My 2018 Top 5 Best Available Bottle under $100 or how best to say “no I can’t get you any Pappy at retail”

OK… so I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets this question all the time from friends, family, co-workers, etc…. Usually it starts out like “hey, can you get me some Pappy?”… yes I can, you want a ORVW for $450-$500?  “Oh, I though you had the hookup, can you get it for me at retail?”  No… I can’t get it for myself at retail… then eventually we just arrive at the Seinfeldian response of “well, why don’t you just tell me what you want to pay…”  So, here is my list of the best bottles that are available and can be purchased for under $100 in 2018… I changed some of them from 2017’s list for some reasons including eliminating certain bottles like ETL, RHF, BTAC, Stagg Jr, etc because the MSRP just rarely is the price you see in stores, at least in the Tri-State area…  These are in no particular order.  I also realize every is going to have a different list here, and please add anything you think should be on here in comments!  Happy New Year everyone!!

Buffalo Trace… yes, the original one that retails for $30.  It’s the same mashbill that goes into bottles that are 1k’s of dollars in secondary, same distillery.  Whether it’s straight or in a cocktail, it’s lovely.  Always make sure you have at least one of them on your bar at all times.

Barrell Bourbon Batches… I’ve never had a batch I didn’t like.  I’ve had some that I’d LOVED.  The only one that was impossible to find was Batch 011, because it won best Bourbon of the Year from San Francisco Wine & Spirits.  At least one batch is usually available at my local store, it looks great, a perfect gift and a wonderful drinker.  You will not be disappointed.

Foursquare 2004 or 2005… cask strength, usually $60-$90, and yes, it’s a Rum!  Aged in Bourbon barrels and others, non-chill filtered, so much flavor.  These guys are the real deal.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof… I almost didn’t put this on the list, but it seems like this is more frequent this year and I usually see it on the shelf.  I’ve never had a bad one, and I’ve had quite a few good ones.  I prefer the old bottle design, but if they are making more of them with the new bottle, I’m OK with that.  Last year I had Old Weller Antique on the list, but given I can never find it anymore without texting my local liquor store owner ahead of time, I’m bumping them for ECBP due to 2018’s availability.  Should be around $60-$70.

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Bourbon… didn’t make the cut last year, just squeezed in this year and at $65, a solid member of the list.  I find that the first crack is just ok, but if you leave it open for a few months it gets a lot better… if I were to re-rate it, I’d say it’s a solid 92.  Worth having on your home bar.

You don’t need to buy Pappy or BTAC to make the people on your list happy!  Anything on this list will show you know your whiskey and you care about making your friends and family happy.  Happy New Year!

Newbourbondrinker’s 2018 Top 5

This year had so many great releases even though the level on social media complaining has hit an all time high… don’t worry, I will be putting out my top 5 disappointments soon… but it’s the holidays so I’m only going to be positive today!  Instead of ranking them this year, I’ve decided to go with five different categories and give the overall winner for them… Disagree?  Hit me up on twitter @newbourbondrink or facebook @ newbourbondrinker or instagram @steaknbourbon

Best Overall Bourbon: Barrell Craft Spirits 15yr Bourbon Gray Label.  For a straight down the middle Bourbon, this one can not be beat.  It also edged out everyone else from Fred Minnick’s blind tasting for Forbes’.  It got a huge score from me and everyone else.  The only downside is the limited case amount.  The one thing you can be certain, is if you see any gray label Barrell Craft Spirits product on a shelf, grab it!

Best Wheated Bourbon: William Larue Weller 2018 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  This one was easy, and tied for best overall with BCS, but split out the wheaters.  The finish, so long, so good.  If you can grab the 2017 or 2018 of WLW BTAC, for any reasonable price at all, pick it up.

Best Rye: Thomas H Handy 2018.  Another BTAC, but 2018 was tough for Rye, as the releases we not as strong as 2017.  The Lot 40 cask Strength 11yr was not as good as last year’s 12yr and higher priced and lower proof; Kentucky Owl Rye was also good but not quite as good as the first release.  THH stood out among it’s peers, but only by a smidge.  The secondary prices have continued to creep as well which is annoying for those of us who drink a lot of Handy.

Best Small Bottle Release: Elijah Craig Grenade… it’s a gift shop only release, but readily available on secondary.  It trades at close to BTAC levels given it’s only 200ml, but it’s sooooooooo good.  Grab one if you are ever in Bardstown, or just lift one on secondary.

Best Rum: Appleton’s Joy 25yr.  This was probably the hardest category to rate to be perfectly honest.  So many great releases: Foursquare 2004, Foursquare 2005, Barrell Rum Tale of Two Islands, Barrell Craft Spirits Rum Gray Label… all could have taken these honors, but Appleton’s 25yr comes out ahead.  Retailing around $220 and still available, this rum has crazy flavors and notes that rival any whiskey.  Looks great on the shelf too.

There it is for 2018… it was a great year, so many amazing drams and I look forward to what 2019 brings.  Happy New Year!

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A117

Still 12yrs…. first release of 2017 for ECBP and the new bottle. Quickie review today… sorry for delay in publishing this, was lingering in my drafts for almost a year…

Nose of freshly cut Christmas tree, nutmeg, s’mores, honeysuckle, workbench and stewed peaches.

Lovely mouthfeel—gotta love uncut and unfiltered. The oils and tannins are absolutely balanced with not too much wood. Nicely coats the mouth with flavor with a long finish that doesn’t drop off.

ECBP continues to be one of the best values for the dollar out there and even with the redesigned bottle, that hasn’t changed. Looking forward to trying the B series next. 94/100.

Bourbon and Charity… special thanks to New York Shaving Company!

The Bourbon Community has always been really great about giving back.  We recently had our third annual Bourbon at the Barbershop special charity event that we hosted at The New York Shaving Company.  We raised over 3k for local children’s charities and everyone had a great time.  Take a look at the photos below, but let’s just say that everyone felt they got their money’s worth.  We had 80% of the BTAC collection, Al Young, Willett Family Estate, a couple great Barrell Bourbon releases, Garrison Bros. Cowboy, Lot 40 Cask Strength, Wiser’s 35yr, EHT Four Grain, Kentucky Owl Rye, Appleton’s Rum 25yr Joy, Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition, Elliot’s Select, JPS 25yr and more!  It was the best heel party I’d ever been to!  Thanks again to New York Shaving Company for being an amazing partner!

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Elijah Craig Grenade… I need more!!!

Attention: if anyone is taking a trip to visit Heaven Hill and doesn’t want to buy their one bottle allocation of Elijah Craig Barrel Select 125 Proof “Grenade” please buy it anyway and I will buy it from you at a premium. Yes; it’s that good. Ok, I kind of jumped the gun on the review here, but I’d appreciate you still reading.

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Nice deep amber, cooper color in the grenade barrel 200ml bottle.

Cinnamon sticks, graham crackers, butterscotch, s’mores, vanilla, marzipan and whipped cream. Heat but not too much.

Amazing mouthfeel, complex flavors from the nose, strong Kentucky hug but not overheated. The finish is long and keeps going for over two minutes.

This is so good and the only complaint is that it only comes in a 200ml bottle. I wish they sold these outside of the gift shop. Delicious! 97/100.

Barbershop Tasting w/ ECBP B517 ECBP Hirsch 20yr

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Lovely event at the New York Shaving Company today with friends, clients and three delicious whiskies…

Elijah Craig 18 bottled 2.4.17 Barrel #4339, 90 Proof
When first opened it was tight and very medicinal. After an hour it opened up with nutmeg, Christmas tree, butterscotch and almond butter. Tastes lovely with a touch more oak than I would have liked. Mouthfeel medium. Of all the EC18s I’ve had, this one is in the middle. Solid but not amazing. Still good price for the age though. 88/100

Hirsch Selection American Whiskey 20yrs, 96 proof
Distilled from Bourbon mash 2.27.1987 in Illinois and bottled in Weston, MO. I’d never seen this on the shelf before and for $100 I thought it was worth the gamble. This was another one that reeked of nail polish when first opened but after sitting for an hour evolved. Sweet nose of marshmallows, Skittles, stewed carrots with brown sugar, portobello mushrooms and cake frosting. The taste is quite a bit more bitter than the nose though with only an ok mouthfeel. The finish loses the sweetness almost immediately. The promise on the nose fades almost immediately; too bad. 80/100.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B517 124.2 Proof WA 2017 #1
Great color and awesome powerful nose. You can tell it’s Cask strength but doesn’t burn your nostrils either. Brown sugar cookies, lots of wood, creme brûlée, cinnamon, allspice and graham cracker s’mores. Terrific mouthfeel on this one, totally coats the tongue in all the right places, lots of sweet and savory flavors for a long finish that never gets bitter. The heat is there but incredibly smooth for the Proof. This is an excellent Bourbon. I wouldn’t have it as my number one, but adjusted for price it’s up there. Absolutely worth picking up if you can find it close to retail (under $100). I paid $80 for this one. 96/100.

Four Roses 50th Anniversary is another Epic Win!

My brother-in-law was in town the other day so I thought I would share my sample with him to try.  Thank you to Four Roses for sending the sample, and as always, there was no quid pro quo.  Plenty of other sites have reviewed and talked about the mashbill, I’ll put the links below to those… I’ll just give my take:

Awesome nose: marzipan, peanuts, rose petals, caramel, butterscotch and a touch of charcoal.

Now for the taste… WOW!  The mouthfeel is close to perfect, with just enough tannins to tickle the tongue and plenty of oils to coat it.  The flavors are incredibly complex, with sweetness coming in first, then warmth on the way down.  The flavors continue to evolve every fifteen seconds and the finish goes on for minutes and minutes.  Later on you get a nice oak background with an incredible smoothness.

So far this year, this is easily one of my top three favorites, but I decided to check it against the 2015 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition.  Very similar, and hard to pick a winner, but I think the 2015 might be slightly better.  It’s a judgement call.  My brother in law wasn’t as excited about it as I was, he really liked it, but he prefers the bigger, higher proof bourbons like Elijah Craig Barrell Proof and Barrell Bourbon.  He’s at 95 points, but I’m a 97/100.  Like Fred Minnick said, if you can get it, buy it all.  If you don’t, I will!

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http://fourrosesbourbon.com/celebrating-al-youngs-50th-anniversary-with-limited-edition-four-roses-bourbon/

https://www.fredminnick.com/2017/03/09/four-roses-limited-edition-2/

http://www.breakingbourbon.com/who-is-brent-elliott.html

https://thewhiskeywash.com/whiskey-styles/bourbon/four-roses-celebrates-whiskey-legend-al-young-one-hell-bourbon/

Top 5 Disappointments of 2016 in Bourbon

Age statements going away… prices going up… there is just so much to complain about, but I would argue there is so much more to celebrate.  So please check out my top 5 drams of the year (my review) first because I do believe 2016 was a great year in bourbon.  But here are my complaints….

#1 Retailers charging more than secondary prices… it’s a huge pain in the butt and here are the ones that I found to be most obnoxious:

#2 Your favorite low cost bourbon going away… whether it was going NAS for some, but for me it was losing OGD114.  However… I called up my local retail store, took down two cases, so I now have more than 24 bottles in the bunker which should last me quite enough time 🙂

#3  Trying some really terrible new craft stuff… 99% of the time when you are at a farmers market and someone has some small batch, small barrel, new whiskey they are excited about from some local farm with locally sourced grain, it’s horrible.  There are too many to cite, but they are almost all bad (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/orange-county-distillery-back-to-the-drawing-board-please/)

#4 Diageo and their never ending cash grab… latest example was Whoop & Holler which should have been used as an industrial cleaner… it was literally not worth drinking.  There was some whiskey writer who put it on his top whiskeys of the year… I tweeted that guy directly, and I’m not sure he even knows what bourbon is. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/orphan-barrel-whoop-holler/)

#5 Willett’s new make 3yr rye.  I love Willett products, but this was just terrible.  I’m really hoping it was a one off and will get better, but this was just disappointing. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/3yr-rye-distilled-aged-bottled-by-the-willett-distillery/)

Again… this is just my top 5…  a few things barely missed the cut, most specifically the Knob Creek 2001: put it in a wooden box, call it limited release and 3x the price?  Seriously?  I hear they are already over 60k bottles, and to be honest, I’ve yet to have one that I like.  I’d love to hear from my readers what their biggest disappointment was and what they are most excited for in 2017!

CEHT Seasoned Wood: drink a sample, buy ECBP release #11 or Barrell Bourbon instead.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood Bottled in Bond is the latest special release from the CEHT line from Buffalo Trace. This one was almost impossible to find; I was completely unable to find it at retail.  While refusing to pay $400+ on the secondary market, I was able to get a trade done for 5 bottles of mine, enabling me to reduce the size of my already too big bunker. I was happy with my trade regardless of the outcome of the tasting.

Right after opening the bottle, the nose is toasted raisin bread, high heat, cinnamon sticks and cloves. It’s never fair to judge a bottle without giving it some air, but I wanted to see what it was like because I’m betting that most people didn’t buy their own bottle and relied on samples free from Buffalo Trace or trading.  After waiting 15 minutes I tested the nose again: much more mellow. Now I’m getting Cinnamon Toast Crunch with whole milk, Honey Nut Cheerios, (I must be hungry for carbs or something…..), hickory tree bark and Vermont maple syrup. The second time around the heat is much less pronounced.

The palate is enjoyable. There are brown sugar notes that are complimented by heat and a smoothness that goes straight down. My chest warms up with the easy finish, which goes on for over a minute but doesn’t morph into anything beyond the initial enjoyment.  It seems like it has been chill filtered because the tannins are weak and the bourbon lacks the grip that I was hoping to get. It’s too bad because everything about this whiskey makes me feel like at 125 proof, and no chill filtering, this could be one of the best ever.

Some people blindly love everything Colonel Taylor does…. So far I have been very happy as well but I always keep my eyes open and judge each bottle I taste on its own.  They bottle in bond everything, except their barrel proof releases, but I wish they did all their special releases at cask strength.  Buffalo Trace makes some of the best products in the world, but just because it comes off their stills doesn’t mean it’s gold–remember they also make Fireball (although technically I believe Fireball starts in Canada, but I digress….). If you were able to snag this bottle at the $79.99 retail price, you scored big time–but even at that price I prefer the most recent ECBP and Barrell Bourbon release–both have more complexity, more flavor, longer finish, and not to mention, much easier to find at retail. But at $350 secondary price, it’s not worth it. It’s very good, but not epic enough to warrant this pricing. I’m very glad I got it and not upset I opened it… Bourbon was made to be consumed, not crotch shotted, insta’d and for collecting dust on a shelf. It’s 92/100… Buy a dram at a bar or DM me to trade samples just so you can cross it off your list.

 

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ECBP 139.4 #11 Elijiah Craig’s Best to Date? Thank you Heaven Hill

Elijiah Craig Barrell Proof Bourbon (ECBP) is a staple on my bar, but one that I have ignored for a while–and that was a mistake. The 128 proof, #7 release, was the first piece ever on my blog and it is long overdue to review another one. Today I am imbibing the 139.4 proof, which is release #11 and the second highest proof they have ever done.  Earlier in the evening I was drinking EHTBP, and when I poured this one I couldn’t believe how much darker the color and deeper the aroma was…. On to the review…

Deep and dark tawny port color.

On the nose had rich flavors of butterscotch, buttered popcorn, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Raisin Bran and maple syrup–also getting some of those tawny notes that the color alludes to.  Just a big and bold nose: some heat but less than expected given the high proof.

The first taste is fantastic. The chewy flavors are coming through and the wood tannins on the tongue are there but not as thick as I would like. If anyone has ever tried a Sam Adams Utopias before, there are some similar tastes and smells–which is very good. There is a nice warmth traveling through my body but it isn’t harsh at all. The finish isn’t as long as I expected given all the complexity upfront, but it’s quite an experience.  Very solid palate.

You have to give it to Heaven Hill because ECBP is still one of the few well priced cask strength bourbons out there. Their newest release is the best one that I have tried to date. If you see it on the shelf for a reasonable price, grab a couple and you won’t be disappointed. The only thing that prevents this from going from a great to an epic bourbon is the lack of extended finish. Worth every penny though. 94/100.

 

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