Straight Bourbon

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: High West American Prairie Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
New Charred Oak; 2, 6, and 13 yrs old
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple (USA)

This whiskey is a blend of a 2 year old straight bourbon from MGP (Indiana), and a 6 and 13 year old straight bourbon from Four Roses (Kentucky) of the B recipe (60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Malted Barley). 10% of proceeds from the bottles goes to the American Prairie Foundation which builds wildlife preserves.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 3

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is fruity and spicy with quite a lot of rye in the mix. Apples, peaches, oak, stewed fruit, mint, plums, tobacco leaf, and some hot spice like white pepper. Dry, fresh oaky tones grow with time – vanilla and buttery notes too. An interesting nose – complex compared to the typical bourbon. The taste is sweet, with lots of broad grain character – lots of corn, dried apricot, dried rose petals, mint, fennel seed – finishes on the side of stone fruit with light spices, like fennel and white pepper, and light tannin from the oak. The spicy and dry interplay on the finish is very nice. Slightly rough, with the younger components making their say.

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

Value: Average. It isn’t expensive, so it sits in the mid-range in terms of what you get flavour-wise.


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: 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: 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.


Review: William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

William Heavenhill 1.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
11 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This whiskey is distilled at Heaven Hill - and it is a true small batch - a blend of 12 barrels, all aged 11 years - from some of Parker's sweet spots in the warehouse. A typical "small batch" from Heaven Hill is 40-45 barrels, so this is certainly rarer. I wouldn't have bought this, except for all the high praise at the distillery for this distillery exclusive- people loved it there. A distillery exclusive, as far as I know. Each edition of Heavenhill is different, generally expensive - and very limited. Really, in a sense, it's the rarer special release from Heaven Hill Distillery (rarer than the well known Parker's Heritage Collection) - and includes different things - cask strength cognac finished bourbons, ultra small batch, etc...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 3rd Release (Bottled in Bond)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

The nose is rich, woody, with lots of dried fruit and maple – nutty, and bright, too. It’s different than the other bourbons coming from Heavenhill – a true bit of what a special release should be. Prune, browned butter, dried apricot, caramel sauce, oak, dill, clove, and cinnamon. That buttery richness is terrific. This to me, is just what I like a rich bourbon to be – like Parker said, maybe 10 years old is just about how I like my Heaven Hill bourbons. The palate is rich and sweet, full of vanilla, dried corn, spices, hazlenut spread – nice and creamy. The nuttiness is great, and the finish is full of oak, dried corn, creamy vanilla, stewed apricot, and candied mandarin segments. This is a bourbon, to the core – and it is fabulous.

One of the warehouse managers at Heaven Hill told me that he thought this was the best thing they’d bottled since the famed Golden Anniversary, and convinced me to get it in 2014. I don’t think I’d agree with him, but I really like this stuff.

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

Value: Low, at $185.

 


Review: Blanton's Straight from the Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~65%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 15% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

This is a Blanton's not available in North America, but comes at a hefty price in Europe. 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. I love Blanton's, and a cask strength and unfiltered Blanton's is just about my favorite cask strength bourbon, dependent a little on mood...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Barrel 566; Warehouse H (65.7%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Distinctly Blanton’s! I love it! All that dried and tinned apricot, and dried rose. Very intense in that respect, particularly at this strength. Vanilla, prunes, dense oak, dried apple, potpourri, maple fudge, and a bit of dry earth also come through. The palate is full, deep, and complex with lots of peach, grapefruit, rosehip, and dried berries. Phenomenal. All in balance, and all with terrific flavour at this strength. And a terrific, complex finish with many of those dried apricot notes, grapefruit, oak, and nut brittle. Watered down, it’s still a nice bourbon – but it rides much better at full strength. Too bad this isn’t more available, like in the North American markets…but if it were, I don’t know if anyone would get a taste…however, if I were American, I would (rightly so) feel a bit robbed.

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

Value: Average (based on $121)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 221; Warehouse H; Rick no. 31; Dumped 6.26.14 (64.4%)

  • Bottling Code: B1417815:49J

  • Bottling Date: 2014

A rich, full nose – slightly musty, with loads of vanilla and floral rye. Dried rose, tea, dried fruits, cacao, spearmint, raw cane sugar, and lots of clove and oak. The palate is full of tannins and the floral nature of the rye shines through. The sweetness is just about perfect to balance the spice and the proof. Raspberry tea is distinct, melding beautifully with some black tea. A nice rising spice on the jammy finish, and the finish is slightly bitter with all the oak. Dried corn comes out particularly in the finish, and it is there where we also have some of those typical dried flower notes from Blanton’s. And a bit of coconut. I just love the essence of Blanton’s here in this bottle.

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

Value: Average (based on $121)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 706; Warehouse H; Rick no. 44; Dumped 2.11.16 (64.4%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Butter, cumin, a stale bag of mixed baking spices, dried corn, dried apricot, strawberries, and stewed stone fruit. Slightly farmy, too. A spicy, full palate, with a huge wave of sweet corn which is then completely conquered by sharp, spicy rye and some dried flowers. Dried corn, spices, and oak on the finish. Wonderful bourbon, but not quite up to the stuff I’ve had in the past from Blanton’s.

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

Value: Low (based on $121)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 265; Warehouse H; Rick no. 11; Dumped 4.04.16 (62.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

This goes into the barrel at 62.5%, so the proof didn’t really increase in the barrel at all – it must have been in a cool or humid part of the warehouse. Very fruity – strawberry, banana, and a bit of blackberry too – the rye comes in nicely too. Brown sugar and light oak too. The palate is sweet, and doesn’t pack a huge punch. The grains seem to sit at the forefront of this bottle – rather than the fruit. There is a bit of dense dried flowers at the end, in the Blanton’s style, which is quite nice. Some dried chanterelles and strawberries on the finish. A nice bottle…

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

Value: Average (based on $121)


Review: Evan Williams Vintage Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43.3%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak; ~9 Yrs
Recipe
~78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This line of Evan Williams is solely based on vintage releases, based on the distillation date - something you don't see often in whisky, and they have generally been terrific value and great tasting. Especially if you are in the states, where they can run quite a bit cheaper (~$30) than elsewhere - it is hard to find better value for a bourbon.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 2004 Vintage

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

A nice, rich nose, with an elegant and syrupy corn body offset by some light white grape and light brown sugar, with a light intriguing oily note. The lightest bitterness is present on the nose, but once we hit the palate we get a rush of creamy corn and oak, alongside praline, which does some wonders and gently leads into the finish with a bit of a marshy-corn quality to it alongside some charred oak and butterscotch. Underneath, there is a bit of spice (ginger and old cinnamon) with light tannins. However, though well integrated and delicious, I wouldn't complain for a bit more complexity. Even at 43%, it doesn't feel like a lighter whisky (though doesn't seem cask strength, either!). Beside the black-labelled Evan Williams and the Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond, it is significantly more alive and complex.

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

Value: Average, at $40.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 238 (barreled 10-25-06, bottled 5-21-15; 2006 Vintage)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

A buttery, rich nose, with spicy, syrupy corn with bright fruitiness and improving with time – white grape, brown sugar, prune, oak, and some really interesting herbal notes – wormwood, cilantro, and orange peel that has been candied in star anise and clove. The palate is easy, and complex – with oily corn, wood, light orange, cinnamon, birch syrup, and light clove. The finish is light, oily, oaky, and sweet with some maple sugar. Really nice bourbon, not quite as nice as the above but not enough to rank it lower...

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

Value: Average, at $55.


Review: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~65%
Aging
12 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Malt
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

A (magnificent) cask strength version of the standard Elijah Craig...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 12th Release; 64.0%

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Lots of oak on the nose – not surprising for a 12 year old bourbon. Very rich - lots of vanilla, furniture polish, apple, caramel, maple, and a slight bit of rocky mineral character. Very woody, and dry too. Also some sweet floral character – it sweetens with added water, but comes out more as a dried flower note on the nose. The nose itself is dry, but brings to mind a number of dry things – like potpourri. Dried orange, roasted macadamia nuts. Very enjoyable!

The palate has apple, oak char, and tannins creeping up – almost too much, but they’re not over the edge. Well balanced, and a good set of flavours. Loads of oak on the finish. A fabulous delivery, oily in feel (and lightly on the palate) – but restrained so it’s not overwhelming at 64%. Lots of tingly tannins on the finish, and some black tea.

Kentucky sure has some nice distilleries. Terrific stuff.

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

Value: Average (based on $112)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 5th Release (67.2%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Nice and rich dark colour. I’ve been tasting a Blanton’s straight from the barrel beside this one and it definitely pales in comparison. Nutty, oaky, and full of spice. Light fruit, gooseberry, spices, cacao, smoky wood char. The corn is just brilliant! Oak is supreme on the finish. It is a bit hot, but not very – it has an incredible feel and the balance at cask strength is terrific – sweet, oaky, spicy, and rich. The palate is oaky and rich, packed with fruit ranging from strawberries to apples – dried, jam, and fresh. The corn has just a terrific showing in this – it is wonderfully embraced by the spice, fruit, and oak. What a palate!  Beautiful oak on the finish, which is a touch creamy too. Praline and hazelnut cream too. A terrific Elijah Craig.

Immensely enjoyable. I think bookers lovers might find this quite appealing – but it is richer and rounder – for good effect. But, yes, quite oaky too, but not overdone.

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

Value: High (based on $113)