Believe it or not, Laird’s has been distilling American brandy for ten generations (since 1780). Forgive me if I’m spoiling this review early on, but their straight apple brandies might be the best-kept secret in spirits. Here’s the first of two recently acquired expressions.
Pour: Laird’s Tenth Generation Apple Brandy (BiB)
Age: 5 years
Nose: apple butter toast, caramel, cherry Pop Tart
Taste: apple jelly, sweet oak char, warm zesty spice
Finish: moderate length w/ brown sugar, glazed apple, hints of cinnamon
Overall: Vibrant and refreshing without the expected youthfulness. Picture the sweet and spicy balance of a 5-year Kentucky straight rye whiskey, but with a noteworthy apple presence. Laird’s has crafted a winner, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Rating: Apple of my eye.
“Since 1872,” or so the label reads. I.W. Harper has a storied past, but the bourbon brand now rests in the hands of spirits giant, Diageo. The 15-year expression was once found with little trouble. Nowadays, not so much, but a chance discovery at $99 tickled my curiosity.
Pour: I.W. Harper 15 (KSBW)
Age: 15 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: honey, fragrant oak, nutty toffee
Taste: antique oak, salted caramel, leather
Finish: moderate length w/ savory vanilla, sweet oak, dry spice
Overall: No complaints here. I.W. Harper 15, while not particularly unique or complex, excels in the “notably mature whiskey done right” category. And surprisingly, the lower proof doesn’t bother me at all. If you like sweet oak, this bourbon is for you.
Rating: Worth it.
I’d been eager to try an Angel’s Envy private selection since their barrel program first launched. After a chance encounter at a newly opened liquor store in Georgia, that box was quickly checked. But does the additional proof and single barrel status warrant an $89 price tag?
Pour: Angel’s Envy Private Selection b. JB-682C
Age: not stated
Color: dense copper
Nose: toasted caramel, “porty” jam, bubblegum
Taste: singed toffee, maple syrup, charred oak
Finish: moderately long w/ molasses, dry spice, leather
Overall: While this Angel’s Envy selection offers significant depth over the standard 86.8-proof offering, it’s a bit concentrated, or “tight.” The finish leans dry and the profile notes fight for space. Thankfully, a few drops of water remedies this.
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
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 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
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.
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
Age: 6 years
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.
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
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.
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
Age: 3 years
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.
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)
Age: at least 4 years
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.
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
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.
There’s been a lot of recent press about Green River Distillery. Formerly known as O.Z. Tyler, the distillery was once infamous for its use of “rapidly aged” whiskey. Now that their distillate has matured, we should see less of that. But is their naturally aged whiskey any good?
Pour: Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: at least 4 (reportedly 5) years
Nose: apple-cinnamon, French toast & syrup, maraschino cherry
Taste: chewy oak, brown sugar, chocolate chip cookie dough
Finish: moderate length w/ toasted caramel, toffee, faint pepper
Overall: What sorcery is this? Five years and 90 proof?! Did I read that correctly? Wow. You have my attention, Green River. Shooting straight here – for $35 this is a damn good buy. An impressive bourbon that’s strikingly complex for its no-frills specs.
Rating: Green magic.