This is my first venture into The Balvenie (yes, the “the” is important). Stirred by the encouragement of brand ambassador Jamie Johnson, I decided to give the so-called “bourbon friendly” 14-year Caribbean Cask a whirl. A Scotsman and a pirate walk into a bar …
Pour: The Balvenie Caribbean Cask
Age: 14 years
Color: light amber
Nose: apple, toast & honey, ambrosia
Taste: whipped custard, pear, faint white pepper
Finish: moderate length – vanilla, sugary oak, hints of exotic spice
Overall: Well I’ll be Jackie MacSparrow, this is a damn fine whisky. Though a bit shy on complexity, The Balvenie Caribbean Cask delivers a whimsically sweet, romantically spicy sipping experience that whisks you away then calls for your return. Avast, ye!
Henry McKenna Single Barrel, also known as McKenna Bottled in Bond, McKenna 10, and Ascot Gold. Once an inexpensive and attainable bottle ($25 in 2015) … Good times, Minnick, good times. I’ve had great barrels and so-so barrels, but never one worth chasing. Let’s revisit.
Pour: Henry McKenna Single Barrel (b. 9105, 3-19-08)
Age: 10 years
Color: rich honey
Nose: German chocolate cake, brown sugar, faint citrus
Taste: toasted caramel, English toffee, baked nutmeg
Finish: moderately long – dense oak, maple syrup, sweet tobacco
Overall: Well now, this is one beast of a pour. Henry McKenna Single Barrel is hitting all the right notes for me today. And German chocolate cake? Are you kidding me?! I don’t think I’ve ever sensed that note on a whiskey. Have to say, worth the $60 paid.
Rating: Fred’s Savage.
Amplify Rye is a whiskey blend from Three Chord, an NDP founded by rock legend Neil Giraldo. The label states it’s a combination of Kentucky and Indiana distilled rye whiskey; however, it does not carry a straight designation or age statement. This could get noisy, folks.
Pour: Three Chord Amplify Rye Whiskey
Age: not stated
Color: light amber
Nose: lemon peel, vanilla Tootsie Roll, watermelon rind
Taste: tangy cake frosting, honey syrup, hints of mint
Finish: moderate length – sweet grain, confectioners sugar, peppery dill
Overall: Believe it or not, it’s quite sippable. While Three Chord Amplify Rye is youthful, it maintains enough structure to appreciate neat. Also, at 95 proof I’d wager it’ll fashion a suitable cocktail. Too bad it’s $45. Too bad it’s not labeled straight.
Few bottles draw attention like Willett Family Estate. I suppose it’s because you rarely see them on retail shelves (at least in my area). When you do, they’re marked up significantly. You’d think a 4-year rye would be immune from this behavior. Unfortunately, not enough.
Pour: Willett Family Estate Small Batch Rye
Age: 4 years
Nose: dried pear, graham cracker, pineapple candy
Taste: zesty apricot, sugar wafers, white pepper, tea
Finish: long – sharp vanilla, tangy ginger, hot peppermint
Overall: I’ll give this whiskey credit for being flavorful and unique. Outside of that, Willett Small Batch Rye (4 years) is burdened with youthful, underdeveloped character. Why they continue to bottle this expression at 4 years is beyond me.
Rating: Two more years! Two more years!
I first tasted Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon in 2019 on a trip to Kentucky. I had just wrapped up a barrel selection at Wild Turkey, so one could argue my palate wasn’t entirely fit for service. Now, it’s time to give this bottled-in-bond wheated bourbon a fair shot.
Pour: Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon (b. 16H29-8)
Age: at least 4 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: cocoa-hazelnut, caramel popcorn, dark baking spice
Taste: boozy toffee, charred oak, toasted brown sugar
Finish: moderately long – vanilla extract, black licorice, leather
Overall: While there are some profile notes hovering youthful, there are just as many (or more) well-developed notes offsetting them. Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon is impressive for its age; it’s just not ready for primetime. Not yet, but soon.
Rating: Almost there.
If you’ve ever wondered how bourbon aged in Scotland might taste, Single Cask Nation has you covered. Of course, the real question is: Is it any good? Twelve years in Kentucky followed by twelve years in Scotland … that’s a long time for barreled cornwater. This could get oaky.
Pour: Single Cask Nation KSBW (undisclosed distillery)
Age: 24 years
Nose: vanilla bean, heavily steeped herbal tea, blood orange
Taste: smoky caramel, pipe tobacco, cherry cordials
Finish: moderate length – sweet oak char, black licorice, leather
Overall: Damn, that’s complex. Curiously easy on the palate too. For a rumored “pre-fire” bourbon, SCN’s 24-year rarity isn’t exactly dusty in profile. It isn’t modern either. It’s gracefully confounding: robust, delicate, dense, intelligent.
Rating: Heavenly hills of flavor.
Ever see what people are paying for Rock Hill Farms on secondary markets? Pathetic, right? I’m guessing they’ve never tasted the $50 John J. Bowman, a lesser-known, 100-proof, single-barrel bourbon from another Sazerac brand. Oh, well. As you’ll soon find out … their loss.
Pour: John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon
Age: not stated (reportedly 9-10 years)
Nose: cherry-vanilla frosting, caramel, cream soda
Taste: dried fruit, butter toffee, nutmeg, sugar glaze
Finish: moderately long – sweet oak char, Luden’s cherry, faint pepper
Overall: They say John J. Bowman starts out as Buffalo Trace distillate. It’s redistilled twice over by A. Smith Bowman, then aged and bottled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Whatever the process, it not only tastes like 100-proof Buffalo Trace, it tastes better.
Rating: Horsey killer.
Resurrecting a long-retired whiskey label isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s pretty damn common. But resurrecting a long-retired whiskey label and emulating a 122-year old bottle’s flavor profile, that takes talent and skill. Enter Nancy Fraley and Magnus’ Murray Hill Club.
Pour: Murray Hill Club (b. 19)
Age: NAS (reportedly 9-yr light whiskey & 11-18-yr bourbon)
Nose: creme brûlée, sugar plum, woody spice
Taste: vanilla bean, dark fruit, hints of cedar & tobacco
Finish: moderately long – sweet oak char, toasted caramel, leather
Overall: An impressive, well-crafted whiskey. Murray Hill Club is the best blended bourbon I’ve tasted to date – one that sets a new precedent for American whiskey lacking a straight designation. Complex and graced with elegance, it’s a triumph for Magnus.
Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s Discovery Series is an ultra-premium line featuring sourced whiskeys of various ages and mash bills. The second release is composed of 10-, 12-, and 14-year bourbons (undisclosed origins), each distilled in Kentucky with rye as the secondary grain.
Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Discovery Series No. 2
Age: 10 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: salted caramel, honey-roasted nuts, dark citrus
Taste: brown sugar, charred oak, baked cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – vanilla spice, cola, clove gum
Overall: A robust, well-rounded, satisfying pour. While not unlike other bourbons in its class, Bardstown’s Discovery No. 2 brings its share to the table. The sole negative is its $130 price. Quite an expense considering similarly aged options.
Rating: Hefty pour, hefty price.
Joshua Hatton and Jason Johnstone-Yellin of J&J Spirits sure have a way of finding unique casks. Today’s pour is no exception, a 46-year single grain whisky produced by the Scottish Highland’s Invergordon Distillery. It’s the oldest whisky I’ve tasted to date. Sláinte!
Pour: Single Cask Nation Invergordon 46
Proof: 92.4 (46.2% ABV)
Age: 46 years
Color: pale gold
Nose: butter pecan ice cream, waffle cone, white grape
Taste: Necco wafer, wheat cracker, zesty candied pear
Finish: moderate length – grapefruit, confectioners sugar, almond shell
Overall: Wrapping my head around this profile is no easy task. On one hand there’s ample sweetness composed of white fruit and confectionery charm. On the other, particularly the finish, there’s a distracting bitterness. A fun experience, though not my favorite.
Special thanks to Malt Review’s Taylor Cope for the generous sample.
Old Forester’s Whiskey Row series cemented new interest in a heritage brand many enthusiasts largely ignored. One might argue Birthday Bourbon as an exception, though most rarely see that annual release. No biggie. Who needs Birthday Bourbon with Old Forester 1920 around?
Pour: Old Forester 1920
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: vanilla bean, charred banana, dense oak
Taste: toasted caramel, brown sugar, woody spice
Finish: long w/ waves of molasses, chocolate, and baked cinnamon
Overall: A deliciously bold bourbon with a robust profile all its own. If you’re looking for a whiskey with the style and character of a fancy limited edition, but don’t want to pay a fortune or waste time finding it, Old Forester 1920 damn sure delivers.
Rating: Ol’ Fo-Sure!
Elijah Craig is one of the few bourbons I can think of that immediately improved after its age statement was dropped. Some may disagree, but that’s the way I see it. I was never a fan of the 12-year iteration – a rather woody, mildly tannic pour. As for its successor …
Pour: Elijah Craig Small Batch
Age: at least 4 years (reportedly 8-12 years)
Nose: vanilla, honey-butter, orange peel
Taste: salted caramel, sweet oak, butter toffee
Finish: moderate length – buttered cornbread, peppery spice
Overall: Remarkably solid. I’m sure I’ve recommended other bottles as “starter bourbons,” but I’m beginning to think Elijah Craig is best suited for the task. Not that it should encompass a single role. It’s just damn good mellow whiskey for $27.
Rating: Butter than ever.