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Spirits Reviews Taste Test Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Taste Test: Bourbons from $25 to $50

We conducted the second round of our bourbon taste test last weekend. The whiskeys this time all had a suggested retail price of between $25 and $50. (Our first Bourbon Taste Test featured bourbons under $25.) As was the case last time, some of the samples were provided by the distilleries and some were from my own cabinet.

The whiskeys were all tasted blind, so the participants didn't know which bourbon they were drinking. (I poured the glasses, so I had a vague idea of which order a couple of them were in, but I was very close to unaware.)

We tasted eight whiskeys, all Kentucky straight bourbons, ranging in proof from 80 to 120. The prices ranged from $29 to $40. The whiskeys were all drunk neat. With the exception of one, all of them were better than average, and the overall quality was higher than in the first tasting.

You can see the line-up in the photo below.

Bourbons
The bourbons were split into two groups of four, with a short break in between the two groups. Each whiskey was tasted in a 1/2 ounce serving, and then notes were made. We discussed each of the bourbons as we drank, and then discussed them all together once we were finished.

Here they are in the order tasted, with the grades we gave them and selected notes. The grades are based on quality alone, without regard to price.

Basil Hayden's 8 Year-Old
Price: $37
80 Proof
Final Grade: B-
The "sweet smell of vanilla" and toffee isn't matched by the flavor, which is "oaky" and rather plain. Starts off "sharp," but "fades quickly." It has some complexity and some spicy notes, but more would have been welcome. A decent bourbon, but nobody's favorite.

Jefferson's 8 Year-Old Very Small Batch
Price: $30
83 Proof
Final Grade: B-
A faint "slightly fruity" aroma leads to a smooth taste that "uncurls in your mouth." The flavor ends up woody and oily, more reminiscent of Scotch than bourbon. Better than average, but a little too one-note.

Four Roses Small Batch
Price: $29
90 Proof
Final Grade: C
A strong, "antiseptic" smell is followed by a dry, "bitter" flavor. More wood taste than anyone on the panel cared for. Complex and "assertive," but too rancio-like for our tastes. [This was a disappointment, as I've drunk this bourbon in cocktails before and enjoyed it. I suppose it's possible we got a bad bottle this time.]

Eagle Rare 10-Year Old Single Barrel
Price: $30
90 Proof
Final Grade: A-
Now we're talking! A delicious aroma of toffee leads to a sweet and spicy flavor. It's "nutty" and "warm" with a sensuous finish. A near-perfect balance of sweet and spice. This was the stand-out of the first round of four. A delicious bourbon. I could drink this every day.

Elijah Craig 18-Year Old Single Barrel
Price: $36
90 Proof
Final Grade: A
Wow! Eighteen years in the barrel have worked magic on this whiskey. It begins with a fruity, spicy smell and then gets even better on the tongue. The flavor is a mix of sweet caramel and vanilla, with enough oak — but not too much — to give it complexity. It closes with a finish that is warm and succulent. This bourbon is so good it's practically decadent.


Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select

Price: $33
90.4 Proof
Final Grade: B+
Opens up to a gorgeous, sweet, "fruity" aroma — this is a wonderful smelling bourbon. The taste is "oaky" and "nutty," well rounded and dry rather than sweet. It starts off smooth, but then kicks in with a long, spicy finish. A very interesting bourbon. Definitely worth exploring further.

Baker's 7 Year-Old
Price: $37
107 Proof
Final Grade: B+
"Earthy" and "nutty" (peanut brittle and toffee?) on the nose. The taste is likewise nutty and spicy, with enough heat to make you wake up and pay attention. There's some vanilla sweetness in there, but mostly dry overall. A complex, distinctive bourbon that demands to be sampled again.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
Price: $40
120 Proof
Final Grade: B
Whoa! This is powerful stuff. A sweet, "candied" smell paves the way for a sweet and "bold" taste. (Did I mention this is strong?) It "dances around your mouth" with flavors of grain and fruit, and has a robust, spicy finish. [Editor's note: If I were to taste this again, I would dilute it so that more of the flavor would be revealed. I think it would score higher than.]

The Four Roses Small Batch didn't find favor with the panel, but all of the rest of the bourbons were greeted with open arms. The two that ranked the highest — Elijah Craig 18 Year-Old and Eagle Rare 10 Year-Old — were superb. But the bourbons that scored just under those were likewise outstanding.

This collection of whiskeys shows more than anything else how skilled and sophisticated the experts at the country's major bourbon distilleries are. Their mastery of crafting fine spirits is nothing short of outstanding. Bravo!

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Spirits Reviews Taste Test Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Taste Test: Bourbons Under $25

We had three friends over last weekend to taste some bourbons. For this first group, the theme was "bourbons under $25." A few of the bottles were submitted by the distilleries, and the rest were from my own cabinet.

We conducted the tasting blind, so the participants didn't know which bourbon they were drinking. (I poured the glasses, so I had a vague idea of which order they were in, but I wasn't sure exactly which was which when we were tasting them.)

The results were surprising in some cases, and expected in others. All of the bourbons were judged to be at least okay — even the lowest scoring spirits were still okay.

We tasted eight whiskeys, all Kentucky straight bourbons, ranging in proof from 80 to 100. The prices ranged from $12 to $25, although most of them can be had for less if you shop around. You can see the line-up in the photo below.

  Bourbons

The bourbons were split into two groups of four, with a short break in between the two groups. Each whiskey was tasted in a 1/2 ounce serving, and then notes were made. We discussed each of the bourbons as we drank, and then discussed them all together once we were finished.

Here they are, in the order tasted, with the grades we gave them, along with selected notes. The grades are based on quality alone, without regard to price.

McAfee's Benchmark Old No. 8
Price: $12
80 Proof
Final Grade: B+
A pleasing vanilla aroma, followed by the taste of caramel. "Medium smooth" and "not sweet." "Middle of the road," but with a nice flavor. A very solid bourbon.

Zackariah Harris
Price: $12
80 Proof
Final Grade: B-
Slightly "bitter" and "oaky," but otherwise not a lot of flavor. A very brief finish. With slight dilution it all but disappeared.

Four Roses Yellow Label
Price: $18
80 Proof
Final Grade: B-
Divergent scores, but some found it "harsh" and without a lot of flavor. Everyone thought it smelled of vanilla, but no one could taste it. A long finish, but "not complex."

Wild Turkey 81
Price: $20
81 Proof
Final Grade: B
"Tangy" and "sour" and even "tastes like apple." Spicy and fruity with a medium finish, this was well-liked by most.

Maker's Mark
Price: $25
90 Proof
Final Grade: A-
"Complex" and with a "lot of flavor," this was the highest-scoring bourbon of the night. Several of us noted how the flavor "blossomed" on the tongue, "full of corn," with a long, enjoyable finish. Ranked #1 by three tasters, and #2 by the other.

Buffalo Trace
Price: $25
90 Proof
Final Grade: B
Sweet on the nose, but spicy on the palate. "Smooth" yet "bold," this was a crowd pleaser, but not a standout for anyone. The brief, spicy finish was noted by almost everyone.

Elijah Craig 12 Year
Price: $21
94 Proof
Final Grade: B-
A surprise last-place finish for a bourbon I've enjoyed on many occasions. A "sweet aroma" of toffee was followed by a "harsh bite" on the tongue. Warm and spicy, this one didn't earn much praise from anyone.

Old Forester Signature
Price: $20
100 Proof
Final Grade: B+
"Spicy," "fruity" flavors of corn, peach and oak combined with a smooth taste and a medium-long finish to make this one a popular choice. The strongest whiskey and the last of the night, it was our second favorite overall.

The most surprising result was Maker's Mark, which was the clear favorite of the night. A lot of people expect Maker's to be uncomplicated and even boring, but nobody felt that way. Maybe it was the extended time to open up, maybe it was that it was different from everything else — or maybe it's just damn good bourbon.

The best value choice was definitely Benchmark Old No. 8. I'd never even heard of this bourbon before, but it impressed everyone. Any bourbon you can buy on sale for under $10 that tastes this good gets the Professor Cocktail Seal of Approval.

Stay tuned for our next whiskey taste test: bourbons from $25 to $50. That should be coming next month.

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four_roses_sbFour Roses Single Barrel
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A
Price: $39 (750ml)

The Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is one of the most acclaimed in the world. Their bourbons win gold medals regularly at all the major competitions, and their 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel was recently named by F. Paul Pacult as the 3rd best spirit in the world.

The Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is their highest end whiskey that is regularly available in the United States. Bottled at 100 proof, it's a bold bourbon that is loaded with flavor and enough kick to get you moving.

From the opening sip, it's an explosion on the palate, with many tastes circling around each other. There's vanilla and fruit (cherry maybe?), along with honey and a little spice. It's very well balanced, with the different flavors playing together nicely.

As mentioned above, it's a strong whiskey, and has a long finish to it. It's not overpowering, but it's a spirit you'll want to take your time with, so you can still taste and enjoy the various flavors. You might want to drink it with a little water or a couple ice cubes. I tasted it both straight and on the rocks, and with just a little dilution it goes down very easily.

Everything that Four Roses makes is good, and the Single Barrel is one of their best. It's big and bold, while still maintaining both nuance and even elegance. Distiller Jim Rutledge has once again shown why he's one of the best in the business.

Report Card

Quality Grade: A
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A

Categories
Book Reviews Drink Recipes Whiskey

Book Review: “The American Cocktail” by The Editors of Imbibe Magazine

Some cocktail books are intended for the casual mixologist, some are intended for the advanced user, and some are a mixture of both. Jim Meehan's The PDT Cocktail Book is an excellent example of the last category, as it's accessible to the inexperienced, yet valuable to the pro as well.

The American Cocktail, a new book put together by the editors of Imbibe Magazine, is definitely in the middle category. Although a novice cocktail fan would probably enjoy flipping through it, the recipes are really intended for those seeking a higher level of mixology.

When putting together this book, the editors did something very smart: they polled 50 of the best bartenders around the country, those men and women who are really dedicated to the craft of high-end cocktails, and asked them to submit a recipe.

The results are fascinating and unique, with a strong emphasis on bold flavors, local ingredients, and drinks that truly capture the essence of the bar/restaurant where they are served. This is cutting-edge mixology that is still, for the most part, accessible.

True, many of the recipes aren't going to be things that you can easily whip up at home. Several of them call for bespoke ingredients, complicated preparations, or obscure spirits, but by no means all of them. Here's an easy recipe that I tried, which made a delicious drink.

 

Dixie Cup

by Timothy Victor Faulkner, Sauced (Atlanta)

Ingredients:

2 oz Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
1 1/2 oz Red Rock Ginger Ale (or other Spicy Ginger Ale)
1/2 oz Sugarcane Syrup

Combine the bourbon, ginger ale, and syrup in an ice-filled mixing glass and stir gently. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Rub a lime twist around the rim of the glass before dropping it into the cocktail. 

 

Dixie
As you can see in the photo, I used Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Reed's Extra Ginger Brew. My, my, this is one tasty drink.

Several of the bartenders I admire have drinks featured here, including Todd Thrasher from PX (Alexandria, VA), Jim Meehan from PDT (New York), Robert Heugel from Anvil (Houston), and Jeffrey Morgenthaler from Clyde Common (Portland). Having recipes from such experts makes this collection all the more valuable.

Readers looking for an introduction to cocktails or a list of simple recipes won't find much joy in The American Cocktail. But more experienced mixologists — or those who want to up their game a little — should definitely give this a look.