Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Four Roses OESF, 52.4% (Selected by Twin Liquors in Austin, TX)

Warehouse: AN, Barrel No. 14-1K, Aged 9 years and 8 months, Bottled: November 2015.

Continuing the "Twin Liquors" theme, I recently snagged their pick of OESF, which was generously set aside for me by their staff. Who could blame them for giving me special treatment? My ferocious integrity is matched only by my staggering humility.

When it comes to Four Roses, I'm a huge mark (wrestling term: big fan). They use non-GMO corn, interesting proprietary yeasts, and their Single Barrel is my house bourbon. It's extremely rare to get a "bad" bottle of Four Roses, and their single barrel picks are as good as any bourbon out there.

Back in the day, you could get all ten recipes easily at K&L and Binny's for around $50, but prices have eked up to $65-80 at most retailers, while supplies of the various recipes have dried up. I tend to prefer OBSK and OESK recipes, but let's try this one, with the "F" yeast (herbal). 

And yeah, that nose is herbal, but in a unique way, like Thai basil. The note carries through the palate, with perfume/floral sweetness and a dynamic spicy finish. There's a ton going on here, with a level of quality that approaches the Limited Edition Small Batch. Yes, it's that good.

Most bourbon tastes so generic. This one has spunk.

88 pts/B+. This is so good that the CIA's "Vault 7" system recording this post should alert its handlers to try a bottle. Wait, it's sold out. 

John J. Bowman Single Barrel (100 proof)

Twin Liquors recently held their "$1 Sale" where everything is marked down to the wholesale price and they add $1. It produces some astonishing values--and even more remarkable damage to my bank account. It's a mad-dash the morning of the sale, with a line snaking around the block, though far more polite than those horrifying videos on Black Friday where Wal-Mart shoppers tear each other apart for a $5 waffle maker.

While walking around with my full shopping cart, I decided to add this Bowman Single Barrel for $26, because why the hell not? 

And I'll be damned if this one isn't a little engine that could.

It shows a surprisingly good nose, with lots of cinnamon and chocolate. And it's not too sweet, with plenty of rye spice, and a good bit of oak in the long finish. It tastes cask strength and has plenty of heft throughout, without being alcoholic. In fact, it's far more akin to the better bottles of E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof.

So, yes, color me shocked: this is actually a really nice bottle. Back in the day, the Bowman bottles were incredible, esp. the older ryes and bourbons selected by The Party Source. But then Bowman started doing gingerbread and coffee finishes, and the gimmicks seemed too silly to try. As a result, I never bothered to try the Single Barrel.

Maybe the triple distillation knocks out the nasty note that I usually find in so many BT products? And this is a single barrel, so expect some variation in your bottle, but I'd buy more of this. 

One suggestion to BT: how about some info on the cask? If it's a single barrel, put the details on the bottle, gang. There's nothing to be found, so how can I know if I'm buying the same one next time? A bizarre oversight that should be corrected. Better yet, just make me the CEO and I'll scream "you're fired" at whoever designed the deficient label.

85 pts/B. For $35, it's a solid value in today's market. If you're considering donating to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, please spend your money on this instead.

Blanton's Single Barrel, 93 proof (Selected by Twin Liquors in Austin, TX)

Bottled: 9/26/16, Barrel No: 89, Rick No: 15, Warehouse H. 

Twin Liquors is the best chain retailer in Austin: unlike the big-box stores (Specs, Total Wine), they don't just treat me like a number and farm out their best stuff to bars. They appreciate their real whisky fans--especially one as transcendently brilliant as me--so when something fun arrives, they set it aside.

Recently they got some bottles of their Blanton's store pick, which you don't often see these days. I'm a big fan of Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, which I routinely order from Europe. But the regular Blanton's never wowed me. Nevertheless, who am I to control my impulses? If you put bottles in front of me, I'm helpless. Student loan payments can come later.

The nose is generic Buffalo Trace, in a good way, with few of the overly-acidic notes that I dislike in their lesser casks. And it's pleasant to drink, though hardly earth-shattering. Some light fruit, rye spice, and a breezy kiss of oak. It's well balanced, but tastes so dilute for some reason. A middle-of-the-road bourbon. Fine but forgettable. Blind, you might guess it was Eagle Rare 90 proof, which isn't a compliment.

Lately, some have said that Buffalo Trace has been offering weaker slates of casks to retailers, so perhaps that was the case here.

82 pts/B-. Ehhhh, it's inoffensive and easy to sip. But I need a bourbon that shocks my conscience and terrorizes my dreams.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1792 "Barrel Proof", 125 Proof (Selected by Warehouse Beverages in Austin, TX)

A few months ago, Sku of Recenteats (I swear, I'm not stalking him) recommended 1792 Barrel Proof, so I tried it. Granted, if Sku told me to drink rancid arsenic, I would, but I was skeptical, since I've never enjoyed 1792 Small Batch or Very Old Barton. In fact, the only Barton Distillery product I ever liked was their rye that got bottled as High West 16 year and blended into the original batches of High West Rendezvous.

But in a mild shock, the 1792 Barrel Proof was quite solid: a big honey-bomb, but a guilty pleasure.

Then I was at Costco on Saturday and took a detour to peruse the wares of their sister store, Warehouse Beverages. And damned if I didn't see a store pick of 1792. So, for $40, I made the plunge and decided not to spend that money to replenish my diminished stocks of wild salmon and organic coconut milk.

The nose is all cotton candy and toasted bread, and it's more of that on the palate: very sweet, but a good dose of earthiness and clove spice. Nothing overwhelming in terms of complexity, but it's a real crowd-pleaser. It does well with a drop of water but doesn't need it. This is a sugar bomb, which means I should hate it, but it's kind of endearing in this case.

It's interesting enough for a mean-spirited dork like me, but approachable for noobs. And I prefer this cask to the on-the-shelf version. 

84 pts, B. Malt-heads will think it's sugary poison, and normally I'd agree, but somehow I'm charmed by its vacuous simplicity.

Whistlepig 10 Year Single Barrel, 117 Proof (Bottled for Total Wine in Austin, TX)

My relationship with high-rye ryes is mixed. The MGPI/LDI ryes (95% rye) usually tasted like dill pickle juice to me. But the first batches of Jefferson's Rye, Masterson's Rye, and Whistlepig Rye (all made from 100% ryes distilled at Alberta Distillers) were really good, B+ stuff.

Then Jefferson's Rye disappeared, and the last few bottles of Whistlepig and Masterson's that I bought were mediocre or worse.

So with some trepidation, I bought this Total Wine single cask on sale ($60). And that meant me standing around in the store for 10 minutes, contemplating the decision as if I were about to use the nuclear codes. Such a drama queen.

Good news. This is a return to the best batches of yore, and then some. Yes, it's got some of those mint/rosemary/dill notes, but it's not pure pickle juice. Instead, it's got enough cinnamon and oak to balance it out, with a nice honeyed sweetness on the front end.

For $60, this is a hell of a bargain. If you enjoy rye at all, you'll love this.

87 points/B+. After the first bottle, I bought 4 more the same week, if that's any indication of my sincerity.



Old Forester 1920 "Prohibition Style" 115 Proof

My spirit animal of spirits, Sku at RecentEats, has recently been "loooosing his religion"--e.g., struggling to find whiskeys worth reviewing. And, like him (nay, because of him), these days I'm more interested in Armagnac and cask-strength Cognac/rum, but in Texas, there just isn't much to go around and getting bottles shipped here is a hassle because of onerous state/federal regulations from bureaucrats working to preserve retailer oligopolies. But I digress.

Sku recently broke his pseudo-embargo and reviewed Old Forester 1920, after crowd-sourcing some recommendations (and ignoring mine, hrrrrmph!). He gave it a "B" on LA Whisky Society and wrote positively about it on the blog. So is it possible that I'm going to disagree with him? It so rarely happens...

Uh oh: it's got a generic high-rye bourbon smell, like burnt pepper and minty toilet cleaner. We might call that a "soapy nose." Nothing bad, just reminds me of generic Buffalo Trace juice, though obv. this is from the dreaded Brown-Forman. 

Without water it' Pretty hot, a bit too sweet upfront, the rye notes are disjointed, and there's a bitter/burnt plastic note on the finish that's unpleasant. Again, not horrible, but blind, I'd guess it was the loathsome Stagg Jr.. By the way, how can Stagg Jr. be so vile but Blanton's Straight From the Barrel is usually so delightful? Side issue.

Ok, so let's add a few drops of water, as Sku suggested. Of course, I'm using reverse-osmosis filtered water, which you can buy for 39 cents/gallon at the grocery store. Reverse-osmosis removes the toxic fluoride, pesticides, chlorine and trace pharmaceuticals in the municipal tap water. Plus, it's better for the whisky. 

It brings out some of the fruitier notes (prunes?) and tames the bitterness a bit, but I'm still unimpressed. Again, it's passable and borderline-decent, but I'd much rather drink Henry McKenna BIB for less than half the price, or even Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond for $13. Or Four Roses Single Barrel, or Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Single Barrel. Or...well, you get the damned idea.

I got this on super-sale for $45, but even at that price, I can't recommend it. I usually detest Brown-Forman whiskeys and this one joins the club.

Forgive me, Sku.

Without water: 74 points/C. Blech.

With water: 78 pts/C+.  The only reason that the bottle is so depleted is that I gave a bunch to friends with lesser palates.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Dickel 9 year old (103 proof) Selected by Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

There's a bunch of overpriced indie-cask Dickel on the market these days (Barrell Bourbon, I'm looking at you).

But it wasn't long ago that Dickel put out a barrel selection program to retailers, featuring 9 year old and 14 year old single casks at affordable prices. This one, from Twin Liquors in Austin, TX, was a mere $35, as compared to the $90+ that Barrell costs. And Dickel is one of the most under-appreciated distilleries: their Dickel #12 is a rock-solid bottom-shelfer and the 14 year old casks from different retailers were usually dynamite.

Is this one any good?

It smells like a liquified Snickers bar: nougat, nuts and milk chocolate. Blind, I'd guess this was a wheater. Normally I'm sensitive to sugary notes and throw a tantrum, but this is fantastic.

But it's thin on the palate, even at 103 proof. It's not bad, just reminds me of a mediocre bottle of Maker's Mark Cask Strength. But with a few drops of water, it opens up nicely and a cherry note develops. It's a major difference. Now, it's not particularly complex, but it's just like the nice parts of Dickel #12 turned up, with lots of burnt sugar. 

Normally, I'm hesitant to add water, and passionately insist that anyone using ice cubes with a good bottle is a subhuman troglodyte. Also, what's with these clowns who mix beautiful whiskys into cocktails? Such dadaist, nihilistic fools! Whisky is art; appreciate the great works of beauty. What you're doing is like using a C├ęzanne as a placemat. 

Anyway, a few drops of reverse-osmosis filtered water, using my trusty eye-dropper, can drastically change certain whiskeys, and this is one of those cases. Now, unlike another blog (that I quite like) I won't proof it down to 50%, then 45%, then 40%, then 12%...and so on, giving separate scores for every level. 

Without water: 82 pts, B-. Pleasantly corny but hardly something I'd reach for.

With water: 86 pts, B. Tastes like high-quality carnival Kettle Corn, with enough toasty notes to make it interesting.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chateau de Briat 2000 Bas Armagnac Bacco, 46%, 15 years old (selected by Chambers St. Wines)

Chambers St. Wines in NYC has a real appreciation for Armagnac and picked this single cask of Briat. So let's give it a whirl.

There's a lot of honey and ginger on the nose, like a sweet, ginger beer cocktail or maybe a well-made Manhattan.

And that's what it tastes like, honey and ginger/lemongrass. For such a young Armagnac, there's a big dose of wood and that tangy, bitter citrus note that I dig. It verges on being a tad soapy, but it's not a major detraction. Blind, I would have guessed it was much older.

Sku (of RecentEats) found the 1995 Briat from K&L to be too bitter, but I'd say that's not the case here.

This is a good one for bourbon lovers.  Definitely on the sweeter side, but enough spice to balance it out. Easy drinker and a good price.

86 pts, B/B+. Excellent pick by Chambers St. Wines. Available here.