Tag Archives: small batch

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.

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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.

On Wine vs. Whiskey & Russell’s Reserve Rye

russellsreserveryeIf you missed me last week, that’s because I was traveling about France, doing very little in the way of tasting American liquors – bourbon especially.  In fact, I managed only one type of liquor over there: a single Calvados whose name I don’t even recall.  Instead, I did what I could to get a taste of the wine world, and in particular, I delved into the world of Burgundies.  Thanks, in large part to David and Lynne.

Naturally, there is quite a bit different between the philosophies of distillers and vintners, but at times I was surprised at the gap between the two.  For instance, the concept of a “single barrel” wine is simply not in the picture for vintners – and this really points to the larger issue at hand: everything that occurs after the harvest of the grapes is important to do correctly, but largely inconsequential to the end product.  With whiskeys on the other hand, where and how the grain is grown bears little importance in the final product and the artistry lies in the post-harvest crafting.  Very interesting to think about, and one would imagine the two worlds might have a bit to learn from each other.

Now that I’m back in my dear States United, however, I’m good and ready to dive back into the good stuff – built from grain, aged in oak.

And what better welcome back into the country than a bit of Russell’s Reserve Rye?  I met Jimmy Russell himself at a tasting at the Brandy Library a few months ago, where he poured me a few of the “Russell” branded Wild Turkey offerings including this very one – though the drink’s subtleties were probably lost in Jimmy’s charming conversation.

So with that, I’m going to give this one a proper American Hooch eye and see what it has to offer.

Stats:

– $30-35

– 90 proof

– Mady by Austin, Nichols (Wild Turkey)

Presentation:

Russell’s Reserve Rye comes in what can only be described as a straight-forward bottle.  Everywhere you look it has clean edges, straight lines, and bold lettering.  The label is an aporximately one-inch thick, four-inch high, vertical strip at the bottom of the bottle declaring the basic information that what you have before you is “Small Batch 6 Year Old Kentuck Straight Rye Whiskey,” with a small monochrome photo of a barrel beneath a window.  Above that, printed on the bottle is the product name and a raised glass signature, and the bottle is topped off with a pale wooden cap that is adorned only in its modest height and simplicity.

The text on the back does bring a bit of out-of-place adornment, praising Jimmy and his son Eddie as “America’s premier whiskey makers” and awarding their own product as “the perfect 6 year old rye.”  There’s nothing wrong with pride in many circumstances, but here it belies the classy no-nonsense approach to the design of the rest of the bottle.

Tasting:

RRR has a very attractive and surprisingly deep scent to it.  It starts with fresh-baked bread and moves into a fruit-sweet, fresh-cut grass tainted by charcoal note.  This very much reminds me of warmer weather and Sunday afternoons.

It is not nearly as smooth on the tongue however, with all the elements of rye (and its high proof) bursting through right away.  Along with the initial brightness though, there’s a creamy, almond flavor to it.  As this fades into the fairly sweet finish, the almond aspect develop into a dominant note with touches of the rye-driven bitterness creeping in on the sides.

There’s a lot going on here.

Over all:

This is a very well crafted whiskey.  It hits all the points that I usually enjoy, especially the sweet/bitter contrast that plays so nicely.  I could also see this making an excellent Old Fashioned – as long as you kept the recipe as simple as possible so as to take advantage of the bright almond notes in Russell’s Reserve Rye.

Very well done.

Baker’s (mini-bottle)

bakersMy little brother was thoughtful enough to give me a sampler for Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection over the holidays, so I saw this as a perfect time to complete my reviews of this line by tasting Baker’s.  (You can find the other’s here: Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker’s)

What does it mean that I’m reviewing something in its mini-bottle form?  Honestly, I’m not too certain either.  Sure, this didn’t make it into the full-bottle batch and this can’t be experienced in the same way that the full bottle could; on the other hand, its the same stuff inside and it seems that Beam has taken great care with the miniature versions of their Small Batch Collection.

Stats:

– Probably a few dollars by itself

– Made by the folks a Jim Beam

– 107 proof

Presentation:

While it’s difficult to judge a bourbon’s bottling when in mini-bottle form, the small batch collection minis do seem to hold largely true to their bigger-bottle form.  Knob Creek mini has its distinctive angular form and Basil Hayden mini has its tall, distinguished proportions.  Baker’s and Booker’s bottles are given a tear-drop form that is only mildly reminiscent of their actual shape, but represent a valiant effort in miniaturization, regardless.

I do remember liking the Baker’s distinctive capital B and use of type during visits to the bar and the mini-bottle uses this same motif to only slightly more confusing effect (the capital ‘B’ is right next to the ‘B’ in “Baker’s” making it look like “BBaker’s”.)

Lines and fills are ever so slightly rough and overly bold in order to mimic an old letter press and come in varying typefaces.  One edge of the label is serrated while the others are smooth.  All in all, this comes across as the older brother of Knob Creek.  Not afraid to stray from the yarns of long-dead grandfathers that adorn other bourbons, but not dispatching with a sense of history over all.

Tasting:

Very upfront nose.  Citrus, grass, roasted almond, fresh cherry.  There is very little subtlety about this aroma, but it is pleasant and un-astringent for a 100+ proofer.

On tasting it’s sweet, with some notes of oats and citrus, finishing with a nice lingering warmth and some tanginess, this settles into a vanilla-and-smoke after a while.

Over all:

Baker’s is not shy.  It is bright for the most part and settles into something a little more subdued over time.  I actually like this one quite a bit – and it may even be my favorite of the small batch collection from Beam.  That said, it also is the one that reminds me the most of Jim Beam black – and that’s not a bad thing in my book.

I’ll have to pick up a full-sized edition when I get a chance.

Virginia Gentleman 90, small batch

Virginia Gentleman is perhaps the best known non-Kentucky bourbons, yet this distinction is only partly true since the Smith Bowman distillery takes new distillate from Buffalo Trace (in Kentucky) then distills it for a 3rd time at their Virginia location, where it is also barreled and aged. I suppose that’s good enough.

Presentation:

VG90 is the small batch, premium expression of the brand. The bottle is dominated by gold – in the waxed neck, the labels, and the text – but otherwise attempts to exude a subdued, genteel dignity. This is expressed with the spare descriptive text on the back and the prominent fox hunt painting that serves as the primary branding imagery on the front. The bottle itself is an attractive and simple shape that draws the eye toward the action in the label.

Tasting:

The most impressive elements of Virginia Gentleman 90 were the initial scent when opening the bottle and its impression on the nose after pouring. To the nose it has a strong yet smooth character. It is assertive in its presence, but not in its character, built with scents of kettle corn, sea-breeze, and wet grass. I really quite enjoyed this aspect which sets the table for the actual tasting.

On the palate VG90 is very smooth, yet a little boring. After an initial sweetness that vaguely hints at caramel and pineapple, comes a rather neutral warmth and a clean finish. I spent a good amount of time trying to chase down further depths but to no avail.

Over all:

Virginia Gentleman 90 made an impressive opening to the nose, but on the palate is was smooth yet dull. I have to admit that I enjoyed it though. This is an excellent bourbon to bring out for company and folks who aren’t going to be up for the intricacies of something more complex. True to its theme Virginia Gentleman manages to express a subdued, genteel dignity both in vision and character.

Bernheim Original

When it comes to wheat whiskey there’s usually one name that comes to mind above most others – Bernheim. So this week I finally took the plunge and gave it a serious look.

Presentation:

Bernheim does a great job with their bottle. It manages to be classic, classy, and simple all at once. IT doesn’t strive for some false American-whiskey past that other do. It seems to say, “we let out whiskey do the talking.”

The bottle is less than two inches in depth and uses minimal labeling. One side sports a faux-aged sticker with some text, but this is blissfully out of the way. Otherwise the main descriptive elements are the heavy copper-colored name plaque in the center of the bottle front, and the design of the bottle which lets light pass pleasingly through the yellow-amber colored liquid.

Focus here is on the drink and its attractive qualities rather than any semi-truthful origin stories. That’s the way it should be.

Tasting:

The nose is mostly mild, with hints of honey, dry grass, and hazelnut coming through. The honey is very much what I expected – the hazelnut is a bit of a surprise.

To the palate Bernheim absolutely screams “wheat!” when you first take it in. This quickly transforms into notes of unexpected spice, nuts, and green apples. Really quite complex, but not slow at all in its development. The flavors themselves may not be to aggressive, but they develop as though chased by hellhounds.

This turns into a lingering, pleasing spiciness.

Over all:

Bernheim is definitely not what I expected it to be. I was thinking I’d find a mild honey-driven whiskey, but instead was confronted by a hyper-active, but no less interesting drink with some surprising spice.

One thing that I found a little odd was how at points it reminded me of Glenfiddich – mostly at the height of its green-appley moments.

Quite a fine whiskey.

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.