“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!

Barrell Bourbon Batch 022 + Beast Masters Club Event

Last night I went to the BeastMaster’s Club holiday event where they poured all their single barrels from the year (well I started this write-up a few months ago… but actually this was almost two months since the event).  As a special surprise, Will Schragis and his sales team from Barrell Bourbon, was pouring 12 different bottles of Barrell Craft Spirits products, including a super small Irish Whisky release, very cool!  I really enjoyed trying each of the Beast Masters Club single barrels, especially the Smoke Wagon MPG juice.  But the clear winner of the night wasn’t even close… it happened to be the one I liked the most that evening, but it was also the one that got drained halfway through the night.  You usually know when something is good when it’s almost empty, when other bottles around it are 1/2 to 3/4 full…  I ended up buying a bottle this morning so I could write up a review…

IMG_7289

Barrell Bourbon Batch 022 is a blend of Kentucky and Indiana straight Bourbon whiskey, coming in at 116.6 proof and is age stated at five years.  Don’t let the 5yr fool you though, I have it on good authority that although the youngest Bourbon is 5yrs, the majority of the juice is in the ten to twelve year area… few producers would risk mixing a 11yr or 12yr Bourbon with a 5yr because if you put “12yr Indiana from a undisclosed distillery located in Lawrenceburg” you are guaranteed to sell it for at least $100… what kind of person would take that and add younger juice in it?  The only person who would do that is someone who knows it will be better and cares more about the final product than making a quick buck… well, lets go to the tasting and see if that holds up.

The color alone tells you there is no way this is just 5yrs, my guess is the average is like 8-9, with that dark golden amber… The nose is insane, rock candy, candy corn from Halloween, freshly baked corn bread out of a cast iron pan, marzipan, butterscotch syrup and Teddy Grahams.  So little heat on the nose.  Dive right in.

Perfectly balanced on the way in, really good mouthfeel… good oils, if there was one thing I’d like more of is I’d like a little more oilyness on it… The Kentucky hug shows up and builds on the candy nose.  This is such a crowd-pleaser up front, but then the complexity and finish on the back end lets you know this is a contender for a Whiskey of the year.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a huge fan of Barrell Bourbon.  Very few people put out both epic single barrels, but also amazing blends.  It’s a skill that few producers have both of, and they nail it.  This might be my favorite batch since Batch 011.  As soon as I tried this again I put my order in for another case to bunker.  This one is going to be a huge winner.  And for those people out there who like Barrell but aren’t fans of Dickel, well, this is only IN/KY, be sure to grab a case or two… 97/100.

Post Script: I know Batch 021 won San Francisco best Bourbon of the year, but I prefer batch 022… super underrated!  If you can’t find 21, grab a few 22s!

What happened to Bottle-Spot? The Bourbon Secondary Market will continue…

It’s been since, I believe, Tuesday, January 7th 2020 that bottle-spot.com has been unable to load up.  It says it’s been doing maintenance since then, but given all the Facebook groups that have been shut down (BSM being the most famous last year during the Van Winkle’s bold statements on stage with Fred Minnick) or more recently Corn Appreciation (although there was so much threadsh*tting going on being allowed by the moderators that I’m not surprised by that at all).  There are a few left on Facebook, but for their own sake I am not going to publicly mention them.  I’ve sent Joel a couple DMs and an email and he hasn’t gotten back to me…  I just hope that bottle-spot.com is ok, comes back stronger than ever and continues to fight the good fight.

EE196BF7-99DB-4D46-9DAD-A8688D361259

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Cornerstone Rye

This review is about six months late… sorry… and this isn’t even my first bottle I opened.  I love this rye, contends with Thomas H Handy for my favorite rye of the year because of the price point… I posted a range of scores from a sample I had in August, but now that I’m done with the bottle, I’m giving the full one.

IMG_8054

Great bottle, heavy cap… just looks great. Beautiful nose, love of sugar and spice coming through, Necco wafer, cinnamon stick, Chex mix, melted butter and almost no heat.

Really nice oily mouthfeel with enjoyable tannins up front with a flowing and spicy finish.  Just a really nice pour here.

This might be my favorite Master’s Keep release, even if it’s $175.  Worth grabbing a few.  95/100.

Wiser’s 23yr Cask Strength: Thank you Mark Bylok

I haven’t been able to try the actual Wiser’s 23yr cask strength yet, but my good friend Mark Bylok shared a sample he got from the distillery. Thank you Mark for the sample!

Really nice nose, maple syrup, vanilla, dried orange zest, cherry Jolly Rancher, Twizzlers, mini marshmallows and Lauderee’s Salted Butter.

Big mouthfeel, freaking great tickling of the tongue. Big heat, but not in a terrible way, big heat. This sample is 142.2 proof so it should have heat. There is great spice and peppery notes on the palate in addition to the second wave of easy maple, vanilla, caramel and candy flavors. The finish is about 90 seconds, and never goes bitter. Really enjoyable.

I’m excited to try the actual Wiser’s 23yr cask strength, even if it’s been watered down from the 71.1%. Do not believe them when they say it’s uncut… that’s ok, there is no legal definition of barrel proof or cask strength, even though people assume it means uncut. Maybe they think it tastes better at low 60’s percent. They may be right. If they can knock down the first smack of heat but maintain the mouthfeel and not reduce the finish, it will be a success.  Ideally the finish would be longer but the flavor and texture is just awesome. I’m a big fan of Wiser’s 35 and once I get a bottle of W23, I will do a proper side by side. This sample, I’m rating a 94/100. Thanks again Mark!

Mark’s Review, which is almost almost more thought out, better edited and contains far more information and research than any of my pieces:

For the Love of the Hunt… and for all the people out there that have pissed off their spouses for liquor store detours.

My wife thinks I’m nuts. Why do I find incredible enjoyment walking into random liquor stores when I’m on vacation or places I’ve never been before. Is it a disorder? I just have this incredible invisible force compelling me into these stores. I can’t help it. Most of the time I walk in, look around, and walk out… but then there are times when I’m there for an hour.

Hunting in 2019 (and going forward) makes me appreciate commercial fisherman on the East Coast even more… it’s over hunted, you have to go twice as far to get half the load, and every once in a while you get scolded so badly by your spouse for ignoring your children (or dragging them in with you) that you almost want to quit. But then this happens:

Here’s the story. I’m in upstate New York visiting a cidery and I forgot I had to mail a letter. I pull over to the post office and across the street appears to be a closed down liquor store. I walk over and they have a doorbell, it says “push hard.” I do. Twice. A minute later a little old lady walks out the next door and comes over, introduces herself, unlocks the door and lets me in. It’s mostly very low end stuff, but above the shelf, about 7 feet above the floor, I spot a dusty Rebel Yell. I reach for it and she says it’s not for sale because no one would want anything up there because it’s all been there since they bought the store in the mid 1970’s. Jackpot. I say I’d really like to buy it and she says, ok, but it’s probably gone bad (Turns out the Rebel Yell was a 1983, I found that out from some trolls on Facebook, but that’s a story for another time). I climb on a box and behind the Rebel Yell is an Old Fitzgerald 1976 decanter. Two Stizel-Weller bottles?? There were a few other lesser decanters and I paid cash and went on my way. I gave them more than they were asking for them because I felt bad they didn’t know what they had. But these things were sitting in plain sight for 45 years. Reminds me of Godfather III: “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

IMG_7792

I’ve never seen Stitzel-Weller bottles on a dusty random shelf before… only in glass cases for thousands of dollars. I don’t ever expect to again… but I know they must still exist.

I did another hunt a month ago and the take is below… I didn’t buy anything at MSRP, but most was below secondary. I’m going to sell some, trade some, and drink most. I didn’t get everything I wanted this Bourbon season, but hopefully with the multiples I got, I’ll be able to trade my way into my deepest desires. That’s the only way to do it these days and as far as I am concerned there is no stigma to it. Anyone who thinks there is, probably isn’t going for the stuff I am going for anyway.

IMG_7643

The closest I got to MSRP this year was $200 for a Stagg from my local guy I do a lot of business with. Patronizing your local guy, making friends and staying on them is still your best way to get the best price on the allocated stuff. But for those who need more, the hunt is still alive and well and there is just enough out there to stock the bunker, and keep the dream alive for next year!

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)

Jameson 18 Review

Not much of an Irish Whiskey fan… I’ll do the Redbreast 12 on St Patty’s Day, but the rest of the year I tend to avoid. Did too many car bombs in college…. and Jameson had a very different meaning to me and it certainly wasn’t associated with quality.

But going in with a fresh outlook and not dropping into a beer, Jameson 18 here we go… great solid box. Beautiful bottle with a cork stopper… solid glass bottom, this is high end packaging. Light amber, clearly used barrels.

The nose is candy, baking spices, especially vanilla, but more vanilla extract, some graham cracker, toffee ice cream and cracked almonds in the background. At 80 proof there isn’t a hint of heat on the nose.

It’s goes down extremely smoothly but actually has some tannins and the finish is pretty good for an 80 Proof Whiskey. The finish builds to more and more sweetness and the toffee ice cream comes through with the almond finish at the sixty second point.

This is a good whiskey. But it’s only 80 proof and around $150. I wish they bottled this at 107 proof or higher; if they did it could have had a very serious score. Definitely order at a bar, and if you see a good price, feel free to add to your collection, but not a must buy. 91/100.

(Turns out, they do have a cask strength version, it’s called Bow Street, and I will do a tasting of that later…)

Kentucky Owl Confiscated? How about the $100 that I feel was confiscated from me? Strong Pass.

Often times when I don’t like something I do not feel like writing a large preamble… so… Initial impressions are muted nose. It’s a classic Kentucky Bourbon but not exciting at all.  Would say a solid $25 Bourbon. Not $100+. Going to try it again after it opens up for more notes.IMG_5574

Ok… so I rarely do this, but now the bottle has been opened for about three months and I’m trying it again… I really didn’t want to slash this with just a fresh crack impression… the nose is now less muted, but it’s not good. Very medicinal, Band-Aid, pine needles, hints of caramel way (way way way) in the background. The mouthfeel is ok, the heat is bigger than expected, and the flavor is average. The heat actually grows instead of mellowing, which is a downside, and the flavor falls off to a bitter note pretty quickly. The highlight is the mouthfeel which extends longer than normal.

My initial impressions were pretty accurate, but after three months there are some more flavors coming through, but not necessarily good ones… if this was $20, fine, but it still wouldn’t beat the normal BT. But at $100 and higher? Strong pass. 75/100.

Baker’s 13yr limited edition sample review

I swapped samples with a friend of mine, sent him a Remus Volstead 14yr, I got the Bakers 13yr. Here it goes….

Enjoyable nose, crumbled graham cracker pie crust, toasted almonds, peanut butter, cinnamon sticks and Chex Mix.

Enjoyable  taste and easily drinkable.  Average mouthfeel, not overly complex. Finish is good and goes on for over a minute.

This Bourbon is very enjoyable, a crowd pleaser, but not one I’m going to be chasing. 92/100.