Formerly known as Maker’s Gold and limited to non-domestic markets and distillery-only occasions, 101-proof Maker’s Mark was once a rare acquisition for Americans. It can now be found at your local liquor store for $40 (nearly twice the price of a certain legendary 101).
Pour: Maker’s Mark 101
Age: At least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: vanilla, cherry preserves, butter cookies
Taste: creamy caramel, orange-honey, frosted pastry
Finish: moderate length w/ vanilla spice, sweet oak, cinnamon
Overall: The Wild Turkey fan in me wants to call out Maker’s marketing for coattail riding. Point aside, Maker’s 101 is incredibly delicious. It truly is. Why people continue to pay stupid money for mediocre wheated bourbons with this in abundance is puzzling.
You don’t hear much about dusty Jim Beam Bourbon. Perhaps it’s because the label has changed very little. Perhaps it’s because people see so much of the modern iteration, a vintage bottling conjures little excitement. I know I felt that way, until a generous friend stepped in.
Pour: 1977 Jim Beam Bourbon a/k/a “White Label”
Age: 5 years
Color: dense rosy copper
Nose: butterscotch, maple syrup, heavily steeped tea
Taste: funky molasses, blood orange, blackberry jam
Finish: moderately long – brown sugar, burnt caramel, oak char, dark citrus
Overall: To say I’m stunned is an understatement. It’s virtually everything I seek in a vintage whiskey profile, packing it all in at a “whopping” 80 proof to boot. Curiously, this ‘77 Beam has a finish akin to today’s Knob Creek Single Barrel. Noe kidding.
Rating: An awakening.
Here’s one we all know – Jim Beam “White Label.” In my pre-enthusiast days, this was bourbon (as in the only bourbon that existed). I’ve come a long way since, but I must admit, I carry a strange fondness for this classic label. Memories … good and bad in the very best way.
Pour: Jim Beam Bourbon a/k/a “White Label”
Age: at least 4 years
Nose: nutty vanilla, caramel popcorn, nutmeg
Taste: vanilla, buttered corn, lightly roasted nuts
Finish: moderately short – toffee, mild oak char, faint spice
Overall: Look, I’m not going to try to convince you that you should buy this whiskey. It is what it is, but what it ain’t, is awful. The early bourbon snob in me would’ve snarked. That early bourbon snob was an ass. Jim Beam does the job it was made to do.
Rating: Party bourbon.
Once labeled “small batch,” Baker’s Bourbon was rebranded as a single-barrel expression in 2019. Thankfully, it maintained its 7-year minimum age and signature 107 proof. But what of its flavor profile? Does it occupy similar territory? I suppose that now depends on the barrel.
Pour: Baker’s Single Barrel Bourbon b. CL-D-186433
Age: 8 years, 6 months
Nose: English toffee, nutty caramel, orange peel
Taste: vanilla extract, sweet oak char, maple-citrus
Finish: long w/ molasses, brown sugar, dense baking spice
Overall: An ideal combination of age and proof, not to mention a profile that stands out among its Knob Creek cousins. For $60, Baker’s Single Barrel has far more to offer than its specs suggest – richness, depth, and well-balanced bourbon character.
Rating: Dark horse.
Being a fan of Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5 and FAE-01, it felt only right to review the inaugural wood finishing series release. I sampled RC6 back in 2019, and while impressed, I failed to purchase a bottle. Thanks to the recent generosity of a friend, I have RC6 in hand.
Pour: Maker’s Mark RC6
Age: not stated
Color: rich copper
Nose: hazelnut, vanilla potpourri, maple syrup
Taste: toasted caramel, brown sugar, Roman nougat
Finish: moderately long w/ dark chocolate, coffee, woody spice
Overall: A robust, full-bodied whiskey with a rich dessert-like sweetness. In comparison to the two subsequent wood finishing iterations, Maker’s Mark RC6 is most similar to FAE-01, sans fruity notes. A lovely pour, though my least favorite of the three.
Rating: Sweet start.
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.
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.