‘Tis Burns Night all ye ladies and gents, and I fancy myself a wee dram; Not a bourbon or rye, nor libation with ice, but a malt from a land known as Islay.
‘Tis said that a Scotch gets finer with age, I can see why a bloke might agree; Yet, ten years is enough with its sweet waft of smoke – O’, my heart it beats fondly for Ardbeg.
Pour: Ardbeg Ten Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch
Age: ten years
Color: vegetable oil
Nose: enticing smoke, singed honeydew melon, caramel-pear
Taste: medicinal fabric, sweet & salty wafer, vanilla spice
Finish: long & complex w/ lingering peat, seawood, faint honey
Overall: You can have your fancy, hyper-aged single malts – your blue-label blends and high-dollar rarities. For me, there is one Scotch conquering all. Affordable, available, and juxtaposed with coastal elegance and fury, ‘tis Ardbeg Ten. Sláinte.
Rating: Perfect ten.
High West’s Bourye, a limited edition bourbon & rye whiskey blend, has been around since 2009. Over the years, the sources have varied, including runs with Four Roses and Barton, though MGP remains the sole source since 2016. Speaking of which, I have a 2016 release to review.
Pour: High West Bourye (2016)
Age: NAS (9-17 years per High West)
Color: rosy copper
Nose: caramel apple, blood orange, brown sugar
Taste: fruity vanilla bean, dark citrus-spice, boozy punch
Finish: moderate length – beautifully rich oak, cherry pie filling, herbal tea
Overall: Likely the best bourbon & rye blend I’ve tasted. An incredible whiskey – mature and complex with a remarkably oily mouthfeel for 92 proof (ah, the wonders of NCF). High West’s 2016 Bourye was apparently overlooked, and it’s your gain in 2021.
Rating: Worth the hunt.
In 2020, Sazerac announced their acquisition of the Early Times brand. That considered, I figured the sooner the better on a review of the in-the-know popular Brown-Forman distilled Kentucky straight bourbon. Coming soon to a Pappy halo near you, Early Times Bottled in Bond.
Pour: Early Times Bottled in Bond
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: toasted banana, vanilla extract, nutmeg
Taste: caramel syrup, sweet oak, brown sugar
Finish: moderately long – burnt toffee, licorice, leather
Overall: This is good. Not just good for the money ($20/liter) but good, period. Most non-age-stated bonded bourbons taste their required four years. This one is an exception. Early Times Bottled in Bond is rich, flavorful, and surprisingly grown-up in profile.
Yesterday, I shared my thoughts on the widely popular Crown Royal Deluxe. Today, I’m tasting the similarly specced, yet doubly priced Crown Royal Reserve. The Reserve expression touts itself as a “hand-picked” blend of the producer’s “best barrels.” *The* best? We shall see.
Pour: Crown Royal Reserve Blended Canadian Whisky
Age: not stated
Nose: vanilla syrup, apple peel, salted caramel
Taste: toffee drizzle, toasted oak, light baking spice
Finish: moderate length – singed marshmallow, creme brûlée, nutmeg
Overall: If these truly are the best barrels Crown Royal has available, I’m unimpressed. Blown smoke aside, Crown Royal Reserve is a decent blended whisky. Definitely more complex and interesting than the Deluxe expression, though I’d appreciate more for $50.
Rating: Lady B.
I have no data to back this up, but based on my regular visits to local liquor stores, Crown Royal Deluxe must be the best-selling whisky in America. And I get it. It’s available, relatively inexpensive, eye-catching, and frequently referenced in pop culture. But is there more?
Pour: Crown Royal Deluxe Blended Canadian Whisky
Age: not stated
Nose: light vanilla, graham cracker, confectioners sugar
Taste: sweet pear, Ladyfingers, muted floral spice
Finish: moderately short – Necco wafer, mild oak, white pepper
Overall: It’s got inoffensive down, I’ll give it that. In fact, Crown Royal Deluxe may be the most inoffensive whisky around. Outside of that, there’s not much left to say. Virtually no complexity or character – an ideal whisky for an ice-cold glass of Coke.
Rating: Lady C.
When it comes to recognizable whiskey names, Evan Williams shares a stage with Jack Daniel and Jim Beam. The affordable “black label” is the brand’s flagship offering. Often overlooked by eager whiskey enthusiasts, many long-timers consider it a “Swiss Army Knife” bourbon.
Pour: Evan Williams Black Label
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: vanilla, buttered popcorn, whole grain bread
Taste: caramel drizzle, honey syrup, Golden Delicious apple
Finish: moderately short – confectioners sugar, mild oak & spice
Overall: As simplistic as Evan Williams may be, it’s simplicity proper. This is easy-sipping, no frills, no horseshit Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. It’s no Wild Turkey 101, but it pummels Benchmark and puts a fair shiner on Jim Beam White Label.
Rating: Worth admission.
Ryan Cecil and Kenny Coleman have bottled numerous barrels under their Pursuit Spirits brand, but until recently, never crafted a blend. But Pursuit United is more than your average straight whiskey blend. It’s a brave combination of three bourbons from three states.
Pour: Cecil + Coleman: Pursuit United
Age: at least 4 years
Color: metallic amber
Nose: candy apple, lemon frosting, maple syrup
Taste: vibrant vanilla, sweet zesty oak, crisp apple-cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – peppery caramel, holiday citrus, diminishing spice
Overall: If there’s any doubt, thanks to Ryan and Kenny, Kentucky, Tennessee, and New York whiskeys work harmoniously together. Pursuit United is undeniably bourbon, though bearing that classification with a flavorful profile all its own. Unique and noteworthy.
Rating: Pursue this.
Having reviewed Knob Creek 12 and 15, it seemed only appropriate to review the affordable and widely available 9-year expression. If it weren’t for Wild Turkey 101, Knob Creek might just be my table bourbon. But then, I’m spoiling this review. Let’s do this right.
Pour: Knob Creek 9 Year
Age: 9 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: nutty toffee, vanilla, sweet citrus
Taste: brown sugar, zesty oak, baking spice
Finish: moderate length – caramel, nutmeg, mild pepper
Overall: I don’t just like Knob Creek, I love it. It’s not going to win major awards or destroy competition twice its price, but it doesn’t need to. This is the profile an everyday bourbon should be. No youth, no tannins, just 100-proof, $30 goodness.
Rating: A modern classic.
2020 was a banner year for Knob Creek bourbon. Its original 9-year age statement returned, a reasonably priced 15-year limited edition was released, and a new 12-year expression was introduced. Having just reviewed the 15-year, I thought I’d give the 12-year a go.
Pour: Knob Creek 12 Year
Age: 12 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: honey-roasted peanuts, maple, orange tea
Taste: caramel-apple, brown sugar, baked cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – dark fruit, sweet charred oak, autumn spice
Overall: Possibly the most well-balanced Knob Creek expression I’ve tasted. While there’s maturity, there’s an equally present fruitiness not commonly found in Knob Creek Single Barrel selections of similar age. For $60, Knob Creek 12 is a winner.
Rating: Right on the money.
The best thing about Knob Creek limited edition releases is they’re relatively easy to find. 2020’s Knob Creek 15 was no exception. For $100 one could – and still can – purchase a 100-proof, 15-year Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey (sans sourced whiskey mystery bullshit).
Pour: Knob Creek 15 Year
Age: 15 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: woody cherry, fragrant oak, Coca-Cola Classic
Taste: earthy vanilla, chewing tobacco, sweet sassafras
Finish: moderately long – singed plum, clove gum, leather
Overall: I can’t help but compare Knob Creek 15 to the slightly younger but cheaper Knob Creek 12. While I generally prefer the 12-year’s profile, I remain impressed with the 15-year’s surprising elegance. This is well-aged bourbon done right.
Rating: Mature, meticulous.
Bardstown Bourbon Co. have made a name for themselves in the last few years. Having tried several of their sourced and finished expressions, as well as their distillate and two-year maturate, I can attest to their quality. But what about a blend of both worlds? Enter Fusion.
Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Fusion Series No. 2
Age: 34 months (2-12-year KSBW)
Color: rich amber
Nose: Vanilla Tootsie Roll, roasted almonds, orange peel
Taste: light caramel, melted butter, mild spice
Finish: moderately short – toasted oak, nutty toffee, citrus
Overall: I’m torn with this bourbon. There’s a part of me that genuinely appreciates the experimentation aspect – a blend of young and old, distilled and sourced. But then, there’s nothing unique or noteworthy happening to justify Fusion’s $60 price.
Rating: Getting there.
I’ve been a fan of New Riff’s bourbon for some time now. What they can do in a handful of years is remarkable. Until today, I’ve yet to experience their straight rye whiskey, and I’m doing so with their single-barrel expression, bottled NCF at full barrel proof. Cue the riff!
Pour: New Riff Single Barrel KY Straight Rye Whiskey 16-2074
Age: 4 years
Nose: apple, honey-butter, lemon zest, floral spice
Taste: cake frosting, lemon-lime soda, hints of ginger
Finish: moderately long – toffee drizzle, peppery oak, faint leather
Overall: A zesty, enjoyable Kentucky rye. While there’s a trace of youth here, it’s not at all distracting. In fact, I’d argue the vibrancy enhances its character. New Riff Single Barrel Rye is flavorful, sips its proof, and as such, gets my recommendation.