Tag Archives: Kentucky

Ridgemont Reserve 1792

1792 is named for the year that Kentucky became a state, but despite the 200+ year statement on the front of the bottle, this is a drink that at first look seems to strike a good balance between recognizing heritage and focusing on the contents of the bottle.

Presentation:

Beyond the central placement of 1792, only the heavy-wooden cap and the burlap ring around the neck lend 1792 a backward-looking air.  Yet even one of these (the burlap ring) manages to express heritage in a manner that is unique in the marketplace these days.

The rest of the presentation is refreshingly stark.  Very little copy on the front, clean lines on the edges, thick glass on the bottom, and a clear eschewal of old-timey script all make this bottle stand out on the shelf.  My biggest complaint is in the imitation hand-written label on the back.  Really, guys – you’re not fooling anyone with this stuff.  Either hand-label your bottles or don’t.  Pretending to be homey and individualized when you aren’t simply comes across as disingenuous.

Tasting:

One thing I really look for and enjoy is a good initial whiff when you first open a new bottle of bourbon.  This is the first impression the drink has a chance to make and it can often color the tasting to follow.

1792 has a great first-opening whiff that really gives a good sign of the bourbon to come.  The whiff is quite sweet, rounded, and largely unagressive – it’s appealing but leaves you with a curiosity about what’s deeper.

To the nose, 1792’s sweetness develops into a sensation of fresh fruit.  Beyond that is a wet grass and springtime air, very refreshing.

On the palate, 1792 is very smooth with a burst of sweet fruitiness at the end.  The finish is mild and warming, but with a very interesting pine and saltiness as a parting shot.  This saltiness is unlike anything I’ve tasted in other bourbons so far on my march through the category.  It reminds me, though, of a Talisker or Laphroaig – a bit of a kick at the end of an otherwise rounded whiskey.

Overall:

I usually enjoy punchier bourbons with several layers of flavors coming at you at once, but I have to admit that while 1792 does not do this at all, I still enjoyed it.  1792 is not all that complex but it is well rounded with simple yet full flavors.  That salty finish is really what sets it apart for me and adds a bit of a question mark at the end of a definitive statement.

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Booker’s

I went all-out with this week’s selection and tried Booker’s, which sits atop Jim Beam’s small batch bourbon series.  I quite enjoyed Knob Creek and was pleased with Jim Beam Black, so I figured I’d see what the best they have to offer is like.

Presentation:

To signify (or justify) the higher price tag and quality, Booker’s comes in a wine bottle.  Whether this is due to some naturally more graceful form or merely the association with the beverage of a pricier heritage, I’m not sure.  The top of the bottle is encased in black wax, covering a raised and tasseled ‘B’ at the base of the neck – a tasteful effect over all.

The marketing copy is short yet prominent.  The label is faux hand-written – one is to presume this is the posthumous hand of the titular Booker Noe himself.  Looks nice, but either hand label your bottles or don’t, splitting the difference just makes me think I’m not getting what you want me to think I’m paying for.

Additionally, there is a smaller label higher on the bottle with a specific age and proof statement (5 years, 5 months, 126.8 proof in my bottle’s case).  Seeing as this is a single-barrel expression, I’m fairly sure that this changes from bottle to bottle.

Despite my complaining about the fake hand-writing and wine associations, Booker’s does come across as appealingly simple over all.
Tasting:

To the nose, I could hardly tell that Booker’s was 126+ proof.  The nose was quite subtle and complex.  Mainly it was sweet in a molasses and maple sort of way, yet there were also intriguing elements of oak, vanilla, and buttercream.  Very appealing.

If I thought that Booker’s was easy on the nose, it was saving the full wallop of its proof for the palate.  It was very difficult to discern much of any flavor in the first sip as a result of the overwhelming alcohol.  The second sip revealed a bit more of what was behind the curtain, but it wasn’t until I added some water (which I rarely do) that the full flavor of Booker’s came through.

In it are notes of fresh baked bread, burnt sugar, the familiar Beam sweetness, buttercream and oak.  The finish begins spicy and fades into a grassy freshness.

Over all:

Booker’s is a very good bourbon.  There are flavors in it that I have never tasted in a bourbon before (buttercream mostly) that were a pleasant surprise.  I’m definitely glad that I own a bottle to bring out on special occasions, but ultimately the price tag makes this a prohibitive purchase for anyone who isn’t serious about their drink.

Jim Beam Black

Surely, one of the first bourbons I ever tasted was Jim Beam – probably the white label variety and probably with more attention paid to the effects of the drink than its characteristics, sadly.  This is a classic brand that has maintained its status as the standard for Kentucky bourbon for many years.  As a result, it’s difficult to look at a bottle of Jim Beam Black with a fresh and critical set of eyes.

Presentation:

JBB is aged 8 years – twice that of the white label and one year short of Beam’s Knob Creek.  The packaging strays little from the design of the mainline variety, sporting the familiar signature, family tree, red seal, and typeface.  The marketing copy on the side is relatively understated in both its description of the product as well as in the coy humility inserted at the end: “…we know a little about making exceptional bourbon.”

All in all, the packaging is what you expect from Jim Beam, it is one of the standards against which other whiskeys judge their appearance.  The grabs at nostalgia here seem more genuine than fetish-object: the signature at the bottom was introduced decades ago as a hedge against trademark infringement (forgery carrying a higher penalty than the infringement itself).

What can one really say about this bottle?

Tasting:

There is nothing overpowering in the nose of Jim Beam Black, nor is there anything overly complex.  Notes of floral sweetness, oak, and fruit present themselves and quietly retreat.

On the palate Black is much more assertive.  Immediately the corn-driven sweetness is prominent at first, followed by something akin to berries, fresh legumes, and char.  The finish is largely clean with a hint of lingering spice.

Over all:

The similarity between Jim Beam Black and Knob Creek is certainly clear, yet it seems that Knob Creek’s extra year in the barrel made significant difference in the product.  Black is punchier than Four Roses, more interesting than Bulleit, but falls short of Knob Creek in terms of depth and complexity.  Regardless, with the lower price, this would be a good buy.

Knob Creek

After last week’s screed against nostalgia-based marketing, I chose a bourbon that relies less on grandfather-distillers of yore and focuses more on stuff their grandchildren are making today.

Presentation:

Knob Creek’s marketing material on the bottle is refreshingly contemporary, while not completely eschewing references to less mechanized times. They use sans-serif fonts, irregular angles, and intersecting text while making nod to the past with the wax-sealed top and the singular serrated label edge. The bottle text does not speak of ancient recipes or generations old practices, rather it focus on the care that goes into the product itself: 9-year aging, small batch, straight bourbon.

The one deceiving element, however, is the fact that this presentation would have you believe that Knob Creek is a small-time craft distiller, when in fact it’s an arm of Jim Beam and created on the same stills with similar methods.

Tasting:

Opening the bottle releases a sweet whiff of post-rain freshness, but the real fireworks start after it’s poured. The nose definitely tells you this is an assertive drink – definitely 100 proof: warm, wet asphalt, oak, hard candy.

Knob Creek is even less subtle on the palate. It comes in swinging with sweetness and and almost-citrusy tartness. This is followed by a fruity, meaty depth you can sink your teeth into. It finishes long and slow with spice mellowing into a lingering oak.

Over all:

This is a very assertive drink and equally enjoyable. The extra few years in the barrel seem to have done a lot of good. Knob Creek is perhaps the first bourbon I’ve tasted in the course of this blog that could go head-to-head with many single malt scotches as far as complexity and meatiness go.

Definitely my favorite so far.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

buffalo traceI chose Buffalo Trace as the inaugural spirit for this blog on the recommendation of one of the employees at LeNell’s, here in Brooklyn. It was described to me as a no-nonsense, and relatively muscular burbon, but after tasting it, the picture turned out to be a bit more complicated.

Presentation:

Buffalo Trace relies heavily on a sense of American national nostalgia to sell its product. From the faux-ripped label, to the back label’s tedious reliance on adjectives such as “bold,” “mighty,” “pioneering,” “tradition,” handcrafted,” and “confident,” this is not a marketing strategy that sees fit to engage in subtlety. The buyer is supposed to imagine himself (it is not geared toward the feminine) as returning to a hardier, purer time when the art of crafting liquor was imperfect yet honored, there were buffalo in Kentucky, and bold men made mighty spirits.

I’m a sucker for nostalgia as much as the next guy, but c’mon BT, ease up a bit.

Tasting:

Upon first opening the bottle there was an immediate wave of vanilla – sweet and clean. An interesting way for such a “mighty” drink to begin.

When drinking, the first bits of character I noticed were a sweetness, wet earth, and what could only be called meaty oak. There was plenty of substance to it, but a much gentler introduction than I had expected.

The finish was surprisingly clean but with a bit of a lingering sensation of post-rain spring air, a bit of char, and an almost-floral quality. I was not expecting that in the least. Add a little water and the almost-floral character becomes dominant.

Thoughts:

I was really surprised by this bourbon. I was expecting a rough-and-tumble whiskey with a healthy whack of (perhaps complex) flavor. In fact, it was far more subtle and gentle, presenting an earthier and friendlier over all character.

I wouldn’t say that Buffalo Trace is lacking in strength, rather it surprised me in the depth it displayed beyond the traditional bourbon character.

The presentation and marketing irks me a little, playing into the idea that whiskies must represent the past to vodka’s future. Ultimately, the marketing material on the bottle serves mostly to corner the drink into a limiting category of national nostalgia when in fact it seems to be eschewing older definitions of bourbon and looking toward new possibilities – as evidenced by the apparent critical acclaim.

This was a good whiskey to begin this blog.