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Category Archives: Reviews/Ratings

Review: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon

Larceny Bourbon is the latest release from Heaven Hill Distillery. This small batch bourbon consists of 100 barrels “or less” aged in the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors of the aging warehouse. The name refers to John E. Fitzgerald’s (Old Fitzgerald namesake) propensity to use his keys to the aging warehouses to “steal” bourbon from the very best barrels at his disposal. These barrels became known as the “Fitzgerald barrels”.

I’m not exactly certain if Heaven Hill intends to eventually replace the Old Fitz line with Larceny, or if this is simply an additional product offering. Time will tell. For now, let’s take a taste of this new wheated bourbon.

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon, 46% abv (92 Proof), $24.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, caramelized banana, honeysuckle, corn, and a healthy dose of ground cinnamon. There is a bit of oaky resin as well.
Palate: Velvety on the tongue and surprisingly well spiced. Brown sugar syrup, vanilla, and notes of sweet corn are livened up big time with a cinnamon and wood spice punch.
Finish: Falls off quickly, but with an even warmth, never too hot, and a hint of honeyed sweetness.
Overall: This is an impressive release from Heaven Hill at this price point. First off – the proof is right on for an easy sipping and inexpensive wheated bourbon. They’ve left the flavor here without compromising drinkability. Because of the price, the natural comparison is against Maker’s Mark, but to me this compares closer in flavor profile with Maker’s 46. The healthy doses of cinnamon and wood spice have made for a much more interesting sip than the standard Maker’s.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: Evan Williams “White Label” Bottled in Bond Bourbon

Finding a great whiskey value can feel a little like Christmas morning for me. There’s something wonderful about getting a hold of a whiskey that brings great aroma and flavor at a ridiculous price point. But let’s also be honest. The “bottom shelf” is filled with whiskeys that are overly sweet, syrupy, and flabby. More times than not you end up with something you wish you hadn’t taken home. Hopefully I can help a little bit by weeding through some of that.

The subject of today’s review is Evan Williams “White Label”. It’s a bottled in bond whiskey at 100 proof and 50% alcohol, and costs less than $15. I was able to purchase it around $12.00 in Franklin, TN. Thanks to Greg over at BourbonDork for recommending I give it a try.

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond “White Label” Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $12.00/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Sweet Corn, vanilla custard, and banana dominate with some gentle notes of oak and wood spices.
Palate: At any price this is a well balanced whiskey. Again, sweet flavors of banana, vanilla fudge, and caramel sweetness. The palate, perhaps due to the proof, is a bit warmer and spicier than the nose eluded. From mid palate, cinnamon, clove, and barrel spices pop.
Finish: Warm with wood spices, caramel, and vanilla fudge. Moderate in length.
Overall: I’m a big fan of the Evan Williams White Label. I put off trying it sooner because I was concerned it might not be worth the time. That goes to show you to never judge a whiskey by the shelf it sits on. This bottled in bond bourbon is full flavored, well balanced with spice and sweetness, and is extremely versatile. It’ll be a Pyle household staple from this point forward I can assure you (take a look at how much was out of the bottle I reviewed if that tells you anything). At this price point it’s tough to beat. Next time you are in your local whiskey shop, while everyone’s checking out the expensive stuff at eye level, bend down and grab this simple looking bottle of Evan Williams. If you love bourbon I don’t think you’ll be sorry you did.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Outstanding)

Review: Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Bourbon

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery, out of Frederiksburg, VA, has been producing some excellent products in recent years. Owned by Sazerac since 2003, Bowman sources Buffalo Trace new make distillate and re-distills it at the distillery for a total of three distillations (reportedly). They age the whiskey on premises and recently opened a visitors center onsite.

A. Smith Bowman produces a Rye, a Small Batch Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and a number of limited release whiskeys. Last year I reviewed a barrel strength rye that was one of the best rye’s I tasted all year (2011).

Today I’ll be digging into the Small Batch Bourbon.

Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $29.99/bottle
Color: Light-Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, sorghum syrup, sweet cinnamon, red apple, and moderate oak influence.
Palate: Well balanced sweetness (brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla) with ample sharp spice notes (pepper, cinnamon, and all spice).
Finish: A shade dry and spicy. Charred wood bitterness and cinnamon with a touch of maple sweetness.
Overall: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon is a whiskey of very good quality. It offers a balance of sweetness and spice. I cannot say it’s very full flavored, nor is it complex, but it’s a damn fine sipper that offers some classic bourbon flavors. If you favor zippier bourbons, this one would certainly please you with its well defined wood/barrel sugars and spices.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)

Review: Old Fitzgerald 12 year Bourbon

Old Fitzgerald Bourbon first hit the market in the late 1800s, and was eventually produced by the much lauded Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, KY. Yes, the same distillery that once made bourbon under the Weller and Old Rip Van Winkle labels among others.

Diageo purchased the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1992, thus taking over the Old Fitzgerald brand. In the last 1990′s the brand was sold to Heaven Hill along with the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY which produces Old Fitz today.

Old Fitz still follows a wheated recipe made famous by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Exact mashbill proportions I am not aware of, but it’s safe to say the recipe is probably identical to the original.

Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $39.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Banana bread, toffee, buttered popcorn, and deep vanilla notes. There’s quite a bit of cinnamon spice and some staler aromas of sweet corn mash.
Palate: Soft as a puddle of toffee sauce. Rich vanilla custard, some maple sugars, and spicy cinnamon prickles the tongue. Very simple in terms of the flavors presented, but it does so with excellent structure. It’s not fat and overly sweet in the least.
Finish: A zippier finish than expected. The warmth from the cinnamon dominates with that ever present buttery toffee sweetness.
Overall: Old Fitz 12 year old is a beautiful whiskey full of classic wheated bourbon aromas and flavors, but made far more interesting with age. A wealth of cinnamon spice notes add some complexity, cutting the richer, sweeter flavors. My only slight criticism is the price is a good $13-15 more expensive than W.L. Weller 12 Year Old, which I rated an 8.8. Still, Old Fitz 12 is excellent whiskey and a delight to sip.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

Reviews: Few Spirits and Ranger Creek .36 Bourbon

It’s been a while since I’ve examined some new Micro-Distillery offerings. Here are two that have caught my eye of late, and warrant some discussion.

The first is Few Spirits Bourbon. Few Spirits is an upstart of the last 18 months out of Chicago, IL. Chicago’s a city that has seen more local distilleries popping up, which is a great thing. I have paid attention to Few Spirit’s growth, and was surprised to see their bourbon already in the Nashville, TN market. Few makes an aged rye, white whiskey, and gin as well.

The second whiskey, Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon, comes from the Ranger Creek brewery in San Antonio, TX. The operation calls itself a “brewstillery” of sorts. Texas’ Balcones and Garrison Brothers distilleries have received some press nationwide for their products, and Ranger Creek is poised to do so as well. The distillery focuses only on a bourbon whiskey for now.

Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45.00/bottle
Color: Golden/Light Amber
Nose: Brash, youthful whiskey notes give way to vanilla, golden raisin, demerara sugar, clove, and corn.
Palate: Spicy and dry. Caramel and maple syrup dries quickly with clove and allspice. Some astringent bitterness overpowers the sip leading to the finish.
Finish: A tad on the bitter side with sweet corn and cinnamon.
Overall: Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey is certainly drinkable, but there’s just way too much youth and rough edges to recommend it in any way. The label says “Aged in charred new oak barrels less than four years.” I’d guess no more than 6-9 months tops. Age is not the be all end all, but a whiskey is ready when it’s ready, and this one clearly needs more time to tie up the loose ends.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 6.7 (Decent)

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey, 48% abv (96 Proof)
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich chocolate caramels, vanilla, nougat, banana, cinnamon, flint, dry corn and hints of rye spice.
Palate: Big and bold attitude – bitter caramel, cinnamon, maple candy, and a touch of chili heat. One quick note – avoid water. It’s 96 proof, and tended to go a little lopsided with the addition of too much. Add with caution.
Finish: Long – a balance of sweet caramel and barrel spices.
Overall: Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon has been aged for 9 months. I would have guessed it to be far older. Some traces of the typical young whiskey notes are present, but overpowered by a deep, dark, rich aroma and flavor profile that belies it’s age. Easily one of the best whiskeys under 2 years of age that I’ve tried. Ranger Creek claims it has a lot to do with the aggressive Texas heat, which they believe ages the whiskey quicker and more aggressively. I certainly believe the well developed flavor profile demonstrates the later well. As a result I’m looking forward to seeing more from this distillery. If this bourbon is any indication they are doing something right in San Antonio.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: High West Campfire

One late April evening I was in a peated scotch whiskey mood. That’s somewhat rare. I’m not overly fond of peaty whiskies. I tend to feel the phenols overpower the subtle sweetness and fruitiness of the malt. There are a few that I do enjoy however. On this particular evening I was sipping the last of my Compass Box Flaming Heart, and moving my way into a pour of Compass Box Peat Monster. What I enjoy about these two whiskies is the peat presence is absolutely felt, but not at the expense of the malt, the fruit, and the toffee. In short they are balanced.

As I continued sipping, pondering Compass Box’s ways with the art of blending whiskey, I thought, “Geez, why doesn’t a distiller or independent bottler in the U.S. get a hold of some peated malt whiskey to add to a bourbon blend?” To me it just made sense – the rich, sweet, and sometimes spicy qualities of the bourbon seems like a perfect compliment to the smoky quality of a well made peated malt. I quickly dismissed the thought, “that would be way too costly.”

About a week later I received an email from David Perkins, proprietor of High West Saloon and Distillery. After a relatively tame 2011 (by High West standards) Perkins and co. were working on a new whiskey release called Campfire Whiskey. David explained that High West had finished the blending of 3 different batches of Campfire Whiskey and wondered if I would be interested in trying them along with some fellow enthusiasts.

A sample tasting ensued and I was able to try each of the blends. My favorite, oddly enough, happened to be the one (Sample C) with the highest percentage of peated whiskey in the blend. High West however was going after a much more subtle peat influence, and selected Sample A for public release. In hindsight – probably the smarter move, but more on that later.

Here’s the gist of Campfire Whiskey. Its a blend of a six year old bourbon distilled and aged at Midwest Grain Products (Formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana or LDI), a 5.5 year old rye whiskey also distilled at the former LDI and aged in the upper floors of the famed Stitzel Weller Warehouses in Kentucky, and finally an 8 year old peated Scotch whiskey from the Scottish mainland. Global blending anyone???

David Perkins is not at liberty to divulge the origins of the peated whiskey based on agreements (understandings rather) with the source distillery. And honestly, I’m sure some will complain about that, but I can live with not knowing. What I do know is High West is the first American Distillery (that I can recall) to produce a blended whiskey of this type.

It’s a wildly unconventional blend, and has a name that pays homage to the peat contained within. How does it taste?

High West Campfire Whiskey, 46% abv (92 Proof), $49.99/bottle

Color: Deep Golden/Amber

Nose: Bright and fruity up front with a tang of honey, golden dried fruits (apricot, apple, peach), hints of cinnamon, toffee, and only a lingering peat smoke note. The peat is faint as a whisper on the nose, but very much threaded throughout.

Palate: The bourbon and rye influence is felt first, balancing honey, dried golden fruits, and vanilla with a spark of the rye spices. There’s a bit more “zip” in the spice quotient on the palate. As these flavors fade, the smoke and peat adds a great deal of interest and needed complexity.

Finish: Quite fruity with lingering peat and a smoky quality.

Overall: Leave it to a bunch of whiskey outlaws in Utah to spit in the eye of conventional whiskey blending. The result is without question one of the most groundbreaking whiskeys of recent years. Overly dramatic? I don’t think so. High West has managed to “mingle” (Jim Rutledge term) global whiskeys into something that stands on it’s own. It’s not overly complex, but it works well together. I know what you may be thinking. This is a gimmick right? No, it’s not. Rather than be heavy handed with the peat, High West has shown a great deal of restraint with Campfire. The result is a whiskey that is livened up and made far more interesting with a kiss of peat. Unlike the name implies – there’s no fire here, just great whiskey.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)