Value

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: Bushmills Red Bush Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Bushmills Red Bush.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
Grain and Malt Whiskies
Distiller Bushmills (Bushmills, N. Ireland)

This triple distilled whiskey was added to the lineup, between the flagship whiskey and Black Bush, with a focus on bourbon cask maturation.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L7292IB 001 12:29

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Loads of pear! Loaded with fruit – baked pear, apple, peach, cherry – but also vanilla and light oak. The palate is loaded with sweet peach and eventually dried out to oak and some tannins. The finish has milk chocolate, clove, vanilla, and more fruit – peach again prominent. The finish has a touch of bourbon – creamy, vanilla laden, and full of dried fruit. Really easy and very nice! More in the vein of the standard Bushmills than Black Bush, but a very nice addition to the lineup.

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

Value: High, at $35.


Review: Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Bushmills BB.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Oloroso Sherry Casks
Recipe
Grain and Malt Whiskies
Distiller Bushmills (Bushmills, N. Ireland)

This whisky is triple distilled, and matured in sherry casks. It is darker than the other Bushmills, hence “black” (not that caramel doesn't help) – the whisky is crafted in the style of a blended scotch from a mix of grain and malt whiskies.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Nose: Pears jump out first, with some nice sherry caramel and cola notes. It’s still quite a bit grassy, and retains that honeydew note present in the standard Bushmills. Vanilla comes out a bit as it sits, not only on the nose but also on the palate. Sometimes I get some a touch of staleness in the nose too.

Taste: The grains are quite a bit at work here. There’s vanilla, caramel, lots of toffee, and more of that pear…. with a good kick of barley and honey at the end as well. The body, sweetness, and balance are all nicely in place.

Finish: A light bit of “rancio” character which melds with the pear, honey, and honeydew. Lightly nutty, earthy, and spicy as well. Overall, though, quite bright and fruity.

A lot of pear in here, and it is built well around it. Deeper, better tasting, and longer than the standard Bushmills – very nicely crafted. Incredible value for this whisky – there aren’t many bottles (in Canada certainly) better than this for under $40, and certainly none in the fruity malt category.

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

Value: High, based on $37.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L7186IB001 11:03

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Very fruity, as with the other bushmills blended whiskies – but this one is darker and loaded with spice. Apple juice, nutmeg, clove, and almost an armagnac-like spicy richness to this. Pear and peach, too. The palate is spicy, with lots of clove and dried apple, dried apricot, figs, and finishing with a mixed bag of dried fruit. Rancio – ever so lightly. The finish brings in a sudden earthiness which is terrific, alongside light oak, almonds, and light spice. Very pleasant „grip” on the finish.

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

Value: High, based on $37.


The Value Score: 2.0 by Jason Hambrey

Of all the features of my website, the most feedback I get is about my value score - it's a mathematical formulation of value based on the average cost for a given rating and a deviation from it - i.e., if, based on standard "market" values, a whisky rated 85 is worth, on average, $53, then if the whisky is cheaper than $53 dollars, it is of high value, and if it is more expensive - it is of low value. The statistical formulation is shown in a previous blog post here, if you want the details. Because of the interest (and importance) of a value score, I have added a page to the website describing the best value whiskies. Check it out!

The story of how it came about is simple - I decided to graph all my whiskies which I had rated according to price and value. What I found, surprisingly, is that there is a rough trend - higher scores, on average, came from whiskies that cost more. After carefully selecting 300 standard whiskies which I had rated, I came up with an "average" line. You can see what I mean in the graph below:

The value score has served well, and I enjoy the result: I only rate the whisky, I input the cost, and mathematics does the rest. However, it relies heavily upon assumptions (of which there are many) - how the average line is defined, what whiskies I consider "standard" to set the market value, and what standard deviation to use (I am an aerospace engineer, so please forgive the jargon if you are lost). The implications of each assumption is actually staggering- so it has taken me some time to digest the score methodology itself. However, given my data of 500 or so whisky reviews, I don't have enough data to let stats do all the work - so these assumptions are necessary.

There has been one outstanding issue with the score as is - I have found that higher rated whiskies are not quite highly rated enough. For instance, a Longmorn 18 year old, at a price of $140,. which I rated a 92, was a bottle I bought two of even though it would have a value score of 64. That being said, it's not a bad value score and $140 is a decent amount to spend.

This lead me to look at options to tweak value scores at the higher end of the scale - by increasing the "average" line of what a whisky is worth for higher scores, or by changing the standard deviation for higher scores - meaning that a greater difference in price from the average cost of such a whisky matters less. But, as I said before - is this valid? Really, it implies that for higher rated whiskies value doesn't quite matter as much dollar for dollar. And then, you think, is it value? After tweaking around with the analysis, doing some more number crunching, I realized that, on a global scale, interesting tweaks help a little, but not a lot. So, the options for me: continue to refine and adjust my assumptions to try to come up with something "perfect" or just use the value score as a rough indicator, rather than the law. Coming up with more assumptions to adjust the score just means that it is more fine tuned to myself, specifically. Option 2 is way easier, and way more appropriate - it is a relatively simpler formulation of how I regard value which actually fits a broader population than just me. All this to say - despite its flaws, I have decided not to change the value score. A few considerations:

  • Beyond the assumptions, which I deem to be reasonable, the only subjective part of the value score is my taste rating of a whisky (which, indeed, is subjective - palates are incredibly diverse).
  • All prices are set to the Canadian Market. Thus, whiskies may be more valuable in different regions of the world as certain whiskies are cheaper than others depending on the market. I always say what the price is based on, but all scores are adjusted for inflation/increase in value so that the value score remains consistent with how the market value is increasing.
  • For different areas of the world - take a look at the average line in the graph above, representing the average cost for a given rating. This line corresponds to a value score of 72. If your whisky is the equivalent of $38 (the standard deviation) more expensive than this line, its value is 40/100. If it costs $38*2 = $76 less, its value is 15, etc. If it is $38 cheaper than the blue line for a given rating, its value is 91. If it is $76 dollars less, its value is 99. Etc...if you are in to this send me an e-mail.

Review: Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Alberta Premium 25.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
25 years
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky, a 25 year old 100% rye whisky, is undoubtedly one of the most unique bottlings in the modern era of whisky. It was bottled in 2006, from distillate at least 25 years old at one of the foremost, if not the foremost, rye distillery in the world, Alberta Distillers. It sold in 2007 for an astounding price of 30 dollars – in hindsight almost a free giveaway, and there are stories of great competition for the bottles that were available in Ontario – preceding what now is all too common of a phenomena. There were between 5000 and 6000 bottles produced, and from time to time rumors circulate of another batch, but still no other batch has been released, nor is there any clear indication of another batch to come at this time.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A (the one and only)

  • Bottling Code: L01206263 Q208:30

  • Bottling Date: 2007

Nose: If you know the standard Alberta Premium, this is clearly that – but yet entirely different, and so much better. Much like if you smell a 12 year old and a (good) 18 year old of the same distillate, you are able to sit in wonder at what time in wood can do. Orange peel, caramel, rich wood, leather, vanilla, musty wood, and deep molasses notes as in old rums. There is some dustiness to it as well, and sugars and oak seem to come out as it sits. Yet, despite all the wood, it is surprisingly fresh. The nose grows, too – come back to it after a taste and you sense more of the dryness, more of what those years in oak do. With time, you get sitting grain – as you might find if you were to store rye in a mason jar and as the smell fills the jar pop the lid off and breath in. Oh so rich and dry….it’s one of those noses you remember.

Taste: Mouthcoating, with a wonderful balance of light vanilla, light spices, oak and wood which evolves in the mouth, and the lightest hint of berry fruitiness lifting the entire experience out. Rye is there, distinctively as well, not overcome by oak but leading the way in fact with light spices – clove, cinnamon – coming out in a flurry at the end. It’s long, and you can certainly make little sips go a long way. In little patches, you get little tastes of the arugula seen so clearly in the bold rye they use in their blends (and seen in detail in bottlings like Masterson’s, Whistlepig, of Jefferson’s).)

Finish: Strawberries, oak, vanilla, and leather. It is “smooth” in feel – I’m not talking about the undefined, over-used word to describe spirits as “smooth” but actually in the sense that it coats the mouth and seems to linger there nicely with almost a lubricating texture. The tannins are present ever so lightly to further enhance texture. The length is reasonable, but could have been enhanced had this been bottled above 40% – I can only wonder what 46% would have done to this one!

Complex, rich, and subtle – magnificent. This is a whisky that interacts with you – in almost a teasing fashion as you think the twists and turns are over to only discover more and more… the best Canadian whisky I have ever tasted.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). This is one of the best Canadian whiskies ever bottled, and is a fascinating study.

Value: Very High. How often do you see a 25 year old 100% rye whisky going for 30$, moreover one that’s widely regarded as one of the best bottlings of Canadian whisky ever? This was the best value buy I’ve ever seen, and likely will ever see.


How much is whisky worth? by Jason Hambrey

Whisky is going through quite the boom right now - supply is going down, prices are going up, and we have an interesting mix: all sorts of new products being released, younger whisky no longer being held to an age statement, distillate being covered up with cask finishes or the vanilla and caramel of new oak - and, at the same time, great new whiskies being released. My little gem, Canadian whisky, has been largely protected from a lot of this for the time being (beyond taking part of a worldwide micro-distiller boom), and, in fact, has had some new and fantastic whiskies being released.

It raises the question, however - how much is whisky worth? Whisky is, after all, just whisky - a fact I have certainly felt after tasting many of the best Canadian, American, and Scotch whiskies over the past year. They're terrific, I love them, and there's little else I enjoy more - are any of them worth $200? $1000? The mix of hype, pride, and marketing are certainly appealing. I certainly think there are better ways to use the freedom we have with our money. Paying hundreds of dollars for run-of-the-mill whisky is a little crazy.

Two terrific blog posts from the last few weeks worth seeing, if you haven't- Sku's Is Whisky Over?  and Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek's Don't Feed the Beast that Chokes You. No need for me to reiterate those words - there certainly are issues in the industry for connoisseurs. However, I wanted to do something to reflect prices (and how outrageous they can be), so I have decided, in addition to my overall score, to include a value score. Granted, not all of us buy for value, but I certainly think something should be said for a whisky like Lot No. 40, one of the terrific ryes of the world, retailing for under $40 when other whiskies retail at two to four times the price for something similar in style but worse in quality.

Since I'd rather not keep a value score subjective, beyond taking my own rating into account, I thought - what is the price spread for whiskies I rated a certain value? Taking 300 whiskies that I have reviewed, across many ratings, styles, prices, and distillers:

As you can see, it doesn't seem far fetched to fit a line to the data (which I did) to give an indication of the market value for the price of a whisky based on how good it tastes (a concept, certainly, that the industry does not operate by) - and came up with the following fit, which also more or less represents what I would pay for a bottle that "good". Any whisky under the line has better value, while any whisky over it has worse value.

My value score is calculated by taking the standard deviation in price for a given rating ($39.10 in my data set, meaning that 68% of the bottles for a given score are within that range of the average price), and then applying a normal distribution to a whisky to see how it does relative to the average price for that rating. Then I square root it and multiply by ten, because no one who reads about whisky and sees a 50 thinks "average", but a 70 seems more in that vein (it also helpfully spreads out the numbers at the lower end of the value function). So, for instance, the Lot no. 40 batch that scored 90/100 and cost 40$ has a value score of 99/100, but a Highland Park 18 Year Old which I rated at 94 and cost nearly $200 only has a value of 43/100. That's an expensive bottle. Of course, this means I have a price I'd pay on average for a perfect bottle (never encountered - my highest rating has been a 94 to date) - and that is $300 for me. I might be tempted to pay more for a perfect whisky, but then I'm certainly not buying for value, am I? Of course, people have different values, and all prices are adjusted to what they would cost in Canada in 2016. My tasting score will still be kept completely separate from my value score, which is simply calculated from the score and approximate price.

Before we all jump ship to armagnac, rum, and mezcal (not a terrible idea....) - let's keep drinking and supporting reasonably priced whisky.