Tag Archives: Whiskey

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.

Death’s Door Whisky

deathsdoorwhiskyThe more I look into it online, the more I’m thinking I’m lucky to have got my hands on a bottle of Death’s Door Whisky.  First of all, the spirit isn’t mentioned at all on the company website and second, according to their blog it seems they have little distribution beyond the Midwest.  Well, I thank Astor Wines & Spirits for getting it in stock!  That said, the reason I’ve been frequenting Astor of late is because my usual go-to shop, LeNell’s, had been on something of a hiatus.  To my great disappointment, that hiatus became permanent not too long ago.  We’ll all miss you, LeNell, come back to Brooklyn any time!  …and Astor better start stocking some more new and interesting stuff like this Death’s Door because I’ve just about had everything there.

Back to the subject at hand.  What makes DDW stand out above all else is the fact that it’s clear.  Its description at the store says it has been aged in steel drums, then for a day or two in oak casks, but nothing more.  This has me expecting something only slightly less harsh than the fresh-off-the-still taste of something like Georgia Moon.  Where it could differ though is in the fact that it’s made with a 100% wheat mash, which I could see softening some of the sharper edges you’d see in a fresh corn whiskey – but still-fresh is still-fresh no matter what the mash.  We’ll see.

Stats:

– in the $40-50 range

– Made by Death’s Door Distillery

– 80 proof

Presentation:

Ah, beautiful simplicity.  If you’ve read a few of my past entries, you’ll know that one of my frequent complaints about whiskeys are their over-done label design.  Death’s Door takes the radically opposite approach with their clear bottle, clear label sticker, and absolutely minimal use of text.  The only adornment is their double D logo.  Otherwise the vessel serves only to tell the whiskey aisle shopper that its contents is indeed clear and still a whiskey.

In certain contexts this minimalism could be interpreted as pretense, but sitting on the table in my apartment, it just looks clean and serious.

Tasting:

Yep, as you might expect, this smells like fresh distillate.  The harshness is a little muted from what its peak no doubt was, but I don’t know whether to chalk that up to bringing it down to 80 proof, the brief aging period, or both.  Difficult to make out anything particularly wheaty like you might whiff in something like Bernheim.  Generally a pleasant nose though.

When drinking, the first sensation is sweet and dry: raspberries and the smell of sun-bleached driftwood.  There’s a good deal of warmth on the palate for something this young and it’s surprisingly smooth.  The berry/driftwood sense continues throughout, then fades into a slightly bitter, short-lived finish.

Over all:

This is a good one.  Definitely a change of pace from your usual  line-up of brown liquors and surprisingly different from the Georgia Moons of the world.  As for how to drink it, putting it on the rocks might mute the more delicate flavors beyond repair, but adding a drop or two of simple syrup and some mint might not be a bad idea to compliment DDW’s strengths.  It’s not an all time favorite, but I have to say I’m impressed what they’ve done to make an enjoyable white whiskey and it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s cabinet if they’re looking for something that’s a change of pace.