Four Roses Elliott’s Select

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)
Proof: 118
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.

Rating: Fantastic.

Benchmark Full Proof

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
Proof: 125
Age: at least 4 years
Color: copper
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.

Rating: -114

Ben Holladay Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

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
Proof: 100
Age: 6 years
Color: copper
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.

Maker’s Mark (1978)

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)
Proof: 90
Age: at least 4 years
Color: copper
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.

Michter’s 25-Year Straight Rye Whiskey

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
Proof: 117.3
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.)

Rating: Magnificent.

Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel 979)

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
Proof: 129.36
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.

Rating: Frey-plus.

Company Distilling Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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
Proof: 90
Age: 3 years
Color: amber
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.

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Discovery Series No. 4

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
Proof: 115
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.

Blue Run High Rye Bourbon

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)
Proof: 111
Age: at least 4 years
Color: amber
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.

Rating: Chrysalis.

Woodinville Cask Strength Rye

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
Proof: 115.12
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.

Maker’s Mark 46 Cask Strength

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
Proof: 110.3
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.

Thomas H. Handy (2021)

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)
Proof: 129.5
Age: not stated (reportedly 6 years)
Color: copper
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.