Jim Beam Devil’s Cut

Part innovation, part obligatory liquor store window wrap, it’s Jim Beam Devil’s Cut. But seriously, what is it? Essentially, whiskey extracted from staves of emptied barrels batched with standard Beam bourbon. (If it were good, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?) Moving along.


Pour: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut
Proof: 90
Age: at least 4 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: whole-grain bread, sharp vanilla, sappy oak
Taste: polished leather, black pepper, astringent spice
Finish: moderate length – Splenda, singed maple syrup, walnut shell


Overall: Imagine similar oak notes to Knob Creek, only sharp, astringent, and strangely bitter, that’s Jim Beam Devil’s Cut. Unpleasant, yet admittedly drinkable, it’s exactly as the name implies. But let’s give the devil his due – there’s worse for $20.

Rating: Tolerable Hell.

Larceny Bourbon

Riding the fringe of Old Fitzgerald folklore is Larceny, a non-age-stated wheated mash bill bourbon produced by Heaven Hill. It’s not as talked about as its barrel-proof namesake, but to its credit, the original 92-proof iteration is affordable ($25) and widely available.


Pour: Larceny Bourbon
Proof: 92
Age: at least 4 years
Color: amber
Nose: vanilla, fresh dough, maraschino cherry
Taste: silky caramel, mellow oak, honey-butter
Finish: moderately short – mild baking spice, faint leather 


Overall: Entry-level wheated recipe bourbons are a mixed bag. Maker’s Mark is sweet and lively; Weller Special Reserve is sweet and buttery. As for Larceny, the sweeter notes find suitable balance with the oak. It’s just overly mild and uninspiring.

Rating: Eye-roll smooth.

Four Roses Small Batch

Considering the popularity of Four Roses Single Barrel private selections, you’d think the Small Batch Bourbon would garner more attention. Unfortunately, the similarly specced Elijah Craig, Buffalo Trace, and the likely Four Roses sourced Bulleit steal its thunder. Go figure.


Pour: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Proof: 90
Age: not stated (reportedly 6-7 years)
Color: amber
Nose: vanilla, citrus zest, herbal & floral spice
Taste: caramel drizzle, orange peel, nutmeg
Finish: moderate length – singed honey, oak, lemon-pepper


Overall: A well-balanced combination of citrus fruit, zesty spice, and classic vanilla and caramel. Four Roses Small Batch is a perfect bourbon for cocktails or casual sipping and remains a personal favorite from my early days of whiskey enthusiasm.

Rating: Damn solid.

Weller Special Reserve

Anyone dipping their toes into the bourbon enthusiasm pool will quickly learn that Weller is Pappy. Okay, maybe not Pappy, but kind of the same as Pappy. Okay, maybe not kind of the same as Pappy, but dammit they need it because it has something to do with Pappy.

Today, I’m tasting Weller Special Reserve. That’s right – the supposed-to-be-priced-at $25, 90-proof, wheated mash bill, Buffalo Trace distilled bourbon phenomenon. Unfortunately, thanks to Pappy hysteria, its price is often as inflated as its mythos.


Pour: Weller Special Reserve
Proof: 90
Age: at least 4 years
Color: amber
Nose: vanilla, honey-glazed apple, buttery rolls
Taste: caramel drizzle, sweet oak, hints of cherry
Finish: moderate length – confectioners sugar, light baking spice


Overall: A well-balanced, easy-sipping, sweet and buttery bourbon. I completely understand why folks love this stuff. All the same, I discourage anyone from paying a premium for Weller Special Reserve. It’s good whiskey, not great whiskey.

Rating: Weller Lite.

Evan Williams Green Label

Of all the Evan Williams expressions, the 80-proof “green label” is as bottom-shelf as bottom-shelf bourbon gets. Strangely, it’s priced about the same as the spec-superior Evan Williams Black Label. Maybe they’re complementary to one another? I doubt it, but here goes anyway.


Pour: Evan Williams Green Label
Proof: 80
Age: 36 months
Color: light amber
Nose: buttered corn, vanilla, confectioners sugar
Taste: brownie batter, plywood, salty dough
Finish: short – fresh-cut oak, grain, college


Overall: Not very good at all. That being said, it’s not near as cheerless as Benchmark “Old No. 8.” (At least there’s no repulsive sour notes.) Evan Williams Green Label is drinkable, albeit barely, and best suited as a backyard burger marinade.

Rating: Safe for cooking.

Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5

Fall 2020 saw the second entry in the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, SE4 x PR5. Curiously, it didn’t receive the level of hype typically associated with annual limited-edition bourbons. A great thing for Maker’s fans, as perception in the bourbon world is seldom 20/20.


Pour: Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5
Proof: 110.8
Age: not stated
Color: honey
Nose: maple syrup, semisweet chocolate, holiday citrus
Taste: creamy caramel, heavily toasted oak, orange cola
Finish: long & flavorful – vanilla extract, cinnamon, hazelnut coffee


Overall: An ambrosial delight of subtly exotic complexity. For $60, it doesn’t get much better than Maker’s Mark SE4 x PR5. To those that passed this impressive whiskey by, I leave you with the immortal words of Ms. Vivian Ward, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

Rating: Slept-on hit.

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve

I’ve been asked to review more MGP-distilled whiskeys. Can do! Today, I’m tasting Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon. What is it? Well, it’s not labeled straight and it doesn’t carry an age statement, but it is barrel-proof bourbon. So, there’s that.


Pour: Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve (batch 12)
Proof: 114.5
Age: NAS (reportedly 7-11 years)
Color: copper
Nose: sliced apple, honey-roasted nuts, butter toffee
Taste: sharp vanilla, “brisk” oak, lively herbal spice
Finish: moderately long – nutty caramel, cinnamon, pepper


Overall: I’m having a hard time believing this is 7-11-year whiskey. Perhaps it is and this particular batch simply delivers a vibrant profile. Regardless, Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve is full-flavored and packs a punch. It just lacks maturity and depth.

Rating: OGD114+

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon

My experience with toasted-oak whiskey is rather limited, but generally speaking I’m not the biggest fan. I am, however, a fan of staying open minded. So, when I saw Elijah Craig’s latest special release, a straight bourbon touting a toasted-barrel finish, I rolled the dice.


Pour: Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon
Proof: 94
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: French toast, densely sweet oak, ripe plum
Taste: roasted marshmallow, brown sugar, caramel chews
Finish: moderate length – vanilla bean, tobacco, black licorice


Overall: Look, I’ll admit, this bourbon isn’t for everyone. But, for those seeking a uniquely sweet and dessert-like whiskey without a cloying or artificial quality, Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon is right up your alley. For $50, I’m satisfied.

Rating: Sweet success.

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon

Michter’s is a bourbon enigma. It’s reported their whiskey is contract distilled by Brown-Forman, though their well-aged and coveted limited edition stocks are surely sourced. Yet, they leverage their brand on “pre-Revolutionary War quality standards dating back to 1753.” Hmm.

Anyhow, there’s a rabbit hole to descend with that tale, but I’d rather not. Instead, I’ll focus on Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon. You know the one – the bottle you always find on shelves but never get around to buying. I’ll proudly take the bullet – eh – musket ball, for you.


Pour: Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon (batch 20H1957)
Proof: 91.4
Age: at least 4 years
Color: honey
Nose: vanilla creme, orange peel, hints of evergreen
Taste: caramel apple, sweet oak, citrus herbal tea
Finish: moderate length – vanilla icing, nutmeg, faint ginger


Overall: Well, it’s bourbon. Nothing much to rant or rave about. Strangely, Michter’s Small Batch reminds me of a “proofed up” Four Roses Yellow Label (and not at all like Brown-Forman). In a nutshell, core bourbon notes laced with citrus and faint evergreen.

Rating: Bourbon.

Cream of Kentucky (Batch 4)

In 2019, former Four Roses master distiller and Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee, Jim Rutledge, revived the classic Cream of Kentucky brand. Today, I’m tasting the fourth release in that modern revival, a 13-year small batch bourbon reportedly sourced from Barton.


Pour: Cream of Kentucky (Batch 4)
Proof: 102
Age: 13 years
Color: dark honey
Nose: charred banana, vanilla pudding, damp oak
Taste: Cadbury Creme Egg, butter toffee, boozy orange
Finish: moderate length – toasted caramel, baked cinnamon, leather


Overall: Signature mature Barton in virtually every way – woody banana and thick vanilla creme laced with dark citrus and baked spice. Cream of Kentucky batch 4 is robust and full-bodied, not to mention a significant improvement over the 12.3-year batch 3.

Rating: Doubly rich.


Bottle courtesy of J. W. Rutledge.

High West Bourye (2016)

High West’s Bourye, a limited edition bourbon & rye whiskey blend, has been around since 2009. Over the years, the sources have varied, including runs with Four Roses and Barton, though MGP remains the sole source since 2016. Speaking of which, I have a 2016 release to review.


Pour: High West Bourye (2016)
Proof: 92
Age: NAS (9-17 years per High West)
Color: rosy copper
Nose: caramel apple, blood orange, brown sugar
Taste: fruity vanilla bean, dark citrus-spice, boozy punch
Finish: moderate length – beautifully rich oak, cherry pie filling, herbal tea


Overall: Likely the best bourbon & rye blend I’ve tasted. An incredible whiskey – mature and complex with a remarkably oily mouthfeel for 92 proof (ah, the wonders of NCF). High West’s 2016 Bourye was apparently overlooked, and it’s your gain in 2021.

Rating: Worth the hunt.

Early Times Bottled in Bond

In 2020, Sazerac announced their acquisition of the Early Times brand. That considered, I figured the sooner the better on a review of the in-the-know popular Brown-Forman distilled Kentucky straight bourbon. Coming soon to a Pappy halo near you, Early Times Bottled in Bond.


Pour: Early Times Bottled in Bond
Proof: 100
Age: at least 4 years
Color: copper
Nose: toasted banana, vanilla extract, nutmeg
Taste: caramel syrup, sweet oak, brown sugar
Finish: moderately long – burnt toffee, licorice, leather


Overall: This is good. Not just good for the money ($20/liter) but good, period. Most non-age-stated bonded bourbons taste their required four years. This one is an exception. Early Times Bottled in Bond is rich, flavorful, and surprisingly grown-up in profile.

Rating: BIN.