Balcones Texas Rum Special Release Batch 15-1 63.9% abv

I first tried the Balcones Texas Rum at the 2016 Whisky Jewbilee a couple of weeks ago and liked it so much I needed to get a bottle (or two) for my personal collection.  I confirmed with the brand ambassador that the one I tried at the event was Batch 16-1, but this bottle that was available in New York is Batch 15-1, bottled on May 22, 2015.  This is a six barrel blend made of two new American Oak barrels, one new European Oak barrel, and one each used barrels of American Oak, French Oak and European Oak.  The average barrel age is three years.

Initial notes are brown sugar, cloves, smoked hickory chips, Cuban cigar box, almond croissant and candied walnuts.  When the bottle was first opened, the heat on the nose was hot, but after waiting a few minutes, the heat quickly dissipated into pure smoothness, especially nice for a 127.8 proof spirit.

The palate is unlike any rum I have ever had before.  It’s big and takes over the entire mouth with a creamy thickness that reminds me of a very high end non-chill filtered bourbon.  The notes from the nose all come through on the palate, but are a little warmer than the nose.  The finish goes on for a solid two minutes, putting it in an elite category.

I was told this is the oldest to date product that Balcones has ever produced and the patience has paid off–apparently Batch 16-1 is slightly older. The previous products I have tried were all way too hot on both the nose and the throat, but this one is not.  The time in the barrel has paid off and anyone who buys it will be happy.  It’s a shame that too many of their products have been rushed to market, but hopefully the success of this one will show the extra time is worth it.  93/100.


2016 Whisky Jewbilee and Event Tasting Strategy

The 5th Annual Whisky Jewbilee was my first time attending this cool New York City event… I brought a few clients and friends with me to enjoy the fun.  As part of any large tasting, you need to have a game plan ahead of time—know where the rare bottles are and hit them first.

A huge mistake rookies make is trying to be very polite and going through the whole vertical.  I totally understand being polite, going through each one and hearing why the 10yr is so great.  But… there will be time for that at the end of the evening if you really care.  There were about 6 Scotches that were 25yrs or older and they were all gone within the first 30 minutes, so if you didn’t hit them first, you missed out.  Fortunately for me and my friends, I had them all mapped out and we were able to try them all.  To be honest though, a the selection of 25yr Scotch didn’t really excite me…

I’m much more of a bourbon fan than scotch, so I was hoping for something special underneath the tables, that wasn’t on the original tasting list.  There were three tables that really stepped it up in my opinion:

Skinner Auctions brought a bunch of dusties including a 1970s Stitzel-Weller Cabin Still decanter.  Only a 4-5yr bourbon, but so incredibly smooth.  And to get the chance to try anything from Stitzel-Weller is welcomed.  I went back for five pours, which probably was overkill, but almost no one was hitting this table, so it was a hidden gem.

For all the negative things I have written about Balcones over the years, they actually stepped it up at this tasting.  I tried their normal products, and again, I really didn’t like them.  I had never tried their Brimstone, and I think that might be my least favorite one of theirs of all time—just horrible.  However… when I asked if they had anything under the table, I was very pleasantly surprised.  Winston Edwards (the brand ambassador) pulled a new product, the Balcones Texas Rum Special Release 63.9% abv.  He said it was mostly a 3.5yr rum blended with some younger ones.  This product blew me away.  Great mouthfeel, such rich notes, just a tremendous amount of complexity and length.  This was so good I bought two bottles online and can’t wait to try it at home and do a proper tasting.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a full review on this rum.

The other favorite table was Barrell Bourbon.  Joe Beatrice brought both whiskey batches, including the sherry cask Batch 002, which was a top 5 of the night as well as Batch 006 and Batch 007.  They also has a special Batch 007b, which apparently was the same barrels from Batch 007, but bottled a few months later, so a little more age, and slightly different proof, but everything else the same.  Very tasty.  I love when the presenters have a little something special under the table if you ask nicely–thank you Joe!

I was very disappointed by a lot of the other bourbon tables, especially Four Roses, Bookers, Basil Hayden, Bakers, etc… they just brought their normal bottles.  Four Roses should have at least brought the Elliot’s Select, but just brought their normal ones.  For a tasting, they should have stepped up their game a little bit.  If I wanted a glass of Basil Hayden, I could just go to any bar, their performance was not exciting.  For next year, hopefully the larger brands lose the attitude and bring something a little special.

At the end of the evening, my clients and friends had a great time, we all drank quite a bit of very good whiskey and I even got to meet Mark Gillespie from WhiskyCast which was a treat.  Because it wasn’t in a proper tasting setting, I am not going to give any grades but the top drams of the night, not in any order were: Stitzel-Weller Cabin Still 1970’s dusty, Barrell Bourbon Batch 006, Barrell Whiskey Batch 002, Balcones Texas Rum Special Release, Balvenie 25.



007: Bourbon, Barrell Bourbon.

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?          Goldfinger: No,  Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!


Unlike Mr. Bond, I do not prefer shaken vodka martinis; I prefer my bourbon, straight, in a Glencairn glass, with nothing else.  This is precisely the way I enjoyed the newest release from Barrell Bourbon.  I greatly enjoyed the previous two releases: the sherry cask finish of Barrell Whiskey 002, which is in the running for my favorite of the year so far (, and last year’s Barrell Bourbon Batch 006, which was off the charts (  This is their newest bourbon and also, I believe, their youngest one they have produced to date.  I tend not to prefer younger bourbons, so I had some skepticism, but at the same time I had faith that Joe Beatrice would continue his streak of coming up with extremely high quality products.  I also saw the Fred Minnick blog about it and how it got 98 points in the San Francisco competition:

I am trying Barrell Bourbon Batch 007, Bottle # 5762 which clocks in at 122.4 proof and is aged 5 years.  It is cask strength, straight bourbon whiskey distilled in TN and is *not* chilled filtered.

Golden amber hue, definitely lighter than batch 006, but darker than I would have expected for only a 5yr bourbon–maybe it was a very top of the rickhouse one?  I guess we’ll find out on the palate.

Hot, but not too hot on the nose, with creme brulee, butterscotch, tiramisu, Reese Peanut Butter Cups and toffee ice cream.  As you can tell from the photos, I am already halfway done with the bottle and I can tell you that the nose has evolved nicely the longer the bottle has been open.  It mellows very nicely after being open for a couple of days.

Very nice juicy mouthfeel with really good tannins that retain all the flavor from the nose as well.  My skepticism unnecessary because this bourbon keeps going on, with the creme brulee and tiramisu notes evolving after even just one sip.  The heat is enjoyable, but mellowed on the palate vs nose.  The finish is very long.

I gotta give it to these guys at Barrell Bourbon, they have done it again.  If I didn’t know it was a 5yr bourbon, I probably would have guessed it was in the 6-8yr range, just a little more developed than your typical 5yr and extremely drinkable at 61.2% alcohol.  Another really great batch, so be sure to buy a couple extra as once it’s gone, you’ll never get to try the batch again.  I bought two, but I may try to score a third just to keep in the back of the bunker.  (Or hint hint, maybe my wife should buy it for me for Father’s Day:  Hey Joe, when is Batch 008 coming out?  95/100.

Best Bourbon: The Unbelievable ‘Best Whisky’ Upset in ’16 San Francisco World Spirits Competition



NBA Finals, CEHT Straight Rye

It’s the NBA finals tonight so I decided to pull out the CEHT Straight Rye Bottled in Bond. Colonel E.H. Taylor is one of the renowned Buffalo Trace brands, coming out with several very limited editions in addition to their highly allocated normal line which includes their straight rye. I’ve been drinking a lot of rye recently, mostly Thomas H Handy (another BT product and part of the annual BTAC release) and Pikesville, the new release from Heaven Hill. I’m hoping the Taylor rye lives up to its allocated hype.

The packaging of all the Colonel Taylor whiskeys are gorgeous–this is no exception. The tube is great, the mock tax stamp looks classic and the label is always a looker. The color is medium amber.

The nose is hot, which is standard for the CEHT line, and not surprising for a 100 proof whiskey. I get notes of rock candy, candy corn, buttered raisin bagel and cinnamon sticks.

The palate has some of the heat from the nose and some of the flavors but the mouthfeel is thin, tannins are lacking and the finish is moderate at best. It’s enjoyable to drink but is just lacking complexity and is missing the finish that I was expecting.

If you find one of these bottles at retail price on the shelf I would still buy it, but mostly because it is so hard to find (read: trade bait), but in terms of drinking there are better options out there. I pulled my Pikesville off the shelf for a quick comparison: even though the proof is ten higher, the nose is more interesting, the taste is better and smoother, the finish is substantially longer and it is cheaper. If you are looking for a great rye, buy Thomas H Handy.  But if you can’t find it or don’t want to pay $300 secondary market costs, buy the Pikesville Rye, it is better in pretty much every way and it costs less. I also pulled out my Sazerac and I think I actually prefer it to the Taylor as well and it is basically 1/3 the price. CEHT Straight Rye is fine to drink, but there are so many better options out there at better price points. 86/100.


Mashbox from Mash + Grape: Try before you buy

Mash + Grape is an online liquor store that has come up with a pretty cool idea on how to try a bunch of new craft spirits at once, in a really nice presentable box–perfect for a gift, maybe father’s day?  The problem with so many of the sample size packages that I have seen before is that they usually have stuff I have already tried.  And another issue with buying craft spirits is more often than not, they are terrible.  So Mash + Grape have solved both problems, only putting in limited edition craft spirits ensuring that most buyers have never tried them before, and they also will get to see if they like them before they can buy them.  They have called it Mashbox and the price is $99 a year (free shipping) for four quarterly shipments of three 50ml bottles each–all nicely wrapped with cards describing what each one is.  The presentation is extremely well done.  It is the perfect idea for anyone looking to give the gift of whiskey to their special someone, but is afraid that they might already have everything they want.

I am going to sample each one of this quarters samples:

Barrell Whiskey Batch 002 Sherry Cask Finish… well, this one I actually have tried before and it’s my favorite new whiskey of the year thus far.  Well done in picking this great whiskey for the Mashbox.  For the full review check below, but, spoiler alert, it’s a 97/100.

Oak & Rye Wormwood is a 90 proof high rye whiskey that is aged in oak and infused with wormwood, the infmaous ingredient in Absinthe.  Mashbox recommends trying it neat or as a substitute for whiskey in a Manhattan.  I tried it neat: the nose stings the nostrils, definitely getting that absinthe flavor. Thick mouthfeel, really coats the mouth. Smooth finish. Enjoyable but not one that I will be buying the bottle. Happy to have tried it because of the unique flavors.

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye is from New York Distilling Company  as is a 65 proof marriage of rye and rock candy.  Apparently in the 19th century barmen mixed rock candy and citrus to soften the harsh taste of young straight rye.    Allen Katz has taken this old approach and applied it to a modern day rye.  Mashbox recommends trying it on the rocks with an orange peel.  Really sweet nose–the rock candy and citrus is really coming through. Lot of orange peel on the nose. Thick mouthfeel probably from the very high sugar. This one is definitely not for me, it’s way too sugary and sweet for me, almost a cocktail in itself. I could see my wife drinking this though. Again, glad I tried it, but not one I will be buying.

Mashbox is a great gift, and it’s not too late to buy your favorite whiskey lover an annual subscription.  Although I did not love all three of the choices that went into the box, all three were very different and I am very happy to have tried each and every one of them–at the very least, this will save me a lot of money not having to buy what I do not like!  No one likes having dozens on whiskeys in your cabinet that you hate and never want to drink again… Mashbox solves that problem!

MashBox (Annual Subscription)

Barrell Whiskey Batch 002