay whisky.  I prefer Ardbeg Ten, but this one suits the preferences of many.  I spent too much time evaluating it at cask strength and my mouth was becoming numb by the time I had added enough water to bring it down to a realistic level.  I plan on giving this one another try.

86. Dos Maderas 5 + 3 Years Old Superior Reserve Rum (Guyana/Barbados) 40% abv, $38.

I finished my bottle of this one last year and it was pretty good, if not bit too sweet.  I like this much better than Dos Maderas PX (5+5), which is finished in Pedro Ximenes Oloroso Sherry casks, as that one is overly sweet for my taste.

87. Herradura Blanco 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico) 40% abv, $55.

Last year, I bought a sample pack of Herradura Blanco, Reposado and Anejo.  I liked the Anejo the best.

92. Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera (Venezuela) 40% abv, $39.

My brother introduced me to this Jamaican rum.  While it was good, I consider Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old Jamaican Rum to be better.

97. Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 8 Year Old Rum (Haiti) 43% abv, $23.

I’m on my second bottle of this rhum agricole (i.e. cane juice rum) and it was a slow start for me with this one.  At first, I was totally unimpressed and considered it a bit over-aged, but as time wore on I came to appreciate it more and more.   It’s got a “reedy” flavor to it that takes a bit of getting used to.  Now, I don’t think I would be without it and plan to try other rums of this style.

99. WhiskeyPig Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 10 Years (Canada) 50% abv; $70.

This one is 100% rye (most rye whiskeys are around 90-95%) and is bottled in Vermont.  I found a bottle in Louisiana about a year ago, but now it’s readily available here in Texas.  I’ve not opened my bottle yet, but my friends tell me that I’m in for a real treat when I do.

114. Balcones 1 Texas Single Malt Whisky Special Release (USA) 52.7% abv, $68.

This local distillery in Waco, TX has won many awards with their Texas Single Malt.  Personally, I find it to be the best of the young or no age statement (NAS) malt whiskys that I’ve tasted.  It’s bursting with flavor and has a nice dry finish.