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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Review: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year Bourbon (107 Proof)

This past weekend, while traveling, I was able to locate a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year 107 Proof bourbon. I reviewed the 90 proof version of this whiskey about a year ago. Let’s take a look and see how the higher proof version fares.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $45/bottle
As you might imagine, Old Rip Van Winkle (ORVW) 10 Year 107 brings a very similar flavor profile as the 90 proof version. It does so with a bit more punch and vigor however. The nose opens with toffee, maple syrup, rum soaked bananas, and rich, dark fruits (dates, figs). Things really shine on the palate, which is more concentrated and syrupy than its little brother. Toffee sweetness, caramelized nuts, coffee and cinnamon toast are most prevalent. The vanilla and toasted oak are prevalent throughout. With a splash of water more fruitiness emerges. ORVW 10 year 107 finishes with toasted oak, nutty toffee, and a warm hum of spices (cinnamon and clove).

Your chances of finding this one over a Pappy 15 is likely 3-4 times better. That’s only a guess, but I’d say that’s accurate based on my experience. The 107 proof point serves this whiskey well, concentrating the flavor and bringing more depth and force to the party. The price I found is certainly higher than it was last year, but in comparison to some other whiskeys in this range I still recommend it highly.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.1 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label

The two top selling American Whiskeys are Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label. according to the 2011 Liquor Handbook (via this New York Times article). Jack and Jim sell dramatically more than #3- Evan Williams Black Label, yet I have never taken the time to review them. Today looks like as good a time as any.

Whether you are a Jack or Jim man (or neither!), let’s keep the debates civil shall we.
; ) Cheers!

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $21/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Deep Gold
Nose: Banana taffy, corn oil, vanilla, toffee, crushed rock, wafts of smoke and char. This is a beautiful and I must say, rather distinctive, nose.
Palate: A tad flabby with caramel, banana, and corn syrupy sweetness livened by the emerging punch of baking spices from mid palate. There’s a thread of char that ties everything together from the front entry on towards the finish. While not all that interesting on the palate, it’s quite textural with an almost velvety thick viscosity.
Finish: The finish is moderate in length with corn and caramel anchoring a nice helping of oak.
Overall: Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 is an icon of American Whiskey, and the 4th highest selling spirit on the planet. I’d argue the company’s best decision was finding a guy by the name of Angelo Lucchesi, who got this stuff into the hands of some of Hollywood’s and Entertainment’s hottest stars (like Frank Sinatra) in the 1950′s. That certainly helped to to solidify the brand, and Brown Forman has continued to build on that following. However, I would not classify this as great whiskey. Mind you it’s very good (barely by my scale) stuff and not without it’s virtues – a distinctive nose and a beautiful mouth feel being two that stand out to me. Outside of that, an underwhelming palate undermines the effort, thus keeping it from scoring higher.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)

******

Jim Beam White Label, 40% abv (80 Proof), $19/bottle
Color: Lighter – Deeper Golden
Nose: Baked red apple, corn syrup, vanilla nougat, and wet oak. The aromas are soft and sweet, but also flat.
Palate: Not as cloyingly sweet as the nose gave hints to, but once again it’s as flat as pancake. There’s a vanilla, corn, and caramel party with a bit of dried apple adding fruit character. Towards the end of the sip we finally get some moderately warming cinnamon spice for a welcomed shake-up. The wood begins to emerge as well.
Finish: It continues to liven up with some bitterness from the wood adding interest. The caramel and warming spices fade into a rather clean and tidy finish.
Overall: Here’s the thing – this is a Good/Solid entry level whiskey. If you know someone that’s new to whiskey or bourbon and looking to dip their toe in the water – this would be a great introduction. It’s quite pleasant, mildly spiced, and has traditional bourbon flavors. Even though it’s only 4 years old, it doesn’t taste its youthful age. Jim Beam White Label is a nice casual sipper in a pinch or a versatile mixer, but not a whole lot more.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.3 (Good/Solid)

Between these two whiskeys, it wasn’t very close. Old No. 7 just has a more distinctive aroma and flavor profile, and as a result is a good bit more interesting to sip.

Happy Holidays!

I’m not sure where the time has gone, but it has been a wild year for sure. I hope this post finds you all getting ready to enjoy the holiday season with family and friends. I would like to thank you for taking time and visiting Sour Mash Manifesto, for commenting, and for sharing stories and insights on whiskey. I appreciate each of you for those contributions to the site. It’s clear a lot of people share a passion for whiskey.

As for me, I don’t plan on hibernating over the next 2-3 weeks. Coming up we have a series of Rye reviews – the 2011 Sazerac 18 year, Sazerac Rye Whiskey, and Willett 3 year Single Barrel Rye. In addition I will be reviewing a new one from High West called Son of Bourye, which is a blend of a younger bourbon and rye than it’s father – Bourye. I’ll also take a look at High West’s newest “silver” whiskey, OMG Pure rye, a nod to the Old Monongahela. Finally, we’ll get back to some entry level products with some reviews of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Jim Beam “White Label”, and George Dickel No. 8. I’m sure there will be some others here and there as well, and it will be a fun few weeks. I hope you agree.

Lastly, I plan on joining the fray with some awards for a few specific categories for 2011. Like the whiskey world needs more awards, but there are some distilleries and bottles that deserve acknowledgement. Be on the look out for that very soon.

Drink well, but responsibly, this holiday my friends. All the best to you and yours!

-Jason

Review: 2011 Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon (Comparison w/ 2009)

As mentioned in earlier posts this week, the 2011 Pappy 15 Bourbon is 100% Buffalo Trace whiskey rather than Stitzel-Weller.  This was stated by Preston Van Winkle in a podcast with David Driscoll of K&L Wine and Spirits. For more information on the Stitzel-Weller portion of this story and what all of this means, please check my post from Tuesday December 13, 2011.  It gives more background about a great old American Distillery. For this post I will spare you the redundancies because lord knows I talked enough in the video. It’s all in the interest of getting to the bottom of the hoopla. Is Pappy 15 better? Is it worse?

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 Proof) $75.00

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose:  Deeper oak and a flintier opening than the 2009 Pappy 15, but still so familiar. Maple syrup, toffee, sweet vanilla, root beer, dried figs, caramelized pecans, and toasted wood. Less rummy and a notch spicier than previous releases, and gorgeous all the way around – masterclass stuff. Time and air serve to open this up even more – it gets better.

Palate: Syrupy textured and luscious. The front entry is sharper and spicier than the 2009. Otherwise we’re again in familiar Pappy 15 territory. Sticky dried dark fruits, chewy toffee, butterscotch, vanilla, roasted nuts, big wood spices (nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon), sassafras, and a healthy dose of barrel char.

Finish: The finish is long with caramel, barrel, coffee, and warming spices (nutmeg).

Overall: Amazing bourbon! For me, few whiskeys achieve the depth, power, and richness that Pappy 15 does at that proof point. Sweet and soft in ways, but also well spiced. You can spend an evening discovering new aromas and flavors. The differences between this and the 2009 release are very slight. It’s a bit bolder and drier on the nose and sip, the oak is a shade more pronounced, but again it’s Pappy 15 through and through. I believe they’ve been working towards this release for a long time. It’s just my opinion only but I have to believe previous years have had increasing percentages of Buffalo Trace whiskey integrated with them. And that’s fine with me, because what we have here is still one of the finest whiskeys in the world, and certainly a candidate for America’s best bourbon this year.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.7 (Epic/Classic)

Stitzel-Weller Distillery

Stitzel-Weller (S-W) Distillery Information (Condensed)

Earlier this week I posted my review of Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old bourbon. Later this week I am taking a deeper look at the 2011 Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon and comparing it with a 2009 Pappy Van Winkle 15. Why does this matter? Well, it’s complicated, but recently Preston Van Winkle confirmed that the 2011 release was 100% Buffalo Trace produced bourbon and no longer S-W whiskey. I thought it might be important to share why that matters to many enthusiasts. So here’s a bit of light reading on the S-W distillery.

  • The S-W distillery that exists (but is not operational) today was opened post prohibition in 1935 by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. S-W quickly became known for its wheated recipe.  It’s also the same recipe given to Bill Samuels Sr. that started Maker’s Mark.
  • Pappy acquired the original distillery through the purchase of a wholesale whiskey operation and the Stitzel distillery, eventually naming it S-W. The Weller portion of that name came from William Larue Weller, and one of the distillery’s most important labels, W. L. Weller. Weller, the man, was an early bourbon pioneer, who produced the wheated recipe.
  • In addition to W. L. Weller, the distillery also produced a number of other wheated bourbon whiskeys; Cabin Still, Old Fitzgerald, and Rebel Yell.
  • Pappy operated the S-W distillery until his death in the Mid 1960’s
  • After his death, Pappy’s son Julian Van Winkle Jr. was forced to sell the distillery in 1972. Afterwards he decided to resurrect one of the brands that existed in the operation prior to prohibition, Old Rip Van Winkle.
  • While Julian Van Winkle Jr. no longer operated S-W, his Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon made use of S-W bourbon stocks. Van Winkle Jr. passed away in 1981.
  • His son Julian Van Winkle III, who runs the operation today, was responsible for taking his father and grandfather’s vision a step further. He decided to offer older whiskeys from S-W stocks after tasting them and noting just how fantastically the whiskey had aged.  Many don’t realize that Van Winkle III was the first of the trio of Van Winkles to produce the much longer aged Bourbons.
  • In 1991/1992, S-W distillery ceased operations, effectively shutting down. As a result there was a free-for-all of sorts over ownership of the reputable brands/labels that S-W had produced for so many years. Heaven Hill was able to purchase Old Fitzgerald, for which they continue to make today. Buffalo Trace purchased W.L. Weller, which they continue to produce today as well.
  • Even after the sell of S-W, Van Winkle III was still granted access to purchasing the whiskeys that still existed in the distillery‘s aging warehouses. However, with S-W no longer producing whiskey, and the popularity of the Van Winkle whiskeys increasing yearly, Van Winkle III found himself at a crossroads.
  • In 2002, Julian Van Winkle III made a decision to partner up with another distillery that could keep his growing brand of Van Winkle Whiskeys alive and well. As a result the Old Rip Van Winkle whiskey operation entered into an agreement with Buffalo Trace to produce their acclaimed whiskeys.
  • Now things get very cloudy. It is not known for sure at what time the younger labels, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 and Van Winkle 12 became 100% buffalo trace produced whiskey. We can only guess at this point, but it has been a number of years.
  • Reportedly the 20 and 23 year old are still reserves of S-W stocks. However this is not officially confirmed. What is known is that as of Fall 2011′s release, the 15 year old joins its younger brothers (12 year and 10 year) as 100% Buffalo Trace whiskey. Preston Van Winkle confirmed this on a podcast in recent weeks.
  • Today, Diageo owns the S-W distillery. One of Diageo’s brands, Bulleit, has its offices at the once bustling distillery. Apparently much of the original distillation equipment is still intact, but an asbestos clean-up and the tight margins that distillery’s operate under are the kryptonite that keep S-W from resurrecting. Maybe one day…………

Many consider the bourbon produced at S-W to be some of the finest whiskey ever produced. And therein lies the reason for all of the talk and consternation over Pappy Van Winkle’s 15 year old. Check back later this week to see how the 2011 release stands up against previous S-W releases.

Cheers!

-Jason

Review: Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Bourbon

Ahhh, it’s that time of year. You know the one where a line of popular bourbon and American Whiskeys release, thus setting off a consumer frenzy that wine and spirit stores dread across the country. Pappy Van Winkle and the Old Rip Van Winkle whiskeys just hit store shelves in recent weeks, so it’s time to take a look at them.

Originally I had planned a little comparison between the 15 year and 20 year old. However, the recent news that the 2011 15 year old is now 100% Buffalo Trace bourbon, prompted me to rethink that comparison. As evidenced by the myriad of comments and emails I’ve received, it’s pretty clear that the Pappy 15 requires a thorough examination and comparison with the old. I also want to give my $.02 on the craziness over Stitzel-Weller juice.

In the meantime, how about we take a look at one of the other flagship whiskeys in the lineup, the 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle.

Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Bourbon, 45.2% abv (90.4 Proof) $110.00

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Demerara Sugar, Maple Syrup, and Old Cedar Box right off the top. Candied Dates, Big Vanilla, soft spices (CLOVE and Nutmeg), and Old Leather in the background. Very elegant for 20 years in new oak.

Palate: Velvety textured and again so elegant. I’d even say very well balanced for a 20 year old bourbon. The sip is redolent with oak and warm warm spices, but it’s never too much. It’s gorgeous actually. Sweet and fruity flavors evolve with spiced maple syrup, bitter orange, cinnamon stick, and honey.

Finish: The finish is also honeyed and warm with a touch of barrel. A surprising baked cinnamon apple fruitiness emerges as well. Didn’t anticipate that!

Overall: This is brilliant whiskey. The 20 year old is much less brutish and weighty in comparison to the 15. That does make it a bit less challenging, and as a result less interesting, but it’s so easy drinking. It’s also a testament to just how well wheated bourbons can handle the age and wood.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)