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.

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

Hoodwinked!

Last week, on Saint Patrick’s Day, Little Bitty Bits (the wife) got me a gift: a nice bottle of Jameson 12.  Longtime readers of this blog (i.e., those who have read it for a month) might remember that I am a big fan of Jameson 12.  It was the bottle that convinced me that, after years of beer drinking, I can learn to love whiskey.  I had just kicked my bottle of Redbreast 12, so I eagerly put the gift bottle out for future enjoyment.

Now LBB, like me, is a proponant of a certain school of gift-giving which believes in gifts that give joy not just to the recipient, but to the giver as well.  In other words, she wanted some of the booze that she just bought.  So she opened the bottle that day.

Fast forward to yesterday.  It’s Friday night and I feel alright, and the party’s about to be here on the west side.  So I reach to pull the cork on the Jameson 12 and — hold on a second, there’s no cork.  It is a screw top.  I could swear that the last bottle was corked.  Hmmm … my mind starts turning … nah, couldn’t be … I’m just being paranoid … I hold the bottle up and study the label a bit.  I’m no expert on Jameson labels, but I’m not seeing anything indicating that this is the 12 year.  It seems to read as just the regular Jameson.  I go straight to the Google machine, and my suspicions are confirmed – the bottle in my hands is not Jameson 12, but the standard Jameson!

What is wrong with this picture?

Now, normally I would have marched straight back to the liquor store (insomuch as you can march in a car), shown them the discrepency and demanded satisfaction.  However, this is a bit complicated because LBB had opened the bottle and had two drinks from it.  What is to stop any customer from coming into their store with an open bottle of Jameson claiming to have purchased the wrong thing?

What do you say, whiskey world?  Has anything like this happened to you?  This is from a store that I’ve often frequented, and knowing the workers there a bit, I’d be surprised if this was something done by the store.  That said, LBB and I did stop by there last night and I took a peek into the only other Jameson 12 package there, and it did indeed contain the proper whiskey.

The basic takeaway is that this is a loss of about $20.  We paid $44 for a $24 bottle.  What would/could you do about it?

Whiskey Review – Bushmills Black Bush and Redbreast 12

As it is (late on) St. Patrick’s day, I decided that I’d follow the lead of every whiskey blogger and put up a review of an Irish Whiskey.  Then I figured that, as a new blogger, I should differentiate myself.  So I am really going to shock you.  I’m going to review … two Irish Whiskeys.  I’ll give you a minute to compose yourselves.

My two Irish right now (in keeping with my 4 Scotch/2 Irish/2 Bourbon format) are both what you’d call “premium” Irish whiskeys.  Or “luxury” Irish whiskeys.  I’m making those terms up, of course, but the point being that they are each a step above the baseline Irish juice that you’ll find in most bars.  Bushmills Black Bush is a step up from the distillery’s iconic white label, and  Redbreast 12 is a step up from … well, nothing, because Redbreast don’t mess around with no ordinary whiskey.

Enough blathering, let’s get to it, starting with the lower-priced Black Bush:

Nose – An interesting nose, not dominated by one note.  I get some lemon custard, some mineral scent, and a little bit of floral.  Also getting a fair amount of alcohol burn.  Not the most pleasant.

Taste – One trap that I think I tend to fall into a bit as a rookie whiskey blogger is that I tend to  look for the scents on the nose as flavors on the palate.  Here, that was rather easy to avoid.  I get a little bit of bitter chocolate, something like hand soap, and a lot of heat at the end.

Finish – Mostly warm/alocol-based heat.  Ends quickly.

Comment – Tasting the Black Bush is a many-seconds-long experience.  Here is what my tongue thinks as it goes through that experience (yes, my tongue has its own brain): “Hmmm… here comes a liquid.  Booze, yes!  It has that ‘here comes some whiskey’ start.  A nice oily mouthfeel.  And … wait, where did it go?  Where’s all the flavor?”  In other words, it is just muted on the palate.  Almost like drinking a slightly whiskey-flavored candlewax.  The heat at the end is unpleasant.

I’ve heard so many good comments about Black Bush that I almost wonder if I got a bad bottle, or if my bottle came from a bad batch.  I’m willing to try again, but this just didn’t float my boat.

Score – C.  A disappointment, especially considering the slightly elevated price tag.  I enjoy most Irish whiskeys I try, but this just didn’t have enough flavor, and alcohol played too prominently in the taste.  One thing I’ll note – the longer the bottle was open, the more I enjoyed it.  I’ve heard (not really experienced this) that whiskeys often lose some character due to age after opening.  This one actually seemed to gain.

Other, better reviews:

Official review from Bushmills

Drinkhacker

Jason’s Scotch Whisky Reviews

$29.

Sorry for the St. Patty’s downer.  Let’s see if that Redbreast 12 (non-cask strength) can improve upon things.

Nose – Floral.  Little Bitty Bits (my wife’s new name, now that she’s blogging) describes it as “female-friendly.”  Lots of apple.  Lots of oak and vanilla.  More and more apple.  Sharp sting of heat.

Taste – Man, there’s all kinds of things going on here.  Vanilla.  Apple and brown sugar.  Licorice. Spicy, creamy, and not to sound like a hypocrite considering my comments in the above review, but the bite of alcohol in this, while strong, mixes in with the spice perfectly.  Everything plays together so well.  It is like a group of notes being hit at once to make a chord.

Finish – A warm, slightly sour note that seems to sit like a little ball of heat in your throat.  Rather long lasting.

Comment – I obviously prefer this to the Black Bush.  The interesting contrast in the two, in my opinion, is the effect of the alcohol burn on the palate.  In the Black Bush, it just shows up unannounced and takes over.  In the Redbreast, it slots itself in amongst the other flavors, mixing well with the considerable spice and apple-y sweetness.

ScoreA-. Here’s how my drinking usually progresses on a given night.  I start out by targeting one bottle that I want to be sure to be my first, unblemished taste of the night.  Maybe it is new, or maybe I haven’t tasted it in awhile, maybe I’m reviewing it next – for whatever reason, that one goes first.  Then, after that first glass, I decide what will be my “rest of the night” drink (whether that be one more glass for a regular night, or 3 or even 4 more if things are getting a little bit inappropriate).  Well, every time I look for my “rest of the night” drink, my eyes instinctively turn to this Redbreast.  For the sake of variety, it isn’t always my choice, but it is always near the top of my list.

Other, better reviews:

(No official website?)

Pork ‘n Whisk(e)y

Sipology

$49.

My Whiskey Journey

I’ve always been a big guy.  In high school, I was tall and chunkier than most of my classmates (looking back at pictures, though, I certainly don’t look overweight).  In college, I put on the freshman fifteen and didn’t look back.  The same continued through law school, and then I entered the real world.  Real sedentary.  My weight maintained a steady climb for years.  This type of increase is perfect for your stock portfolio, but horrible for your health.

This past December, I made the cliched decision to start a diet in the new year.  I spent all kinds of time researching, and ultimately decided that the choice for me was what is known as the Primal or Paleo diet.  Without getting into detail, the concept is to eat good whole foods.  Lots of meat, veggies and fruits.  At the same time, I cut out all grains and added sugars.  (Side note: if you are interested, I’ve lost 22 lbs in under two months.  A good site for further info is Mark’s Daily Apple.)

Why mention my new way of eating?  Because it demanded a new way of drinking as well.  My beloved beer had to go.  I had grown quite fond of relaxing with a nice IPA.  A Victory Hop Devil if at all possible.  But now my new diet overlords were telling me that drinking that beer was about the same as eating a couple of slices of bread – a serious no-no in Paleoland.

Ahhh, memories.

But I still needed a Friday night relaxation lubricant, and I had two options: wine and whiskey.  (Side note #2: the spelling of “whisk(e)y” has been explained repeatedly.  My plan will be to use “whisky” for fun brown drinks from Scotland and Canada, and “whiskey” for fun brown drinks from elsewhere.  I chose the added “e” in my blog title because I’m from a “whiskey” country.  And also because “whiskywriter” was already taken on WordPress.)  I had recently done some experimentation with wine while living in San Francisco, and it just didn’t captivate me.  But whiskey intrigued.

The reason whiskey is so intriguing is the fanatacism of its fans.  People talk about their favorite Scotches the way they talk about their children, but with slighlty greater enthusiasm.  Run a couple of Google searches – there are easily 50 outstanding whiskey blogs (some linked to in the sidebar of this blog), if not two or three times that amount.  These people are devoted.  Also, whiskey (and Scotch in particular) is just so manly.  As a man, I’m supposed to eat bloody steaks, savor a good Scotch, and smoke stinky cigars.  Well, with Paleo, my steak intake is through the roof.  It is time to up my Scotch savoring as well (I’ll never be a cigar smoker).

At the start of the year and the new diet, my interest in whiskey had already lead me to purchase (and sample) two bottles – Highland Park 12 and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  My impressions at the time were that the Buffalo Trace was outstanding (especially considering its sub-$25 price tag) – smooth, spicy and just eminently drinkable.  My impression of the HP 12 (shield your eyes now, whisky lovers) was that it was just very difficult to get into.  I wasn’t immediately into that level of smoke (and I’m still far from a smoke lover).  Little Thunder, who generally sticks to inexpensive Shirazes, opined that the Highland Park “tastes like hot dogs.”  And I couldn’t totally disagree.

It grew on me.

Once I started focusing on these in earnest, I just needed to try more.  I needed variety.  I went on something of a buying spree (which really hasn’t stopped yet).  I made impulse buys of Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon.  After some research, I decided that I had to dip my toe into the Irish pool, so I got a bottle of Jameson 12.  With two Scotches and two bourbons but just one Irish, I decided that I couldn’t take the asymmetry, so I picked up a Red Breast 12.  My shelf looked pretty good at that point.

Soon after, at the liquor store with Little Thunder, I saw that they had Bushmill’s Black Bush on sale, so I picked up a bottle of that (but put it in the cabinet and out of view, for symmetry purposes).  I eventually finished the HP 12 and the Buffalo Trace, and replaced them with Old Pulteney 12 and Eagle Rare, respectively.

Before the HP 12 was kicked, though, I had an epiphany.  I just had a night where everything came together.  I was in the right mood, I was reading the right book, and the dram was just behaving perfectly.  The whisky’s flavors sang.  It had that beautiful mouthfeel and long finish (at least to my inexperienced taste) and I just sat there and realized that I needed more, more, more.

After some time with two each of Scotch, bourbon and Irish, I had to give Scotch its due.  Scotch is just too popular, and too varied from whisky to whisky, and there are just too many different Scotches to try.  Plus, the HP 12 had me drooling for a similar experience.  So I decided to up the ratio to four Scotches, two bourbons and two Irish whiskeys.  I studied a bit, and this time opted for a couple of drams that appeared to be a little more beginner-friendly: The Balvenie DoubleWood and a Compass Box Asyla (I wanted to include a blend in my four).

So I now stand with the following: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, Old Pulteney 12, Balvenie DoubleWood, Compass Box Asyla, Red Breast 12, Black Bush (I’ve finished the Jameson 12), 1792 bourbon, and Eagle Rare.  In all, a decent start to a collection.

Each of those whiskeys will be reviewed on this page in the coming weeks and months.  I’ll also touch on other topics.  My use of water in whiskey.  My future whiskey-related purchases (i.e., glassware and books).  My whiskey wish list (already a good 8 or 9 bottles long for Scotch alone).  My desire to make my whiskey hobby more social.  The seeming dearth of whiskey clubs or good whiskey bars in the Philadelphia area.  And on and on.

Finally, a word on Jameson 12.  People debate what is the best Scotch to get a whisky rookie hooked.  I’d offer up Jameson 12.  Obviously, I know this isn’t Scotch, but boy is it accessible.  So smooth with (for me) a perfect sweetness and just a little complexity.  Expensive for Irish, yes, but less than the great majority of single malts.  I may look back a year from now and cringe when reading this, but I would drink that stuff morning, noon and night, eight days a week.  Not just that, but it truly girded my belief that I need to go ahead and see what is out there in the world of great whiskey.

Maybe I'm crazy?

That’s where I stand.  I’m obviously a rookie’s rookie.  Join me as my journey as my tastes evolve and I, you know, get less stupid.  Hopefully.

Cheers,

WW

About Time

Hello and welcome.  This blog isn’t about time.  It’s about time.  About time that I got around to starting it.

I’m a frustrated writer.  Well, not so much frustrated, as that implies that I’ve made an effort and hit some sort of road blocks.  That really hasn’t happened.  I haven’t made much of an effort to now.  I’ve completed NaNoWriMo once, though I didn’t finish the book.  I’ve written some short memoir-ish pieces.  And I’ve done some very short fiction and writing exercises.  Really, I’ve mostly read about writing (something that is infinitely easier than actually, you know, writing).

But at the urging of my wife, Little Thunder (yes, I go by Big Thunder, or WhiskeyWriter, or WW), I’ve decided to open this page.  It’s purpose is simply to get me writing.  To get my fingers on the keyboard and moving.  Most people that are smarter than me (which is the same as simply saying “most people”) say that this is by far the biggest factor in improving as a writer.  So that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll sit down at the computer and I’ll write.

Which begs the question: well, what will WW write?  The answer to that is almost anything.  I’ll write about what’s on my mind.  Current events.  Book reviews.  Witty observations (what’s the deal with airplane food, am I right???).  But aside from these, I will focus on two primary categories.  First, fiction writing.  This could be writing exercises, full on short pieces, or excerpts of longer writing.  The second category will detail my journey of learning whiskey.  After 34 years of drinking mostly beer with the occasional glass of red wine (well, maybe not 34 years — 13 legal years), I’ve dropped beer entirely.  In its stead, I am drinking whiskey.  Why?  I’ll explain later, but it’s safe to say that I am, by any measure, a whiskey noobie.  If you are an opinionated whiskey (or whisky) expert looking for insightful or educational commentary, you are more likely to just get a couple of laughs.

All that said, I welcome you, the reader, to my blog.  I’ve blogged before, and I can tell you that there is nothing better than repeat visitors and frequent commenters.  Let me know what you think and what you’d like to see.

Cheers,

WW