It was a long day and I needed a drink. I headed to the Bobby Van’s in New York City just north of Grand Central (nearest to 46th and Park) and I scanned the bar for a dram of choice. You don’t often see Old Rip 10yr on the shelf, so I asked the bartender how much? $130 a pour (plus tax and tip). Are you serious? I realize there are a few Wall Street banks a 7 iron away, but those days are over. This is a complete joke. Shame on you Bobby Van’s!
Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 was one of my favorite whiskies of last year, and my second favorite rye, next to Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yr. Batch 1 came out strong and the secondary ran up quickly to 200-250 before people realized that tens of thousands of bottles were released and eventually MSRP came all the way down to $110 and it was easy to get everywhere. At the $110 price, it was a no brainer to buy 6 or more and become a daily drinker (I still have 3 left in my bunker). Batch 2 has come out with an MSRP of $180, which is what I paid for this one. I’ve seen secondary offers in the 200-250 range, but I expect this to drop to the MSRP level extremely quickly.
The bottle looks the same, but the top doesn’t have the fake tax stamp and has a slightly different enclosure. This one is slightly less proof as well, but from afar, they look the same.
The nose is good, candied orange peel, NECCO Wafers, honeysuckle, rose petals, brown sugar, ginger snaps and cherry pie. Not too hot.
The candied flavors come in strong on the palate and the mouthfeel is good, but a little thin, as it fails to coat all over as much as I wanted. The finish is medium long but does fade to bitter at the end, far sooner than I hoped.
Batch 2 is a decent, but given the sky high expectations, mildly disappointing follow up to Batch 1; the original is better. The nose and palate are similar with the strong candied orange peel, but the main difference is the mouthfeel, which is superior in the original. The heat is equal, even though this is lower proof. The price increase of more than 50% doesn’t help it either. Worth picking up a bottle, especially if you liked the first one, but certainly not one worthy of stocking up on given the price. 90/100
I’ve been accused recently of only posting bad reviews and negative stories in order to get more hits and blog reads. I’ll be honest, bad reviews absolutely get more hits than positive reviews, but that’s not why I’ve been posting so many bad ones recently; I’ve just been drinking too many bad things. Today that changes.
Appleton Joy Anniversary Edition Rare Jamaica Rum aged 25 years is blended by Joy Spence, bottled at 45% abv and bottled in a very cool bottle with a nice cork and wood top. It comes in a nice display case and, spoiler alert, tastes amazing. I paid $219.99 for it, and although it isn’t available at every corner liquor store, it is online and so far hasn’t been trading at crazy levels in the secondary market. To the reader who says $219.99 is already crazy expensive, I’d argue that for a perfectly blended 25yr (25yrs is the minimum, also has much older rum in here too), the price is incredibly reasonable. Compare to a (drinkable) Rye or Bourbon, and you’d be lucky to get it for 2-3x that price.
The color is dark amber with copper shininess. The nose is so complex: it has the distinct characteristics of a high quality rum, molasses, cinnamon stick, cloves, but also has cocoa, leather, caramel, cream cheese based frosting and a hint of espresso. The nose also has almost no heat at all, just incredibly inviting.
All the flavors on the nose come in so strongly on the palate and just keep evolving. The mouthfeel is enjoyable and the finish just goes on and on. This is one special rum, and the only one I’ve ever had that was better was the Foursquare 2006, which was cask strength.
This is such a special bottle that if you like aged rum, it’s a must have. It’s also readily available, even though it’s above $200. It’s a special sipper, and don’t let anyone mix this with anything. Grab your bottle while you still can. 97/100.
Other people have also written about it, take a look at their reviews:
Sometimes when I have a lot of free time I’ll just go for a long walk in New York City and stop at every liquor store along my walk. It’s good exercise, nice to be outside, and I like trying new neighborhoods that I’ve never been in (or haven’t visited in years since I move to the suburbs), so I try new stores. Last night I went for a long walk up through the Upper East Side and hit up a bunch of stores, and three stood out. The first two, well, just see the photos, you’ll understand. The third one, as I got closer to Harlem was surprisingly good and worth checking out. There were dozens of others that just didn’t have much but were not worthy of making the blog, either positively or negatively.
Big Apple Wine & Spirits: 1408 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10021…. Weller Reserve for $109, Thomas Handy for $699… come on guys. Plus the guy at the front was extremely obnoxious. Avoid this place.
Manhattan Wine Xchange 1079 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10065: Weller 12 for $299, Kentucky Owl Rye for $269, Handy 500, Stagg 850… Why bother?
Crown Wine & Liquor 1587 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028: This place was surprisingly good. I picked up a ECBP B517 for retail as well as a Hirsch 20yr American Whiskey (from IL, so it probably stinks, but I’ve never seen it before on the shelf) for $99.99. They had a Handy way in the back on the top of the shelf for $350, which is high, but for NYC, not obnoxiously high, so I passed on it. I did offer them $250 cash, but the manager wasn’t there so the guy at the front didn’t know what to do. They were fine, the selection was good, and the prices reasonable.
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).
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!
Barrell Craft Spirits remains one of my favorite brands and they continue to put out consistently excellent products at reasonable prices, with good availability and you don’t have to beg, borrow or steal to get them. To me, it’s the best secret left in Bourbon Hunting. I have put a bunch of previous batches away in my bunker because each one is unique and only released once. I was able to grab four new releases at once and thought instead of doing four reviews I’d do one mega review:
Barrell Bourbon New Year 2018: 55.6% ABV and a marriage of barrels from TN, KY, IN, TX and NY. It has an incredibly sweet nose. French toast, Necco wafers, Twizzlers, Butterfigers, yellow flowers, dried cherry pits and creme brule. Almost no heat on nose at all. Wow so easy going down and lots going on. More nuts on the palate than I was getting on the nose and really enjoyable heat in the chest. Solid mouthfeel with the needed oils and tannins following through with a good finish. Really nice special edition. This is the one I’ve had the hardest time finding but if you can get it for a reasonable price, buy two or three. 96/100.
Barrell Rye Batch 002: 5yrs old and 117.5 Proof. I’ve never had a rye distilled in Poland so this is pretty exciting. It is married with an Indiana (MGP?) one which I always enjoy. When I first opened it up the aroma was muted so I waited a few minutes to give it some air. After some time notes of honey suckle, cracked pepper, rock candy and biscotti came through. I decided to wait on this one and try again a week later because I could tell is was still tight–maybe from the plane from Poland? Easy on the way down with great salted caramel flavor I missed on the nose coupled with strong spiciness. When I initially opened this rye, it was tight and unforgiving; after a week it’s totally different and the finish goes on for several minutes completely enveloping the tongue. I’ve never had a rye like this before and I’m excited to drink it. I bet that this will continue to evolve in the bottle over the next month or two as I drink it down. 94/100.
Barrell Rum Tale of Two Islands: 8yrs old and bottled at 132.8 Proof. Jamaican pot Still, same source as Batch 001 finished is Islay Scotch casks. I really liked last year’s release: brown sugar, tropical fruits, coconut shavings, white flowers and molasses. This one is very similar to last year but much less heat on the nose. The extra year of aging in the Scotch casks really smoothed this one out even better without the peat taking over. The taste is great, sweet and tropical, and it is shocking how at this proof for a rum the heat is so mellow. The finish goes on for at least two minutes. Great rum and if you liked last year’s release you’ll love this one. I’m hearing it’s very limited release, so buy all that you can. 96/100.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 014: 54.7% ABV and from a blend of KY and TN specially selected barrels of at least 9yrs old. Medium dark amber color. Really nice nutty nose, Jif peanut butter, roasted walnuts, crushed almonds, buttered cinnamon bread and Honey Nut Cheerios. Almost no heat on the nose which is crazy for this Proof. Solid mouthfeel and good finish. The gentle warmth filters through the chest as the finish elongates. The palate gets hints of salted caramel and nuts on the way down. Another very good release from Barrell Bourbon, readily available and at a reasonable price. I’m buying one to drink now, one for next month and one for the bunker. 95/100.
I was lucky enough to buy a ticket and attend the Beast Masters Club dusty battle between the Josh’s:
Josh Feldman of http://www.cooperedtot.com/
Josh Richholt, co-founder of The Well. http://www.thewellbrooklyn.com/
Josh Feldman posted to his blog the selections he made, which I voted for in both rounds: http://www.cooperedtot.com/2017/10/updated-actual-selections-for.html
Josh R’s picks we both excellent, but to pull out a Pre-Prohibition era Rye and then the epic Beam was just outstanding… The crowd voted against me for the first round, going with the Bourbon De Luxe (a classic National Distillers 70’s piece), but went with me for the second round, voting the 1955 Beam glass decanter, which also ended up taking the night. The Wild Turkey 101 Decanter was pretty awesome too though! There were lots of side drinks and by the end I think we were all way past the tasting phase.
I didn’t take tasting notes on anything because I just wanted to enjoy the moment. But each was unique in their own way and wonderful. I am not sure I would spring to buy a bottle of any of them however, as the secondary prices have gone through the roof. The quality of juice these days, despite what many people say, is better and more consistent that it was in the past. But to be able to taste something like this, from 100 years ago, is something I couldn’t pass up!
Big thanks for Ben and Steve from Beast Masters Club for hosting such an awesome evening and I hope they do it again soon!