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


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


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


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.


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


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!

Blind Sample #6: Maker's 46

Maker's 46 is the "other" product produced by Maker's Mark. It is slightly higher in proof than the regular offering and Maker's inserts French oak staves into the barrel for several months before bottling. The addition of the French oak gives the bourbon a little more depth of flavor.

I famously rated this whiskey 96 in a blind tasting in 2012, so I was interested to see how it came out this time.

Average: 85


Color and nose: Golden with depth and bit of murkiness. The nose is quite sweet dominated by both candy and yellow corn. There are some hints of florals (rose?) among others lurking, but the sweetness drowns anything that attempts to surface.

Taste and finish: The candy and yellow corns continue into the tasting. Some grains bubble up, but I just can’t get a firm grip on them to determine what they are, they, too, being sunk by the sweetness. Not particularly boozy (on the contrary), this whiskey hits the tongue on the forward flanks. The finish is strongly of corn which dissipates into a gentle oakiness.

Overall: After a promising color, I was a quite disappointed with the lack of depth in this whiskey. The corny sweetness tyrannizes any and all potential competing flavors into submission no matter how much they might add to this pour. This one sits at the low end of average: it’s not unpleasant, there’s just not much to it. 80/100.


nose: bright with a little bit of an alcohol punch; almost tropical - berry and coconut

taste: velvety mouth feel that is richer than I would have expected from the aroma; some corn sweetness but not cloying

finish: warm and smooth finish; the sweetness lingers while chocolate cherry and tobacco emerge as well

overall: 92


Nose: Corn stalk and popcorn, peanuts, copper and a whiff of vanilla

Taste: Some barrel flavors, vanilla, cinnamon and some chewiness. There's a thickness to this bourbon.

Finish: Mild heat and spice. Short.

Overall: 83. This is what a bourbon made by committee would taste like. It hits all the notes, but doesn't do any one of them very well. There's some barrel, some sweet, some spice, an interesting nose, and a half-decent mouth feel. It just didn't work very well for me.

Gulliver, Kyle, Jon


Monday, May 13, 2013

CBC Blind Tasting #5, High West Son of Bourye

High West is a "micro-distillery" located in Park City, Utah. They distill their own juice, but Bourye, and it's successor, Son of Bourye is sourced whiskey. Bourye and Son of neat little blending experiments as they are blends of a straight bourbon and a straight rye. According to High West, Son of Bourye is made with a 5 year old bourbon (75% corn/20% rye/5% malted barley) and a 3 year old rye (95% rye/5% malted barley). As a quick aside, I hold High West in high regard for publishing the mash bills and ages of what goes into the bottle.  Too many micros are secretive about that information.

On to the notes (46% ABV):

Average: 80.8


Color and nose: The color consists of a very light brown instead of the typical amber. Drinking from a bourbon tasting glass, it is significantly darker in the bowl than through the meniscus which presents as a pale yellow instead. This looks like a thin whisky. The nose is fruity with cherry and grape leaping to the fore. In their wake come corn (very gently), anise, salty caramel, and rhubarb. This is not a whisky with a high ABV.

Taste and finish: The initial taste is very earthy, mainly a revisit of the corn of the nose with a hint of grass and mint. Lower in alcohol than what I normally prefer, #5 is felt along the longer axis of the tongue albeit mildly. It has lost the fruits of the nose and the caramel has decomposed into a pure sugariness, indicative of an all-too-high wheat content. The finish takes earthiness, crescendos  the mint before collapsing into a fit of dill.

Overall: This thin, simplistic whisky seems to have been in the barrel too long for its own good. It has no depth or complexity. However, it is not unpleasant. Drinkable, yet I would not seek it out nor pay too much for it. I give this whisky a high fair rating: 79/100.


Nose is a orange with a hint of caramel. A very full bodied bourbon. Spicy with nutmeg and cinnamon. There's just a tiny hint of char as well. The finish develops slowly, but becomes very smooth with a nutty aftertaste. I really enjoyed this one. Not quite celebrating fatherhood, but maybe not an every day bourbon either. 90


Nose: sweet; vanilla and lavender

Taste: sweetness is there but nothing new emerges

Finish: far from offensive but this one never really comes together in the end; corn and little bit of oak

Overall: 81


Nose: bright, peppermint

Taste: smooth drinking: almost too easy going down. Would guess this is 80 proof. Little bit of woodiness, some rye spice. No strong, defining flavors.

Finish: short and undistinguished.

Didn't love this: found it to be pretty light and unexceptional. 76/100


Nose: Heavy corn, sweet, sort of funky.

Taste: Soft sweetness, corn some woodiness. No spice. Thin mouth feel and flavor. Just sort of lacking in character.

Finish: Mild sweetness and a funk that sort of hangs around.

Overall: 78. I did not like this whiskey. I took multiple sips trying to find something I liked about it. I failed.

Last words: This did not rate very highly in the group, and I think the reason is pretty obvious. The component whiskies that make up this whiskey are too young. I didn't think the rye was assertive enough as I would not have guessed there was any rye in there.

The four grain whiskey thing is something of a chimera in the bourbon world. Parker's Heritage Collection released a four grain in 2012, and I reviewed it here. I liked it, but I think it falls behind other PHC releases.  Hudson also puts out a Four Grain regularly. Hopefully distilleries like High West will continue to push the issue on new blends and styles of whiskey. While Son of Bourye falls short, this sort of experimentation can only lead to higher quality options for the whiskey consumer.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Blind Tasting #4: Elijah Craig 12

Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig is a small batch bourbon bottled at 12 years old at 84 proof. It's a standard Heaven Hill product--to my knowledge it is the same mash bill that goes into Evan Williams, it just ages longer in Heaven Hill's Bardstown rick houses.

It's a bourbon that is easy enough to find and at 12 years old and around $38, it is a fairly good deal. On to the notes:

Average: 85.5


Nose: very sweet with orange and vanilla; hint of cinnamon

Taste: starts out a little nutty and bitter with some pepper on the tongue

Finish: rounds out nicely to a warm sweet finish; raisin bread

overall: 85

Maybe not for special occasions but this would be an excellent pour to enjoy on any given day.


Nose: sweetness

Taste: burnt sugar, vanilla

Good if unexceptional. Scent of vanilla and nice sweetness. Good heat in finish but not overpowering. Woody finish.



Color and nose: A pale amber color that slightly refracts red light. It looks like a whisky that has a bit of verve and character, but won’t put hair on your chest if taken in voluminous amounts. It has a well-balanced nose of caramel, corn, and charcoal, favoring the caramel slightly.
Taste and finish: Not exceptionally boozy, the initial hit is predominately earthy: corn, grass, soil. It progresses through a bit of leather and oak with a surge of cotton candy and a hint of charcoal before the finish. The finish is elliptic; it’s not noticeably round nor is it pointed. This is mainly due to the latent effect of the alcohol that mildly abrades the back of the tongue as it goes down. The flavor is again full of corn intermixed with tannins.
Overall: While tasting, I thought to myself that this whisky tastes like what a baseball game ought to taste like and I think the analogy is apt. Beyond the elements of its flavor (grass, leather, wood), this is a whisky that takes its time. It doesn’t move fast or much at all. There is a bit of action between the nose and the taste and the finish, but the action is short and not at all violent. This is a pastoral whisky that through its grace is simply pleasing to drink. What more could you ask for? A solid 89.


Nose: Cherries & Fruit, corn sweetness

Taste: Dry. Fruit builds from the front to back. Starts cornstalk and gets fruity. Some spice. Not an assertive bourbon. Mild wood

Finish: Warm tingle, jolly rancher, medium length

Overall: 84, solid but not spectacular. Needs more oomph.

This one has the reputation of varying a great deal from batch to batch. This seemed like a middling batch. As always, your mileage may vary.