Tag Archives: Whiskey

Buck Bourbon

Picked up this bottle  back in January while on a pilgrimage to NYC’s Astor Wines. I haven’t seen it many places and there isn’t too much written about it out there, so it seems like as good a way as any to reignite my summer tasting schedule. Judging from the Frank-Lin Distillers site, this upper-midrange bourbon is made for “ranchers and cowboys” — more the self-styled variety than the actual no doubt. I don’t plan on rustling any cattle later, but I have seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly before, so here’s hoping that’s good enough.

Stats:

- $40–45ish

- 90 proof

- Made by Frank-Lin Distillers

Presentation:

Affected, yes; unattractive, no. The main feature of Buck’s bottling is a rodeo-rider on a bucking horse underneath the name of the whiskey and its age (a rodeo-appropriate 8 years). There’s some tan/black filagree along the top of the label and framing the prominently placed basic info: “Old Fashioned Sour Mash”; “Small Batch”; proof/percentage/volume; “Ranch Hand Certified.” Useful, but that last one makes me feel a little silly buying this at all. The shape of the bottle is satisfying — feels heftier than most 750ml bottles and has a nice tall stance to it. I also like the design of the cork wrapping. It’s a nice detail to the over all appearance.

Tasting:

There’s dried grass and pineapple at first on the nose, followed by more sweet scents (strawberryish) and but with the dry grass remaining strong with almost some maple-like hints. Liking this so far.

That sweetness almost completely disappears on the tongue. The dry grass bursts forward and is followed by a lingering bitter pepperiness. Though there are some sweet notes later on they are drowned out by the assertive spiciness that dominates throughout. This is is an aggressive bourbon. If it weren’t already obvious, the finish is long and strong.

Over all:

Well, I guess ranch hands and cowboys are no wimps and Buck isn’t either. Even as a non-smoker, this makes me want to drink it with a nice cigar. I’d recommend having it on ice and only giving it to bourbon newbies if your want to scare them off from your collection. Despite all this, it’s good and well worth the money if you’re a fan of bold and spicy bourbons.


Angel’s Envy

I’ve heard about Angel’s Envy every now and then over the past couple of months and its launch earlier this year seems to have been well received. It certainly is intriguing if only for the fact that the plan is to make a different expression each year. This has worked well for Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbons and I like the potential for an evolving product line. On top of that, it seems that this year’s expression has been finished in port casks — this is the kind of development and experimentation I like to see in American whiskey production. While it’s a familiar process across the Atlantic, sometimes it seems like the Bourbon Purists scare the experimental streak out of whiskey production over here, so even a modest level of experimentation like this is welcome. Here’s hoping it lives up to its promise.

Stats:

- $45ish

- 43.3%

- Made by Louisville Distilling Company

Presentation:

Unfortunately, all I have is a sample-sized bottle in front of me, so I can’t go into too much detail in this respect. However, from what I can tell from the image, the bottle avoids gratuitous nostalgia, but perhaps tries a little too hard to pull at the heart-strings of the whiskey-hipster set with that typeface. I appreciate the simplicity and flowing profile, so over all not too bad.

Tasting:

On the nose, I get a solid ripe-grain scent integrated with dark cherry and a distant char. It’s forward, but solid to the nose, with some lingering alcohol wafting up more than I might usually like. Tasting  it, the bold spicy/peppery character comes across immediately, beneath that there’s vanilla and caramel with some hint of that dark cherry note from the nose. The finish is very long and pleasantly spicy with some pine notes coming toward the end.

Over all:

Maybe it was my focus on the port cask finishing, or the delicate bottle design, but I was expecting a much lighter style for Angel’s Envy. That said, I’m pleasantly surprised by its forward character and bold spiciness. It was hard to distinguish what came from the port casks, it came across with a unified, confident profile. I’m impressed, nice work.

*Note: This review was based on samples sent to me by a representative of LDC. I assure you, this did not affect my review except prevent me from criticizing the bottle.


Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey

I’m a fan of Rogue’s line of beers, so when I stopped by Downtown a few weeks ago to stock up on some of my usuals, I was intrigued when I saw Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey. It makes perfect sense that successful microbreweries would want to expand into whiskey — same ingredients, same basic realm of interest — but I haven’t seen too many of these types of products on the shelves. Perhaps I’m just not noticing them or perhaps this country’s bizarre regulations that make microdistilleries a difficult enterprise are getting in the way (see the ADI site for more info on that).

Regardless, I’m glad to see Rogue getting this new product all the way out here in the Northeast. It looks like they’re using an all-malt mash (same as their beer) and aged like bourbon. To the stats.

Stats:

- $40ish

- 80 proof

- Made by Rogue Spirits

Presentation:

If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy ale, then you already have a decent picture of this bottle. The label text on the back isn’t noteworthy, but I like that they list ingredients all the way down to the specific type of malts used. It gives the impression of honesty and pride. The bottle is a rounded-edge square column and shows off the color nicely.

Tasting:

Rogue Wiskey begins with a very sweet scent reminiscent of banana bread and a bit of cream and honey. On the back end there’s some harshness, which might indicate relative youth, but I haven’t been able to find a specific age statement for this bottle. Tasting it, Rogue starts up with that banana bread quality, but moves to an unsettling soapiness shortly after. Fortunately that fades into a nice lemongrassy, malt-driven bite down the side of your tongue. The finish is thin and dissipates quickly.

Over all:

I do enjoy a malt-based whiskey aged bourbon style, so this hits some strong points. In the end, though, I found Rogue a little on the thin side for my tastes. I was hoping for something bolder and more robust — perhaps something that could come with a little more age. It’s a decent whiskey, and I love what they’re doing as a company, but there are better options out there in this price rage.


WhipperSnapper

After a long silence, it’s a new year and a new post.  It’s been a hell of a temptation to have some fantastic whiskeys on my shelf waiting to be tasted and blogged about for about four months.  I’ve made it through the rigors of my first semester of grad school though, and can now happily reward my patience with a glass of WhipperSnapper.

I picked this bottle up back in August when I first moved up to Cambridge from Brooklyn, but I read about it  few months later when the Huffington Post got down to reviewing it before I was able to lift my head out of the books.  From that review and all the others I’ve come across over these long months, WhipperSnapper seems to have some savvy buzz-makers behind it in its creator — Ransom — which also recently released an Old Tom-style gin in collaboration with the esteemed cocktail revivalist, David Wondrich.

From what I’ve been able to gather, they source the corn spirit, which makes up 79% of the unaged mixture, from other distilleries and re-distill it, while making the 21% barley spirit themselves.  This is an interesting combination approach (compared to products like High West which outsource distillation entirely) that probably helps them decrease production time and keep volume up.  Additionally, it seems that one of the main selling points is that WhipperSnapper is aged partially in French oak barrels previously used for pinot noir-based wines.  I’ve only had one other whiskey aged in ex-wine casks (one of the Buffalo Trace experimental releases) and I quite enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this is expressed.  Now, on to the important stuff.

 

Stats:

- I found this for $31

- 84 proof

- Made by Ransom Spirits

Presentation:

In general, I’m not a fan of using too much text on a whiskey bottle.  The copywriters for such things tend to get worked up in nostalgic histories of grandfathers and secret family recipes and the like.  While this may add some weight to the drinker’s sense of what American whiskey should be, it usually comes across as disingenuous marketing drivel.  WhipperSnapper uses a lot of text on its faux-mid-19th-century label.  Aesthetically, this is pleasing, the small type of the lengthy mini-essay on the front label contrasts well with the bold type and curved outlines of the central text.  The content however just comes across as self-aware marketing drivel — best not to read too closely and just enjoy the otherwise well-designed label.  I say well-designed even though they push close to tourist-trap levels of Old Westiness by putting the phrase “High Falutin'” at the very top.  I understand wanting recall a golden age of American spirit production, and I don’t want to gripe too much about a genuinely attractive label, but some times these things go to far.

Tasting:

Two things come across instantly on the nose: first is a prominent corn scent from that 79% white dog, second is a burst of juicy sourness that I bet hails from those pinot noir barrels.  It reminds me of a beer that’s been aged in wine casks, definitely unexpected in a whiskey, but nonetheless intriguing.  Behind this, you can pick up some of that barley influence as well.  Combined, it’s something like a sour cherry crumble  Definitely a whipper-snapper though — this whiskey is young if the nose is any indication.

It  changes tack on tasting it though.  The sourness becomes a secondary characteristic to an appealingly sweet frosting/birthday-cake sort of sensation.  The back of the tongue picks up the corn and (less so than I’d expected) the barley, but the focus here is on the creamy sweetness more toward the front.  The sour wine-like qualities come in after this first wave dies down, but only slightly, and far from over powering.  The finish is warm but not particularly notable, probably owing to its relative youth.

Over all:

Nice work, Ransom.  I’m curious to see what this would be like with even more of the wine cask influence, but what we have here is quite good.  It is smooth beyond what its nose seems to imply and that buttercream opening is very appealing.  I’ll be drinking this again soon.


Laird’s Old Apple Brandy

Nope, American Hooch is not dead yet.  It’ll take more than a move out of NYC and graduate school to get in the way (at least, I hope that’s true).  So to celebrate my first post since June when I wrote about my case of the dreaded and whiskey-ruining Pine Mouth, I’m opening up a bottle of Laird’s Old Apple Brandy.

I’m a fan of American apple brandies, and I try new ones whenever possible, but Laird’s is easily the best-known maker.  Their younger variety (not to be confused with the Applejack) was one of my mainstays back in New York – where it was more readily available than here in Massachusetts.  I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Old Apple Brandy before today however, so I’m looking forward to it.

Aged 7 1/2 years in charred oak and bottled at 80 proof, and apparently made in pot stills, this should be interesting.

Presentation:

I have to admit that the  bottle doesn’t have much going for it style-wise.  The label’s text is in an uninspired script and the background consists mostly of awkward whitespace with some tepid gold flourishes in the corners.  I do, however, enjoy their logo of the brandy snifter wrapped with a starred banner.  The message on the back is earnest in its no-nonsense font, but tries to convince us just how special the bottle’s contents are.

It would have been nice to use something other than the standard plastic-capped bottle for this, but it probably does keep the cost down.

Tasting:

The nose is a lot subtler than the younger Laird’s Apple Brandy, but it comes through with orange peel, soft caramel, and a hint of burning sap-filled tree bark that sneaks through.  It is very soft on the tongue with a well blended mix of flavors: starting of sweet with notes of strawberry, then shifting to a prominent apple flavor and a bit of char pushing forward.  It settles down into a medium-to-long finish of dry grass and a dose of pepper.

Over all:

Laird’s Old Apple Brandy is definitely more refined than their regular Apple Brandy, the age has done it well in that respect.  This is something that you can and should sip slowly.  The flavors are well blended without disappearing.  That said, I think I still prefer their younger, bolder variety.  Still, this is a very nice apple brandy.


Black Maple Hill – Small Batch

Black Maple Hill is a bourbon that friends have been recommending for a while now, but I haven’t gotten around to tasting it until now.  It’s become a common sight in the growing number of bars in NYC that stock a decent selection of bourbon – so it’s clearly not an under-the-radar newcomer.  In fact, it’s apparently produced by Heaven Hill so there’s significant heft behind this brand.  Looking forward to seeing what it’s got.

Stats:

- $30ish

- 95 proof

- Made by Heaven Hill, bottled by Black Maple Hill

Presentation:

Black Maple Hill’s bottle is understated compared to some other bourbons you’ll find in this range.  The label uses just one color and that color very closely matches the color of the whiskey inside, creating a soft melding of all the bottle’s elements.  The proof is listed in faux handwriting, but the etching on the main front label avoids this type of approach, rather the simple horse/forest scene pushes the eye up toward the brand name at the top.

Tasting:

To the nose, Black Maple Hill comes across first as dominated with charred oak but it seems like there’s something young about it in the background with corn and alcohol sneaking through.  On the tongue, however, the first impression is a peppery burst, which gives way to a full-mouth sensation of dry summer grass.  This builds up to a nice grainy sensation then dies down into a medium-warm, medium-long finish.

Over all:

I like this, but it’s not my favorite.  I’d like to see a better texture to this bourbon, which otherwise feels quite light.  That said, I quite like the ‘dry summer grass’ notes to it and this might (just maybe) be something I’d have with a cube of ice – but I reserve the right to take that back.


W.L. Weller Special Reserve

W.L. Weller Antique is one of the earliest bourbons I tasted for this blog (now about 2 years old, wow).  Back then, it impressed me over time, proving surprisingly meaty for a wheated bourbon.  Tonight, I’m giving another W.L. Weller expression a try – the W.L. Weller Special Reserve.  This bottle seems to have more than its share of fans out there on the internet as a bourbon with a good quality to price ratio.  This internet thing has led me down some dead ends before, but let’s see what this seven-year aged, wheated bourbon has to offer.

Stats:

- $17ish

- 90 proof

- Made by Buffalo Trace

Presentation:

Judging from what I’m seeing on Google image search, it looks like Weller Special recently switched bottles from the common, broad shouldered bottle to something more bulbous and generally more dignified – if only because it’s not the same bottle that Rebel Yell uses.  The label sits very low on the bottle, right down near the base, and informs its viewer that this bourbon has been enjoyed by connoisseurs since 1849 – the same year referenced by one of my favorites, Old Fitzgerald.  This is no surprise considering these brands share a common heritage in Mr. Weller.  The name and description is printed in old-timey bourbon script while the rest of the type in gold-trimmed block lettering on a white background.  The low placement and rounded contours of the new bottle do a lot to show off the bourbon inside and is generally quite appealing.

Tasting:

On the nose Weller Special comes across very sweet with notes of raspberries and mango as my first impression.  There’s also a bit of grass in there, but with an edge of char from the barrel.  Very bright and pleasant.

That same sweetness comes through on the tasting as well, in fact it’s sweet from start to finish.  It’s one of those bourbons with a light mouth-feel and high berry flavors such that it comes across as almost juicy.  Right at the start the grassy flavors and wheat influence express themselves and stick around even as berries and candies come into play.  This bourbon dances toward the tip of the tongue as the finish is still boldly lemon-drop filled, but retains a slight spicy/warm edge to it.

Over all:

This couldn’t be more different from Weller Antique in its disposition.  Where Antique is an ornery companion with some good stories to tell, Special Reserve is happy-go-lucky and filled with bright colors.  This isn’t my favorite style, but this is done pretty well I have to admit.  The grains come through in a great way and this is really just a pleasant drink.  I have to say I can see why this is seen as such a good deal – at $17 it certainly over-delivers.


Sam Houston

The folks who brought us a bourbon named for Thomas Jefferson also produce one honoring first and third President of Texas, Sam Houston.  What are they getting at with this brand?  Texans?  Southern Union-sympathizers?  Modern-day Know-Nothings?  I can’t claim identification with any of these but I’m running out of new bourbons at Astor Wines (and it is such an odd yet stereotype-fitting name) so I picked up a bottle last week.

Interestingly, this bottle of Sam Houston clocks in at a precise 85.6 proof, which got me thinking this is some veiled reference to they year 1856.  After some quick searching though, this seems to have been a quiet period in President Houston’s life – though he did lose out heftily in the Know-Nothing party’s Presidential nominations to Millard Fillmore.  Not quite juicy enough to be legit.  Onward.

Stats:

- $30-35

- Made by McLain & Kyne

- 85.6 proof

Presentation:

Though styled in a manner typical for bourbons (faux-aged, script, block letters, dark background) Sam Houston pulls it off comparatively well.  At first I thought that the scuffing around the edges of the label was intentional, but after looking at a number of other pictures of the bottle, it seems to be unique to mine.  If this is, in fact, real scuffing, I’d say it’s a happy accident that the Houston boys should emulate.  If not, however, they’ve done a convincing job.

On a more general level though, the cut of the label compliments the curves of the bottle and the layout is largely uncluttered.  It places its focus on the name and portrait of the man himself, while the other elements fade back.  The rear label has the usual shtick about reflecting the nature of the man in bourbon form and so on.  To top it all off, the foil wrapping over the stopper carries a lone star and the words “Republic of Texas.”

Tasting:

The scent comes across as very hard and closed.  There’s a dominant sense of hot asphalt just as rain is beginning to fall.  Beyond that it’s just wood.

That hardness translates into a smooth and rich opening on the tongue.  This begins with a near-creamy sweetness that develops into a pleasant, mouth-filling rye and dry grass flavor.  The finish is long, warm, and peppery.

Over all:

President Houston and I may not have much common ground personally, but this whisky (they don’t use the ‘e’) is fantastic.  It’s dry, meaty yet well balanced, and has a good amount of depth to it.  This is certainly one of the best bourbons I’ve had recently.  Well done.


Old Crow Reserve

“Old Crow Reserve” probably sounds a little ridiculous to those who have had some experience with the standard Old Crow.  When I originally tasted that bourbon I was disappointed by its bland, unremarkable character, so it’s hard to imagine that whatever Beam has managed to “reserve” from their Old Crow line is going to be all that special.  In fact, I’m curious about their motivation in releasing this label.  Beam already has a full range of easy-to-find bourbons from Old Crow to Booker’s and everything in between, taking the Old Crow brand up a notch seems gratuitous.

I don’t mean to knock bottom-shelf bourbons here.  I’m a big believer that in the American whiskey world in particular price isn’t always a reliable indicator of quality.  The modestly priced Old Fitzgerald 1849 remains one of my favorites, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks who love their Old Crow.  Was there really someone thinking to himself “Gosh, if only this Old Crow were just a little bit better, but not as good as Jim Beam white label….”?  At least the financial risk of finding out whether it’s worth it is low.

Stats:

- $14ish

- Unless straightbourbon.com misleads me, this is a Jim Beam product

- 86 proof (Old Crow original is 80)

Presentation:

I’m a sucker for black labels I think.  The dark background makes all the other elements pop that much more.  On top of that, the empty white of the regular Old Crow label just looks unfinished.  On the Reserve here, we see a black and gold pinstripe pattern overlaid by the standard bourbon descriptors: “Kentucky straight,” “original,” “sour mash,” and the like.  (It’s important to note here that Old Crow is named for the originator of the sour mash method.)  I do appreciate the red-lettered “86 PROOF” on the left side and the way it contrasts with the rest of the presentation; on the other hand, I think they could do a lot more with their crow logo than they are now.  Crows are such loaded signifiers: they’re harbingers of bad news, they gather in ‘murders’, they accompany witches and demons in pop culture.  They should leverage this.

Tasting:

There’s a lot more to the nose on this one that its unreserved sibling.  Beyond the clear char, there’s an element that I find difficult to describe, but the closest I can get is the smell of a dry pine plank after you’ve sanded it down for a few minutes: strong wood, but not resinous and not exactly oak.  So far so good.

On the tongue, I get a strong sweetness up front with touches of orange and honey.  This moves into a vanilla then quickly switches to charred oak and leaves a medium-dry and prominently woody finish.

Over all:

This is a significant improvement over the regular Old Crow.  It’s just one extra year in the barrel, but that does make a good amount of difference – in fact this verges on being overly woody in the end.  There aren’t any unpleasant flavors to it but it is lacking in some depth.  For the price, I’d say this is a decent choice.  I think I have to retract my earlier doubts about the purpose of this bourbon – in my book, as long as it tastes good and has a good quality-to-price ratio it’s worth having around.  Now if only they’ll replace regular Old Crow with this…


Buffalo Trace – White Dog

Buffalo Trace puts out some good whiskeys and what I’ve got here is where a lot of them begin: White Dog.  “White dog” refers to the unaged distillate that eventually becomes bourbon.  These unaged whiskeys are starting to pop up more and more in liquor stores (see: Death’s Door, Georgia Moon, etc), and they’re growing on me slowly.  I’m not sure if I’d ever choose one over any full-blooded bourbon, but let’s see how Buffalo Trace’s offering measures up.

Stats:

- $15ish

- 125 proof

- Made by Buffalo Trace

Presentation:

Buffalo Trace White Dog comes in a short, simple bottle with a faintly mottled tan label.  The front label shows the Buffalo Trace logo, the words “White Dog”, “Mash #1″  and a listing of the grains and proof.  The rear, however, gets into some nostalgic tale about the “brave pioneers” who traveled to Kentucky, distilling all the way.  I guess when you’re selling white liquor it becomes more about the marketing than the complexity of the whiskey, but this story is pretty standard fare.  Generally, though, I like the straight-forward design and it goes well with the simplicity of the product.

Tasting:

The scent is surprisingly rich and smooth – it’s like rising bread dough, full and soft.  This definitely is close to the grain.  It’s also pretty big in flavor – the same rising sourdough flavor but a little sharper at first and settling down into something more yeasty.  The finish is long (for something unaged) and yeasty as well.  This is quite powerful at 125 proof and it’ll numb your mouth a bit if you don’t add some water, but try it both ways.

Over all:

I’m impressed.  I can’t say I like it better than their main line bourbon, but this is far more flavorful than the other unaged whiskeys I’ve tasted lately.  Strangely, this is something that could be a decent sipping drink if you’re in the mood for something different.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.