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
Age: at least 4 years
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Google “best cheap bourbons” and you’re unlikely to find Evan Williams White Label taking a spot in the highest ranking search results. A bottled-in-bond Kentucky straight bourbon for $15? Seems like a no-brainer. Yet, outside of enthusiast circles it’s seldom celebrated.
Pour: Evan Williams White Label (Bottled in Bond)
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: vanilla, fresh-cut corn, grainy spice
Taste: caramel candy, nutty oak, confectioners sugar
Finish: moderate length w/ light toffee, nutmeg, hints of oak char
Overall: If you’re expecting hype, you’ve come to the wrong place. Evan Williams White Label tastes exactly as it should – like 4-year, 100-proof bourbon. It’s not great. It’s not underrated. It’s precisely where it belongs – a stalwart of the bottom shelf.
Rating: Budget buy.
You hear a lot about McKenna Bottled in Bond, Eagle Rare, and Russell’s Reserve 10-Year, but not as much about Bulleit 10-Year. As well as the non-age-stated Bulleit Bourbon sells, you’d think you’d hear more. I wager there’s a reason. Perhaps this tasting will shed some light.
Pour: Bulleit 10-Year Bourbon
Age: 10 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: orange spice, toasted honey, floral essence
Taste: vanilla syrup, nutmeg, charred oak, citrus zest
Finish: moderate length w/ leather, herbal tea, faint mint
Overall: Bulleit 10 may be the lightest 10-year bourbon I’ve tasted. It’s flavorful and easy to sip – a notch above standard Bulleit – but that’s about it. With minor depth and complexity, one could argue its strength is inoffensiveness.
Rating: Bulleit with butterfly wings.
Having recently reviewed a 1977 Jim Beam White Label, as well as a modern iteration, I figured I’d strike while the iron was hot and review a 1976 export. Curiously, this whiskey is bottled in bond at 86 proof. Uncommon nowadays, but allowable by law. Sláinte! (export cheers)
Pour: 1976 Jim Beam Bottled in Bond Bourbon (export)
Age: 5 years
Color: amber rose
Nose: butterscotch, apple cider, frosted pastry
Taste: vanilla candy, butterscotch drizzle, light oak
Finish: moderately short – caramel, candied pear, faint spice
Overall: I’ll have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. While far tastier than today’s Beam, it’s a notable step down from the 1977 80-proof domestic bottling. I can only assume the bottled-in-bond “one season” clause limits the batch to younger bourbon.
Rating: One-trick dusty.