Rye Bourbon

Review: Basil Hayden's Dark Rye by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of Beam Rye, Alberta Rye, and Port
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky) and Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

The second bottle to be added to the Basil Hayden’s brand, one of Jim Beam’s core „small batch” brands. Beam Suntory started to leverage its Canadian distillery, the magnificent Alberta rye distillery, using it as a secondary component to blend in with Jim Beam’s rye whiskey. On top of this, port is added to the blend to round it out. In some respects, it’s similar to Alberta Dark Rye (Dark Horse in Canada) in that a fortified wine is added to a rye whiskey. The addition of wine to the whiskey is scientifically equivalent to a short (i.e. a few months) of a finish where wood impact doesn’t mature the whiskey but the wine is just dissolved into the spirit. So, it’s not much different than a port finish, depending on the amount of port actually added. The Alberta ryes taste nothing like Beam rye, so let’s test out the combo!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose starts off with sweet oak, rich and shallow caramel (think of that super sweet caramel donut or straight cheap caramel ice cream sauce), green apple candy,  oaky earthiness, mint, bright and rich grain, clove, pepper, butter...hmmm....

The palate is sweet throughout, starting with a sharp kick of rye but with lots of sweet oak and a strong touch of nutty port rancio. Slightly rough around the edges, too. The finish is perhaps the best part of the whisky, with a combination of spicy rye, oak, and port. Lots of rich dried fruit, like prune, on the finish too. It’s rough underneath, and I suppose you could imagine balance, but barely, and there isn’t good integration.

I don’t even like to nose this one, all candy, and not in a good way. Ice marginally improves this, but not enough. One of the worst whiskies from a major producer in some time. For some who like sweet and flavoured whiskies, they may not mind this. But, for most of us, there’s better places to find „uniqueness”.

Value: Low. Not a whisky up my alley, which means it’s a lot to pay for it.


Review: Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Old Forester Prohibition 1.jpg
ABV
57.5%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
72% Corn, 18% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Brown Forman (Louisville, Kentucky)

I’ve kept hearing so many good things about this one, I had to try it. Old Forester is distilled in a bourbon distillery in Louisville, and owned by Brown Forman who also own Jack Daniels (and Canadian Mist)....It is part of a series of special releases from Brown Forman which celebrate different periods of history in their „Whisky Row” series. This bottle commemorates prohibition, though it doesn’t appear there is much specific to prohibition about the bottle beyond being a typical proof which a bourbon might have come out of the barrel during prohibition (though it would have been required to be bottled at 50% rather than the 57.5% it came out of the bottle at). Brown Forman doesn’t usually bottle high proof bourbons, so it’s nice to see, too...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L055711251

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Quite a vibrant bourbon on the nose. Loads of cherry, pineapple, and rich dark caramel – but also orange, and a nice set of spices – vanilla, oak, a bit of nutmeg, dried mixed mushrooms, macadamias, tea biscuits, and something qiute woody – gentian, perhaps. A light citric lift, too. The palate is spicy, driven by the oak and corn. Some nice light rye, supporting, with some slight vegetal and sharp spicy undertones. It does well with water, but is very nicely rich at full strength.Rich, sweet finish with brown sugar, oatmeal, and lots of earthy marshy notes and some brown sugar. The earthy, marshy, oaky notes are so nice combined with the dried horn cusk notes and the brown sugar.

It really doesn’t come across as 57.5%, which is a plus – it tastes very rich but not hot (granted, I’ve enjoyed 80% ABV whiskies without trouble...). It’s reminding me of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, though this is not nearly as woody – but has a similar, extremely rich profile but the distillate and the oak are in much better balance here.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but this makes a great highball. I'm not really a bourbon highball sort of guy, but it works really well between the citrus notes, the fruit, and the creamy notes. Worth a try (or two....)!

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

Value: Average, based on $105.


Review: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Aged 9 Years Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Knob Creek Single Barrel.jpg
ABV
60%
Aging
9 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

If you ever get to visit Jim Beam (a distillery well worth a visit), one option that is offered to you is to bottle your own bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel. When I first went, I opted to do this, and while it sounds exciting – really there isn’t much involved: you get to clean a new bottle before putting it on the assembly line to get a label put on it and to fill it by the machines. There are different ways that bottles are cleaned before they are filled – some use compressed air, some use vodka, some use distilled water -but at Jim Beam they just wash the bottles with bourbon. This whiskey, like the small batch, is soon losing its age statement – sad for a bourbon which already has some good age on it. As a single barrel, this bourbon will vary from barrel to barrel – but the general characteristics should hold. The whiskey comes in at a hefty 60%, which will be quite close to barrel proof.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L3276CLT13483074

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Slightly creamy, with oak, cherries, and orange evolving to include coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, apples – almost like spice cake dough. With time, spices really come out – white pepper, and, especially and notably, brown (not green) cardamom. The score on the nose has gone up with multiple reviews, as it takes the spirit a bit of time to really open up. Diluting this one down to about 50% ABV really does some good work to show the complexity underneath.

Taste: Very hot at first, with some anise and marshy oak before warming hay, honey, and oak come toward a big sweet finish. Cinnamon, apples, and more spices present too. A fair bit goes on, with 3-4 distinct movements in each sip which is quite wonderful – this one is packed with flavour.

Finish: Big oak, honey, corn husks, custard, apple, freshly charred oak, bananas, and brown cardamom. Spicy, with good body and length.

This is a nice, well put-together bourbon. The spiciness is quite remarkable, and the whiskey will grow on you if you’re anything like me – I have found myself liking it more with each successive tasting.

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

Value: Very High. A good barrel of this stuff is great value, especially at 60%.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L6098CLA 094260916

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Standard- oaky, nutty, and lightly spicy – with some nice firm dried corn and earthy marshy notes. Slightly sour, with some peach, black tea, rosehip, tobacco, coriander, and oak... The nose develops brilliantly, with time.  The palate continues from the nose, but with some strawberries and spices – almost bitter with all that oak and clove influence. Terrific hazlenut oil comes in at the end. Lightly tangy. I’m not sure if there is a better value for money cask strength level boutbon whisky out there than this one. Not as good as my previous barrel, but still very nice, and takes water well.

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

Value: High. A great value bourbon. The value is lower than above because this barrel wasn’t quite as good to push it to a higher value echelon.


Review: Bulleit 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Photo credit: Bulleit Frontier Whiskey. Used with permission.

Photo credit: Bulleit Frontier Whiskey. Used with permission.

ABV
45.6%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak; 10 yrs
Recipe
~68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley
Distiller N/A

Bulleit products have done very well – indeed, Diageo has been building a new distillery for their sole production, rather than sourced product which has been used. They have targeted the cocktail market both with their frontier bourbon and their rye, and this, at the top of their portfolio is older and a bit more refined. I should note that the above mashbill is floating around all over the internet, but not directly from Bulleit - what is sure, though, is that it is a high rye (about 1/3) bourbon.

Thanks to Taylor Strategy for the reviewed sample.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

I get lots of nut oil – in fact, it’s reminding me some of the rich style of Jim Beam products – with cedar, cherry, dried apricot, stewed stone fruit, dried corn, and some nice rye dancing around in the background. The palate has oak at the center, and is restrained (in a nice sort of way) with moderate creaminess. The fruit comes through too, along with pineapple, rich corn and terrific spice, finishing in a slightly drying fashion with terrific spice and earth, corn, smoking wood, cherry and apricot.

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

Value: High (based on $50).


Review: Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Basil Haydens.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~63% Corn, 27% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This whiskey was introduced in 1992 as part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection – it was modeled after the whiskey and recipe made by Basil Hayden, a distiller in the late 1700s. The whiskey used to carry an age statement of 8 years, but is now “artfully aged”, i.e. not as old. Likewise, it used to be a “straight” bourbon - but no longer -  which means that it can be younger (unlikely to be too much younger) and coloring and flavoring can be added. This whiskey has the lowest alcohol content (40%) of any of the Jim Cream Small Batch Collection (which includes the Knob Creek line, Booker’s, and Baker’s), and is crafted to be a lighter bourbon. This bourbon is unique in that it has a higher rye content (the recipe uses about 30%), which is nearly double that of the other Jim Beam products.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 1321934A20134

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Nose: Light, citrusy and fruity aroma overall – there’s a lovely light rye influence in this one, but corn is quite present as well. The rye is quite dominant – it could perhaps fool some to be a light rye whiskey rather than a bourbon. Caramel, vanilla, custard, citrus, green apple skins, without a lot of oak for a bourbon that is close to 8 years old. It’s hot and peppery in the nose despite the low ABV and light profile. On my first tasting there was a lot of stale bitterness associated with the rye (resulting in a score of 78 initially), but that has faded to nothing as the bottle has been open a few days, and the nose, itself, is much better than that.

Taste: Light, corn and oak with a bit of a floral nature on top. A taste profile that is simple and quite easy to embrace – it is quite a bit different from the much bigger flavor profiles of the other small batch bourbons. Lightly smoky, with fruity notes in the apple and pear camp, with a soft oak integration. Fruit too – apple and pear. Ever so lightly bitter and tannic, and fairly sweet for the light body. There is a decent amount of oiliness, too, in the palate as with many of the other premium Jim Beam products- which some people quite like but isn’t quite my favorite.

Finish: A light body on the finish, with some oak, earthy corn – like what you would expect wet corn stalks to smell like after they’ve been pulled up. Slightly sour, and slightly spicy, as well. The oak wins out in the end.

This is a decent light bourbon, though at the price there are many others I’d recommend before this one at this price point. For someone just getting into bourbons, it’s perhaps good because of the very light profile which is fairly easy to embrace.

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

Value: Average.


Review: Baker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Bakers.jpg
ABV
53.5%
Aging
7 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

For whatever reason, this bourbon is the one which I seem to hear about the least of the bourbons in the Jim Beam small batch collection. It’s odd, perhaps, because it is a solid bourbon, and the price is good. It comes in at 53.5%, is aged 7 years, and is fairly available. Each bottle has a batch number on it – this reviewed batch is B-90-001.

The bourbon itself is named after Baker Beam, the grand nephew of Jim Beam, and was his creation supposedly - though people working at Beam said that Booker just needed a name for a whisky he wanted to release. The mashbill has about 15% rye in it, with the rest being filled out mostly with corn. This mashbill is the same as for most Jim Beam bourbons – White Label, Black Label, Knob Creek, and Booker’s.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: B-90-001

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Nose: Now there’s a nose! Rich, with caramel, spice, dried apricot, chocolate, and dried corn – and it develops nicely as the richness unfolds to custard, vanilla, and light pepper and smoke. It is well integrated all around and very enjoyable to unpack.

Taste: Sweet and very rich. Corn, oak, dried fruits, and vanilla – slowly evolving to some rich corn and earthiness with the thick body and tannins all working to create the body around those flavours. It is a “slow” palate as I would say – there is good movement, and the flavour keeps developing and changing as it is in your mouth. The thickness/body you can immediately recognize from the first pour, and you certainly feel it on the palate. I find the alcohol (53.5%) to be just about right to sip – I have experimented with water but I prefer this one at full strength.

Finish: A nice big finish, with spice, rich corn, caramel, chocolate and oak. The body, length, and even acidity are all well balanced. A wonderful blend of corn and oak on this finish.

This is a really nice bourbon. It doesn’t seem that hot, betraying the fact that it comes in at 53.5%. I like this one even more than Booker’s, generally! I quite like the richness, and it isn’t a spice bomb but it is well balanced and deep.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high. At 65$ CAD, when I got this, it was a very solid buy against other tastes in this price range.


Review: Knob Creek Small Batch Aged 9 Years Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Knob Creek Small B.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
9 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This whiskey is a core bourbon of the Jim Beam small batch collection, which also includes Knob Creek Single Barrel, Knob Creek Rye, Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Baker’s – and this whiskey is the oldest of the lot at 9 years old. However, as we are seeing with many bourbons, this age statement is now gone although in Ontario we still have age-statement versions of this whiskey kicking around. This is the old 9 year version that is reviewed.

A small batch whisky means that the whiskey is composed of batches which have a smaller number of barrels (typically of higher grade whiskey) produced in a smaller quantity than the typical higher volume products, though I’m sure a “small” batch at Jim Beam is not that small. The whiskey is named after Knob Creek, which was the home of Abraham Lincoln when he was growing up.

The bottle itself is a tribute to old smugglers who used square bottles so that they could be more efficiently packed, and the newspaper label is another tribute as the smuggles used to put newspaper between the bottles to stop the clinking.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L324CEH 10302856

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Light and floral rye influences sit above some more hefty maple, oak, potato, flambeed banana, and corn husks. The nose, I find, is a touch yeasty – as I often find with bourbons. It smells quite sweet, and has fruitiness in the “stone fruit” category – cherries, peaches, as well as some fruity and nutty notes like apple seeds. Vanilla just leaps out if you let it sit a bit.

Taste: Lots of corn upfront, with the fruit – cherries, apples, and peaches – coming in the middle before oak and spices take the finish. In that sense, the palate is controlled and has movement – which I quite like – and it leads into the finish well. 50% ABV also seems to fit this bourbon – it is about right, without water, and it’s not very hot. Very easy to drink – it balances the sweetness and the spice nicely, with good body and complexity.

Finish: Corn, with a background of oak and light smoke – and nutmeg, cloves, peaches, and apple seeds. Slightly drying with the tannins, and quite sweet – but enjoyable, with decent length.

Very drinkable – at times a bit simple but it is balanced and rich with a good assortment of flavours. It may come off as a bit sweet to some, but I certainly don’t have any trouble with this. It is, also, a favorite mixing bourbon of many well-established cocktail bars for good reason.

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

Value: Very High. Great price for what you get.