Great King Street: Glasgow Blend

Anyone who reads this blog frequently will already be familiar with my love for Artist’s Blend from Great King Street (aka Compass Box). Imagine then my scrambling to request a sample when the new permanent addition to the Great King Street lineup was announced. Where Artist’s Blend is nuanced and light, Glasgow Blend is intended to be robust and flavorful as befits the reputed taste of the residents of Glasgow, Scotland. The flavor profile is built around both sherry and peat, making it truly the polar opposite of its sister blend. This is an homage to blended scotch styles of the 19th century, when nearly all malt whisky was peated (peat being the primary heat source for floor maltings at the time) and most of the available used cooperage was from sherry butts.

The Glasgow Blend is formulated with (the specs are freely available online – I love Compass Box!) 33% Lowland grain whisky from the Cameronbridge distillery, 20% single malt from a “south-shore Islay distllery”, and the rest Clynelish, a sherried malt from the Benrinnes distillery, and a small proportion of other malts from Speyside and the Highlands. The Islay distillery is apparently Laphroaig according to a few Internet sources. Oh, and some of that malt (probably some Clynelish) carries John Glaser’s signature new French oak finishing. Now that’s a spec sheet.

The whisky is bottled at 43% ABV, is not chill-filtered nor colored, and retails for $45. 375ml half-bottles are also available. Thanks to Debbie and Chris at The Collective PR for the sample!

Nose: A whiff of peat greets the nose first – there’s no shying away from the peat in this blend. The peat is a little smoky and airily herbal, but I can’t place it as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, or Ardbeg. Underlying the peat are wisps of fruit in the form of crushed berries and unripe figs. While it has more presence than Artist’s Blend, I wouldn’t call the aroma robust. A rest in the glass brings out the vanilla buttercream that fans of Artist’s Blend will be looking for.

Palate: Deep, earthy notes of tobacco and fruitwood smoke. A pleasantly creamy body without tongue burn, and more wisps of fruit. Subtle but artful. The fruit is present, but weaves into the peat effortlessly. Well played Mr. Glaser.

Finish: Medium length. The peat earthiness continues, growing a little more smoky and allowing the fruit to drop away. As it fades, there are hints of oak tannins and then the whole becomes mineral and dry.

With Water: A few drops of water tame the smoke, and bring out a few soft cereal notes on the tongue. They also seem to chase away the fruit from the sherry. I don’t see the need for water with this one.

Overall: John Glaser continues to do what scotch blending companies have been advertising that they do for decades. He takes a components that are worth drinking on their own and crafts something with them that is truly impressive for under $50 a bottle. If you’ve ever tasted blended scotch and thought it needed more flavor, or wished for some real peat presence in Johnnie Walker Black Label or sherry character and more drinkability in Black Bottle, this is your blend. I believe I still prefer Artist’s Blend for its universal appeal and softer notes, but the Glasglow Blend would definitely do a better job of heating up a highball. I’m particularly impressed with the interplay of sherry notes (which are fleeting) with peat notes (which are understated but dominant), without the two ever conflicting. I’ve had $80 peated malts finished in sherry casks that didn’t integrate half as well.

Great King Street: Glasgow Blend
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $45
Acquired: (50ml sample) Courtesy of The Collective PR. Thanks Debbie and Chris!
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Compass Box – The Lost Blend

Compass Box discontinued the popular Eleuthera in 2004, citing lack of availability of one of the blended malt’s key components. John Glaser, ever the romantic, has been trawling the secondary cask market in Scotland looking for the perfect replacement. He found it in the form of an “extraordinary” cask of 19 year-old Allt-A-Bhainne in ex-bourbon wood. Alas, there was only one such barrel and his re-creation of Eleuthera was fated to be a limited edition, yielding 12,018 bottles.

Utilizing a similar recipe to Eleuthera, The Lost Blend is composed of Clynelish (a John Glaser staple), Caol Ila, and the aforementioned Allt-A-Bhainne. Eleuthera was intended to provide an easy-drinking alternative to the fiery peated whiskies that dominate the single malt scene. Although the picture above is too small to tell, each of the three randomized labels is adorned with “lost” things such as the RMS Lusitania and the Dodo. Cute.

The whisky is bottled at 46% ABV, is not chill-filtered nor colored, and retails for $120. Thanks to Debbie and Chris at The Collective PR for the sample!

Nose: A tangy dose of Caol Ila peat meets the nose, accompanied by the clear, sweet aroma of peach. Yum. Waxy Clynelish underscores both, with its uncanny combination of candlewax and vanilla. The two are playful, and thankfully not overly smoky or earthy. The combination is ethereal.

Palate: Waxy body, and the charry smoke of Caol Ila cuts through immediately. There is a light, chardonnay-like fruitiness underscored by buttery toasted oak. Again, the smoke and fruit take turns at the forefront, neither washing the other out or becoming muddied.

Finish: Medium-long and warming. The peat continues to smoulder as it goes to charcoal. The fruit fades quickly, leaving no bitterness.

With Water: A few drops of water punch up the peat smoke and also reveal something floral, like lavender. Certainly try this with a few drops.

Overall: This is (if memory serves) much more successful than Eleuthera was at both taming Islay smoke and marrying it to fruit. The clean, crisp notes of peach and white grapes carry through from nose to finish, never allowing the peat to dominate. Masterfully blended – a truly excellent example of skilled blending and what it can accomplish.

Compass Box – The Lost Blend
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $120
Acquired: (50ml sample) Courtesy of The Collective PR. Thanks Debbie and Chris!
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Auchentoshan American Oak

Another permanent change in lineup, this time from Auchentoshan. Gone is the bland-ish Auchentoshan Classic, and in its place another NAS triple-distilled release, this time matured exclusively in first-fill ex-bourbon American Oak. At a retail place of around $35, this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade. According to the press release, Auchentoshan selects casks from both the top and bottom of their warehouse and marries them together to create American Oak. Thanks again to Manuela at Savona Communications for the sample.

Nose: Vanilla and raw barley. Notes are very similar to Irish blended whisky. Light brown sugar and freshly-cut hardwood. A slight overripe banana note underlies the rest, and becomes more prominent as the dram rests. Clean, crisp, and light, like the Auchentoshan Classic, but with more apparent oak character and a little extra malty sweetness – a nice upgrade.

Palate: Light bodied, but with a slight “simple syrup” texture. Melted vanilla ice cream, some oaky tannins, and mild toasted barley.

Finish: Short. Very slightly bitter, but with pleasant notes of kettle corn as it fades.

With Water: A few drops of water accentuate (unfortunately) the banana notes, adding green banana to the mix. Stay away from water with this one – it certainly doesn’t need it at 40% ABV.

Overall: As a value malt, this has a few ticks in its favor over the Classic, which it is replacing in the permanent Auchentoshan portfolio. The Classic suffered from anemia and definitely is bolstered by the added oak character, which is well executed, and doesn’t come across as an afterthought or cover-up. My one issue, which might be a personal taste thing, is that I cannot abide the “rotten banana” note that so often creeps into scotch aged in first-fill ex-bourbon wood. I have it on good authority, however, that many people find this particular banana note to be pleasant. If you’re one of those people, then $35 is not an unfair price for this light, straightforward NAS malt.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Auchentoshan (a toughie to pronounce: Aw-ken/tosh-an) is one of the few remaining Lowlander distilleries in Scotland. It’s also notable for its use of “triple distillation” to make its spirit. This means rather than using two stills to distill the beer-like wash twice, like most Scottish distilleries, Auchentoshan processes the new-make spirit in three stills (three times). This creates a higher-proof final distillate (around 82% ABV) which is lighter and sweeter in flavor than most Scotch. I wonder if they ever release a cask-strength bottling! Wowza! [update: They do, but as the whisky is diluted to typical ‘cask-strength’ of around 63% ABV, it’s not much stronger than other whiskies. What I really want to try is the new-make spirit. :) ] Note that many Irish distillers also triple-distill their whiskey.

Auchentoshan American Oak
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $35-$40
Acquired: (100ml sample) Courtesy of Savona Communications. Thanks, Manuela!
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Bowmore Small Batch

I keep being impressed by Bowmore. While it certainly sits on the “mild” end of the peat spectrum among its peers on Islay, Bowmore continues to release solid, subtle, well-rounded and expertly-crafted releases with very reasonable price points (Devil’s Cask excepted). The new permanent addition to the range, Small Batch, is positioned in between the NAS “Legend” (review upcoming) and the standard 12-year. Aged only in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled at the slightly disappointing 40% ABV, Small Batch scratches an itch at the $40 price point. When you want a little more subtlety than Laphroaig 10, a little more quality than Bowmore Legend, and a little less sticker-shock than Ardbeg 10 or Lagavulin 16, Bowmore Small Batch is not a bad choice.

I’m also happy to see another permanent addition to a core range during a time when $75 and up NAS limited editions seem to be all the rage.

Nose: Gentle peat, flecked with refined honey and sweet cream. Banana cream pie, toasted coconut, and vanilla salt-water taffy. Light, sweet, but artfully presented and without any rough edges.

Palate: More of the same. Vanishing tongue burn, followed by more coconut, vanilla, and lightly salty peat in turns. Elegant, but light.

Finish: Of medium length, with a bit more toasty oak, roasted nuts, and soft peat smoke. Ends with a touch of malt syrup.

With Water: A few drops of water seem to only add a caustic edge to the nose tickle and introduce a hint of wet hay. Unnecessary, especially at 40% ABV.

Overall: While I could have done with a bit more robustness at 46% or so, I applaud both the craftsmanship of this whisky, and its sane price point. Clearly more well-rounded and well-integrated than the cheaper Legend, it trades peat intensity for sweetness and subtlety. This would be an excellent “shallow end of the pool” introduction to peated whisky for scotch newbies (where Laphroaig 10, my first, would be more like a slip and fall into the deep end).

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Despite its location on the banks of Loch Indaal in central Islay, Bowmore’s water is derived from the river Laggan, the source of which rises from the hills on the east coast of the island, overlooking the Sound of Islay. The water is diverted from the river and forms The Bowmore Lade. This water is notable for its cross-island trip, picking up heather in the hills, minerals from the sandstone and limestone rocks from which it rises, and peat from the lowland bogs on its trip to the distillery. This yields a light and subtle spirit with a balance of mineral and vegetal. Bowmore still malts 40% of its own barley in its floor maltings. The malt is peated for less time than the more intense malts from the southern Islay distilleries, which contributes to its reputation as a ‘tamer’ cousin, and reputably more ‘smoky’ than peaty.

Bowmore Small Batch
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $40
Acquired: (100ml sample) Courtesy of Savona Communications. Thanks, Manuela!
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Exclusive Malts: North Highland (17 year) 1996-2014

Now that I’m an established *cough* “Whisky Reviewer” aka Imposter-Journalist-with-a-Whisky-Blog, I get a decent number of samples mailed to me by distributors and importers. Some of them I ask for (Ok, Ok, BEG for) and some just arrive. The good people at ImpEx (Thanks Katia!) seem to like me, and have sent me another batch of little bottles to try. One of my favorite things about whisky in general (and scotch in particular) is that there are SO MANY whiskies to try that I’ve never had before. Even within a single distillery like Glenmorangie, the products of which I’ve tasted extensively, there is always another surprise bottle around the corner from an errant cask or special edition. This time, it takes the form of a 17 year-old independent bottling from Exclusive Malts (distilled 1996, bottled 2014 at 56.1% ABV) with the vague moniker “North Highland”. A quick Google excursion tells me that it’s pretty much uncontested that this bottle is from a Glenmorangie refill sherry hogshead. The label likely obscures this with the “North Highland” designation for legal and/or marketing and/or “building a mystery” reasons. Queue the Sarah McLachlan.

Alas, as is often the case these days with cask-strength independent bottlings with any kind of age to them, the price is astronomical. Let’s see if this is really worth $130 retail…

Nose: A sour tang, like fino sherry but fruitier – unripe figs? Stewed peaches, pits and all. Vanilla ice cream, which does remind me of Glenmorangie. After a rest in the glass, I can detect something like peach cobbler and buttery shortbread cookies, but that sharp “fino” note pervades all.

Palate: Hot, of course. Thin bodied. The sherry creeps in as a layer of fig and lemon, still on the sour side. There is a nice body of malt, with characteristic Glenmorangie shortbread and vanilla.

Finish: Medium-long and warming. Devoid of bitterness. The fruits become more subdued, and are suggestive of fruit pies and jams. Roasted chestnuts fade to the end.

With Water: A sizable splash of water brings out an astoundingly clear note of bubblegum. The nose takes on a waxy aspect, and the sour notes are reduced. The palate, which is far milder, retains the bubblegum and becomes a little blander. The finish acquires a slight menthol note. Definitely try this neat, then add a few drops of water, and then dilute it to around 50% for the full experience.

Overall: The “sharp” sour note on the nose definitely feels unbalanced. This is possibly an experimental cask that didn’t make it into one of the Glenmorangie special editions and was sold on the independent market. It reminds me somewhat of Artein, but only as a single component. While like most Exclusive Malts it’s overpriced, I can definitely see the appeal. This is a heady, individualistic whisky, and is exactly the kind of thing that people bored with the status quo of official bottlings are seeking, especially fans of Glenmorangie. I still think the cask was refill fino sherry, although that’s a stab in the dark.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Glenmorangie has been an innovator in the industry for years, pioneering cask expressions and experimental bottlings of their exceptional Highland whisky. Often cited as the biggest-selling whisky in Scotland, Glenmorangie is also attracting a lot of international attention, winning awards left and right. Among their cask-aged expressions are the Nectar D’Or (matured in French Sauternes casks after 10 years minimum in bourbon barrels), Quinta Ruban (matured in port barrels), Lasanta (matured in oloroso sherry casks), and more. Glenmorangie sources its oak casks in the Ozark mountains and loans them for four years to the Jack Daniels distillery before using them for scotch. Glenmorangie’s water flows from the Tarlogie Springs in the hills above the distillery, over sandstone (yielding hard water) and picks up flavor components from the clover and heather in the hills before entering the distillery, where 24 very long-necked stills called the “giraffes” make Glenmorangie’s classic Highland malt. Glenmorangie, like Ardbeg, is owned by luxury giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).

Exclusive Malts: North Highland (17 year) 1996-2014
56.1% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $110 - $130
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of ImpEx Beverages. Thanks, Katia!
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Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon

A big thanks to Aaron at Ro-Bro who kindly sent me a review sample of the new cask-strength bourbon from Angel’s Envy. First off, this is not your usual cask-strength release of a flagship product where they simply leave out the water. This limited release (6500 bottles) comes from cherry-picked barrels aged up to 7 years, and thus functions like the “Limited Edition Small Batch” from Four Roses. As with the regular Angel’s Envy, this bourbon is finished in port casks. The price, a whopping $169 suggested retail, shows just how far controversial upstart Angel’s Envy has come since its first release in 2010, and also how crazily inflated the whisky market has become. If you had told anyone in the liquor business four years ago that an under-seven-year-old bourbon would sell (and certainly sell out) for $169 a bottle, they’d have laughed at you.

Nose: Hot (strong alcohol fumes). Ruby port, grapefruit, honeycomb, and a deep, round woodiness. Under the blanket of alcohol, there’s roasted chestnuts, cherry cordial, and charcoal. There actually isn’t as much fruit on the nose as I expected. After a few minutes of rest in the glass, it develops an awesome, heady vanilla buttercream frosting aroma. Really – wow.

Palate: Moderate tongue-burn. Barrel tannins are immediately apparent, and then blackberry jam, butterscotch, and cherry ice cream.

Finish: Long and warming. A nice, tart wave of mixed berries fades into spun sugar, which becomes burnt caramel and then charcoal. Never bitter.

With Water: A few drops of water increase the vanilla frosting note in the aroma, and might be making the flavor and finish nuttier. A more aggressive watering (to around 40% ABV) yields unripe berries and kiwi on the nose. Seriously, kiwi. However, this makes it slightly anemic (at least in comparison to full strength) on the tongue. I’d shoot for around 50% ABV if you want to tame the fire.

Overall: I definitely suggest letting this open up in the glass for a few minutes – you want that initial nuclear mushroom-cloud of alcohol to dissipate and that head of vanilla frosting to develop before nosing. As with other Angel’s Envy releases, you can count on the bourbon component to complement (not overwhelm) the port finish. However, the high proof of this release amps both up, so that intense berry/fruit flavors compete with concentrated oak and corn syrup flavors. While the flagship Angel’s Envy pairs easy-sipping, soft, subtle bourbon with port wood, at cask strength the mixture is much denser and loses some of that subtlety. You’re best off tasting this at full proof (after the rest), and then watering it down to around 50% to get the best of both worlds. I think it’s an excellent whisky, and really shows what Angel’s Envy is capable of. I can’t love the price point, however, no matter how carefully hand-picked the casks are.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon
59.65% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $149 - $169 (Estimated)
Acquired: (100ml review sample) Thanks Aaron!
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The Lost Rums

Time was, I thought rum a universally sickeningly sweet concoction of distilled sugar water (well, it is) that was only useful in a bare handful of drinks with ingredients you actually have on hand. Seriously, who stocks orgeat syrup, or pineapple juice? The idea of drinking rum neat, frankly, turned my stomach. Then I heard that Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery was turning his alchemical hand toward the creation of rum. A series of them, in fact. Who knew there was more to rum than “dark” and “light”?

Disclaimer: I am not a rum drinker. I know diddly about rum. This is not a review, critique, or even a coherent product spotlight. I just think these rums are cool and wanted to talk about them. So feel free to correct my wantonly inaccurate statements in the comments below, but don’t take any of this as gospel.

I picked up the first one, a fiery cask-strength 68% ABV aged rum in the Navy style (meaning dark, rich, and full-bodied), and was blown away by the extreme depth of flavor, the surprising drinkability despite high proof, and the fact that it in no way turned my stomach. (How’s that for a compliment?) Bryan, as is his wont, does all kinds of crazy things to create these rums, including his usual voodoo involving oak barrels that somehow create super-aged and super-dark spirits in no time at all without added coloring. He also managed to simulate the traditional “dunder” (a bacterial substance used in a vaguely similar way to a sourdough starter, but for rum) in the lab by inoculating overripe bananas with particular bacterial strains. The rum has no added color, no artificial additives, and even has the ingredients on the label: “Baking grade molasses, evaporated sugar cane juice, water.” In the glass, it’s as dark as cola, smells like molasses and caramel-infused pineapple, and tastes like so many different things that I can barely distinguish them. Cola (appropriately), fresh banana, coconut flesh, cold-brew coffee, vanilla, cherry, butterscotch, pineapple upside-down cake, toffee, and burnt caramel among scores of other things. In a cocktail, it does something magical: Instead of tasting fruit juice and alcohol, you taste RUM. I mean it – the other ingredients support and accentuate the tasty flavors of the RUM, not the alcohol. This stuff can make the difference between alcoholic lime juice and a daiquiri that really satisfies. Also – disregard all those recipes that call for “light” or “white” rum – put some Lost Spirits Navy Rum in there, and it will taste like a rum drink. Like it’s supposed to. Also – Lost Spirits Dark ‘n Stormy? Oh my God, yes.

Next up, the Polynesian style rum. At a slightly less hangover-inducing 66%, this one is a lighter style, and a correspondingly lighter color. The rum is full of floral and fruity aromas and matching flavors. The sugary notes are more subtle than the molasses-heavy navy style, instead tending towards sugar cookies, light brown sugar, blonde fudge, sandalwood, coconut water, and so on. While I prefer sipping the navy style, this rum melds perfectly with fresh fruit juice and creates a silky, sophisticated cocktail that, once again, actually tastes like it has RUM in it!

About the Cuban-inspired 151… First, a public service announcement: Don’t drink this stuff neat! They’re serious about that 75.5% alcohol bit – a sip straight-up will peel a layer of skin from your tongue, scorch the roof of your mouth, give you a case of strep throat on the way down, and burn ulcers into your stomach lining. Rum, or napalm? You decide! Nevertheless, stick your nose in a glass, undiluted, and you will be rewarded with a flurry of aromas – pure sugar cane juice, buttery shortbread, and banana puree among them. A dosing of water (or lime juice, or ginger ale) shows lime oil, pineapple, marzipan, hazelnuts, and an almost mezcal-like smokiness. In a cocktail, that 151 proof can really stand up to some hearty ingredients and maintain its identity.

Oh, I forgot to mention the best part. They’re $45, $40, and $40 respectively. What?! Compared to the whisky market these days, that’s unreal value for a cask-strength craft spirit with this depth of flavor. Seriously, if you’ve ever even been remotely interested in dark rum, at least seek out a bottle of the Navy Style. Then once you polish that off in a weekend, buy another bottle, and the other two styles as well.

Bryan will be releasing a fourth rum soon, although it’s a special-edition Colonial American rum, not a regular release.

If you’re curious about the mad-scientist inner workings of distiller Bryan Davis’s mind, check out his conversation with David at K&L: Rum Super Geekdom.

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Baker’s Bourbon (7 year)

Yet another Jim Beam product, and yet another bourbon that doesn’t taste (to me) like Jim Beam. Thank goodness. The marketing for this particular bottling claims that it’s made in small batches from a “rare jug yeast” that has been in the family for 60 years. Considering that selections for bottling are made in the warehouse, not the stillroom, and that all of the Small Batch and Jim Beam bourbons share the same mash bill, I’m guessing that’s a load of nonsense or at least refers to the normal yeast strains used in all Beam products.

This bottle comes from Batch B-90-001 and is 53.5% ABV (Baker’s is always 107 proof). It’s also seven years old. Three cheers for age statements!

Nose: Pine sap, fresh corn, with a vinegar edge to the nose tickle. Somewhat austere bourbon notes – mild notes of brown sugar, oak, and vanilla in balance, but without the big, round fullness of Booker’s. Deeper in the glass, the vinegar notes turn to a pleasant tart cherry. Not a particularly sweet bourbon.

Palate: Thin bodied, with a rehash of the tart cherry notes and distinct barrel tannins up front. Little tongue burn (surprisingly for 107 proof), and again the wood wins out over the sweetness. Not overly wooded, just not very sweet. Some slightly bitter vegetal notes appear toward the end, like the herbal component of bitters or aperitif liqueur.

Finish: Medium-long. A malty sweetness creeps out of the wood, at last, along with blanched almonds, light brown sugar, and more tart cherries. The overall impression is dry, but the finish is pleasantly, mildly, sweet.

With Water: A few drops of water makes the whiskey slightly sweeter on the tongue – like a simple syrup. It also seems to tie the bourbon together and makes for a more integrated whole, with less austerity. A few drops of water is a good idea with this one.

Overall: This is a bit of an oddball. One expects from bourbon a big, sweet ball of corn syrup, alcohol, and oak. Here the sweetness is merely background, letting nuances (including bitter and tannic ones) from the wood and, perhaps, the rye component play out. It does not show any of the objectionable “paint thinner” notes of white-label Jim Beam, nor is it excessively bitter or hot on the tongue. One thing going for it is that this “non-sweet” style of bourbon lets a lot of nuance through that is usually covered up by the onrush of sugary flavors. This could be described as a bourbon for people who don’t like sweets. In fact, if you’ve sworn off bourbon because it’s “too sweet” – this is probably worth a shot. For everyone else who likes their bourbons big, bold, and treacly… try before buying.

Baker’s Bourbon (7 year)
53.5% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $42 - $45
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of DBC PR. Thanks Sarah!
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Knob Creek Small Batch Rye

Well, I liked Knob Creek Bourbon from Beam, and had an opportunity recently thanks to Sarah at DBC (thanks Sarah!) to try Knob Creek Rye. At 100 proof but lacking an age statement, it competes with a multitude of young-ish ryes on the market, all formulated to cash in on the classic cocktail revival trend. Unlike most of those, this is not relabelled LDI/MGP rye, but is actually distilled by Beam in Clermont, Kentucky. Its mashbill is secret but some sources list it at 51% rye (the legal minimum), which jives with what I tasted, below.

Nose: Soft grains and high notes of clove, anise (black licorice), and cinnamon extract (cinnamon candy). The aroma is not unlike the inside of an old-time candy shop. Despite all the sugar references, the aroma is not altogether sweet, but rather reminiscent of the extracts and spices that make those candies memorable. Unlike other young ryes, there isn’t much menthol, eucalyptus, or mint. Deep in the glass there’s a stirring of caraway and camphor.

Palate: Spicy at first, bursting with cinnamon, then cooling off into straightforward cereal notes, dusty spice cabinet, and Good & Plenty’s (there’s that candy again).

Finish: Short. The spices return, but tempered with dried apple, caramel, and a beery malt. The finish falls off quickly, but is never bitter.

With Water: Water amplifies the spice at the expense of balance, although the aroma is sweeter. Unless the water is frozen and accompanies vermouth and bitters, I’d skip it.

Overall: For me, Knob Creek Rye sits squarely in the middle of the available (read: young) ryes currently available. It avoids the “spicy to a fault” armies of LDI/MGP rye clones with a nice balance of rye spiciness against warm, sweet cereal notes. However, it doesn’t show any of the bright minty notes of craft ryes, nor the deep earthy sweetness of Rittenhouse 100. Since it’s easier to acquire in some places than Rittenhouse and it makes phenomenal rye-based cocktails, I think this is a good choice for a house rye, especially if you can’t find a reliable source of Rittenhouse 100.

Knob Creek Small Batch Rye
50% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $38 - $45
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of DBC PR. Thanks Sarah!
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Booker’s Bourbon (Batch C07-B-7)

After receiving a generous sample of Booker’s from Sarah at DBC (thanks Sarah!), I thought it high time to revisit my old review of Booker’s, which was made under some duress. Also, as a small batch product (one of Beam’s Small Batch Collection), variations between batches are expected. This bottle is from Batch C07-B-7 and is 7 years and 2 months old and bottled at cask strength, 65.4% ABV. It is neither colored nor chill-filtered.

Booker’s, named after creator Booker Noe (Master Distiller for Jim Beam for 40 years) is bottled unfiltered and at cask strength in small batches after 6 – 8 years of age in heavily charred oak barrels (#4 char). Originally, Booker Noe hand-chose aging barrels from the center of the rickhouse (both vertically, from the center floors of a nine-floor rickhouse, and horizontally at the ‘heart’ of the facility) to bottle at full strength as gifts for friends and family. Eventually, he released those same selections to the general public. This style is a throwback to the original days of American whiskey, when jugs of whiskey would be filled for customers directly from the barrel.

Beam Global (now owned by Suntory) is a dichotomy for me. For one, it’s known far and wide as the producer of Jim Beam “White Label”, one of my least favorite whiskies of all time, and the bane of my college years. Jim Beam’s “White Label” bourbon is the one and only reason that I thought I hated whisky for the first decade of my drinking life. And yet, the very same distillery that cranks out industrial quantities of that hideous liquid also produces some of my favorite bourbon, including Knob Creek, Baker’s and Booker’s. This is especially odd considering that (as far as I can tell?) all Beam straight bourbons are the same mashbill, and the vast flavor differences are down solely to age and warehouse location.

Nose: Chocolate-covered caramels. Root beer floats with vanilla ice cream. The aromas are aggressive at 65.4%, but subtleties and complexities lie hidden beneath that blanket of alcohol vapor. Something vegetal and rooty, like sassafras or filé powder. A strong sense of sappy, dark oak pervades, but the interplay between the sticky-sweet candy notes and the vegetal root notes drive the complexity. After a rest in the glass, a billowing cloud of butterscotch cake icing emerges. Yum.

Palate: It burns like fire! After much eye-watering and stamping of feet, I’m finally able to taste cinnamon red-hots, tannin-y charred oak (slightly bitter), and caramel hot cocoa. This is simply too strong to taste much at full proof.

Finish: Long and warming. The sweet candy notes return on the finish, along with Christmas mulling spices and and an overall feeling of well-being for having surmounted the obstacle… not unlike the feeling which must follow walking across hot coals. It fades elegantly, with a touch more of cinnamon and oak, but without the bitterness perceived on the tongue.

With Water: It should go without saying that this whiskey demands some water. A few drops fail to tame the nose tickle, (while bringing out some weird veggie notes like celery salt), nor the tongue burn. A much more aggressive watering (probably down to around 50%) yields a sour note – like apple cider vinegar – and reduces the nose tickle to a manageable level. The palate, much muted, reveals more cake-y notes with vanilla and buttercream. There’s still a great deal of oak.

Overall: A beast of a whiskey. Booker’s shows its best flavors and aromas while undiluted (except on the palate, where you can only taste fire), and provides a sense of accomplishment that few whiskies can offer when conquered neat. That said, one will be much more comfortable with a glass of Booker’s if a generous splash of water (or two) is used to tame it. Booker’s also shows off its strength (literally) in cocktails, where the extra concentration stands up to bitters, vermouth, sugar, and anything else you can throw at it.

Booker’s Bourbon (Batch C07-B-7)
65.4% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $50 - $55
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of DBC PR. Thanks Sarah!
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