2017 Michter’s 10yr Single Barrel Bourbon Review

I sit here now, relaxed and happy, sipping a new spring release: the 2017 Michter’s 10yr Single Barrel Bourbon.  It represents the first proper bourbon of limited release under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Pam Heilmann.  Last month, Michter’s released the 2017 10yr Rye, Pam’s first actual release, which I thought was great.  But I am a bourbon guy first and foremost, and I had really been anticipating this release.

So while many of my reviews number up into the 1000’s of words, in this case the 2017 Michter’s 10yr Single Barrel can be summed up in five:  This is simply delicious bourbon.

I spent a lot of time just drinking and enjoying this one.  In fact I couldn’t leave the bottle alone.  I found my pours most enjoyable with about 10 minutes of air in a glencairn, straight.

So here we go.

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The 2017 10yr Single Barrel release is so enjoyable…..

The nose is robust.  It’s sweet up front with markers of sweet corn, and rich honey comb.  A heavy punch of caramel, the kind that has been melted gooey in a copper pot on a stove top, waiting to be slathered over sweet slices of apple.  The apple scent is awesome and easy to detect.  But for all of that, the farm fresh honey and apple, you’d think the nose would be light.  But it’s not.  Rather it’s thick, like the scent from the hand hewn oak logs that made of the walls of the cabins we used to play in as kids. It’s got all of that smoky, charred barrel oak interwoven with a dark sweetness.  Anise, yes that’s it….a classic, sweet black licorice.  There is something else, a component my friend Adam helped me to appreciate: dankness.   Some really great barrel dankness. Think of those damp oak barrels, sweating and expressing themselves in sugary, charred, moldy seepage along the seams.  It’s subtle but its there, and it adds to body.

Flavor wise, the 2017 has lot more character than I found in the 2015 or 2016 releases.  It’s decidedly more composed and balanced.  Along with that character came a lot of classic bourbon flavors in the sip.  It enters with mild heat and slow molasses from the get go, quickly giving way to a rich wash of creamy caramel and an aromatic vanilla that compliments the caramel in a unique way.  It doesn’t get in the way nor stand out on its own, but rather places itself in the right spot on the palate as a complimentary component.  I’m a fan of vanilla, the more the better.  I tasted some mild tobacco in the flavor as well.  There was a bit more of the smoky old oak, especially in the mouthfeel, which was moderately thick, but not oily.  Basically what you should expect from a 10yr old (at minimum) bourbon.

Taking another deep huff of the glass, I noticed a hint of cocoa, owing itself to the char, which when mixed with the creamy vanilla revealed itself similar to the aromatic event of a fresh bag of Oreo cookies being opened.  Pillowy and rich.  Who doesn’t like that?

The finish is subtle and straight forward. A mild heat full of cinnamon.  Not ever lasting, but leaves you ready to refill your glass up to the point that the bottle is empty.

With all of that, what more can be said really, other than grab one and drink it.

Oh, yes….  Thank you, Pam (and Michter’s).  You’ve done it.

(P.S. This one will probably get one of those classic Epic Bourbon 1000 word reviews……)

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Michter’s 10yr Rye Review

It’s time to review the 2017 Michter’s 10yr Rye.

I’m going to get straight to the point and break from the normal format of an Epic Bourbon review and lay down my initial thoughts up front in simple terms. The 2017 Michter’s 10yr Rye is really, really good. Is that simple enough? As I sit here right now sipping it, typing, sipping, typing, I keep coming back to one of my favorite elements about this pour: It’s so smooth. SO SMOOTH. Unquestionably smooth. It’s an old, subtle quality, and one that’s often underappreciated.

Years ago my grand-dad would sit back and preach the virtues of a good glass of whiskey, the one he could sip and enjoy on a summer afternoon as the sun was setting behind the big willow tree, smoking his old pipe; the little bag of tobacco hanging from his shirt pocket. One foot was on the ground pushing the tired, squeaky old yard swing gently back and forth, the other propped up on a crate or his old farm hound. “The whiskey in your glass should complement the moment” he would say with particular emphasis on the last three words. He was big on moments of relaxation. Looking down from his perch high on the Walnut Ridge, above the rows of corn that would be destined for one of the distilleries, the old barns filled with tobacco, he would appreciate that sunset. The river rolled lazily nearby, the water lapping the sandy banks in a rhythm. Cicadas humming in the trees would rise and fall from forte to pianissimo as the wind ran its invisible fingers through the hemlock and river birch branches. Smooth moments, enjoyed with fine smooth whiskey.

That’s where we come in with the 2017 Michter’s 10yr Rye. A fine, smooth whiskey for enjoying during relaxing moments. Or any moments, frankly.

I’d been eagerly anticipating the new M10 Rye from the moment that I’d spoken with new Master Distiller Pam Heilmann, when she said, “I’m primarily a rye person.” That’s pretty much throwing down the gauntlet, and I took it as promise that the 2017 release would be even better than the 2016, which I thought was awesome. Furthermore, this bottle represents a new regime at Michter’s. While Willie Pratt will cast a long shadow for years to come, this is Pam’s show now, and the bottles that are coming out are a direct reflection of her tastes.

But the devil is in the details. So how did the 2017 M10 Rye stand up? To find out, I drank it a lot on my own, and with friends. I scribbled lots of notes, so here we go….

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My bottle comes from Barrel 17A34.

After uncorking, there were a lot of Ooo’s and Ahh’s. The aroma jumps right out of the bottle and fills the room with all kinds of decadent scents. It’s as if someone filled a huge fireplace bellows full of sugary goodness, bakery sweets and cinnamon spices, and then heaved and pumped it up and down.

The nose is just splendid. Its caramel and cocoa. But the main component to me, is of dark fruits, some bit of plum, but mostly dried fig. It’s very fig forward. I love dried fig; luscious and sweating with natural sugar sweetness. There is also a touch of minty pipe tobacco swirling around. Surprisingly, after spending a half-score in the barrel, I didn’t pick up on any big doses of oak, though there is a smokiness to the flavor. A yummy baked grain component rounds out the nose thanks to the rye, which gives the aroma a Fig Newton quality. (The well-to-do English kid responds cheekily, “It’s not a cookie mother, it’s Michter’s 10yr Rye.”)

The sip is, once again, smooth. SMOOOOTH! It’s the Yacht Rock of rye. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s got all the classic rye hallmarks. A nice thick consistency. A nice mild touch of cinnamon, cooled by a creamy vanilla, and a tiny dash of cocoa. There is a very subtle, sweetness akin to fresh forest honey, the kind that has just come straight out of the heart of an oak tree, so the flavor is a little more woody than cloying, but with an overtone of floral softness derived from the humid fields of Midwestern wildflowers the bees toiled in all day. Finally, I picked up on a fresh, citrusy splash, owing itself to the floral notes no doubt.

At 92.8 proof it’s not overwhelming with heat, and the alcohol content accents the flavor at the right point, making for a nice, composed sip. The finish is a nice, warm simmer. A back of the throat that ebbs and flows in intensity.

The post-nose is rich with brown sugar. The figgy tobacco really shines through again, along with a dollop of buttery oak.

My final measuring stick for how good a bourbon or rye is, is watching how quickly it disappears. In the case of the 2017 Michter’s 10yr Rye, there is almost none left. I have hit this bottle, literally every night. I’ve shared it with family, friends and neighbors. It’s been a good friend that I’m sad to see going.

Grand-dad would have loved the 2017 Michter’s 10yr Rye. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. I think you will too.

Michter’s 10 Year Rye is available March 2017, with a retail price of $150. Get it!

Smooth Ambler 10 yr “Short and Heavy”

The last couple of months, and even more so recently, I’ve had a growing fascination with all things having to do with the period from the mid-1930’s, up through the mid-1950’s. This is true for things of culture, family and music. That period of Grand Ole Opry broadcasts. The early post-depression era through the post-war years. Hard times abounded, but as my grandfather always said, those were some of the best times of his life.

I like to think about families in farm houses flung all over the country, finishing their supper, something that grandma had cooked in a big cast iron kettle. Afterwards they would gather together in the parlor. Close your eyes and picture a cold Saturday night in February, flurries outside dusting the porch and pecking the windows, a fire crackling in the hearth behind them. The room is awash in a golden glow emanating from the 40W birdcage style lamp bulbs. The family sits in a circle around a big polished oak Zenith floor standing radio that’s buzzing and popping with life; Father is hunched on the floor, one knee on the pine, fine tuning the dial to find the clearest signal possible. Mother is on the couch knitting on a quilt, softly humming a song of salvation. The kids shoot marbles and tell windy stories and play games of imagination. Maybe if there weren’t too many clouds over the tall ridge they will get the Grand Ole Opry broadcast out of Nashville, or on an especially clear night the Louisiana Hayride out of Shreveport. The broadcast signal wattage is so powerful it was possible to find the Opry or the Hayride many hundreds of miles away, as long as conditions allowed, and your tuning skills are great. Father continues to fiddle with the dial, with incremental precision akin to a safe cracker using a stethoscope. Wheezing, squelching noises vary in intensity as voices come in and out of clarity. Twanging notes of guitar can be heard, then more static, now female singing, more squelch, then static, then perfection. The broadcast is clear.

Tonight, I’m living the modern version of that scene. I’m listening to Hank Williams. Though the high powered broadcast signal is long gone and the songs are being played from Itunes, I still pump them through real speakers, and the family is gathered around, spending time together. Lovesick Blues is on right now. My wife is sitting nearby reading. The kids are teasing each other and playing games of imagination. And I’m sipping some bourbon from Smooth Ambler, a bottle from a private barrel aptly named “Short and Heavy”.

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This particular barrel comes to us directly from the rick house at Smooth Ambler in West Virginia (the same state where Hank Williams hard-living life flamed out in 1953 at the young age of 29.) I consider myself lucky to have gotten a bottle. As the story goes, during a pick at Smooth Ambler, a couple of guys were tasting all sorts of barrels (SA turns you loose in the rick house to taste whatever you want) and they came across this one. It was obvious that the barrel was virtually empty and they had to drill all the way at the bottom to find the juice. They loved it immediately, and even though there wasn’t much liquid rocking around inside the staves, it was determined that the contents had to be bottled, at barrel proof, regardless of the quantity. They named it Short and Heavy, and it ended up yielding only 56 bottles. 56 bottles, in the whole barrel. Just think about that. Not to mention, it was bottled at 117 proof, which is pretty high for Smooth Ambler, whose releases tend to hover in the sub-100 proof region.

Like all of the Old Scout releases, this one was distilled in Indiana at LDI, or MGP, whatever you want to call it. The mash bill is right out of their standard playbook, the high rye variety.

Out of the bottle, Short and Heavy kick starts with an immediate sugary punch, accented by notes of polished oak, and a handful of sweet dried dark fruits. There is a swirling element of caramel that I detected. I also found an awesome component of George T Stagg-esque tobacco. That sweet Virginia burley, so pungent that you can almost imagine it hanging long, row and row in barns all across the mid-Atlantic. Lord, I’m such a sucker for tobacco essence in bourbon.

The flavor of Short and Heavy is so damn easy to enjoy.  I find that wholly pleasant, and relaxing. Sometimes I revel in sipping bourbon that’s awash in complexity, with components that compound on each other, like chapters in a book. But Short and Heavy is much more straight forward, and that’s nice. It’s a bourbon for those times when life has kicked your ass for hours or days, and you just want to come home and have a sip, without all the intoxicating cerebrum. Something easy. Short and Heavy is that bourbon. It’s subtle, with a sweet character; comparable to a tea blend, and a lot of juiciness. Plenty of sugar in the palate to match the sugary nose. On the back end there is a sprinkling of cinnamon and oak spice. Really, this is one sweet pour. There’s something else though, and I tried to impress this on a few of my friends. I know it’s only 10 years old, but it’s got a classic feel, where one dimension of the flavor really stands up and sings, in this case the sweetness. There is also a fine sizzle that hits with the flavor immediately, segueing right into the finish.

The finish is subtle as well, again more of a classic personality, which makes this one an easy drinker. I trails off with more of the cinnamon and oak spice. Not a complex finish at all, but one that I enjoyed. I had my buddy Brian over for a Thursday night pour. I consider him somewhat of a bourbon sounding board. He cuts right to the core of it with his tasting commentary, and it’s usually spot on. He raved on Short and Heavy. In fact, when he sipped it, he looked up with wide eyes and said, “Oh wow, that is good.”

I’ve had this bottle less than a week, and it’s more than half gone. I typically spread my pours out over a number of bottles just to keep my palate fresh. But I can’t seem to give this one up. That’s a high mark from me. I won’t tell you this is the greatest bourbon of all time. But man, it sure as hell has been the right bourbon, every time I’ve had it.

Cheers!

 

Rest in peace, Parker…

There are those of us that simply love to enjoy bourbon. There are but a few special men and women, whose knowledge, skill, taste and opinion make our enjoyment possible. Among the humble  fraternity of Master Distillers, there are giants. Parker Beam was a giant among giants. He was so many things to so many people, even if they didn’t know it. Like a great friend, he was there.

For every person celebrating a significant or pivotal life moment with a dram of Heaven Hill distilled bourbon, Parker was there.

For every father celebrating the birth of his newborn with a pour of Parker’s Heritage Collection, Parker was there.

For every toast between a new husband and his brother-in-law with a pour of Elijah Craig, Parker was there.

For every man sinking the pain of every day life with a pour, Parker was there.

Someday when people are cured of ALS, through his effort of using bourbon to raise awareness and money, Parker will be there.

Mourn for a moment. Then celebrate the man.

So many of us were so lucky that he was there.

Rest in peace, Parker.

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An Album and a Pour: Parker’s Heritage #10 24yr and Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream”

I planned to review the Parker’s Heritage 24yr bourbon, but I wanted to do something a little different, so I decided to feature it in my Album and a Pour series. Enjoy.

24 years ago I was a freshly minted high school kid, and that summer my friends Derek, Andy and I spent hours coursing the lane-and-a-half arterial backroads that meandered and twisted their way between our slice of corn and pastureland in southern Indiana to the only big town nearby, Louisville, KY. Music was our life; our bond.  That summer had one album that defined it, a soundtrack.  Siamese Dream.

24 years ago Billy Corgan and his band Smashing Pumpkins released Siamese Dream, an album that should and will forever in my mind be considered one of seminal rock recordings ever made. An alternative, shoegaze masterpiece.  Talking to Derek the other night, we were discussing what made Siamese Dream so special.  “It challenged me in what a ‘typical’ voice should sound like” Derek said.  I agreed.  He went on, “From a production standpoint, it’s not a normal sonic mix, but I always felt that it served the band the best.  Butch Vig was great at making each record sound the best for each band, despite the traditional tones that most producers want to use.”   The layers are just so deep on Siamese Dream.  For instance, there are over 40 guitar tracks layered into the song Soma.  It’s almost mind-numbing to process everything that’s happening in headphones after the bridge section.  Try it for yourself.

I always felt like Smashing Pumpkins played a distinct brand of rock that was very Midwestern in its essence and origin. In its DNA.  Coming from the basement in the wintertime when it’s cold as shit and dreary for months so that all you do is rehearse and get tight.  It’s so aggressive, but so humble.  So much bombast.  Yet so tight and precise.  Like a nuclear blast applied with a surgeon’s scalpel.  Derek said, “Its basic rock and love songs lyrically, just influenced by and introverted kid so it sounds so unique.”

I’ve got it locked and loaded now, along with a pour of Parker’s Heritage 10, the 24 year old bonded bourbon.

This bourbon, and this album pair perfectly.

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24 years ago Heaven Hill was still distilling on their hilltop, crafting the bourbon I’m drinking now, pumped out of their original copper works. This was before the inferno consumed the distillery and rickhouses, shooting drunken flames hundreds of feet in the air.

The nose is all of the big shoulders of spicy aged charred oak that you would expect, but it doesn’t go down the road that some of the ultra-agers do; that of being overly oaked, or what I would consider “mulch water”. Some bit of leathery aroma.  There is a fine balance of sweetness in the nose, heady sugary corn.   Plenty of caramel too.  Who doesn’t like caramel corn?  I was pretty impressed at the aroma coming from the glencairn.

The flavor hits with nice components of vanilla and cinnamon, and has some spiciness as well. But it’s not “hot”. More of the oak, which I found to be more buttery than spicy.  There is a nuttiness in the formula; tree nuts, walnuts.  As well, I detected minor notes of citrus in the sip, and a sprig of mint.  At this age, and this proof, there is just a lot more happening than you would expect.  Frankly, the flavor profile is not overblown, nor overshadowed by alcohol that’s only 100 proof.  Yes, we all love high proof.  Heaven Hill knows this, as evidenced by a few of their recent 135 and 144 proof green labels.  But in this case, and at this age, the bourbon would have been underserved by gassing it.  At least I think so.  It’s old school bourbon. There are layers of subtlety residing within.

It’s hard not to describe the flavor in shapes. Rounded comes to mind immediately.  The components are round.  Some of that stems from the fact that PHC10 is Non-Chill Filtered.  It’s just thicker, as far as the mouthfeel.  Bold and syrupy.

But it’s also instantly classic. The subtle, classic qualities that we love about bourbon that used to come out of places like Old Crow and Stitzel Weller.  The pantheon of 100 proof bonded gems.  It’s almost a forgotten art to be honest, and something that’s unique and underappreciated.  These are some of the reasons PHC10 pairs so nicely with Siamese Dream.  It’s big and bold, but also humble and classic.  At 24 years old, it redefines what you think a bonded bourbon should be.

The finish is fairly short, and to the point. Just a short burst.  A jab of everything you just tasted at once, a fine, short sizzle.  A great bourbon book-end.

And as the final guitar chords of Mayonnaise fade out, and the glass goes empty, I will listen to the Gibson and Marshall sustain ring into silence and inhale the final dying liquid embers of the PHC 24 at the bottom, until they are gone.

24 years ago. What a great time. What a great album.  What a great bourbon.

Cheers!

 (As a side note, some years later, the band that Derek, Andy and I formed would be recording an album in the same studio where Siamese Dream and Nirvana’s Nevermind were fleshed out, under the glimmering shimmer of platinum records that hung on the wall.)

Quick Take – Rebel Yell 10 Year Single Barrel

Let me start this off by getting right to the point.  I really enjoy the Rebel Yell 10yr Single Barrel.

There, I said it.

I’ve gotten hammered a couple time recently for not recommending bourbon’s that were more readily available, keeping in mind the consumer.  Well, let the record be set straight…..

In a world dominated by prices that escalate quicker than Chuck Yeager climbing through the clouds in the Bell X1 to break the sound barrier, its extremely refreshing to come across a release that is:

  1. Age stated (a decade old).
  2. Single barrel.
  3. Wheated

At a time when age statements have disappeared for the sake of product quantity rather than quality, those three items are great attributes to have, and lately would come with a 3 digit price tag.  But Rebel Yell doesn’t.  That’s the really great thing.  All of that, and it’s $50-ish bucks.  It’s a lot better than many bourbon’s that are on the shelf for 2 or 3 times as much.

Plus, it comes in the cool box, that has the particulars about the bottle right there for the world to see, including descriptive tasting notes.  That’s great for someone new who is just getting into bourbon and is trying to decipher the various components.  My first thought was that since this one wasn’t a barrel proofer, it would have to deliver.

Let me add this, Rebel Yell 10yr Single Barrel straight up delivers.

In truth, it delivered beyond what I expected. This is a refrain that has been echoed by many of my bourbon drinking friends who’s palates I trust.

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S0, for the pour:

The nose smacks with with a classic tobacco profile, dark fruits slathered in vanilla, with a quick splash of molasses.  The fact that this has lived it’s life in the rickhouses atop Heaven Hill is plainly evident.

The mouthfeel is solid, oaky, but not out of control.  Infact, this bottle has a lot of nice manners. I drank it neat, and at 100 proof I see no reason for anyone to dumb this one down with spring water.  It’s perfect on its own.

The flavor rides out of the nose, with a caramelized oaken goodness.  Yes, the caramel is rather forward at first.  Then another shot of that delicious vanilla.  This one is decidedly vanilla forward through it’s phases, and I have absolutely no problem with that.  There is a balanced sweetness that provides a sort of continuity as the pour evolves on your taste buds.  There is no astringency, no acrid bite.  But there is a spiciness; more of a nutmeg or cinnamon, and less of a jalapeno. There is also a little citrus component floating in the mix that was mysterious.

The finish is controlled, not necessarily an uncoiled burn, but more of a heat.  A warmth that wraps the side of my tongue and down the back of the palate.

Overall, it’s just good flavorful bourbon.  It’s awesome for sipping while you are sitting around a warm firepit in the backyard on a chilly December night (we have those in the south), or at a great steak dinner.  This is a bottle that I would recommend to anyone, and would certainly give as a gift (if you need Christmas ideas.)  It also looks pretty damn nice in the cabinet.

This bottle could very easily be a daily drinker for me.  I give it an A.

Drink this, not that:  If you have your choice between Rebel Yell, Bookers or Blanton’s, go with Rebel Yell 10yr Single Barrel.  Especially at these prices.

Cheers!

 

 

Epic Bourbon’s 2016 Bourbon of the Year

A year has flown by and the time has come around again to select my Bourbon of the Year. With the amount of time I spend nosing, tasting, writing, logging and blogging, it’s a decision I don’t take at all lightly. I cracked open my note book to reveal all of my thoughts and meanderings about the various glasses of bourbon, whiskey and scotch I’ve had the opportunity to taste over the past year. Some great. Some good. Some not so good. One that I would like to leave laying on the floor like Joe Pesci’s final scene in Goodfellas. A couple that were fantastic. I poured through my reviews and tasting notes. Scribbles on the backs of cocktail napkins, random scraps of paper covered in scratchy black ink, photos of notes jotted on my hand. For a little added research and fun, I pulled out bottles, sipped and re-sipped. Never let it be said that I didn’t take my research to the furthest extent of possibility….or sobriety for that matter. But Bourbon of the Year, that’s a special mantle. It has to have something special. That “X” factor that separates it from the rest of the pack. A back story to go with the pour. One that not only has impeccable nose, palate and finish, but one that can impact you on emotional levels, triggering olfactory indexes that take you back to moments and places in your past, or make you feel wistful and thoughtful. Not just a pour, but an experience. That’s what I look for.

There were a few obvious standouts.

2016 was a year that for me was punctuated often by Willett Family Estate releases as well. As usual, Drew Kulsveen and Company churned out multiple stellar single barrel releases lovingly aged in the little barns on their hilltop and I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention one specific barrel, the 826, with its elementary school lunchbox peanut butter sammich and chocolate bar goodness. There were a couple of others I’m still trying to find a way to taste, but they are proving as elusive as finding bigfoot…..

The 2016 William Larue Weller was an absolute joy and could certainly be considered the first runner-up.

But for all of them, there was one that from the very first sip held my fancy, and only one that I thought was the best. The very best. There was only one bourbon this year that I repeatedly professed my affection for from the first time I tasted it, over and over. One bourbon that time and again I would recommend to every friend. One bourbon that impacted me.

The Epic Bourbon 2016 Bourbon of the Year is Kentucky Owl Batch 6.

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For me, this bottle had it all and then some. The accolades I could foist on it are numerous. At first, I was a little conflicted picking such an extremely limited bourbon (the quantities, at just over 1600 bottles, about as rare as anything you can attain). But I accepted that component of exclusivity as just another qualifying factor in the criteria that made Kentucky Owl Batch 6 feel ultra-special. Like Willett Family Estate, it was only available in limited, select places; that being the Beaumont Inn, or a couple of stores and restaurants in Kentucky.

But frankly that was the only dilemma, and I got over the dilemma quickly. What matters is not the quantity of bottles or their geographic distribution because those are not part of my yardstick of greatness. I was grading the bourbon that in my opinion was the absolute best of the year.

When I did a quick review of Owl 6 back in August, I said that it was so good it deserved two reviews, and I meant that. I told a few different people that it was certainly a contender for Bourbon of the Year….but there were so many releases left to drink, including the 2016 BTAC. After having it all, I’m even more convinced that Owl 6 is the best. My actual words 4 months ago were “It’s early, and the fall releases haven’t been sent out yet, but it’s really hard to see anything else topping this one for my selection as Epic Bourbon’s Bourbon of the Year.” Well, I’ve had them, and tasted numerous other things this year, and for me the Owl 6 beats them all.

I know what some people are going to say, “But’ but, but, Kentucky Owl is an NDP. That can’t be your bourbon of the year!” All I can say is stow that talk. It’s polar opposite of most NDP’s, either those that release single barrels or small batches. The contents of this bottle don’t represent some “luck of the draw” honey barrel from hundreds sitting out in the warehouse. Nor does it have anything in common with a batch that is cobbled together based on nothing other than what is left on the dock, or in an effort to fill a tank.

What Owl 6 IS, is bourbon that’s crafted by someone whose palate I and many other people respect. Kentucky Owl Proprietor Dixon Dedman meticulously sampled barrel after barrel of aging stock, selecting a few special barrels that he married together to produce the exact desired profile. He then re-barreled them in new charred oak, left them to age, and THEN bottled them at barrel proof. No other NDP is doing that, at least on such a micro-level. The great thing about Dixon is, he isn’t doing this as a first line of profit. Kentucky Owl is his passion, not his lifeblood. He does this because bourbon is in his DNA. He doesn’t have to churn out release after release in order to keep the lights on, meet a production schedule or keep the corporate office back in Japan happy. He does it when it’s proper to do so, when the bourbon is perfect, rather than perfectly acceptable.

And the proof is in the contents.

The color is the first thing that hints at the specialness of Kentucky Owl Batch 6. It’s so dark. “Dark Magic”, the sobriquet coined by one of my good friends and bourbon compatriots. Swirling it in the glass leaves thick, syrupy legs spider-webbing down the glencairn’s parabolic sides, like an astronaut’s view of the Mississippi delta.

Pouring it into the glencairn, it glugs out of the bottle, thick and oily.

From the outset, the nose is a plume of smoky char and caramel, dollops of buttery, spiced clover honey dusted with soft cocoa powder, red berry preserves, hints of mouthwatering long cut tobacco, and short bursts of “breakfast spices”, those being cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. That re-barreled oakiness is so apparent, and has an essence of smoldering logs in a stone hearth of a 150 year old grinding mill, fizzled out but still smoking. My original review said it best: “The entirety of the nose put me in mind of the way grandma’s kitchen used to smell on cold winter mornings, when you knew she had been up early, stoking the wood stove, wood caramelizing, getting the griddles good and hot and slathering them with butter, slinging a thick slice of bread that had been dredged through a batter of cinnamon and spice to make decadent French toast.”

One more component that vaulted Owl 6 above the rest of the 2016 releases: the mouth feel. Hot damn! It’s unlike any other that I’ve ever had, and is the component that I keep opining on to everyone. Thick, oily and viscous, similar to the consistency of buttery pancake syrup or olive oil! Honest to goodness olive oil! I have no idea how it happened, if it was planned or just a fantastic accident, but I’m not going to question it. I said it before and I stand on this: It reminded me a lot of Bernheim-era Weller.

The flavor profile has a richness that the best bourbons possess has a distinct refinement and subtle sweetness, but not overly sweet. There is a specific kind of richness; a molasses, country corn syrup sugar. The caramelized outer skin of a marshmallow toasted over a campfire. Another dose of sweet, juicy tobacco burns your mouth. There is a level of oak spiciness that bites back. That fresh woodiness is in the profile as well.

The finish has a fine, long sizzle. At 111.2 proof (which is 10 points below what I consider my sweet spot), it marches across all areas of my palate. The thick consistency of Owl 6 coats every surface in a juicy, simmering elixir of oak and peppery spice.

For an added treat, leave your glencairn out overnight to allow the residue to cook down at the bottom of the glass, and sniff it the next morning before your coffee for a wonderful burst of buttery praline and oak.

The story, the process, the nose, the flavor, the finish…..All of these things add up to present you with a stellar example of bourbon that is obviously the best of the bunch.

In my opinion it’s everything a Bourbon of the Year should be.

Congrats Dixon Dedman and Kentucky Owl Batch 6, Epic Bourbon’s 2016 Bourbon of the Year!

Interview with Michter’s new Master Distiller Pam Heilmann

Recently, Michter’s Distillery announced that Pam Heilmann would be assuming the role of Master Distiller, and previous Master Distiller Willie Pratt would be taking on an Emeritus role, essentially retiring. Epic Bourbon had the opportunity to sit down and ask Pam some questions about her new role, the future of the brand, and whether or not there would be an Epic Bourbon private labeled Michter’s 20yr.michters-team

(Pam Heilmann – center)

 EB: Congratulations on your promotion. 

PH: Thank you very much.  I am very excited to take on the responsibilities of Michter’s Master Distiller.

 EB: First, please tell us a little about yourself. 

PH: I am originally from the Syracuse, NY area.  I am married with a son and daughter and also two grandchildren.  My husband, Marty and I moved to KY over 21 years ago on an employment transfer.  Obviously since that time I left the company that brought us here and changed my career path.  Started at Jim Beam 18 years ago as a Supervisor and worked my way to Distillery Manager of the Booker Noe Plant.  Left Beam 3 years ago and joined the Michter’s team and was part of design, build and startup of our new distillery in Shively, KY.    I enjoy fishing, motorcycling and am an avid reader.  I also enjoy spending time in Syracuse and Florida with family.

 EB: Some people feel that the best bourbon starts and finishes in a lab, using equipment to break down the individual components and quantify the flavor profiles.  Purists believe that the best bourbon was made in the “old way”, at facilities whose equipment, methods and recipes don’t even exist anymore. How do you approach making bourbon; do you lean towards science or history? 

 PH: I believe that making bourbon requires a combination of both art and science.  I have worked with many highly skilled scientists that were and were not distillers as well as many skilled distillers that had knowledge not derived from a science background.  I think that it takes some of both.  A good example of this is at Michter’s, to qualify whiskey, we use both a sensory panel as well as scientific equipment (Gas Chromatograph –Mass Spectrometer GC-MS).   In the sensory portion a lot of the senses are used i.e. smell, taste while the GC-MS gives us the breakdown of compounds in the whiskey.   Of course we are looking for certain profiles in both.    There are times when the GC-MS looks scientifically good but we will actually reject the liquid based on our sensory evaluations.

 EB: Marianne Barnes made news for being the first female Master Distiller of bourbon since prohibition. How important is it to you being the first female Master Distiller to actually have products on the shelf around the world?  Do you feel like this will open the door for more women in master distiller roles in the future?

 PH: Being named Michter’s Master Distiller is an honor and a privilege.   Regardless of male or female.  This industry, as others, has seen many changes throughout the decades.  There have always been women in the industry in various roles.  It is great to see women recognized and achieving previously predominately male held positions.  If in some small way I have encouraged and helped this along that is awesome.   I hope in that regard that my success encourages all people who are struggling to achieve their goals that they are indeed possible.   That being said I personally look at myself as a distiller, now Master Distiller.  A person doing the best job I can to perform the tasks required of me in this role.

 EB: What is your vision for the future of the Michter’s and how will you implement it? How quickly can we expect to see changes? 

 PH: I am proud of the quality of our Michter’s whiskeys and I don’t have plans to make any significant changes.   I am sure we will work on some innovations and special releases.   As for the future of Michter’s, I will continue to ensure that Michter’s continues Willie’s legacy of making the best quality whiskeys in the industry.

 EB: How daunting is the responsibility of taking the reins of a storied brand like Michter’s?  How important is it to be a good steward of the name, and how do you balance that with meeting market demands?  What kind of research will you do to understand what people want?

PH: It is a very important role and one that I take very seriously.  I have been working here at Michter’s for 3 years and am very familiar with what is expected.  I have already been representing Michter’s out in the marketplace for events, tastings and seminars where I get to interact with consumers, sales reps and others.   I will continue to uphold and promote the quality in our product.  That is of the utmost importance to me.

EB: If you are developing new products, will you look at what’s being done by the other distilleries, or will you push to come up with out-of-the box ideas that others will want to copy?

PH: We observe trends in the market but our focus is on unique innovations that we feel will contribute to quality and will appeal to our consumers.

EB: What do you look for in bourbon and rye?  What are the olfactory signatures that you key in on? 

PH: Basically I am open to many different experiences.  The sweetness of the vanilla, citrus, caramels are always nice.   I like complexity and richness as well, some chocolate, spice, toffee, stone fruit or citrus depending on the spirit.

 EB: Many bourbon enthusiast felt there was a large shift in the flavor profile of Michter’s 10yr bourbon from 2014 to 2015.  Do you plan to make a return to the pre-2015 profile?

PH: We feel that we have a pretty consistent profile.   There will always be subtle differences and nuances in each release that makes it unique.

 EB: Do you have any special releases planned?  Can we expect any more special releases, aside from the 20yr bourbon, 25yr rye, and Celebration?  Are there any plans to put the Barrel-A-Day still into production towards this purpose?

PH: We are always experimenting with the various factors involved in distillation and in maturation.  There are many experiments for innovative special release that have been discussed and explored, and some of them will likely come to fruition.  We are currently in the final planning stages of completing the distillery installation in the historic Fort Nelson Bldg. on Main Street in Louisville.  This will be a Michter’s visitor educational experience where the original Michter’s equipment (“Barrel-A-Day still and cypress wood fermenters”) from the Pennsylvania Distillery will be installed and operational.   We were lucky enough to be able to purchase all of the original equipment which is now in storage until it can be installed at the Fort Nelson Bldg.  So you never know…..

EB: Given your experience in the field, is there another master distiller that you admire or model yourself on?  Assuming master distillers are like poets or song writers, who are your influences?

PH: I was most definitely influenced by many of my teachers.  I have worked with many people through the years (Master Distillers, distillers, operators, peers) that have influenced me in great and small ways.  Some of those distillers and peers have gone on to become Master Distillers or are in other significant roles at other great distilleries.  I admire all of them and each of them have taught me something whether it be about distillation techniques, selections of grains/barrels or just troubleshooting day to day issues in the mechanics of running the distillery.   All of those have in some way have influenced my style or thought processes.

 EB: How does your palate and taste differ from Willie Pratt?

PH: No two palates are identical but Willie and I are very similar regarding the profiles we prefer.  I like the full bodied mouth feel and warmth (without burn) of Michter’s whiskies that comes from the 103 entry proof.  The flavors are so much more intense.  If you have ever tried our Barrel Strength rye you know what I am referring to.

 EB: Willie Pratt was famously known as “Dr. No” and holding on to batches beyond their expected release date.  Will you follow in that same vein?

 PH: Yes most definitely.  A critical aspect of my job as Master Distiller is my assuming Michter’s “Dr. No” position as the ultimate gatekeeper of Michter’s quality.   I will always make sure our whiskies are released based on quality and full maturation rather than a particular age.   We will not release any whiskey for bottling until it meets our flavor profile.

 EB: Of all of the bourbon you have ever tasted, is there a particular bottle or vintage that stands out for you?

PH: There are so many great bourbons and ryes but I do believe that our 2013 Celebration was an especially unique whiskey.

EB: What would people who are fans of Michter’s and bourbon in general be surprised to learn about you?

PH: Probably that this bourbon fan has been converted to a rye fan as well.  I love our US #1 Single Barrel Rye Whiskey in cocktails.  I think the balance of Michter’s rye makes great cocktails.  Our rye is what we call a Kentucky style rye with some corn in the mash bill.  It gives it a little sweetness and is very smooth.  The Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye is one of this bourbon lover’s all-time favorite Whiskeys.

 EB: What advice would you give someone looking to get into the industry?

PH: Be prepared to start at the entry level.  Sometimes a step back helps us more than we know.   Be open to learning from everyone.  Operators and techs have lots of knowledge to offer.  I gained so much knowledge from some 40 year veteran operators that were willing to teach me everything they knew.  You may not find a position in the area that you ultimately want to be in but be open to starting somewhere else and working toward where you want to be.

EB: And finally, can Epic Bourbon private label our own 20yr barrel? 🙂

PH: Unfortunately no.  We do not have the inventory levels to be able to support a barrel program right now.  But never say never!!!!

Old Haunted Houses and Stitzel-Weller Old Fitzgerald BIB

One of my favorite topics to write on and experiences to share, aside from bourbon, have to do with all things paranormal/spooky/frightening. If I can combine the two, even better.

Last year I put fingers to keys and banged out a piece about my favorite Old Grand Dad BIB, and related to one spectral encounter deep in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

This year, I’m sitting in my parlor sipping on an early 1990’s Old Fitzgerald BIB. As much as I am a disciple of all things distilled at Old Crow and the heart palpitation inducing bottles from Willett, there is just something overtly special about Stitzel-Weller bonded bourbon.  It took me a while to understand its magnificence.  When I first started drinking bourbon, Stitzel-Weller was something I read about occasionally, and was talked about like a long dead relative who was so loved and adored that the mere mention of their name brought tears to your eyes, you missed them so much.  It was spoken about in hushed tones by only the most respected people, as if they had all the secrets about the vaults of Aztec gold hidden in caves throughout the southwest United States.   When you drink it, you immediately sense the care and knowledge of craft that went into this juice.  The wheated mashbill in the S-W Old Fitz is pure liquid magic.

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The nose is equal parts candy, and the inside of a pioneer log cabin where the fire in the hearth has just gone out. There’s a defined component of citrus that hangs around, swirling and interwoven with an oaky caramel.  Someone once described it to me as “caramel apples”. I guess that’s not far off the mark.  There are gobs and gobs of creamy caramel floating in this pour.  As much as my cherished Old Grand-Dad bottles are “butterscotch bombs”, the Old Fitz BIB is the “citrus caramel bomb”.

The flavor has luscious components of cocoa, citrus in the form of those fruit candies that your grandma would have had in a dish on the coffee table around the holidays. All sugary and stuck together.

The mouthfeel is rich, and combined with the flavor to deliver a quality which nothing currently on the shelf at your local can match.

The burn is that classic 100 proof surge of flavor, like a symphony building towards a final triumphant exclamation.

It’s hard to understand why any of the majors don’t want to produce something this splendid today. And all I can come up with is, they can’t.  My other thought is that the hype surrounding this bourbon is not hype at all.  Its truth.

I take a quick sip, let it swirl. My mouth waters.  God, this is the stuff of legend.

Hey, how about a little Halloween story to go with it?

I’ve got the perfect tale. A haunted house.  Well, we always believed it was anyway.  The truth in fact was much more frightening.

It was called the MacArthur House. The lore of the place, like any good ghost story, had been passed down from generation to successive generation, from class to class, and I’m sure it grew and was embellished plenty over time.  But it basically went like this: Sometime in the 1970’s lots of people lived in the house together, almost like a mini commune. The way it was told, people just came and went, and slept on the floors.

Until one night. The night of the murders.  The story gets sketchy here, but one variation goes that someone living there butchered multiple inhabitants.  Another version is that a group of devil worshippers broke into the home and had a ritual.  Either way, the individual that committed the crimes was never found.  The home was never destroyed, because the case was never closed.

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When the tale of this place was handed down to my group of friends, we all decided we just had to see it. The mystery.  The feeling of euphoria and excitement, of finding and experiencing the unknown, the legend.  Very similar to drinking this Old Fitz, of which I just had another sip.

It was Halloween, 1993, right about the time this Old Fitzgerald was being dumped out of the barrel. A group of friends I ran with decided it was our turn to visit the house.

The house was pretty far out there, you had to take many country lanes many country miles to reach it. Two car loads of kids headed out, ready for adventure, with trepidation in their hearts and pretty terrible directions in their heads. Luckily my buddy Micah was familiar with the area and knew the way.  You couldn’t see the wrecked structure from the road, as the people that lived out that way had taken it upon themselves to plant cedar and pine trees.  As we pulled up sometime around midnight, the bats that had taken up refuge inside the branches of those pines were beginning to stir.  Their presence did not calm my nerves.

We walked around the grove of trees, down a twin track of cakey mud, overgrown with brush, saplings, vines and grass. Twigs popped and snapped under our feet. October wind whistled through the branches and dying oak leaves overhead.

The story of the house continued that when the police arrived, the first thing they encountered was a corpse swinging in the wind, the way a pirate’s body was dangled from the end of a pier as a warning. There were also bodies found inside a vehicle, the remains of people trying to escape the scene.

As we drew nearer to the home, my friend Dan shined his Maglite around. That’s when we spotted the silhouette of a noose hanging from a tall oak, swaying in the wind, dangling above the rusted and rotting hulk of a period-correct Volkswagen microbus whose windows had obviously been blown out by a shotgun.

My hair stood straight up. Maybe that noose was fake, I don’t know.  But the deceased might as well have been hanging from the tree.  The feeling was ominous and foreboding.

“Guys, maybe we shouldn’t be here.” was a common refrain uttered by multiple people at once. The response from the bravest of the group was short and four lettered.

Right in front of us was the house. Boarded up. Rotten pine siding.  Leaning brick chimney.  Sinking into and being eaten by the landscape.  Glistening in the autumn harvest moonlight.  Beckoning us with friendly doom.  It looked like house from the set of the Evil Dead.

Brent, the dumb one in our group, immediately when up to the decaying sheet of plywood that covered the front door and began pulling it back. The screws holding it to the rotted jamb immediately began pulling out, until there was enough space for a person to shimmy through.

This was it. Go time.  The moment to put up, or shut up, and prove yourself to your friends.  Would I go in?  I don’t remember who went in first, but it was certainly not me.  I was scared to death.  Neither did I want to be the last person standing outside, waiting for some headless apparition to appear in that noose, nor a couple of maimed spectral forms to come crawling out of that microbus like a scene from Thriller.  I slotted myself in the middle of the pack.  Now was the time.

I gulped, and stepped in.

I could feel the floorboards flexing under my feet. For a quick moment I considered the foul malevolence that must reside under these floor joists in the basement, just waiting for some ignorant underclassman to plunge through, into their dark abyss; a welcome feast.

Once we were all inside, Dan turned on his flashlight. That batteries were dying out, but what was more than apparent was the blood spattered all over the walls.  It was everywhere, like a modern artist had come in with a huge brush and bucket of reddish brown paint, and just started slinging the stuff everywhere.  There was a mirror hanging near the entrance to the kitchen that had a bloody handprint that streaked down towards the floor.

I was speechless. Frozen in time from fear.  I kept thinking “people died, right here.  Right here.  Right over there.”  The remains of old mattresses were on the floor in various spots, also spattered with blood. I stood motionless, until I saw the piece that took me over the edge.  Everyone has their limit.  I was running about 99% when I turned my head and in the dim light, caked on the wall in antique arterial juice were the words “GET OUT!”   That was it.  I was done.

“No. Hell no.  Not supposed to be here.”  The adrenaline rush was real, and I can still feel it to this day.

I did a swivel so fast that there was probably enough friction to ignite the soggy wood beneath me. The largest kid in our group, Darren, was between me and the door.  He was probably three times my size.  I picked him up like he was and empty beer can, literally lifting him out of my way and setting him back down.  I kicked the plywood off the door opening, and made for the car.  I didn’t pay any attention to the noose or the microbus, but if something had come out at me, it would have been in a world of hurt.

I never went back, though many kids did, until the day the community decided they’d had enough of the place and burned it down. Now it’s gone forever, and it will only live on through stories.

Just like this glass of Old Fitzgerald. The sweet power.  The magnificent, classic burn of a bourbon that will never exist again.  And with the final sip, I bid you Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Reviews

Typically my reviews are geared towards wrapping a bourbon tasting inside a story of historic nature and context, or various other experiences….that’s always been the goal at least. But due to the size and nature of this tasting, I’m gonna attempt to limit that and stay with my notes as much as possible….

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So with that:

George T Stagg – 144.1 Proof

I’ll start my review out with the lead dog of the pack, at least what’s always been considered the lead dog. This year’s GTS came in at a whopping 144.1 proof.  I’ve always been a fan of high proof, it just speaks to my palate, mostly because I feel like the flavors are amplified (to 11). On the whole I have loved just about every GTS release I’ve had, and was only underwhelmed by the 2013 edition, and even that one was pretty damn good.

My anticipation could not have been higher as I tore through the box marked BUFFALO TRACE. The Stagg bottle was the first one I went for, cracking it open at the home bar as soon as I could.

The nose on the 2016 GTS is, well, great as expected. You have to be careful of how hard you inhale due to the proof.  There is an immediate punch of cocoa cream and juicy purple tobacco.  There is a minor scent of caramel and citrus wafting around, followed by a burst of anise and ending in heavy oak.

It smelled delicious to me, but that’s where Elvis left the building. Being that this was an old bourbon of high-octane, I let it air out for about 30 minutes before sipping, which I felt was appropriate.  I didn’t douse it with water, because I typically drink everything straight (no limestone spring water or ice).  But even after the air time, when I went in for the sip it was just too damn hot, to the point that the heat over-arced and drowned out the flavors, save for the smoldering oak.  I’ve had so many other  high-proofers of similar make-up where there was an immediate balance of heat and flavor, for instance last year’s William Heavenhill green label, 15yrs at 144 proof.  But the 2016 GTS seemed to miss the mark a little bit on balance.  The mouthfeel was typical GTS, straight up incendiary, sizzling off the tongue like cayenne cotton candy.  I do love that.

The finish was also hard to decipher, except for the raging forest fire in my mouth.

Just for fairness, I went back for another pour, and added a few drops of limestone spring water. I found that proofing it down adversely impacted the nose, but did nothing to quench the heat or bring out the traditionally robust GTS flavors.  Well, there is slightly more flavor present in the form of sugar, but it’s still just an undertone to the explosive nature of the beast.

Now all that being said, this is not bad bourbon. As usual, the experience of drinking GTS is exactly that, an experience.  But this experience doesn’t stand up to past ones, the standouts like 2014 and 2005.  If you are a fan of high heat above all else, this is right up your alley.  But for me, I have grown accustomed to robust GTS flavors, and missed them here.  However, I believe that if I had a bottle of 2016 GTS open for a while, it would probably mellow and little and come around to my liking.

Grade: B-

 

William Larue Weller – 135.4 Proof

People, listen up. For everything that the George T Stagg lacked in immediate flavor and refinement, the 2016 William Larue Weller made up for that in spades, and then some.  From the initial pour and smell of the heavenly aroma, it was a true eye opener.  My mental catalogue of experience with WLW is not as vast as the GTS, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve tried.  But this release, this is a real gem.  I thought it was exceptional.

To me, William Larue Weller has always been the classiest of the bunch. It just has an aura of cool.  There’s something about it that says “I’m not for slogging, I’m for enjoying.”  As much as George T Stagg is the rough and tumble man’s man bourbon of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, William Larue Weller is the bourbon of classier man’s man, like Dean Martin or Paul Newman.  The guy that knows which fork to use at dinner, and keeps his cigarettes in a small case in the inner pocket of his daily-wear tuxedo jacket.

Let’s be honest, what’s not to love about a 135 proof, uncut, unfiltered, 13 year old wheater?

The nose emanated with that glorious soft wheated structure. Lots of baked goods and sugary spices, and confectionary dream.  There was a great component of oak that was prominent but not aggressive.  It’s showed off a lovely char quality that accentuated the aroma, rather than stepping on it.  It’s resplendent.  Gracious.  Balanced.

The sip is seems bold at first due to the proof, but after the initial liquid fever breaks, everything that was underlying becomes prominent, rising up like cookie dough in the oven. It’s immediately sweet and produced gobs of vanilla and what I tasted as a dollop of caramel. The vanilla and caramel is not at all subtle.  It’s like a vat of something you want to dip into with an apple on a stick.  But there were also lots of the dark tree fruits.  Buffalo Trace indicated these as fig and plum.  That assessment is pretty spot on.  Maybe fig newton would be even better, as that grainy wheated flavor was still obvious to me.

The finish is nice and deep, right into the chest, radiating out, back into the taste buds.

I could write and write and write about the WLW. I could put together never-ending strings of superlatives and prose.  Perhaps I will. The good money says I will.  But until then I will remember this pour as being awesome.

Grade: A+

 

Eagle Rare 17 – 90 proof

I have so many good things to say about the ER17. For some people, ER17 is kind of the overlooked little brother of the BTAC big boys, the 4th child, the one that went off to LA and became a film star, but when he comes home for visits, he is still expected to mix drinks for Uncle Carl and mow the lawn. I’m not sure why, but it’s true.

The 2016 ER17 is quite damn delicious. It’s got that fantasmic scent of minty evergreen and caramel.  Fresh barrels in the cool rickhouse.  It’s so, classic…..  Almost like AH Hirsch 16 on steroids.  I mean that.

The flavor was full of sweet purple tobacco. A fragrant, mouthwatering component of vanilla rose like a cloud of dust wafting behind an old pick-up truck barreling down a dirt road. As expected there was the classic leathery dynamic that accentuated the oaky char, all of which combined and evolved into gooey caramel toffee.  It’s not juicy, it’s more dry in my opinion.  But the flavors are heady.

I thought to myself, “This is really, really good bourbon. “

As expressive as the flavors are, the finish is quite light, and compared to the atomic Stagg and sublime Weller seems almost non-existent. But it does let more of the flavors linger for a greater amount of time.  It evolves into an almost creamy and buttery aftertaste, resonating with mild oak.  So pleasant.

The only thing I really, and this is kind of petty, but I wish the Eagle Rare 17 was a higher proof. Even if it was 100 or 110.  Just a little more gas to crank up the flavors.  I know that’s not the point or purpose of this bourbon, and there is a reason the master distiller chooses to roll production at the lower proof.  I normally “trust the chef”, but I’m certain more proof would turn this superb bourbon into a true game changer.

Grade: A

 

Sazerac 18yr Rye – 90 proof

This was one of the more anticipated releases, as it represents the first batch of distillate cooked up at Buffalo Trace, rather than the old tanked juice everyone had come to know and love. Actually “love” isn’t a strong enough word.  People were downright fanatical for the old juice.

I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic, or even in love with the old Saz, but I always recognized its qualities and beauty. So maybe that makes me a little more unbiased.

I sipped this one as if it was just any other rye, not just the Emperor’s new clothes. Personally, I thought it was a good pour. Lots of classic rye traits.  Cinnamon spice.  Not overbearing on the aftershave.  Not tart.  Not undrinkable.

But neither is it classic Saz 18, unfortunately.

At the end of the day, Buffalo Trace had a really hard job to do, as far as releasing this rye. While it can be as good as it can be (which is still pretty good), it could never be the original.  That makes it the bourbon equivalent of a tribute band.

This is a big change, and sometimes change is hard to adjust to. Eventually everything becomes the norm.  For people just getting into bourbon and rye now and over the next few years, this Saz is the only Saz.  It’s their normal.  They won’t compare it to the old stuff.

Because this was a “special circumstance” release, I gave it two grades:

On it’s own merits: B
Compared to old Saz: C
Thomas H Handy Rye – 126.2 Proof

Good old THH, with its old New Orleans house right there on the label. I’ve never felt the overwhelming desire to drink Handy straight up, and have always considered it the King of Mixers.  That’s not meant to be an insult to the brand at all, and I say it with ultimate respect.  That’s just what it is for me, the foundation of some epic beverages.  It makes them special.

Most people would stir Handy into a Sazerac or and Old Fashioned, but for me, there is a drink I like just as well. Actually, it’s called “Just As Well”.  There is a little restaurant in the French Quarter called Tableau, one of the myriad of Brennan-family establishments there.  Once my wife and I stopped for drinks on the balcony that’s perched precariously over the street, the rusty rails hanging on to the building for dear life.  We both ordered a Just As Well at the bar while waiting for a seat.  What a fantastic little find.  I scribbled the recipe down on a cocktail napkin, and it’s hanging on my fridge to this day, right between some kids artwork, a State Farm Insurance magnet calendar from 2014, a photo of my wife’s grandmother getting surprised by having her photo taken, and assorted bills yet to be paid.

Well, I came around on Handy this time. Buffalo Trace’s tasting notes really describe this one perfectly, especially with the flavors of fig and clove and candied fruit.

Take a stiff pour of delicious Handy over ice, mix in rosemary syrup, lemon bitters and a mint sprig, and you have an awesome summertime sipper. Or take it on its own in a Glencairn.  It’s a good one.

Grade: B+

 

Final thoughts:

Once again, Buffalo Trace has graced the world with some real winners in the 2016 Class of Antiques. My favorites were the William Larue Weller and the Eagle Rare 17.  The Weller was especially good, and was my pick for the best of the bunch.  I absolutely have to find a bottle of this one.  It will be a contender for the Epic Bourbon 2016 Bourbon of the Year.