American Whiskey

Review: Blanton's Original Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46.5%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 15% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

Blanton's is aged for about 9 years, in warehouse H at Buffalo Trace the only metal cladded warehouse there. It is made from the same corn, rye, and maltmash bill as Elmer T. Lee and Ancient Age, and is a hand bottled product from a single barrel. It is one of my favorite, if not my favorite whisky bottle - with collectible bottle stoppers which each contain a letter of Blanton's. It was launched in 1984, with great success, by master distiller Elmer T. Lee as the first single barrel bourbon in modern production. The whiskey comes off the still at 70%, dumped into the barrels at 62.5%, and uses a 6 month seasoning (air drying) on the staves before they were put into the barrels.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Barrel 90; Warehouse H; Rick no. 26; Dumped 10.15.13

  • Bottling Code: B1329016:52J

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Quite the nose, bursting with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and pomegranate, alongside oak and an impressive light oily quality which is well integrated within. Now we have lime zest too on the nose. On the palate, loaded with kombucha, and all sorts of tea notes - blueberry tea, raspberry tea, black tea, before resting on the fruity notes. Oily, as well, in the best sense of the word. Kombucha on the finish, with chili spice, and great complexity throughout - showing great bourbon without being a spirit smothered by corn or oak - we, perhaps, don't see this enough. A favorite bourbon of mine.

Score: 88/100

Value: 74/100 (based on $65)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 327; Warehouse H; Rick no. 33; Dumped 12.31.15

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

A friend of mine said this was his favorite Blanton’s ever and sent me a sample. I never turn down trying more of my favorite bourbon brand!

Terrific nose, which develops beautifully too. A brilliant mix of rye, floral notes, tea, oak, corn, pomegranate, orange zest, spice cake, and corn which shines through on this one. The palate is full of spice, corn stalks, and toffee with tingly pepper. A nice finish with dried berries, corn husks, caramel, and black tea. Another terrific blanton’s.

Score: 88/100

Value: 80/100 (based on $65)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Barrel 1467; Warehouse H; Rick no. 21; Dumped 2.5.18

  • Bottling Code: L18037011646J

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Fruity and spicy – dried rose, hibiscus, fennel seed, dried apricot and dried peach. Strawberry. What can I say, typical Blanton’s! It’s a bit more harsh and less rounded than most of the Blanton’s I’ve had. It’s sharp and oaky on the palate, with nice dried fruit coming in. Finish continues – dried fruit (more peach than usual), lots of rye spice, and rich sweet oak.

Score: 87/100

Value: 74/100 (based on $70)


Review: Stagg Junior Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
63%+
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 10% Rye, 15% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

Stagg Junior was released in 2013 partially to satisfy many consumers who wanted to try the George T. Stagg bourbon, a whiskey usually about 17 years old and bottled unfiltered and at barrel proof part of the esteemed and rare Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. This whisky is aged 8-9 years, and, similarly, is from the same recipe (also the recipe of Buffalo Trace) and is cask strength and unfiltered. It comes out in batches, and, thus, the alcohol percentage and flavour vary from batch to batch. As the whiskey is younger, has high production, and is released multiple times per year, Buffalo Trace hopes this is a more accessible whiskey in the mold of George T. Stagg.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A (66.05%)

  • Bottling Code: B14 191 0957N

  • Bottling Date: 2014

There’s a good dose of earthy oak, caramel, black tea, lots of white grape (the fruit really lifts up the whole nose), honey, a bit of marsh that’s drying out in the fall (or another season, I suppose…), and lots of dried apricot. I love the earthiness of the oak. The palate is sweet with a lot of black tea, candied orange, and some sharp spices – a mixed bag of old stale cloves and peppercorns. Still a bit sweet with almost a raisin-y type sweetness to it. Fades to tannins, oak, and dried apple.

Even if you water it down to 40% you still get quite a nice bourbon. But, much better at cask strength – though watered to 58-60% might be my sweet spot for this bourbon.

Score: 86/100

Value: 46/100 (based on $87)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 10 (63.2%)

  • Bottling Code: L180860118:557 REF IA 5C VT 15C

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Lowest proof to date for a stagg jr!

Very fruity! Cherries, mulberries, white grape, a light floral note and lots of spice – clove and ground cinnamon (i.e. more on the spicy than the woody side). The palate is big with dried fruit and a rich oiliness – full of that buffalo trace rye note you see clearly in the standard buffalo trace bottling – but it’s much bigger and richer here. Amazing fruity notes – raspberry jam, hibiscus, cherry, strawberry, but alongside the oily corn, oak, and spice you’d expect. The finish is drying, with lots of dried stone fruit (notably cherry), oak, caramel, and tannin.

A definite improvement on the initial stagg jr. which didn’t make me jump to buy more of them. This is much better.

Score: 89/100

Value: 75/100 (based on 85$)


Review: Wild Turkey Rare Breed Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
54.1%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
~51% Rye, 37% Corn, 21% Malted Barley
Distiller Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg, Kentucky)

This whiskey is a near barrel proof bourbon, bottled at 54.1%, from Wild Turkey. It was originally released in 1991, and is a mix of bourbons 6-12 years old.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Nose: The first thing I notice are almonds and caramel. Orange, allspice, dried apricot, peppers, light smoky ash, very light vanilla, and a bit of sourness to it as well. Oak drifts in and out, and the corn is present, along with a some good malt, and some notes that remind me of white flour. Interestingly, I also get a kidney bean note! There’s a bit of dense spiciness with a thread of bitterness which I find doesn’t really fit in too well with the rest of the whiskey. A bit of earthy, marshy notes as well – which seem to be coming alongside the corn. It’s complex, with a lot going on, but I don’t find it particularly elegant or balanced.

Taste: The rye comes in quite nicely on the palate, alongside the corn – it’s quite a big whiskey. Leather, tobacco, rye spice, caramel, pineapple, and a bit of orange. It finishes with some spices, including anise. A bit of detracting bitterness I think. This is good, and interesting, but not spectacular.

Finish: Anise, marzipan, and caramel…it’s a bit dry, with a tiny bit of bitterness and sweetness. Some of those marshy earthy notes too, which I suppose is the earthiness of the corn coming through, and even some earthy-mushroom notes.

Score: 82/100

Value: 45/100 (based on $68)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 2015/09/17 14:11 LJ10946

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Rich...this is full of coconut, vanilla, oak, and fruit – plums, apricot, prunes, and dried peaches. It has a nice grainy character, with a nice earthiness and farm-like character to it. The palate balances the fruit, sweetness, and a light grain character. I’m enjoying this much more than the last batch of rare breed that I had - perhaps I got it wrong last time (it was just a small sample in 2015) or it’s actually better. The finish has fennel seed, oak, plum, and dried corn.

Score: 86/100

Value: 74/100 (based on $61)


Review: Ironroot Icarus Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Icarus.jpg
ABV
53.75%
Aging
24 months; Virgin Charred Oak Finished in Peat and Port Casks
Recipe
>80% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This is one of the most interesting whiskies I've ever come across. A straight corn whisky (rare), finished in peat casks (rare, if not the only American to do so yet), and port casks. The only thing mildly in the category is High West's campfire, but even that is quite a bit different.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

One of the most unique noses I have encountered. Sharp, smoky wood, sweet fruits, sharp mineral notes, crushed glass, caramel, and corn. Very complex, and very interesting. The palate is full of that sweet, smoky character with lots of vegetal character, including milkweed and dandelion stems (very interesting!). The complex underlying corn distillate character is present, too – as seen in their Hubris bottling. The finish has rancio, smoke, oak, and corn. The closest thing to this is High West’s campfire, but they are very different in  terms of casks and distillate, so it is a weak comparison – but there are just not many spirits in this category. Quite nice at the release strength – and the complexity and intrigue is brilliant. However, it is slightly out of balance – the rich fruitiness of the port combined with a light sourness means I enjoy one dram, but probably won’t reach for a second.

Regardless, I view this as a very interesting whisky for pushing the limits, and, again, very complex and interesting.

Score: 85/100

Value: N/A

 


Review: Ironroot Harbinger Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Harbinger.jpg
ABV
58.4%
Aging
18 months; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
Yellow Corn, Peruvian Purple Corn, Bloody Butcher Corn, Flint Corn, and Rye
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

Another big beast from Texas...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose has a broad array of grain notes – sweet oatmeal, rye flakes, pear, sea salt, icing sugar, and vanilla. The palate is very similar, driven by rich grain notes, reminding me very much of a mixed grain porridge, but still retaining an icing-sugar like confectionary character. Mixed grain porridge, red river cereal, caramel, and a light touch of mixed spices on the finish. For those that like very grain forward – I quite like the style, and lots of micro distilleries are producing it these days. It’s reminding me quite a bit of Ottawa’s North of 7 Whisky.

Score: 84/100

Value: 32/100 (based on $96)


Review: Ironroot Hubris Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Hubris.jpg
ABV
60%
Aging
24 months
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This whiskey is making this distillery famous - a straight, complex 100% corn whiskey with loads of flavour. It has won best corn whisky awards already - not the typical unaged or barely aged corn spirit called "corn whiskey" (there are no regulations around aging corn whiskey in the USA).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 Edition

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is very playful and fruity – full of flavor. Grape, bubblegum, spices, cinnamon, oak, fresh pizza dough, celery, and an oily richness. The palate is sweet, full of candy-fruity notes (pear, candy grape) and finishing with oak and porridge – but balanced with the complex fruit character. It’s a delicate balance – the youth is present, yet wonderfully shows the interesting distillate. The finish has some spicy oak, welcomed by me. The complexity blooms if water is added, but it is nice, big, and rich at cask strength. The best American corn whisky I’ve ever had (it’s hard to compete with the old Canadian corn whiskies, if you like that style as I do).

Score: 86/100

Value: 43/100 (based on $96)


Review: Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
64.9%
Aging
~2-3 yrs; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This bourbon is made with blue corn as the primary component, rather than the typical mass produced yellow corn in most bourbons.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose is slightly sour- but shows a competition between oak, fruit, and grain. The grain is terrific – I love it when craft distillers really try to showcase the grain. Lots of sandlewood, too – it is terrific. Vanilla, toasted black pepper, celery seed, and toasted clove – an interesting , and well crafted, nose. The palate has white oak, green grape, nutmeg, rye bread, and a rich array of spice. There is some marmelade and a complex, almost, umami character. It is described as rich at mid-palate – no kidding! Lots of oak, spice, and fruit there. Terrific at cask strength. The roasted character is so central, and so strong – I love the myriad set of notes which are toasted, which fit into the grain and the oak. The finish is lightly drying, with nice tannins, white pepper, creamy corn, and pear. A nice whisky, but still, a bit less complex than the baby blue distillate. Somehow, the new oak doesn’t seem to serve balcones. But, I suppose it’s what you like.

Why lower than baby blue? Less complex. But, when it hits 5 years of age – I can only imagine!

Score: 86/100

Value: 35/100 (based on $105)


Review: Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
65.7%
Aging
~2 yrs
Recipe
100% Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is older than Baby Blue, but still only about 2 years old - and made of the same 100% roasted heirloom blue corn.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What marvelous color! The nose has some nice, rich fresh oak – with spicy, competing grains underneath. It is quite nutty – lots of walnut – but the nose seems a bit stuck on nuts and oak, without the underlying complexity in the distillate shown in baby blue. Roasted, rich, pecan, too. The palate is rich, but grainy – with lots of dark cacao, dark coffee, and charred oak. Sweet and slightly confectionary – the roasted character actually reminds me of some mezcals, with some roasted jalapeno notes. At cask strength, it is big – and the spices are terrific. It has quite a bit of great woody character – like gentian, but not bitter. The finish is full of nuts and spice, but it remains sweet and ever so lightly creamy.

Corn whisky is often fairly plain – they are showing that this isn’t the case here! In Texas, they do things big – no surprise to find this, then.

Score: 85/100

Value: 11/100 (based on $98)

 


Review: Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
Used 5 Gallon Barrels
Recipe
Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is made from double distilled heirloom blue corn, matured in used 5 gallon casks for a limited time. It is released young and youthful - intentionally - in order to display the character of the blue heirloom corn used to make the whiskey. The first whiskey released in Texas since prohibition, and perhaps the cornerstone whiskey which established Balcones as a leader in craft distilling.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is sharp and young – oily, unripe pear, jalapeno, white pepper, but is full of lots of toffee, mixed roasted nuts, and lots of tropical fruit. But – it evolves, with cinnamon, sunflower oil, dried corn, and terrific roasted notes. The palate has lots of toffee, with some spice, tea, and light oak – and rich sunflower and corn oil (which does a nice trick!). The finish is lightly sour, with more toffee and some pear – but rich and spicy - the spices on the end are brilliant. Young, but very well crafted – though quite candied – maybe more than I would like. But – I respect what they do in showing their distillate – it is terrific!

I really like it. The youthfulness on the nose does detract the score, though. But, that being said – I do like whiskies that show good underlying distillate – and this has that.

Score: 87/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $70)


Review: Westland Garryana American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

 Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

ABV
56%
Aging
American Oak and Garry Oak; 4 years old
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Westland is obsessed with portraying the land they live on - the pacific northwest, and part of their journey to being authentic to their landscape was to investigate the local Garry oak, a rich and rarely used style of oak which was first used for wine but was too powerful. Rather than release single Garryana casks, Westland decided to blend around the powerful wood to showcase different elements it displays. At first I was dissapointed, wanting to taste the unique wood directly - but as soon as I did, I understood, and now I can taste it come out differently in all of the Garryana blends.

When I visited Westland, I asked Matt Hoffman, the master distiller, and Steve Hawley, marketing director what was in Garryana 3.1. They both laughed, said it was complicated, and wouldn't give me an answer. Shane, their blender, finally let me in, and I understood why the others skirted the question...

It is a blend of 7 casks, with a bit less than 1700 bottles produced. It is Shane's version of the original vatting of Garryana, blended by Matt Hoffman, which was never released. The original recipe had been vatted with about 20% Garry oak amidst other cask types, but rather than being released, it was put back into the barrels that they came from. Of these 10 or 11 casks, 4 were pulled out for this blend - 2 Garry oak and 2 ex-bourbon. These were then vatted with 1 washington malt ex-bourbon cask, 1 peated new oak, and 1 five-malt recipe matured in new oak. The youngest whisky in the blend is 51 months (4.25 yrs) and the oldest is 58 months (4.8 yrs).

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 3.1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Garry oak is so intense – and I like intense whiskies – so I was always curious why they blended this until I tasted a straight garry oak whisky. It is intense. If you water this down, you can taste the garry oak – it is quite central – rich toffee, buckwheat soba noodles, molasses, and a deep spiciness – that’s the garry oak. It is very balanced, and broader than the first two releases – the first which was focused more on the phenolic, smoky elements of garryana and the second on dried fruit. This does it all - wood, smoke, malt, roasted malt, and a complex finish.

The nose brings together a lot - white grape, white oak, dried cherry, dried apricot, toffee, burning conifers, and an umami characteristic like a subtle soy sauce. The palate has light licorice, hickory smoke, roasted lemon, toffee, an incredible woodiness, clove, and jam too – quince, apricot, peach. The finish is drying, spicy, smoky, and still full of stone fruit jams. Cacao, too – and a nice flash of garry oak!

This is complex, awesome stuff. One of my favourite American whiskies I’ve tasted of late, both delicious and extremely interesting.

Score: 89/100

Value: 18/100 (based on $200)