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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)

Hoarding Whiskey Part 2

Apparently the whiskey hoarding debate from my post in late January struck a chord. Some response was positive, some negative, but regardless a fun discussion where over 50 comments can be read here. A nasty cold and cough have derailed my tasting and review plans for the week. But that’s okay – it allows me a chance to revisit this topic if you will allow me.

First, I wanted to further clarify my position. Like most things, it’s never black and white. I consider the hoarding mentality one of collecting whiskey for the sake of the collection. Who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your whiskey? It’s your money. If you can build your stash while not sacrificing your personal enjoyment of good whiskey, then I say go for it.

There were a number of great points made about being a smart consumer. Something I am not. I can only speak for myself but for me, my title as whiskey blogger runs opposite of the title, “smart consumer”. I buy 90+% of the whiskey I review, and taste a whiskey no less than 2-3 times (sometimes more) before writing about it. That requires plenty of sipping and not a ton of saving. If a smart consumer knows he loves XYZ whiskey, shouldn’t he take advantage of good pricing and stock up? Absolutely. If that smart consumer enjoys that whiskey and drinks it regularly that is not a hoarders pursuit in my opinion.

The biggest point I wanted to make is don’t let a hoarding mentality keep you from enjoying the great stuff you have in your cabinet. Don’t rush to finish all those open bottles, don’t crack your Pappy just because you think I said so (but if you already did – save me some), but do find the time to enjoy these whiskeys that you’ve purchased. Don’t always wait for the perfect moment – a great whiskey MAKES the perfect moment perfect.

And finally, for some background, I’m not one that lives in the past. I don’t believe that everything made back in the day was better. Doesn’t mean some wasn’t better, but nobody can convince me that the juice put out by some of these distilleries today is not as good or better today as it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Buffalo Trace makes better whiskey than Stitzel-Weller did from top to bottom. Is that subjective? No. ; )

A number of comments also saw an underlying optimism in my post. Those folks are absolutely correct. I don’t believe the whiskey bubble is close to popping. I don’t have facts or figures to discredit what others feel to be an absolute certainty, citing rising prices, rising gimmicks, and depleting supply as chief reasons. Sure, it saddens me to see stuff aged on boats, but constraints (lack of supply) also lead to wonderfully creative products we’d never have otherwise.

Distilleries are making more whiskey today than ever before. Yes it’s getting more expensive – that happens. But we will soon have even more viable choices with natural selection doing its thing on a number of the micro distilleries. I tasted a Balcones whiskey that is very good and will only get better. The better micro distilleries are forcing other micros to make ever better products. It’s also forcing established distilleries to be more creative.

You could argue that 2012 would be a chief knock against my theory for the most part. I consider it an average year for whiskey, perhaps one of the worst for me in the last 5 years. Still, I tasted enough great stuff from the likes of Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, High West, Heaven Hill, and St. George Spirits, among others, to keep me optimistic. Therefore I still encourage you to drink your good stuff.

It’s Wednesday night – have a pour in good health!

-Jason

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)

Smart move Maker’s Mark

Last week Maker’s Mark sent communication out through their Ambassadors membership program that they were reducing the percentage alcohol from 45% to 42% (90 proof to 84 proof). This angered me greatly. Not because I drink a lot of Maker’s Mark, but because clearly others do. I saw reducing the proof as a slap in the face to consumers. Chuck Cowdery posted some excellent thoughts on this on his blog if you’d like some more back story. Obviously I’m sure Maker’s Mark wouldn’t have made that decision were it not for parent company, Beam. But nevertheless the backlash was intense.

Today, Maker’s Mark issued the below statement on their website. I for one applaud them. This is the way it works in today’s digital age. The power of social media and the ability for company’s to read and process what is being said about them, made it far easier for Beam and Maker’s to address this. Companies are ran by people (and bottom lines), and they make mistakes. What’s important here is they corrected it. As angry as I was about the decision in the first place is as pleased as I am to see the change of heart.

Smart move Maker’s Mark!

-Jason

You spoke. We listened.

Dear Friends,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.

The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.

Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.

We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.

As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.

Sincerely,

Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr
Chief Operating Officer Chairman Emeritus
rob@makersmark.com bill@makersmark.com