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Bourbon Reviews Maker's Mark Distillery

Maker’s Mark Review

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Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky has been of my perennial favorites for years. I actually bought the bottle in the photo a while ago to write a proper review and, now that I found the time, I only have about a half of a shot left.

Here’s the history: Maker’s Mark was introduced to the market in 1959.  Bill Samuels Sr. is credited with the recipe (apparently with a little help from Pappy Van Winkle). Bill’s wife, Margie, provided the name, created the label, and thought up the idea of the wax seal.

Maker’s Mark, bottled at 90 proof, is aged for around six years. The barrels are charred for 40 seconds which opens the pores in the wood and caramelizes the natural wood sugars. Maker’s is unusual because it doesn’t contain any rye – their recipe uses red winter wheat, corn, and malted barley for the mash which creates a sweeter product.

The wax drip alone makes the bottle distinctive on the shelf.  It has a good amber color and a syrupy scent. Maker’s is on the mellower side – it has a slight burn early which quickly dissipates to reveal deep caramel-almond flavors, then finishes with a delightful maple aftertaste. It’s very easy to drink and works well with or without ice. It also makes a nice base for a more complex cocktail if that’s your thing.

I think that Maker’s is a staple in any collection and, price-wise, it well worth the money. I like having a bottle on hand, but personally have trouble keeping it in stock.

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Bourbon Reviews Jefferson's

Jefferson’s Reserve Review

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In addition to Jefferson’s Reserve, McLain & Kyne bottles several varieties of bourbon and rye including Jefferson’s, Jefferson’s Presidential Select, Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey, Jefferson’s Ocean, and Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration.

The bottle is fairly minimalistic with a script font that harkens to a colonial time and a small graphic of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, below. The labeling includes the inscription of “Very Old” and “Very Small Batch.” I understand their small batch approach is a combination of a small number of barrels, as opposed to several hundred as other small batch bourbons may blend.

I found an an overall lightness to Jefferson’s Reserve in the glass. Medium in color and fairly benign on the nose, it’s also light on the palate. At 90 proof, it starts mellow and creamy, heats up fast, then finishes quickly. There’s a sweetness with notes of vanilla and peach, but also spicy flavors of oak and pepper. The complexity is actually pretty interesting.

Although, I typically like a heavier bourbon, I have an appreciation for Jefferson’s Reserve. It’s smooth, balanced, and flavorful. I would buy it again and would not hesitate to recommend it.

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Bourbon Reviews W. L. Weller

W. L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon Review

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It’s hard to write a review of W. L. Weller without referencing it’s wildly hyped cousin, Pappy Van Winkle. Both are produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky and both are made from the exact same wheated formula. Unlike Pappy, Weller is pretty easy to find and is sold at very reasonable price.

A wheated bourbon uses corn, wheat, and malt, instead of corn, rye, and malt so it doesn’t have the spiciness found in a most ryed bourbons. Weller was supposedly the first producer to use wheat instead of rye in it’s mashbill. Only a few others, like Maker’s Mark and Van Winkle, use this formula today.

Weller has a good color and some decent notes of honey on the nose. Even without the rye, at 90 proof, it’s not totally mellow. I get a sustaining burn that never gets overpowering. It finishes long with some well-balanced flavors of toasted vanilla, maple, honeysuckle, and hickory smoke.

I typically like to drink bourbon with an ice cube, but Weller is very drinkable neat as well. It’s a good price and has some nice attributes. I would definitely recommend giving Weller a try.

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Bourbon Reviews Four Roses

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Review

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Claiming production back to the 1860s, Four Roses has deep roots in bourbon making. During prohibition, the Frankfort Distilling Company (who owned and produced it at the time), was one of only six distilleries granted permission to produce Bourbon for medicinal purposes. Several different stories have been documented about where the name Four Roses comes from, so I tend to not believe any of them.

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is a well-balanced and wonderfully complex bourbon. It has a bold, dark color and medium body. I get some subtle scents of chocolate and oak from the glass.

At 100 proof, it is very spicy. I found that it started mild, then builded to almost an intense finish right down to my belly before softening out. I was able to pull out hints of honey mixed with cherry and aged apricot through the heat.

The Single Barrel is a very good bourbon and on par with the other labels in the same price range. The burn may not be ideal for everyone, but it’s not unpleasant. The heat actually had a seductive effect for me as it made me want to keep going back for more.

The difference between Four Roses Single Barrel and Four Roses Small Batch: Small Batch is blended from several barrels to achieve the desired flavor. Single Barrel is not blended (or cut with water), so you get a more pure whiskey in my opinion.

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Bourbon Reviews Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Small Batch Review

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Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Small Batch is named for the minister who discovered the defining method of making Kentucky Bourbon when he stored his drink in barrels that had been charred by a fire. It is bottled from parcels of 100 barrels or less, giving it small batch status.

In the glass, Elijah Craig has a good color and slight flowery scent. It is extremely smooth from the start, turning into a lingering comfortable burn, finishing with some impressive complexity. There is a maple syrup sweetness to it, but it softens quickly to allow flavors of smoke, toffee, and plum to come through. The oak on Elijah Craig is notable.

It’s price-point is very reasonable for such a good bourbon. To be honest, I’ve overlooked Elijah Craig for years opting for other mainstream brands. It was always on my short list, but it always seemed to be passed over for no real reason. However, I am pleased to say that I have a new option for my rotation.

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Bourbon Reviews PennyPaker

PennyPacker Bourbon Whiskey Review

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PennyPacker Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey was the number one selling Bourbon in the European market in the 1970s, but was only introduced to the US market in the Spring of 2013. The whiskey itself is aged in white oak for at least three years, but the actual aging time is at the discretion of the distiller.

The brand itself embodies vernacular American culture – Abraham Lincoln, the penny, and old glory are well represented on the label. The bottle shape, embossing, and typesetting also harken back to the days of old.

PennyPacker has a fairly benign smell with a slight vanilla-poundcake scent, but not overpowering by any means. With 70% corn, it has a medium color and very light body. The taste is also subtle with hints of caramel and white pepper. It has a very long burn from the onset to well after the finish. A cube of ice mellows it out a lot and evokes some almond flavors.

After I tasted it neat, I also tried PennyPacker with a Northern Neck Ginger Ale and ice which mixed well. I think PennyPacker is on par with Jim Beam, but not nearly as sweet. I think it works well as a mixing cocktail as it doesn’t add unnecessary sugar to the mix.

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Bourbon Reviews Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Review

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I recently stumbled upon a bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed bourbon at a friend’s house and had to ask for a sample. Rare Breed is a limited run made from a combination of 6, 8, and 12 year Wild Turkey batches. It’s dubbed ‘barrel proof’ meaning it goes straight from the barrel to the bottle without being watered down. That said, it packs quite a punch at 108 proof.

First off, I have to admire how Rare Breed is so meaty that it sticks to the inside of my tumbler. The nose was mostly alcohol, but I managed to pull out some subtle scents of tobacco and leather.

On the tongue, Rare Breed is bold and peppery. There is a dryness with subtle flavors of nutmeg and oak from the start. As it mellows, I get some decent orangey sweetness combined with brown sugar on my palette. It finishes crisp, with a warm and comforting burn lingering in my belly for several minutes. Even with a few ice cubes, I was quite impressed with how well it holds up.

I like the complexity and totally respect the product, but have to admit that Rare Breed is a bit bold for my taste. Enthusiasts of a lot of burn will really appreciate this one.

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Bourbon Reviews Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon Review

Verdict: Unique, spicy, and flavorful. A nice treat.

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Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey has a uniqueness and complexity that makes it distinct. This is probably due to its relatively high rye content (at about 28% of the mash). Distilled in Kentucky limestone-filtered water and aged in charred American oak barrels, Bulleit (90 proof) claims it ages the bourbon “until it is ready” and obvious swipe at the pretentious “how-old-is-this” crowd. The brand added a straight-up rye whiskey to its arsenal in 2011.

The bottle itself is fairly unique itself compared to many others on the shelf. I love the way the old medicine bottle and raised lettering conveys a nostalgic note which is punctuated with an understated label placed slightly askew. It’s so understated that if you were not familiar with Bulleit, you may have to ask the guy behind the counter where they keep it.

Bulleit has a rich amber color in the glass and a warming, smokey scent. Without ice, I experienced a good burn from the front to the back. It starts out strong and spicy giving way to flavors of brown sugar, wild flowers, and vanilla with very long flavorful finish waiting at the end. I added a few ice cubes which mellowed the burn slightly without dulling the richness of the flavors.

There is a depth and complexity in Bulleit that I find appealing. I think this is one to keep around for when you’re in the mood for something slightly different.

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Bourbon Reviews

Eagle Rare 10 Year

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I wouldn’t think twice about recommending Eagle Rare Single Barrel as a gift this holiday season. The casual bourbon lover will definitely appreciate flavors while the bourbon aficionados will dig the complexity.

A little back story – Eagle was introduced in 1975 by Charles Beam for Seagram’s and was apparently meant to compete with Wild Turkey at the time. It was one of the last bourbons introduced prior to the current focus on small batch bourbons which began late 80s. The brand has changed hands several times over the years and is now part of the Buffalo Trace family.

The two currently available varieties are the 10 year Single Barrel (90-proof) and the 17 year ‘Antique Collection’ (also 90-proof). What makes the 10 year unique is that the whiskey is not blended, but bottled individually from each charred barrel. This creates a unique tasting experience which is probably why it has won a nice stable of awards over the last several years.

Eagle Rare Single Barrel is a very nice bourbon. The amber color is rich and enticing. The aromas, while not overwhelming, are adequate. I get a hint of orange peel there and maybe some wildflower.

Eagle starts mild then explodes with bold flavors of honey, oak, tobacco, and leather with a distinct sweetness. It finishes very, very long with lingering flavors of toasted almond. This is the kind of finish that really suits me. I give it much-deserved high marks.

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Bourbon Reviews Jim Beam

Jim Beam Black Double Aged

Verdict: Warming, flavorful

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It’s hard to drink Jim Beam Black without comparing it to Jim Beam original which is probably what most of us cut our teeth on. Black is aged 8 years whereas white is aged 4 years (thus the “double aged” moniker on the label). Black carries a higher price, but carries more complex flavors and I found it much more drinkable than white.

The bottle reveals a rich, dark amber color with a nice body. The barrels are charred new white oak, but I’m not getting the smokey smell that I was expecting. I do get some a nice vanilla aroma even well after the glass is empty.

After a few pleasant sips neat, I added a few ice cubes which helped it opening up, although it held up fairly well without. I found mild flavors of caramel and orange on the tongue. Probably the most dominant characteristic is that starts strong and stays strong (at only 86 proof). So if you’re into a good long burn, you will think this is great.

Just like the original, I think Jim Beam Black is an excellent value for the money. The bottom line is that black is more palatable without a mixer than white, so its advantage is versatility.

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Bourbon Reviews Woodford

Woodford Reserve Review

Verdict: Will not disappoint

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Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select has always been one of my favorites. This is straight-up good bourbon and worth every penny. I know the price is not completely outrageous, but a lot of folks opt for a more economical bourbon like Jack or Jim as an every day drink. I suggest to go ahead and splurge on this one every now and again. It doesn’t stray off the path too much, but it’s a good bit smoother so I don’t think you will be disappointed.

The smell of Woodford is fairly sweet with a good oaky bouquet and a bit of barrel char. It’s not overly sweet, but maybe comes in a little syrupy for some. It has a good balance of honey and brown sugar flavors. I don’t get a big burn, but it does have a nice soft, long finish.

It may be noted that the age is not listed on the bottle and every bottle is numbered with a batch/bottle number. Based on US law any bourbon that is aged less than four years has to have an age statement, so any Woodford bottle that you may get is at least four years old.

For me Woodford has a very drinkable quality. It’s fairly easy to find and I often choose it as my default. It may be a bit pricey as a highball, but a great treat over ice or neat. Enjoy!

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Bourbon Reviews Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey

Verdict: Smooth, Crisp, Well-rounded

My Irish friend never fails to interject his opinions about the superiority of Irish whiskey whenever the topic of whiskey comes up. I’m adding Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey to this blog as a nod to our brethren across the pond. They’ve been distilling whiskey (or ‘Water of Life’ as they call it) for over 400 years, so I guess they have gotten pretty good at it. This post is also fairly topical since the company’s “Make it 2 Bushmills” contest just wrapped up.

First off, you are not obligated to drink Bushmills neat if you are in the presence of an Irishman. Drinking it with ginger or coke is perfectly acceptable. For the purposes of this review, I added nothing so I could get a gauge on the full taste.

Bushmills (like most Irish whiskey) is distilled 3 times, therefore I found it a slightly milder than American whiskey. On the nose I detected some subtle florals with spice and citrus, but the smells were not overwhelming. Although I would describe the taste as smooth, it’s not shy either and packed a nice punch going down. It had a good burn, with warming flavors of honey and herbs. I couldn’t describe the finish as anything other than crisp. I can almost hear the pub music as I drink it – which I think is a good sign.

Bushmills has a long tradition of making great whiskey and I raise my glass to wish them well for another 400 years.

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Bourbon Reviews Jefferson's Small Batch Bourbon

Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon

Verdict: Warm, robust, smooth

I’m not sure why, but when I hear sound of the cork popping out of a bottle of bourbon my taste buds start to anticipate something great coming their way. Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon, from McLain & Kyne, did not disappoint them.

Jefferson’s Small Batch is aged 8 years (vs. their Jefferson’s Reserve version which is aged 12) in metal warehouses to accentuate extreme temperatures. According to the distiller, this environment “forces the bourbon to expand into the barrel and pull out the wood flavors.” I guess the term “small batch” is a pretty general term, but my bottle was number 1009 from batch 147 which does seem pretty small compared to the production of some of the larger distillers.

The scent of Jefferson’s is incredibly mild. From the bottle and from the glass you really have to work to get a nose from it. The taste was well-balanced with flavors of sweet caramel and vanilla. There is a satisfying burn, but overall very smooth and pleasant finish.

Jefferson’s is very good whiskey. This is good old fashioned Kentucky sipping whiskey. I would highly recommend this one.

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Bourbon Reviews Jim Beam Rye Whiskey

Jim Beam Rye

Verdict: Mellow, Peppery

I hesitated a little bit adding a rye whiskey to this blog since someone is going to write to tell me that it’s not a bourbon, but this what I have in the cabinet at the moment so let’s roll with it. Rye is usually associated as the drink from the pre-prohibition days, but it has seen a resurgence lately with many bourbon distillers coming out with speciality batches of rye whiskey. This seems like it would be a natural extension for a distiller since the process of making rye is similar to that of making bourbon.

For the record, American rye whiskey is made from a mash of rye (technically at least 51 percent rye), while bourbon is made primarily of corn (also at least 51 percent). The taste is similar to bourbon and could be substituted for bourbon in mixed drinks, but it does have some noticeable distinctions.

Jim Beam Rye (80 proof) is aged for 4 years in charred oak barrels and carries a lighter color than you see with bourbons. It has a more peppery bite initially than its cousin, but the flavor tends to be a more mellow and not very complex. The finish is pleasant with a very slight burst of sweetness and oak. You may also get some maple on the tongue if your really reaching. While I didn’t love the taste, I didn’t hate it either. I definitely see how this bottle would fit into any well-stocked bar.

If you typically are a bourbon drinker, you will miss the bolder flavors – but don’t let that discourage you from trying it and appreciating the differences.

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Bourbon Reviews Old Forester

Old Forester Classic 86 Proof

Verdict: Good value for the money

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Old Forester, like all great brands, has an interesting history. It has been on the market since 1873 and is touted as the longest continuously marketed bourbon. During Prohibition (1920 – 1933) it was one of the 10 brands that could legally produce liquor (for medicinal purposes only, of course). It was also the first bourbon to come in a bottle. Before that bourbon was delivered in barrels and served from decanters.

I tried Old Forester at my friend’s man cave last night. It was the only bourbon he had and the garage (complete with a replica “leg lamp” from A Christmas Story) was a perfect venue for our mission.

It was a really hot night so we decided that adding a few ice cubes was appropriate. The bourbon itself had a good color and medium body. The taste was very subtle – not too sharp and not a lot of sweetness. You get a hint of oak and some interesting spices, but the flavors are really delicate. Although I typically like a bit more sweetness in my bourbons, the ice cubes mellowed the flavor after a few minutes which made it very drinkable.

The bottle design was apparently updated recently and, although this version is more contemporary than the previous, it doesn’t knock me over. I would love to see the labeling simplified.

All and all, I would consider Old Forester a good basic bourbon. It’s a great value for the money and it would be a fine choice for a casual cocktail or a hot night in the garage.