I've heard great things about this one and have been wanting to try it for some time now. I barely missed my opportunity a couple years ago to get a pack of 3 200 ml bottles of cask-finished Belle Meade, but I was fortunate enough to get a sample of this one, which I've heard the most praise for. This will be extra interesting because I loved Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve, but was not impressed by regular Belle Meade.
N: There's a musty funk here that makes me think concerningly of wet cardboard. Dry barrel spice starts coming out though. Then a bit of rich grain. A little minerality, There isn't as much happening on the nose as I'd expected. There is a very light layer of restrained wood in the back though.
Waiting another couple of minutes, more smells start to appear. Peanut shells and faint English walnut oil. The faintest cherry and orange zest.
P: Cherry sherry sweetness hits first, with some funk that makes me think a bit of PX. There's some nice spiciness too though. There's a feeling of weight to this spirit too - perhaps the effect of some oiliness. Maybe this is finished in PX and oloroso? There are still some mineral notes here though and it the low-ish proof keeps it from being all that full and bold. There are lot of dried fruit flavors here, starting with loads of raisin, working though faint banana and unsweetened cranberries, with very faint hints of wild blueberries. The wood does start showing up and it's a bit flat and tannic (probably the French oak to blame here). There's a low spicy burn throughout that's a bit hard to place. There's a bit of caramel that's also oddly malty. Oh, and I at times get this slightly off cherry syrup with bittersweet chocolate.
F: Tannic with mild burn. Perhaps faint leather. Occasional hints of dried fruit. I did get a little bit of just straight clove flavor a couple of times.
- Conclusion -
This may not have the leathery sherry finish I was hoping for, but it's a tasty bourbon that greatly improves upon the base Belle Meade. This is funky, so it's a bit hard to place, but it doesn't have nearly the same problems as Rabbit Hole Dereringer (12/23), which is plagued by far too much PX. Is this as good as Russell's Reserve 10 (15-16/23) though? Thats a tougher call. My inclination is to say that this isn't quite as good. Old Forester Signature (15/23) is also pretty funky and tastes pretty competitive with this. I'm leaning toward a 15 here. I'm certainly not inclined to say that this is better than the Old Forester, so this still could be a 14. I.W. Harper 15 (14/23) seems pretty competitive with this. I might be looking at a 14 here.
Switching back to the regular Belle Meade, I no longer find this to be such a big improvement. The other bourbons largely demonstrate much bigger quality gaps than the one I'm observing between these two. This is an improvement, for sure, but not a huge one. It's quite clear that something similar to regular Belle Meade was used in this.
Coming back to I.W. Harper 15, I think I would take this over that. Uncle Nearest 1856 (15/23) seems quite competitive with this. This is more sweet, funky and off-kilter, but also less boring. Russell's Reserve 10 is still probably better, carrying more complexity and a more traditional bourbon profile, but I'm less sure now.
George Dickel Bottled In Bond (1st release) (16/23) isn't as complex and interesting as this, but it's better-executed in that it has a nice core flavor and fewer off notes. I think I'd take it over this, though they're close.
This is fun. It has the nice sherried finish of a Scotch - and Belle Meade does remind me a bit of a scotch with its sweet candy corn flavor mixed in with the rest, somehow. I like this, but it is definitely something very different.
I started at a 15 for this, then I considered going down to a 14. Now, I'm considering going up to a 16. I think I need to end on a 15 here.
Thank you @ctbeck11
for this sample.