Whiskey Review – A Couple of Turkeys

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.

ScoreB+.  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:

Value Whisky Reviews

Beer & Whisky Brothers

$39.

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.

ScoreB. 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:

A Whisky Drink

The Bourbon Observer

$49.

Thanks again to Florin for the samples.

Whisky Review – Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban

This bottle was one of my purchases early in My Whisky Journey ™.  I had just taken my car to get an oil change, which for some unexplained reason lasted north of an hour and a half.  On the way out of the dealership, I opted to veer into the liquor store right next door.  I was determined to pick out a nice Scotch, but really had no idea what to pick.  While sitting in the dealership waiting room, avoiding their free donuts, I had stumbled across a listing of the awards given at the most recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  Figuring that this was as good a resource as any, I took the award listing into the store and basically walked the whisky aisle, trying to figure out which bottles in stock were award winners.  Eventually, I came across The Quinta Ruban from The Glenmorangie.  The packaging looked all classy-like, and it was a gold medal winner!  Which is like the third best medal you can win.  Not bad.  I Googled a couple of reviews, which were mostly positive, and pulled the trigger.

While it is my policy to give virtually no information in my reviews, I’ll note that the Quinta Ruban is a 12 year old whisky that is finished in ruby port casks.  It is part of their “Extra Matured” range, along with the Lasanta (Oloroso casks) and the Nectar D’Or (Sauternes).  OK.  Information over.

Nose – The nose starts out with significant wood and caramel sweetness, almost close to a Bourbon.  I also get something like a corn muffin and some earthiness.  That is some mix.  Finishing up with peppery spice.  And is that nutmeg?

Taste – Rich and lip-smacking.  I get a lot of dark fruit – cherries, raisins maybe?  And, of course, you really get that taste of port in the back of your mouth.  I’ve heard people talk about mint in this, but I totally don’t get it.  Little Bitty Bits picks up a taste that reminds her of Brachs caramels.

Finish – Shorter than expected.  I find it interesting that the flavors tend to evaporate at the finish, leaving you with a (pleasant) heat.

With a splash of water, I find that the Quinta Ruban doesn’t really show different flavors (as many whiskies do), but rather just becomes a bit smoother, which is perfectly tasty.

Score – B+.  As I said above, I bought this bottle awhile back.  In its early stages, I wasn’t exactly tearing through it, but I was sort of trying to train myself to enjoy Scotch.  When I got it down to about a quarter left, I made sure not to have any more without writing down my notes.  Well, somehow, the bottle managed to sit untouched into April, when I picked it up with notebook in hand.  What do you know, this time around, I was loving it.  I think this was definitely a sign of palate evolution (a topic which I will touch on in some depth in my next review).

That said, the few times I tasted the last quarter of the bottle, my score thoughts have been between an A- and a B-.  It seems that this is really one that depends on my mood.

Other, better reviews:

Official Notes from The Glenmorangie

The Malt Imposter

The Malt Review

The Whisky Wire

$44.

Whisky Review – Compass Box Asyla

Apologies for the lack of recent posts.  I have no excuse.  I’m lazy.  Here’s hoping this post begins a run of regular posts.  It’s no fun starting every post with an apology for lack of activity.

Let’s move on.  My next review is of a blended whisky from the good folks at Compass Box.  At least I’m guessing that they are good folks.  For whatever reason, I imagine that anyone involved in the whisky industry is a good person.  Because they, in some small way, bring me joy.  Anyhow, it seems that Compass Box is setting the interwebs on fire.  A few months back, having recently read that the Whisky Advocate had named Compass Box’s Great King Street as their Blended Whisky of the Year, I figured that it was a worthwhile early Scotch purchase (especially with its sub-$40 price tag).  So off I drove to a big, supermarket-type liquor store to pick up the GKS, and wouldn’t you know they don’t carry it.  I did, however, spot the Compass Box Asyla and, too lazy to drive down the road to the next liquor store, did a quick iPhone search for Asyla reviews.  After seeing a few positive writeups, I grabbed it and was on my way.

Perhaps not the most scientific reasoning, but hey, things happen for a reason.  Right?  Right?

Let’s go to the tasting notes.

Nose – A nice light nose, and one whose flavors I found difficult to nail down.  Honeyed apple sweetness, an herbal (grass? mint?) note, and a surprisingly robust alcohol heat that singes the nose hairs a bit (not that I have nose hairs – I wax).

Taste – On the palate, I was again surprised that the heat hits first and is really a primary component of the taste.  Also, less sweet then expected.  Some juniper and a hint of vanilla.  Very light-bodied and subtle.  After 15 or 20 minutes exposed to the open air, it seems to loosen up a bit, becoming smoother with some of the sweet flavors being highlighted (including a taste of banana?).

Finish – The finish remains rather dry, and gives a pleasant gentle warmness.

In my opinion, not a whisky that benefits from a splash of water.

ScoreB-.  It seems that this was just too light and delicate for me.  I enjoy a nice light, honeyed dram as much as the next guy, but this was just too small.  One other note – I had this bottle open for more than a full month before I wrote down my tasting notes.  That is often the case, as I only bring out my notebook from time to time, and am usually just enjoying a leisurely drink.  It seems that over the course of time, my appreciation for the Asyla faded.  Early on, I quite enjoyed it, but by the time I wrote down my notes, it was too small/light for my tastes.  Now, it could be that my tastes are changing rapidly (which they are, without question), but perhaps it could also be that the whisky changes after it has been open a while?  I’ve seen other references on the whiskynets to this happening.  But this is the only bottle that seemed to experience such a drastic change.  What say you, whisky commenters?

Other, better reviews:

Official Notes from Compass Box

Whisky Israel

Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society

It’s Just The Booze Dancing

$45.

Whiskey Review – 1792 Ridgemont Reserve and Eagle Rare

Well, then.  That was a nice little break, now wasn’t it?

Sorry for the radio silence.  Life got in the way a bit, but I’m glad to say that I’m back at it, pouring brown liquids down the hatch and letting you know what I think.  Today’s topic?  Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey.  Two iterations, in fact (I’m blogging so slowly that I’m falling behind my drinking, hence the doubling up).  You see, I was watching the Final Four and the national championship game, witnessing the utter dominance of Anthony Davis and his freakishly talented teammates, and I figured that now is as good a time as any to highlight some Kentucky juice.

Before I get to the tasting, a word on Calipari & Co.  The Wildcats were an amazing team, they played hard, they played the game right, and they were absolutely deserving of the title.  But I think that Green Bay Packers Tight End Tom Crabtree (@TCrabtree83) put it best when, with Kansas trailing toward the end of the game, he Tweeted: “Kansas can either comeback and win this thing now, or win it in 3-5 years when Kentucky is forced to vacate it.”  In other words, John Calipari, while a top recruiter, master motivator and a hell of an in-game coach, has the moral compass of a mug of bongwater.  Both UMass and Memphis have had to vacate successful seasons from his time there, and it won’t be a surprise when Kentucky will have to do the same.

Enough of that downer, though.  In honor of Kentucky’s victory, and the upcoming Kentucky Derby, here are my tasting notes.

I’m a bad photographer.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select (Aged 8 Years)

Nose – Just lovely.  I’m fond of so many bourbons on the nose, and this one doesn’t disappoint.  Some green pepper/stony scent.  Floral perfume.  Wood chips.  And some fruit – banana perhaps?  I’d like this to be my cologne.

Taste – Wow.  This goes from sweet and quaint on the nose to a monster on the palate.  Big, mouth-filling, puckering flavors.  Very heavy on the oak.  Licorice.  I get almost no sweetness whatsoever.  Something of a rye-type of flavor.

Finish – Pretty long, and like I said, it infuses your entire mouth and nose with the flavor.  Still that oak, but a hint of something like tobacco and just a whiff of lavender?

Comment – An interesting whiskey.  I know a lot of people are into it, but I’m learning that I really need that sweet note at some point, and I don’t get it here (which is somewhat strange, as I’ve read some other reviews describing it as overly sweet).

ScoreB-.  Obviously not my favorite, but I can see how others enjoy it.  To me, it was like taking a big bite of wood chips with a couple of flower petals mixed in.

Other, better reviews:

Official tasting notes

Sipology

The Beverage Baron

$25

No, seriously. I’m terrible.

Eagle Rare Single Barrel (Aged 10 Years)

Nose – Again, a lot of oak and green pepper.  Molasses and something like a latte.  Singes the nose hairs a bit.

Taste – Starts with big oak right up front, then comes some brown sugar/creme brulee.  Dark Chocolate and leather.

Finish – While not the longest finish, it seems to be active.  Things are happening in your mouth.  Good things.  Still with the wood, but also vanilla and a hint of lemon.  Somewhat drying.

Comment – Another big, mouth-filling whiskey.  Not light or refreshing.  Similar to the Ridgemont Reserve on the nose and with the huge oak on the palate, but differing in the considerable sweet flavors.

ScoreB+.  Of the two bourbons, I obviously preferred this one, but it isn’t the type of whiskey that you’ll spend an afternoon sipping.  Just a nice glass here and there for something interesting and somewhat different.

Other, better reviews:

Official tasting notes

Stogie Guys

Whisk(e)y Apostle

$25

Whisky Review – The Balvenie Doublewood

As noted in my introduction to my whiskey journey, I started down this path in a rather haphazard fashion.  I tried a few whiskies based on a good review here or there, or perhaps because I seemed to recall a good review that, in retrospect, I haven’t been able to since track down.  So when I decided to start this blog (and approach my introduction to whiskey in a somewhat logical fashion), I decided that I’d start at the beginning.  I set out to determine the best “beginner’s” Scotch.  After considering a number of different options, the one single malt that I found was most often recommended was The Balvenie’s DoubleWood.

If you are looking for some notes on The Balvenie’s history, or the coordinates of the crystal-clear stream from which its water is taken, you are at the wrong blog.  I’m just here to review the juice.  However, before I go on, I note that my label appears to be a degree or two askew, with the right side of the front lable being a millimeter or two higher than the left.  That doesn’t appear to be intentional, so perhaps my bottle is a quirky keeper.

Is it crooked?

According to the Balvenie’s label, which I will note is one of the classiest in the Scotch world, this 12 year old benefits from a mellow vanilla spiciness due to its time in oak casks, while imparting fruit and honey from sherry casks.  I’ll be the judge of that.

Nose – From my brand spanking new Glencairn glass I’m getting … some sherry, almost a raspberry flavor.  I also get some wood.  Not vanilla or toast, but like a plain old wood floor.  Also, I really pick up on something unpleasant.  Almost like an apricot soda.  Tart.

Taste – To me, the nose really follows through into the mouth.  Big sherry, again the wood flavor, almost nutty.  Cinnamon.  Medium to full body, no smoke.  And then there is a tart taste toward the end that almost seems a tiny bit carbonated.  Pretty smooth, and the sherry dominates.

Finish – This sticks with you for a fair bit, with the wood floor really resonating as it goes on.  Drying.

I find that this is one dram that benefits from a small splash of water.  Notes with water:

Nose – Seems sweeter on the nose.  I’m getting real honey now.  Again, though, that tingly tartness.

Taste – Smoother than before.  Getting a lot more vanilla.  Sherry remains, as does that bit of cinnamon.

Finish – Finish is shortened a bit by the water.

Comment – This is one whiskey where I believe a few drops of water makes a big difference.  Much smoother, with the big sherry/cinnamon flavor a bit more balanced with the added sweetness of the vanilla and honey aspect.  Not my favorite to date – I’m trending toward at least a few hints of smoke along with a more prominent sweetness – but it wouldn’t send me running from the Scotch Whisky world if this were truly my first taste.  The bottle sure won’t go to waste.

ScoreB.  On the whole, I enjoyed the DoubleWood.  I don’t know if I’m that wild about the sherry, and there is a certain tart aspect in the background that just disagrees with me, but it certainly ranks among the “tasty drink” category.  I don’t know that I’d seek it out for another purchase, although it is rather economical.  (Also, a note on the standard 1 to 100 whisky score scale.  I think it is dumb.  Really?  You can determine that the drink was an 86 rather than an 87?  Really?  I don’t buy it.  I don’t know that I’d be able to tell the difference between an 86 and an 89.  Plus, as far as I can tell, the lowest possible score is around 73, and the highest possible is about 96.  Why don’t you just have the lowest be 1 and the highest be 24?  Same thing, right?  Anyhow, I digress.  Broader, letter grades seem to more approachable to me.)

Other, better reviews:

Official review by The Balvenie

The Casks

Vice Lounge Online

The Whisky Wire

Guid Scotch Drink

$44.