I tend to frequent the occasional whiskey reviewing blog. Not really to keep up with the competition, because I don’t view whiskey blogging as a competition. The reason I don’t see it as a competition is that I know I’d lose. If I was a prolific or, you know, “good,” whiskey blogger, then I’d certainly view it as a competition.
I digress. I enjoy reading whiskey reviews for a couple reasons. One, I like to get new ideas for future purchases. Two, I like to compare my opinions with those of other bloggers (and commenters). Three, I like to see how others think and write about whiskey.
Anyhow, one thing that always impresses about an online review is when it starts out with a little italicized note thanking some distribution company for the free sample of the hooch they are reviewing. That always tells me, “This guy has made it. He is blogroyalty.” Booze companies are giving him free samples because he has an Oprah-sized audience. He is an opinion-swayer.
I always read those free sample shoutouts with just the smallest hint of insane jealousy in the pit of my stomach. Because after all, isn’t my blog on the same internet? Aren’t I reviewing similar whiskeys, writing in the same language, and uploading similarly horrible photos? Does he not put his pants on one leg at a time, like I do? If you cut him, does he not also bleed?
So I endeavored to hunt down one of these established “free sample” bloggers and cut him with a knife. Then I decided that perhaps my jealousy had gotten a bit out of hand, and I just accepted that I am the Kansas City Royals (or perhaps Bolton Wanderers) of bloggers and that the free sample would never happen.
So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a comment on the blog asking if I’d be interested in some samples of bourbon. Um, that would be a yes. Yes please. It wasn’t from a beverage distributor trying to seek my favor, but rather just from a Friend Of The Blog and frequent commenter, Florin. Simply out of the goodness of his heart, and the joy he gets from sharing whiskey, he decided to send a couple of bourbon samples. That, my friends, is impressive generosity (and is really how all blog commenters and readers should act) (kidding).
Days later, a package arrives with samples of these six lovely bourbons:
Four Roses Single Barrel
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel
Rowan’s Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon
Willett Family Estate Bottled 5 yr Single Barrel Bourbon
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel
Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Wow! That is some spread. And all are a step up from my prior bourbon experiences. I can’t wait to try them all, but for now, I’ve decided that my first review of these samples will be of the two Turkeys. Thanks again, Florin.
***Note: The above was a not-especially-subtle way of saying that I’d love free samples. Just kidding. Well not really. Wait, now I’m even annoying myself, rather than just my readers.***
Starting with the Rare Breed.
Nose – I tend to like a lot of bourbons on the nose, but this one isn’t my favorite. The alcohol is evident, there are floral and earthy notes. Not as much of the vanilla/caramel flavors I often get in bourbons.
Taste – The first word that comes to mind upon tasting is smooth. This is a big bourbon at 54% abv, and you can tell that the alcohol is there, but it is just velvety. I get a saliva-inducing licorice/fennel note. Very full bodied, almost waxy mouthfeel. There’s a gentle fruity sweetness that seems to be almost raisin-flavored (and possibly orange as well?), but this is really a spicy bourbon.
Finish – The full, rich flavor lingers. And lingers. Licorice and spice. Rye.
Score – B+. I think this was a very good first “premium” bourbon to try. So smooth and rich. Each sip is better than the last and leaves you anticipating the next. Really quite lovely and exceeded the expectations I had on the nose.
Other, better reviews:
Next up, the Kentucky Spirit.
Nose – Wow wow wow. This is just delicious. Wait, are smells delicious? Sure, I think so. Creme brulee. Cherry. Vanilla. Sweet and decadent.
Taste – The immediate reaction for me, especially after tasting the Rare Breed, is that this is lighter bodied, and the alcohol (here, 50.5%) is more evident. Very oaky, with a bit of almost marshmallow creamy sweetness. When it first hits the tongue, I get the promise of chocolate/fudgy richness, but the burn just squashes that tease. Really doesn’t quite follow through on the promise of the nose.
Finish – Not as long lasting as I would expect at this price point, but a nice, warm, oaky finish.
Score – B. After nosing this, I prepared for this to be my favorite bourbon ever. In the end, though, while it had some nice notes, the light body and persistent alcohol burn turned me off a bit. A good whiskey, but I’d expect to find better whiskeys at a lower price (such as the Rare Breed).
Other, better reviews:
Thanks again to Florin for the samples.
Don’t feel too bad. I’ve been blogging for just over two years and haven’t been offered any samples from distributors either. Not sure what it takes to cross that line, but there are advantages to saying on this side of it. No one can accuse you of being beholden to other interests when you buy all of the booze you review with your own money.
This was an interesting read because I picked up a couple of minis of Rare Breed from The Party Source in Kentucky. They have quite a broad selection of minis, some of them at extremely low prices (the RB minis were only a couple of bucks each). Shipping costs are the only tricky part, but it might be a lot cheaper for you than it was for me out here on the West Coast.
To be clear, that whole intro was entirely tongue in cheek. I certainly don’t expect (or even hope, really) to reach the point where people are sending me swag. I was just looking for a funny intro, and a way to thank Florin for his generosity.
Thanks for the note on the Party Source. I’ll check it out. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m definitely interested in trying lots of minis, versus purchasing previously untried whiskies by the 750 ml bottle.
Now I’m embarrassed, a simple “Thank you F” would have done! Your self-deprecating humor aside, I agree with Jordan that there is a big advantage to being an independent reviewer. Some make it a policy, like Ralfy or the Canadian Jason – maybe Sku as well? I found myself less interested in several blogs as it became clear that the blogger lived on subsidized samples. When you serve your readers but get paid by producers that’s a conflict of interest, or a perception thereof, impossible to resolve. Sure, it’s just minis of whisky, and you make sure you stay objective, etc, etc, etc, but human nature being what it is, it just doesn’t work. There is a reason why producers invite bloggers on paid distillery tours and events.
I hope I didn’t actually make you uncomfortable. Of course your point regarding the conflict of interest is correct. Not a problem I expect to face anytime soon.
Any thoughts on my notes?
WW, I really like the review and my notes coincide with yours, only not in so many well-chosen words. Which is why you’re the blogger and not me! 🙂 Luckily for me, the Kentucky Spirit mellowed out since I opened it, the woodiness is less prominent and now is also in B+ territory. I noted the balance and depth of flavor in the Rare Breed, supported by enough sweetness. That bottle is gone but I secured back-up. I don’t know how much they differ from batch to batch, but the Rare Breed is from The Party Source. I also wonder whether I’m more into high proof whiskey than you are, I did not have issues with the burn — only with the sharp oak on KS. Lately all my favorite whiskies have been at barrel/cask strength, water on the side thank you… Thanks for the review and the blogs!
Hi WW, just checking for a pulse. I hope all is well with you and the family… It’s been a while!
These are all right in my price range. I should give the lesser known names a try… I bet I won’t regret it til the morning!