About – Maker’s Mark is one of those brands that everyone, including those who don’t drink bourbon, is familiar with. Any many ways it is the brand that started the modern bourbon revival as well. Maker’s is a wheated bourbon distilled in Loretto, KY by Beam Suntory and is bottled at 90 proof.
Smell – Bold nose especially for a 90 proof bourbon, sweet vanilla and caramel are accompanied by the trademark Maker’s Mark spice
Taste – Surprisingly tame in spite of the nose. Oak and vanilla are present, but the thin mouthfeel leaves much to be desired.
Finish – A short flash of heat, a surprise for a 90 proofer, with little else of redeeming value.
Score – 79
Verdict – Is this really the bourbon that sparked the bourbon revival? I can’t believe that to be the case. Something must have changed since then with either the recipe or the age of the whiskey put into the bottle. I know it is unlikely, but if you haven’t tried Maker’s Mark before I would only recommend it for use in cocktails.
It is hard to believe that we are already almost a full month into 2017. 2016 came and went and brought plenty of stellar releases such as Old Forester 1920 and Booker’s Rye. 2017 looks to be a year that is packed with solid new releases as well. Instead of going over yearly releases such as Pappy and BTAC we are going to focus solely on new releases, which brings us to a release that came out earlier this week.
Smooth Ambler the West Virginia distillery responsible for bringing us one of the most lauded sourced whiskeys with its Old Scout series brings us their first true release of their own distillate. Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon was released earlier this week, and is initially only available for pickup at their Distillery in West Virginia.
In February Wild Turkey will be bringing back to marker two historic labels with their Whiskey Barons collection. Old Ripy dates back to 1868 and was distilled on the site of the current Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky. The bourbon itself will feature a combination of 8 and 12 year old whiskeys, it will be non chill filtered and bottled at 104 proof. Bond and Lillard was a well regarded brand in the pre-prohibition era even winning a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. This whiskey will be aged a minimum of seven years and will be bottled at 100 proof. Both of these whiskies will be releases in 375 ml bottles and retail for $49.99.
E.H. Taylor’s ongoing set of experimental releases will bring us a four grain bourbon this year. As opposed to traditional recipes which consist of corn as the base grain, malted barely to help with alcohol production, and either rye which produces a spicy, fruity bourbon, or wheat which produces a sweeter bourbon, this bourbon will feature the use of all four grains. There have been other brands release four grain bourbons recently and not many of them have gone over well. If anyone is capable of putting out a good version of this whiskey style is is E.H. Taylor.
Last but not least is a release that has started to trickle out at the gift shop and will start to make its way to the rest of the market fairly soon, Wild Turkey master’s keep Decades. This is the second release in the Master’s Keep series which now seems to be Eddie Russell’s experimental brand. This particular whiskey will be a blend of 10 and 20 year old bourbons, will be non chill filtered, and bottled at 104 proof. Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades will retail around $149.99
This is the best list I could compile from information that is available right now. Stay tuned to Bourbon for the Masses for updates on bourbons to be on the look out for as 2017 picks up steam.
About – 1792 Small Batch is a product of the Barton distillery which is a member of the Sazerac conglomerate which also owns Buffalo Trace. 1792 gets its name from 1792 being the year that the state of Kentucky joined the union. It is a high rye content bourbon and is bottle at 93.7 proof.
Smell – Bright, slightly floral with a trace of caramel tinged with ethanol. After resting for 10 minutes of so dark fruit appears.
Taste – Caramel leads the way along with oak that doesn’t stand out in the nose. Not a lot else going on.
Finish – Surprisingly on the borderline of being hot, a long tannin laced oak finish with with a hint of vanilla coming along for the ride.
Score – 84
Verdict – This is not a bad bourbon, but to be honest it isn’t that good either. I have seen it priced anywhere from $22-$30. It can compete on the lower end but at $30 it doesn’t hold up against options such as Russel’s Reserve, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, or Henry McKenna.
About – Colonel E.H. Taylor is a name is that is drenched in bourbon history. He is the father of the bottled in bond act. Although that may seem of little importance today, at the time it was an important act to protect bourbon drinkers by making sure they were getting quality juice. Colonel E.H. Taylor was also the founder of the O.F.C. distillery which is now the site of the modern Buffalo Trace facility. The Taylor brand itself is one that has been around for a long time and has switched hands several times with varying quality throughout its existence. Today the brand is made by Buffalo Trace and has a variety of offerings including Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Rye, and some limited offerings as well. Today we will be focusing on the Small Batch which is a bottle in bond bourbon which means it was aged at least four years and is bottled at 100 proof.
Smell – The first sniff reveals a huge whiff of citrus, as you dive deeper in it is joined by notes of caramel and honey as well.
Taste – A true explosion of flavor hits you immediately. This is a bold bourbon, the citrus from the nose introduces itself first and in a big way along with a generous amount of vanilla, there is a trace of pear in there as well. The pallet is underlain with oak throughout and there is a substantial mouthfeel to this bourbon as well.
Finish – The oak is the star of a nice long finish that slowly fades into vanilla.
Score – 93
Verdict – Colonel E.H. Taylor is a fine example of what great bourbon is. It brings all of the classic bourbon flavors to the table and adds a nice amount of citrus making for a very pleasurable experience. At around $40 a bottle it may be a bit expensive for an every day drinker, but is still in the range of things that are affordable to pour to treat yourself after a long day at the office. This is a bourbon that makes a fantastic gift as well thanks both to its great flavor and its elegant packaging.
About – Rittenhouse is a classic Pennsylvania style rye. Pennsylvania and Maryland were both hot beds for rye production in the early United States, and up until prohibition rye whiskey was the most popular alcohol in the U.S. Over the last few years rye has seen a resurgence in popularity, and Rittenhouse is among the brands at the forefront of the category. Rittenhouse Rye, produced currently by Heaven Hill, is bottled at 100 proof and is aged at least four years as indicated by it being bottled in bond.
Smell – The first thing that strikes me about Rittenhouse its light aroma, something rather untypical of a rye. Most prevalent are the scent of bananas and cereal grain. I am again surprised by the lack of rye spice on the nose.
Taste – Contrary to the nose this is not a weak whiskey in the flavor department. The first thing that jumps out is fruitiness defined by apricots and peaches, next is cinnamon, and baking spice on the backend.
Finish – A bit of the rye spice shines through here with that nice fruitiness lingering behind for a short to medium length finish.
Score – 90
Verdict – Rittenhouse Rye is not your typical rye. It is subdued, but not in a bad way. Even with a bit of an increase in price as of late you it is still around $25 and can be found on sale for $20 or slightly less. At it’s price point it is one of the best deals in today’s crazed American whiskey market. It is great on it’s own and is a favorite among bartenders as well as it makes an excellent cocktail. This is my house rye, and I always keep a bottle on hand. I would recommend the same for anyone with a home bar.
About – Old Weller Antique is a 107 proof wheated bourbon in the Weller line that is now produced by Buffalo Trace. As of the last few years Weller bourbons have taken off in popularity as part of the “Pappy” craze. The reason for this being that Old Weller Antique (no age statement but aged around seven years) is essentially a slightly younger version of Old Rip Van Winkle. The two share the same mashbill, warehouse, and proof. While it is getting harder to find Old Weller Antique can generally be found on the shelf and holds a price of $25-$30.
Smell – First whiff is of spiced orange, then a healthy amount of vanilla that gives the nose a nice holiday candy quality. With a bit of water or ice these aromas become even more apparent and are accompanied by jolt of cherry. A really remarkable smelling bourbon.
Taste – This bourbon greets you with a nice velvety mouth feel that is sweet and almost syrup like in the way that it coats the mouth. The spiced citrus from the nose makes another appearance on the back end.
Finish – Shorter than expected given the mouth feel, but still medium in length with a solid but not overwhelming punch of heat. The sweetness is still present with citrus and vanilla, but the finish is where the oak truly shines.
Score – 91
Verdict – A longer and more complex finish is really the only thing missing from this one to make it an elite bourbon. I haven’t had the pleasure yet of sampling the Van Winkle line, but being essentially an older more select barrel version of this, I can see where the hype comes from. At a price under $30 Old Weller Antique is a no brainer. Definitely one of the best values to be found in today’s bourbon market.
About – Distiller’s Select is the flagship bourbon for Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Brand. It is one of the most popular bourbons on the market and is easily recognizable thanks to it’s unique bottle shape. Woodford Reserve lays claim to being distilled in the oldest Kentucky distillery still in operation with the distillery building being constructed in 1838. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown-Forman originally purchased the distillery form Labrot & Graham in 1941, they eventually sold the property in 1971 and repurchased it in 1993 introducing the Woodford Reserve brand in 1996. Woodford Reserve is a no age statement (NAS) Kentucky Straight Bourbon and is bottled at 90.4 proof.
Smell – The first thing that hits you is a fruit flavor of fresh apples, as you dig deeper rye spice and oak come through. After a touch of water a note of caramel really shines through.
Taste – Just like the smell apples and fresh fruit come through first along with rye spice and cinnamon really similar to a spiced apple pie. As it opens up vanilla and burnt sugar become more evident. On the back end the oak starts to come through. On first tasting I picked up an unpleasant bit of acetone as well, but after tasting the bottle a week or so later it seemed to have faded.
Finish – The caramel from the nose comes through and fades into a nice long touch of oak that lingers around.
Score – 88
Verdict – Over the years Woodford has been a gateway bourbon for many into the land of premium bourbons. When first really getting into bourbon it was my go to and is always enjoyable to return to like greeting an old friend. Value wise it is one of the better bourbons in $30 dollar range right there with Eagle Rare. This is one of those quintessential bourbons that should be found in the home bar of any avid bourbon drinker. If you are a bourbon drinker and somehow haven’t tried Woodford yet you owe it to yourself to pick up a bottle.
About – Peg Leg Porker is produced in Nashville, Tennessee by Carey Bringle who owns a famous Nashville BBQ establishment with the same name.The bourbon is sourced from George Dickel. This is the second lot of Peg Leg Porker that has been released with the age differentiating the two. What sets Peg Leg Porker apart from other bourbon according to Bringle is their Hickory charcoal filtering process as opposed to maple used by other Tennessee Whiskies. This release, aged for 8 years in new white oak barrels and bottled at 90 proof, won a gold medal at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. If you are curious where the name Peg Leg Porker comes from there is a story behind it. At 17, Nashville native Carey Bringle was diagnosed with Osteogenic Sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer and after months of intensive chemotherapy, Carey lost his right leg. He emerged from that experience with a new perspective and outlook building his Peg Leg Porker brand to show his zest for life, sense of humor and love of great food and spirits.
Appearance – I don’t usually comment on appearance, but in this case I had to because of how unique it is. This whiskey has a truly reddish color to it that Bringle attributes to his unique hickory filtering process.
Smell – The first thing that comes through is vanilla, next what opens up is a floral aroma, followed by honey like sweetness.
Taste – Well integrated at first with no one flavor jumping out, there is a subdued note of the standard bourbon spice, there is a cloying sweetness to the bourbon taking on notes of vanilla and baking spice as it develops.
Finish – At first this bourbon has what seems like a fairly short and clean finish, but then it really lingers around for a good while leaving you with a nice smoky, toasted flavor that because of its uniqueness I am going to attribute to the hickory filtering.
Score – 92
Verdict – This is definitely not your standard Tennessee Whiskey and different from your standard bourbon as well. I was skeptical about the difference the hickory filtering process would make in the end product, but it really does give this bourbon some unique qualities especially in the appearance and finish. I would highly recommend this bourbon to anyone. As of right now it is only being sold in Tennessee, but will expanding to other markets in the near future. If you see it on the shelf at your local store pick up a bottle as this is one that is sure not to disappoint.
About – Old Forester is credited as being one of the oldest bourbon brands out there being introduce in 1870s. This particular release is the third and final release in the so called whiskey row series commemorating significant dates in the company’s history. This particular release paying homage to Old Forester being only one of six Kentucky whiskey producers given a license to continue distilling for medical purposes during prohibition. As taken from the hangtag “During prohibition, only six Kentucky distilleries were granted permits to bottle bourbon for medicinal purposes. Brown-Forman, maker of Old Forester, secured Permit KY – 3. In 1920. the first bottles under this permit were produced. Our Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style is the third expression in the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series. To match the usual barrel proof of that bourbon after maturation, it is presented now at the same 115 proof.” This bourbon is a no age statement bourbon distilled by Brown-Forman outside of Louisville, Kentucky and bottled at 115 proof, and can be picked up for between $50-$60.
Smell – Bold and complex. Fruit and oak shine through with a hint of sweet pipe tobacco. Despite the high proof the alcohol is not very strong on the nose.
Taste – Just as complex as the nose. Spicy on the entry fading into notes of dried fruit and caramel.
Finish – Long and just as complex as every other aspect of this bourbon. Nice strong oak element that eventually fades into subdued baking spice that lingers around for a good while. Just like the nose, despite the high proof the alcohol is not very overpowering.
Rating – 93
Verdict – Wow! This is truly a fantastic bourbon. Apparently by 1920 Old Forester already had this bourbon thing down. Definitely one I recommend buying if you see a bottle. If the price point seems a little high try it at your favorite bourbon bar and you will see it is well worth the price.
About – Eagle Rare is distilled by Buffalo Trace and is the big brother of their eponymous flagship whiskey. This bottle in particular is part of Buffalo Trace’s single barrel select program and was chosen by Middlebrook Liquor Store in Knoxville, TN. The standard version of Eagle Rare has recently seen the removal of the single barrel designation. Although it is still bottled one barrel at a time, with the new bottle filling system it is possible for each barrel to have minor contact with the previous barrel. Because of this it can’t be labeled as a true single barrel. Eagle Rare is a Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey aged for 10 years, bottled at 90 proof, and can generally be found for around $30.
Smell – Orange peel, lemon, honey. With a bit of water clove takes over as the dominant scent.
Taste – First thing that comes through is sweetness. This is a well integrated bourbon with a silky mouth feel. As it opens up notes of brown sugar and honey come through with a bit of cinnamon on the back end.
Finish – Medium bordering on the shorter side, very little alcohol burn with a bit of cinnamon and toffee with a faint note of chocolate at the very end.
Score – 88
Verdict – Eagle Rare is a really good bourbon that is just short of being great. For people just getting into bourbon I always suggest Buffalo Trace as a good baseline for what good bourbon is, and Eagle Rare is the next step up from that. It isn’t a bourbon that requires your full attention at all times, and as such can be enjoyed as a fantastic sipping whiskey in any situation. This whiskey is also versatile and makes for a good mixer in a classic cocktail such as a Manhattan. I would recommend Eagle Rare to anyone that has not tried it before. You can never go wrong with keeping a bottle stocked in your home bar either as I usually do.