Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another Love Letter to Four Roses

I'm in the middle of a blind tasting of 24 different Four Roses expressions, so I thought I'd list how I've scoreed them so far. At the halfway point here are the scores (I don't know the actual recipe/proof until after I've tasted):

#1 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel, OESK, 12 Years old. My rating: 89

#2 Market Square Liquor OBSK, 55.7% ABV. My rating: 92

#3: Private barrel, OESF, 9 Yrs, 9 Months, 61% ABV. My rating: 85

#4: Julios OESQ, 10 years old, 59.5% ABV. My rating: 78

#5: Binny's OESO, 11 years old, 56.2% ABV. My rating: 83

#6: Private barrel, OBSO, 9 years 5 months, 63.5% ABV. My rating: 91

#7: Private barrel, OBSF, 9 years 9 months, 61.4% ABV. My rating: 90

#8: 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel, OBSQ. My rating: 81

#9: Market Square Liquor, 9 years 6 months, 58.7% ABV OBSQ. My rating: 89

#10: Yellow Label. My rating: 78

#11 Binny's OBSO. 56.4% ABV, ~10 years old: My rating: 89

#12 Party Source OESO. 56.1% ABV, 10 years 9 months. My rating: 88

#13 Market Square Liquor OBSV, 50.8% ABV, 10 years 5 months. My Rating: 90

#14 Singe Barrel OBSV OTS. 50% ABV, My rating: 84

At this point we are taking a one week break from tasting notes, but I'm hoping to finish my last 10 samples ahead of time. We haven't tasted any of the Small Batch Limited Editions, and I suspect the tasting organizer has included those in the lineup. I've rated almost 30% of the samples 90 points or higher, with the highest being an OBSK. I'm surprised that I rated a "B" so highly, but not surprised at the "K" as that is my favorite yeast. In any case, we should have some fun stuff left to taste.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Underappreciated and Overlooked Bourbon #2: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage

Every year Heaven Hills releases a "vintage" single barrel version of it's flagship brand Evan Williams. They are aged just under 10 years and bottled at 86 proof. The price is typically under $30, which isn't too bad for a single barrel release. Quality has varied over the years, which you would expect given the single barrel nature and the vagaries of the aging process.

Average Score: 83

Jason:

Color and nose: This pour is mainly sandy taupe, but reflects darker colors; at certain angles it could pass as thinned wood stain. The nose is heavy with fruit and sweetness. Under some banana peeks sweet corn.
 
Taste and finish: Initially I was hit with corn, but that celeritously dissipated into a cacophony of charcoal and brown sugar. Not much spice or kick to speak of with this one. The finish returns to the banana and corn.
 
Overall: Like last week’s, I rate this whiskey a solid meh, too. Quite drinkable, but acutely uninteresting. 82/100.

Brett:

Nose:    full bodied and big, sweet bouquet suggests high alcohol; brown sugar

Taste:    deceptively spicy following big aromatic punch

Finish:    lingering warmth mellows to fig

Overall: 88

Will:

Nose:  pretty nice

Taste:  Not bad.  Dry with a little burn. 

Finish:  Slight burn continues

Overall:  Nothing exciting but not a bad bourbon.  82

Keith: 

Nose: Musty with a heavy wood influence

Taste: watery mouth feel, with little in the way of flavor. Some caramel hints.

Finish: non-existent. Very short.

Overall: 80. Perfectly boring. Nothing to excite or disappoint.

Final words: The average score of 83 seems about right to me. There isn't a whole lot here in the way of flavor, but it is completely inoffensive. I'd like to see this released at 100 or 107 proof just to see if that dials up the flavor a little.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Unappreciated and Overlooked Blind Tasting #1, Mellow Corn

Corn whiskey occupies a rather strange, IMO, area of American whiskey. It must be at least 80% corn mash, which would qualify it for bourbon, but it is aged in used cooperage. Bourbon, as you know, must be aged in new white oak. It tends to sell better in the deep south (or so I've been told) and it can be harder to find, even in DC.

Mellow Corn is one of the most popular corn whiskies. It is 100 proof and bottled in bond. I secured this bottle from the Party Source. We all tasted it blind, but it wasn't truly blind for me--I could tell simply by the light color that this was the Mellow Corn (I divide up the whiskey and my patient, lovely wife applies the numbered labels and creates the key). Mellow Corn is super cheap--this bottle, with shipping, cost less than $14.

Average Score: 81.2

Notes:

Keith

Nose: Cornstalk, buttery popcorn, somewhat flat.

Taste: Popcorn/summer corn, some wood. Kind of an interesting mix.

Finish: A little hot, particularly for 100 proof. Consistent with the taste as far as flavors go.

Overall: 82. A really consistent pour. Doesn't do much, but it is perfectly drinkable.

Brett

Nose: light floral character; hint of leather

Taste: first impression was bitter oak with an acridity that was hard to get past; more pleasant with addition of some water; subtle taste of fig.

Finish: lingers on the palate with a warmth and a little bit of honey

Overall: 83

Jason

Color and nose: This bourbon is a pale goldenrod, much lighter than the others and almost pilsner-colored, giving the impression that it might edge towards thinness. The nose provides corn, brown sugar, vanilla, and raisin. At first whiff, there is not a whole lot going on here.

Taste and Finish: The immediate effect is a healthy dose of corn husk, thin on the tongue but heating as it goes along. The brown sugar and vanilla from the nose have coalesced during the taste into the oak from whence they came. The alcohol, benign at first, really heats from the back of the mouth to the front as the finish gains momentum. The finish is heavy on charcoal with plenty of the corn husk for good measure.


Overall: This whiskey gets a solid meh.  It seems to be an elements bourbon, no frills and all the bases covered with just enough burn to remind you you’re drinking booze. It’s perfectly fine.

Overall: 82

Jon

Nose: Sweet and floral

Taste: Spicy with some nutmeg

Finish: Surprisingly crisp and clean

Overall: 84

Will

Nose:  Not much to note.  Fairly weak.  A slight burn upon sticking my nose right in it and taking a big whiff.

Taste:  Starts fairly nondescript but pleasant enough.  Somewhat thin and easy going down, but again a bit of a burn on the back end.  Ending with a strange and funky flavor.

Finish:  The fairly unpleasant aftertaste permeates.


Overall:  Drinkable enough but not a bourbon I would return to often.  75

Final comments: The scores were fairly tightly bunched. High of 83 and a low of 75. The jury is in on this one--it is drinkable but it isn't going to blow your socks off. For $9.99 (if you can find it on a shelf), it really isn't much of a risk.

Friday, August 2, 2013

New Members and a New Blind Tasting

We've added two new members, Will and Chris. We're also kicking off a new 6 American whiskey blind tasting soon. The first reviews are due 1 September. I'm looking forward to it as we've got several whiskies I've not tried or not tried in several years.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Blind Sample #8, Jim Beam Black Label

The final sample was Jim Beam Black Label. At 86 proof and 8 years of age, it is my understanding that this is the same juice as Jim Beam White Label, except aged twice as long. I am personally not a really big fan of Jim Beam, but I thought I'd throw this in the tasting as something of a ringer. The results were interesting, especially for Jason.  The notes:

Average: 82.75

Gulliver:

Nose is green and vegetal. Light and woody notes to begin with, plus a little bit of spice and some bite on the back of the tongue. Short finish, very little lingering taste; what there is is wood and spice.

​This is a nice, light whiskey with enough bite to distinguish itself. Quite herbal on the whole without much sweetness at all.

82/100

Jason:

Color and nose: A deep bistre brown through the center, paling through to the edges. This looks like a whisky with something to offer. The nose is luscious, providing bits of rye, bananas, salty caramel, leather, and just a hint of corn. It seems to have more of a punch than most of the recent tastings, but not more (much more at least) than 100 proof.

Taste and finish: The initial taste is strong in peppery spice and sweet corn. The bananas and caramel come through with grass and oak. A strong drink and yet the flavor is quite round, stimulating the entirety of the tongue and roof of the mouth. The finish arrives as a sort of smoke ring of brown sugar and that peppery, rye-like spice, radiating from the back of the mouth to the fore as the last of the taste goes down.

Overall: This is an exceptional whisky. It is complex, but is not complicated. Contrasting flavors – spice and sweet, desserts and nature – are balanced in a refined manner rarely seen in a whisky. They are not only balanced, they manage to amplify each other. This is the Titian of whiskies. I am reticent to rate any whisky as classic, this one included, and give this one a high 94/100. A truly excellent whisky.

Brett:

Nose: fruity and bright with cherry or pomegranate

Taste: dry and slightly peppery; the fruit is still there, with some oak

Finish: fruit dissipates to reveal some sweet smokiness; tobacco

Overall: 85

Keith

Note: My notes are going to be biased, as I've already admitted, I typically dislike Jim Beam. Since I purchased the bourbon, I knew what this one was prior to drinking simply by elimination.

Nose: Yeast, cornstalk, earthiness, bread, slightly astringent, popcorn

Taste: Cloyingly sweet, thin mouth feel, very slight barrel influence. It's just very sweet and one dimensional.

Finish: Not much of anything. Maybe a hint of barrel flavor.

Overall: 70. Nothing to see here--just a bland, cloying bourbon worth drinking only if your wife leaves you and takes your dog with her.  After a few sips, I drowned mine in Diet Coke.

Final Words: Something of a polarizing bourbon. Outside of a blind tasting, I don't even think it would have done this well, which is one of the awesome things about blind tastings. Jason found a bourbon that he really enjoys for about $20 a bottle. You really can't beat that.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blind Sample #7, Rock Hill Farms

Rock Hill Farms has long been one of my favorite Buffalo Trace offerings. I reviewed it back in September and rated it a 92 so I was really interested to see what the rest of the committee thought. The bourbon is Buffalo Trace's mash bill #2, which has a higher percentage of rye than their flagship offering Buffalo Trace. (Mash bill #2 is also used for Elmer T. Lee and Blantons.) Rock Hill Farms is a single barrel bourbon that sells for around $50 in the DC area. Obviously, since it is a single barrel, it is going to vary some from bottle to bottle.  On to the notes:

Average: 82.25

Jason:

Color and nose: A crystal clear ochre. The nose is pleasant: slightly sweet with corn, rye, tannins, nondescript spice, and a touch of menthol.

Taste and finish: Not high in alcohol, this drink hits the tip of the tongue. The taste is high in corn and wood. There are bits of spice, but not as much as I had hoped based on the nose. The finish is strong on corn and caramel, dissolving into the menthol.

Overall: A nice little whisky. It is not complex or bland.  I have been a bit frustrated at the dominance of corn in this round of blind tastings and may be a bit sensitive to it for a bit as a result. It seems to me that this whisky is nearly ready to break out, but just isn’t quite rounded enough to move into the very good category. Until this line cuts on the corn it remains merely good. 84/100

Brett:

Nose: sweet and light; a little leathery

Taste: light and peppery on the tongue; first impression is heavy with oak

Finish: A bit of ice mellows the oak bitterness and leaves the sweetness to come through, but not much else save for some chalkiness

Overall: 80

Gulliver:

Nose is rather boozy, some notes of orange peel. Opens brightly and with heat on the palate, then lots of mint and other herbal, medicinal flavors. Plenty of heat in the finish and an aftertaste utterly devoid of sweetness. Not fussy on this one. 78/100.

Keith:

Nose: Spice, green apple, cotton candy, corn stalk

Taste: Corn foward, little heat, spice and green apple

Finish: Fruity sweetness, quite pleasant and medium length

Overall: 87

Jon, Kyle

MIA

Parting words: Man, tough crowd. I've heard rumors that Buffalo Trace may have reduced the age of this bourbon and our notes seem to bear that out. In my experience, corn forward notes tend to round out after sufficient time in the barrel (say, maybe six or eight years maybe). A few of us noted a corn forward taste. It could have also been a less than stellar barrel. Either way, I remain in the "buy" camp while my fellow members probably recommend passing on this one.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Thoughts on the Facebook Bourbon Exchange

For many years, eBay allowed the sale of bourbon, as long as the seller posted a disclaimer saying that "The value of this bottle is the bottle, not the contents" or something similar. It was laughable, but it gave people a secondary market for bourbon. Unfortunately, it was illegal--spirit sales are fairly tightly controlled you can get yourself into trouble by selling or trading privately. Six months or so ago, eBay cracked down on the issue and since then, they have not allowed the listing of whiskey on its site. It was probably a good decision for eBay, but predictably, a new site has popped up; the Facebook group titled "Bourbon Exchange."

Before I get into my thoughts on Bourbon Exchange, I'd like to comment on the insanity of the three tier system of alcohol distribution. You cannot go to the website of your favorite distillery and buy a bottle of their whiskey. That's because the whiskey has to travel through the producer, distributor, and the retailer before you can get your hands on it. (A partial exception applies to sales at the distillery, but even so, if I understand correctly, the distillery still has to do the paperwork. So in practice, they become their own distributor for on-site sales.) The system makes very little sense and it is a relic of prohibition era moralism.  In many states, the state government owns the retail stores--Virginia for example. Spirits distribution is pretty clearly not a "free" market in any sense of the word.

All of this creates a perfect scenario for a secondary market. I can't prove this, but it has been alleged that some retailers were putting up their allocations of hard to find whiskies like Pappy van Winkle on eBay because they could connect with a buyer with more money than sense. Some private collectors were hoarding good whiskey and selling it to the same people. More honest retailers, like K&L out of California ran auctions on their own site, just to point out the absurdity of prices people were paying. (Jefferson's Ocean went for over $1,000.)

Whiskey, and bourbon in particular, is in a bubble situation. More experienced bourbon aficionados remember when Pappy would sit on the shelf untouched. People newer to bourbon hear how great Pappy is and pay hundreds of dollars just to get their own bottle.

Which brings me to the Facebook bourbon exchange. It is almost perfect that Facebook is the end point to the bourbon insanity. In a very slightly veiled way, people are posting bottles for sale on the site, similar to the way they posted bottles on eBay. It's all probably illegal, but not entirely surprising. I have some very conflicting thoughts on the issue.

On the one hand, after a lot of work, I'm sitting on a bunker of bourbon that could fetch up to, say, $2,000 if I were willing to sell it on Bourbon Exchange. On the other hand, I didn't pay near that amount for the bottles and to sell it for $2,000 would be a rip off for the buyer. I want to be clear here--I don't blame any of my bourbon friends for selling their bottles via Bourbon Exchange. It's been highly tempting to me, and $2,000 would more than pay for my bourbon consumption for a year; maybe two. (Many of my bourbon friends have bunkers that exceed mine by a factor of 100.)

But I just can't bring myself to do it. I'd be a terrible business man--I don't want to rip people off, especially the people that share my hobby. But again, I won't blame you if you do.

My mother used to tell me the old saying, "A fool and his money are soon parted." Here's a piece of advice for the guys buying stuff via Bourbon Exchange: Don't. Put your time in. Search for the Pappy on store shelves. Experience the frustration of visiting 30 stores over the weekend after a Pappy release and finding nothing. Then find easily available bottles that YOU like. Better yet, find bottles that YOU like that are under $20. Don't act like bourbon is a status symbol. And goodness gracious, if you are thinking of buying a bottle from Bourbon Exchange, at least do the research to find out if you can still find that bottle on a shelf somewhere!