A month since my last post! Sorry about that.
I’m back with one of those bourbons I’ve had my eye on for years but haven’t gotten around to trying: Rowan’s Creek. I have tried a few of the other offerings from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers out of Bardstown, though. Their line includes Johnny Drum, Willett’s, Noah’s Mill, and Kentucky Vintage among others – an impressive range for sure. Rowan’s Creek in particular has a solid reputation among the folks I’ve spoken to about it so this is one that should be interesting.
– 100.1 proof (precisely)
– Made by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers
Rowan’s Creek walks a fine line between appearing charmingly amateur and looking cynically so. The simplicity and written-out sentences on the front labels don’t come across like marketing-department copy, but the intentionally roughed edges and stained coloring just seem to be trying a little too hard. The rear label also goes off on one of those origin tales that bother me about a judge and his creek way back in the good ole days. That said, there is a theme of unabashed and unrefined pride in the product throughout the packaging, which for some reason comes across like they mean it.
Otherwise, the bottle has a nice, more wine-like, shape and is topped off by a simple wax sealing.
There’s a nice big nose on this one: I get sweet peaches, hot bricks, dried grass, and a touch of the alcohol coming through. On the tongue, that dried grass comes through but the sweetness doesn’t express itself until mid-way in the form of an almost-raspberry. The last half of it is strong on the oak end of the spectrum with spikes of dark chocolate in there. The finish is long, warm, and still oaky. What’s most impressive about Rowan’s Creek though is the mouth feel. This has a luxurious full texture to it almost to the point of feeling syrupy.
Now that I’m a few sips into this one, I’m liking it more than when I wrote those words above. It is certainly developing over time in interesting ways. I like this quite a bit, but I think my expectations were a little high because it’s not quite what I’d hoped it would be. Oh well – I should enjoy it for what it is, a very good bourbon.
I’m a loyal fan to the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon series – every year I look forward to its release and each year it is surprising and interesting in a different way. However, I’ve somehow never managed to try their main release. Old Forester claims to be America’s first bottled bourbon, and if I remember my Cowdery correctly, this is a result of George Brown desiring to guarantee the quality of the ‘medicinal’ bourbon he sold. By bottling only the spirit from barrels that met his standards, his customers/patients could be assured that they were getting the good stuff by making sure to purchase his personally signed bottles.
At first glance the recently redesigned bottle in front of me makes some allusions to this history, hopefully it will measure up to its Birthday brethren.
– 86 proof
– Made by Brown-Forman
The Old Forester bottle has a simple, round, and reasonably tall base and a slightly bulbed neck leading to a small mouth. The front label is dominated by a red and cream diamond in the center with the brand name and the proclamation of being America’s first bottled bourbon. Behind this in pale gold script are some hyperbolic lines about the bourbon. In most cases this is nothing special, but on Old Forester it recalls the original use of bottles to convey the legitimacy of the product it contains. Just as George Brown presumably inscribed his bottles with descriptions of its quality – so too today. Over all the bottle looks fresh and appealing.
The nose on Old Forester is strong but smooth. The dominant scent is of sweet orange – almost like orange soda. Behind that is some combination of oatmeal, oak, and maybe cinnamon. That sweetness is not nearly as strong upon tasting. There is a spark of it at he very beginning, but it quickly flips to a dry grain and oak profile that disappears quickly leaving a light, oaky (with a touch of that spice) finish.
This certainly does not live up to the Birthday Bourbon releases, but that would really have been too much to expect for something at this price. I do wish that the flavor profile would have matched the far more appealing nose, though. I think this is not quite the type of bourbon I’d regularly sip on its own, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use it in my Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.
Four Roses Small Batch was one of the earliest bourbons I tasted for American Hooch and now I’ve come back to try their entry-level offering here in the US, the so-called ‘Yellow’. The Four Roses series is often described as a less aggressive, rounder bourbon in contrast to the the many big, oaky, charred offerings on the shelf. The Small Batch definitely lived up to that, here’s hoping that the lower-priced Yellow doesn’t mean significantly reduced quality.
– 80 proof
– Made by Four Roses Distillery (acquired a few years ago by Kirin)
The Four Roses Yellow packaging, like that of the Small Batch, has a bit of a feminine streak to it. This is likely a conscious choice to match the cognitive associations with roses, but it’s done in a very understated way: a story about a “Southern belle” on the rear label, the round edges of the bottle and labels, and – of course – the flowers.
They have done a good job of not over-doing it here. There are very few unnecessary flourishes in the script and the decoration consists of simply text and the four-rose logo. This is a good thing.
The nose is disappointingly shallow. It’s got Band-Aid and some honey-lemon in there and some sharp alcohol, but that’s about it. Not displeasing, but just not much.
On the palate, Yellow is definitely smooth. It’s also pretty fruit-driven with melon, lemon, and only the slightest bit of heat. The finish is almost non-existent making this seem like I’m drinking a very subdued cocktail instead of a straight bourbon.
There’s nothing fantastic about this bourbon, but nothing really wrong with it. It is pleasant and has a refreshing quality that you don’t see in most bourbons – so it’s got that going for it. For $20 though? Not too bad, especially if you’re new to bourbons.
The second of the Van Winkle line I’ve tried for this blog, Old Rip Van Winkle (107 proof variety) is one of the entry-level tiers of the esteemed line of bourbons that includes the famed Pappy Van Winkles. All the Van Winkles are wheated bourbons, so I’m expecting that softer edge to come through, but the extra aging (ten years total) might complicate that a bit.
Apologies for not providing my own photo here, the camera is having some battery trouble tonight.
– Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery
– 107 proof
This is definitely a package that pushes its old-timeyness to the forefront. Several different fonts adorn the front label, including an elaborate script that dominates most of the bottom half. These sorts of things usually get on my nerves, but it does avoid old-timey anonymity with the two charming storybook prints from the Rip Van Winkle tale that stand on either side of the front label. Old Rip asleep with his gun and and jug of booze make this packaging unique.
The back text, however, says nothing of substance or note and even describes the whiskey’s character as “great”.
The wood from its ten years in the barrel is very strong on the nose, but backed by a honeysuckle scent and a distant hint of smoke. When tasting it, the first impression is how strongly the high proof comes through – this is a hot one. Beyond that though, the wood character is prominent but balanced by a good amount black pepper and some of sweet apple peeking through at times. The finish is medium-long and peppery.
Once you get past its strength, this bourbon is quite good. It’s definitely something to sip slowly and I might even try it with an ice cube to tame the power a bit. Definitely not on the same level as the others in the Van Winkle family, but a something I’ll surely come back to.
Eagle Rare seems to have changed hands a few times in its history. Starting off in the ’70s as a Seagram brand, the bourbon is now in the hands of Buffalo Trace Distillery – and that’s a good thing considering they produce some of my favorites like W.L. Weller and Buffalo Trace. By all accounts this seems to be a classic bourbon aiming for a classy slot on the shelf yet comes in cheaper than I’d expected.
– Buffalo Trace Distillery
– 90 proof
The first descriptor that comes to mind for the Eagle Rare line’s packaging is ‘boring’. From the neat outlines of the bottle and labeling to the etched image of the eponymous bird, this bourbon does not excite much interest. It has something of the air of a scotch, but with just enough jingoistic hints to make it a disappointment. The text on the rear label doesn’t help much – it compares the liquor to both the Declaration of Independence and “a fine port wine”. Come now Eagle Rare, stand on your own legs. The best thing I have to say about the packaging is that they chose a nice foil with which to cover the cork – I do appreciate a good foil.
Let’s see what this distilled patriot of ours does in the glass.
ERSB smells immediately like almonds and leafy vegetation, but there’s a little must in there too. It’s a sweet scent over all and definitely not overpowering. All in all it has a pleasant nose and very smooth.
It’s a very different beast on the tongue however. All bright citrus and oak with a sunny disposition that lasts for a decent amount of time. That is a little strange now that I think about it, the finish is not so much spice or oak, but lemon-drop.
If anything, I would say that this is a summer time bourbon. I could drink it alongside a lemonade. Despite the disappointing packaging, the bourbon inside is pretty decent and seems priced about right in the $25 area. I do want to mix a cocktail with it rather than sip it though; might be best suited for an Old Fashioned.
It looks like I’m about a year late on this one particular bottle. Announced and released around this time last year, Jim Beam’s Distillers Series was supposedly available only through January 2009, but I managed to pick up a bottle at Astor place just last week. I was intrigued by the friendly price point right around $20 and since I’ve enjoyed most other Beam releases I’ve tried – Jim Beam Black being one of the better bangs for your buck. Then again, maybe there’s a reason this “limited” release is still on shelves a year after it hit them.
– Jim Beam Distilling Co.
– 90 proof
JB Distillers Series comes in the classic Beam bottle, but has done away with the classic paper label. Along the sides are six of the past distillers for Jim Beam: from Jacob Beam on the top left to Booker Noe at the bottom right. Right up front is the current distiller Fred Noe. Beside each miniature portrait is a brief, nostalgia laced biography.
Other than these portraits and biographies, there isn’t much. No description of the whiskey beyond the age. No old-timey flourishes. Nothing much but the clear glass bottle. One hopes that this is because they believe the contents need no introduction beyond sight, but really it seems they’re so singularly focused on their genealogy that they may have lost sight of what these men were actually making.
This is definitely a Jim Beam on the nose, but in a richer, sweeter way. I’m getting sap and honey in there with some dry oak.
On the tongue, this is much smoother than I’d expected and than most other Beam releases. There’s definitely that dry oak flavor to it and a sweet, warm finish. Up front there’s also a bit of hay or dry grass. I do get the sense that this is a little thin for all its smoothness, however.
This is not something that is particularly interesting or exciting, but it is quite good for its simplicity and smoothness. The best way to describe Jim Beam Distillers Series would be ‘austere’. The ultimate test for whether I like something is if I pour myself a second tasting as I finish the review, and this one certainly passes.
Well this is a new one for me. High West Distillery is a relatively new outfit from Utah – and is the first legal distillery to open in that state. It seems that while they’ve started distilling their own product, none of it has aged enough for their standards, so Rendezvous was created from two whiskeys distilled in Kentucky: a 6-year old rye and a 16-year old rye. This seems like a decent way to solve the problem of having to wait for the barrels to do their work before having anything to sell – this way High West has product on the shelves, paving the way for their own stuff. It also doesn’t hurt that their blend has won some accolades either. Let’s see what it’s like.
– Blended by High West Distillery
– 92 proof
Hmm. Rendezvous crosses just about every line of taste I’ve outlined in the past year plus on this blog. Two large paragraphs of text on the back, faux-aged type, Old-West rustic style bottle, and questionable claims to an authenticity-granting history.
Some quick research shows that High West ran into some trouble among the bourbon community for not being clearer that Rendezvous was not distilled, but only blended, by High West itself. I’m not sure how important this ultimately is so long as the end-product is good – but it is odd to try so hard with the packaging to grasp at historical and narrative authenticity while remaining a little shady on an actual issue of authenticity.
To the nose I get a sensation of pancakes and maples syrup as well as some citrus/orange. The mouth feel is pretty luxurious on this and this comes across right away. Over it all, there’s a bit of smoke lingering around. There’s a creamy taste to this that moves into a strong rye flavor with a bit of a tart bite to it at the end. The finish is reasonably long and quite spicy, which is a nice touch.
As I said before, Rendezvous goes against all my sensibilities when it comes to American whiskey packaging – but this is one of the better whiskeys I’ve tasted lately. The product itself is definitely impressive and I’ll come back to this one for sure. Let’s just hope they revamp their angle when it comes to presentation.