Unicorn Alert! Willett Family 25yr Rye

Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye…. Aged in hand selected white oak barrels for 25 years. Hand bottled from barrel number 1770 at 50% alcohol. This is a Rare Release from the Willett Distillery. Willett had been distilling on their own for only a few years, so this is not one of theirs, but purchased and bottled by them. I had a friend recently visit the distillery and bring a bottle back for me. I am almost embarrassed to admit the cost of this bottle, but getting a 25yr Rye is almost impossible. The gift shop price was a little more than $300, and I’m happy to have this as part of my whiskey cabinet.

The color is very very dark for a whiskey, like an iced tea.

The nose is of smoldering fireplace, Drakes Coffee Cake, hot cinnamon buns, portabello mushroom burgers, Tootsie Rolls and burnt orange peals. The burn on the nose is minimal.

The burn is stronger than expected given the nose, but very enjoyable on the throat… The mouthfeel is excellent with solid wood tannins and a touch of wood oils as well. The finish is long and enjoyable. All the flavors on the nose are also present on the tongue.  Each sip is followed by minutes of enjoyment.

So, this is a pretty awesome whiskey. But is it worth the money? No. This is the type of whiskey that is best to try at a generous friends house as opposed to buying yourself. I still have 9/10ths of a bottle left though. I plan on enjoying it slowly over a couple years and keeping it on the very top shelf so friends don’t accidentally help themselves. 94/100.

Bonus: I will send a sample of the Willett to the first person who correctly identifies exactly what I am watching on the TV in the background.

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Oprhan Barrel Series Continues with Lost Prophet 22… maybe the best, still overrated.

After this one, only one to go to complete the current Orphan Barrel series, and thus far I have been pretty disappointed.  Largely it has been because the costs have been so high… all have been interesting in their own way, but none of have had any real value to them. This week I saw a blog that said Orphan Barrel has just had their TTB label approved for Whoop & Holler, a 28 year whiskey.  My guess is that it will also be an overoaked, not exciting bourbon, yet I will still try to buy 3 of them and will be first in line to buy it.  I will act like a Mets fan in April, self-imposed ignorantly excited, ready to open my wallet for September tickets, only to subconsciously know I will be disappointed again and should clearly know better.  But Hope Springs Eternal, and that’s how I feel when I try Lost Prophet.  As a Yankees fan I should know better….

When I first opened the bottle and it needed some air… Very flat on the open so I let it sit for 15 minutes.  Seriously folks, we need to do some research on this first open bottle thing…

Color looks like a black tea with two bags….

Interesting spicy nose, Necco wafers, cloves, Skippy Chunky Peanut Butter, toasted buttered cinnamon raisin bagel… Mild heat on the nose.

Very smooth, yet spicy palate. Very tasty but the finish is just okay, and not as long as I would have hoped. The mouthfeel is good but not great.  The nose teased me, but the taste just didn’t follow through.  So many great bourbons have finishes that last for one, two, three minutes or more… this was barely 15 seconds.

Thus far, Lost Prophet is my favorite of the Orphan Barrel series but given the price, it’s just not a must own. For value, Forged Oak is probably better, and given that it’s much cheaper and easier to find, if you feel to need to buy one of these, go for that one.  Overall, this is enjoyable, but if you don’t get to taste it, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.  89/100.

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Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey: Solid for the price, not as good as Sazerac

Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey is one of the brands currently made by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, KY. It is “a storied Pennsylvania style rye whose heritage commemorates Philadelphia’s famous Rittenhouse Square.”  It is Bottled-In-Bond meaning it has several governmental protections as well as 100 proof.

I did some family research and it turns out that my great, great grandfather owned a distillery and operated in Philadelphia… other parts of the family lived in and around Rittenhouse Square… Evidently they had a decent operation until Prohibition, and when they applied for a medicinal license, they were denied and the company, brand and the whiskey all went down the tubes… Not sure why it took my family 34 years to tell me this amazing history, but needless to say, I wanted to channel that familial spirit through this spirit…  Perhaps I should look into reviving the brand?

Medium Amber color.

Spicy and heated nose with fresh cinnamon bread, ginger snaps, whole black peppercorns and almond butter.

Palate reflects the spicy notes and also has decent hear with some oily wood tannins. The mouthfeel is very enjoyable and the finish is medium. Enjoyable rye.

If you can find this bottle under $25 it’s a strong bargain and worth adding to your whiskey cabinet. I have a preference for Sazarac but this is very solid for the price.  Unfortunately the spirits of my family distillery was not summoned during my tasting experience on this one, but it still was a good drink.  87/100.

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Russell’s Reserve 10: Solid Bourbon, worth picking up

Russell’s Reserve 10: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, one of the special products made from our friends at Wild Turkey.  Bottled in small batches after 10 years in the barrel and at 90 proof.

This bottle was another one that smelled weird when just opened the bottle.  The more I taste whiskey, the more I think all these whiskeys need to breathe. The first smell after open for just seconds was menthol and heat. Not fair to judge whiskeys so quickly. Everyone should open them and wait at least ten minutes before trying.

Light Amber

Decent heat for a 90 proof, although wore off after the bottle had been open for a week. Charcoal, Werther’s Original, candied peaches, gravel, porcini mushrooms, pencil shavings.  I’m getting more of the earthy mushroomy smells than the sweet smells the second day I tried this by the way…

Definitely a sweet first taste followed by a medium long finish and enjoyable heat.  The oak isn’t as powerful on this one nor are the oak tannins, letting the other flavors come through.

Clearly a sipping bourbon, I didn’t even want to put water in it.

Enjoyable and widely available. I picked this one up for $40 and at that price it’s certainly worth having in your collection. 91/100.

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1792: It’s okay, it’s cheap, that’s all.

I’m a sucker for a good price and a pretty bottle. 1792 goes into that category.  Small Batch, 93.7 proof.

Medium light Amber

Medium heat on nose, funky mushrooms, wet campfire, menthol, and overripe bananas like the ones my wife promises to make into banana bread but never does and ultimately gets thrown out after being frozen in our freezer for a month or two.

Sweet palate, not complex, medium finish with medium high heat–a little more than expected given the proof level.  There are some oily and wood tannins coupled with a touch of mint on the tongue.

Water brings out menthol on the nose but just dilutes the palate and removes most of the enjoyment.

This is not a bad whiskey for the price but nothing to get excited about.  I don’t know how this got some of the scores or received… It’s just not worthy. The price is pretty good though which is worth a few points. 85/100.IMG_6627(1)

Buffalo Trace: Yes, the standard one with the buffalo one… yes, it’s very very good.

This is going to be the shortest blog I have ever written… this is because it’s very obvious, even though so many people have forgotten……

Buffalo Trace the standard one.

Medium Amber.

Ground nutmeg, brown sugar, menthol, warm ginger snaps, french toast.

Good heat, medium finish with wood oils and tannins. Spicy and sweet. Extremely balanced.

It’s amazing Buffalo Trace can put out a product of this caliber for this price. Around $20 most places (shame on any retailers who are charging more!), this is a solid, reliable, balanced bourbon that is readily available everywhere and never disappoints. Won’t blow you away, but stands up to many others at significantly higher price points. Must own for all whiskey collections. For those who are just picking up the Bourbon for the first time, do NOT forget to try this standard.  91/100.

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Stagg Jr: This Bourbon is Awesome

I’m going to jump right into this one.  This is one of my favorite whiskeys of all time.  Bottled at a powerful 134.4 proof, this is the bottle that is often available, while it’s older brother is a unicorn most of us have never seen.  I drank this 4 nights in a row and didn’t write anything because I was just enjoying it too much…. I’m ready for the review.

Nice dark amber color with rust hues.

The nose is strong heat as you would expect, but also chewy molasses cookies, melted brown sugar and butter (like the kind on top of sweet potatoes), cinnamon sticks, smokey charcoal briquets, salt water taffy and crushed white pepper.

The palate is has everything from the nose and more.  The most astounding part of this bourbon is the mouthfeel and the finish.  You want to keep this in your mouth for so much longer than any other whiskey because it just massages the tongue and works the flavor deeper into the taste buds.  The finish doesn’t stop, one minute, two minutes, three minutes… it keeps going.  Not just the heat, but the flavor continues as well.  It’s an experience.  It’s so hard to believe that it is 134.4 proof.

I know this is a bottle that is highly allocated and some stores are doubling the price, and most places don’t even have it… but this one is worth it.  They say the retail price is $49.99, but only once in Cape Cod did I see it even close to that, and I bought two at $54.99 when I saw it… usually it’s $69.99 at the minimum all the way up to $99.99.  Even if you have to pay up for it, remember it’s 134.4 proof, not one of those watered down 80 proof jobs…  This is a must own.  96/100.

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Sazerac Rye…. uncomplicated but very enjoyable… A Must Own?

It’s time to go back to Buffalo Trace and another allocated whiskey… Sazerac Rye Straight Rye Whiskey comes in a simple, yet elegant bottle, white writing part of the bottle with a cork cap.  Online I have read the mash bill is 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% malt, and the age to be 6 years.  Neither of these facts, nor any facts at all, are present on the bottle, save the legally required proof of 90.
Gorgeous color, golden amber with a touch of rust

Spicy nose, cinnamon, tulips, BBQ potato chips… you can sense the heat, but just enough to make you care.  The nose invites the taste.

Very nice taste, no oil here, no wood tannins, definitely a younger whiskey.  Very crisp finish, with spice and heat happily warming me up.  The finish is good, but it’s not a highly complicated one.  This is for enjoyment, but not lie back in your leather club chair and roll your eyes back in your head enjoyment.

When adding some water, citrus appears on the nose, mostly orange peel, but the BBQ chips still linger in the background.  The water mellows out the finish, but doesn’t detract… overall I think this is fine to drink neat.  I have not used it for a cocktail, but at this price point it wouldn’t be offensive to do so.
Sazerac Rye is uncomplicated, but very good.  I’m surprised it’s gone on allocation and impossible to find though.  It’s a lovely Rye, and certainly everyone should have one on their bar, but it’s not one that you should be chasing.  I bought this one for $30, and everyone should add this to their collection for that price.  I have seen some obnoxious retailers in NYC selling it for $50+ and they should be embarrassed.

Given the extreme value and high enjoyability factor, and definitely one that belongs on all whiskey cabinet shelves, Sazerac Rye scores very well.  92/100.

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And Now the Conclusion of My Phone Interview with Reid Mitenbuler…..

Part IV Conversation, and the conclusion, with author of the book Bourbon Empire, Reid Mitenbuler

NBD: So you were pretty critical on small barrels in the book…

MB: Small barrels are like crack. Once you start using them and have distribution, it’s very hard to change. Places that start from the get-go have a hard time switching to large barrels and longer wait times. And once it’s working, it’s very hard to change. There are a lot of guys who start up an outfit, build a brand and sell it off. These guys are marketing first, and the product is the second consideration. Now, a lot of that is changing. I’d use Few as an example. The first time I tried it, I didn’t like it, but every time I try it is getting better.  Their product can be wildly different from bottle to bottle.

NBD: So are you working on a follow-up book?

MB: I’m working on something involving the entertainment industry, but it’s very preliminary and unrelated. I actually had been working on Bourbon Empire for over ten years and the timing was very fortuitous. Whiskey was blowing up and I was already working on the book. Most whiskey books come from the perspective of an educator, trying to teach about whiskey or about tasting. My angle was to be a storyteller of the industry, through whiskey. There was a lot of details that I cut out, I could have gone full geek, but I felt I would have lost of lot of the broader readership if I did that. I could have gone in incredibly detail on barrel aging and the different type of grains, but the story of the industry would have been lost. I learned more about connoisseurship of wine from reading The Billionaires Vinegar compared to a lot of the books on tasting that I’ve read. I had that in the back of my mind when I was writing this. I felt that you could get a better sense of why older isn’t always better from telling a story.

NBD: Or if you want a really expensive lesson on why older isn’t better, you could just pick up some of the Orphan Barrel Series… Or they can just come over to my house and try them too.

MB: Yeah, I know, and I didn’t put this story in the book, but there is a group of master distillers from all the big places in Kentucky, and they all meet for lunch a few times a year. They all bring fun bottles for everyone to try. There was one of these meetings and one of them pulls out this 23 year old bottle. And these guys are masters, these are the guys from all the big distilleries. The guy who is relaying this story to me says he tastes it and says it’s like sucking on a pencil. He thinks it ‘s just not that good, not balanced, too much wood, it’s gross. He makes eye contact around the room and his buddies give him a look that the whiskey is just beyond the pale. He then looks across the room and the other half their eyes are rolling back… but maybe the other guys are being polite or maybe they honestly like it. It’s a bottle that everyone knows by the way…

NBD: Reid, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. The book was great and I hope everyone reads it.

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MB: Thank you.

Reid Mitenbuler Part III: Pappy, Podcasts & Golden Age of Whiskey?

Part III Conversation with Reid Mitenbuler

NBD: So are we in a Golden Age of Whiskey or are we in a bubble?

MB: A little bit of both. I was talking to a friend about this about whether we are in a true golden age right now. If I could go back to any age in whiskey history, when would I go back? Part of me would go back to the early 2000s. It’s not just about Pappy—I’ve had plenty of Pappy. I had a friend who had a lot of it and anyone who asked he would give them a mini bottle. Half the people would think it’s good but it’s no big deal, while the other half’s eyes would roll back in their head and basically die. In the 90s it was the same with Scotch, you wouldn’t think twice about buying 18 or 20yr old because it wasn’t that expensive. Then you had the 60s, with the Whiskey Lake and the big glut years. Back then you still had more producers with different varieties. The 50s and 60s was perhaps another golden age. Today, I would argue we aren’t in a golden age because the demand is far outpacing the supply. To be in a golden age you need the ability to walk into a liquor store and the good stuff is available and you don’t have to do this big hunt for it. But we could be on the brink of one. People aren’t talking about gluts, but producers are coming up with more supply, and maybe in a few years we could get to a more balanced supply/demand dynamic. When the craft distilleries get better, get rid of the small barrels, age their stuff longer, then, we could be on the cusp of another golden age.

NBD: It seems that a lot of people are investing in new distilleries or brands, do you think now is the right time to invest in one?

MB: A lot of people have asked me similar questions, and I think it is a little late. There are a lot of people who have established the marketing and branding—branding is huge. It might be more important than the product itself. I was looking at a new brand that crowd-sourced $86k and were boasting about it.

NBD: You can’t open a distillery with $86k.

MB: I was looking at that number and thinking they need to multiply that by a hundred to do it right. From a business perspective, $86k, you can romanticize, but you can’t pay your bills with that. I look at some of the more promising craft distilleries and they are extremely well funded. It looks like there is family money behind a lot of them. I was ordering burgers with a friend of mine at a bar and we orders beers from Firestone-Walker brewery, and the story behind it is it’s the Firestone Tire guys. He could do whatever he wanted with it, and he didn’t care about the money, he just wanted to make awesome beer.

NBD: I’m sure they make money, they make phenomenal beer and their limited annual releases like Parabola, Velvet Merkin are always great.

MB: Yeah, and I’m extremely impressed by them. My friend basically said they weren’t too worried about the money side of it because of the funding, and he just wanted to focus on making the best product. The guys out there who have the capital are in it to win it to make the best possible product.

NBD: Seems like the way you used to spend a lot of money if you were rich was buy a vineyard and start a winery. The old adage of how to make a small fortune in the wine making business is to start with a large fortune.

MB: Yeah, or as a retirement project for a lot of guys.

NBD: Do you listen to any whiskey podcasts?

MB: I was just on WhiskeyCast and was also on Mark Bylok’s podcast, that was pretty fun. Mark Gillepsie is very professional, very nice guy. He has a career in news and he is very polished.

NBD: I listen to both of those and I agree Gillepsie’s WhiskeyCast is very professional, but I derive more enjoyment from Bylok’s; it’s just more fun. My wife also will allow me to play his in the car because she likes Jamie Johnson—mostly because Jamie says she goes to bed early and my wife can barely stay up past 9pm.

MB: Ha ha, very funny.

I will post Part IV, the conclusion to my interview with Reid Mitenbuler, later in the week.

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