Thursday, December 21, 2023

Review: Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

Color (5%):  medium copper. Quite a bit of thinning at the edges. Faint green notes through the yellows and browns. 4/5

Nose (10%): Beautiful nutty caramel. Toffee honey, all the sugars. Light oak. Easily manageable alcohol burn. Nice and soft. 8/10

Palate (20%): The sweetness persists. Honey, caramel, vanilla. There's a light hint of dark fruit coming in over the oak. It's not overly complex, but this is easy drinking whiskey. The wheat keeps this fairly neutral and easygoing.  17/20

Finish (10%): Very mild on the finish. Spice is almost nonexistent. The sweetness stays throughout this experience, and the oak lingers when the other flavors fade. Easy drinking and pleasant, not overly nuanced, but so easy to drink. 8/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This belongs on everyone's shelf. Any friend who comes over who has ever enjoyed a whiskey will be happy with this whiskey. It's an easy sipper; even when neat, there's no aggression or fire. This would be tasty and served neat, in spirit-forward cocktails, or drinks like sours. I like this in a julep. Nowhere near the complexity of some whiskeys I've had, but this has zero flaws. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice brings out the hidden spices and the oak. It makes it a bit more robust. The dilution may open up the oils. There are few changes, and no explosive innovations happen, but this stays good.  23/25

Total Ranking: 87% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $40
Actual Price: $25

Conclusion: Buy this whenever you can. In my market, it's relatively cheap. The first time I tried this whiskey, the bottle disappeared over a weekend between my wife and me. A few others in the wheated bourbon category compare to this whiskey, but they are a fair bit more expensive.  This is allocated, of course, but it's one of the few I happen to hunt. I try others, but I keep coming back to this gem. When this isn't around, a few others serve this role, with Maker's Mark as a prime example. For the money, in my market, especially with a 1.75L costing less than $40 this is a great deal. That's basically the same price as Wild Turkey, and this is such an easy sipper and a treat for guests. On the secondary market, I do see this for over $60; don't buy that or pay any obscene restaurant prices for a pour. If you can get it close to MSRP, buy it. 

Fact Sheet:
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
ABV: 45%

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Review: Johnnie Blonde

Color (5%):  Very light, faint gold, no brown whatsoever. Faint greenish young hay hues. 3/5

Nose (10%): Lots of sweetness and fruitiness. Raspberries, crisp red apples, sweet corn/caramel corn. There is a bit of a young alcohol note, a bit sharp. 7/10

Palate (20%): Not as much red fruit on the palate as on the nose. There's more crispness of apple and pear. There's a faint, bready caramel pastry note coming through. Kind of crackery, bready overall, with some notes of red fruit. 16/20

Finish (10%): A soft finish. The wheated nature comes through here, making it fairly easy to session. Apple and pear carry through that malic acid is prevalent, which is rare in Scottish whiskey. Alcohol burn lingers longer than the flavor. Reminds me of a young bourbon, and I don't care for either. 5/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a little rough. There's a note of cardboard and cheap chewy crackers. There is some nice fruitiness, which might shine with some ice and soda water, but neat, this isn't exemplary. It's an experiment at best, and I don't mind a fruity scotch when talking about a port or sherry finish. But this is young and underdeveloped. I'm curious about mixing it, but this does not hold up in the neat scotch market.  18/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The alcohol burn is still here. The raw, crisp apple shifts into a bit more softened baked apple. A bit more citrus character comes in. improved certainly. This is not a sipping scotch, but it could be mixed up in a way that does it justice. On its own, with assistance and supplement, this is better.   20/25

Total Ranking: 87% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $40
Actual Price: $25

Conclusion: The name Johnnie Blonde makes some sense here. It matches the hue of the whiskey and how unaged this "scotch" is. Making a budget scotch is tricky, and this tries to reinvent the notion of what scotch can be with the incorporation of wheat and that extra fruit character. This is not a well scotch. It's fine. It's not great, even for the money. 

Fact Sheet:
ABV: 40%

Monday, October 9, 2023

Review: Ron del Barrilito 2 star

Color (5%): Light to medium body, with lots of thinning at the edges. Nice golden amber hue. There are darker aged rums, but this is on the younger side in used wood. 5/5

Nose (10%): Lovely heather honey and leather notes hit me first. Dried fruits like apricots come out. Dark orange and purple colors. Woody nuttiness comes through, almonds. A bit of funk carries through. Alcohol isn't that hot, but it is certainly there. A bit of acetone sharpness. I'm not looking forward to trying this neat, but I'll stay open-minded. 8/10

Palate (20%): I expected it to be worse. There's a nice tobacco note. Caramel sweetness makes you think that sugars are added after distillation, but the brand claims that is false. Caramelized walnuts, cedar wood, roasted coconut, and peppery spice. It's a bananas foster profile. Pair it with some French toast, maybe some salted caramel. 17/20

Finish (10%): It's a pretty hot burn. That banana funk does stick around. Lots of funky esters and alcohol burn. 6/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a decent daiquiri rum. I wouldn't put this in the sippable aged rums. At a stretch, maybe with ice, but not neat. I see the cocktail application, but there are aged rums out there that fit the neat, sippable bill for me, and this is not one of them. It has a home in the mixing rums family on a tiki bar shelf, but I wouldn't use this for rum and cokes or straight sipping. Let this guy sit on the shelf unless you're an aspiring bartender who wants to learn about tiki. 21/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Those funky notes pop out much more. Some of that caramel sweetness comes out. The oak and nuttiness fall away. It does get easier to sip.   22/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $24
Actual Price: $30

Conclusion:  This rum is fine. It's that nice funky banana gold rum that works well in cocktails. This is not a sipping rum, but it's easy to see beverage applications. Tiki cocktails could use this, and dessert old-fashioned cocktails with this in a split base. It'll probably take me a while to kill this bottle unless I'm intentionally depleting it. I might use it in a punch, but when I get home from work, I rarely want to put in the effort to make a complex cocktail. It'll be perfectly good for your cocktail needs but it needs other flavors to bring out the harmonies. 

Fact Sheet:
Distillery Location: Puerto Rico
Aged 3 to 5 years in white oak barrels that were previously used for aging Oloroso sherry
It's been made since 1804 by the oldest rum manufacturer in Puerto Rico
ABV: 43%

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Review: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Solera Rum

Color (5%):  Very deep dark amber. Dark caramel. thinning to hay yellow at the edges. 3/5

Nose (10%): Nice brown sugary molasses sweetness. Nice purple dried fruits come through from those PX sherry casks, raisins, dates, and prunes. Faint spices come through, nutmeg and allspice. Mild oak comes through.  8/10

Palate (20%): Lots of sweetness, very sugary for an aged rum. I don't mean sugar flavor, I mean this is not dry, it is sweet. Artificial additives are allowed in rums and I suspect this is the case here. It's a dark caramel treacle sweetness. The fruit is less dried and more ripe or fermented. Notes of banana peel, powdered cocoa mix, walnut, dried orange peel, and bergamot. Not very much oak character. This is certainly used wood and it's not giving much fresh oak flavor. That bourbon doesn't present forward much at all. Fake caramel flavor and vanilla come through but toasted oak does not. 14/20

Finish (10%): Lots of nuts and dried fruit. Lingering molasses. The booziness does linger in the throat for quite a while. It's not overly harsh it just sticks around for ages. 8/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a pretty complex rum. Waves of flavors come and go washing over you. This is a bit sweet for my own taste. I could see it mixing incredibly well in daiquiris and tiki drinks. This is okay to sip neat but it is just too sweet for a typical whiskey drinker like me. I can't give it full marks but it is pretty good. I prefer unadulterated rums typically. 25/30

Retry on Ice (25%): That fake brown sugar flavor comes out even more over ice. Arguably worse than neat. I could see this rum in spirit-forward cocktails as a part of a split base with cognac or whiskey. That with some bitters could be nice. But when I don't like the sweetness and then the sweetness gets stronger. I feel like I'm going to get a headache from this. 17/25

Total Ranking: 75% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $38
Actual Price: $45

Conclusion:  Unfortunately this rum has been sweetened and has a misleading age statement. This is a solera-style aged rum so there is a tiny bit of 23-year-old aged rum in the bottle but it's not all 23 years old. Most of this rum is about 6 years old from what I gather, which is fine. Rum doesn't have the same legal restrictions on age statements as scotch so they are often misleading. If you do your research on the product or innately know what solera means you might not be fooled but when someone sees the number 23 on a bottle they get excited, especially when it's reasonably priced. This is a solid C. It's not impressive or top-tier in the rum world but it's not a failure. 

Fact Sheet:
Company: Diageo
Distillery Location: Guatemala
Aged in American Whiskey and various sherry casks
ABV: 40%

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Malted Straight Rye Whiskey (Batch no. 11G)

Color (5%): Medium thinning. Hay and faint copper. 4/5

Nose (10%): That does have that beautiful single malt nose that I missed from Red Brick. Awesome chocolatey notes over the freshly cooked barley. A bit of pepperiness from the rye comes around, but it's mainly chocolate-forward, which I love. The alcohol doesn't burn as much as expected from something so high-proof. There is a nice creaminess through it. 9/10

Palate (20%): Wow, that is a lot of chocolate and overproof. There are better ideas for the day's first sip, but I'll adjust. Nice light caramel sweetness. There is a great creamy body. This is well-refined. The barley is definitely taking over from the rye side of this. I wouldn't guess this was a rye if I tasted this blind. But I love American single malts. 18/20

Finish (10%): That burn hits you first and last, but in the middle, there is a sweet, creamy milk chocolate. I want to pair this with a salty dessert. That would really make this shine. There's a slight undertone of spice of cinnamon and pepper. Medium long duration. Nice and clean relative to the heat. 8/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is quality stuff. It's been very well distilled. There's a great flavor coming from quality grains. I'm not getting a ton of aged character, but it obviously hung out in some wood with a decent char level but reasonable. They didn't overage it, and it's young enough. They landed in the sweet spot. This works great as an end-of-the-night slow sipper with some salted caramel chocolates on the side. I will be drinking this again. I promise you that. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice really mutes the nose. The chocolate fades away, and some peppered honey pops out. The rye starts showing its face once those roasted flavors shrink. A lovely creamy finish is still mixed with soft milk chocolate, but that roasted bitter cocoa is gone. I want to try this on a big rock and watch it transform as I go. 23/25

Total Ranking: 89% Legendary, Amazing, Great, Good, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $74
Actual Price: $79

Conclusion: That 51:49 ratio confuses me. What's so important about being classified as a rye when you barely qualify. I can see a few rye elements coming through this whiskey, but it tastes like a single malt. It's quality stuff, misnamed. If you love porters, you will love this whiskey, so long as you can handle the strong stuff. I'm going to keep this bottle and share it with close friends. This is a special occasion sipper for me, and it likely merits discussion among enthusiasts. It's way better than the Uncut the Younger and arguably one of my favorite whiskeys I've tried so far this year. Definitely buy yourself a pour, or if you trust me, just grab a bottle. 

Fact Sheet:
51% Rye, 49% Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co
Bottled May 18, 2023
ABV: 57.92%

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey

Color (5%): Light amber and hay hues. Very low thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): There's a nice rye spice and a big vanilla sweetness. That corn comes through in this rye. There's a bit of oak and cinnamon. Some orange peel comes in after some time. Nice and candy-like. Compared to the last few smoke wagons I've tried, the alcohol burn is all tolerable. 8/10

Palate (20%): The corn sweetness pops straight in there, a nice soft caramel. After all, corn is basically half the mashbill. I've tried the Small Batch, the standard Straight Bourbon, and the Uncut The Younger; this is the first rye in my portfolio. It's okay for a bonded rye. That menthol note pops in after a few sips but is less intense than other recent samples. The botanical notes are there but are milder: mint, pine, and green tea. Spice and oak are present but not dominant, with some faint cinnamon and allspice. 17/20

Finish (10%): The finish is smooth. There's minimal alcohol burn for the proof. There's a nice cake frosting sweetness. Medium duration. A bit of cinnamon hangs around. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): I'd like more oak here. This one's a bit young. Also, it's 2% away from not being rye whiskey at all. This would be called the sweetest and easiest if this was in a flight of rye whiskeys. It could be a stepping stone for someone to go from bourbon into the world of rye, but there are better examples of a typical rye. It's fine. I'm sure people will like it, but it has only one aspect that will make it anyone's favorite. If offered, I'll happily drink it, but I would pick something else if I want a rye whiskey. 22/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The sweetness from that corn really comes through when chilled down. A bit more allspice comes in. The mint gets milder but lingers a bit longer on the finish. Nothing elevated, but only a little was lost. 21/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $44
Actual Price: $65

Conclusion: Why pick this mash bill? 51% to 49%. There are many ways to stack flavors and layer in complexity and depth. Aging in Nevada heat is a new and experimental science, but this great distillery needs to do something to push the boundaries or excel at a price point that makes you wish they had dialed this in more. This whiskey is fine, but for $65, $70, even $80 in some markets, no. Smoke Wagon dipped its toe in the rye market, but they were not swimming with the champs here. I hope that they dial in a quality product, but this mash bill will never be the favorite of a rye lover, and at this price point, it won't be someone's new exploration at the bar, which brings in a new regular consumer. If you are offered this, try it. I don't need to spend the total price for a bottle or a glass. My favorite ryes are the ones that have been around for nearly a century or more, like Sazerac, or the ones that follow those roots but add a fun twist, like the Dad's Hat Port Finish. For the money, get something famous for their rye. 

Fact Sheet:
51% Rye, 49% Corn, maybe 51% Rye, 45% Corn, 4% Barley. There is an issue with labeling specific batches.
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co
Aged at least 4 years
ABV: 50%

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Review: El Dorado 3 Year Old

Color (5%):  Totally clear, minimal legs. All color has been filtered away. I don't penalize for that when that is the intention, though 5/5

Nose (10%): Nice creamy coconut and vanilla. Dried fruits and cocoa. It's a nice, nuanced "white" rum. There's an aged character, but it's been muted to add complexity compared to unaged white rums. 9/10

Palate (20%): Oh, that is interesting when served neat. Banana peel and candy sugar notes. White to light brown sugars. A bit of menthol comes through. It's a light-bodied rum in terms of alcohol burn. There's a bit of viscosity, but it's neither syrupy nor oily. Baked Girl Scout coconut cookies come in. It stays dry and fruity. It would go great in rummy cocktails: mojitos and the like. 18/20

Finish (10%): Very smooth. Very quick finish. Very little alcohol sharpness. This is crazy clean for what is intended to be used as a white rum for mixing purposes. The filtration does the job very well to keep it approachable. 9/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a complex "white" rum. Rum terminology regarding age statements, color, production region, spelling, and other variables must be clearer. This is an aged rum, but it's been filtered and thus has a clear hue, which could confuse some people. That said, compared to other white rums, this is a banger. Sipping a white rum neat is uncommon, but this isn't a struggle, and you can see how well it would work in cocktails. Mojitos would pop, as would daiquiris. I don't know how this would stand out in a complex tiki cocktail with other punchy flavors, but this can certainly shine, given the chance. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): That body still punches. This nuance will not fade in cocktails. Again, who sips white rum straight? But this is plenty good, with lots of complexity. Menthol pops out a bit more, and so does coconut. That herbaceous quality pops in a big way. The sugars were never that prominent, but they don't fade away or become overbearing.   22/25

Total Ranking: 90% LegendaryAmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $32
Actual Price: $18

Conclusion:  In my market, a 750 of Bacardi Superior costs about $15, with a 1.75 going for about $22. There's never an occasion to save that 3 dollars for that sacrifice of quality. If you are making jungle juice for a frat party. But even in a rum and coke, spend 3 bucks on this every time. I can't name a better white rum I've ever had, and this price point is more than reasonable. Buy it. That's it, buy it. 

Fact Sheet:
Distillery Location: Guyana
ABV: 40%

Friday, June 30, 2023

Tornado through the Haystacks

I've used this recipe for a few competitions, and it's always treated me well for preliminary rounds. This started with Diageo World Class but became a go-to at my regular summer gatherings. Most of my friends are whiskey drinkers, and in Texas, it's hard to drink whiskey outdoors in the summertime. You need to proof it down and make it a bit more refreshing. My drink is a lovely blend of oil, smoke, salt, and spice. That sounds like barbeque to me. Come over sometime. I'll make you a plate. 

1 oz. Talisker 10 Yr Scotch
0.5 oz. Cocchi Rosa
0.25 oz. Citric Acid Solution
2.5 oz. Sparkling Mineral Water (preferably Topo Chico)
Julienned Strips of Lemon Peel

Add the scotch, vermouth, and acid solution to a mixing beaker. Peel an entire medium lemon with a julienne peeler (or use a Y peeler, then julienne with a small knife). Add a third of the lemon peel strips to a highball glass. Fill the glass halfway with ice cubes (preferably transparent), then add another third of the lemon strips. Completely fill the glass up with ice cubes and top with the last of the lemon peel. Add ice to the mixing beaker and briefly stir to chill the ingredients. Strain the drink into the prepared highball glass and top it with sparkling mineral water. Add a straw and serve. The final presentation of the drink should have dozens of little strips of lemon peel floating in suspension around the glass.

To make citric acid solution: 
Mix 94g filtered water with 6g citric acid and mix until the acid is dissolved and the liquid becomes clear.

I recently moved to Texas, and you know the first thing I did with my brother-in-law? We cooked brisket and drank some scotch. That's what you do down here. But barbeque takes a long time, and you can only continuously drink whiskey for some hours to smoke a good chunk of meat. Low and no-alcohol cocktails are a great way to keep cool while you're out in the Texas heat standing over a hot smoker. I love pairing whiskey with meat, especially a whiskey with a nice note of saline. Talisker has a beautiful flavor of the sea and the Isle of Skye. Talisker also has a pleasant oiliness that still comes through in this drink. It stacks with all the oil in the lemon peel gets accentuated by the saltiness, and gets carried throughout the glass via carbonation. The highball, like barbeque, started off incredibly simple in concept. Many people regard highball as a broad category, but historically, it's Scotch and Soda. Barbeque is just meat, smoke, and seasoning. Using the finest ingredients with the most straightforward techniques is how you make excellent cuisine. Barbeque needs to be low and slow to get to that fall-apart tender quality all the way through. A highball must be as cold as possible to keep its carbonation and not become overly diluted.  

Fun Fact: We would not have seltzer or soda water were it not for the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The man accredited with popularizing slices of meat between bread was the backer of chemist Joseph Priestly. The Earl commissioned Priestly to create a method of forcing carbonation into water. He thought it might work as a cure for scurvy. Priestly succeeded in impregnating water with air and is credited as the father of the fizzy drink.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Review: Bank Note 5 Year Blended Scotch

Color (5%):  For a five-year whisky, this is quite light. Light golden hay. Quite a bit of thinning on the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): Very bready and crackery. Notes of lemon peel with grass and hay. Light caramel toffee sweetness. 7/10

Palate (20%): Sort of a root beer quality. Very thin body, no oiliness or syrupiness. Lemon, nougat, black tea, some mild nuttiness, hazelnut. Inoffensive. There is no noticeable smoke to speak of, mild oak. Low to mild burn for 43%. Not unpleasant, but not exciting. 17/20

Finish (10%): A pretty soft finish, very crackery and grainy. Lemon and black tea come through. That's an Arnold Palmer. a little bit of bitterness. Pool weather whiskey, eh? 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is boring and basic. It's not offensive, but won't make anybody's top 10. Vanilla, lemon peel, caramel, and bread. Okay, that's basically every whiskey, but with no individuality. There's nothing offensive, harsh, or intrusive, but why bother with average. Yes, it's cheap, but you deserve something with flavor. I'll give it to my houseguests I don't love, but I would only restock it occasionally. 18/30

Retry on Ice (25%): More or less the same. The bitterness comes through a bit more. Sweet bread and brioche notes. No improvement. Nothing is lost unless it gets over-diluted. 16/25

Total Ranking: 69% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $17
Actual Price: $21

Conclusion: This is well whiskey in a divey bar. There's no need to have this on your shelf. It'll impress no one and satisfy some. I'd be upset if someone offered me a scotch, and I got this. Yes, that sentiment is pretentious, but scotch is supposed to be a treat. My wife drinks vodka drinks, and I primarily drink whiskies. I spend much more money than her, but I've accepted that. I want to enjoy the flavors and experience. Nuance and character are essential when drinking spirits. This is fine for $20, but when you weigh it against all the scotch you see on the average back bar, this has no place outside the well. 

Fact Sheet:
ABV: 43%
Blended and bottled for Stanley Morrison & Sons Ltd. 
40% single malts to 60% scotch grain whisky

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Review: Roxor Artisan Gin

Color (5%): Water clear, no legs, no oils. 4/5

Nose (10%): Lovely grapefruit notes. The bitter pith and the citrus oils balance quite nicely. There is some spice coming from the juniper. This is 90-proof, but it doesn't come off as hot. Slight tannic tea notes do appear on the back end. 9/10

Palate (20%): Very clean. Nice and dry. There is almost no sweetness whatsoever on the tip of the tongue. Reflective of starting with grain-neutral spirit. It takes a second, but the citrus oil and spice start dancing in. They make themselves known without being overpowering and offensive. It's a delicate spice for a gin compared to the styles from across the pond. 17/20

Finish (10%): That is dry on the back end. Lots of punch on that first sip, especially. Though I don't often drink gin neat. A few of those cocoa nibs show their face as those fumes dissipate. Some of the tannic hibiscus notes pop up as well. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): It's been a while since I sipped gin neat. This is quite enjoyable. I'd love to try this with a citrus-forward tonic like Fentiman's. This also would do well in a Collins cocktail. It's easy to see the application of this gin in cocktails across the board. How would it work in a martini with some super botanical vermouth or bitters? But with some acid, this plays extremely well with others. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The tea comes out a lot with a bit of ice. The citrus tempers out, and some of those earthy notes spring forth. You get the pecan nuttiness. This has helped me reevaluate my thoughts on cocktail applications. Which flavors do I want to compliment my drink design? The citrus was huge on the nose and tasted neat, but that switches to earth when well chilled. Interesting nuance and evolution. Nice. 23/25

Total Ranking: 87% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $29
Actual Price: $32

Conclusion:  This is a fun little gin I got to try on a United States Bartender's Guild trip. The New Artisan Distillery is in a cute industrial district with charming staff. The head distiller, Robert del Grande, is a James Beard-awarded chef based out of Houston despite the distillery being just outside Dallas. The flavor profile is fresh and vibrant. They openly advertise using fresh, natural ingredients in their gin and other products rather than relying on chemical extracts and concentrates. The sense of art and design showcased at the distillery and in the bottle design is truly impressive. The skyline building by Frank Lloyd Wright was a clear influence on the bottle design. In terms of the juice, it's pretty good. There's a very "American gin" vibe, being very citrus-forward and not overly spiced with juniper. This does exceptionally well for its category and is not excessively expensive. The advertisement of real plants seems unnecessary. As far as I'm aware, most small distilleries I tour use raw natural materials, though I may be a victim of marketing, I guess. This reminds me of Bluecoat and a few other American gin brands. If you're a gin drinker, I definitely recommend sampling this. Once the bottle is gone, I'm not sure if I'll restock, but I in no way regret my purchase. I'm wary of overly unique packaging as I know that cost is passed on to me. I like simple unless it's from a brand turning out high volumes of bottles they can buy in bulk. Knock the price down a few dollars, and I'd keep this in my rotation of gins. The juice is good. 

Fact Sheet:
Distillery location: Dallas, Texas
ABV: 45%

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Review: Grand Old Parr 12 Year

Color (5%):  Beautiful amber and copper hues. Medium thinning.  4/5

Nose (10%): Honeyed bread predominantly. There are some medicinal oily notes and nice dry oak at the end. 8/10

Palate (20%): Lots of honey sugars coming through. Medium full-bodied. Nice dried fruits and cooked fruits and orange notes. Some baking spices and lots of Christmas cake flavors coming through. Yummy sherry cask finish notes. Only a little, if any, peat but lots of oak heat. 17/20

Finish (10%): Arid, oaky finish compared to the sweet palate. There is a bit of a bite to this. 6/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is an oaky whiskey for the price. Possibly too oaky for some, but I like it. There's some nice complexity to this blend. Honey, cooked fruit, and oak spice. There's a nice evolution as it goes through the mouth. It's not boring, and one note, but it's not the craziest thing ever. It is a blend, but this has more character than any budget scotch in the well. 24/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Quite nice actually. The oak shrinks down a little bit, making it softer and easier. The honey strays throughout. The dried fruit gets a little muted, but it's still there. This is easy drinking for me. It's not too abrasive at all. 20/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, Amazing, Great, Good, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $24
Actual Price: $27

Conclusion: This product has been around since 1909. It's owned by Diageo, and while it gets less marketing publicity than Johnnie Walker, this is a quality whiskey with quite a few loyal followers. It's widely popular in the U.S. and in Latin America, as well as some fans in Japan. I first heard about this whiskey from the anime/manga "Bartender." It's a delicious whiskey for the price. I'm curious to try the 18-year-old. Given this has so much oak, I'm curious what six more years in the wood does to it. The oak makes it a bit acrid, so I can only see it getting a little use in cocktails. A good drink would have to mute that oak character a bit, defeating the point of using this. But as a sipping whiskey, this certainly beats out a lot of other blended whiskies at this price point. Give it a go; it's worth the money. I was one point away from calling this amazing, but it's great. 

Fact Sheet:
ABV: 40%
A blend of several distilleries (predominantly Cragganmore), blended and bottled in Leven, Fife

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Review: Clément VSOP Rhum Vieux

Color (5%):  Very light, faint gold honey, no brown. Medium thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): There's a bit of salt. Lots of fresh sea air. Sweet notes of butterscotch. The sugar notes are more delicate. Dried fruits and orange marmalade 8/10

Palate (20%): Nice and oily. Lots of orange coming through on the back end. Nutty, almond, and amaretto notes dance around. Some coconut milk slips in. Creamy butterscotch. Actually, it's dry in terms of sugar content. It's odd talking about sugary flavors and saying that it's not sweet, but that's how rum works. 17/20

Finish (10%): The heat lingers for quite a while. Lots of grassy sugarcane flavor and lots of spice. It's dry in terms of sugar content. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): It's been a while since I sipped rum neat. This is quite enjoyable. I bought this for mixing in tiki cocktails, and it certainly is great for that, but it's decent on its own. I would like a bit more age here, but it's a tasty gold rum. Lots of complexity, a great body, and a great mouthfeel.   25/30

Retry on Ice (25%): That's really nice. The spices come out a lot more. It's more punchy all around. All those oils open up to something big. I don't notice anything major being lost. This pops, and I want to have this in tiki cocktails. 23/25

Total Ranking: 84% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $44
Actual Price: $36

Conclusion:  If you seek an excellent rum experience and education, try this. Rums are broken down into innumerable categories from color to country to age to language to the method of distillation to everything under the sun. Your best rum bartender couldn't narrow rum into fewer than 10 categories. Other rums within similar types will do the job in place of this in cocktails, but this boy has some depth of character. This will work in fruit-forward tiki drinks and in rum old-fashioned cocktails. With just lime juice and sugar, this will make a tremendous daiquiri.

I like an agricole, it has a serious earthy pure taste. It feels like nothing is hidden or masked. Finding an application for this rum is easy, but I can't give it a perfect score. I need help thinking of a rum that beats this one out in terms of friendliness and versatility for the cost, but it'll never be the best option for my applications for specific cocktails. If I were building a cocktail menu, I'd opt for cheaper rums for my builds, but If you want to explore the rum cocktail world, this is a significant investment that will meet so many of your needs. If you have yet to try it, buy it. Buy it early on. You will probably find a different rum that you will like a bit better for your own applications, be it neat or in cocktails, but this is a great benchmark to start at and develop a frame of reference from. I'm happy to have this on my shelf; it's an easy teaching rum. If you can be a mentor/guide for someone into the rum world, you should have this. 

Fact Sheet:
Country: Martinique
ABV: 40%

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Review: Willett Family Estate Bottled Small Batch Rye

Color (5%):  Medium amber, dark honey, hay hues. Medium thinning at the edges. 3/5

Nose (10%):  You can smell this one from 5 feet away. It is potent, and the rye is sharp. There are notes of pine and a good amount of oak. Crisp caramel sugars dance with apple and toffee. The rye is there; you get some of that deli rye bread scent. 8/10

Palate (20%): Big dried fruit notes on the back end. It has lots of raisin characteristics, almost like a port wine. There's a menthol character, and with the high alcohol, it almost feels like Vic's on your tongue. That sounds worse than it is. It has a slight green tea feel. Lots of green and purple. Very dry, with little sugar and tiny honey notes before the botanicals and spice kick in. 14/20

Finish (10%): The alcohol is definitely there. The menthol and botanical notes fade into a bit of black pepper spice and toasted barley. Medium length. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This took some time, but I don't mind it. There's some complexity, but I prefer a bit mellow for an over-proof whiskey. This booze is hot. This brand makes some great bourbon, but this is pretty rough. I wouldn't call it anything too special. The age statement is pretty standard, and I want it to have more oak and char. It's got lots of flavors but needs a real sense of harmony. 21/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The menthol stays the dominant note here. A bit more fruit starts to poke its head out. There are notes of citrus. I still want more oak. There is a mild improvement from neat, but not much really changes. 20/25

Total Ranking: 73% Legendary, Amazing, GreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $42
Actual Price: $55

Conclusion: This is okay. As I said, the bourbon these guys make is excellent, but this is a rough rye. It's an experiment that they slapped their branding unto. There's an upcharge for the name brand. There isn't much of a market for overproof rye whiskeys. Knob Creek or Russell's Reserve / Wild Turkey beat this guy in my book, especially for a rocks serve. It's worth a try if it's available, but this will probably sit on my shelf for a while. 

Fact Sheet: 
ABV: 54.9% (varies batch to batch)
Mashbill: A blend of the Willett high rye mash bill (74% rye, 11% corn, 15% malted barley) with the Willett low rye mash bill (51% rye, 34% corn, 15% malted barley)
Aged 4 years
Distilled at Willett Distillery, Bardstown, Kentucky 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Uncut the Younger Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  Faint amber, dark honey, hay hues. Lots of thinning at the edges. 3/5

Nose (10%):  Powdered sugar candy sweetness. Dried apricot, light sweet cinnamon. Rye spice reminds me of that dense Christmas fruitcake or panettone. Alcohol is very present, naturally. 8/10

Palate (20%): That is a complex, hot whiskey. A delicate honey sweetness starts you off, which gets a bit darker. Lots of cooked fruit, roasted apples, and pears. There's only a few oak compared to the other smoke wagons I've tried, the Small Batch and the standard Straight Bourbon. There's a fair bit of botanical flavor filling that oaky void. There's a mint characteristic to it. Very nice thick texture. 18/20

Finish (10%): The alcohol is there, but you get used to it. The relatively high rye content gives a subdued sweetness and mild cinnamon spice. The roasted, toasted oak usually gets brought out, but we don't have that oak here, so the spice stays relatively mild compared to other bourbons in this category. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This took some time, but I do properly like it. It's complex and shifts on you as you acclimate to it. The booze hits hard, but you slowly pick out loads of different flavors from everywhere. A minty whiskey is interesting to me. I want to try this in a dry or perfect variation in Manhattan. Honestly, I don't love over-oaked bourbons, and this certainly doesn't fall into that pitfall. The alcohol is undeniable. Have water on hand.   27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The botanical finish comes out even more, reinforcing my desire to try this in a spirit-forward cocktail. The sweetness remains mild, possibly even less mild, which is unusual. The rye spices fade to mild from their medium intensity before. Honestly, it's a bit bland after trying it neat. 21/25

Total Ranking: 84% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $52
Actual Price: $42

Conclusion: Smoke Wagon admits to sourcing most, if not all, of its whiskey from MGP. Unfortunately, Smoke Wagon was too successful for its own good, and the demand has overtaken the supply. The juice that is Smoke Wagon's mash bill is starting to become scarce. So, they've started putting out a younger product under their banner to meet the market. This is a tasty whiskey that they should be proud of, but if you ordered something called Smoke Wagon and got this, you'd be upset. I understand this is their younger version, but if this was your first experience with the brand, you'd need clarification. If you got this in a flight, this would be an exciting component and likely a few people's favorite. This is an excellent deal for an over-proof whiskey at this price point. If you are a smoke and oak lover, this isn't for you but for me. I'm not sure I'd sip this neat regularly as a part of my rotation, but it's worth sampling.

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co
Aged a minimum of 39 months
ABV: 58.11%

Friday, March 24, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  Dark amber, faint copper. Quite a bit of thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%):  nice sweet vanilla caramel notes, somewhat creamy, reminds me of a cow tail or one of those Gotze's caramel cream candies. Alcohol is certainly more present than their standard straight bourbon. There's a faint peppery spice if you look for it, but the sweetness is much more noticeable. 7/10

Palate (20%): Not much initial sweetness, but it does come through in the mid-palate. Very roasted back end, with notes of dark coffee. Heavy rye spice for a bourbon. Intense peppercorn, manageable but intense. Certainly not for beginners, but good for someone with a little experience. 17/20

Finish (10%): This starts mild and slowly builds and builds. Dry oak and leather start us off before that rye spice takes over. That's a lot of rye heat. The flavor is there even for a 100-proof bourbon. There's a bit of sweetness poking its head through, but it is a big wall of spice. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is an intense, bonded whiskey. I typically don't care for overproof high rye whiskeys. But there is a soft sweetness layered through this spirit. I typically wouldn't pair this with most foods, maybe a robust cigar. It's over-spiced by my standards, likely due to the rapid aging in the Nevada heat. This style of rapid aging has become increasingly common, with many Texas distilleries taking similar approaches. As any Scotsman will tell you, "There is no substitute for time." I prefer their softer version; it has a bit more evolution on the tongue. 22/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice again brings out the sweetness on the nose and mutes those boozy notes. I do think that ice helps the drinkability of this one. With ice, this could pair with a steak au poivre or a lamb curry. Ice mutes the flavor to a level of intensity I prefer. The finish smoothes to a softer bell curve of intensity rather than a harsh spike. 22/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $60
Actual Price: $52

Conclusion: This is a delicious medium-tier bourbon. That $45-70 range has fierce contenders like Four Roses and Elijah Craig. This holds up as a rye-forward bourbon. It's certainly worth sampling, and I'm sure it'll make a few people's top ten lists, just not mine. High spice and alcohol bite aren't my go-to sippers, but it was excellent over ice. As I said before, it's an irony that this brand is sought after by hoarders and collectors. Its slogan, "Bibamus Moriendum Est," means "Drink, for we must die." Yet, so many bottles from this award-winning distillery will gather dust on some collector's shelf. If you find this bottle, open it, try it, and share it with friends. If you like it, get it again; if not, let someone else give it a chance. 

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
ABV: 50%

Review: Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  light caramel to golden hay hues. Medium thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): Nice toasted aroma. Lovely punchy oak, light sweetness, not too much alcohol burn in the nose. It feels like a heavy age statement, though going off the color, it's relatively young. 8/10

Palate (20%): Toffee caramel sugars immediately hit the tip of the tongue and wash over, bringing warm spices and soft vanilla. Much less toasted oak than comes through on the nose. Mild warming baking spices, nutmeg. Very clean mouthfeel, not quite creamy, but certainly not thin. It's not oily despite being non-chill filtered, but there's certainly a viscosity. Complex and elegant, I like it. 19/20

Finish (10%): The finish is quite mild. As it passes down the throat, a swift punch of spice fades quickly and lingers for quite a long duration. It must be that nice rye content. 8/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a very layered and nuanced whiskey. The flavor changes in the mouth from beginning to end. You can see why it has earned so many accolades and is sought after in the whiskey-collecting community. The other bourbons in the Smoke Wagon's portfolio are higher proof, but this does not come off as muted or over-diluted. This is an excellent sipping whiskey. I first had this at a lunch over Texas barbeque, which was exquisite. Given the scarcity of the product, I may have had some rose-tinted glasses on, but my family agreed on its quality without any background information. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice brings out the sweetness on the nose and masks many of the roasted flavors I was getting on my initial impression. Ice mutes the flavor a little bit, but not by much. It didn't really need softening any particular harsh edges. The finish stays punchy. 23/25

Total Ranking: 89% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $48
Actual Price: $30

Conclusion: This is an excellent bourbon for the price point. By my standards, it beats out common brands at similar price points, like Bulleit. An irony of this brand is that it's sought after by hoarders and collectors. Its slogan, "Bibamus Moriendum Est," means "Drink, for we must die." Yet, so many bottles from this award-winning distillery will gather dust on some collector's shelf. Drink this whiskey. Consider that an order.

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
ABV: 46.25%

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Jager Bomb with a Hammer

This was a trick I decided to adapt for a small party I was throwing. These days, every cocktail enthusiast and their grandfather has a spherical ice mold. I saw a trend for hollowing them out and serving a cocktail inside the ice sphere. I just did my own variation.

You only need a little equipment for this. You'll need a freezer, naturally. You'll also need a heat source and a metal point to heat, though a soldering iron does the job brilliantly, provided it's clean. You'll also need a small funnel, though a syringe or meat injector works a bit faster, and when dealing with ice, speed is critical. Lastly, you'll need a spherical ice ball mold that you can flip upside down and remain stable. I prefer the style pictured. The only other things required are the liquids, Jagermeister, and Red Bull. 

The basic premise is that ice freezes from the outside in. The trick is just stopping it before it freezes too much. Fill your ice ball mold with water, add the top half, and put it in the freezer. After an hour and a half, flip the mold over. This allows the ball to freeze evenly as different parts of the freezers have different temperatures. Also, any air bubbles and impurities would float or sink, throwing off the thermal conductivity. Otherwise, slices of the ball would be fragile and others very thick. After another hour and a half, remove the partially frozen ice ball. Bear in mind that these times are relative to what I find to be the average home freezer. You may need to extend the time.

Rinse the outside of the mold with warm water, not hot, or you may crack the ice. Now, we need to hollow out the mold. Heat an ice pick or use a soldering iron to poke a hole in the top of the ice ball. Draining can be a tricky part. You can flip the ball over and drain it out, but it will take ages because of the lack of airflow. Using a meat injector seems to be the fastest way of sucking out most of the liquid. You can also use a straw and blow sharply into the ball to eject a good portion of the ball's water while it's upside down to drain it much faster. However, this technique isn't suited to a bar environment. 

Next, using a funnel or the meat injector, fill the ball with Jagermeister. Plug the hole with something that allows the ball to stay upright. A cherry with a pick through it works well, as could a coiled citrus twist. Add the ball to a large rocks glass and fill the glass with Red Bull. Serve with a small hammer to let the guest smash the ball open.

Good Artists Imitate

My cocktail is designed to pair with Mediterranean cuisine, primarily with a robust Italian basis. My aperitif is designed to pair with a lovely prosciutto appetizer with fig, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. 

1 oz Tanqueray no. TEN Gin
0.125 oz Poire Williams
0.25 oz Elderflower Liqueur
2.5 oz Sparkling Mineral Water (preferably San Pellegrino)
2 small Sprigs of Rosemary
12 julienned Strips of Grapefruit Peel

Place the gin, elderflower liqueur, and Poire Williams into a wine glass. Add enough ice to fill the glass about a third. Add the rosemary and julienned grapefruit peel and give a quick stir. Fill the glass with ice and add the sparkling mineral water. Stir again to distribute all the ingredients evenly and beautifully. Add a straw and serve

To make julienned grapefruit peel, carve off a couple swaths of grapefruit peel with a y peeler about 3 inches long. Then, use a knife to cut the swathes into thin strips. Conversely, you may use a julienne peeler, but they have a habit of getting jammed. 

One of my favorite flavor pairings is grapefruit with rosemary. Rosemary pairs incredibly well with pork and oily flavors, and I wanted to start with a dry cocktail to contrast the more decadent tastes of this first course. The extra citrus kick of Tanqueray no. TEN is a natural choice for an aperitif, given its botanical profile. The citric acid and carbonic acid of the sparkling mineral water help cut through the richness and help to stimulate the palate for the upcoming meal. Pear and fig are natural complimenting flavors that go with pork and have a mild floral component that pairs with elderflower and chamomile. I enjoy complimenting flavors with contrasting sweetness regarding food and drink pairing.

Review: Whistlepig Piggyback 100% Rye

Color (5%):  Faint light caramel to golden hay hues. Doesn't really thin out at the edges at all. 5/5

Nose (10%):  nice roasted aroma. Rye, baking spice, tobacco, peppercorn, heather honey. Fairly light on the aroma for the proof. Lightness is alright, but I expected more punch. 8/10

Palate (20%): starts with light brown sugar sweetness. Dry oak, leather. It's a nice sweet and spicy whiskey, a good oaky note given the 6 years in a colder environment. Good for mixing in cocktails. Decent on its own. 14/20

Finish (10%): A swift hit of spice that fades into a light, mild finish. Medium length. It's not a rough alcohol burn at all. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): It's not my favorite whiskey for sipping neat, but it seems perfectly good for sours or other cocktails. It's a balanced rye all around, but nothing exceptional in any direction. It's clearly made by a professional and doesn't have that harsh ethanol burn many whiskeys have had for me lately when I sip them neatly. It's very similar to other Canadian ryes I've had. 17/30

Retry on Ice (25%): This makes it better. Things really start to come out in terms of spices. Much more bite and punch. It's still very clean, but the flavor is more pronounced. 22/25

Total Ranking: 73% Legendary, Amazing, GreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $28
Actual Price: $50

Conclusion: Dave Pickerell designed this whiskey for cocktails, and it is more budget-friendly than the more expensive Whistlepig options. I have extreme respect for the late Dave Pickerell. The thing is, it's still a pricey rye. I see how certain bars could use this for signature menu cocktail options as a promotion. In fact, my current place of employment uses this for one of their drinks at the $16 price mark. I wouldn't buy this at MSRP. It's okay, though there are better options for sipping at that price and cheaper options for cocktail purposes. 

Fact Sheet: 100% Rye
Distillery Location: Vermont, source from Canada unknown
ABV: 48.28%
Age Statement: 6 years in American oak barrels