J.W. Dant Bourbon Bottled in Bond
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATastedTasting notes feel pretentious and unnecessary in this context, and I worry that the producer will realize the good thing they have going and jack the price. Nevertheless--J.W. Dant is the best whiskey you can buy in America for under $20. Full stop. Is it perfect? No. But it sips well neat with some time to breathe, holds up super well to ice on a hot day, and makes for a fabulous spirit forward cocktail. Tastes of . . . what bourbon should taste of. The nearest store to me that stocks it is 1.5 hours away and I grab 2-3 bottles any time I pass through, just to keep as my "well" whiskey.19.0 USD per Bottle
Old Overholt Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey
Rye — Kentucky, USATastedI once observed that standard Old Overholt was the platonic "beer and a shot" whiskey--flavourful with a bit of youthful bite, but reasonably balanced and well-made, its flaws compensated for by a sip of crisp lager. If that's true (and I believe it is), then Old Overholt's new-ish bonded sibling is the whiskey on the rocks you sip slowly and sorrowfully in some out-of-the-way dive bar. Which isn't necessarily a criticism. I'd never drink this straight (it's fairly fiery at full proof, and the youth is evident), but over ice, it's genuinely enjoyable, no beer needed: grassy, sweet, caramel, caraway and pepper. Slight Beam nuttiness and faint citrus. Long lingering vanilla. Punches well above its weight-class, but doesn't have any pretensions about what it is at heart.22.0 USD per Bottle
Old Forester 1897 Bottled In Bond
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATastedOn the last pour of a bottle procured a couple of months ago in San Francisco duty free, and the absence of notes until now probably reflects my feeling that this bourbon is merely . . . fine. Enjoyable, certainly, but without anything to set it apart as a higher-priced limited edition. Nose of cake batter, vanilla, red fruits, some faint hay or grassiness, grape drink. An initial searing heat when the bottle was first opened has been tamed a bit--but there's still a fair bit of fire. Heat and musty wood on the taste, followed by vanilla, char, black tea, bitter cherry, and something reminiscent of an herbal, bitter liqueur. Finish is hot but swift, warming the throat (with the heat persisting), but not a lot of lingering flavour. At $20 and consistent availability, I'd make this a go-to (like some of the other bottled-in-bonds that punch above their weight-class--think Evan Williams, Old Grand Dad); at $50, you're asking a lot.50.0 USD per Bottle
Jim Beam Repeal Batch
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATastedOn the plus side, it *is* at least better than the standard Beam (which has always reminded me of corn and peanuts soaked in grain alcohol). But I don't want to oversell it, either. It's . . . not great. Nose is heavily mineral and heavy on the paint thinner fumes. A hint of citrus, some slight vanilla and oaky sweetness. Taste is actually nicely oily if still a bit thin (thanks no-chill-filtering), with vanilla, citrus, and some light, sweet wood char and peanuts. A bit hot with a faint touch of nail polish remover--but then the finish is there (nuts, fumes, burnt lemon)-and-gone, so it's (almost) hardly a weakness. Better than standard Beam White Label? One hundred per cent! Worth the investment in a world where Beam Rye, Beam Distiller's Cut, and Beam Bottled-in-Bond are all within $5-10 in price? Not a chance. (And that's saying nothing of Evan Williams Black Label, which is pretty much the platonic cheap bourbon and available for $5 *less* locally.)29.0 CAD per Bottle
Wild Turkey Bourbon 101
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATastedI feel the need to apologize for my past sins. Once upon a time, I viewed the Dirty Bird as a wildly overrated discount bourbon. It is not. It is magical. It is perfect. For $37 Cdn. (which is a steal when it comes to American whiskey in Canada, you can ignore my past complaints on that front), it is basically everything you want in your hooch. It's got kick, but it's got real flavour. A nice blend of sweet and spice. Pickle and caraway and baking spices stewed in apple skins and brown sugar. Creamy vanilla. The taste is still a bit sharp (my past notes weren't *wrong*, per se), and there's a touch of acetone here, but the whiskey feels fundamentally . . . real, if that makes sense, and--in a spirits world where the snobs among us are constantly buying and trying something new, it is one of only two bourbons (along with Buffalo Trace) that I find myself consisently re-buying. Poor, poor foolish, younger me.37.0 CAD per Bottle
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt
Peated Blended Malt — JapanTastedDelicious and yet not really essential at all: smells of honey and heather and vanilla, some cut green grass; white oak and green apples. Floral with a light smoky backbone. A taste that's light and yet quite hot at the same time. Some sweet caramelized wood char, candied apple, honeycomb and heather, clean smoke (if that makes sense). Pear or apple, but not tipping over too sweetly. A woody, clean smoky finish that's short: there and gone. I bought this bottle to celebrate, and it really served its purpose: unique and clean and crisp and nice, enjoyable even for those who aren't crazy about whisky. But it's also not truly remarkable, and there's a lot of other whiskies out there that fill a similar purpose--many of which, given the current craze for Japanese whisky, are much cheaper and more readily available.75.0 CAD per Bottle
Old Forester Statesman
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATastedA gimmick surely--and overpriced at that--but a gimmick that *almost* works, resulting in a solid straight bourbon. And, I mean, I bought a bottle of it, so what does that say about me? Nose is tart cherry, maple syrup, earthy, spicy. Peanut butter (and yes, as the Distiller tasting notes suggest, peanut brittle too) and caramel. Oatmeal cookies and baking spice. Taste is initially quite sweet--lots of caramel, maple, vanilla, but there's a lingering sour off-ness that I find infests a lot of Old Forester bottles, something a bit "green," if that makes sense. Quite hot at full proof, a drop of water or two helps, though it also quicks up the sweetness even more. Peanut and leather on the finish, almost approaching the territory of Beam funk, and some prickly sour-bitter lumber lingering in the mouth. Not bad, but certainly not worth the price, even if I'm not mad I did pick up a bottle.
Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey R5 Lot No. 3
Other Whiskey — California, USATastedAwful. I don't get the appeal--this is novelty through-and-through, the kind of whiskey you'd do as shots to gross your friends out (or would if it was affordable; this isn't). Smells like asparagus, hops, and marijuana and not much else; tastes like asparagus and leafy greens, with some biscuity maltiness, and then there's a weird almost peaty, smoky character. Bitter, leafy finish, but on the plus side it vanishes pretty quickly. I don't quite have the heart to give it less than two stars because--c'mon--it is exactly what it says it is. On the other hand, who the hell was crying out for a young whiskey distilled from an IPA mash? Blech.
Nikka Pure Malt Black Whisky
Peated Blended Malt — JapanTastedMaybe it's the unconscious psychological influence of the name--"Black"--but I'd almost suggest this is basically like a better, more focussed, all-malt (and obviously Japanese) version of Johnnie Walker Black Label. On the nose you've got the smoke (equal parts campfire and burnt bog), salt, seaweed, pepper, lemon zest. A bit of caramel/toffee and vanilla. Pretzel. A hint of red fruits--apples and berries especially. Icing sugar. Surprising body at 43% ABV, with some sugar/maple syrup, more lemon zest, caramel, and a lot of the nose redux--smoke, salt, sweet. Some spice/heat, vanilla, and more maple syrup with some cedar wood and a touch of bitter chocolate. Short, crisp finish--heat, wood, sweet, then gone. A bit pricy for what you're getting (about $50 for 500mL in Canada--that unorthdox bottle size is one of the reasons it's not available in the US), but really enjoyable and--even at the relatively low ABV--it plays super well in a lot of contexts: neat, over a single large cube, mizuwari, or highball. I've come to realize, indeed, that this versatility seems to be true for most Japanese whiskies I've tried (unlike their Scottish siblings which sometimes drown in water or ice).
Woodford Reserve Straight Rye
Rye — Kentucky, USATastedI've long thought standard Woodford to be one of the most overrated bourbons out there (overpriced, underflavoured, and something . . . synthetic about the whole affair--and don't even get me started on the "COTTON CANDY SENT THROUGH A WOODCHIPPER" that is the Woodford Double Oaked), so I shouldn't be surprised that their entry into the rye sector suffers from a lot of the same defects. The nose is . . . fume-y, full of solvent notes, glue, rubber cement. Some artificial banana underneath, with a bit of butterscotch and some herbal notes (big dill, mint, eucalyptus) tagging along. Slight vanilla. Taste is boozy and a bit thin, with a bit of a burnt-peanut backbone, some bitter, oversteeped tea, slight woody sourness. Light maple. Grainy, with some slight herbaciousness, and notes reminiscent of a bottom-shelf Speyside Scotch (I am under the impression Woodford uses a fair amount of barley in its mash, and some of the whiskey is distilled in pot stills, so maybe that's what I'm getting?). Over time, a bit of honeycomb drifts into the nose, and you get a bit of chocolate-mint and vanilla in the taste. But the finish is dry, citrus rind, bitter woodsy-ness. Not my favourite. Its weaknesses are well-disguised in cocktails (even spirit-forward cocktails like the Old-Fashioned, surprisingly), which achieve a nice sweet-spicy punchiness, but riddle me this: why would I lay down the dollars for Woodford Rye when Rittenhouse--which drinks better neat AND on the rocks, costs less, and carries a few extra ABV points to assert itself in cocktails--exists and is in fine supply?