A few months back, I purchased a Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon selected by the Bourbon Lens podcast. After reviewing the standard 90-proof Frey Ranch Bourbon, I’d been itching to try a barrel-strength version. Needless to say, I’m expecting a more robust and complex whiskey.
Pour: Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon b. 979
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: caramel popcorn, cinnamon grahams, wintergreen
Taste: peppery vanilla, pancakes w/ maple syrup, spiced apple
Finish: long & spicy w/ cinnamon candy, clove, oak, pepper
Overall: As predicted, robust and complex – especially considering its age. And while high in proof, I wouldn’t classify this bourbon as hot; the ABV is actually quite comfortable. A unique and tasty pour with a wintergreen zing.
A few weeks ago, I received a whiskey sample from Company Distilling in Tennessee. It was accompanied by a note from Jeff Arnett, former master distiller at Jack Daniel. I must admit, it was a classy touch. This is their flagship wheated bourbon, distilled via contract in Ohio.
Pour: Company Distilling Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 3 years
Nose: corn, vanilla, smoked apple
Taste: Cracker Jacks, caramel drizzle, woody malt
Finish: moderate length w/ grain, char, black pepper & cinnamon
Overall: As you might imagine, this bourbon tastes its age, which is to say, a bit youthful. Fortunately, the proprietary toasted maple process adds some sweetness and a pleasant woody complexity. But at $55, it’s a pricey whiskey for its specs.
Rating: Fledgling Co.
Thanks to a generous friend, this is my second venture into Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s Discovery Series. While I was impressed with Discovery No. 2, its price gave me cause for pause. Will Discovery No. 4 prove its equal? Possibly its superior? Based on its specs, it’s likely.
Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Discovery No. 4
Age: 10 years (10-, 13-, and 15-year KSBW)
Color: dense copper
Nose: toasted caramel, blood orange, honey butter
Taste: vanilla bean, cherry pie filling, pipe tobacco
Finish: long & robust w/ brown sugar, cinnamon, clove
Overall: Wow! This is one spectacular bourbon. While the critic in me wants to grumble about Bardstown Discovery No. 4’s $130 price, the whiskey lover in me just can’t do it. Damn, this is excellent. Mature, complex, and well-balanced at a respectable proof.
Rating: Big guns.
Truth be told, I had little interest in Blue Run Spirits when they first hit the whiskey scene. Things changed. I could easily write a few paragraphs explaining why, but you’ll have to settle for a few sentences.
I purchased this whiskey because Jim Rutledge distilled it. And Jim knows bourbon. At $100, it’s double the price of similar (barrel-strength) offerings from craft producers. But I’m good with a one-off gamble from a distiller I trust.
Pour: Blue Run High Rye Bourbon (Spring 2022)
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: orchard fruit, frosted animal cookie, herbal tea
Taste: zesty vanilla, apple butter, grilled sweet corn
Finish: moderately long w/ toffee, bubblegum, white pepper
Overall: This may be the “cleanest” 4-year bourbon I’ve ever tasted. While its lack of maturity is apparent, it’s arguably flawless. If placed in a blind, I could see this Blue Run dealing serious damage to whiskeys twice its age. Damn fine job, Jim.
I wasn’t an immediate fan of Woodinville, but after tasting multiple private barrel selections and (spoiler) their cask-strength rye, consider me converted. Thanks to generous friends, I received two samples of this distillery exclusive. This batch is my favorite of the pair.
Pour: Woodinville Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey
Age: 5 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: candied pear, dried apricot, sliced orange
Taste: fruit cocktail, vanilla cookie, tea, herbal spice
Finish: long w/ sweet cayenne, cinnamon, Altoid mints
Overall: There’s something about a 100% rye done right. Be it Alberta, Frey Ranch, or in this case, Woodinville Cask Strength Rye, there’s an unexpected fruitiness that cradles the rye’s grain-inherent spice. At $70 it’s not cheap, but it’s damn sure flavorful.
Rating: Ryet on.
I must admit, I’ve had fun exploring the Maker’s Mark catalog in the last year. But I’m not done yet! When I saw Maker’s 46 Cask Strength at my local bottle shop, I figured I’d give it a go. Can’t say I’m the biggest 46 fan, but maybe this uncut version will change my mind.
Pour: Maker’s Mark 46 Cask Strength
Age: not stated
Color: dense copper
Nose: brown sugar, maple syrup, leather
Taste: bittersweet molasses, stout vanilla, gingerbread
Finish: medium-long w/ boozy English toffee, tannic oak, dry spice
Overall: Such a perplexing pour. There are things I like about Maker’s 46 Cask Strength, and things I don’t. I appreciate its robust, layered character; I just find the tannins and dry spice accompanying it a bit overpowering. Bold, yet unbalanced.
Rating: Mood 46.
Of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection expressions, Thomas H. Handy rye is the undisputed underdog. One could even say it maintains a cult-like appreciation, with some veteran enthusiasts claiming it’s the best of the lineup. But is 2021’s release up to snuff?
Pour: Thomas H. Handy Straight Rye Whiskey (2021)
Age: not stated (reportedly 6 years)
Nose: ripe pear, dried pineapple, vanilla frosting
Taste: lemon cookie, boozy fruit rollup, sweet herbs
Finish: long w/ zesty citrus, vibrant oak, cayenne pepper
Overall: A fantastic example of what a six-year, barrel-proof rye should taste like – vibrant, complex, and dynamically spicy. If found at its $99 retail price, Handy is worth a purchase. Outside of that, there’s considerably better options.
Rating: It’s good, but settle down.
Believe it or not, I just crossed 100 reviews for TweetDrams.com. How time flies! So what’s in my glass for the 101st? Wild Turkey 101, of course. Sure, I have another website dedicated entirely to Lawrenceburg’s Finest, but I wouldn’t have this moment any other way.
Pour: Wild Turkey 101
Age: at least 4 years (reportedly 6-8 years)
Color: rich amber
Nose: vanilla, toffee, hints of orange peel
Taste: caramel, toasted honey, sweet charred oak
Finish: long w/ brown sugar, honey-roasted nuts, baking spice
Overall: There’s a wide variety of quality bourbon in the $20-$30 range, but only one I could never live without. Wild Turkey 101: the perfect combination of versatile, affordable, and remarkable. In other words, bourbon done right. Cheers to Jimmy!
Having recently visited Maker’s Mark, I felt a review of a special wax-dipped bottle was in order. Thanks to the generosity of a bourbon friend, I have a sample of the 2021 CommUNITY Batch to explore. Will it prove as extraordinary as its exclusivity? Let’s pour and find out!
Pour: Maker’s Mark CommUNITY Batch (Oct 2021)
Age: not stated
Color: rosy copper
Nose: caramel apple, brandied cherry, butterscotch
Taste: buttery vanilla, syrupy oak, warm baking spice
Finish: long w/ brown sugar, sweet char, toasted molasses
Overall: This may be my favorite Maker’s Mark expression to date. While not unlike some Maker’s private selections, there’s a surprising hint of dusty-esque butterscotch from nose to finish. It’s not a vintage profile per se, but damn if it isn’t delicious.
Rating: High marks.
At $50, I’m a fan of Delord’s 15-year Armagnac (and purchase it semi-regularly). When I stumbled upon the 25-year for $20 more, I had to bite. I can only assume the additional maturity will translate to additional complexity. If not, I’ve paid more for far younger spirits.
Pour: Delord Bas-Armagnac X.O. 25
Age: 25 years
Color: deep rosy copper
Nose: medicinal grape, molasses, dark chocolate cherry
Taste: boozy grape jam, dense sweet oak, hints of leather
Finish: moderate length w/ fruity toasted caramel, tobacco, earthy spice
Overall: Delicious. For 25 years, it’s not quite as robust as I’d imagined, but no complaints. It’s definitely a notch above the 15-year Delord, particularly the finish. The slowly diminishing earthy spice is subtly elegant and worth the price of admission.
Hyper-aged bourbon is a polarizing subject. One could say the same of whiskey in general, but when it comes to the $150 Elijah Craig 18, it’s generally love it or hate it. Sadly, once secondary market values are factored in, the divide seems moot. Oh well. Time to weigh in!
Pour: Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel
Age: 18 years
Nose: fragrant oak, cedar, spiced apple
Taste: woody vanilla bean, savory caramel, antique leather
Finish: moderate length w/ charred oak, tobacco, earthy spice
Overall: Granted, it’s a single-barrel expression, so there will be variance, but damn if this Elijah Craig 18 isn’t tasty. It’s an oak bomb, however, and far from subtle. But in this case there’s just enough sweetness to balance out the woodiness.
Rating: Oaky dokie.
Unless you spent 2021 under a rock, you’ve surely heard of Barrell Seagrass. On paper, it appears as if the Swedish Chef decided to craft a whiskey. Get this. KY, IN, TN, and Canadian rye finished in Martinique Rhum, Madeira, and apricot brandy casks. Bork, bork, bork!
Pour: Barrell Seagrass
Age: not stated
Nose: orchard fruit, almond pastry, floral honey
Taste: candied pear, spiked fruit cocktail, sweet spice
Finish: moderately long – vanilla creme, syrupy citrus, delicate oak
Overall: Well, I’ll be a Muppet’s uncle. This is delicious! “Whiskey of the Year?” Ehh. $80 well spent? Arguably. But no doubt delicious. If you’re looking for a uniquely sweet rye with loads of orchard fruit and elegant spice and oak, this is your jam.
Rating: Chef’s kiss.