Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select & Single Barrel Select

Ah, Jack Daniel’s … regardless of what you think about the world-famous Tennessee Whiskey, you’ll have to admit that the Jack Daniel Distillery does one thing exceptionally well – sell a ton of whiskey. In fact, Jack Daniel’s sells more whiskey than any other American distillery (or so I’ve read). Truth be told, they owe a fair amount of credit to Frank Sinatra for the brand’s overall success.

The relationship between Jack Daniel’s and the Chairman of the Board was genuine and long-lasting. The story goes that Jackie Gleason introduced Frank Sinatra to Jack Daniel’s decades ago. For over 50 years, Frank’s drink of choice was Jack Daniel’s. It was always within reach – or at least Frank made sure it was within his reach. Believe it or not, there was a time when Jack Daniel’s was as sought after as Buffalo Trace wheaters. Frank Sinatra buddied-up with the right folks, and long story short, Frank always had distillery-fresh bottles of his favorite “nectar of the gods” around. In fact, Sinatra was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.

While not a Jack Daniel’s fan, I greatly admire Frank Sinatra – his music, his professionalism, his stance against bigotry – his style, class, and determination. Sure, he had his faults. He admittedly wasn’t the best family man, but the older I get the more I realize that perfection is rarely achieved in a single area of one’s life – never in all. Frank lived a legendary life. If you haven’t taken the time to read a book or watch a documentary about him, you really should. But I’m getting off subject. Back to Frank’s second love after music (okay, third if you count Ava Gardner), Jack Daniel’s.

Sinatra was arguably as passionate about Jack Daniel’s as he was about music. He preferred fresh pours from sealed bottles – always a chilled rocks glass (a proper cut was a must), a two-finger pour, three ice cubes, and a splash of water. Folks knew better than to mess with this sacred ritual. Even in his final days, he was keen to it. His last drummer, Gregg Field, learned this the hard way in 1995:

As usual, we all congregated at the bar. Frank asked what I was having. The answer was, of course, Jack—but when his back was turned, I whispered to the bartender to add a little ginger ale.

Turns out he wasn’t as far away as I thought.

“Would you like a little apple pie with your whiskey?” he asked.

That was the last time I ever ruined perfectly good hootch.

I could write pages about Sinatra – hell, pages about Sinatra drinking. But instead, I’m here to give you my thoughts on Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select – a special edition Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey dedicated to Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select

I’ve been eyeballing Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select for quite some time. Again, I’m not a Jack Daniel’s fan – I’m a Sinatra fan. But at the end of the day I am a whiskey fan, so why not? After all, the release itself is classy to say the least – a sleek black felt-lined box, a small hardcover book about Frank, “honorary membership” to the Jack Daniel’s Country Club (which Frank started), and a liter (yes, a liter) bottle of uniquely-crafted 90-proof JD TN Whiskey (custom “grooved” cooperage is used for this particular release). And besides – I had some Christmas gift cards to my local. Sure, I could’ve stocked up on handles of Wild Turkey 101. Instead I can show my family the special gift they made possible. Regardless of how this one drinks, it looks like A-grade whiskey – it looks like a very special gift.

Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select

– Tennessee Whiskey at 90 proof
– no age stated
– distilled & bottled by Jack Daniel Distillery, Lynchburg, TN

Initially tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest (later tasted Frank’s way – fresh open, two fingers, three cubes, and a splash of water in a proper rocks glass) …

Color:  solid gold, baby!

Nose:  ripe bananas, creme brulee, classic vanilla syrup, toasted marshmallow, caramel, buttercream frosting, sweet oak, hints of butterscotch

Taste:  the oak presence moves forward (the most oak I’ve ever noticed in any Jack Daniel’s release – almost like toasted oak), but overall it’s primarily layers of bananas, creamy vanilla and light caramel drizzle

Finish:  medium in duration – more bananas & cream, confectioners sugar, hints of sweet oak & leather

Franks way:  As you might expect – it’s a mellower version of a neat pour. Let’s call it “refreshing.” Very easy to drink, admittedly, but nothing to savor or enjoy like a Nick Offerman yule log video. I’m not a fan of whiskey over ice, but I can understand its appeal – especially to a professional vocalist that loved to stay up all night (every night) socializing. There’s just no way that sipping whiskey neat would work in that scenario. Maybe if Andre the Giant was a singer, but not Sinatra. I get it, but I don’t love it.

Overall:  As with Frank’s way – I get it, but I don’t love it. It’s fine, I guess. As I stated earlier, I’m not a Jack Daniel’s fan at all. I could drink this if I found myself in the mood for bananas and cream with a slightly toasted vibe. If you like Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, well then you’ll likely love Sinatra Select. All in all (price and gift packaging factored out), I’m giving this a B-. The nose is solid B-range, but the palate and finish can’t quite compare (or offer anything unique). What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in balance, though it’s uncommon to have any 90-proof undeniably mellow whiskey suffer from severe balance issues.

In closing, I have no regrets picking up Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select. I’m honestly quite proud of the bottle and plan on showing it off and sharing it with non-enthusiasts friends and family. Hell, we’ll probably drink it Frank’s way because – well, don’t we all want to feel like we’re in the Rat Pack? But all in all I can’t recommend this whiskey at retail (or even at cost) unless you’re a die-hard JD or Sinatra fan. Instead, pick up JD Single Barrel Select or even Gentleman Jack if you’re on a budget and looking for something in the ballpark. It will get you most of the way there – even closer when you factor ice and water into the pour. Whatever you do, enjoy your whiskey and live life with no regrets. Do it your way. Cheers!

Rating:  B/B-

For reference I’m including my tasting notes for Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select. For clarification, it was not tasted side-by-side against JD Sinatra Select. These notes come from a mini bottle I picked up a while back. 2015, I believe.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select

– Tennessee Whiskey at 94 proof
– no age stated
– distilled & bottled by Jack Daniel Distillery, Lynchburg, TN

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep copper

Nose:  bananas & cream, vanilla, buttered corn, brown sugar, nutmeg, light oak

Taste:  vanilla, banana pudding, sweet oak, light baking spice

Finish:  medium – “tangy” vanilla, bananas, sweet oak, faint baking spice

Overall:  Better than JD Old No. 7 and Gentleman Jack. Is that saying a lot?

Rating:  B-

Wild Turkey Rare Breed 116.8

Cross-Post from Rare Bird 101

It seems like every time I browse my local bottle shop there’s a new whiskey on the shelf.  Every rare once in awhile, one of those bottles just happens to be a new Wild Turkey.  Typically, it’s a limited edition, single barrel, or maybe just a new label for a standard expression.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I walked past the Turkey shelf to find a brand new Rare Breed, batch 116.8.  Not only was it a new batch, but a new bottle design altogether (glass and label).

I’ll have to admit – I hesitated.  After my experience with Rare Breed 112.8, I was nervous about the purchase.  Super-premium expressions aren’t cheap, and with Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel sitting right beside it, definitely a mental tug-of-war there.  But hey – have I ever been one to turn down any new Wild Turkey?  Surely not.  In fact, my blood type is WT-positive and my heart beats a steady 101 BPM.  Rare Breed 116.8 … welcome to your new home.

Before I review, let’s examine the details of this latest Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  First off, the proof is obviously higher.  In fact, it’s the highest ABV Rare Breed batch to date.  Second, batch 116.8 states “distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co.,” a change from previous batches which read, “bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co.”  And finally, RB 116.8 has a completely new bottle shape (same cork, though) with a redesigned label.  While an improvement over the aesthetics of the former batch, 112.8 (as well as a brief run of 116.8 in the older bottle), it’s still not quite as visually appealing as the classic 01-99 and 03RB label designs.

So, now it’s time for the true test.  Bottle designs, labels, and specs can only offer so much.  Besides, whiskey isn’t made to be displayed or admired.  It’s made for sipping, savoring, and sharing.  Anything outside of that and you’re missing the point.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

– 116.8-proof KSBW
– reportedly a blend of 6, 8, and 12-year barrel-proof bourbon
– distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  rich copper

Nose:  (solid modern WT profile) rich vanilla, toffee, fruity charred oak, spiced apple cider, caramel, orange peel, Red Zinger tea, cinnamon, nutmeg, hints of clove & leather

Taste:  fruity vanilla, maple, balanced oak (not too woody or charred), caramel/candy apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, fruit leather, orange peel, herbal spice

Finish:  (reminiscent of RRSiB) long, warm & spicy – creamy vanilla, musty oak, herbal spice, toffee, leather, pepper, hints of citrus fruit

Overall:  Well, Son of a Turkey … I’m sincerely happy I moved past my initial hesitation and picked up Rare Breed 116.8.  This, folks, is a big strut in the right direction. At its core, this bourbon shouts modern Wild Turkey in profile, but it’s all the best parts of modern WT.  Gone are the thin, sharp, and grainy attributes of batch 112.8.  Instead, we have a profile that fits somewhere between WT 101 and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel (uncut to boot).  And boy is it fruity — fruity with a huge dollop of complementing spice!

So what changed?  What accounts for the differences between Rare Breed batch 112.8 and batch 116.8?  I’m not entirely sure, but I can offer a theory or two.

Per Eddie Russell, “a little” of the youngest whiskey in batch 116.8 comes from the new Wild Turkey distillery (operational as of 2011).  While I’m doubtful its volume is large enough to make a significant profile impact, it’s at least in there and that says something.  For some of the youngest whiskey in this batch (the de facto weakest flavor element in terms of complexity) to have come from the new facility … very good news for the future.

But the new distillery is merely a fraction (if any) of the difference between batches 112.8 and 116.8.  I believe the primary factor of difference boils down to improved barrel selection.  It’s my opinion (no basis in fact, just theory) that Eddie is selecting barrels that fit more of the Russell’s Reserve profile for Rare Breed.  Be it increased maturity or more intense complexity (or both), Rare Breed 116.8 tastes closer to Russell’s Reserve than any batch prior.  If that’s the case and remains so, I’m fine with it.  I’m really fine with it.

In closing, I’d like to stress (again) that Rare Breed 116.8 is a notable step above batch 112.8.  That means if you’re already a fan of 112.8, you’re certainly going to like 116.8.  If you aren’t a fan of batch 112.8 (similar to my experience), I’d suggest keeping prejudice from clouding your judgement.  Rare Breed 116.8 is an undeniably tasty and thoroughly enjoyable barrel-proof bourbon whiskey.  In fact, I’m giving it a well-deserved 3.5/5.  Yes, that’s the same rating I gave batch 03RB.  I understand that may ruffle some Turkey snobs’ feathers, but it’s my honest opinion.  While their profiles may be different (i.e. classic vs. modern), I think I might actually enjoy batch 116.8 over 03RB on a more regular basis.  That’s right – Rare Breed 116.8 is now officially a regular in the Rare Bird home.

Rating:  B

Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel

Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel

– Buffalo Trace “high rye” mash bill no. 2 KSBW
– 127.9 proof
– no age stated
– distilled at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY
– bottled 03/31/2016, rick H-11, barrel #213

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep amber

Nose:  (yep, BT mash bill no. 2) vanilla extract, cake frosting, honey, citrus, bread, “brisk” oak, hints of caramel & baking spice

Taste:  (surprisingly youthful) spicy vanilla, sharp oak, “off-brand” caramel & toffee hard candies, pepper, rye spice, slightly grainy

Finish:  (shorter than expected) medium in duration, distracting spicy vanilla, “punchy” oak, faint zesty citrus, sticky grainy aftertaste

Overall:  I’ve heard folks say this is the “poor man’s” Buffalo Trace Antique Collection expression. If so, we’re talking considerably poor. Maybe I’m just sipping an off barrel, or maybe it’s younger whiskey than it once was, or maybe it’s just that I’m not a huge BT #2 fan and this is just that in spades? I have no idea. All I know is that I am without-a-doubt disappointed by this pour.

Blanton's Straight From The Barrel

Is this bourbon mature? No. Complex? Eh … maybe because it’s not diluted … debatable. Balanced? Not this one. Is it bad? No. Is it excellent? Not really. Would I pay $100+ for it? Absolutely not. Would I pay $50 for it? Doubtful. Honestly, I’d take any Four Roses Single Barrel select over it. Hell, I’d take any standard Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel (non-select) over it. In so many ways this reminds me of Ancient Age Bottled-in-Bond. AABiB was great for the money – fantastic for the money – but to have a profile like that and charge a huge premium for it? Barrel proof, yada yada, whatever. The barrel proof competition out there is fierce. I’ve had 6+ year Booker’s that have more going for it than this.

Sorry Blanton’s fans. This gets a mercy B- from me. I feel that’s generous based on the price/hassle and that’s the same rating I’d give dusty Ancient Age BiB.

Rating:  B-

Old Ezra 101 7-Year KSBW

I just love finding new whiskeys. So as any enthusiast should be, I was very happy to see a new arrival sitting on the bottom shelf at my local this week – Old Ezra 101 7-year. At about $17 a fifth, and being a 101-proof age-stated KSBW, I figured I’d go for it. I’d seen its name come up on social media several times, but never paid much attention (I honestly assumed it was a dusty). I spoke with my local’s manager about Old Ezra 101/7, who informed me that it was a Luxco release. Were it not for Rebel Yell Single Barrel, I might have thought twice. But after having a good experience with that bottle, and again factoring in the affordability, it was hard to pass up. Besides, I like Heaven Hill whiskey (the reported source of most Luxco releases). Maybe this one will surprise me (and spoiler … it did).

Old Ezra 101

– KSBW at 50.5% ABV
– aged at least 7 years
– bottled by the Ezra Brooks Distilling Co., St. Louis, MO
– reportedly distilled by Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep amber

Nose:  toffee, peanut butter on honey wheat toast, vanilla bean, brown sugar, baking spice, mellow oak

Taste:  (slightly creamy mouthfeel) sticky vanilla, nutty toffee, charred oak, baking spice

Finish:  medium-long & tasty – vanilla, toffee, mellow oak & pleasant spice

Overall:  Wow – this is a nice surprise. Old Ezra 101/7 is actually quite tasty and enjoyable. While not complex, it makes up for it by arguably nailing core bourbon notes (vanilla, oak, spice). It’s not “grainy” or “corny,” which many bourbon whiskeys under $20 suffer from. I think someone put it best when they commented it’s like an extra-aged Evan Williams White Label (BiB). I’d agree with that – same source, similar proof, and both are charcoal filtered (so they share the same mellowed oak presence). It tastes quite different than Fighting Cock 6-year (which I find very oak and spice forward, at least from memory), and while sharing some traits with Henry McKenna SiB, HMSiB is notably more complex and rich. Still – nothing but love for this Old Ezra 101/7 as a daily sipper.

Now, for the big comparison … Old Ezra 101/7 vs. Wild Turkey 101. If we’re talking 2015+ WT 101, OE 101 may be slightly better neat (damn, did I just say that?). Start inching into past WT 101 releases and it’s a different story. As for cocktails (which I don’t really do often, except with family and friends), I’d personally skip OE 101 altogether. It’s just too mellow from the age and charcoal filtering. WT 101 is still bolder and will always hold up well to ice, fruit, and sweeteners like nobody’s business.

As for Old Ezra 101 7-year … it’s a damn solid pour for the money.

Rating:  B-

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

Cross-post from Rare Bird 101

Russell’s Reserve is a super-premium product line of Wild Turkey of which there are four core whiskey expressions: RR 6 Year Old Rye, RR Single Barrel Rye, RR 10 Year Old Bourbon, and RR Single Barrel Bourbon. Being a big fan of Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit (essentially, the single-barrel version of WT 101) and a big fan of Wild Turkey in general, I looked forward to siting down with Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel to see what it might have to offer.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

– (reportedly) 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley
– 110 proof, non-chill filtered KSBW
– no age statement
– distilled by Austin, Nichols Distilling Co.
– no barrel number or bottling date

Tasted neat in a Canadian Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: deep amber

Nose: candy corn, Boston Baked Beans (candy-coated peanuts), Werther’s Originals (toffee candy), buttered sweet corn, musty oak, signature “Wild Turkey rickhouse funk”

Taste: (very similar to the nose) can’t help thinking of more Boston Baked Beans, toffee, vanilla, candy corn, very subtle rye spice, funky sweet oak

Finish: very warm, long, waves of rye spice & oak char – finishes like a 110 proof bourbon should

With a little water added: brings forward some burnt sugar and slight floral notes, but the subtle rye spice has vanished – still refreshing and enjoyable

Overall: I’m really enjoying this bottle of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. It’s a solid single-barrel expression of the well-known and loved Wild Turkey bourbon profile, and that said, is certainly worth the $55 I paid for it.  It’s a great tasting bourbon from a quality distillery and welcome on my shelf any day.

Rating:  B

George T. Stagg 2014 (138.1 Proof)

Full disclosure: this is my first time experiencing George T. Stagg. While I don’t mind paying good money for great whiskey, $500 a bottle just seems a little much for an annual release. Some lucky folks manage to get their hands on this expression at retail price.  The hard reality is that most of us don’t and likely won’t for at least the next several years to come (fingers crossed).  But I’m not ranting – it’s just the state of bourbon at present.  At least I have a chance to experience what the fuss is all about.

George T. Stagg (2014 release)

– Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (KSBW mash bill #1)
– 138.1 proof (batched at barrel proof)
– no age stated (reportedly 15 years)
– distilled by Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfurt, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep rosy copper

Nose:  (intense) rich oak, molasses, burnt sugar, creamy vanilla, dark chocolate, leather

Taste:  beautifully oak-forward, vanilla bean ice cream, toffee, spicy tobacco, leather, dark chocolate, hints of ripe cherries

Finish:  (satisfying & outstanding all-around) pleasantly long & warming – vanilla-oak, waves of complex baking spice

Overall:  Wow – this is excellent whiskey. I now understand why this is often praised as the king of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. It’s BT mash bill #1 at it’s finest, and were this to be found at $90 a bottle, I’d buy several each year. All that said this is simply not worth what people pay on secondary markets – at least to me it’s not.

There are notes here that remind me of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (and certainly similarities in heat and richness as well). After a few more sips and with my tasting notes complete, I decided to pour a comparison dram of ECBP. Okay, they’re different whiskeys – BUT – they’re not $400 different whiskeys. In fact, I found a lot to love in both – in similarities and differences. I’m not saying ECBP is the same as Geo. T. Stagg, but if you’re looking for a profile that offers a full-bodied, complex, barrel-proof low-rye KSBW experience, skip the secondary and track down ECBP. You and your wallet will be happy.

Back to Geo. T. Stagg … why of course, this bourbon is pure solid gold.

Rating:  A

Ancient Age 10 Star VS. Old Grand-Dad 86 Proof

I found these two pints when I was out dusty hunting a few weeks ago. I believe both have been discontinued – Ancient Age 10 Star more recently, and Old Grand-Dad 86 Proof several years ago. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve wanted to try each of these for some time now, but never felt the need to pull the trigger on larger bottles. These pints were cheap and less hassle than a sample swap, so I thought I’d give them a go.

Ancient Age 10 Star

– 90 proof KSBW
– no age stated
– distilled by Buffalo Trace Distillery for Age International

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  amber

Nose:  (youthful) grain-forward, vanilla, candy corn, baking spice, light oak

Taste:  (again, youthful) vanilla, corn, “malty” sugar, faint oak

Finish:  (more on the tongue, then barely into the throat) short/medium-short, cane syrup

Overall:  I’ve said this in commentary before – this is young, but young done well. It’s Buffalo Trace mash no. 2, like Elmer T. Lee, Blanton’s, and Rock Hill Farms, but far from those profiles. It’s also far form Ancient Age Bottled-in-Bond (at least from memory), which I hoped it could possibly be. That said, for as young as this bourbon likely is (less than four years or so) it’s not offensive and could be used for a Kentucky Mule or as some other soda mixer.

Rating:  C

Old Grand-Dad

– 86 proof KSBW
– no age stated
– distilled by Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  amber

Nose:  (youthful) grain-forward, sharp vanilla, bananas, fruit cocktail (the kind in the can)

Taste:  (youthful and notably thin) vanilla, corn, slight baking spice

Finish:  very short & sweet – slightly malty (in a Glenlivet Scotch type way)

Overall:  While I love Old Grand-Dad 114, Old Grand-Dad 86 is nothing like it. It’s young and it shows. The profile that you find even in lower-proof but higher-aged offerings of this same mash bill, like Basil Hayden, is notably better (though I honestly wouldn’t pay $45 for Basil Hayden). At least it’s Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey – suitable as a soda mixer or a hip flask if few alternatives exist. Not good, not awful, just a little below average.

Rating:  C-

Abraham Bowman Wheat Bourbon

I stopped by my local bottle shop the other day to find Abraham Bowman Wheat Bourbon waiting for me.  Other than knowing Abraham Bowman releases are extremely limited, I didn’t know a single thing about this particular edition.  But not being one to let a rare whiskey opportunity pass me by, I decided I’d take the chance on a purchase.

From my research online it appears this Bowman release is the result of a ten-barrel batch with a unique wheat bourbon recipe. I don’t know where this was initially distilled, as Bowman typically re-distills sourced distillate, but more than likely it was a member of the Sazerac family. Given that it’s not the same recipe as W. L. Weller, I’m guessing it could still be sourced from Buffalo Trace (because of past BTEC wheat experiments) or possibly even Barton Distillery. Again, I’m not sure – just hypothesizing. All I can say for certain is that it’s unique and tastes great. Here’s the details and my notes:

Abraham Bowman Wheat Bourbon

– 94 proof
– aged 9 years, 2 months, 12 days
– release number 14
– produced by A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Fredericksburg, VA

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after ten minutes rest …

Color:  rose copper

Nose:  cherry-vanilla, caramel/candy apple, oak, hints of orange peel (very good but not spectacular – reminiscent of the Weller brand – less oak than Weller 12; less spice than Old Weller Antique)

Taste:  (there we go – hello spice and complexity!) punchy cinnamon, vanilla bean ice cream, crushed red pepper, cherry syrup, pomegranate, ripe plums, clove, sweet corn, oak

Finish:  medium-long – mouth-tingling, chest-warming, sweet/spicy fruity-vanilla & oak

Overall:  When I first nosed this bourbon I got a little nervous. I’ll be honest, $30 Weller 12-year has a better nose – hell, the $25 Old Weller Antique I have open right now has a better nose. Not that this Abraham Bowman has a flawed nose – it’s very good – it’s just deceiving. When this whiskey hits your tongue, however,  you realize it’s something special – something unique. It has a nice pepper snap paired with rich vanilla and dark fruits (cherries, plums, red grapes, etc.). In some ways close to OWA, but accomplished at a much lower proof. I can only imagine what this bourbon was like at barrel strength. It was likely amazing. Had the nose been on par with the taste and finish, this Bowman would’ve been lower A-range.  As it stands, it’s just a small step under it.

Rating:  B+

Mini Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel

Rebel Yell Single Barrel

– wheated mash bill KSBW
– 100 proof
– aged 10 years
– produced by Luxco, Louisville, KY
– (assumed) distilled by Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY
– barrel #4744188, “aged since 9/2005”

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  copper

Nose:  sweet oak, cherry, vanilla, clove, caramelized sugar

Taste:  vanilla-oak-cherry bomb of yummy, candy apple, faint spice

Finish:  long, robust & warm – sweet cherry-vanilla, hints of clove

Overall:  I’m happy … surprisingly happy. Rebel Yell Single Barrel is without doubt a delicious bourbon and priced well too. Sourced, but so what? Heaven Hill had their chance.  They could’ve produced a Larceny barrel proof release or Old Fitzgerald reboot with this whiskey, but didn’t. Hats off to Luxco for marketing something that rivals Old Weller Antique, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, and arguably Old Rip Van Winkle.

Rating:  B+

Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey

And so we have the latest Smooth Ambler release, Old Scout American Whiskey. Per the Smooth Ambler Spirits website:

OSAW is a union of two whiskeys; one is a bourbon distilled in Indiana and the other is a whiskey distilled from a bourbon mash originally from Tennessee. The Tennessee distillate is aged for 5 years in rejuvenated barrels.

So basically, some percentage of standard SAOS Straight Bourbon (likely seven-year MGP bourbon) and some percentage of TN whiskey (likely Dickel) that was aged in used barrels (assuming bourbon barrels) for five years. Nothing new or crazy – Michter’s has a similar product and we’ve seen blends of all kinds from High West using MGP whiskeys. So, movin’ on to the review …

Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey

– bourbon & TN whiskey blend
– 99 proof
– no age stated (TN whisky is 5 years)
– non-chill filtered
– bottled by Smooth Ambler Spirits, Maxwelton, WV
– batch #2, filled by James

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  rich amber

Nose:  (light and easy) fresh-baked bread, sweet corn, green apple, Fruity Pebbles cereal, hard candy, oak

Taste:  (somewhat thin mouthfeel) sweet cereal, vanilla extract, fruity iced tea, minerals, hints of mixed nuts, slight rye spice, wet oak

Finish:  medium-short & pleasant – waves of fresh-baked bread, sweet corn, slightly malty

SAOS American Whiskey

Overall:  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this whiskey. That said, there’s nothing fantastic about it either. It’s very easy to sip, has enough flavor elements to keep it interesting, yet only just enough. I commend Smooth Ambler for creating another unique product in their lineup. It’s on-par with the Michter’s US-1 American Whiskey in being a tasty bourbon-based whiskey, but very different in profile (as well as NCF and a higher ABV). It’s risky for a company the size of Smooth Ambler to experiment with blends like these, while certain spirits conglomerates “accidentally” dump corn whiskey into bourbon and all of a sudden we have to pay $65 for a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup “mistake” that sat in a Stitzel-Weller warehouse. I guess that’s the industry nowadays. As for SAOS American Whiskey … fairly solid.

Rating:  B-

Barterhouse Bourbon Whiskey

Barterhouse Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

– 90.2 proof
– aged 20 years
– Diageo Orphan Barrel release
– source is very likely New Bernheim (Heaven Hill)
– bottle #21777
– curiously not labeled “straight”

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep copper

Nose:  dark fruits, vanilla, oak, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup

Taste:  ripe cherries, sweet oak, rich vanilla, french toast, a pinch of varnish

Finish:  medium-short – sweet oak & hints of baking spice

Overall:  I really like this bourbon. As much as I don’t buy into the “lost barrel” gimmicks, Barterhouse is a pretty damn good bourbon. In fact, I’ve purchased three bottles in the past year. For a 20-year Kentucky (assumed straight) bourbon under $80, this is more than a deal in today’s market. That, and it’s likely whiskey from Heaven Hill Distillery. I have yet to have a well-aged bourbon from Heaven Hill that’s not worth the price paid.

Honestly speaking – who really cares about marketing b.s. if it works in your favor? Sure, Gifted Horse is pretty rough … Forged Oak, Lost Prophet, Rhetoric 20-whatever … love ’em or hate ‘em, you’re getting an age-stated bourbon for a fair retail price. This ain’t 1999, remember? Please don’t tell me you think Old Rip Van Winkle should still be $35.

Anyhow, all said and done Barterhouse is a very nice pour. If you can find it at suggested retail price or less, I recommend picking one up. As for secondary market valuations … pass.

Rating:  B+

Cooper’s Craft KSBW

Cooper’s Craft KSBW

– 82.2 proof
– no age stated
– produced and bottled by Brown-Forman
– proprietary barrels crafted with toasted staves then charred

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  amber

Nose:  vanilla, corn flakes cereal, sweet cream, buttered kettle corn, hints of oak

Taste:  (somewhat youthful & thin) malty corn, vanilla wafers, faint oak

Finish:  short – lingering sweet corn cereal

Overall:  To be honest, I expected much worse. That said, Cooper’s Craft is nothing to consider unless you really (really) like the taste of toasted oak KSBW. For $26 it’s arguably overpriced, but the extra production steps in the cooperage justify some of the expense. I’m not a huge Brown-Forman fan, but I’d take this over Woodford Reserve (not kidding).

Rating:  C+