Kentucky

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.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, based on $65. A good barrel of this edges it into the high value category at $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.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, based on $65. A good barrel of this edges it into the high value category at $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.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, 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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $85).


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.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (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.

Value: Average, at $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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $61.


Review: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Rittenhouse.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
51% rye, 37% Corn, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Rittenhouse is a brand produced by Heaven Hill, the largest family-owned beverage alcohol producer in the USA and the second largest bourbon producer after Jim Beam. This rye whiskey has been around for some time, as one of the best deals (perhaps the best) in terms of price and quality for a straight rye. This whiskey is bottled in bond, a labeling measure which was put in place in 1897 in order to protect the quality of good whiskey. To put “bottled in bond” on the label, the whiskey has to be the product of one distillation season, produced by a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under US Government supervision for at least 4 years, and bottled at 50% ABV (or 100 American proof). These restrictions are stricter than those for Bourbon (produced in US, use new oak barrels, distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and put in the cask at 62.5%, bottled at at least 40%, with the age written on the label if it is less than 4 years old) and Straight Bourbon (minimum age 2 years without colouring or flavouring added). Thus, to an extent, it is a bit stricter of a labelling regulation.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Fresh oak and floral, candied rye in great measure, orange peel, along with some honey, and anise. Quite an expressive nose – not difficult at all to smell with your nose quite a bit away from the glass. However, if you search deeper, you find tannins and some bitterness which is too much. Thankfully, with time this is a less significant factor as the aroma develops. Caramel and vanilla come out in time, and some funky farmy earthiness with the honey and oak continuing to grow. The beginning of the nose isn’t that great, but as you get used to it and it develops it really starts to come out wonderfully.

Taste: A good dosage of rye coming through, with the oak counterbalancing and eventually winning out. There’s a lot of honey, and still has the heaven hill style in the mix of it. As I’ve said before, one great thing about visiting distilleries is getting into the barrel houses with the smells – and this reminds me of that Heaven Hill characteristic. The guy who was giving us the tour told us at the time that if Buffalo Trace barreled their bourbon there, it would taste like Heaven Hill, and likewise, if Heaven Hill barreled their bourbon at Buffalo Trace, it would taste like Buffalo Trace. The grain comes through nicely, too – rich and buttery, and the corn seems to come through on the end. Delicious stuff. Spicy on the end, too. Really – a quite fabulous integration of complex grains, oak, and spice.

Finish: after the intensity of the palate, the oak takes the reins and slows the whole thing down leaving you into slow, sweet oak and honey with some spiciness in the mix too and some apples. anise, once again.

This is so popular, and with such great demand, a worker at Heaven Hill told me that they actually sell this stuff at a loss in order to keep the brand profile high until some of the other prices rise. This is great stuff, and terrific value especially in the states – as with most Heaven Hill products, in fact. I am quite a fan of them (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig 12, Larceny, Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope)

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $47.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: B35L6

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Oak, slightly nutty, vanilla, dried fruit, dry candy icing, solidified bacon fat – lots of spices (unsurprisingly). A really rich, spicy product – still with a nice light sweetness and a touch of mint. A corn sweetness grows in the glass. The palate is really nice  - rich with a great balance of oak, sweet, and spice. The corn really comes out on the palate, more than the nose – rich grainy body, yet the spicy rye is there with clove, tea, brown cardamom, and rye bread. The finish is slightly sweet, slightly tangy, full of light oak and more spice. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and light menthol.

I was writing more but I realized it was so much a duplication of the above review and there is no need! I don’t know if I would say that it is a better whisky than it’s older sibling Pikesville, but I like it better. It’s a nice distillate, and I like it with this amount of oak – Pikesville is a bit more oaky. The tanginess here is just perfect.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $47.


Review: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.jpg
ABV
45.2%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak (twice)
Recipe
~72% Corn, 18% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Woodford Reserve (Versailles, Kentucky)

Woodford Reserve has a cooperage on site, and when I was at the distillery in 2014 they had just released this whisky and it was sold out everywhere. It is a combination of two types of casks – a heavily charred lightly toasted barrel and also a lightly charred but heavily toasted barrel which the whisky is matured for 9 months in, bringing out all sorts of oaky notes.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L300611542

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A rich, oaky, caramel-laden nose. Decadent caramel, apples, pear, cucumber, marmelade, plum jam, burnt toast, and hazlenut. It is interesting to taste woodford – because it is pot distilled, it is a lot narrower and in some senses cleaner than the typical column distilled bourbons, which means the grain comes out completely different – sharp, clean, and spicy. The oak is massive – if there was an oak centre of the brain, this would fry the circuits. The palate is full of charred oak, plum jam, caramel, smoke, and lots of spice – with lots of tannins, too. Oaky, and heavy. The palate, as they say, is going to oak – but this is a lot of oak – too much for me. It’s not that I don’t like it (I do, and I like tannic whiskies...), but I feel it doesn’t quite compete on the stage that other bourbons do. The finish is full of spice, dense fruit jam, charred oak, and tannins. Quite creamy, and it opens up as the bottle stays open.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $72.


Review: 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

1792 Full Proof.jpg
ABV
62.5%
Aging
8.5 yrs; New Charred Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 15% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Barton (Bardstown, Kentucky)

As the industry listens to what bourbon fans want, we are continuing to see barrel proof versions of standard bourbons, like this 1792 (though this is a limited release, and not quite barrel proof).

The LCBO, classically, did their own testing of this bourbon when it came in and restamped all the bottles with 61.87% rather than the 62.5% advertised on the label (the ABV at which the liquid goes into the barrel). 8 and a half years old.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code:K16205 21:47 05

  • Botting Date: 2016

The nose has maple, dried apricot, prune, cinnamon, oak, cherry, pear,  menthol, and vanilla sugar. Rich, and dense – really opening up with water. The palate has a nice lacing of oak alongside lots of stone fruit, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and clove. It’s packed with flavor – fruit, oak, and spice. The finish is slightly tannic with a reasonable hit of spice, yet also retaining a dark fruit character and rich coconut. The complexity didn’t come out the way I hoped it would, given how I enjoy 1792. An enjoyable, high proof, modern bourbon.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, based on $65. According to my numerical scores that I assign, this is at the upper end of average. But good cask strength bourbons are pretty rare for these prices, so I bumped it up.


Review: Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel (OESQ) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Four Roses OESQ 2.jpg
ABV
61.1%
Aging
9 years, 1 months; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Malted Barley
Distiller Four Roses (Lawrenceburg, Kentucky)

Some of the best bourbon I’ve ever had was a set of Four Roses single barrels from 2013 and 2014, all around 11-12 years. They can still be found without too much difficulty, but the ones I’ve seen have dropped a few years in age, sadly, since they were about perfect at 11-12 years


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Warehouse S (North), Rick 4, 5th level, Barrel Q

  • Bottling Code: 150213016 1238

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Prunes, dried roses, rich corn, fruity rye, grape soda, light earthiness. Vanilla, toasted oak, and rich dulce de leche grow with time. The palate has good bite with white grape, spicy tobacco, oak, and potpourri. A slight let-down after the nose. Rosehips and oak on the finish. A nice bourbon, and very enjoyable at 61.1%, but lacks complexity and balance to merit the high marks I’ve given these single barrels in the past.

 

Not as floral as I expected, but I guess I’ve been having whiskies like Collingwood Double Oaked recently, which is floral off the charts. But, it’s a single cask, so I’d like to see a stellar cask using this yeast.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low (based on $125)


Review: Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

wild turkey 101 2.jpg
ABV
50.5%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg, Kentucky)

This whisky is matured 6-8 years, distilled to a low proof, and put in the high char barrels at low proof - often, the whisky comes out at around 109 proof - so this is nearly cask strength. Jimmy Russel, now the longest active master distiller in Kentucky has always been insistent on powerful and flavorful bourbons. This was off the market for a while and it is back - it is a favorite of many.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 214B20713 LL E 1280700

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

Honey, prune, clove, corn, sharp green lettuce (with those terrific earthy notes), hazlenuts,  caramel, roasted apricots, and a light harshness – though not from immaturity. The palate is big, full of vanilla, mixed roasted nuts, and rye – both spicy and floral – underneath the whole thing. The finish has pineapple, earthy oak, tobacco, and lots of grain notes. The grain notes, in fact, are very present in quite raw form throughout the bourbon – it has more of a broad and flavorful grain profile than many Kentucky bourbons (similar to other Wild Turkey products) – perhaps a product of the low percent off the still. Cinnamon, rye, and pumperknickel linger on the finish.

I think this is my favorite Wild Turkey, limited editions excluded. It’s a brand I expect could grow on me, if I drank it more.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, at $38.


Review: William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

WL Weller.jpg
ABV
67.3%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak; 12 Yrs
Recipe
~70% Corn; 16% Wheat; 14% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

This is about as big as you can get with a wheated bourbon - cask strength, oaky, and nearly 70%. Consistently terrific.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2015 (67.3%)

  • Bottling Code: B152301238K

  • Bottling Date: 2015

This is woody! Lots of char and caramel on the nose - a bit of a reatrained nose, at first - even diluted. Creamy, candied, spicy....fennel root, stewed apples, caramelized vegetables, tobacco, oily, candle wax - quite dark, really. Very lightly floral - like light jasmine - I was expecting something in the Weller 12 category but this is quite different...

The palate is thick, sweet, and incredibly earthy - the mossy oak sort of earthiness - i love this bit. A touch of dill, and full of rich toffee and old, leathery dried apricot. The finish has a bit of mint and loads of creamy caramel and dried apricot and stewed prune. Huge, sweet, finish. Really earthy - oaky, 

It's one that begs me to be slipped slow and savour - it is nice when the whisky you are tasting takes the reins. Really nice. 

I prefer it with a bit of water in it to the mid-high 50 percent range. More complexity is revealed 

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: High (based on $130)


Review: George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

George Stagg 3.jpg
ABV
71.3%
Aging
18.5 yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 10% Rye, 15% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

Of course, each year of Stagg varies in age, barrels, and ABV - the above is for the 2011 batch I have reviewed, the oldest Stagg ever, I believe. Indeed, it is not often you find an 18 year old bourbon, let alone one bottled at cask strength greater than 70%!


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2011

  • Bottling Code: K237 119:44

  • Bottling Date: 2011

This is an oaky beast! The nose has vanilla and oak, dried cherry, almond, corn husks, dried apricot, and the lightest hint of strawberry and hibiscus. Nuttiness grows with time. If you drink at higher proofs, wonderful oiliness and beeswax reveal themselves along with Elmo’s craft glue, dried cranberry, leather, black tea, dried flowers – surprisingly, on the nose, I get more at full proof. Oak is here, there, and everywhere – it is relatively clean though – you aren’t getting a sense of really earthy, mossy, oak or very spicy oak – at least not relative to the magnitude of straightforward oak. It really does smell like a stave of sweet, luscious oak. The palate is loaded through with oak, strawberry, clove, old tough dried fruit, and light bitterness. Nice tanginess, and incredibly rich dried fruit. The finish is full of light fruitiness, vanillla, baking spices, spearmint and stewed apricots and peaches. The finish is dense, slowly unfolding with time.

The whole thing, really, is chained in oak – it is terrific for a powerful, oaky bourbon but in terms of complexity and intrigue – it’s not quite there. The nose is really nice, but the palate is too constrained by the mighty oak and isn’t quite together. I keep wanting to rate this higher because I know it is a Stagg – it is ever the error with non-blind tasting. However, tasting in a flight brings back that advantage...and it isn’t the caliber of the ones I’m tasting beside it. The nose is fantastic, and it develops beautifully, but the palate and the finish don’t meet expectation. But that was a pretty high expectation – this is terrific bourbon.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, at $150.