I’ll just kick in the door – Belle Meade Honey Cask isn’t worth the insane secondary prices folks are paying for it. It’s just not. It’s well-aged MGP bourbon finished in a barrel that once held honey, and that’s precisely what it tastes like. On with the show!
Pour: Belle Meade Honey Cask Finished Bourbon
Age: not stated
Color: dense amber
Nose: boozy glazed danish, caramel apple, dried orange
Taste: exotic honey, creamy butter toffee, sweet citrus
Finish: long w/ honeyed oak, baked apple & pear, faint cinnamon
Overall: With my spoiler out of the way, I can say that Belle Meade Honey Cask is a fantastic finished bourbon. It truly is. Were it reasonably priced on a retail shelf, I’d buy it. Complex, flavorful, and unique, no doubt about it. Just hyped to stupid.
Rating: H(not M)oney
Widow Jane’s 10-Year bourbon eluded me for years. I suppose the $70 price didn’t help, considering one can find Russell’s Reserve 10-Year and Eagle Rare for significantly less. What changed my mind? The three-state blend (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana) had me curious.
Pour: Widow Jane Aged 10 Years
Age: 10 years
Nose: candy apple, toffee popcorn, sweet minerals
Taste: fruity caramel, red licorice, zesty/tangy oak
Finish: moderate w/ herbal tea, minerals, citrus spice
Overall: Yes, there’s obviously Dickel (and very likely Barton) in this five-barrel batch (the sweet, fruity minerality gives it away). That said, it’s a tasty and well-executed blend of straight bourbon. Were it cheaper, I’d probably buy it again.
Rating: Pricey but delish.
Ever have bottles that get lost in the back of your cabinet? Well, here’s one of mine, Four Roses Elliott’s Select. To date, it’s the only Four Roses limited edition I’ve ever found locally (and I happily paid retail price for it on sight). Will it taste as great as I recall?
Pour: Four Roses “Elliott’s Select” (2016)
Age: 14 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: stovetop vanilla pudding, brown sugar, fragrant oak
Taste: toasted caramel, blood orange, fruity herbal spice
Finish: long w/ chewy molasses, sweet tobacco, antique leather
Overall: I’ll be damned if Elliott’s Select isn’t better than I remember it. Just a powerhouse bourbon – loaded with hearty caramel and oak, yet layered gracefully with complex citrus and herbal spice. I only wish I had another bottle.
Benchmark … the name alone gives me shivers. Modern-day, 80-proof Benchmark is so low on my enjoyability scale, James Cameron can’t reach it. But how might a full-proof version with an extra year of aging fare? Let’s give this so-called “Baby Stagg” a try and find out.
Pour: Benchmark Full Proof
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: (grainy) corn, green apple, faint spice
Taste: (somewhat sharp) vanilla, tart oak, nutmeg
Finish: long w/ candy apple, caramel syrup, white pepper
Overall: If you’re looking for a young, high-proof bourbon for $25, Benchmark FP is here for you. Personally, Old Grand-Dad 114 is a better option (even if priced higher), but to each their own. It’s better than its 80-proof cousin, for whatever that’s worth.
When you think of Missouri, do you think, bourbon? Probably not, but you soon might. The Holladay Distillery has a history stretching back to 1856. Recently resurrected, this is the brand’s flagship expression, aged 6 years on the 1st and 5th floors of a 7-story clad rickhouse.
Pour: Ben Holladay Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Age: 6 years
Nose: caramel popcorn, brown sugar, cinnamon
Taste: toasted vanilla, English toffee, charred oak
Finish: moderately long w/ burnt sugar, clove, peppery spice
Overall: When I say Ben Holladay is good whiskey, I mean it’s really good whiskey. Not just “good for craft” or “good for cocktails,” but genuinely good. Frankly, I’m a bit taken aback. The level of complexity and sheer enjoyability is first-rate.
Rating: Showed-me bourbon.
Bottle courtesy of Holladay Distillery.
Until recently, vintage Maker’s Mark failed to grab my attention. I purchased this ‘78 bottling shortly after tasting (and enjoying) an ‘80 at a bar in Louisville, KY. Of all the heritage Kentucky distilleries, Maker’s has changed their process least. Evident? Let’s pour!
Pour: Maker’s Mark KSBW (1978)
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: butterscotch, earthy caramel, maraschino cherry
Taste: vanilla spice, toffee popcorn, light cola, fine tobacco
Finish: medium-long w/ molasses, cedar-esque oak, leather
Overall: A captivating and delicious whiskey! While this ‘78 Maker’s Mark is very much a dusty-profile bourbon, there’s a surprising flavor connection to its modern-day equivalent – especially certain LEs and private selections. Quite remarkable.
Rating: Damn good.
Every so often, you’re granted an opportunity to try something genuinely special. Such was the case when a friend sent me a Michter’s 25-Year Rye sample. But regardless of rarity or value, what matters most is taste, and I’m guessing this will go pretty damn well.
Pour: Michter’s 25-Year Straight Rye #14L715
Age: 25 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: fruity molasses, blackberry jam, dense sweet oak
Taste: boozy pear, tangy vanilla bean, chocolate strawberry
Finish: long & flavorful – tart & earthy citrus, spiced apple, tobacco
Overall: At this point in my whiskey journey, I’m rarely impressed. With Michter’s 25-Year Rye, I’m not only impressed, I’m mesmerized. The layers of complexity are truly stunning. Dare I say it’s the ultimate combination of oak and fruit notes? (It is.)
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.