I’ve been hearing great things about Chattanooga Whiskey 111 Proof over the last year. Looking over its label, I can see why. There’s loads of transparency. Bottom line – it’s a “high malt” straight bourbon bottled at a notable ABV (NCF, no less). Boxes checked, glass poured.
Pour: Chattanooga Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: two years
Color: dense honey
Nose: s’mores, boozy nougat, baked apples & pears
Taste: creamy caramel, chocolate raisins, hints of “crafty” oak
Finish: moderately long w/ English toffee, oak char, grain cereal
Overall: There’s a part of me that wants to dish out serious praise, but the know-better part just smacked it in the face. Chattanooga 111 is a decent pour – impressive for craft, no doubt. Is it worth your next $45? Maybe once. After that, give it time.
Rating: 111 > Old No. 7.
When you see Eagle Rare, you probably don’t think “Wild Turkey.” Yet, it’s generally accepted the 101-proof bourbon was created by Seagram’s in 1975 to compete with Wild Turkey 101. The brand was sold to Sazerac in 1989, its proof lowered in 2005, and the rest is hooch history.
Pour: Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 10 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: cherry-vanilla, sweet oak, hints of ripe orange
Taste: buttery caramel, honey-glazed apple, mild spice
Finish: moderate length – toasted sugar, charred oak, leather
Overall: I find it a bit funny that my favorite Buffalo Trace distilled whiskey started as a Wild Turkey knockoff. Nevertheless, Eagle Rare is a quality pour – an excellent representation of what well-aged bourbon should be. Sweet, balanced oak for $40.
Thanks to SE4 x PR5, Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series has my attention. I was genuinely impressed with the 2020 release – so much so, that I purchased the latest edition, FAE-01, the week it hit my local liquor store. Here’s to the hope for a comparable whiskey. Cheers!
Pour: Maker’s Mark FAE-01
Age: not stated
Color: dense honey
Nose: pancakes w/ syrup, chocolate raspberry, English toffee
Taste: chocolate fondue & fruit, cinnamon honey buns, woody spice
Finish: long w/ toasted caramel, baked spiced apples, gingerbread
Overall: When I first popped the cork on Maker’s FAE-01 I was struck by its intensity, particularly in comparison to SE4 x PR5. It’s since grown on me. I don’t love FAE-01 as much as its ambrosial predecessor, but for $60 it gets my approval.
Rating: Great; not my FAE-vorite.
Today, I’m placing two heavyweights of the bourbon arena head to head: the incomparable Fred Minnick vs. Matt “Drama King” Rehwoldt a/k/a Wrestling with Whiskey. Each have 2021 New Riff Single Barrel Bourbon selections. Let’s find out who deserves the champion’s belt (ascot?).
Pour 1: New Riff SiB Bourbon 17-0126 (Minnick)
Age: 4 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: honey-apple, caramelized peaches, boozy bread
Taste: seared caramel, brown sugar, charred maple
Finish: sweet & savory licorice, oak char, applewood
Pour 2: New Riff SiB Bourbon 16-2899 (Rehwoldt)
Age: 4 years
Nose: butter toffee, bright citrus fruit, cake frosting
Taste: cream soda, caramel candy, singed honey
Finish: well-balanced oak, toasted vanilla, pepper
Overall: Such interesting profile differences. Fred’s selection is darker, showcasing orchard fruit, boozy dessert, and a heavier oak presence (slightly reminiscent of mature Barton). Matt’s is primarily toffee, citrus fruit, and candy, with a gentler oak vibe (very much reminiscent of 8-year Wild Turkey). Fred’s barrel is arguably more unique, but Matt’s is … well, I think y’all know how this match ends.
Victor: Drama King.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel, also known as McKenna Bottled in Bond, McKenna 10, and Ascot Gold. Once an inexpensive and attainable bottle ($25 in 2015) … Good times, Minnick, good times. I’ve had great barrels and so-so barrels, but never one worth chasing. Let’s revisit.
Pour: Henry McKenna Single Barrel (b. 9105, 3-19-08)
Age: 10 years
Color: rich honey
Nose: German chocolate cake, brown sugar, faint citrus
Taste: toasted caramel, English toffee, baked nutmeg
Finish: moderately long – dense oak, maple syrup, sweet tobacco
Overall: Well now, this is one beast of a pour. Henry McKenna Single Barrel is hitting all the right notes for me today. And German chocolate cake? Are you kidding me?! I don’t think I’ve ever sensed that note on a whiskey. Have to say, worth the $60 paid.
Rating: Fred’s Savage.
I first tasted Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon in 2019 on a trip to Kentucky. I had just wrapped up a barrel selection at Wild Turkey, so one could argue my palate wasn’t entirely fit for service. Now, it’s time to give this bottled-in-bond wheated bourbon a fair shot.
Pour: Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon (b. 16H29-8)
Age: at least 4 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: cocoa-hazelnut, caramel popcorn, dark baking spice
Taste: boozy toffee, charred oak, toasted brown sugar
Finish: moderately long – vanilla extract, black licorice, leather
Overall: While there are some profile notes hovering youthful, there are just as many (or more) well-developed notes offsetting them. Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon is impressive for its age; it’s just not ready for primetime. Not yet, but soon.
Rating: Almost there.
If you’ve ever wondered how bourbon aged in Scotland might taste, Single Cask Nation has you covered. Of course, the real question is: Is it any good? Twelve years in Kentucky followed by twelve years in Scotland … that’s a long time for barreled cornwater. This could get oaky.
Pour: Single Cask Nation KSBW (undisclosed distillery)
Age: 24 years
Nose: vanilla bean, heavily steeped herbal tea, blood orange
Taste: smoky caramel, pipe tobacco, cherry cordials
Finish: moderate length – sweet oak char, black licorice, leather
Overall: Damn, that’s complex. Curiously easy on the palate too. For a rumored “pre-fire” bourbon, SCN’s 24-year rarity isn’t exactly dusty in profile. It isn’t modern either. It’s gracefully confounding: robust, delicate, dense, intelligent.
Rating: Heavenly hills of flavor.
Ever see what people are paying for Rock Hill Farms on secondary markets? Pathetic, right? I’m guessing they’ve never tasted the $50 John J. Bowman, a lesser-known, 100-proof, single-barrel bourbon from another Sazerac brand. Oh, well. As you’ll soon find out … their loss.
Pour: John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon
Age: not stated (reportedly 9-10 years)
Nose: cherry-vanilla frosting, caramel, cream soda
Taste: dried fruit, butter toffee, nutmeg, sugar glaze
Finish: moderately long – sweet oak char, Luden’s cherry, faint pepper
Overall: They say John J. Bowman starts out as Buffalo Trace distillate. It’s redistilled twice over by A. Smith Bowman, then aged and bottled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Whatever the process, it not only tastes like 100-proof Buffalo Trace, it tastes better.
Rating: Horsey killer.
Resurrecting a long-retired whiskey label isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s pretty damn common. But resurrecting a long-retired whiskey label and emulating a 122-year old bottle’s flavor profile, that takes talent and skill. Enter Nancy Fraley and Magnus’ Murray Hill Club.
Pour: Murray Hill Club (b. 19)
Age: NAS (reportedly 9-yr light whiskey & 11-18-yr bourbon)
Nose: creme brûlée, sugar plum, woody spice
Taste: vanilla bean, dark fruit, hints of cedar & tobacco
Finish: moderately long – sweet oak char, toasted caramel, leather
Overall: An impressive, well-crafted whiskey. Murray Hill Club is the best blended bourbon I’ve tasted to date – one that sets a new precedent for American whiskey lacking a straight designation. Complex and graced with elegance, it’s a triumph for Magnus.
Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s Discovery Series is an ultra-premium line featuring sourced whiskeys of various ages and mash bills. The second release is composed of 10-, 12-, and 14-year bourbons (undisclosed origins), each distilled in Kentucky with rye as the secondary grain.
Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Discovery Series No. 2
Age: 10 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: salted caramel, honey-roasted nuts, dark citrus
Taste: brown sugar, charred oak, baked cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – vanilla spice, cola, clove gum
Overall: A robust, well-rounded, satisfying pour. While not unlike other bourbons in its class, Bardstown’s Discovery No. 2 brings its share to the table. The sole negative is its $130 price. Quite an expense considering similarly aged options.
Rating: Hefty pour, hefty price.
Old Forester’s Whiskey Row series cemented new interest in a heritage brand many enthusiasts largely ignored. One might argue Birthday Bourbon as an exception, though most rarely see that annual release. No biggie. Who needs Birthday Bourbon with Old Forester 1920 around?
Pour: Old Forester 1920
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: vanilla bean, charred banana, dense oak
Taste: toasted caramel, brown sugar, woody spice
Finish: long w/ waves of molasses, chocolate, and baked cinnamon
Overall: A deliciously bold bourbon with a robust profile all its own. If you’re looking for a whiskey with the style and character of a fancy limited edition, but don’t want to pay a fortune or waste time finding it, Old Forester 1920 damn sure delivers.
Rating: Ol’ Fo-Sure!
Elijah Craig is one of the few bourbons I can think of that immediately improved after its age statement was dropped. Some may disagree, but that’s the way I see it. I was never a fan of the 12-year iteration – a rather woody, mildly tannic pour. As for its successor …
Pour: Elijah Craig Small Batch
Age: at least 4 years (reportedly 8-12 years)
Nose: vanilla, honey-butter, orange peel
Taste: salted caramel, sweet oak, butter toffee
Finish: moderate length – buttered cornbread, peppery spice
Overall: Remarkably solid. I’m sure I’ve recommended other bottles as “starter bourbons,” but I’m beginning to think Elijah Craig is best suited for the task. Not that it should encompass a single role. It’s just damn good mellow whiskey for $27.
Rating: Butter than ever.