2020 Bourbon Holiday Guide $100 and Over but Available

2020 Bourbon Holiday Shopping Guide continues with $100 and over, but also available. Which means you won’t find Pappy or BTAC here.

This year it’s time to check out some Armagnac. I like Armagnac, but it’s not my go to. What I do love about it is that as someone who is 40 years old, I can get a 1980, birth year bottle, for a reasonable price. If you are 80 years old, the price isn’t great, but if you are under 50, the prices are very very good. A wonderful gift for a reasonable price. Highly recommended.

Barrell Bourbon single barrel picks… great way to get a really great bottle, looks great, tastes great, and often has some good age on it. Never had a bad bottle from these guys and most are really really special. Highly recommend Joe’s Playlist stuff when it comes out. It usually sells out fast, so grab it when it comes out. For those looking to go to over $200, BCS 15yr Bourbon in the gray label and black box will make someone very happy to find it under the tree.

Garrison Brothers Single barrel picks are right around $100 and also very good. I’m a big fan of their short barrels, so keep an eye out for those. Their Cowboy Bourbon is also very special, but it’s usually around $250… a polarizing Bourbon for sure, and packs a punch, but I love it.

To mix it up, try some Foursquare Rum this year. The 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 releases have all been really good. Cask strength rum, made by the best; you can’t go wrong.

Whatever you pick for your loved ones this holiday, they are lucky you are doing your research and checking out my blog. I also posted on gift items and sub $50 bottles too, links below. Happy holidays!

2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Good Drinking Bourbons under $50

Welcome back to the 2020 Holiday Shopping guide… I’m going to do something different this year. Instead of ranking a bunch of lower priced Bourbons I’m going to suggest two things: 1) good daily drinkers and 2) store picks.

Find a local store that focuses on Bourbon and has an owner/manager that you get along with. Talk to them, engage them, and discuss store picks. Most stores these days are involved in barrel picks and those who know what they are doing are picking some really cool ones. The ones I’ve really enjoyed this year and are usually available are: Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig Small Batch, Russel Reserve 10yr. Most good stores will have an open bottle ready to try, and if you like their palate, you should get involved in as many of their picks your budget allows. It is also a great way to get yourself positioned for some of the highly allocated bottles in the hunting season. I regularly text five local store owners and those relationships I’ve cultivated over the last few years… highly recommend doing it yourself (just don’t do it with my guys!!! haha).

Funny enough, my answers are very similar for daily drinkers… I love regular Buffalo Trace, can never go wrong with it. Elijah Craig Small Batch is also lovely. Old Grand Dad 114 is another great value out there. Eagle Rare 10 has been more available for me this year and I’m not the biggest fan, but it is good value. For cocktails, it’s always good to have some Mellow Corn around as well.

I’m leaving Old Weller Antique off this list because you can never find it for under $50. Same with Stagg Jr, that one really rocketed up this year. Next list will have the under $100 and there are some great ones there too.

Gift Shop Distillery Rankings… Some will agree, some will send me hate mail…

So… these rankings, unless specifically mentioned, are based solely on the gift shop.  Some of the distilleries mentioned below have great tours and experiences, but I’m only rating the gift shop, unless otherwise specifically mentioned.  There are several listed below that have received some very bad scores… this doesn’t mean that I don’t like their products or their tour or the people, but what it does mean is that if you are just looking to allocate time to hit up a gift shop, looking for a good experience or access to bottles that they only have there, you should not go.  A great example of this is Buffalo Trace… it’s my favorite distillery tour I’ve ever done, and they make my favorite whiskies, but their gift shop is a complete waste of time.  If you are a distillery owner and unhappy with your gift shop score, maybe you should put some more single barrels or limited release stuff there to keep people like me happy?  Happy to lend my consulting expertise if anyone needs it.

Boone County
2/5 unless it’s a release date then don’t have anything special there and it’s out of the way. Nice people and they let you taste though.

Evan Williams
4.5/5 Lots of gift shop only releases these days including the 23yr and 12yr… people there are super friendly and easily accessible.

Old Forester
1/5 This one upset me. They only have a couple single barrels available in the gift shop but they won’t let you taste it. They make you pay $14 to go next door to the bar to pay for a flight of three. Well I did that and guess what? They weren’t that good so I didn’t buy. Maybe they knew their single barrels weren’t that good so they wouldn’t sell them? The staff was also pretty obnoxious about it too. I never did the tour but I can’t stress enough that this gift shop is a complete waste of time.

Peerless
4.5/5 Beautiful building, amazing staff that are both friendly and knowledgeable. We got to try all the single barrels they had for sale and one was really good so I bought it. Highly recommend going here if you are on Whiskey Row.

Michters
2.5/5 Sometimes have some unique stuff. Closed on Wednesday’s though which is random.

Angels Envy
2/5 Probably a pass for most people but only go if you are a huge fan. Beautiful building though.

Barrell Bourbon
5*/5 Only open if you are looking to buy a barrel, but they let you try everything and you can even play cornhole right in their warehouse. Otherwise they don’t really have a public gift shop (thus the *), but this was my favorite stop in Kentucky given their hospitality and willingness to let us try so many different things.

Wild Turkey
2/5 Gift shop not worth going to. Zero unique products and not close.

Four Roses
2/5 No longer do they have good single barrels available. Far away and generic. Pass.

Willett
2/5 This used to be a 5/5 but unless they have a WFE release they have nothing there you would want and it’s out of the way. Staff was pretty standoffish when I asked about WFE. Exceptionally disappointed by my trip here. I guess it’s only good if you are doing a barrel pick, otherwise don’t bother. If you are meeting with Drew and doing a barrel pick it’s a 5/5 though, but for just the gift shop, it’s a 2.

Heaven Hill
5/5 William Heavenhill, Grenades, what more could you want? Great gift shop. **Must Visit**

Barton
2.5/5 Free tastings, first gift shop open in Bardstown, but limited options in the gift shop. Would be two stars except the staff was just so nice to me even though they didn’t even know who I was.

Kentucky Artisan Distillery/Jefferson’s
2.5/5 Would be three stars if it were more conveniently located… they have a well stocked gift shop, mostly available everywhere but a couple unique items… if you love Jefferson’s it’s worth going or if you are just driving through, but not alone.  The person at the front desk wasn’t particularly knowledgeable.

Lux
2.5/5 Beautiful facility, hit or miss on availability of single barrels.

Bardstown Bourbon Company
4.5/5 Definitely hit this one up after Heaven Hill. It’s almost brand new. Cool items in the gift shop you won’t find elsewhere and they let you try it. Next time I’m there I’m having lunch as well.

Wilderness Trail
3/5 It gets knocked by half a star for being so far out of the way. It’s a great facility and although their product is young, it’s good. Single barrels available and free stickers! Not worth a trip by itself but if in the area it’s worth a detour.  Will plan to go back in five years or so once they have more aged stock.

Belle Meade/Nelson Green
4/5 Lots of aged MGP cask strength single barrels available that are delicious. I generally hate tours and refuse to do them but this one is actually entertaining. Kolby the tour guide is great. Worth going if in Nashville.

Maker’s Mark
Tour 4/5
Gift Shop 4/5
If you are going all there way here, you should do the tour… gift shop gets a four instead of a three because you get to actually dip your own bottle… pretty cool experience.  If Maker’s is just ok to you, I’d pass, but if you love it, it’s a must go.

Buffalo Trace
Tour 5/5
Gift Shop 1.5/5
Go to Frankfort for the tour, but if you are hoping to find literally anything allocated, good luck because it ain’t happening. A colleague of mine thought he’d be able to find Pappy there and flip it back in NYC. I just laughed at him. He was disappointed when he came back and thought I was lying to him. Oh well.

Beam’s Choice Collector’s Edition XIV Decanter

I got a bunch of these decanters from a liquor store that was closing down and most of them I just left in my closet.  My wife thinks I’m nuts and it very unhappy with all the space they are taking up.  I thought I would pop this one open and see what it tasted like. I did some research and I believe this one was bottled in 1979.  Apparently the first one was released in 1966 and ended in 1986 and looks like they had 21 years and each year was a different volume, although it’s hard to tell exactly.

IMG_0147(1)

When I first opened it I was very pleasantly surprised.  Most of the decanters I have opened are sealed with corks and dried out and end up being bad–this one was a screw top.  I also think the bottle is glass, which made me happy that I didn’t have to test for lead.

On the bottle, the label says it is 80 proof and 8 years old.  The color is a dark copper color that makes me believe this is significantly older than the 8 years, but it could easily be a blend of 8-14 year bourbons, and have to list the youngest one.

The nose is wonderful of candied orange peel, butterscotch, dried cherries, toffee, molasses, and there is a nice dusty air as well letting you know this is not a new bourbon.

For an 80 proof bourbon, the taste is remarkable.  There is almost no heat, just a touch to let you know it is there.  The sweet notes cover the palate and the finish is much longer than I expected.  It’s very tasty, although for the low proof, you aren’t getting the tannins and oils as I love to get in a higher proof, non-chill filtered bourbon.  But for the proof level, it’s much better than expected.

This is a shocking surprise to me.  I thought this would be garbage and I would have an excuse to toss out a bunch of bottles to make room in the closet for my wife to be happy.  Instead she is going to have to deal with them staying, and me drinking through these over the next few years.  These are delicious!!  If you see this Stagg in the wild, it isn’t a George T. Stagg, but nonetheless, don’t be afraid to pick them up, open and drink them.  91/100.

Barrell Whiskey 18yr finished in Sauternes Barrel

Sauternes…. mmmm… sweet Sauternes.  But I digress.  Today is the AH01 barrel pick from Barrell Craft Spirits, from their 18yr Kentucky whiskey line, this one finished in a Sauternes barrel.  It comes in at 123.94 proof.

IMG_9647

Entenmann’s original donut, honeysuckle, liquid caramel, Peanut M&M’s and fresh honey wheat bagels.  Very light heat from the nose.

Rich and chewy mouthfeel with big spices that I didn’t see on the nose.  Much bigger on the palate than the nose indicated.  Decent heat with an enjoyable hug and a finish that goes on for about two minutes and never goes bitter.

This is another really great barrel finished whiskey from Barrell.  95/100.

IMG_9646

https://www.barrellbourbon.com/privatereleasewhiskey

Joe’s Playlist Track #1 Hungarian Fair: Tokaji Finished 18yr Whiskey

The review series continues and today is Barrell Whiskey Private Release, Joe’s Playlist Track #1 Hungarian Fair: 18yr Kentucky whiskey finished in a Tokaji Barrel.  This is another very cool finish that I’ve never had before.  I’m a huge fan of Tokaji, the original great dessert wine (even before Sauternes was popular).

IMG_9642

Again, beautiful bottle with the light blue lettering on top of the dark blue background.  I bought this one from Mash & Grape after seeing the playlist being promoted on Instagram.  By the time this is published I’m sure it will have been sold out unfortunately.

The nose is inviting with sweet notes of ripe apricots, butterscotch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch with mild hints of heat.  There are secondary notes of licorice, brioche and flaxseed flour.

Enjoyable mouthfeel focused on the back of the mouth to start then slowly works it was forward, a very interesting progression.  You get the nutty notes first, then fruit and sweetness second.  The second taste is better than the first.  The finish is longer than a minute.  What’s also interesting is the first day you open it, it’s a good pour, but after a week it evolves into a very good pour.

This is a really enjoyable pour and the barrel finish is very cool.  100% worth trying and adding to your collection.  95/100.

Joe’s Playlist #2: https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2020/06/29/barrell-craft-spirits-joes-playlist-2-genesis-mg01/

Ratafia de Champagne Finish 18yr Barrell Whiskey: https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2020/06/30/barrell-whiskey-private-release-ratafia-de-champagne-finish/

https://www.barrellbourbon.com/privatereleasewhiskey

Barrell Whiskey Private Release: Ratafia de Champagne Finish

A continuing part of my Barrell Craft Spirits special release series of reviews, today is the Barrell Whiskey Private Release Kentucky Whiskey Finished in a Ratafia de Champagne Barrel.  This bottle is based on an 18yr old Kentucky whiskey (Bourbon mashbill but aged in used cooperage), and they finished it in something, I’ll be honest, that I did not know it existed. I have to google what Ratafia de Champagne was: a sweet liqueur based on Champagne grapes.  Sounds delicious!

IMG_9639

AH09 Blend clocks in at 122.42 proof, no aged stated, but we know it is predominantly a 18yr Kentucky Whiskey.  Beautiful bottle with smart blue label.

The nose is sweet with almond butter, Twizzlers, crushed graham crackers, dried cherries, Butterfinger.  There is heat on the nose, but only when you go deep in the glass.

Medium mouthfeel with overwhelming tastes of nuts: almonds, toasted chestnuts and peanut butter than morphs into dried fruit and red delicious apple skins.  The finish is about 90 seconds.

This is a really enjoyable whiskey and with a unique finish.  I bought two extra ones, one for my bunker and one for the cabinet as I do not think the open one will be lasting too long.  96/100.

I bought mine here, they may have a few left: https://www.mashandgrape.com/collections/barrell-craft-spirits?utm_source=barrellbourbon&utm_medium=barcart

IMG_9640

https://www.barrellbourbon.com/privatereleasewhiskey

Barrell Craft Spirits: Joe’s Playlist #2 Genesis MG01

Barrell Craft Spirits has recently put out several very limited, very special releases.  Many of them are based on a 18yr Kentucky Whiskey, some single barrels, some barrel finishes.  In addition they released a tiny production via social media called “Joe’s Playlist.”  If you weren’t following them on Instagram, you might have missed it.  I think there might be a couple bottles left on Mash & Grape (link).  Today I will be reviewing the Joe’s Playlist #2: Genesis.

Even though I usually don’t give the review until the end,  I will say that I liked this one so much that I reached out to Barrell Bourbon directly to ask them more about this specific barrel.  It was unique and so good, and only 4yrs old, so I needed to understand how it was possible for it to be this delicious.  Joe said “these are amazing barrels that I bought three years ago.  They have been aged in Indiana, New York, Tennessee and Kentucky.  they are among my favorites and are a part of our company history.”  Four years old, aged in four states, maybe all the moving around helped expedite the aging?  I don’t know… on to the review:

Nice amber color, in the beautiful iconic Barrell bottle, their rye label is green and has the Playlist label on top “Genesis Track #2”.  Barrel number MG01 (clearly a reference to MGP), age stated 4yrs, 119.56 proof, straight rye whiskey and distilled in Indiana.

Cinnamon stick, rock candy and eucalyptus on the nose, very strong aroma but very little heat. Never would have guessed the age based on nose.  Secondary notes of dried orange peel, nutmeg and spearmint.

Epic mouthfeel, totally coats everything and the rock candy, spearmint and spices come through strong. There is a decent hug, more than the nose indicates but very enjoyable. The finish goes on for multiple minutes. The spice lingers for so long and not once does it fade to bitter. What gets me is how thick the mouthfeel is and how enjoyable. This is special.

The only downside to this is that it’s a single barrel and will never be duplicated. It’s an insanely good pour and rivals the best Thomas H Handy I’ve had and certainly beats last year’s.  I was told that this is the barrel that inspired Joe’s Playlist and I know why. If there is a MG02 of MG03 I know that I will be in line to get it!  I bought this bottle myself and I’m glad I bought two of them! 98/100

IMG_9638

“No I can’t get you Pappy at MSRP” or another way to show you the top 5 bottles under $100 for 2019

I’m sure every avid Bourbon hunter/collector/drinker gets the same questions I do: “hey man, can you get me the hookup on some Pappy?”  Of course I can, $450 for a Pappy 10yr… “whattttt?”…. I don’t get it at MSRP, I don’t own a store, but I know people who will sell it for secondary (which seems to be 400-500 depending on where you are, if you can get it for less, great, but don’t pay more)… But then people think they can get it for MSRP, good luck with that unless you have a serious hookup, that I certainly don’t have either… After calling a bunch of stores and asking other people, the realization settles in, they ask, well, what can I get for under $100 that is really good too? Every year my list changes, but this year I am recommending these bottles to get, either as value drinks for yourself, or to recommend to your friends for drinkers… I know there will be a lot of disagreement, and I would love to hear your recommendations:

  • Mellow Corn (~$12)… great for cocktails
  • Buffalo Trace (~$25)… hard to beat for the price
  • Elijah Craig Small Batch Single Barrels  (~$35)… great single barrel value
  • Russel’s Reserve 10yr Single Barrels (~$45)… all around solid choice
  • Barrell Craft Spirits Dovetail (~$75)… great sipper, cask strength, finished whiskey

Honorable Mention: ECBP, OWA 107, ETL, Blantons…. but they have been harder to find these days and often trade above $100 in secondary…

What do you think I should have on this list?  Comments welcome!

Full 2019 Pappy Lineup Reviews…

I recently shared a tasting with a friend and client…. here are my notes. He’s not the same experience of taster that I am but on average he agreed with my conclusions. If anything he had a lower score for the rye and higher score for the older Pappy’s. The reviews are in order of my tasting… enjoy!

image0(2)

The 13yr rye has an epic nose, better than both BTAC. The spice of Handy with the complexity of Saz…. and I haven’t even tasted it yet. It a touch hot but not bad on the palate, but the mouthfeel is a little lacking. The flavors are good but it just falls off a little too soon. The nose was epic but the follow through just missed it for me. Still wonderful, but not worth the price. 94/100 (When I went back to this after the Pappy 15, the nose was still great but the mouthfeel was even thinner than before)

Pappy 15, always a crowd favorite…. creme bruele, toasted corn bread and cinnamon toast crunch on the nose with hints of dusty wooden age surrounding it, so you know it’s older. Really nice mouthfeel, good tannins and oil coating the entire mouth with butterscotch, toffee and graham cracker flavors oozing into spaces between my teeth. This knocks it out of the park. The finish goes on for 3 minutes or more. I wish this was affordable. 98/100.  I’m a buyer of this one… send me a DM please…

Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr…. another favorite, usually the best value of the bunch…. to be fair I had this after the 15yr which probably wasn’t fair…. nose is great, much fresher than the 15yr but not young in the bad way… getting tons of orange peel, chocolate covered orange peel, dried orange peel with cloves stuck in them… oh and a little bit of butterscotch and buttered, toasted brioche. Mouthfeel is awesome, might even edge out the 15yr… flavors lovely too. So… how does it stack up? The nose is very good but not insane. The mouthfeel with the heat component might be the most perfect balance I’ve ever experienced. The finish is long and good but the flavors from the Pappy 15 are more complex and enjoyable. This is my favorite Rip 10yr in a while though… 97/100.  I’ll be trying to hunt for this one…

Lot B… 12yr… generally people’s least favorite one… the nose always is older then the statement and this one is one different… forest mushroomy floor, No 2 pencil shavings, ginger snaps, dried cherries and Rollos. Mouthfeel is not bad but not great…. a little thin and falls off quickly. I guess they get points for consistency? Still enjoyable but this one you should trade for a 10yr if you can sucker someone into that trade… 87/100

Pappy 20….. interestingly light and floral on the nose, lightly toasted wheat toast with Nutella lightly spread across. Mouthfeel is a little lacking and the flavors go a touch bitter on the finish. It’s still enjoyable and complex but doesn’t compare to the 10, 13 or 15… 90/100

Pappy 23….. oldest for last but is it best? You can tell from the nose it is the oldest. Definitely wood forward but lots of tertiary notes of chocolate, leather, candy and almonds. Almost no heat at all and the mouthfeel is pretty good. Not a lot of oil but a good amount of enjoyable tannins. Finish is less sweet but not bitter, I’d consider it savory. It’s good. No, it’s very good. It’s the oldest, but it’s not the best. Trade this one for 2x 15yrs. 94/100.

image2(8)