Top 5 Whiskies of 2017!!

This year has seen secondary prices continue to go up, and primary prices also increase.  I’m on so many Facebook groups about people complaining about this, but I wish people would just be realistic.  Sure, the special releases are getting a little out of hand, but the standard release products are also the best they have ever been.  Now, this list happens to celebrate the best of the best, but I will also pay homage to the under $100 list soon, for the perfect holiday stocking stuffer.

This is the first year that I do not have a rye on the list, but Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 001 was so close it deserves an honorable mention.  MSRP of $130, and secondary in the $175 range made it reachable for most people and it was a standout. I picked four Bourbons and one Rum for the list, and they are all so good, you could easily pick any one of them to be #1.  I did another blind taste test with all five spirits last night and decided based on that final test that I couldn’t put them in order, but each one was the best for a certain criteria (cop out?  probably… but it was just too difficult).

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Most Underrated by the Critics: E.H. Taylor Four Grain was one that I liked from the very beginning although was panned by the Bourbon community.  The MSRP of $80 is pretty irrelevant for this one, but the secondary started at $325 and fell all the way to $175 before Jim Murray dubbed it the number one bourbon of the year and secondary now is $350-$400.

Best Lower Proof Bourbon: Four Rose Al Young 50th Anniversary was dubbed early on at the odds on favorite to win number one of the year, yet no large publications awarded it the honor.  Again, MSRP of $150 was pretty irrelevant, but if you could get it there you were lucky.  Secondary was pretty stable at $350 all year for this one.

Best Higher Proof Bourbon: George T. Stagg 2016 was a scorcher at 144.1 proof, yet in the right glassware was epic.  Again MSRP of $90 for BTAC is irrelevant, and secondary for this one ranged between $375-$525.  (For those who complain that I should be talking about the 2017 GTS, it also would have make this list)

Best Value: Barrell Bourbon Batch 011.  By far the least expensive of the list with an MSRP of $89.99, but after winning the number one Bourbon of the year from San Fransisco Wine & Spirits, the secondary basically doubled and you are now lucky if you can find it for $150-$175.

Best Non-Bourbon: FourSquare 2006 Single Blended Rum Double Maturation was one that you could only get at auction and prices were between GBP 150-300 depending on whether you bought it before or after Fred Minnick’s book came out.  This was one of the perfect rum’s that Fred rated in his book, and once you taste it, you will understand.

Agree? Disagree?  Continue the discussion on Twitter @newbourbondrink or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/newbourbondrinker/  Cheers to 2017 and a great 2018 to come!

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2017 BTAC Reviews

Here is my take on the 2017 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection:

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Eagle Rare 17
Great nose, flowers, mushrooms, ripe peaches, graham crackers. Much fresher than ER17 in the past, much better than last year. Goes down really easily with some nice warmth in the chest. Good flavors in the center of the tongue. The mouthfeel always lacks on this one due to the chill filtering though. Finish is a solid two minutes. Very nice Bourbon. 94/100

Sazerac 18
Typically my favorite of the bunch, the nose is Necco wafers, rock candy, all spice, cinnamon and creme brûlée. Almost no heat on nose.  Nice little grip on the tongue with enjoyable heat follow through. It has very nice flavors but a touch of bitterness on the back of the tongue but not enough to detract from the enjoyment. Finish is very long. I’ve had better Saz in years past but it’s still exceptionally enjoyable. 96/100

Thomas H Handy 127.2
Big nose. Tons of flavor and heat. Kit-Kat, butterscotch, rock candy, melon balls, Fruit Loops and French Toast. Huge mouthfeel, coats the whole tongue. Very complete and full across the board. Long finish and enjoyable. It’s not as sweet as the 2016 or 2014 and lacking some of the charm but it’s still extremely good. Closer to the 2015 in character. 94/100

William Larue Weller 128.2
Sweet nose, fresh cinnamon toast, buttered raisin bagel, stewed plums and crushed graham crackers. Hotter than the rest so far, but not too hot. The mouthfeel is good but not as complete as I hoped and the back end gets bitter quicker than expected. Good finish. Still, it’s lovely and enjoyable—the bar versus previous years is just very high. 94/100

George T Stagg 129.2
By the nose alone, it’s the most enjoyable of the five: tons of butterscotch, deep rich brioche, Twix, vanilla and Life cereal. So much going on in the nose and not at all too hot. The mouthfeel is perfect: just the right amount of tannins, completely coating every part of the tongue including the roof of the mouth and hitting every taste bud with flavor. This is so complete and balanced it’s crazy.  Each of the previous four was missing something, but the 2017 Stagg has it all. If there was a complaint to be had I’d say it’s that the finish it’s as long as I’d like, but now we are just being nit picky. 98/100

Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1

Although I wasn’t able to get a bottle at retail, I did snag one from http://www.bottle-spot.com and it is trading for around $200 right now, which is not bad, if it turns out to be a high quality rye.  It’s 110.6 proof, lower than both the Handy and Pikesville, but at 11 years in the barrel, it’s almost double their age.  Distilled in Kentucky, I have no idea where this is originally from… this is my first Kentucky Owl product ever as the Bourbon has been too small of a production and too high of a secondary price.  I did try a dram at Jack Rose and loved it, however, I was about 10 drams into the evening, so who really knows?

On to the review… nice dark color, very inviting.  The nose has evolved quite a bit since I opened it this weekend.  I’m getting candied orange, rock candy, nutmeg, bubble gum, graham crackers and grapefruit rind.  The nose isn’t nearly as hot as the proof would suggest.

The mouthfeel is great, really grippy and bursting with flavor.  I’m really getting the orange and rock candy and spicy notes on the tongue.  The finish goes on for at least two minutes, hard to tell exactly because I keep drinking more before I get to three minutes.

This is a really nice rye.  It is expensive though.  I did a quick side by side analysis vs Thomas Handy, and although good, not quite at THH level.  Is it better than the Pikesville?  Well, it’s different, but it is also 3x more expensive–that hurts it a little bit.  The bottom line is this is a wonderful rye and if you like rye, you should absolutely try to get it and if your budget allows, you should pay up for it in the secondary market.  Pikesville will still be my go-to rye given the cost and availability, but if you are able to grab one of these, you will not be disappointed to add it to your whiskey cabinet.  95/100.

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For the New Bourbon Drinker, Top 5 Whiskies to Try

Bourbonmania has hit new highs. Some people say it’s a bubble. I’m not quite ready to say that because I believe Bourbon was ignored for far too long and only now are the masses actually recognizing appreciating it. We have years before this bubble bursts and the quality and quantity will keep getting better and better for the foreseeable future.

Everyone newbie wants to get the newest BTAC, FRSBLE, or OFBB released. To be honest, it’s not just the newbies who want them–it’s all of us. But the difference between the newbies and the old timers to this hobby, is that the older group has already tried it all and realizes that some things are worth the hunt (or paying up on secondary) and some things aren’t;  what is or what isn’t is purely based on your personal preference, not a review or a bloggers piece. Personally I love the Cask strength bourbons and the high proof ryes. Pappy, OFBB, Michter’s wax capsule releases and ER17 are great, but if I come across them at retail I’ll trade them for GTS, THH or FRSBLE any day.

Today I’m putting out my top five whiskies for the “new bourbon drinker”…. These are the ones that I’m happy to drink any day of the week and are readily available.  You won’t find the unicorns on this list, but these are the whiskies that if you want to start the hobby, go for these.

#1 Buffalo Trace: yes the one that costs $20 in your retail store. This may be one of the most overlooked and undervalued whiskies in the world. Yes it’s lower proof than I like but it has the flavor, the mouthfeel, and for goodness sakes, it’s $19!!! It’s the same mashbill as some of their releases that secondary for hundreds of dollars. This is the Bourbon I serve people to see if they like Bourbon or not. It’s just that simple. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/buffalo-trace-yes-the-standard-one-with-the-buffalo-one-yes-its-very-very-good/)

#2 Pikesville Rye: thank Heaven for Heaven Hill and their high proof 6yr rye. Spicy and amazing in every way and best of all you can usually find it for between $50-$60. When I don’t feel like I deserve a pour of Handy (which is my favorite, but too expensive to make this list), Pikesville comes in a close second. Just an amazing product. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/pikesville-rye-2-of-the-year/)

#3 Just when you though I was going to go all cheap on you and only mass produced products, I’m going to throw you for a loop. Barrell Bourbon, any batch, is #3 for all new bourbon drinkers. Unlike most limited release, Cask strength, Bourbon releases, this one can usually be found and retailers aren’t jacking up the prices on it. Retails for between $70-$90 for a regular batch and $10 more for a single barrel release, Barrel is worth every penny. As a sourced whiskey, Barrell finds the best of the best and bottles it at cask strength to provide the consumer with the purest Bourbon you can get. I’ve never been disappointed, and more often blown away by what they come out with on a regular basis. I’ve never missed a release, and some of them I’ve stockpiled because I know once they are gone they are gone for good. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/newest-barrell-bourbon-batch-is-a-home-run-011/)

#4 Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style. Although I wasn’t a huge fan when I first opened it, after sitting for a month or two it really mellows out but keeps the nice spice and strong mouthfeel. By far the best of the series, this one is still pretty readily available at around $60.  Although my review makes it sound just ok, I would revise it up a point or two after airing it out for several months.  (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/old-forester-1920-very-good-not-great/)

#5 Blanton’s. The Original Single barrel Bourbon. This is most people’s gateway to great Bourbon, and I was no different. Still pretty readily available and looks great on the shelf. I’ve never been disappointed by any Blanton’s I’ve ever had. If you are overseas and can get the Straight From the Barrel, it’s even better and totally worth snagging. (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/4-bottle-blantons-tasting/)

I really wanted to put OGD114 on this list, but you can never find it. I also wanted to put Mellow Corn on it, but again, almost every store is sold out of it. Part of the criteria for making the list was being readily available and not trading for silly prices on the secondary, which is why ETL, which is amazing, obviously got cut.

Anyway… I hope people like the list and learn from it. Happy to answer any questions on DM on twitter or on the comment section of the blog. Happy drinking!

P.S. Yes this is my top shelf, and you won’t find most of these on this list, but if anyone wants to come by I’m happy to pour any of them for my readers!

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http://www.barrellbourbon.com

http://www.buffalotrace.com

https://www.blantonsbourbon.com/

https://www.oldforester.com/

http://www.pikesvillerye.com/

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye: Worth the Hype?

The VWFRR is one of those very rare releases that trades at crazy prices on the secondary market and is arguably the hardest to find of the Pappy line. It is the only Rye and it is 13 years old.

Very spicy nose, lots of cracked pepper, strong oak notes, crushed smoked pecans, Twix, s’mores on cinnamon graham crackers and cedar closet. Moderate heat for a 95.6 proof whiskey.

Initially an enjoyable mouthfeel but then comes in with a big punch of oak. Heat is a little higher than expected the first time around but still very enjoyable. The finish is moderate long as it fades away into mostly wood flavors. The palate is dominated by the oak flavors instead of the more complex spicy ones.

VWFRR is a very good whiskey but isn’t one you need to camp out to try. It’s a little too oaky for my taste. Just to make sure my palate wasn’t completely nuts I thought it prudent to pour some of my favorite rye, the 2014 THH. Everything about the Thomas Handy is better: more spice coming through on the palate. The Handy is hotter, but it’s half the age and 35% more alcohol so that’s not surprising. But the finish is more enjoyable and longer. For 1/3 the secondary price, albeit still expensive, THH kicks VWFRR’s butt. I still really enjoy it, but for the price there are just so many better options. VWFRR 93/100.

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BTAC Thomas H Handy 2016

Unlike a lot of bloggers out there, I have yet risen to the level of free BTAC samples; I have to fight and scrape and use the secondary market like the rest of people to get my BTAC. I bought this one on bottle-spot.com (like most of you) for around $300.

The 2016 edition clocks in at 126.2 proof, NAS as always, and forever beautiful in the iconic BTAC bottle. Nice amber color.

Candy corn, rock candy, white pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Not very hot considering the age and proof, but that’s why it’s THH. Smells amazing.

And the taste… Wow. The spices and sweetness come through immediately while firming up a nice grip on the tongue. There is an extremely enjoyable warmness that permeates through your mouth and upper chest creating an absolutely incredible finish. Even after two minutes the flavors are still evolving and improving. This review is without a drop of water; I don’t think it needs it and I won’t even do it because it is just that good.

I’m pretty much obsessed with Handy. The 2014 was one of my favorites of all time and this one is pretty darn close. If you can find one at a reasonable (and I’ll let your budget determine that) price, don’t be afraid to pick it up. And if Buffalo Trace is reading this and wants to add me to next year’s blogger sample list, I won’t say no (please add me to next year’s list–thank you so much). 97.5/100

 

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Unicorn Alert! Sazerac 18 Fall 2012 Vintage WOW!

Words fail to describe how good this whiskey is.  Sazerac 18, despite being bottled at 90 proof, is probably my favorite whiskey out there.  Thank you Buffalo Trace.  All hail BTAC.  I was incredibly lucky to find this being poured at a bar in London…

Pure candy nose, mushroom in the back. Spicy cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Superb nose.

Super smooth, easy down. So crisp and sharp with sweet and spicy notes.  Small but nice tannins. Long finish. This is epic.

Obviously a special bottle. Expectations met. 98/100.

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