Tag Archives: Bourbon

Four Roses Yellow

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.

Stats:

– $20ish

– 80 proof

– Made by Four Roses Distillery (acquired a few years ago by Kirin)

Presentation:

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.

Tasting:

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.

Over all:

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.

Old Rip Van Winkle

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.

Stats:

– $30ish

– Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery

– 107 proof

Presentation:

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”.

Tasting:

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.

Over all:

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 Single Barrel

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.

Stats:

– $25ish

– Buffalo Trace Distillery

– 90 proof

Presentation:

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.

Tasting:

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.

Over all:

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.

Jim Beam Distillers Series

JB_distillersIt 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.

Stats:

– $20ish

– Jim Beam Distilling Co.

– 90 proof

Presentation:

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.

Tasting:

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.

Over all:

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.

High West Whiskey – Rendezvous

rendezvousWell 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.

Stats:

– $50ish

– Blended by High West Distillery

– 92 proof

Presentation:

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.

Tasting:

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.

Over all:

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.

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.