Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Bourbon
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed November 10, 2020BACKGROUND: The Colonel E.H.Taylor Jr. line is produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery and encompasses several varietals, which include Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Straight Rye, Old Fashioned Sour Mash, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving, Cured Oak, Seasoned Wood, Four Grain, Amaranth, and 18 Year Marriage. All of the various line extensions are aged in warehouses constructed more than a century ago under the strict instructions of Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. himself. The bourbon’s namesake was not a military colonel, but, like Col. Harlan Sanders and Col Tom Parker, he was, instead, an honorary Kentucky Colonel as named by the governor of the Bluegrass State. Taylor could also legitimately claim that he was closely related to three presidents - James Madison, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis. E.H. Taylor is mostly remembered within the industry not as a distiller of bourbon but as a banker who financed the purchase and construction of several historically important distilleries like the Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) and Old Taylor distilleries. He also incorporated innovations in bourbon production, such as the use of copper fermentation tanks and column stills. A four-term mayor of Frankfort and a member of the Kentucky State Senate, Taylor’s most significant contribution to bourbon was his successful lobbying for passage of the federal Bottled-in-Bond Act, which combatted sub-par whiskies being sold and marketed to the public by rectifiers. The E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof bourbon is bottled straight from the barrel and is both uncut and unfiltered, which, according to its producer, Buffalo Trace, reflects the way whiskey was produced in the era before Prohibition. It is made using Buffalo Trace’s #1 mashbill, which is also utilized to produce brands like George T. Stagg and Stagg Jr., Eagle Rare, Benchmark, and Buffalo Trace The E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof bottle that I sampled was purchased at its $69.99 suggested retail price. NOSE: One whiff of the nose transports you immediately to the inside of a bourbon rickhouse with strong scents of oak and an aged and delicious mustiness. A tobacco not is present, as well, but rather than the traditional pipe tobacco notes, it’s Red Man Chewing Tobacco. Fresh baked bread becomes obvious along with a butterscotch, not caramel, aroma. PALATE: Though I am an admitted proof hound, the first sip of this barrel proofer packs a punch, but acclimation quickly takes over. The initial flavor tastes exactly like a carnival midway caramel apple. Strong cherry flavor develops, as well, and as it works its way from front of palate to back, vanilla cake frosting seems to coat the tongue. It is an almost sinfully enjoyable palate made even more so by the syrupy viscosity of the bourbon. FINISH: Black pepper appears on the spicy finish, but it is balanced evenly with the taste of a fresh and sweet breakfast cinnamon roll. The finish lasts longer than a train at a railroad crossing when you’ve really got to pee. The finish seemingly does not end — and you do not want it to. FINAL ASSESSMENT: I am a sucker for Col. E.H. Taylor. His Small Batch bourbon is my favorite whiskey…or at least it was until I tasted this magical elixir. Everything about this bourbon from scent to nose to finish is enjoyable on a level far above its competitors. The fact that I was able to purchase a bottle at basic retail rather than secondary pricing made an already great experience even that much better. I will award E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof what I believe is my highest ever rating.
Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond 9 Year (Spring 2020)
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed June 29, 2020BACKGROUND: The Old Fitzgerald bourbon brand was trademarked in 1884 by Charle Herbst, a Milwaukee wine and spirits wholesaler who also owned the Old Judge distillery in Frankfort, and by the dawn of Prohibition in 1920, it had become among the bestselling bourbons in the nation. Once distilling operations were shut down by the federal government, however, Herbst sold the trademark to Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, who changed the mash bill from rye to wheat and began making the product at the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery following passage of the 21st Amendment. Many of the buildings and smokestacks at Stitzel-Weller, which currently serves as an aging and bottling facility as well as a popular Louisville tourist attraction, are still painted with the Old Fitzgerald logo. In 1999, Heaven Hill acquired the brand, and it resides there today. The origin story of the bourbon’s name offers solid proof that the Barnum-like hokum and ballyhoo that is used to market and promote many brands today is nothing new to the liquor industry. Upon introducing Old Fitzgerald to the public, Herbst claimed it was named after John E. Lawrence, a supposed 19th Century distiller who allegedly sold his high-quality bourbon exclusively to railroads, steamship lines, and private clubs. Contemporary research shows, however, that John Fitzgerald was actually a bourbon thief, not a bourbon distiller. Employed as the U.S. Treasury Department agent who held the keys to Herbst’s Old Judge warehouses, Lawrence was known to let himself in at night, identify the best barrels, and help himself to copious amounts of bourbon they contained. Thus, Herbst and his employees began calling barrels that were particularly good or had obviously been tapped as “Fitzgerald barrels.” Thus, naming the brand after him was a bit of an inside joke. In 2012, Heaven Hill developed another bourbon in memory of Lawrence’s frequent theft and named it Larceny. Each spring and fall, Heaven Hill releases a new edition in its Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond series, which is bottled in a heavy decanter reminiscent of those from the 1950s. An ornate “tax strip” resembling those that were once required on all liquor bottles is affixed to the stopper, and the color of the front label denotes each different release, which have ranged in age from 9 to 15 years. The highly-allocated bourbon is made under the precepts of the 1897 Bottled In Bond Act, which requires it to be the product of a single distillery from a single distilling season, aged a minimum of four years, and bottled at 100 proof. This Spring 2020 release was aged for 9 years and retails for $90 as Heaven Hill generally prices Old Fitzgerald BIB at $10 for each year it was aged. The 15-year, for example, retailed for $150. NOSE: The nose is a bit delicate upon first impression, but scents of leather, caramel, and deep oak barrel char begin to predominate. Some hay and perhaps even a bit of fruity apple linger bashfully in the background. PALATE: The mouthfeel is syrupy almost to the point of being chewy, which is something I enjoy greatly. In fact, it is so viscous that too big of a sip can be a bit overwhelming. Butterscotch pudding and vanilla pair nicely with leather and butter notes . FINISH: Oak and cinnamon stand solidly front-and-center on the finish. Though it is an easy-sipper, this 100 proofer gives you a brief kick in the tonsils on the way down just to let you know that it ain’t a candyass. FINAL ASSESSMENT: Only two experiences in my life have fully lived up to the hype - attending the Masters golf tournament and drinking the Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond. Of course, my opinion may be biased by my deep love for wheated bourbons and anything that is bottled in bond, but make no mistake, I believe anyone would find this release provides a wonderfully satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I rank Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond 9-year with a rare but well-earned 9 on a 10-point scale.90.0 USD per Bottle
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed April 7, 2020BACKGROUND: Woodford Reserve was born out of pure spite. In the early 1990s, Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels, Jr. launched a controversial comparison ad campaign pitting his product against the Jack Daniel’s brand owned by Brown-Forman. The ad campaign was similar in intensity to the bitter Coke vs. Pepsi cola wars of the 1980s. In one ad, Samuels tracked down a man in Hattiesburg, Mississippi who was named Jack Daniel and wrote about how he preferred Maker’s Mark in a side-by-side tasting with the Tennessee Whiskey that carried his same name. The headline on the advertisement read “Jack Daniel Drinks Maker’s Mark.” After a series of other in-your-face marketing maneuvers by Maker’s Mark, Brown-Forman chairman and CEO Owsley Brown decided to return fire and wrote a memo to his executive team that said, “Somebody, please create a bourbon brand to compete with Maker’s Mark.” Thus, Woodford Reserve was born in 1996. Early Kentucky bourbon pioneer Elijah Pepper opened a distillery on Glenn’s Creek in 1812 and began producing the Old Pepper’s brand. Labrot & Graham purchased the distillery in 1878, and Brown-Forman acquired it in 1940. The beverage giant later sold it off in 1970 when demand for bourbon was nearing an all-time low. By the time that Brown-Forman repurchased the distillery in 1992, the grounds were overgrown, and the buildings were nearing collapse, but a $14 million renovation returned them to pristine condition and resulted in the Woodford Reserve production facility that many tourists visit today. While the basic Woodford Reserve offering first hit store shelves in 1996 - and remains one of the only triple-distilled bourbons on the market - the Double Oaked expression was introduced in 2012. It is produced by re-barreling Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select in a second deeply-toasted but lightly-charred virgin oak barrel for a little under a year. Double Oaked is made from a mashbill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley, and a 750 ml bottle retails for $54.99. NOSE: The nose offers pungent, candy-like sweetness, and my fellow Southerners will recognize that it smells EXACTLY like a rich and silky chocolate chess pie covered in caramel meringue. Married within the sweetness is some oak, as one would expect, and perhaps a skosh of leather. PALATE: The palate is a caramel and butterscotch bomb, almost as if you tried to see how many Werther’s Originals you could stuff into your mouth at one time. It is a wholly one-note palate, but it is a decadently enjoyable one note. FINISH: Some barrel flavor battles its way through the caramel on the finish, and some oak astringency pops up on the back of the tongue. While the buttery mouthfeel of the bourbon is quite nice, the finish is rather short with no alcohol warmth or hug of any kind. FINAL ASSESSMENT: It should be noted that this bottle was recently found forgotten and neglected in the back of my liquor cabinet and was most likely purchased around the time Double Oaked first appeared in 2012. I cannot determine what, if any, effect lurking in my cabinet unbothered for eight years might have had on the bourbon, but if my notes and assessment differ from yours, that might be why. Double Oaked is not a complex bourbon by any stretch, and the sweet caramel explosion that greets the palate is a bit much for it to become one of my daily sippers. With that understanding, though, it is a nice one to pull out from time to time when the mood strikes. Its relatively low proof and sweet but tame flavors also make it a good choice to serve to beginners who are just embarking on their bourbon journey.
J.W. Dant Bourbon Bottled in Bond
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed April 5, 2020BACKGROUND: Joseph Washington Dant began his career working as a blacksmith, but by the mid-1830s, he was a distiller who invented the process to make bourbon with hollowed out tree trunks. Let me state that once again so you can fully comprehend the concept - J.W. Dant figured out how to make bourbon from trees. How is this sumbitch not celebrated with great inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright Brothers?!?!?! Dant’s distilling method, which was used by farmers and pioneers who could not afford a copper still, required a log to be split lengthwise, hollowed out, and then bound tightly back together. The log was then stood vertically and filled from the top with fermented mash. A lid with a coil, similar in shape to a Hershey’s Kiss, would be placed atop the log, but, sometimes, only a thick blanket was used to cover the top. Small pipes that had been driven through the log would then have steam fed through them, which would begin the distillation process with the tree trunk replacing the boiler, or pot. Known at the time as the only log distiller whose product was worthy of purchase, Dant grew and used his own grains, and, by 1860, his bourbon operation encompassed almost 200 acres. He retired in the 1880s and passed away in 1902 at age 82. Dant left behind two sons who became distillers, one of whom invented the Yellowstone brand, and production of J.W. Dant bourbon continued until Prohibition forced it to cease. Following passage of the 21st Amendment, the rights to the J.W. Dant trademark passed through several distilleries before being finally acquired in 1993 by Heaven Hill, which holds them today. The modern version of J.W. Dant is produced using Heaven Hill’s standard mashbill of 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley, and a #3 char is placed on the barrel staves for aging. Long considered a bottom shelf bourbon, it costs only $15.99 for a one liter bottle, and the brand does not even have its own website, nor is there any mention made of it on the Heaven Hill Distillery’s brand listing page. NOSE: The nose offers a mix of banana scent, which is more commonly associated with Brown Forman products, the corn dust aroma that you often get when opening a new bag of wild bird seed, and caramel. A strong smell of barrel - not a general oak note like most bourbons but deeply burned barrel char - is present, and a bit of ethanol sting invades the nose even with an open mouth. PALATE: The palate begins with a strong burst of nicely sweet caramel, and it is quickly followed by distinct corn notes along with a delightful flavor that tastes exactly like I.B.C. root beer from a bottle. For a bottom shelf bourbon, it offers a mid-to-upper shelf palate. FINISH: Initial oak on the finish is soon overcome by a growing burst of intense and spicy rye mint. Some reviewers complain that the finish is drying, but mine had none of that effect. It is a long finish, but also just a tad bit hot. Dant’s rich, syrupy mouth feel that coats the jaw is something you would more often expect to find on a higher-end bourbon. FINAL ASSESSMENT: Just so all of my cards are on the table, I am a fan of Heaven Hill products, and I simply love bottled in bond bourbons. In fact, I do not think I have ever sampled a truly bad bottled in bond offering from any producer. J.W. Dant Bottled In Bond will not knock your socks off, but it is a dependable workhorse that will not let you down. Each sip was progressively better than the one that preceded it, and I could easily drink this every day and be wholly satisfied. It ain’t complex, but, darn, it is good. Early Times Bottled In Bond deservedly gets much love among aficionados as a surprisingly inexpensive yet high-quality bourbon, but I rank J.W. Dant alongside it as one of the best values on any shelf from top to bottom.
Russell's Reserve 10 Year Bourbon
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed March 23, 2020BACKGROUND: Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Bourbon is produced by Wild Turkey Distillery, which has an interesting origin story. At the end of the American Civil War, the Ripy Brothers, James and Thomas, returned to their native state of Kentucky and opened a distillery in Lawrenceburg. Following the repeal of Prohibition, Thomas McCarthy, an executive with whiskey wholesaler Austin Nichols, took some samples of maturing bourbon from the distillery's rickhouse on a turkey hunting trip with a group of friends. The following year, his friends asked him to bring "some of that good wild turkey whiskey," so the the distillery and its bourbon were later renamed Wild Turkey after the Austin Nichols company purchased them. Many notable figures throughout history have been devoted Wild Turkey aficionados, and among them are former presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, screen legend John Wayne, gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, and legendary daredevil Evel Knievel, who carried a hollow cane filled with the bourbon. Since 1954, Wild Turkey Distillery has been operating under the guidance of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, and, in 2015, Russell’s son, Eddie, was promoted to the same title, which made them the only father/son master distiller team working side-by-side within the industry. Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon was first introduced to the market by Eddie Russell in 1998. The bourbon is aged for at least 10 years in virgin American oak casks that have been charred with the strongest #4 “alligator char,” which makes the inside of the barrel resemble the pattern of a gator hide. Each batch of Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon is made from only a handful of casks, each of which is personally selected by the Russells from the choice center cut of Wild Turkey's rickhouse. Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon earned the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2011. In addition, it earned a score of 95 points — tying Pappy Van Winkle's 20 Year Old Bourbon — at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge. NOSE: As one would assume from a bourbon aged for a decade, the nose is dominated by oak, which is followed by scents of dark molasses and nuts that instantly bring pecan pie filling to mind. Some citrus follows along with just a bit of banana that is more reminiscent of Brown Forman products than Wild Turkey. The nose also carries the unmistakable smell of age that I have often likened to the odor that engulfs you when first entering an antique book store. I would take a bath in this nose if I could. PALATE: The palate, like the nose, is consumed by oak and large flavors of citrus. Some maraschino cherry sweetness peeks through from time to time. Vanilla and some soft caramel round out the palate. FINISH: The finish is, once again, oak-heavy, but barrel char is more obvious. A firecracker pop of rye spice is followed by an abundance of mint, almost as if you’d eaten a roll of peppermint Life Savers. The finish is not a long one, but it also does not carry the backend bitterness or oak tannins that many well-aged bourbons possess. FINAL ASSESSMENT: I have often said that dollar-for-dollar and sip-for-sip, Wild Turkey products are among the best values in bourbon today, and at around $40 a bottle, Russell’s Reserve 10 Year certainly adds solid evidence to that claim. With that said, I much prefer the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, which carries a higher proof and a price point that is about $20 more, but the 10 Year is a pleasing alternative.
Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon (95 Proof)
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed March 20, 2020BACKGROUND: Jim Beam Single Barrel, Beam’s first offering in the single barrel genre, was initially announced by Master Distiller Fred Noe in late 2013 and began appearing on store shelves in March of the following year. Though the bottle carries no age statement, Noe said at the time of its announcement that the bourbon would be aged between four to seven years and selected from the barrels used to produce Jim Beam’s white label and black label expressions. According to Beam/Suntory, less than 1% of Beam barrels qualify for single barrel bottling, and each is “strictly hand-selected…with care to ensure a unique profile and premium quality that make for a perfectly crafted bourbon.” While the single barrels chosen for Booker’s, Knob Creek, and, most recently, Baker’s come from the choice center cut positions of the warehouse, the Beam SiB barrels are selected from the top, bottom, and sides. Visitors to Beam’s gift shop at the American Stillhouse distillery in Clermont, Kentucky could purchase and hand-bottle their own Single Barrel bottle, but I am unsure as to whether this option is still available. Jim Beam Single Barrel is bottled at 95 proof and made from a mashbill of 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. Though many single barrel offerings from other companies are non-chill filtered, this one does go through that process. Each bottle carries a hand-written label denoting the barrel from which it was bottled. My bottle came from barrel JB7244. A 750ml bottle of Jim Beam Single Barrel retails for $34.99. NOSE: The nose presents the undeniable scent of fresh peanut brittle along with navel orange, oak, and a dose of good, ol’ Jim Beam musty funk, which is one of my guilty pleasures. PALATE: The palate largely mirrors the nose with oak, orange citrus, peanuts, caramel, and, believe it or not, a bit of buttermilk biscuit. It seems to be a very front-forward palate on the tongue. FINISH: The finish is long and offers a surprisingly big Kentucky hug for a 95 proof bourbon. The orange citrus on the palate becomes lemon citrus on the finish, perhaps because of some oak tannins. Big, booming notes of black pepper are also dominant in the finish. FINAL ASSESSMENT: As noted in my previous reviews, I am a big fan of Beam’s premium, higher-end, and more limited bourbons, so I had big hopes for Jim Beam Single Barrel. While it is much better than the regular 80 proof white label Jim Beam, it is also not quite as good as the Distiller’s Cut or Beam Bonded. Jim Beam Single Barrel is all-at-once enjoyable and unremarkable. It is a flavorful bourbon, but not one that prompts me to rush out to purchase more bottles.
Knob Creek 12 Year Small Batch Bourbon
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed March 19, 2020BACKGROUND: Knob Creek first hit the market in 1992 when Jim Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe wanted to produce a premium, small batch bourbon that was similar to pre-Prohibition standards. Today, it stands alongside Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden as part of Jim Beam’s premium collection. When Beam experienced a shortage of fully-aged bourbon in 2015 - 2016, the company removed the traditional nine year age statement from Knob Creek bottles. After increasing production and allowing existing stocks to mature, Beam re-entered the age statement market with this 12 year expression. The nine year age statement recently returned to bottles of the basic Knob Creek offering, as well. Knob Creek is named for an actual creek that runs through the site of the boyhood farm upon which President Abraham Lincoln was raised. Throughout adulthood, Lincoln referred to his boyhood home as “the Knob Creek place” to discern it from the nearby farm upon which he was born. It is believed that Lincoln’s father, Thomas, worked as a seasonal hand at a local distillery, and the future president, himself, sold bourbon in a general store that he owned and operated in New Salem, Illinois with business partner William Berry. Knob Creek 12 Year is made from a mashbill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley, and it retails for $60 a bottle. NOSE: The nose is full of the traditional Beam funk, which I love and enjoy, along with earthy tobacco, oak, peanut shells, and undertones of caramel toffee. PALATE: The palate contains orange citrus, oak, molasses, and a unique and muted sweetness that immediately brings dark rum to mind. The bourbon itself is viscous and syrupy and takes its time getting from point A to point B. FINISH: The orange citrus on the palate transitions into more of a grapefruit flavor on the finish, and it is joined by a burst of cinnamon. Heavy oak tannins linger in the back of the throat. The finish is a long one with just a touch of warmth that seems to last forever. FINAL ASSESSMENT: I will preface this assessment by acknowledging that I am a sucker for Jim Beam’s high-end, premium offerings and also its more limited products like Bonded, Distiller’s Cut, and Double Oak, so Knob Creek 12 Year should settle right into my wheelhouse. On the other hand, I have been privy to purchasing several Knob Creek store picks that are 120 proof, carry a 15 year age statement, and cost about $40. In other words, I can easily purchase higher-proofed, longer-aged Knob Creeks for about $20 less per 750ml. At the same time, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is aged for the same length as this Knob Creek, is proofed almost 40 points higher, and comes in at the same price point. It is also a much superior bourbon, and the C919 batch earned one of my highest ratings. The Knob Creek 12 Year is a perfectly average, plain-jane bourbon - not bad, but also not fantastic. Given the similar - and often better - options available at the same price or lower, I would likely opt for one of those next time.
Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed March 19, 2020BACKGROUND: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel first appeared on liquor store shelves in 2013, and the barrels used for bottling are touted as the hand-picked, cream-of-the-crop personally selected by Wild Turkey Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell from the center cut of the rickhouse. Before being considered for selection, the bourbon is aged in the deepest number 4 or “alligator” charred American white oak barrels to ensure the richest flavor and color. Unlike many whiskies on the market, the bourbon in RRSB is also non-chill filtered. Chill-filtration is a common process whereby the whiskey is chilled at temperatures below freezing and is passed through an absorption filter, thus removing fatty acids and other flavor contributors such as esters and proteins. By avoiding the chill-filtration process, the whiskey is bottled with more flavor compounds and a deeper color, which is denoted by an impressive haze when ice or chilled water is added. It is interesting to note that Wild Turkey uses only one mashbill for its entire bourbon line - Wild Turkey 80, WT101, Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve, Kentucky Spirit, and others - and the differences in flavors among expressions are almost entirely the result of aging and placement. The lone bourbon mashbill consists of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. Its single rye mashbill is comprised of 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% barley. The 110 proof Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel retails for $60, which is about $20 more than the 90 proof Russell’s Reserve white label that carries a 10 year age statement. A special 114 proof Russell’s Reserve that was distilled in 2002 costs $250, but it is a bit of a unicorn as only 3,640 bottles were released. NOSE: For a 110 proof bourbon, the nose is quite sweet, delicate, and reserved. It offers oak (RRSB is rumored to be aged 8 to 9 years), orange peel, sugary vanilla cake frosting, and a good bit of corn. PALATE: The palate starts with an alcohol bang from the get-go, and it is followed by loads of oak, cinnamon, dark cherry tartness, and the aforementioned vanilla frosting. The experience is almost a seesaw of sweet and spice in alternating waves. The viscosity is so delightfully thick that the bourbon is almost chewy. FINISH: The finish is long and warming and all of the flavors dissolve into a lingering rye mint. A touch of oaky bitterness tickles the back of the throat. FINAL ASSESSMENT: This is not a beginner’s bourbon, but rather one that experienced bourbon aficionados will pull off of their shelf time and time again. When you consider that its standard WT101 expression, Rare Breed, Russell’s 10 Year, and this single barrel can all be purchased for $60 or less, Wild Turkey likely offers consumers among the best bottle-for-bottle return on investment of any distillery. Plus…I think Jimmy Russell is one of the coolest sumbitches alive and kicking today.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon Batch C919
Bourbon — Kentucky, USAReviewed March 17, 2020BACKGROUND: First brought to market by Heaven Hill Distillery in 2013, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is an uncut, unfiltered powerhouse that is released once each quarter. The bourbon is aged for an impressive 12 years before being bottled at full cask strength, and it joins several other popular high-octane bourbons that include George T. Stagg, Booker’s, and E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof, just to name a few. Each Elijah Craig Barrel Proof release carries a distinct four-character code that begins with a letter denoting the batch - A is the initial batch release each year, B is the second, and C is the third. A number for the month it was released - traditionally, 1 for January, 5 for May, and 9 for September - follows, and the final two digits represent the year. Thus, C919 was the third batch of the year, and it was released in September of 2019. Elijah Craig bourbon is named for a Baptist minister who opened a distillery in Kentucky in 1789, and legend claims that Craig accidentally invented the process of aging whiskey in charred barrels after his barn caught fire. Despite the fact that the fire, according to lore, burned the barrels that were stored inside the barn, Craig decided to use them to ship his whiskey anyway. Customers who received the barrels were supposedly delighted with the effect that barrel char had upon its contents, and a new method of aging was born…or not. Like much of modern day bourbon marketing, the legend of Craig’s amazing discovery is simply the kind of hokum that snake oil salesmen once peddled. The truth of the matter is that the French began storing cognac in charred barrels in the 15th Century, and the practice was likely begun because coopers (the fancy term for “barrel makers) found that charring helped retain the liquor inside without leaking. It is also believed that charring simply burned away any splinters, wood chips, or pesky bugs that were inside the freshly-made barrel. One might also assume that a bourbon named for an 18th Century distiller would have a storied history dating back to the earliest days of the spirit, but the first bottling of Elijah Craig was produced in 1986 and has no ties to its namesake. The C919 bottle I sampled retails for $60 - an incredible bargain considering its age and proof - and it was produced from a mashbill consisting of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. NOSE: The nose is a marriage of caramel, oak, leather, and the delightfully musty smell of age that you get when entering an antique book store or a rick house that has been left undisturbed for a long period. Some bourbons that are proofed this high smell a bit like jet fuel, but there was surprisingly little ethanol in the ECBP nose. PALATE: The palate offers the most basic combination of caramel and oak, but when flavors combine absolutely perfectly in a bourbon like this one, basic is more than sufficient. An oily and viscous mouthfeel add to the enjoyment of the flavors. FINISH: The long finish is where the depth and complexity of this bourbon kicks in. A cherry bomb explosion on the finish is followed by oak, leather, cinnamon, and lots of pepper. A delayed heat builds, explodes, and subsides. If you have ever viewed an episode of the YouTube show “Hot Ones” and watched a celebrity’s reaction to Da Bomb hot sauce, I would imagine the experiences might be a bit similar. FINAL ASSESSMENT: Some high-proof bourbons burn for the sake of burning and do not offer complexity or character. Elijah Craig Barrel proof, however, balances taste and proof in a way that produces a warming and comforting blanket of flavor. Rather than simply tasting this bourbon, you end up experiencing this bourbon.
Old Fourth Distillery Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon
Bourbon — Indiana (aged in Georgia), USAReviewed March 16, 2020BACKGROUND: Atlanta’s Old Fourth Distillery is named after the “Old Fourth Ward,” a former political district and current trendy neighborhood that encompasses many of the city’s most historic sites. Among the landmarks located within the Old Fourth Ward are Martin Luther King’s Boyhood Home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where King and his father pastored, the King Center and burial site, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, and the Edgewood Avenue nightlife district. Founded via a Kickstarter campaign by two brothers, Old Fourth Distillery initially produced gin and a lemon-flavored sugar cane vodka onsite. They later expanded into bourbon. Old Fourth Distillery is very opaque and misleading, however, about the fact that its bourbon is sourced. The front of the bottle reads that the bourbon is “Produced by Old Fourth Distillery” - not “Distilled by” or “Bottled by” - but the back has an artist’s etching of a barn that carries a distillery licensing number above the door. If traced, you find that the number belongs to MGP of Indiana, and it offers the only clue on the bottle that the bourbon is sourced. The company apparently purchased 75 barrels of “new-make” bourbon from MGP in 2015, transported it to Georgia, and aged it for four years in a federally-bonded warehouse in order to meet the bottled in bond requirements. Another 120 barrels will be released at some point in 2020. Before reviewing the bourbon inside, it is important to note that the bottle is one of the most beautiful and well-designed that I have ever seen. The front includes a gorgeous, art-deco metal inlay of the distillery along with a metal neck ring and metal topper. The print on the front and the trolley barn depicted on the back are etched directly into the bottle. A small, handwritten label denotes the bottle and barrel numbers. Altogether, the bottle design screams style and elegance. Made from a mash bill of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, the bottle I purchased retailed for just under $45. NOSE: The nose is dominated by fresh, hot, buttered cornbread and smoky oak that allows you to smell the actual char, which likely results from the fact that the bourbon is unfiltered but does flow through a single cotton screen that removes solid pieces of barrel and char before bottling. Sweet fruit lingers in the background. It is a thoroughly delightful and appealing nose, and it was difficult to quit sniffing the bourbon long enough to taste it. An apt, one-word description of the nose would be “fantastic.” PALATE: The palate offers a combination of creamed corn sweetness, caramel cream pie, and smokiness. While those flavors, upon reading the description at first glance, would not seem to mingle well, they combine into a decadently rich, sweet, and satisfying palate. FINISH: The long finish consists almost entirely of smoky oak char and some bitter, though not unpleasant, lemon peel that lingers. There is the touch of an alcohol hug on the back end. FINAL ASSESSMENT: The bourbon boom has produced a number of hastily thrown together storefronts that claim to be “craft” distilleries, and they, more often than not, care more about chasing a dollar than producing a good product. Those overnight storefront setups often rush to bottle bourbon that is much too young and tastes like you are chewing on a mouthful of newly-mown grass. Old Fourth Distillery is the exception to that unsavory trend. Their Bottled In Bond Straight Bourbon would be an outstanding product even for a large-scale, already-established distillery, much less a small craft house based in Georgia. It comes as no surprise that this bourbon won a a double gold medal at the 2019 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. I plan to purchase a few more bottles on my next trip through the Peach State.
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