Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon

Of the Van Winkle lineup, Old Rip is seemingly the easiest to find (relatively speaking, of course). That being said, when found it’s usually marked up well beyond its $69.99 suggested retail price. I overpaid for it myself, but it was worth it to share with friends and family.


Pour: Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon
Proof: 107
Age: 10 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: black cherry, sweet oak, spiced blood orange
Taste: chewy caramel, cherry syrup, honey-maple
Finish: long w/ Cheerwine, charred oak, leather


Overall: I’d love to say that Old Rip Van Winkle is dull and overhyped, but it’s not. Well, it’s certainly not dull. Overhyped? I suppose everything Van Winkle is to a degree. It’s damn sure delicious, though. If money were no object I’d likely overpay again.

Rating: A pleasure.

Knob Creek 18 Year

Knob Creek 15, while impressive, didn’t strike me as balanced as its younger sibling, Knob Creek 12. I was, however, open to giving 2022’s Knob Creek 18 a try once it hit my state. The trouble is, it was well over $200. Obviously, I took the chance. (Spoiler: It pays off.)


Pour: Knob Creek 18 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 18 years
Color: dense amber
Nose: medicinal cherry, fragrant oak, barrel-aged honey
Taste: sweet charred oak, antique leather, woody spice
Finish: moderate length w/ cedar, singed caramel, tobacco


Overall: Without question, an exceptional whiskey. Knob Creek 18 delivers everything one could wish for in a considerably mature bourbon – complex oak-driven notes offset by a delicate sweetness and bound together by finesse. Just glorious. Well done, Jim Beam.

Rating: Superb.

Belle Meade Honey Cask Bourbon

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
Proof: 105.3
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 Aged 10 Years

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
Proof: 91
Age: 10 years
Color: copper
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.

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.