Top 5 Drams of the Year 2016

Another year gone by and I’ve read so many negative stories, yet, there were some pretty awesome bourbons released this year.  Overall the prices have gone up, but you can still find bargains and making friends with your local retailer has never been more important… onto the list!

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#1 2016’s Buffalo Trace Thomas H Handy 126.2 proof 97.5/100  secondary price: $300 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/btac-thomas-h-handy-2016/)  This was my favorite of the BTAC releases, with a close second being GTS, but THH is far easier to get your hands on and better price giving it the edge.  Handy may be the BTAC that is least respected, but time and time again it is my favorite release.

#2 2016 Release Four Roses Elliott’s Select OESK 52.9% abv 91/100 secondary price $225 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/four-roses-elliotts-select/)  There was a lot of worry when Jim Rutledge retired from Four Roses, but when Brent Elliott came out with this bottle immediately afterwards, all fears were assuaged.  In fact, this bottle was substantially better than the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition release, although not quite as good as last year’s winner, the 2015 FRSBLE.  I think we can all sleep soundly knowing that Four Roses is in good hands.

3# Barrell Bourbon New Years 2017 retail price $99.99 (for now!) (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/happy-new-year-barrell-bourbon-2017/)  Another top award for this up and comer.  This is their first true marriage release of 4 different barrels from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, and once again blows the competition away.  Grab a few while you still can as the first release of this bad boy probably will be worth a lot of money in the near future…. keep your eye

#4 Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbon #438 119.8 proof 96/100 $120 @ gift shop (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/willett-family-estate-single-barrel-bourbon-438-holy-moley/)  This was one of the bottles I was lucky enough to buy when I visited Willett in January of 2016.  This was a honey barrel if I’ve ever tasted one.  If you are ever able to get some of this, don’t hesitate!

#5 Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon #3824 97 proof 96/100 $100 retail price (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/go-visit-garrison-brothers-single-barrel-amazing/) Garrison Brothers consistently puts out a great product.  I also visited their distillery this year and really enjoyed meeting Dan and the team.  Very excited to see the 2017 Cowboy Bourbon when it is released next year!

There were so many that almost made the cut… I tried a couple rums this year that were really good including one from Balcones (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/balcones-texas-rum-special-release-batch-15-1-63-9-abv/) and another from Barrell (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/barrell-rum-batch-001-7yr-jamaican-pot-still-rum/).  Barrell’s Whiskey 002 was another one that almost made the cut, but after careful consideration I preferred the New Years (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/barrell-whiskey-002-magical-sherry-cask-finish/).  Most lists have Booker’s Rye on their top 5, and although it is a good whiskey, it’s just too hot and expensive and does not deserve to make it in my very humble opinion (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/bookers-rye/).  PHC 10yr was also hotly debated, and I thought it was extremely good, but given the price, just not quite worthy vs the Garrison or the WFE (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/phc10-parkers-heritage-collection-10-24yr-bourbon/).

I’ll have my top five disappointments in the world of bourbon coming up soon… thanks again for a great 2016 to everyone who reads this blog.  Readership has gone up 5x and I hope to continue that trend into 2017.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 of the year were?  Happy New Year!

http://www.barrellbourbon.com/  http://www.garrisonbros.com/  http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/  http://fourrosesbourbon.com/  https://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/

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Holiday Sample Party: Willett Family Estate Single Barrels WFE Rated

I’ve been trading and collecting samples of lots of different whiskies for a while, especially Willett Family Estate single barrels.  It got to the point when I had too many to drink alone, but I also don’t feel like writing up a full review for a single sample is warranted due to the potential of contamination in a sample.  My brother in law is a big bourbon fan as well, so we tried them all together and gave individual ratings.  The notes are from me.

Willett Family Estate 12yr #751: Nice standard butterscotch and caramel nose, graham crackers. GREAT mouthfeel, sharp, enjoyable, long finish.  I wish I had a whole bottle of this.  94/100   Brian’s Score: 90/100

Willett Family Estate 13yr #780: Very strong nose, maple syrup, much hotter and bolder than the previous sample.  Tons of brown sugar and vanilla on the nose too.  Thick, juicy and spicy palate but finishes in a bitter note. Very different than the previous one.  93/100    Brian’s Score: 94/100

Willett Family Estate 9yr #7174:  Sweet rock candy, Reeses Pieces and vanilla with some pretty strong heat.  Palate is a lot of heat as well, ok mouthfeel, sweet but not overly complex.  87/100     Brian’s Score: 81/100

Willett Family Estate 14yr #2366: Nice nose, caramel and s’mores.  Tannic with oak on the palate but without solid oils leaving it bitter and astringent on the finish.  After a solid nose, the taste is disappointing.  86/100     Brian’s Score: 80/100

Eagle Rare 17 2010 Vintage: Forest Floor, Leather, mushroom, candied walnuts, stewed pears and apple sauce with cinnamon on the nose.  The palate is equally complex with all the nose coming through in an extremely mellow way.  No heat at all, easy down.  Finish is very good.  96/100   Brian’s Score: 92/100 (he also said the nose was better than the taste)

Barrell Bourbon New Years 2017: Reeses Pieces, caramel, Twix, very nutty nose.  GREAT mouthfeel, thick and chewy, nice oils, very comple.  Moderate heat with an amazing finish.  This is a bottle that I am going to hunt and hunt and hunt until I find it and then I’ll do a very proper review.  96-97/100   Brian’s Score: 95/100

2012 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon: Classic OFBB nose with mushrooms, nuttiness, caramel with weight, but hotter than this year’s release.  The palate is less exciting than the nose, but with a bit more bitterness than I would prefer.  Overall better than the overage OFBB.  89/100   Brian’s Score: 94/100

Old Charter 10 (Old Label): Butterscotch, cedar, oak, sour cherries.  This mouthfeel, underwhelming sour finish.  79/100   Brian’s Score: 81/100

Booker’s 25th Anniversary: Hot nose, caramel, butterscotch, ginger snaps.  Amazing mouthfeel, less hot on palate than expected but still classically Booker’s hot.  Long, long and incredible finish. 96/100   Brian’s Score: 92/100 (too hot)

1993 Old Grand Dad (National Distillers): Different than the OGD 114 I had tonight, more vanille, brown sugar, stewed pears, green apple, very mellow nose.  Super smooth, very nice taste, mouthfeel ok but low proof and chill filtering take out a lot of the complexity.  Wish this was cask strength.  93/100      Brian’s Score:  90/100

 

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FRSBLE2016…big shoes to fill from the 2015…

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015 was my favorite bourbon of last year… it’s almost impossible to follow that up, as expectations are aggressively high.  The Elliot’s Select, out early this year, was one of my favorites, so I was very excited to get one of these bottles.  The bottle I am rating is 262/9258 which I bought on bottle-spot, but was lucky to get one for $119.99 a few weeks later from one of the liquor stores I go to a lot (thanks for keeping one aside for me).

Last year was a blend of four, this year is only three and is a 12yr OESO, 12yr OBSV and a 16yr OESK.  The bottles looks the same as last year, just with a 2016 instead of a 2015 and this year comes in with an sbv that is 1.3% higher to 55.6%.  The colors are basically the same.

The nose is good, very sweet, butterscotch, candied popcorn, cinnamon sticks, canned dark fruits and bbq grill ash.  The depth of the nose isn’t quite as complex and deep as last year’s.  Very little heat.

The bourbon on the tongue goes down smoothly.  The mouthfeel is enjoyable with just enough grip to let you know that it isn’t chill filtered, and is warmer than expected.  The taste is better than the nose with additional complexity coming through as the finish is very long, much longer than expected.

The lack of complexity on the nose was cause for concern, but the taste on the palate and the fun mouthfeel come through in the end.  This is a bourbon with a long finish and although is not nearly as good as last year’s release, is still a very good bourbon and one of my favorites of the year.  If you can find it at retail, it’s a steal, but don’t chase this one like I am still chasing the 2015 release.  94/100.

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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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Barrell Bourbon Batch 009: 13yrs!!!

The newest release from Barrell Bourbon is a 13yr Straight Bourbon Tennessee Whiskey, and is the oldest to date.  It’s a dark caramel color, in the classic BB bottle.  This one is bottled at one of their lower proofs, 112.1.  Never chill filtered, bottled at cask strength, just the way Bourbon should be…

The nose has a sweet caramel popcorn nose, graham cracker s’mores, crispy apple tart, rock dust, cedar bbq chips and cheerios.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by now with Barrell Bourbon, but there is almost no heat on the nose at all.

Down the hatch… the taste is great, getting all the flavors from the nose on the palate with a great mouthfeel as well.  It really coats the tongue and brings in a peanut butter aftertaste, and like peanut butter, sticks to the top of the mouth finishing for well over a minute, with a very enjoyable warming.

I posted this photo for this review, not just because I like #bourbonporn and #bbqporn but because I thought this bourbon was the perfect pairing for a nice long smoked rack of ribs in my green egg.  Thirteen years is a long time for any bourbon, and quite rare to find one at under $100 that is this good.  This bourbon is also so much better after you have opened it for a few hours or even days.  When I first opened it I thought this was going to be a high 80’s or maybe low 90’s rated whiskey, but after a while this baby really opens up.  I also am generally not a fan of adding water, but a couple drops really helps this bourbon evolve.  Like a great rack of ribs, it takes all day, and evolves by the end of the day.  I’m definitely grabbing a couple extra bottles of this one to put into the bunker, I mean, 13yr cask strength bourbon for under $100?!?!?  95.5/100

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Booker’s 2015-06

Booker’s is usually my go to bourbon when I go to a bar in NYC because it’s usually priced around the same as its 80-90 proof brothers, yet has ~40% more booze in it. I’m always looking for the arb.

This Booker’s is the sixth and final release from 2015. It is a 6 year, 8 month and 7 day old bourbon bottled at 128.1 proof.  This one is called “Noe Secret” and has a drawing of a message in a bottle.

Booker’s always has a dark amber color and this batch is no different. It has a tint of orange in it as well.

On the nose I get Cinnamon Toast Crunch, candied apple, butterscotch candy and dried orange with cloves.  The heat is strong like most Booker’s are, but smoother than most.

The mouthfeel had a thickness to it that is very enjoyable. The cloves and dried orange are the notes that come through most on the palate. The finish is good but after a while, it turns to just heat.

I’ve never had a Booker’s that I have disliked but, aside from the 25th anniversary that I only had once at a bar, I’ve never been blown away by it; this one is no different. Enjoyable dram, I’m glad I bought it, but I won’t be stockpiling this batch in my bunker. 89/100.

 

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RIP My First BTAC Bottle: George T Stagg 2014 UK

True Story:  I’m in London last September for a business trip to see a couple clients, meet my colleagues in the office and travel with my new boss.  The first evening of the trip is for internal meetings, meeting colleagues I had not met before and building camaraderie with them.  Part of my job was to not get too drunk and look professional.  My tolerance happens to be extremely high compared to most of my colleagues, so not getting too drunk wasn’t an impossibility, however the professional aspect may have been slightly derailed because of some BTAC… at this point I had not owned any BTAC bottles (that changed later that Fall when BTAC hunting season began and my obsession on this blog expanded)….

I was at a bar with some colleagues that was selling Pappy 10, 12, 13, and George T Stagg, per pour, for less that I could buy it for on the secondary market in the states.  So… I ended up with three pours of bourbon in front of me during dinner.  Not the best way to impress colleagues, but I had never had Lot B, Pappy Rye or Stagg before, so emotions (understandably to you reading this blog, although not to those at the table) overtook me.

By the end of the night, I managed to not get too drunk and we all parted ways. After leaving the restaurant and all the hand shaking, I did a u-turn back to the bar and entered negotiations with the bartender.  The bottle was 1/4 full and I did the math and negotiated to buy the rest of it for less than 1/4 of a full bottle would cost me back at home.  My boss, smarter, soberer, sneakier than I, followed me back to the bar, scolded me, and forced me to return to the hotel before I inflict too much damage to myself, knowing that in addition to buying this bottle, I probably was going to try every other unicorn for pour that night.  (Side Note: good thing he did, because I probably would have stayed there for a couple hours and really did myself in.  He’s quite a good boss and almost always knows what’s best for the firm and his employees, myself included, even if it’s more fun to keep drinking.)

Which leads me to today… after many small pours over six months, this bottle is finally being put to rest.  And I will be giving it a review today as well.

George T. Stagg, 2014 UK edition, 138.1 proof: dark amber with tiny bits of charcoal floating in it, at least for the final pour.  Camp fire fresh s’mores on the nose with candied butterscotch, overbaked brown sugar carrots, raisin bread toast with light butter spreaded on it topped with cinnamon and sugar, and a touch of cloves.  For 69.05% alcohol, the burn on the nose is very manageable.  The first thing you get when you take a sip is the extremely thick mouthfeel which just makes me so happy.  The uncut/unfiltered texture is a delight and everything about the taste is interesting, complex and it goes on and on.  The first sip I had months ago was very good, but the last sip was the best.  Maybe it is because there is more charcoal in the final pour or maybe it’s because I’ve already had a few drinks tonight.  All I know is that I wished I kept my trumpet from high school, because this moment deserves someone playing Taps.  This was a great drink and I’m sad to see it finished, but there are many more bottles that need drinking, and I know I’m the man to do it.  97/100.

 

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