My Top 5 Drams of the Year

#1 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015 (98 points, bottle-spot $425)

#2 William Larue Weller 2015 (99 points, bottle-spot $600)

#3 Barrell Bourbon Batch 006 (96 points, MSRP $90)

#4 Garrison Brothers Cowboy (96 points, $200 MSRP)

#5 Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout 2015 (99 points, bottle-spot $75)

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How did I pick the order my top 5?  Honestly, you could put these in any order and it would be fine by me… I’m honored to have tried every one of these and to still have them all in my bunker.

In terms of cracking the top 5, these were by far the best I had this year, so it wasn’t even close.  George T. Stagg 2015 was up there, but just didn’t come close to the Weller, and for the value the Thomas Handy was the other BTAC that was nearest to making the list.  If there was a 6-10, you would have seen the THH, Stagg Jr, Pikesville and a couple others crack it, but the differentiation between 1-5 and 6-10 was extremely significant.

For bottles you can get at the store or online at MSRP I put those prices, for ones that are impossible to find I listed the approximate bottle-spot.com going rates.

For the money it’s clear that Barrell Bourbon is the best buy of the list here (and you can still find it online for the MSRP still!!  https://www.caskers.com/barrell-kentucky-straight-bourbon-whiskey-batch-006/  http://www.barrellbourbon.com/), while if money is no object, this year’s Weller is out of this world.  Jim Rutledge’s final LESB was the winner, as he saved his best for last.  Cowboy bourbon is a totally unique product and I absolutely recommend everyone pick up a bottle, or if $200 is too much, pick up their 2yr which is also excellent (https://www.caskers.com/garrison-brothers-texas-straight-bourbon-whiskey/).  I did throw a beer in here, but if you haven’t had it, don’t judge: it’s just as complex and enjoyable as the others on the list here.  If you have a smaller budget, my $30 and under best buys of the year are Old Grand-Dad 114 (https://www.caskers.com/spirits/old-grand-dad-114-bourbon-whiskey/) and Elmer T Lee (if you can find them at those prices).  Here’s to a great 2016!

Barrell Bourbon Batch 006: Home Run, top 5 of the year?

Barrell Bourbon is  a fairly new entrant into the whiskey scene and has been racking up some pretty impressive accolades from the whiskey community in blogs, ratings, and word of mouth.  Another blogger did a really great job in getting the background, and it is definitely worth checking out…

http://axisofwhisky.com/2015/09/25/interview-with-joe-beatrice-of-barrell-bourbon/

It’s now my turn to determine if the juice in the bottle is worthy of what I have heard.

Barrell Bourbon is always bottled at cask strength, and each batch is different, which is something I absolutely love.  I have my Buffalo Trace standard and Weller 12 for consistency, and I have my barrel proof bourbons for variation.  It’s good to have both, but I have been drifting far more to the barrel proof whiskeys recently in my collection, and for me to buy something that isn’t cask strength these days, it’s a struggle.  I have this emotional internal conflict that I do not want to pay extra for watered down spirits.  I really appreciate that they bottle it from the barrel, and let the bourbon speak for itself.  Barrell Bourbon does not own it’s own distillery, but they have made myriad contacts in the whiskey industry and have access to some amazing product that they try hundreds of samples of before picking the right barrels for their next batch.  It’s pretty obvious that Joe Beatrice has an amazing nose and palate and has the ability to source some pretty incredible whiskey.  Just like a master blender in a distillery, so much of the magic that goes into the bottles is picking the best barrels at the correct time and creating the right blend. These guys have done it.

Batch 006 is bottled at 122.9 proof and has a gorgeous deep honey amber color.

Peanut butter jumps off the nose, nice big spoonful of Creamy Jif, just like the one you would snag with a big spoon when Mom wasn’t looking. In the back of the nose s’mores and Cinnamon Toast Crunch integrate perfectly into the emerging complexity. This bourbon will bring back memories of camping; you can smell the nut trail mix and campfire smoke.  There’s a good heat initially, but mellows out, even when quaffed neat.  The satisfying mouthfeel of balanced wood oil and tannins leads into a long, satisfying and relaxing finish.

There’s a reason that this bottle is less than half full and I’m just writing the review now: it continues to evolve every time I take a drink.  When I first opened it I thought it scored low to mid 90’s, but now that I’m halfway through, I realized that I was way too low.  The heat on the nose after it’s been sitting on my bar for a little while has mellowed so much that I will only consume it neat.  I have been extremely harsh on my reviews for most smaller producers, but I give credit where credit is due.  These guys may be small, but they know what they are doing and are producing a phenomenal product.  I will be going back and trying to review prior batches if I can find them (and if I have time… I may just do a quick two liner and score for each).  96/100

http://www.barrellbourbon.com/

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Party Drink #2 Woodford Double Oak: Candy & Spice and Everything Nice

Dram number two from the birthday party a couple weeks ago….

I’m trying to do no carbs and all there is to eat is pizza, crackers, cake and ice cream, so more bourbon I will go. I’m also missing most of the Giants game and it looks like they may actually win this one.

Medium dark amber

Classic caramel and butterscotch candy on the nose, admittedly a cliche descriptor, but perhaps that’s exactly the profile Brown-Forman was going for. Not a complex nose, but extremely likable.

The palate is initially rich with a nice spice that I missed on the nose. The mouthfeel is not coating, indicating it was probably filtered, losing some of the complexity and deeper flavors. The finish is medium. I bet this was a lot better before this was filtered and diluted.

You know what… This is enjoyable. It’s kind of like a Top 40 song that is overplayed on Z100… You want to hate it but it’s enjoyable.  It’s really like birthday cake at a one year olds party: tasty and you’ll always like it, but there are so many better options out there…. I wouldn’t have this one on my bar either, but if you are at a kids party and there are no other options, it’s better than complete boredom.  86/100.

Whiskey Hunting: A Passion or Obsession?

The answer to the question in the title depends on whether you ask me or my wife. Because Star Wars 7 is being released this week I do not feel bad about quoting one of everyone’s favorite Jedi Masters, Obi-Wan Kenobi:

“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

My view is that if I have the time, and I like it, it’s fun and enjoyable.  I do admit that I have too much alcohol in the house, but I don’t plan on drinking every bottle… A lot of hunting involves finding multiples of rare or great bottles to use in trade.  My wife’s view is that I get more excited about scoring a great bottle at the retail price than most other things I am doing.  She may be right about that, but when nothing at home is good enough, being able to find a great bottle at well under the bottle-spot price, is a tangible victory.  The truth probably is somewhere in the middle, and I probably need to pare down the collection a little bit.  It’s too bad she doesn’t enjoy them.  I probably should also cook dinner tonight, make sure the house is clean, ensure our nine month old has a clean diaper and maybe even buy some flowers… but enough about my problems…

Off to my hunting finds… I was in San Francisco for a couple days last week as my wife had a business trip and I decided to take advantage of the free hotel room and come out a day before her trip ended, see a client, and spend the afternoon going to different liquor stores.  We also had an amazing day in Napa the following day, where we visited Checkerboard Vineyards (Amazing Vineyard, email Ingrid to set up a tasting!), Ovid and Joseph Phelps (join the club, great value) in addition to having the best lunch of our lives at Keller’s French Laundry.  Worth the price in every way.

In San Francisco, I had almost no luck in the Financial District, as I did find a bunch of pappy, but when retailers are trying to sell their ORVW for $500 a bottle, I know I needed to find a different strategy.  I did find a Scottish shop selling all sorts of Scotch and Indian whisky, so I bought a bottle of Amrut cask strength, as I really enjoyed that bottle in DC when I was there a month ago–maybe I will re-rate it in a couple months.  My luck changed when I moved to the seedier neighborhoods south of Market St on 6th St.

I’ve noticed that although liquor stores in bad neighborhoods generally have lesser stuff, more often that not, you will find the one store that has some amazing items sitting around because their clientele won’t pay the price.  At a couple stores like that I managed to get a few BCBS Ryes, Barleywine, one Rare, a 4-pack of KBS and 3x EC18s.  I also found a couple dusty pre-merger Suntory Whiskys in the original box–no clue about their value, but I’m sure it’s a lot more than I paid.  I also found a handle of Canadian Club with a 1980 tax stamp on it–not an amazing bottle, but 1980 is my birth year, so I’m always partial to distilled dates or tax stamps bearing the number.

While in Napa we did buy a few bottles of wine, but at a little grocery mart I was able to find a few more bottles of BCBS Rye and 2x coffee.

So below is a photo of my proud stash.  More beer than whiskey on this trip, but amazing beer aged in Bourbon barrels, and not easy to find.

So… do I have an obsession?  Probably.  Is it a passion though?  Definitely.  I do realize that wanting to go into every liquor store I ever drive by may not be the healthiest of instincts, but you never know when you might uncover than amazing bottle that you don’t have.  If you don’t go into the store, you’ll never know.  May luck and the Force be with you.

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Templeton Rye… children’s birthday drink #1

Never tried this one before and I was at my nephews first birthday party so I thought I’d try a dram of Templeton’s out of my sister’s Apollo 12 cup (our great uncle was an astronaut on that Apollo mission).

Light amber color.

Menthol, licorice, cotton candy, basil on the nose.

Sweet on palate, warmer than expected for 40% abv. Mouthfeel is ok, finish is muted.

With a touch of water added the nose loses some of the harsh tones and softens up, but keeps the herbaceousness.  The water softens the palate as well.

With all the drama on this product, I don’t care too much if MPG makes it or whoever. This tastes pretty young and it’s ok, but I’d rather use this as a mixer than straight.  Ultimately the product isn’t spectacular, so I won’t be adding it to my collection… why is everybody so up in arms about a below average drink?   Who cares.   82/100.

 

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The Whiskey Advocate vs Garrison Brothers…

As a subscriber to The Whiskey Advocate, I always check the reviews but maintain a grain of salt with their rating.  I also do the same with Jim Murray and other writers, bloggers and reviewers out there.  What you think is a 90 I may think is a 96 or a 76;  ratings are very subjective to one’s personal palate.  However, there seems to be strong agreement among most palates, the barrel proof BTAC, for example, always scores well.   Craft reviews are very interesting as they tend to have a much less consistent rating across different publications.

Despite all of this, I was extremely surprised by the grade Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon received:  79.

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I agreed with a lot of their descriptors, they had caramel and baking spices and dusty corn.  Here is my review (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/garrison-brothers-cowboy-best-4-year-whiskey-ever/)  I had envisioned caramelized popcorn, basically those three descriptors in a single item… so it’s not like either one of us is getting different aromas on the nose, or that my bottle was remarkably different than the testers.

One major issue with Texas Bourbon is that the evaporation is intense… you start with a full barrel and end up with not much left due to the heat.  So, it’s going to cost more.  Even in my original review I mentioned that I thought it was expensive, but, as you can tell from my photo, that fact that I’ve bought several and already gone through two bottles and am on my third, tells you more than anything I can write.  Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it should get a bad review–although if it’s expensive and mediocre, then, by all means, lambaste away (see my reviews on the Orphan Barrel series…).

I’m trying this new bottle, which is #3516, and I can confirm my original conclusion which I will just copy and paste because it was correct all along: “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”

The 2yr is less than half the price, and it also very good, here is that review:

https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/11/07/garrison-brothers-texas-straight-bourbon-whiskey-another-great-drink/

http://www.garrisonbros.com/