Tag Archives: Whiskey

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.


– in the $40-50 range

– Made by Death’s Door Distillery

– 80 proof


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.


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.


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.



– 100 proof

– Made by Buffalo Trace


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.


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.


– $35

– 92 proof

– Made by ???


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.


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.


– $14-20

– 80 proof

– Made by Luxco at the Bernheim Distillery


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.


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.

Gentleman Jack

gentlemanjackI feel a little like I’m going about this wrong – writing about Gentleman Jack before the standard Jack Daniels.  Gentleman Jack is the middle offering in the Jack Daniel’s, Gentleman Jack, and Jack Daniels Single Barrel, so it would seem natural to start with the first rung of the ladder.  Unfortunately, college provided me with too many tasting experiences of the standard Jack Daniel’s to be as unbiased as I’d like.  The Gentlemanly variety, then, provides something of a fresh start for this popular brand.

The difference between GJ and JD seems to be only that the whiskey is charcoal filtered twice instead of once.  Presumably this will make it a little smoother.  There’s also no age statement, providing them with some flexibility with this line.


– $30 – 40

– 80 proof

– Made by Jack Daniel’s


Gentleman Jack’s bottle has a wide-set shoulder, with a slight slope on the way down to the base.  The front sports a silver label emblazoned with its name and the descriptor “Rare Tennessee Whiskey”.  Beneath this, embossed on the glass is Jack’s signature.  Otherwise, the bottle is pretty clean and simple, showing off the stuff inside.


Gentleman Jack is very sweet to the nose – corn, fresh grass, and reasonably strong oak.  It is indeed very smooth, clean start to clean finish.  In the middle, though, there’s a bit of a crunchy, grainy aspect that fodes quickly to a warm char on the roof of the mouth.

Over all:

Gentleman Jack is – as advertised – quite smooth.  Unfortunately, there’s not too much else going on in there.  I’ll give this a try with some cocktails and see how it holds up.  In the end, however, this probably won’t be making too many appearances for me.

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.


– $30-35

– 90 proof

– Mady by Austin, Nichols (Wild Turkey)


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.


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.

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.


– $10-12

– Made by Heaven Hill

– 80 proof


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.


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.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

stranasI apologize to my readers for the recent lull in my posting schedule.  I spent ten days down in Austin then another ten recovering – in not much of a mood for liquor.  The blog may have also experienced some down-time lately, hopefully that should be fixed now.  This week, however, I have something a little different: a “Colorado whiskey” – namely Stranahan’s.

Anyone who has read this blog before might have noticed that I like to cheer on whiskies that originate from outside the Kentucky/Tenessee region.  I like to imagine that the further one gets from the heart of bourbon production, the more willing one is to experiment with production.  While this is blatantly not true – with the wonderful experimentation going on in Kentucky and some traditional products coming from elsewhere – it’s at least an interesting draw into new ground for me.

Stranahan’s is made like a bourbon, except with an all-barley mash instead of a corn-centric one, and aged a “minimum” of two years.  Let’s see how it pans out.



– 94 proof

– Made by Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey


The large metallic silver top defines this bottle’s appearance.  It may look like a shot glass and/or serving suggestion, but at this price point, I hope that’s not the case.  Otherwise the steeply angled labeling is simple, with an emphasis on hand-marking.  The background is faux aged and the descriptive paragraph very short.  One appealing aspect is the “Comments” section of the label where “listening to the Pogues” is written in, a charming addition if it’s genuine. These guys might just be small enough for that to be real.


To the nose Stranahan’s comes across with hot asphalt, watermelon, honey, and salty ocean wind.  The latter two Scotch-like notes are probably a result of their common use of barley.  The scent is smooth and without any significant alchohol character to it.

Tasting it again draws likeness to Scotch.  It opens with a big, bright lemony sensation that falls back into a dandelion bitterness that lingers for a bit before fading into a long, dry, warm finish that never really releases that first lemon aspect.

Over all:

I am impressed with Stranahan’s.  If you like your sweet bourbons you won’t be too pleased here since the barley doesn’t have that kind of sugary character, but it is different from any other American whiskey I’ve had lately – in a good way.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky

wasmundsI picked up Wasmund’s at Astor Place last week because it is a non-bourbon American whiskey that I’ve never heard of before.  That intrigues me.  I’m always looking for people who are innovating and trying new things in the spirits industry here in the US, even if that means attempting to recreate another nation’s approach, as the “single malt” moniker implies.

Another intriguing element of Wasmund’s is its age of…wait for it…four months.  Four months!  There I was, looking at a bottle filled with brown whiskey that’s four months old?  At the very least, this would be an experience similar to Georgia Moon or perhaps last week’s brandy, both young spirits.  At best, the creator had worked some distillation magic and produced a fine, but extremely young drink.  Either way, it would be interesting.



– Made by Copper Fox Distillery

– 96 proof


Wasmund’s label is nothing special.  It displays its name in bold red letters at its curved top, below which are depicted an axe & chopping block (having recently chopped some wood chips), a copper pot still, and a trio of casks.  In no fewer than four more fonts, the label describes where it’s from, that it’s non chill-filtered, that it’s a single malt whisky (no ‘e’), and that it’s falvored and colored with applewood, cherrywood, and oak.  In the background there’s a stylized fox.

There are too many fonts to allow me to enjoy this label.  The color scheme (red, black, tan) is attractive enough, and – individually – the graphic elements are passable, but over all it comes across as cluttered and unfocused.  They would be better off focusing on the fox logo as a central element and cutting down the font-madness.

I have seen worse, however.

On the back label, creator Rick Wasmund makes the case for his whisky.  He describes following a traditional Scottish method, except replacing peat with fruit woods: interesting.  He also says that the spirit is aged in casks along with wood chips: that explains the mere four months of aging!

Aging with wood chips is a common practice amon home-distillers who lack access to proper casks to mature their product, but I can’t recall any other commercial brand that uses this practice.  In theory it makes a lot of sense: whiskeys reach maturity as a result of its contact with the wood, therefore if you increase the exposed surface area of wood, you wll reach maturity faster.  Having been founded only in 2000, Copper Fox is a young operation, and most likely saw this method as a way to bring the product to the market in a shorter time frame – namely, four months.

Clever.  Whether or not this turns out well, I applaud Mr. Wasmund for his willingness to experiment and question orthodoxies in the American whiskey industry.  We need more people trying more methods in order to stay relevant and to push our industry further.


To the nose, Wasmund’s is largely made up of smoke, rubber, wood, and alcohol.  The wood scent is not the familiar oak; this must be the apple and cherry woods described.  Yet, the youth of this whiskey comes through in the harsh alcohol scent that accompanies it.

On tasting, the prominent sensation is something like salt cod, beyond which lies that non-oak wood, a bit of smoke, and a general impression of the ocean.  The finish is long, hot, and peppery.

This is surpisingly mature for a four (!) month old whiskey, but still clearly young.  The flavors come and go with a speed and clarity that belies their variety and its heat, if nothing else, betrays its youth.

It is also definitely in the Scotch style.  That oceanic sensation is a reflection of this, perhaps owing to the smoking of the barley before fermentation.

Over all:

This is not my favorite whiskey.  It is, however, a good effort at breaking the accepted practices of whiskey making in America.  We should judge practices like aging with wood chips by the spirits they produce, rather than by the processes we are familiar with. In that light, though they are far from where they could be, I encourage Mr. Wasmun in his efforts, and hope to see other varieties from Copper Fox soon.

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.


– Probably a few dollars by itself

– Made by the folks a Jim Beam

– 107 proof


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.


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.