Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Next up in my Johnnie Walker series is the Gold Label Reserve. Priced at a significant premium over Johnnie Walker Black ($85 vs. $35) and labeled without an age statement, I’m eager to weigh in on this commonly found, yet infrequently discussed whisky.


Pour: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
Proof: 80
Age: not stated
Color: amber
Nose: smoked pear, glazed apple, honey
Taste: savory vanilla, graham cracker, dried apricot
Finish: moderate length w/ smoky caramel, singed sugar, faint leather


Overall: Maybe it’s an oversimplification, but I can’t help but describe the Gold Label as a sweeter, slightly elegant version of JW Black. There’s a white fruit quality about it, but with enough smokiness to add complexity. I’m just not tasting the premium.

Rating: Gold-plated.

Johnnie Walker Black Label

The first in my Johnnie Walker series … Over the next few days, weeks, however the time rolls, you’ll get my take on various offerings of this iconic brand. Please note, my preference lies with American whiskey. As such, you won’t find any snooty Scotch elitism here.


Johnnie Walker Black, or as the late Hitchens affectionately called it, “Mr. Walker’s Amber Restorative.” It was my first Scotch, and I’ve appreciated it since. It’s been a while since I purchased a bottle, but a recent trip to the liquor store cured that. Sláinte!


Pour: Johnnie Walker Black Label
Proof: 80
Age: 12 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: smoky caramel, honey, orange jam
Taste: salty vanilla, mild oak, boozy honeydew
Finish: moderately short w/ charred apple, leather, pepper


Overall: Cigar. Whisky. Leather chair: This is Johnnie Walker Black. Spare me your high-class single-malt diatribe. If you want to spend $35 on a whisky that’s smoky, sweet, slightly fruity and undeniably balanced, this may be all you’ll ever need.

Rating: Surefire staple.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Who could forget 2016’s “Whisky of the Year?” A lot of folks, apparently. In an age when people are hoarding 4-year sourced bourbon bottled by Costco, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye literally collects dust. What gives–actually, who cares? It was a $25, no-hassle purchase.


Pour: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Proof: 90
Age: not stated
Color: amber
Nose: honey-lemon, vanilla frosting, fruit salad
Taste: sugar wafer, citrus & floral notes, lightly toasted coconut
Finish: moderate length w/ baking spice, Necco wafer, faint oak & pepper


Overall: I wouldn’t consider Northern Harvest Rye an awards contender, but damn if it ain’t half bad. Seriously, I could see myself buying this whisky again. It’s well-balanced, pleasantly sweet, and sprinkled with a fair dollop of spice. Works for me.

Rating: Royal Ryet.

McBrayer Legacy Spirits Bourbon

There was a time when W. H. McBrayer’s Cedar Brook was arguably the most popular Kentucky bourbon whiskey in the world. The McBrayer legacy was recently revived by his descendants using a recipe authored by “The Judge” himself and distilled via contract with Wilderness Trail.


Pour: McBrayer Legacy Spirits Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Proof: 103.1
Age: at least 4 years
Color: honey
Nose: toasted vanilla wafer, grain, barrel char
Taste: smoky toffee, Cracker Jacks, dry baking spice
Finish: moderate length – singed molasses, clove, licorice


Overall: Despite employing a custom recipe, the Wilderness Trail DNA is prominent. McBrayer Legacy Spirits Bourbon is a well-enough sipper, though I’d prefer it had more time in the barrel. At $100 a bottle, it’s a tough spend for the non-history buff.

Rating: Court in recess.


50ml sample courtesy of McBrayer Legacy Spirits.

Copper & Kings Crafted (ex Russell’s Reserve Barrel)

Special thanks to two internet friends for making this tasting possible. I’ve been wanting to try Copper & Kings American Brandy for some time now. After hearing about Kentucky brandy finished in an ex Russell’s Reserve barrel … Well, you know I had to get my hands on that!


Pour: Copper & Kings Crafted (ex Russell’s Reserve finish)
Proof: 120
Age: not stated
Color: light amber
Nose: medicinal grape, pear, canned peaches
Taste: fruit cocktail, frosted pastry w/ jam, apple butter
Finish: long w/ preserved fruit, fig, peppery spice, hints of oak


Overall: As is, Copper & Kings finished in a Turkey barrel is quite delicious. That being said, I do find it more enjoyable diluted to about 90 proof. It brings out the sweetness and rounds out the medicinal qualities. Whatever floats your boat, right?

Rating: Kentucky hugs.

Grosperrin 1996 Bas-Armagnac (Aficionados)

I’ve heard great things about the Aficionados’ 1996 Grosperrin Bas-Armagnac for months now. Thanks to a generous sample from a friend – curiously timed perfectly for my brandy series – I can finally see what the fuss is about. (I have a feeling I’ll be spending some money soon.)


Pour: Grosperrin Bas-Armagnac 1996 (Aficionados)
Poof: 106.2
Age: 24 years
Color: dense rosy copper
Nose: blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, grape jam
Taste: ripe plum, fruity molasses, caramel/candy apple
Finish: long w/ robust sweet oak, textured spice, leather


Overall: Ridiculously delicious. There’s more character in this 24-year brandy than most whiskeys double its $88 retail price (yes, that includes “the good stuff”). Complexity, depth, layered fruit and spice with an outstanding finish … Well done, Aficionados.

Rating: 1996/100

Hennessy V.S. Cognac

An extremely popular and widely available spirit from a well-known brand … Is Hennessy’s Very Special Cognac a brandy worthy of a whiskey enthusiast’s consideration? Pop culture would lead you to believe so, but I have my doubts.


Pour: Hennessy V.S. Cognac
Proof: 80
Age: not stated (at least 2 years)
Color: dark amber
Nose: boozy punch, fruitcake
Taste: raisin bread, honey-glazed orange
Finish: moderately short w/ bread pudding, grape liqueur


Overall: While Hennessy V.S. meets the definition of Cognac, it drinks like a liqueur – sweet, syrupy, and completely lacking in spice. One could sip it neat and potentially appreciate it, but personally, I find it best suited for cocktails and cooking.

Rating: Cloying.

Delord Bas-Armagnac X.O.

I thought I’d dedicate the next few posts to brandy. It should be noted that I’m not an expert and my experience with the category in general is limited. Take it (or leave it) as a whiskey fan’s perspective.


I probably passed this bottle by a dozen times, but a few days ago curiosity caught the best of me. Besides, $50 for any spirit aged 15 years doesn’t strike me as unreasonable (even if only 80 proof). Will Delord’s Bas-Armagnac X.O. taste as fancy as its label? Nous verrons.


Pour: Delord Bas-Armagnac X.O.
Proof: 80
Age: 15 years
Color: rosy amber
Nose: chocolate raisins, plum, sliced almonds
Taste: gentle grape, berry preserves, jelly pastry
Finish: moderate length w/ medicinal grape, oak, leather


Overall: For a moderately priced French brandy, Delord X.O. does a fine job. I wouldn’t call it robust or complex, but there’s certainly enough character to enjoy neat. Better Armagnacs can be found, though you’ll likely pay more to acquire them.

Rating: Satisfactory.

Four Roses Single Barrel Select (OESF)

Four Roses Single Barrel private selections aren’t easily found in my neck of the woods. When I see one, I buy it, as was the case with this 10-year OESF barrel from “South Carolina Hospitality.” Based on the fact it hit multiple stores, it’s likely a distributor selection.


Pour: Four Roses Single Barrel Select (b. 79-6L)
Proof: 124.8
Age: 10 years, 2 months
Color: dense copper
Nose: heavy caramel, blood orange, toasted coconut
Taste: tart vanilla, oak char, tangy maple syrup
Finish: long, hot, and dry – cinnamon candy, raspberry tea, tobacco


Overall: While the nose sings with an enticing medley of caramel and dark fruit, the taste beats a tart & shaky rhythm. Any hopes for a rousing finale are swiftly shuffled off stage by its heat and drying finish. Not terrible; not great.

Rating: Every rose has its thorn.

Castle & Key Restoration Rye

I couldn’t help but find myself impressed with Restoration Rye’s bottle. It’s hefty, well-designed, and sports a weapons-grade stopper. Unfortunately, the stated age of “3” looks deceptively like an “8” and it’s not labeled straight. Let’s hope these are simple oversights.


Pour: Castle & Key Restoration Rye (2020, b. 1)
Proof: 103
Age: 3 years
Color: light amber
Nose: grain, pie dough, ethanol
Taste: peppered pear, Pledge polish, salt
Finish: moderately sour – bitter toffee, astringent oak


Overall: Look, I accept that youthful whiskey seldom tastes like well-aged whiskey, but Restoration Rye suffers from more than immaturity. It’s thin, lacking in sweetness, and wholly unpleasant from nose to finish. Restoration … it’s what your palate will need.

Rating: Rough.

Peerless Small Batch Rye

This is my second venture into Peerless Distilling Co.’s offerings. Today, I’m tasting Peerless Small Batch Rye Whiskey. Like the small batch bourbon, it’s bottled NCF at barrel proof. I assume batches and profiles vary. Let’s hope this rye fares better than the bourbon.


Pour: Peerless Small Batch Rye
Proof: 109.6 (barrel proof)
Age: not stated
Color: rich amber
Nose: sugar cookie, maple, buttered cinnamon bread
Taste: caramel creme, lemon frosting, vanilla extract
Finish: long & rich – English toffee, charred oak, cola


Overall: An exceptional pour. There’s complexity, depth, and a striking richness (almost syrup-like) that’s rarely found in younger Kentucky rye whiskeys. Peerless Small Batch Rye may not be cheap, but damn if it doesn’t taste expensive.

Rating: Legitimately impressive.

Peerless Small Batch Bourbon

I’ve been aware of Peerless Small Batch for some time now. I simply didn’t feel the need to purchase an expensive bottle of young whiskey. After discovering mini bottles for sale, I reconsidered. Barrel-proof, NCF Kentucky straight bourbon – it should at least be decent, right?


Pour: Peerless Small Batch Bourbon
Proof: 110.0 (barrel proof)
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: buttered corn, stewed apples, chewing tobacco
Taste: dense caramel, black licorice, tilled soil
Finish: moderately long w/ black tea, oak char, earthy spice


Overall: Perhaps I set my expectations a little higher than warranted. Peerless Small Batch tastes as it arguably should – like craft whiskey with potential. That being said, if you love earthy, dirty “root-like” notes, give this bourbon a try.

Rating: Peers abound.