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Category Archives: Reviews/Ratings

Review: Antique Ryes – 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy

Two rye whiskeys are a part of the highly anticipated Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) released each fall, Sazerac 18 year and Thomas H. Handy. The later is a youthful 6 year old bottled at cask strength, while it’s older brother of 18 years is released at a more composed 90 proof. Their greatness cannot be disputed, at least not by me. I cannot recall a year when these whiskeys have not been at worst very good, and at best, some of the top whiskeys released in a given year.

So as not to add to the frenzy over these releases, I was leaning towards making Sour Mash Manifesto a BTAC free zone for 2012. That went out of the window as I simply I have no self control (for the record I’m sticking to my Pappy free zone pledge for 2012). Thanks goes to Brad Kaplan, of Thirsty South, for sending me a sampling of the Saz 18. Brad has an excellent post on the make up of this whiskey. It’s really quite interesting, and rather than rehash it, I’ll just link to his well written post.

Below are my tasting notes and ratings on these two rye whiskeys.

2012 Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00
Color: Medium/Deep Amber
Nose: Bright notes of mint, vanilla, spiced orange tea, cinnamon and old, dusty rye with a core of caramelized fruits (banana, orange), ripe berry, and hints of maple. Gorgeous layers and complexity. Softened by time.
Palate: Drier, and only moderately sweet. Toffee is fleeting now with a plethora of sweet orange flavors (marmalade and candied rind) dominating the palate. Vanilla, mint, clove and cinnamon add sparkle with hints of coffee bitterness.
Finish: Old wood, bitter orange, berry fruit, and hints of toffee.
Overall: Time continues to soften this whiskey into an even more harmonious sip. Perhaps the finest rye whiskey made today with one of the best noses in all of whiskey. Not much has changed with this one, but I consider it a must buy if you can locate it.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

2012 Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, 66.2% abv (132.4 Proof), $75.00
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich and syrupy – maple sugar, caramel, ample blasts of mint, licorice, and Big Red chewing gum. Hints of sticky fruits – cherry, raisins, and candied orange.
Palate: Bold and brash – big rye influence. Honey, maple syrup, kirsch, chili and cinnamon heat with bitter burned sugar.
Finish: Long and lingering warmth, wood spices, and sweet fruit.
Overall: An exceptional pour even at 6 years of age. Rich and concentrated with ample spice, fruit, and enough sweetness at it’s core to keep the whiskey anchored. What’s more – perhaps the easiest BTAC whiskey to located. Requires a healthy dose of water to wake things up.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

In spite of the family lineage – the 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy are two very different whiskeys. One uses finesse and well developed flavors that only time can create. The other – brute force and concentrated sweetness, fruit and spice. Both are superb.

Review: St. George Single Malt Whiskey 30th Anniversary Edition

St. George Spirits has been making Single Malt Whiskey consistently longer than any distillery in the United States. For those new to perhaps the country’s best craft distillery, check out my previous postings and an article I wrote for Dominic Roskrow’s World Whiskey Review. Each of these articles gives a bit more background on the distillery and their whiskey program.

What’s really unique about St. George’s single malt is their aging process. Specifically, they use a variety of barrels and ages to create a whiskey that retains the distillery’s DNA of complex fruit and roasted/toasted malt, but also has slight variances from release to release.

A mere 715 bottles make up the distillery’s 30th anniversary single malt release. The whiskey is comprised of some of the oldest whiskey stocks finished in a barrel that previously held pear brandy. St. George began making eau de vie, particularly pear, when the distillery opened in 1982. The flagship spirit was actually a pear brandy, so this release is a bit of a nod to the distilleries early days.

It’s worth noting that in October of 2011 I was at the distillery and had the opportunity to try a 14 year old single malt that was barrel proof, deep chocolate in color, and had the viscosity of berry syrup. It was one of the best sips of whiskey I had all year. In short, I can absolutely attest to the depth, complexity, and greatness of some of St. George’s stocks. Let’s take a look a closer look at this limited release whiskey.

St. George Single Malt Whiskey 30th Anniversary Edition, Bottle 689/715, 47.3% alcohol (94.6 proof), $400
Nose: Redolent with bright, fresh fruit aromas – honeydew, lush pear, and lemon-lime enriched with nutty toffee, vanilla cream, roasted nuts, and cocoa.
Palate: Ripe orchard fruits (Pear), lemon drops, candied ginger, and almond toffee.
Finish: The finish is full of roasted malt and nuts – long and lingering to balance out the sweetness on the nose and palate.
Overall To describe this whiskey as easy drinking is an understatement. I’ve burned through this bottle like Sherman through Atlanta. Don’t add a drop of anything to this – just pour and enjoy. The price is WAY up there considering I rated the Lot 10 Single Malt a 9.2. It is a limited release of 715 bottles for the lucky few that are able to score one. My advice – grab a bottle of the Lot 12 that was released earlier in the year. Perhaps not quite as honed and elegant as the 30th anniversary, but at $60-65, your wallet will thank you.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic)

Review: 2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon

The 2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC) is a blend of Heaven Hill’s rye-based (Evan Williams mashbill) and wheat-based (Old Fitzgerald/Larceny) bourbon. Put together, the whiskey is an assembly of four grains. This year’s release has large shoes to fill. The 2011 PHC was finished in Cognac barrels and received a 9.6 rating on Sour Mash Manifesto. It was without question one of my top 3-4 whiskeys of the year.

2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon, 65.8% abv (131.6 Proof), $80/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Caramel, demerara sugar, and vanilla wrapped around golden raisin with hints of ground cinnamon and ginger.
Palate: Sharp yet concentrated and syrupy on the palate -caramel syrup, sorghum, vanilla, cinnamon toast and moderate heat.
Finish: Long and lingering – sorghum and caramel sweetness with a roasty/toasty quality and rising warmth. Beautiful finish.
Overall: Not quite the uniqueness and level of quality of 2011′s cognac barrel finished bourbon, but the 2012 PHC is an excellent whiskey. The blend of rye-based and wheated bourbon don’t fight one another, but instead achieve a nice harmony. Maybe even a bit too much harmony.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

Review: Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year Bourbon

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year small batch bourbon is perhaps one of the most requested whiskey reviews I get asked about. So this one is a long time coming. The answer to the question of whether or not this is actual Stitzel-Weller bourbon is simple. Yes – this is from the same distillery that started the Van Winkle line. The distillery is known for their wheated bourbon mashbill, which is absent any rye grain. Below are my tasting notes on this old wheater.

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year Bourbon, Batch 13, 47% abv (94 Proof), $80/bottle
Color: Deep Amber/Copper
Nose: A heady mix of rum soaked dried fruits (raisin, dates), pancake syrup, toasted almonds, caramelized banana, vanilla wafers, old leather, and oak. Air time ramps up the wood influence quite a bit.
Palate: Toffee, fig preserves, vanilla, and heaps of oak and resiny grip.
Finish: Toffee sweetness, rich fruit, and wood make for a marvelous ending.
Overall: Jefferson’s 18 year old bourbon certainly packs a complex and flavorful punch. It’s layered with rich, sweet aromas and flavors. The whiskey drinks its age with a heavy wood influence, but the results can only be described as a superb whiskey. Highly recommended.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Cedar Ridge Bourbon Whiskey

Cedar Ridge bourbon is made by Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery in Swisher, Iowa. The distillery began distilling bourbon in July 2010. All of the distillation and aging is done in small batches, and aged on premises. The distillery also produces a number of brandies, grappa, and liquers in their distilled spirits portfolio.

Let’s take a closer look at this Iowa bourbon.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $37/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Golden/Honey
Nose: Anise, clove, juniper, pineapple, golden raisin, and cedar shavings. Youthful and bright.
Palate: A bit flat but pleasant – rock candy sweetness, clove, and nutmeg.
Finish: Juniper, clove, wood resin grip, and honey sweetness.
Overall: Cedar Ridge is a promising craft product. One sniff and sip and it’s clear the distillery is going for a lighter, brighter flavor profile – much like Koval out of Chicago. From that standpoint it’s unique and different from the onset. The distillery’s grappa and brandy roots are present as well. Frankly I am surprised this is 75% corn in the mashbill – the green rye notes come through well on both the nose and the palate. It’s certainly young, but that funky new make “craft” thing is not present here (that’s a good thing!). The distillate is clean and well made, but it needs more age and proof to add needed depth and richness. I am however intrigued and looking forward to future releases of this bourbon.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.6 (Good)

Review: Woodford Reserve Four Wood Bourbon

Last Tuesday I posted about the latest release as a part of Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release. For more insight on this release please check out the post here.

I received an advanced sample of this new whiskey. Here are my thoughts

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Wood Bourbon, 47.2% abv (94.4 Proof), $99/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Sweet and fruity – butter pecan, maple and toffee meets lush ripe orchard fruits (peach,, golden delicious apple, and muscadine jelly). An almost floral oak aroma adds interest.
Palate: Rustic, youthful, and corn laden up front on the palate. Maple and butter pecan flavors add needed sweetness before a drying oak tannin builds. The fruit hints at showing but never quite breaks through.
Finish: Buttered corn, maple sweetness, and bitter tannin.
Overall: Four Wood begins with an epic bang. The nose is absolutely phenomenal with lush fruit and candy shop sweets everywhere. It’s truly gorgeous and as unique a nose in all of whiskey. And that’s where things sort of get all wobbly. The palate is a patchwork of disjointed flavors with awkward transitions through the sip on to the finish. Frankly it’s a bit of a mess – not without some high points, but never coming together. It tastes a lot more youthful than standard Woodford. What I’m left with is too much of the toasted maple wood dryness on the palate and not enough of the fruit and lushness that the nose demonstrates. It’s not bad whiskey, in fact it begins (as I noted) with a boom, but it finishes with a flutter. Not something I’d recommend at this price. I’m a fan of Woodford Reserve. It gets piled on by enthusiasts but I’ve always felt it’s a very good, quality bourbon. The Master’s Collection releases however come across as a complete money grab by Brown-Forman. That I cannot get behind.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.2 (Good)