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.

Stagg, Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Straight Bourbon, No Age Statement, 67.2% ABV, $48

At 134.4°, this is a whiskey that you just don’t inhale deeply without a good shock to the system. No, this is a whiskey that demands some respect. Giving it a careful whiff reveals a rich aroma of dark cherry, vanilla, caramel, red apple, straw, sweet tobacco, overripe pear and a good burn, if you’re not careful. Nose it delicately and it’s very rewarding.

At full proof, its a bold, flavorful whiskey with a robust burning sensation that fades fairly quickly, leaving behind a sweet, leathery mix of vanilla, tobacco and dark fruit. That initial burst of flavor is full of honey, cherry, tobacco, hay, lemon drop, molasses, ginger, black pepper and vanilla.

Adding a few drops of water tones down the burn just a bit, allowing me to smell everything a bit better without losing any aromatic intensity. Similarly, the burn in my mouth is slightly subdued, but the flavors burst forth more quickly before fading to make way for the finish, which is still long, mildly tannic, peppery, slightly leathery and accented with the same sweet tobacco, dark fruit and vanilla.

I still haven’t tasted George T. Stagg, but I really like this whiskey. I prefer the darker fruit emphasis without water, but it is a bit hot like that… not to the point of being objectionable for me. I do add a few drops on occasion just to change things up. It reminds me of a bolder version of Eagle Rare 10 with more dark fruit and candy. It is bursting with flavor! Even at twice the price, I think this is worth it. It’s my favorite bourbon to date aside from the immensely better Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, and that’s just too expensive and hard to find. I highly recommend Stagg, Jr. if you’re not averse to a bit more hot alcohol burn than normal. By the way, this is bottling B1319607:27M (July 15, 2013 7:27am).

StraightBourbon D/FW Meet-Up

20140322-184540.jpgThanks to the generous hosting of Eskwar, seven of us were able to gather for an afternoon of sharing and tasting.  I’d have to say that the highlight of the day was a tasting of some dusty (paper label) Weller 12 Year and Old Weller Antique and the subsequent blending into a 50/50 StraightBourbon Blend.  We were also able to do a side-by-side comparison with current bottles of each as well as the blend.  Unfortunately, this demonstrates how superior the old products were and how much better they blended.  On the positive side, StraightBourbon Blend is quite competent with the current stock and I must put these on my list to buy and blend.

Here’s the list of what I tasted for the first time:

  • Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection OESO Barrel Proof – woody with some mild heat
  • Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection OESF Barrel Proof – more caramel and vanilla than OESF, still the same wood with mild heat
  • High West 21 Year Rocky Mountain Rye – mild spice, mild wood, mild flavor, not much here for a rye
  • Jefferson 10 Year Rye – not much flavor or spice for a rye, more dry than sweet
  • Yamasaki 12 Year  – woody with honey, grass, bitter through to finish
  • Hookers House Bourbon – Pinot noir finished and its noticeable on the finish especially, tobacco, plum, raisin without sweetness, menthol, reminds me of wine finished ER10
  • Evan Williams Vintage Single Barrel 1998 – caramel, cherry, nice sweetness, tobacco, short finish but very good
  • Black Maple Hill Bourbon – sweet, menthol, tobacco, dark fruit, cocoa
  • StraightBourbon Blend  – definitely better than either Weller 12 or Old Weller Antique, tends more to OWA
  • StraightBourbon Dusty (Paper Label) Blend – less sweet and bit more wood than the newer blend with a longer finish
  • Tom Moore Bottled-in-Bond – really solid bourbon at around $20 for a handle

My pick of the day was Hooker’s House Bourbon because of it’s unique flavor profile.  The wine finishing really worked better than I expected it to.  This is only available in California as far as I know, so I’ll have to be on the lookout on my travels.  The other standouts were the StraightBourbon blends, Black Maple Hill and the old Evan Williams Single Barrel.  I did come home with a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel OESF, thanks to a generous fellow StraightBourbon forum member, so that’s worth mentioning, too.  Oh, I almost forgot about my final pour of the day, Tom Moore BIB, which was very good.  I plan on looking for a bottle of this one so that I can study it a bit more, but I was very impressed with my quick introduction and the price makes it a bargain.

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.

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.

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.

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon

Single Barrel Bourbon,
10 Year, 45% ABV, $22

The aroma is of fresh cut straw, honey, apple, tobacco, caramel and corn husk. As the aroma fades, the last thing I smell is dark ripe cherry.  The initial taste is very different from other bourbons I’ve had.  There’s a rough, earthy quality to it, yet its still delicate with a bit of sweetness. The flavors are molasses, honey, ginger, pine, candied cherry, white pepper and fig.  The finish is woody and peppery with the rough flavors following through to the end… molasses, pine sap and honey. It’s leathery and spicy, but nicely in balance.  This really is unique compared to other bourbons and I’m really enjoying it.  Further sipping reveals a bit of tart green apple and sweet tobacco.  I wish that I had tried this one much sooner.  Now, I’m looking forward to a taste of the 17 Year offering in the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.