Category Archives: Bourbon

Elmer T. Lee

I bought this bottle in the same trip as last week’s Wathen’s and I can’t say it wasn’t because they use the same bottle.  Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel is named for the Master Distiller Emeritus of the Buffalo Trace distillery – supposedly having selected the barrels for this bottling himself.  This alone sets the expectations pretty high (especially considering the price), let’s see if it lives up.

elmertlee

Stats:

-$25ish

– Made by Buffalo Trace

– 90 proof

Presentation:

As previously noted, the bottle is the same fat-upright rectangle of the Wathen’s bottle with slight indents on the side for grips.  Elmer T. Lee, however accentuates the bourbon inside with a fully clear front label that contains on the the basic descriptive text.  Through the contents, one can see a line-portrait of an old man – one who I would guess to be Mr. Lee himself.

The back label has only a very short description, telling us that Mr. Lee has fifty years of experience and that he selected the bourbon for this bottle.  Nice and simple.

Tasting:

Sweet and smooth to the nose: grape juice, dried leaves, and a bit of pine resin.  Very pleasant.

On the tongue, that pine resin with a bit less of the dried leaves and a different sweetness – almost a tart blackberry.  ETL starts quiet, then bursts into a bright climax with that berriness, and smoothly descends into a medium strength vanilla finish.

Over all:

I could imagine I’ll reach for this with some frequency given the low price and high availability, traits that don’t often accompany a bourbon of this quality.  I’m not saying this is the best I’ve had, but it’s interesting enough, easy enough, and definitely tasty.

Wathen’s Single Barrel

wathensWathen’s was a new one for me when I saw it on the shelf a few weeks ago.  I’d never even heard of this brand which claims to be the product of “whiskey’s royal family”.  A little digging on Google reveals a ten-year old string of postings on Straight Bourbon in which Chuck Cowdery and some others discuss the arrival of this new bourbon – so apparently I’m a bit late to the game.

Wathen’s seems to have an interesting and typically complicated (for bourbon) history as a brand, having been the result of distilleries being bought, sold, closed, and revived.  In the end however, we have Wathen’s on the shelf of a New York City liquor store, where I got my hands on a bottle from barrel number 841.

There is no age statement on this one with the exception of the statement of the bourbon-making family’s age (eight generations / 250 years).  This worries me a bit, not knowing what I’m getting into, but I’ll hope for the best.

Stats:

– $40ish

– Made by the Charles Medley Distillery

– 94 proof

Presentation:

Wathen’s comes in a rectangular bottle whose height is approximately twice the width – this gives it a slight squat look.  The sides are marked with indented grips, and the neck is short and thin.  The labels are made of a rough brown-paper-bag style material and adorned with the image of a barrel over which the name and family’s distinguished age is declared.  At the bottom is a short note from C. Medley himself, assuring the reader that the contents of the bottle are from a barrel which he himself has selected.

The bottle also includes an informational tag that’s filled with the familiar familial chest-puffing of bourbons.  We have here whiskey royal family, I’m led to believe.

Tasting:

On the nose it’s a soft, dry wheat and bananas for the most part.  There’s something of a burnt-pine deep at the center of it.  Also, while taking these whiffs, I can’t help but note the fine legs on this bourbon, I’m expecting a quite velvety texture here.

At first on the tongue, Wathen’s comes across with a crisp cherry, then oddly I get a bit of that dried/burnt pine sensation going on in the background.  There’s a touch of that banana there as well, but very slight compared with the scent.  The finish is long, slow and warm.

Over all:

For some reason ‘crisp’ is the word that keeps coming to mind in describing Wathen’s.  My fears about the age turned out to be unfounded: however long it sat in that barrel, that was the right time.  I can see myself pulling this off my shelf from time to time, it’s not overly complicated, but there’s a subtlety behind that crispness which I enjoy.

Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel

rockhillBack in full health and back into bourbon blogging – with a well regarded single barrel no less in Rock Hill Farms.

I think I may have tried one this a few months ago when checking out a (then) new bar in my neighborhood which was rumored to have an extensive bourbon menu.  While the bourbon listing was a little diappointing compared to my lofty expectations, I do recall seeing Rock Hill there and at least discussing it with the bartender, if not drinking it.  Either way, I’ve got a bottle of it with me now so I can give it a fresh eye.

From a little internet-research, it seems Rock Hill Farms is produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery, and that’s a good thing.  Buffalo Trace is one of the more forward-looking producers these days, or at least their numerous experimental varieties often seem to make their way into my path every now and then with pleasing results.  Without any further delay, here we go.

Stats:

$40-45

– 100 proof

– Made by Buffalo Trace

Presentation:

The Rock Hill Farms bottle really tries to get across the familiar/cliched sense of Kentucky class.  On the one hand, the short square bottle, rounded top corners, and large glass bulb for the stopper make this a bottle that implies it should be placed in a display case.  The gold-painted, etched-glass illustrations of horses trotting about, on the other hand, place this bourbon firmly among the bluegrass.

There is nothing in the way of descriptive text on the bottle, just the gold and the horses.  Presumably the bottle is supposed to speak for itself.  I appreciate this in as far as I find most descriptive text on whiskey bottles to be tiresome at best, but there’s also something a little conceited about the whole presentation.  We’ll see if it lives up to it.

Tasting:

A very pleasant nose to this one – smooth, a bit of maple, and wood that’s been out in the sun for a few years.  On tasting it, there’s a very full mouth feel and pretty heavy wood right off the bat.  This really lingers on the tongue for a while and develops into a buttered popcorn then a touch of butterscotch and ending with a hint of fresh-cut grass, but really not very sweet for a bourbon.

Over all:

Fortunately, Rock Hill Farms is not nearly as woody as the Elijah Craig single barrel I tasted a while ago.  It is definitely not messing around though.  This is a luxurious bourbon with a very full flavor that sticks with you for a while.  It’s not my favorite, but it’s definitely going to find its way into my glass again.

Hirsch Selection – Small Batch Reserve

Lost my camera again...apologies.
Lost my camera again...apologies.

The Hirsch Selection Small Batch Reserve is the cheaper offering of a Hirch Small Batch trio that includes a 25 year old and a 28 year old.  Given that the other two are $270 and $450, this is really the only one within the range of affordability.  I have yet to taste something worth that much, frankly.

This particular variation of Hirsch is not the most common when you run a Google search, returning mostly wine and liquor store listings.  What that implies is not clear, but usually there are a few more blog entries, a Wikipedia article, and an official website at the very least.  This one came up nearly empty.

Let’s get down to it.

Stats:

– $35

– 92 proof

– Made by ???

Presentation:

The Hirsch bottle is simple, steady, and not unlike the Russell’s Reserve Rye bottle.  The label’s background has faint script lettering from some supposed document singing the praises of the Hirsch bourbons.  It’s unclear exactly what the sentences are but they involve words like “…25 years…” and “…every drop!” so it must be something written by a marketing department.

Above the faded paean for Hirsch bourbon is a five-star logo, some red, white, and blue ribbons and the name.  Fairly straight forward over all.  The back is fille with some dull text from Preiss Imports, but otherwise doesn’t even attempt to follow the motifs of the front label.

Tasting:

Very clean on the nose.  There’s something bitter lingering there…tar?…algae?  Not entirely pleasant, but very muted as to be almost unoticable.

On the palate there’s a good bit of burned sugar, dark raspberry, over all pretty bright and with something salty in there.  Medium finish, but quite warm.

Over all:

There’s a decent amount going on here and it improves with a few drops of water.  That said, for the same price you could probably get something a little better.  It’s pretty clear that this little guy is trying to ride on the coat tails of his elder brothers, the 25 and 28 year olds.

Rebel Yell

Where to start with Rebel Yell?  How about with this picture from their website:

Picture 1…or this one:

Picture 2You have to give Rebel Yell credit for avoiding the usual bourbon stereotypes of old men with their heirloom recipes and magic touch.  Instead they’ve gone with a different motif, but stereotypical no less: the romanticized (Southern) Male Outcast figure.  The Rebel Yell website is festooned with these tropes and often ends up focusing on this ‘rebel’ image more than the whiskey itself.

As for the whiskey itself – it’s a wheated bourbon that traces its roots to the WL Weller family in 1849 – though the name has only been around since 1949.

Stats:

– $14-20

– 80 proof

– Made by Luxco at the Bernheim Distillery

Presentation:

Compared to the website, the Rebel Yell bottle is pretty restrained.  Instead of steely glares from unshaven men, we have old-timey lettering, Confederate iconography, and the tiny image of a horse and its Confederate general rider.

The back label text begins with hilarious attempted-masculinity in the words “Unique.  Commanding.  Unforgettable.”  OK, Rebel Yell, I get it.

Tasting:

Quite a powerful nose on this one: freshly cut grass, marachino, and canvas.  Not as much of the harsh liquor scent I as expecting.  Tasting is a bit of a different experience.  The dominant flavor is mostly salty from start to finish.  Really, this is a strong saltiness that sticks around.  After a while you can tease out some raisin flavors, but then right back to salty.  The finish has some sense of tobacco.

Over all:

I can’t say that I was disappointed with Rebel Yell  This is better than something along the lines of a Cabin Still in that its flavor is pretty intense, but I wouldn’t reach for this on a regular basis.

Cabin Still

cabinstillApologies for the poor picture-quality, I still can’t find the charger for my camera battery.

I made a trip to Astor Place this weekend to pick up my next few bottles.  Catching my eye down there at the bottom shelf was Cabin Still with its bright yellow label and trying-too-hard name, so I put it in the basket along with my other selections and hoped for the best.  At $10.99, that’s not hard to do.

Further investigation revealed that Cabin Still is a Heaven Hill product, which bodes well.  Let’s see how this goes.

Stats:

– $10-12

– Made by Heaven Hill

– 80 proof

Presentation:

That yellow label is the most distinctive element of the Cabin Still bottle.  The centerpiece is a print of a copper pot still framed by the phrases “Hand Made” and “Sour Mash”.  The main text of “Cabin Still” is in a font that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, but it – along with the decorative swirls around the edges – highlights the almost goofy character of the design.  It has taken the idea of the bourbon bottle and taken it to cartoonish lengths.

As much as I get fed up with the over-reliance on nostalgia in American whiskey packaging, I find myself more amused than frustrated.  I especially like after thought of a red stripe in the top red corner.

Tasting:

To the nose Cabin Still is sweet, medicinal, and a bit of new car smell.  On the palate, CS is barely there.  It starts off with a watery grain and under-aged sort of profile then drops into a faint char and a slight pepper on the finish.

Over all:

Cabin Still is nothing to write home about.  I’ve had worse as parts of bourbon & cokes before, but I don’t think I’ll be sipping this on its own any time soon.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey

fgbI met Ralph Erenzo – co-founder of Tuthilltown Spirits – at a tasting at Fermented Grapes this weekend. I’ve tasted TS’s barley Single Malt before and I’ve been curious about their Four Grain Bourbon more or less since.  So, after tasting some of TS’s apple vodka and Baby Bourbon (as well as a pleasant conversation with Ralph) I took home a bottle.

Stats:

– $35-40
– 92 proof
– Made by Tuthilltown Spirits

Presentation:

As I’m sure I wrote before with the Single Malt, Tuthilltown Spirits squat little bottle with wax-dipped top is attractive for its lack of affect and medicine-bottle look, while avoiding the kitch and nostalgia of other American whiskies.  My only complaint is the wordiness of the paragraph on the back, which belies the rest of the packaging’s simplicity.

Tasting:
On the nose FGB is very muted.  There’s a bit of spicy, pepperiness from the rye as well as a sweet maple syrup scent.

The first sip enters smoothly and sweet, then develops a full-mouth grainy, grassy taste.  It’s here where it reveals some youth though (it’s aged less than a year in small barrels) and a little tartness, but it slowly moves into a medium-length peppery finish.

Over all:
Tuthilltown’s Four Grain Bourbon is pleasantly full.  If I didn’t know it had been aged less than a year (Mr. Erenzo let that out) I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess.  I’m looking forward to what they produce in the future.