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Category Archives: Reviews/Ratings

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbons have a subtlety and balance that resonate with me. It seems that with each year, Heaven Hill manages to release an EWSB whiskey with flavors that are well integrated and harmonious. Nothing stands too far out in front. The last four vintages have been excellent, but will the 2003 measure up?

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Vintage 2003, 43.3% abv (86.6Proof), $29/bottle
Barrel 78, aged 9 years 8 months
Color: Deep golden
Nose: Caramel apple, honey, vanilla taffy, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Palate: As with the 2000 and 2002 especially, this 2003 is a well balanced blend of sweetness, fruit, and oak. Honey and vanilla up front, burnt sugar, dried apricot, golden raisin, and a solid backbone of oak and wood spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).
Finish: Candy corn sweetness, oak, crushed rock, and warm wood spices.
Overall: Heaven Hill is in a groove with the distillery’s Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage dated bourbons. The 2003 is just a shade less exciting than the previous three years, but sill marked with the usual grace and easy drinking personality. This is whiskey you can buy at a great price and knock them back without sacrificing quality. I will say that Heaven Hill would have a stunner with a bit more stickiness and mouth feel at a higher proof. The distillery is releasing a barrel strength Elijah Craig 12 Year at around $40-45, so I hope they add a similar version of EWSB soon as well.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Outstanding)

Review: Mellow Corn Corn Whiskey

What do you think of when you hear the words “corn whiskey”? Perhaps images of backwoods stills and mason jars come to mind. As my recent post of Balcones’ True Blue corn whiskey demonstrates, a lot of micro distilleries are taking on the humble grain and crafting some very interesting products. However, let’s not forget this category has been around for a long time.

Heaven Hill produces more corn whiskey than any other distillery today, including the subject of this review, Mellow Corn. I’ve noticed over the last couple years the distillery’s pushing this flagship corn whiskey over J.W. Corn and Dixie Dew, which are essentially the same products. To me that makes a lot of sense. How many corn whiskeys does a distillery need to sell?

By now you are probably aware that one of the components required for a whiskey to be called “bourbon” is a corn content of at least 51%. Corn whiskey in contrast must contain greater than 80% corn. In addition, and also unlike bourbon, corn whiskey may be aged in used barrels.

Mellow Corn Specs: Mellow Corn is 90% corn with a small percentage of rye and barley making up the remaining 10%. The whiskey’s golden chardonnay color indicates it has been aged in used barrels. We also know it’s been sitting in wood for at least four years. Even though Mellow Corn is bottled in bond at 100 proof, the resulting aging process produces a much lighter style of whiskey with some rustic edges.

Mellow Corn Corn Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $12/bottle
Color: Gold/Chardonnay
Nose: Bright and brisk – heaps of vanilla taffy, dried banana, sweet corn, and honey.
Palate: A bit of ginger spice and warm spice wrapped around a soft, sweet core of vanilla taffy and banana. Moderate warmth and rustic corn grain edges.
Finish: Longer finish than I expected. Vanilla and bit of white pepper.
Overall: Mellow Corn is not a complex whiskey to say the least, but it’s bright and easy sipping even at 100 proof. Where it gets it right is with balance. It’s not overly sweet, mildly spiced, and with great vanilla and banana fruitiness. I laugh when I read negative comments about Mellow Corn. Mostly because it’s well made, good whiskey. If you put this in the hands of someone like John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky Company overseas, he’d blend this into something marvelous that people would buy for $50. Would I recommend you absolutely go out and buy Mellow Corn? No, I can’t say that I would. However if you are interested in building on your whiskey education, an $11-13 purchase would go a long well to give you an appreciation of the style.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.7 (Good)

Review: Balcones True Blue

As “micro” or “craft” distilleries go, few are hotter right now than Balcones out of Waco, TX. The distillery’s portfolio of whiskeys and spirits is ever increasing. Not to mention they’ve snagged some pretty high honors in recent years. In 2012 they were named craft distillery of the year by “Whisky Advocate” magazine. Master Distiller, Chip Tate, has taken the road less traveled with the distillery’s use of interesting grains, such as blue corn, for Balcones’ signature whiskeys.

Today’s review is for Balcones True Blue, the distillery’s cask strength, 100% blue corn whiskey. At 125.6 proof, this one is a big one.

Balcones True Blue Corn Whiskey, Batch TBU-12, 62.8% abv (125.6 Proof), $57/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar syrup, cinnamon spiced pecans, and creamy coffee liqueur overcome some of the funky, new make undertones. The oak stays very much in the background, with a rustic corn quality adding savory aromas to a very sweet nose. Overall there is a level of complexity here that belies its age
Palate: Brown sugar, HUGE cinnamon spice and chile heat, tamed a bit by dried fruits (dried apple and apricot) and honey.
Finish: Increasing warmth with a very long cinnamon and honey finish.
Overall: True Blue gained favor with me at every sip. With more air time, and a splash of water, the layers of aromas and flavors developed dramatically. It is young juice – there is no mistaking that. However there is also a level of complexity with True Blue that is astonishing. It’s clear that Chip Tate and Balcones are making very good whiskey. I’m now paying attention and looking forward to trying more of their products. If you are listening Balcones, keep a few of those barrels back for some older releases. If you do that I think you have a real stunner on your hands.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.1 (Very Good)

Review: Bulleit and Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon

Bulleit is a growing brand owned by the largest beverage alcohol company in the world, Diageo. Bulleit has certainly made a name for itself in the last 14 or so years. A lot of Bulleit’s growth has to do with being embraced by the ‘craft’ cocktail movement that has taken place in the last decade. I don’t have a plethora of facts to back that up admittedly but if you have been paying attention at your local upscale watering holes I think you’ll agree.

The first product produced under the Bulleit brand was Bulleit Bourbon, a high rye grain bill made for Diageo by Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. Seagrams owned Four Roses since the early 1940′s, and purchased the Bulleit brand name in the late 90′s. Upon hitting hard times due to a diluted portfolio, Seagrams was purchased by Vivendi, who then sold it’s whiskey brands to Diageo. Whew (almost done)! Diageo then sold Four Roses to Kirin out of Japan, but kept the Bulleit brand name, which was distilled at Four Roses under contract. That contract continues to this day for Bulleit brand bourbons.

In the last year and a half, Bulleit expanding portfolio saw the introduction of a rye whiskey produced by Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly LDI). In the last month they’ve released a 10 year old version of namesake Bourbon. The subject of this review is the company’s orange labeled flagship as well as the new 10 year old. Let’s get to tasting shall we…….

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Deep Orange
Nose: Caramel, fragrant and sweet orange rind, clove, vanilla, spiced honey, hints of banana, and wet stone. The nose is crisp, mildly floral, and razor sharp.
Palate Caramel and vanilla up front but overcome quickly by cinnamon red hots, orange rind, and clove. Healthy spices here but with an attitude that is not overly aggressive nor too “hot”.
Finish Cinnamon, vanilla, lingering earth/minerality and barrel.
Overall: One sip and you’ll see why Bulleit is loved by cocktail enthusiasts. It’s clean and sharp leaning towards the drier side of things on the palate. As a neat sipper it works very well and offers versatility in a shaker to boot. Much like Four Roses Small Batch, when used to make an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep, the fruit and spice notes really come through. This one is not very frontier like at all, and that’s probably a good thing.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)

Bulleit 10 Year Old Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, 45.6% abv (91.2 Proof), $45/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/ Deep Orange/ Copper
Nose: Stickier, richer and fuller on the nose than little brother. Caramel candy, maple sugars, vanilla, citrus rind, black tea, clove, and a healthy backbone of wood.
Palate Caramel and vanilla wrapped around a fruity core of orange and red apple. The wood notes ramp up quickly at mid palate. Barrel spices abound (cinnamon, clove, and a bit of licorice bite) without being overly dry.
Finish Big barrel spice and wood notes. Subtle caramel sweetness. Moderate length.
Overall: Certainly the oak influence is ramped up considerably as you would expect, but not overly so. It’s a bit sweeter, richer, and bolder than the younger Bulleit. It’s also a great sipper neat, with a splash, or with a cube. I found the fruitier and sweet spice notes more pleasing to my palate on the whole, but keep in mind the $20 price difference. Is it worth it? If you are a Bulleit fan or a fan of drier bourbons I’d recommend this one.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

Review: Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

The line of Colonel E.H. Taylor whiskey products just keeps on growing and growing. The Small Batch is the latest in the lineup, and hits the shelves at the least expensive price point. Here are my thoughts on this bottling:

Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $40/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Caramel corn, sorghum, vanilla fudge, red apple, and rich wood spices. Gorgeous sweet, mildly fruity nose with a balance of wood and spice.
Palate Butterscotch, corn, molasses, cinnamon heat, and wood astringency (grip). Some bitterness really sets in late in the sip.
Finish Cinnamon and wood notes prevail – moderately long finish for a flatter palate profile.
Overall: This is one that settles in the “good” range for me. I’m just not sure what it is – none of these E.H. Taylor whiskeys have really wowed me. Pleasing, straight forward in flavor, but the palate of this small batch has some flaws – sweet and heat up front, very flat ride in the middle, then emerging bitterness. Buffalo Trace rarely misses, but for me this one slips a bit from the nose on through to the finish.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.7 (Good)

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (2012)

Four Roses first introduced a limited edition small batch bourbon a good 4 or so years ago. At that time the distillery called this product “Mariage” (one “r”) because it started as a marriage of 2 different bourbons from the distillery’s ten bourbon recipes.

In speaking with Four Roses Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, in early 2011 (videos here), he informed me that the term “Mariage” was often mispronounced by the buying public. Consumers were confusing the term with a the wine term, meritage. In addition, the name was limiting for the distillery due to the common meaning of marrying just two components. Jim was interested in creating a small batch blend that didn’t constrain him to only two whiskeys.

For the 2010 release, Four Roses chose to stick with simplicity, calling the bourbon the “Limited Edition Small Batch”. The name has stuck since. The 2012 edition is a blend of a 17 & 11 year old OBSV, 12 year old OBSK, and a 12 year old OESK.

For clarification, the “B” in the designation refers to the distillery’s higher rye (35%) bourbon while “E” is the lower rye (20%) version. Even at 20%, that’s a great deal more rye content than the average bourbon whiskey on the market. Venturing a guess, I’d say average is closer to the low teens in terms of percentages. In addition, the “V” in the recipe refers to the distillery’s fruitier, creamier yeast strain. “K” refers to a spicier strain of yeast. These four whiskeys were “mingled” (as Jim refers to it) together to create a harmonious blend. The results are something truly epic.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (2012), 55.7% abv (111.4Proof), $70/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Copper/Burnt Orange
Nose: Cinnamon, allspice, candied orange, brandied cherries, maple fudge, and heaps of vanilla. So full of bright wood spice tamed by sweet, soft fruit.
Palate: Vanilla cream, maple, and toffee on the palate with prickles of cinnamon and chili heat. Bitter orange, grapefruit, and cherry add a layer of fruitiness. Well structured, and layered flavors unfold with each sip.
Finish: Wood and spices bring on warmth while the fruit and vanilla notes linger long.
Overall: Four Roses has managed to create one of the great bourbons of all time with the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch. I can’t think of a more complex and satisfying pour of whiskey for 2012 than this one. It’s amazing that in a time when the Pappy and the Antique Collection products seem to gain all of the press, a whiskey of this stature can still be found on shelves. What I enjoy so much about Four Roses is that it tastes like………Four Roses. There’s nothing else quite like it. The wood never dominates and these whiskeys amaze you with both their finesse and their power. At 55.1% alcohol, I had little trouble sipping this neat. A splash of water tones down the heat, ramps up the fruit, and makes for a completely different (yet not less satisfying) sip. Well done Four Roses – my shoe-in American Whiskey of the Year.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.8 (Epic)