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Category Archives: Reviews/Ratings

Review: Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey

Angel’s Envy Bourbon has no doubt been quite a success story. The company set themselves apart with a sourced (not distilled by Angel’s Envy but procured) bourbon finished in port barrels. This easy drinking, fruity bourbon has won over a lot of folks, including me. I rated it a 9.3, which is an extremely high rating on my site. What I appreciated most about Angel’s Envy Bourbon is the company took a pretty standard, “good” bourbon whiskey and made it FAR better than the sum of its parts through this finishing (a second aging) process.

So what does the company do for the next major release?

Angel’s Envy has just answered that question with a new Rye Whiskey finished in Caribbean Rum casks. Offered at 100 proof, Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey begins with a sourced rye from Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly LDI). Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, or not paying attention, you’ve likely had an MGP rye in the form of Bulleit Rye, George Dickel Rye, or many other products on the shelves. MGP has built a name for producing unique bourbon and rye whiskeys that many independent bottlers are working overtime to make less unique.

Needless to say, a whiskey geek like me certainly looks forward to trying something like this. Here are my thoughts….

Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $70.00/bottle
Color: Light Amber
Nose: A trip to the islands. Brown sugar, Orange and grapefruit rind, candied pineapple, coconut cream, clove, and cinnamon with the green, fresh herbal and gin botanical spice notes ever present in MGP rye whiskeys. The rum influence is heavy handed, and I’d prefer something a bit more harmonious, but it’s intriguing and completely unique. A splash of water brought out some lemon-lime soda (WTF?).
Palate: Creamy on the palate with spiced honey, brown sugar syrup, golden raisin, cinnamon, and a sweet rye notes. The rye spice is most prevalent on the palate.
Finish: The finish lingers moderately with a big return of the rum, tropical fruit sweetness, and green rye spice.
Overall: I haven’t been more confused about a whiskey in a long time. In a world of sameness (all those other MGP ryes that taste VERY similar), it’s nice to nose and sip something different. Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey certainly qualifies as “different”. More similar to rye flavored rum from a profile perspective, I cannot say I have ever tasted a whiskey that’s picked up more aroma and flavor from a finishing process. That’s good and bad because the fresh, green rye notes fought the heavy, sweet rum influence from sniff to finish. I’d have preferred something a bit more harmonious and well integrated. One interesting little note – my lips and hands (dripped a little) smelled like I’d been drinking pina coladas all day. If you love (I mean LOVE) rum, and are looking for something totally different in the American Whiskey category – this one ticks all those buttons. I predict most will either love it or hate it, but give it a try and let me know what you think. It certainly has character (and a big price tag). Ahoy me hearties!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (Very Good)

***Sample provided for this review***

Review: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon

What’s in a name? Apparently Wild Turkey thinks you need to know that not only is the new Russell’s Reserve Bourbon release a single barrel, but it’s also small batch. That’s kind of a given as a single barrel, but whatever (those damn marketing guys).

Unnecessary words aside, I’m a Wild Turkey fan and also a fan of Russell’s Reserve. I enjoy the interplay and balance between fruit, spice, and sweetness that is a hallmark of WT products. The subject of this review does not have an age statement so we really don’t know what we’re looking at there. However, I’d guess something in the 5-7 year range (note: a faithful reader caught my lazy research to note this is 8-9 years according to Wild Turkey). What we do know is that RRSBSB is non-chill filtered, retaining all of the fatty acids and flavor carriers for the drinker to enjoy. To me – that’s a great thing! In addition we know that Wild Turkey puts their distillate in the barrel at a lower proof point than most all over bourbon distillers (55% abv or 110 proof). That’s neither good nor bad, but rather a philosophy that a distillery can deploy to their desired profile factoring in time and where the barrels will age in the warehouse.

With that out of the way, let’s get on with it why don’t we?

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon, 55% abv (110 Proof), $50/bottle
Color: Deep Amber (richly hued and dark)
Nose: Rich caramel, toffee, creamy vanilla, dried apricots, and honey are backed with a healthy dose of wood spices (cinnamon and clove), crushed rock, and barrel. The nose is closed at first but opens beautifully with some air time and a splash of water.
Palate: Bold and bracing character with a bit of a sweet streak to round things out. Creamy on the palate with caramel and vanilla. The spices erupt (cinnamon and clove) with charred barrel notes leading to the finish.
Finish: Lots of warmth, spice, and a moderate lingering sweetness.
Overall: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel is an outstanding whiskey – especially if bold, spicy bourbons with a heavy punch of barrel/wood notes are your thing. Not as balanced as some of the other offerings from Wild Turkey, and not quite as fruity, but that didn’t deter from my enjoyment. At 110 proof it takes a couple splashes very well, which helps to calm the storm a bit. Bottom line, this is bourbon worth buying if the flavor profile suits your tastes.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

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)