Old Carter 13 Year Single Barrel #55
Bourbon — Kentucky , USATasted September 21, 2021Slight orange tint to this amber liquid. The Carter’s (Mark and Sherri) are renowned for their winemaking and palates. Their work alongside Dixon Dedman resulted in the Kentucky Owl brand (now Stoli, but still batch 10 was outstanding) and they have since ventured into sourcing and bottling single barrels, bourbon, rye and American whiskey (MGP light whiskey) blends. This is actually my first sample of an Old Carter single barrel, courtesy of @pkingmartinmartin. I found a similar bottle, and overpaid egregiously for it, so this will lessen my regretful financial hit or reinforce that I should just buy WT 101 from now on and call it a day. The nose is rich and sweet. There is a big note of almost-scorched caramel alongside earthy corn husk, medium dark cigar, anise and strong (but balanced) oak. Right, and ethanol. Silky mouthfeel and a burst of sweet fruity, candy corn and caramel notes and then another burst of spice like two fireworks in succession. The finish is excellent with caramel, banana, a bit of cinnamon roll, tobacco and maybe even dried pineapple. The spice really blossoms and has a variety of anise, dill, cardamom and clove elements that seem to land in that order. The heavy sweet notes are like book ends. Despite the silky feel on entry there is a bit of sting mid- to hind-palate to remind you of the proof. There might be a faint bitterness but it is so overpowered with delicious spices and baked goods that it is an after thought. I’ll have to go read @ContemplativeFox and @pkingmartin ‘s notes in those but I have been won over. It’s a hot dram but flavorful. It makes me imagine Eagle Rare at 125 proof. It is a bit less fruity and more spice forward than Elijah Craig of McKenna and not as nutty as Beam. I don’t know where it hails from other than Kentucky but it is quintessential. Hats off to Mark and Sherri on this barrel! I would say that 13 years on this wan was the exact right time to pull the trigger. I’m looking forward to plowing through a few more of their offerings thanks to a generous friend! Soon will have to see if the one I brought home can rival the others…
Little Book Chapter 5: The Invitation
Blended American Whiskey — Kentucky, USATasted September 14, 2021Classic Booker’s packaging - kicked up a notch. The wooden box resembles something like a #4 char (as opposed to the stained wood of typical Booker’s boxes). A fancy tag and medallion let you know the additional $30-50 above Bookers q4 month releases is a sign of something unique. Or is it? Full disclosure here, I love Booker’s for its unrestrained heat and bold, sweet brown sugar notes. Little Book 4 was my bourbon equivalent of Johnny Walker green label - a unique blend that could very well be greater than the sum of its parts. This blend is a bit less unique and represents the beginning, middle and end of bourbons aging with a bit of malted rye thrown in. I’m expecting some chocolate or coffee notes as a result. The color is a nice amber-orange and fire practically ruses from the glass. The aromas evolve over time. At first I would swear this is 9y Knob Creek. Then it opens up and some rye notes and interesting fruity aromas find their way in. Cherry, mint, allspice, brown sugar, oak, toasted marshmallow, dried cranberry, hibiscus tea. Slightly syrupy, building heat, cinnamon churro, dried fruits, vanilla cream, pralines, sweet tobacco. The finish is long and a bit of mint and tea sneak in that I suspect come from the malted rye. I might get the faintest cacao note but could be making it up. I might mistake this for a solid batch of Stagg Jr but just slightly more tame. Slightly. But the flavor is there in spades. There is a nice toasty marshmallow and herbal kick that Stagg Jr lacks. I would put this up there with a solid JD barrel strength or ECBP as well. It is, for better or worse, more complex than Bookers. The strong nose, big palate and long finish make this hard to love, but is it worth the extra $30-50? In a practical sense, is Bookers worth $80-90 for you? If the answer is yes, then $120-130 for this is likely an easy yes. If you find Booker’s to be overpriced and lacking in complexity then you will likely enjoy what this adds to the Booker’s mix but the price is hard to swallow. Not intending to spiral into a VFM rant here but with plenty of $130-200 offerings out there I think many would agree that some are worth it - others are absolutely not. I consider Kentucky Owl Confiscated at $125 to be inferior to this, as would 14y Sam Houston. This is probably on par with $175 Four Gate Split Stave and also cheaper, but hotter (which some will not like). Compared to a Bardstown Discovery around $125-150, those I would say have been better for the same or slightly more money. With ECBP creeping up to $85 in some markets it is still a clear VFM winner, but also becoming more of a PITA to find. Then the mini-unicorn that is Stagg Jr at $65-85 if ever seen or $125+ on the secondary and again this bottle of Little Book seems to have a decent VFM standing once again. Here is the kicker. Beam will now mail me a bottle of this. No hunting, just have to live in KY (or maybe DC) and they’ll ship the damn thing. That I find impressive. While living in KY is a huge Bourbon perk the idea of to-your-door service from the distiller… that is seismic and has larger implications than most of what I have written above. While this setup is likely to face legal challenges (apparently Biden is lobbing the idea of ending state-regulated alcohol control and even the three-their system) I will take advantage of a bottle of delicious bourbon, gifted to KY, and drink to the bewildering industry that is whiskey. Cheers to the Noe family on this shake up!125.0 USD per Bottle
Yellow Spot 12 Year Single Pot Still
Single Pot Still — IrelandTasted September 2, 2021Wow. At first whiff I envision George Takei looking up from a Glencarin, uttering "Oh my." What territory is this. Following Green Spot this showcases a richer set of aromas - darker sugars, red fruits and floral notes. The soft clover, biscuit and honey notes are there but are now well dressed. There is a bit of sour/nutty Oloroso, some angel food cake and marzipan. I get a faint bit of candied pecan or toffee as well as, oddly enough, just a bit of ethanol. Some credit should be given to the extra 6% ABV over green spot I suppose. Wow. This is palate filling. Not attacking like some cask strength whiskeys but more like a giant bite of [your favorite] baked good. No real heat, just flavor. Nuts and fruit, soft baking spice like nutmeg and maybe a bit of clove, vanilla frosting, caramel sauce and leavened bread. The finish shows a bit of the ex-sherry influence with what could be heavy wine notes that somehow are present, but not heavy. Like the less well accesorized Green Spot, but sharply fashioned nonetheless less, this just has more class. Rolling the whiskey around in the mouth is entirely possible and brings candied apple flavors, roasted and candied pecans and a yeasty/nutty Oloroso hind-palate before a long finish of subtle biscuit, light caramel and dried fruits. If Green Spot is something you have to try at least once this is something that should be kept on hand at all times. If Glendronach 15 is the burley, cigar smoking brother then Yellow Spot is the sly, nimble well spoken sibling (think Thor vs. Loki). Officially top 3 in my category of sherry finished whiskeys... but is it number one? This shows restraint. It has less malt character and a bit less dried fruit than Glenfarclas 25 and is far less dense than Glendronach 15 or 18, without any of the bitter oak influence. Easy 4.25 for now but possibly higher. A 4.5 is not unreasonable and even 4.75 is a consideration. Given my infatuation I'll call it a 4.5 for now but what a tapestry of a whiskey this is.90.0 USD per Bottle
Green Spot Single Pot Still
Single Pot Still — IrelandTasted September 2, 2021There is something almost romantic about the aroma from this pour. Why I waited so long to bring this home I do not know. Many a times have I picked it up in the store, admired the packaging and price only to walk away. Seems like a mistake to hold out but on this beautiful September day this is exactly what I want. The nose is soft but not altogether subtle. Clover, honey, biscuit, a bit of apricot preserve, nutmeg and faint tea notes. Perhaps a bit of milk chocolate but that's a stretch. Silky smooth on entry with the same clover and honey notes with a bit of golden raisin, pear, and nutmeg to go along and just a hint of wood and tea. A slow, building but mild warmth in the chest. The finish reminds me after a minute or so, oddly enough, of gummy bears. There is a lingering, subtle, clean sweetness with a bit of fruit. Delicate. Refined. This makes Blanton's look like a bag full of rusty nails. My children could drink this, but would be in tremendous trouble for a number of reasons. This is just so damn pleasant. There is not a ton of complexity here but what is present is in harmony. I do feel like I get just the slightest of sour notes somewhere mid to hind palate if I was to complain. That said, I'm not sure I would change a thing. This will be my benchmark for Irish whiskey from here on out. That said, I'm not sure how to score it. It doesn't change my perception of whiskey so much as it reinforces my love for the art. I would share this readily with anyone, but likely wouldn't brag about it. I think that places it right at a 4.0, which would give it exemplary status but with a caveat - it is the blending and the finesse that make this what it is rather than any bold or particular interesting aspects. I could honestly go 3.75 but no lower. Given the cost, wide availability and quality I will stick with a 4 for now. No one should pass on this dram.50.0 USD per Bottle
Aged Rum — BarbadosTasted September 1, 2021Doorly’s 12 year was a knockout rum for my palate and being that it is basically Foursquare in disguise I wanted to know what it’s bigger sibling could do. Enter Premise. Double the price but on the lower end of Foursquare cost. Aged 10 years, not 12, but in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry before being blended together. A quick sip of Doorly’s 12 reminds me just how sweet an unsweetened rum can still be. Plenty of molasses, maple and oak. This on the other hand… The nose is rich and sweet with the same maple and molasses, alongside dried oak and plenty of nutty, rancio notes from the Sherry casks. At first the sherry is overpowering with a copper pennies funk but with a little air it mellows and balance arrives along with a nice cola note. Something tannic remains though that reminds me of Joseph Magnus and Spanish brandy. Light enough with a mess of flavors at first. The rancio dominates but the cola and molasses trickle back in. Finally some bitter walnut, ripe bananas, dash of sea salt and oak come in and for a moment I almost forget the sherry. Still, the classic molasses flavor takes some searching for but is ultimately there, like my son hiding under a blanket - I know he’s there and am impressed he’s so still but springs out with a smile once the jig is up. So… this is interesting. There is so much Sherry influence that I almost wish it was dialed back a bit. The end is rewarding if you are willing to search through the flavors… but it takes some effort. It is something to sip and relax, to take your time with, to contemplate. I’ll leave it at that.60.0 USD per Bottle
Bourbon — Kentucky, Tennessee, New York , USATasted September 1, 2021I was skeptical about this one but thanks to some glowing reviews I thought I would gamble on this blend of young Bardstown Bourbon Co and NY + TN in the mix. At $60 I have high expectations, knowing I can get tried and true Russel’s Reserve or OF 1920 for the same price. Make me a believer you (fellow) bourbon nerds… The nose is warm and rich. Initially it had a mixture of what I think of as Beam and Heaven Hill nutty and fruity/woody qualities. With time there is more brown sugar, gram cracker, big cinnamon and nutmeg as well as orange pee and black walnut. Might be some cardamom in there as well. Oh, and heat. Unadulterated, nose hair-scorching heat. Not that it’s a bad thing, just a little intimidating. Viscous with a nice building heat. Sweet and spicy with supporting wood and nutty notes. Solid heat in the chest. We’re in Knob Creek territory here on heat and brown sugar. As the finish goes on, and on… some chalky notes come about. I enjoy them (however the anti “Flinstones vitamins” crowd could be turned off). The black walnut and orange peel bitters are the last to go. Second sip. More vanilla frosting this go and then an absolute blast of spice. Smooth this is not. Big this is. More complex than KC or Bookers but just as hot. There is a strong Dickel influence in the mid palate and finish but I dig that. For the price I’m really quite pleased and would almost put this on par with Rare Breed 116 for price, complexity and heat. If, however, you hate Dickel then perhaps this won’t be your jam. I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting from the NY sourced whiskey but whatever it contributes works in the final blend. As far as the Bardstown Co goes there is no hint of youth to this blend (like I get with Bardstown’s first fusion series) Hats off Pursuit team! Excellent blend and makes me wonder what I could pull off at home.60.0 USD per Bottle
Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon (125 Proof)
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATasted August 23, 2021Whiffs of corn, vanilla, cinnamon, honey and possibly sweet, brown tobacco come out of the glass. It’s a nice golden orange color. And while none of that sounds crazy or unusual, get this - a Buffalo Trace product at 124 proof for <$20. This is an anomaly. It honestly lacks about as much VFM as possible into grams of ethyl alcohol, and actual flavor, for anything short of everclear. That alone is an accomplishment. But is it any good? That is sadly not the question people will ask because as @Milliardo pointed out this is some cousin, twice removed from George T Stagg. Never mind that this likely 4 years old instead of 17. It does however have some of the “Mexican fried ice cream” notes that I attribute to the elusive Stagg Jr though. Hot and thin but tasty. The oak is young and splintery hot aside the proof. There is plenty of vanilla, cherry, red hot candies, bit of honey, nuts and again a faint sweet tobacco note to go around. The finish is instant fire in the throat and chest with muted vanilla, cinnamon, cayenne and oak in that order and does lay several minutes. This is not GTS, Jr, Bookers, ECBP or JDBP but it is pretty attractive for proof hounds. I can’t think of a single thing this flavor packed at this price point that will so instantly destroy your GI tract. Well done Benchmark, we’ll done. Instant re-buy? Possibly. For the proof and age it honestly is on par with say a Hubers Starlight 4 grain - but that runs around $40-50. Ok, at $20 I’m absolutely sold. Eat tour heart out WT 101. Except that I can have you any time, anywhere and this is still a bit elusive. This could be less brash, more balanced, more interesting but hell - it’s probably worth at least $24.99 on the secondary.
Basil Hayden Toast
Bourbon — USATasted August 20, 2021So the copper band is wider, cork is wood instead of plastic but is this worth $10-15 more than the standard, overpriced-for-what-it-is offering? To be certain my assessment is valid a sample of the original is needed. Poured into a green, glass chalice found in our rental cabin (classy, but honestly that was the best option) I get sweet corn, caramel and a dash of rye. Thin, sweet up front with rye spice and pepper on a back and a shot finish of caramel corn and young oak. TOAST they say. Color appears a tad darker in the bottle (nice green hue in the glass), as does the nose. The oak is more at the forefront, maybe some peanut toffee and more caramel than vanilla. Entry is somehow even softer with a muted wood sweetness - toasted coconut? Sweetness is more candy cigarette than candy corn. Rye seems like it could be there but downplayed and pepper is gone. But wait - despite BH being a watered-down, high rye bourbon this has zero rye. RICE doesn’t look as clever on a bottle. Honestly it seems to work at 63/27(rice)/10 and almost reminds me of Little Book 4, where Beam incorporates a brown rice whiskey. This lacks the gusto (largely proof) of a Book/Bookers. Widely acceptable I see no huge faults about this. There might be an unpleasant sour note in there. And it’s watered down. And it’s kind of expensive. Ok fine - not great. It’s within Buffalo Trace territory though… so I’ll go with “above acceptable”. Quarter point off for price and availability.40.0 USD per Bottle
James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon
Bourbon — Indiana (bottled in Kentucky), USATasted July 25, 2021Without a way to thread posts on Distiller I will point out that this is part of a series of posts regarding Bulleit, Wilderness Trail and James E. Pepper distillery tours. This is the end, the last pour (sort of) for the day. A blended, 3-4 year, MGP sourced 36% rye mash bill (per the many barrels "MGPI OF INDIANA" labeled barrels in their bottling room). Their own barrels have to be moved off site to age due to fire/code restrictions (apparently storing tens of thousands of gallons of 110-120 proof whiskey in the midst of a "city" is frowned upon). My nose was broken at this point but the palate is young and essentially flavored with the grains themselves - frosted wheaties or rye checks cereal with sugar added. Nothing to see here folks, move along... if you are going to source from MGI at least buy something they have aged more than 3 years. I understand buying young spirits keeps costs low but this just misses the mark. Now, on a side note, I did taste one of their single barrel rye offerings that was finished for a year or so in a second barrel. That - unlike any of their other offerings - was dang good. Plenty of oak to help balance the marshmallow and peppermint swirl candy sweetness with a bit of black pepper thrown in. Great taste, but at $80 a bottle I couldn't justify bringing it home. If you're every in Lexington and want to splurge on James E. Pepper (MGP) then their double oaked single barrel is the tastiest of their options but try at the bar before you buy. That concludes a day long journey off the beaten Kentucky Bourbon Trail (although Wilderness Trail is officially on it). The lesson of the day is know what you're paying for and that in a few years whatever is in the bottle will change, for better or for worse, as the aging stock of bourbon climbs. Maybe some day that will drive prices back down. Maybe...
James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye
Rye — Indiana (bottled in Kentucky), USATasted July 25, 2021Without a way to thread posts on Distiller I will point out that this is part of a series of posts regarding Bulleit, Wilderness Trail and James E. Pepper distillery tours. Back home in Lexington, we end our day along the river in the Distillery District of Lexington, KY that is so named thanks to James E. Pepper. The district is a wonderful string of patios along a river with overgrown trees and aromas of Goodfellas pizza fill the air. Parking sucks but welcome to Lexington. The tour, and their offerings are a bit slim. Long story short James E. Pepper inherited the initial distillery (that I believe might have become the grounds for Woodford Reserve) at age 15 and then failed as a business man. He later started over in Lexington using his family and financial status as a platform. Spoiler alert, he failed again. His ridiculously rich wife was able to help bail him out and together they built what, at the time, was one of the largest distilleries in KY. He would die an early death and she would continue to use her high-profile connections to sell their product as a premium, unadulterated product. If nothing else their claim to fame should be successfully suing the state of KY to allow a distillery to bottle its own product, something that by law had to be done my an independent (and a times shady) second party. Like the bottled in bond act, this move likely helped save the reputation of bourbon. As for this product... well, it really isn't. Don't get me wrong, I tasted their white dog and it is full of sharp alcohol and cereal notes with almost a peppermint candy sweetness. That likely reflects their use of malted rye, which is also used by MGP - from which their actual product comes. I purchased their barrel strength rye and quite liked it for it's chocolate, coffee and cinnamon notes. That is what they led with at the distillery tour - a move that I believe is backward. Never have I gone from hight to low proof and felt satisfied. Neither was I satisfied with the remainder of this tasting. Their straight rye has a bit of peppermint, camomile, cacao nibs and a smidge of dish soap. It's not what I would call bad. In comparison to Bulleit's 95/5 MGP rye there are similarities but the biggest difference I believe comes from the fact that Pepper sources malted 95/5 rye from MGP. That malting process is what I suspect yields the cacao and darker notes. That said, this is less of a mixer because of the dark notes and still not a great sipper. It is affordable and is different, but not something I can recommend. Pick up their barrel strength offering if you want the full experience or just avoid altogether.