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!

Advertisements

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!

Barrell Craft Spirits Rum Gray Label Unicorn

Another Gray Label unicorn from Barrell Craft Spirits, this one the Rum. Again I’m lucky that my local store was able to secure me one for retail.

image1(13)

I’ve really loved all the super rare rum releases Barrell has done in the last few years, my favorite being Tale of Two Islands (review here), I just wish they were more readily available. I’ve never seen a store with more than one or two bottles.

This release comes in the beautiful black box like the Bourbon (Bourbon review), awesome gray label and heavier than normal cork top.

Strong nose of coconuts, brown sugar, anise, orange and pineapple rinds with a touch of pine needles (although that might have been the Christmas tree in the background).

The mouthfeel really coats the mouth and feels like it’s going to be hot but isn’t. The flavor is concentrated in the back of the mouth and the finish is at least two minutes, with lots of tropical flavors going round and round.

This is another very special release and I’m happy to have been able to buy one and looking forward to sharing it with family (only the ones that know good stuff) this holiday! 97/100. Good luck finding it and if you can, but them all!

Barrell Craft Spirits Bourbon: Fred Minnick’s number 1 of the year reviewed

I’ve been following this release on social media with tons of anticipation and I was hoping to quietly accumulate a large amount of them for the bunker until…. Fred Minnick ruined everything. Why couldn’t he have waited to rate this number one in a blind tasting against some big heavyweights like BTAC George T Stagg and William Larue Weller. Anyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been on the Barrell Bourbon train for a while and love that you can always find a Batch or single barrel for under $100. And the best part is you never need to get in line or pay through the nose on secondary for one… except for this realease. I paid $250 at retail for this but the good news is that the regular batch prices have not gone up and are still readily available. Thank goodness!!  Now… is this special release worth the extra money???

IMG_3482

On to the review…. 15yr Bourbon blended from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, bottled at 105.1 Proof. The box looks sleek and smart and the gray label looks awesome. I also really like the new cork design with extra weight and easier to remove from the bottle. Nice touch. It’s also a dark amber color in the bottle giving away the 15yrs of age.

The nose is strong but not hot, with marzipan (of course), Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Necco Wafers, toasted and butter cinnamon raisin bread, s’mores and caramel hard candy. Just so much going on and even more after the bottle was opened for a few days. First crack didn’t do it justice.

The taste… wow! This Bourbon has the biggest mouthfeel and longest finish of anyone I’ve tasted all year. I stopped counting after three minutes but it was sweet and complex and never faded to bitterness. What more can you ask for in a whiskey?

This Bourbon is 100% worth the hype. I just wish Fred Minnick didn’t let the cat out of the bag until my bunker was full. Now I need to beg all my liquor store contacts to try to get another bottle as this one is already half empty! 98/100

If $250 (or higher on secondary) is too much for you, the recent batches have been really good and totally worth picking up too.  But If you can find it for anywhere under $300, grab it, because the last print on secondary I saw was $400 and going higher!  I’m going to put out reviews on the Rum and the Whiskey soon which I think are even rarer and harder to get a hold of!

IMG_3479

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.

IMG_2865

Barrell Whiskey 002: MAGICAL Sherry Cask Finish

I was at a whiskey tasting a couple weeks ago at the Harrison Wine Vault in Harrison, NY which was a charity event for the local pet shelter.  I convinced my wife to go with me because I said there would be lots of puppies with which our 1yr old would love to play.  There were a couple puppies, but my main purpose was to secure a designated driver for a whiskey tasting… I was sneaky, yet successful.  There were many new craft producers and only a few producers that I had tried before and liked.  I would say that 50% of the whiskeys to try were from a random new craft producer, trying to sell a product between six months and two years of age.  All of the new craft products were literally horrible.  Trying to push a nine month rye as a $60 bottle is just embarrassing–I don’t foresee many of them still in business in a couple years…  I was lucky Garrison Brothers was there (link from old review:    https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/11/07/garrison-brothers-texas-straight-bourbon-whiskey-another-great-drink/), Four Roses and Barrell Bourbon.  I knew I liked Batch 006 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/barrell-bourbon-batch-006-home-run-top-5-of-the-year/), but they also were serving Batch 007 (very very good, but not yet on the market and I haven’t given it a proper tasting), and their new whiskey product, Barrell Whiskey Batch 002, which is a Sherry cask finish.  For those who follow this blog, you know my rants about finishing, so I was clearly skeptical about this product as well.  However, when I tried it, my concerns immediately melted away.  I was lucky to secure a bottle and my review is based on bottle number 1096.

Barrell Whiskey Batch 002 is a nine and a half year whiskey that has been finished in Sherry butts from Spain.   Like everything from Barrell Craft Spirits, this is bottled at cask strength: this particular batch is 61.9% abv.  I looked online, and I have confirmed that this is both the oldest whiskey that they have sold and their first cask finished product.  Like I said, I am extremely skeptical about finished whiskeys as I feel like most producers just mix in low quality dessert wines and pretend they have created something great–most fail at this (see my review of a failed “finished” whiskey from High West:    https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/high-wests-tragic-whiskey-a-midwinter-nights-dram/comment-page-1/).  Not only was I  surprised by BW002, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this whiskey.

The color is honey suckle brown, for almost a 10yr whiskey, you can tell this has been aged in used barrels instead of the new barrels that bourbon is aged in.

The nose has hints of sherry, unlike most finished whiskeys which overpower the nose with the dessert wine that it is mixed with.  In addition to the sherry, notes of graham cracker, honeysuckle, Halloween Candy Corn, baked pumpkin seeds and butterscotch ice cream.  What is also surprising is the complete lack of heat on the nose–not something you would expect for a 120+ proof whiskey.  Perhaps that is due to the near 10yrs of age?

The palate is a delight.  The perfect integration of the sherry residue from the cask and the 9.5yr whiskey is so enjoyable on the tongue.  Every note from the nose is coming through even stronger on the palate, but the better part is the mouthfeel.  The intense thickness of oil and grit just creates a finish that goes on and on. By such a large margin, this is the best cask finished whiskey I have ever had, but it also is one of the best whiskeys I have ever had as well. The complexity of this whiskey has so many layers and the taste goes on for several minutes.  What is also amazing is how little heat comes through–for a cask strength product you often get an overwhelming amount of heat but this whiskey has just enough to know it is there, like a cashmere blanket next to a wood burning stove.

I checked into this batch and it turns out that only 200 cases (1200 bottles) were produced.  The Yamazaki Sherry Cask Finish 2016 had 3,000 bottles produced and I think this is even better than that.  I know that hoarders get a bad name, but I am not embarrassed to say that if I see any of these bottles left at any store, I will be buying them and drinking them for years to come.  I also hope that Barrell Craft Spirits comes out with another Sherry Cask batch because if this is just a one off project, the whiskey community will be at a deep loss.  So PLEASE: Barrell Craft Spirts, PLEASE continuing making a Sherry Finished product, you will have a customer for life in me.  If any of my readers are able to secure a bottle of this, just close your eyes and buy it: I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  97/100.

 

http://www.barrellbourbon.com/

IMG_8345