Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Next up in my Johnnie Walker series is the Gold Label Reserve. Priced at a significant premium over Johnnie Walker Black ($85 vs. $35) and labeled without an age statement, I’m eager to weigh in on this commonly found, yet infrequently discussed whisky.


Pour: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
Proof: 80
Age: not stated
Color: amber
Nose: smoked pear, glazed apple, honey
Taste: savory vanilla, graham cracker, dried apricot
Finish: moderate length w/ smoky caramel, singed sugar, faint leather


Overall: Maybe it’s an oversimplification, but I can’t help but describe the Gold Label as a sweeter, slightly elegant version of JW Black. There’s a white fruit quality about it, but with enough smokiness to add complexity. I’m just not tasting the premium.

Rating: Gold-plated.

McBrayer Legacy Spirits Bourbon

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
Proof: 103.1
Age: at least 4 years
Color: honey
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.

Copper & Kings Crafted (ex Russell’s Reserve Barrel)

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)
Proof: 120
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.

Hennessy V.S. Cognac

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
Proof: 80
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.

Rating: Cloying.

Four Roses Single Barrel Select (OESF)

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)
Proof: 124.8
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.

Peerless Small Batch Rye

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.

Peerless Small Batch Bourbon

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.

Bulleit 10-Year Bourbon

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
Proof: 91.2
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.

Maker’s Mark FAE-01

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
Proof: 110.3
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.

New Riff Single Barrel Bourbon: Minnick vs. Rehwoldt

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)
Proof: 104.3
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) 
Proof: 105.7
Age: 4 years
Color: amber
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.

Cecil + Coleman: Pursuit United

Ryan Cecil and Kenny Coleman have bottled numerous barrels under their Pursuit Spirits brand, but until recently, never crafted a blend. But Pursuit United is more than your average straight whiskey blend. It’s a brave combination of three bourbons from three states.


Pour: Cecil + Coleman: Pursuit United
Proof: 108
Age: at least 4 years
Color: metallic amber
Nose: candy apple, lemon frosting, maple syrup
Taste: vibrant vanilla, sweet zesty oak, crisp apple-cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – peppery caramel, holiday citrus, diminishing spice


Overall: If there’s any doubt – thanks to Ryan and Kenny – Kentucky, Tennessee, and New York whiskeys work harmoniously together. Pursuit United is undeniably bourbon, though bearing that classification with a flavorful profile all its own. Unique and noteworthy.

Rating: Pursue this.