December 19, 2010

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Review

Kentucky Spirit is Wild Turkey's premium bottling; their top of the line. It's 101 proof. Like a small handful of other premium bourbons, Kentucky Spirit is a single barrel whiskey, meaning the stuff in the bottle is a product of one barrel - not a blend of several barrels. As an added touch, the neck label displays the handwritten date when the bourbon was bottled, the barrel number from which it was born, and the warehouse and rick where it was aged.

WTKS comes in a nifty bottle, whose scalloped shoulders twinkle in the light. The color is pale orangy-brown. When sniffing spirits as high in alcohol content as Kentucky Spirit, one has to take care not to inhale too deeply and risk numbing too many scent receptors. A few careful nosings immediately reveals a thick caramel with an underside of woody spice, oily leather, and cherry candy. It's full and juicy, luscious and warm. Mouthfeel is thick but not syprupy. Kentucky Spirit's taste is centered around the charred barrel it was aged in. I was surprised that the sweetness in the nose was subdued in the taste. The woody spiciness comes though with gusto, and a dry grain note is present. On the edges you can find pleasant hints of the cherry candy. In all, it is peppery and lively, but not as complex as I would have guessed.

The finish is long. Long. Long. It is astringent and nutty, with a burn that starts at the back of your throat and flares to the front and sides of your tongue. You're well aware of its proof after a swallow. And in what may be its most intriguing characteristic, about a full minute after you swallow and the burn dissapates, you're left with a ripe fruitiness; a cognac note that sends you on your way with a smile.

Kentucky Spirit is a bourbon that you have to be in the mood to drink if you want to enjoy it to the full extent. While I may be more inclined to reach for Wild Turkey 101 more frequently, that doesn't mean Kentucky Spirit should be dismissed. You don't have to wait for a special occassion to pour yourself a dram of WTKS, because when you do, it will be a special occassion in and of itself.

November 27, 2010

Maker's 46

Maker's Mark has been successful basing its production around its core product. They've branched out a bit with Maker's 46. Maker's 46 is different from the company's flagship bourbon in one significant way, which creates a whole new taste profile. Maker's Mark debuted 46 in only limited quantities, and with any luck, 46 will be popular enough to warrant further bottlings.

So, what makes 46 different? Here's the process: when Maker's is fully matured, the bourbon is temporarily dumped from the barrel while ten seared, French oak staves are placed inside. The whiskey is then put back into the barrel, and mingles with the added staves for another few months until it "tastes exactly right." It's then bottled with its signature red wax dip, in a less boxy bottle. It clocks in at 94 proof, which is slightly higher than the original's 90 proof.

Maker's 46 has a rusty, orange copper color. The nose is velvety vanilla, and a lot of it. Surrounding the vanilla center is a citrus flair and a grainy, spicy ethanol heat coming from the high proof. 46's aroma is a prelude to it's departure from its older brother.

Mouthfeel is warm and syrupy thick. The taste is primarily caramel and black pepper with floral notes hidden somewhere in the background. You are certainly made aware of the seared French oak addition. There is also a candied citrus that comes through right when you swallow. Maker's 46 finishes with peppery heat that fills your mouth like smoke and then centers itself on the front of the tongue. But it is not harsh - along with the heat comes a smooth vanilla ribbon. After a few seconds you're left with a slight, pleasant burn and a soft, almost creamy, sweetness at the back of your throat.

Maker's 46 is certainly of a different character than the company's flagship. It is at once spicier and sweeter than we're used to from the distillery. 46's enduring qualities are its ability to match strong spice with heavy caramel, and have them work together is such admirable sync. It is a combination of softness and brashness that toghether hit all the right notes. I should hope that Maker's Mark will make its recent expression a main stay.

October 2, 2010

Blanton's: The Original Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

Blanton's, as the neck label on the bottle tells you, is "The Original Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey." More than marketing, this statement is true - Blanton's pre-dated Beam's Small Batch Collection. Blanton's also enjoys the reputation of being one of the best whiskies around. I heard about its reputation before having tasted it, and due to my tendency to eschew popular sentiment towards drinks, I discounted Blanton's supposed high rank among other brands. That was a mistake.

Blanton's is pale amber, caramel, in color. A few sniffs reveals grainy spiciness, caramel-ly sweetness, some pepper notes around the edges, and a soft, full warmth of well worn oiled leather. The balanced complexity of the nose advertises its many tasty splendors. Mouthfeel is warm, smooth, and thick enough to coat you mouth without being syrupy. It is bottled at 93 proof, as well.

Tasting Blanton's is an event; it is thought provoking, important, and memorable, like a Whistler painting, or a van der Rohe building. It's something that stays with you, something to which you compare other whiskies. At first, Blanton's warmly, sweetly permeates your palate. After the toffee-esque sweetness subsides, a blunted spiciness comes though with the faintest of yeasty sourness way in the background. Everything works together in concert. Blanton's finish is actually an substantial element of its taste: after swallowing, a dry corn note flares up, but it's joined by heat on the tongue and a fleeting honey richness in the throat.

In all, Blanton's is complex, with each constituent part working for each other's benefit. It is a complex, balanced, and smooth bourbon that is simply outstanding. It will surprise you in new ways after every sip, and after each new bottle.

July 23, 2010

Hudson Whiskey: Four Grain Bourbon

Tuthilltown Spirits is one of the several boutique/micro distilleries popping up around the country. The distillery is in New York, and produces whiskies, rums, and vodkas. Regarding bourbon, Tuthilltown makes their Baby Bourbon in addition to the Four Grain.

As the name explains, Four Grain is distilled with four grains: corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. The vast majority of bourbon use only three, foregoing the wheat. However, an even smaller sliver of bourbon makers use wheat instead of rye (e.g., Maker's Mark, Old Fitzgerald). Another uniqueness is its bottling, as it is sold in stout 375 ml bottles. The wax seal on the bottle also makes opening either a frustrating challenge or an exercise in calm anticipation, depending on your perspective...

Hudson Four Grain has a deep reddish amber color, like cherry wood. It's bottled at 92 proof. A few sniffs reveals a thick sweetness, candied citrus, with some peppery notes in the periphery. The smell is strong but not harsh, not sharp. Mouthfeel is cool and crisp despite the moderately high proof.

Four Grain tastes, well, grainy. It's hot and spicy, but the wheat smoothes the edges, and a sweetness pulls it all together. There's an earthy richness to it, like a Romeo y Julieta cigar. The drink finishes with an astringency, dry grass, and the candied citrus returns subtlely.

This whiskey is worth trying because it is a quality liquor in its own right, and also provides a unique basis of comparison to to other bourbon taste profiles.

April 18, 2010

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Review

W.L. Weller Special Reserve is aged for 7 years, is bottled at 90 proof, and is a pleasing burnt orange in color. What makes WLW different is its mash bill: it's a wheater. The label lets you know this, touting the whiskey as "The Original Wheated Bourbon."

Only a small majority of bourbons are wheaters. As mentioned, wheaters differ from other bourbons in their mash bill - wheat takes the place of rye as the flavor grain during production (Corn, wheat, and malt instead of corn, rye, and malt). The wheat imparts a softer characteristic to the drink, and is a bit smoother because the rye spiciness is absent. If you've never tried a wheated bourbon, do so. Other wheated bourbons include Maker's Mark, other W.L. Weller bottlings, Old Fitzgerald, and several of the Van Winkles.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve's nose is sweet and grainy, like fresh sawdust. There's some caramel as well. Mouthfeel is thick and coating and warm; the wheat component imparts a politeness to its presence in your mouth. The taste confirms the sweet nose, with notes of honey, butterscotch, and a soft woodiness. The lack of rye spice is apparent, and it's smooth and delicate, and calm. WLW finishes with a quick sting of astringency that is blunted by a sweet honeysuckle flair.

Weller is an unabashed wheated bourbon. It is assertive, but not brash; confident but not overwhelming. It's a great choice for the Spring season, and a perfect alternative to its comparitively heavy-handed cousins. Any bourbon collection is incomplete without at least one wheater in attendance. W.L. Weller Special Reserve is a worthwhile candidate for the job.

February 20, 2010

Buffalo Trace Review

I discussed the Buffalo Trace distillery and its history here. Now, I'll review one of the several products it makes.

Buffalo Trace bourbon, taking its name from its mother distillery, is a dull orangy brown like a well used copper pot. Not too dark. Its nose is robust; layers of oiled leather and sweet vanilla mix together while notes of anise and citrus creep up at the edges. It smells both heavy and crisp. Mouthfeel is cool and coating, but more watery than syrupy until you swish it around your palate, when it finds some body. Taste reveals an astringency with a core of sweet caramel. The slight astringency is the only sharpness, and the bourbon keeps a strong presence. Hidden behind that is very subtle dankness that is rounded out a dry, grassy oakiness. Buffalo Trace finishes dry, so dry in fact that it seems to chase away most the flavors. But, the flavor that's left after a moment is surprising: ripe plums.

Buffalo Trace is a bourbon I come back to time and time again. While it may not be a bourbon that is always stocked in my liquor cabinet, it's always exciting welcoming it back.