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!

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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!

I love Parker’s Heritage Collection. I don’t like this release though…

Parker’s Heritage Collection 12th Edition Barrel Finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Orange Curacao Barrels.  55% alcohol, 110 proof.

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I love Parker’s Heritage Collection… I love that part of it goes to charity, and I love how it’s always different each year.  Last year’s 11yr single barrel was one of my favorite of the year.  The 24yr was another favorite of mine. I wasn’t a fan of the 8yr malt, but I’m not really a malt guy.  I was looking forward to this one as well.

The bottle always looks great, and the copper color is so inviting.

When I first opened the bottle I got smacked in the face with Orange Curacao… that was the only note.  I had to wait a while for it to drift off, but it never really did.  In the background I got notes of licorice, peach pie, and other deeper flavors of orange: candied orange peel, baked orange peel, dried orange peel… you get the idea.

The mouthfeel is initially decent with oils and tannins adding complexity, but the orange flavor takes over and although the finish is decently long, it is mildly bitter and orangey.

This is not my favorite and I don’t think I will be buying any more bottles for the bunker on this one.  I did wait a while to write this review hoping that the Bourbon would evolve after exposure to air, but after a week or two it hasn’t… in fact I think it got worse.  It’s possible that after a few months it will, and if it does, I will write an update to this post.  Although this MSRPs for under $100, I paid $170 on secondary for it.  When it first came out people were asking $250 or more, seemed like $200 was the trade point for a while, and now it’s under $200 and heading lower.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes for $125 by Thanksgiving.  If you really like orange flavor, maybe try 4 parts ECBP and 1 part Orange Curacao… I may try that later tonight…  78/100

PS… I recommend buying a sample before opening your bottle if you have the opportunity… check out bottle-spot.com to see if anyone is listing them.

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.

Jack Rose Part 2: Old Heaven Hill Wheater & Old Bernheim

Kentucky Crest 10yr 1950s bottling by Bernheim 103 proof
Golden color, with charcoal bits; I love charcoal bits. Classic bourbon nose, with some dried apricot fruit as well.  A touch hotter than expected but really nice. Mouthfeel is average and finish is moderate. Really nice but not one you need to mortgage the house for.  As the night went on, the aroma got better and better with vanilla and baking spices really coming through. 92/100

Old Fitzgerald 1849 Heaven Hill 1990s juice
Dull straw yellow coloring. Classic wheater nose, sweet and bready.  Easy down, no heat, enjoyable but not overly complex. Not sure what the hype is on these bottles. As the night continued the aroma stayed the same and did not improve.  88/100

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Pikesville Rye #2 of the Year?

Although I was flummoxed by the Jim Murray #1 whiskey of the year, I decided not to be deterred and go on to try the number two. Spoiler alert: I’m glad I did.

Just a little background… This is a Heaven Hill product, with a reported mash bill of 51% rye / 39% corn / 10% malted barley. It is 55% abv and is reported to be aged “at least 6 years.”  Online I’ve read that it has the same mash bill as Rittenhouse BIB, but with higher proof and more aging. I reviewed the Rittenhouse positively a few months ago and was appreciative of its good value.  There is a whole Maryland backstory, but the production has been moved to Kentucky like most brands.

Nice golden amber color in the glass, and a smart looking bottle with a cool cork design on top.

Another sweet candy rye, but instead of rock candy like the Crown Rye, this one has more texture and complexity on the nose. I’m also getting freshly toasted cornbread on cast iron with heaps of churned butter, cinnamon, all spice and cracked white pepper corns.

Unbelievably easy to drink and almost impossible to believe that it is 110 proof.  No water needed here. There is a very nice mouthfeel, good balance and the finish is very long bringing out the spiciness in the sides of the cheeks.

Jim Murray must have mixed up his top ten or something. The Pikesville shouldn’t be top three either, but it certainly is far more deserving than the Crown, even if it is double the cost (you used to get it for $50, but now it seems to go for $60).  The finish on the rye is really what separates it from its peers and earns it an extra point. 93/100

 

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