High West’s Tragic Whiskey: A Midwinter Nights Dram

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midwinter Nights Dram from High West is a “blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and port barrels, bottled by High West Distillery.”  This whiskey comes in an absolutely beautiful bottle, which appears to be hand blown because of the the tiny bubbles remaining in the glass–and it has a great label.  It’s limited edition, and you know we all are a sucker for something limited edition.  This is Act 2.9, scene 1450, coming in at 98.6 proof.  It has all the makings of an amazing whiskey, great rating, great labeling, etc… yet, it falls tragically short.  FYI, this is a sourced whiskey (the rumor is MGP, which makes wonderful whiskey by the way), and High West finishes/bottles it in Utah.

Let me start by examining precisely what is means to “finish” a whiskey.  According to wikipedia:
Finishing (also known as double matured or wood-finished) is the procedure that some whiskeys undergo whereby the spirit is matured in a cask of a particular origin and then spends time in a cask of different origin (generally 6 months to 2 years. Typically, the first cask is an American oak cask formerly used to mature bourbon. The second cask may be one that has been used to mature some sort of fortified wine, often sherry, though sometimes port, madeira, or even wines such as red burgundy or chardonnay are used.  Some of the more well-known finished whiskies include Balvenie “Doublewood”, which is finished in sherry casks, Glenlivet “American Oak Finish” and “French Oak Finish”, which are finished in brand-new casks of the respective woods, the Glenmorangie range of sherry, port, madeira, and burgundy finishes, and the Diageo line of “Distiller’s Editions”, a “Double Matured” expression of each of their classics line of single malt scotch whiskies.

Like most labeling in the American whiskey world (small batch, crafted, barrel strength, sour mash, etc) finishing does not have any legal definition.  This is problematic for the consumer who expects a quality product of unique blended flavors.

“And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” (or in whiskey production)
-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Scotch is most famous for finishing in sherry casks, and now many whiskeys in America are using a variety of finishes to differentiate themselves from the market.  It seems to me that that most producers would like us to believe that they purchase very expensive used barrels from the best Port houses like Taylor’s, Graham’s, Warre’s and Dow’s, soaking wet with the latest highly rated vintage and age their product in it for months or years, causing the whiskey to absorb complexities from the previous producers brilliance.  I think the reality is starkly different.  My guess, and if I am wrong, I’d love to be educated on this, most of them buy cheap barrels, dump a few bottles of low end tawny in it, mix their product in for a few days, and bottle away.  This is what exactly what A Midwinter Nights Dram tastes and smells like.

Now for the review…

The color is very dark, not whiskey like, rather if you took 4 parts whiskey and one part tawny port and mixed it together… (hey Shakespeare fans… this is what you call foreshadowing!)

The nose has a hint, just a hint of what a rye should smell like, instead you get canned plums, cheap tawny port, raisins and some mint toothpaste.  Call it plummy flavored cheap bubblegum.

The taste is obnoxious.  It’s more of the sweet aspects of low end port without any of the complexity, along with a young, sharp rye that lacks character.  Now at this point you may accuse me of someone that just doesn’t like port… how wrong would you be!  I happen to love port and collect and drink vintage port; in fact I have over 150 bottles of port going back to 1960 in my wine cellar (I had a 1908, but sold it)… so my love of Port can not be understated.  The flavor profile just is not one of quality port that appears to have been used in the finishing. The mouthfeel is initially mildly redeeming, yet the longer you keep it in your mouth the toothpaste taste starts to emerge and all I can think is what a waste of money this was.

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”  (Nor did this whiskey)
-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I thought perhaps a few drops of water could partially redeem this experience… I was wrong.  It just diluted the pain, but the menthol and minty toothpaste just became more prevalent.  I also thought more air a week between openings would help the bottle evolve… time and air did not solve the problem either.

What a complete waste of my money, calories and time.  I am shocked at how much people like this, and I think the idea of “finishing” really needs to be examined closer.  For those producers who are investing in high quality finishing barrels–more power to you!  For those who think just dumping a few gallons of crappy ruby or tawny port, swirling it around some barrel you found with some French oak staves and charging $100 for it: shame on you!  Now, if I am completely wrong and this product actually was aged for a long time in high quality Portuguese Port barriques, then High West has ever bigger problems on it’s hands, because the product just stinks.

Instead of calling this A Midwinter’s Night Dram, they should have considered have found a way to make a play on one of Shakespeare’s tragedies instead, because the only thing comedic about this product is that I was foolish enough to buy it.  66/100.

“If we shadows have offended,
Know but this and all is mended.
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear,
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream.”

-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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2015 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon: Exceeding the Hype

My brother-in-law visited me this weekend and like any good house guest, he was bearing gifts.  He was lucky enough to snag one of these bottles in a local liquor store near Boston and we opened it and enjoyed it over the weekend.  This is my first ever Limited Edition Four Roses, and it’s totally worth every penny.

The 2015 is a mixture of 4 different bourbons, using 3 recipes at unusually high ages: 16 year-old OBSK, 11 year-old OBSV, 15 year-old OESK, and 14 year-old OESK. To compare, the 2014 edition contained 13 year-old OBSV, 12 year-old OESV, 11 year-old OBSF, and 9 year-old OBSK–unfortunately I never got to try that one.  If anyone wants to swap samples, please let me know.

My first limited edition is sadly the last one that legendary Master Distiller Jim Rutledge will produce as he is imminently retiring.

The color is a nice dark amber, as you would expect with a 14 year old, on average, whiskey.

The nose sucks you in the first time you put your face near the Glencairn Glass.  Roasted orange peel, toffee ice cream, pecan pie, cloves, peanut butter cookies.  At 54.3% abv, you barely get a hint of burn on the nose.  You can tell this is an expertly crafted Bourbon.

The taste is what gets you… there is a big spiciness on the palate that resonates throughout the mouth.  The richness of the oils and tannins coat the tongue and deliver the flavors from the nose over and over again.  After the taste the warmth comes in to prove to you that not only does the sweet and spicy flavors exist, the strong backbone remains.  This Bourbon goes on for minutes and the first, second and third time we tasted it, we just smiled and enjoyed it.  Words were unneccesary.  My tasting notes are from the next day when trying it alone, and I got everything from the day before and more.  This Bourbon has one of the longest finishes, with a follow through that Jim Rutledge can be proud of.

I almost didn’t add water to this one, as it was so smooth anyway, but I figured to be thorough I would.  The water makes the experience a little rounder, but doesn’t release any additional flavors.  I prefer it without adding anything.

We were extremely lucky to score this Bourbon for only $120, while I’ve seen it go for 3-5x online.  If you can get it for retail or even 2x retail, you will be happy with this purchase, but given how amazing this is, I’m probably going to try to buy more myself!  This is so freaking good, if you get the opportunity to try it, do not hesitate.  98/100

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Whiskey Ward NYC Lower East Side… Good place to grab a reasonable dram

I’m not going to write too much here, but I did want to make sure that people knew about a bar in the LES called Whiskey Ward.  I was there yesterday with some friends and I did a sample of three whiskeys… they had two whiskeys from Old Scout that I have never tried before and the new Parker’s Heritage.  They have a great selection, although most of the unicorns unfortunately are empty up on the top shelf.  They did have Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Parker’s Heritage, a couple batches from Barrell Bourbon, and all the classic standards.  The bartender was super chill as well, and the prices were excellent.

I’m going to review the Parker’s on another occasion as I was lucky to find a bottle at a good price nearby.  But just wanted to say that this is a good bar, good people, and if you are on the LES, go check it out.FullSizeRender(136)

Ezra Brooks Train Decanter Serious Dusty

Ezra Brooks 12 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon 90 Proof in Train Decanter

I found this recently in my travels and the cork was still in it, but the seal was broken and although I don’t think it was ever opened, I think the cork disintegrated enough so it was exposed to the elements. But…. I figure I would try it anyway. They say alcohol doesn’t go bad, this experiment will test that assertion.

The liquid is cloudy brown. I even decanted this for two weeks, ran it through cheese cloth twice and did everything I could to get the clouds to settle, but they never did. It’s just brown, cloudy and unappealing.

The nose is very faint, almost nonexistent.

The taste… Also nonexistent. You feel a small amount of burn on it, but there is nothing there. It’s like the flavor just disappeared. Very weird.

I’m not even sure if this is safe to drink so I’m going to stop. But it’s boring and worthless. It’s too bad though, because I bet it wasn’t that bad when it was fresh.  1/100

At least I didn’t pay much for it and the train still looks cool…. It gets a one instead of a zero because I am keeping the train, but dumping the whiskey.

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Newark Airport Check-In on Woodford Reserve

Not a lot of options here at Currito Cantina in Newark Airport, so I went with Woodford’s Reserve Distiller’s Select.

Light colored Amber.

Sweet and light nose, not strong, but not too much complexity either.  Some orange peel, charred wood and butterscotch.

Easy on the palate neat. Nice mouthfeel, but not terribly complex here either.  Same nose is present on the palate.

I added some water and a couple ice cubes and it became more enjoyable. The lower temperature definitely helped it and improved the experience.

This is a quick hit without much detail as I’m just trying to catch a flight, but it’s good enough to satisfy my needs for the next twenty minutes, but I don’t think I’ll be adding this one to the bar. 85/100.

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Garrison Brothers Cowboy: Best 4 Year Whiskey EVER.

Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon Barrel Proof Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. 2015 Release date, 2nd Release.

So this was one of those bottles at $200 I was hesitant to purchase given my past experience with Texas whiskey. I generally don’t love younger whiskeys and Balcones younger production has been disappointing. But given the reviews of the first release, I took a leap of faith.  However… Let me first say that I’m extremely excited that this is a barrel proof bourbon. Clocking in at 67.5%, this one packs a wallop.  Barrel proof is always the way to go, which is probably the only reason I pulled the trigger on this bottle.

The color is very dark, deep amber, like a very old whiskey…. But this is only four years in oak.

You can smell the heat but it’s not over the top, especially not for a 135 proof bourbon. You can envision caramelized popcorn when inhaling the nose.  There is a hint of ethanol in the background, but only the taste will let me know if the popcorn or ethanol is on the palate.  It’s a powerful nose, but extremely complex.

I’m blown away by how smooth this is in my mouth. For a four year corn whiskey from Texas at 135 proof, it’s like butter–the heat is there but only in the background and supports rather than detracts from the experience. In addition to the youth, there is some pretty strong wood tannins in this one, must be the Texas heat accelerating the aging process.  The sweetness of the caramel popcorn is there… the taste just continues on and on.

The more I try this the more I love it. I can’t believe how smooth and interesting this four year whiskey. My personal bias tends to be towards older whiskeys and non-100% corn whiskeys, so I’m floored by how much I love this.

I added some water to this and it brings out more youthful corn smell and taste which I don’t like. Very weird how it’s better and smoother without any water.

This is an expensive whiskey.  That’s a fact. I wish this was $50 or less and if it was I would probably give it my highest score ever and buy 50 bottles for my bunker, but it’s $200 and only 5200 bottles were released. I’m elevating this bourbon to unicorn status. This truly is one of the greats out there and easily the best four year whiskey I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.  I still can’t believe that it is this smooth at 135 proof and this young.  If this were $50, it would get a perfect score–it’s not though…  96/100

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Single Barrel Bowman Virginia Bourbon: Lovely Bourbon, Perfect for Train Ride Home

A. Smith Bowman: John J. Bowman: Pioneer Spirit, Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Single Barrel, Copper Still, Triple Distillation, 100 proof.

Very cool bottle. I’ve seen this one on the shelf for a while and I was early for my train home in Grand Central so I decided to stop by this new store that I had never seen before. It’s called Langford Wine Merchant, and it’s in Manhattan on 4 E 43rd Street, between 5th and Madison Avenue.  For proximity to Grand Central Terminal, the prices are fairly reasonable, a thousand times better than the wine/liquor store inside GCT (which by the way, should be shut down for criminal-level pricing). Their bourbon selection is good, but their wine selection is amazing. They have all the on the run classic standards you want to give as gifts to your unoriginal friends, but they also have an unbelievable selection of hard to find small producers from all over the world. I like that they aren’t too pretentious not to carry Caymus, but adventurous enough to stock great values from Slovenia, Greece and all over the world. Definitely check it out, whether it is to bring home, or if you are thirsty for your train ride home.

Anyway… I picked up this bottle because it’s been a long week and I wanted something for the train.

Color is a nice medium Amber.

Nose is sweet with s’mores, nutmeg, ginger snap cookies and butterscotch.  For 50% alcohol, the heat is very subdued on the nose.

The palate is very smooth for a 100 proof bourbon. I wouldn’t even dream of adding water. There is a very nice firm spice that is integrated into the wood tannins resulting in an extended finish. The mouthfeel is so nice, reinforcing my good decision to purchase this bottle.

So it’s no surprise that I really enjoy this bourbon because it was born at Buffalo Trace. Turns out the first two distillations are in Kentucky and the third is in VA where it is aged and then bottled. I read online that this is probably ten years old, although there is not age statement. This is very enjoyable. At at $60, fairly affordable. I think I would prefer it at 107-115 proof, so hopefully they will read this blog and send me a barrel sample soon 🙂  I’m rating this 92/100.

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