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Review: Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Warehouse C (Tornado Surviving) Bourbon

In the spring of 2006, a tornado rampaged the grounds of Buffalo Trace distillery, doing considerable damage to two barrel aging warehouses, Warehouses B and C. Warehouse B had no barrels aging at the time, but Warehouse C held 24,000 barrels of whiskey that were now exposed to the elements due to damage to the upper regions of it’s roof and walls.

The bourbon in the third release of the E.H. Taylor Jr. label comes from 93 barrels aged in the top two levels of Warehouse C. These barrels were exposed to the extreme temperatures and weather for at least a few months until the repairs concluded the summer of 2006. Gimmick? Eh, I would say it certainly has the marketing folks fingerprints all over it, but it’s a pretty cool story.

What we do know is the “angels share”, a term commonly used to describe the amount of whiskey that evaporates or leaves the barrel over time, was nearly 64% for these barrels. That means the barrels had only about 35% (on average) of the whiskey still left in them. The bourbon was also between 9 years and 8 months to 11 years and 11 months old when it was batched together and bottled.

Here are my thoughts on this tornado dodging whiskey……..

Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Warehouse C (Tornado Surviving) Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $75

Color: Deep Amber

Nose: A fruit and spice forward nose with ever present oak throughout. Rich dark dried fruits (raisins, plums, figs) soaked in old rum, candied orange, nutmeg, clove and tobacco make for a simply gorgeous nose. Phenomenal!

Palate: Cinnamon, rye spice, and chili right from the start of the sip – very concentrated warmth up front. Candied dark fruits, berry syrup, and brittle caramel lend sweetness. Most of the flavor and punch are in the front half of the mouth, dipping significantly at mid palate, and then building again with very strong wood resin grip and bitterness towards the finish.

Finish: Big baking spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), bitter orange, black tea, and dark caramel. Moderate length.

Overall: E.H. Taylor Tornado (we’ll call it) has a big flavor profile befitting its story. I love the nose, finding it to be damn near perfect. The palate let me down just a bit with much of the excitement happening up front, and then petering out rather swiftly. Nevertheless there’s fantastic flavor here of the rich, deep, fruity, and spicy variety. If very well spiced and fruity bourbons are your thing – this will be right up your alley. This is also the best of the 3 E.H. Taylor releases to date by a considerable margin in my opinion. The price however could use some review. I’d like to see this much closer to $50, and in return the value quotient would improve. Regardless it’s still a superb whiskey worthy of consideration if you don’t mind paying the price.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Willett Family Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon – 8 Year (Barrel 305)

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) is an Independent Bottler based in Bardstown, Kentucky. While KBD has been in the process of renovating the old Willett Distillery, until recently it had not been doing any distillation. The company’s model has centered on sourcing choice barrels from other distilleries for bottling under their many labels. After the first of the year KBD was able to crank up the still at the distillery, and I sure hope to see some of their own distillate coming out soon. Until then…….

One of their more popular products is the Willett Family Reserve line of longer aged bourbons. The subject of this review is the 8 year old version. The source distillery is unknown and the folks from KBD would probably have to take out all of my taste buds one by one (a fate worse than death) if they told me. Here are my thoughts….

Willett Single Barrel Bourbon (8 Year) , Barrel #305, 64.15% abv (128.30 Proof), $50

Color: Deep Mahogany

Nose: Baked banana, smoky caramel, sorghum syrup, vanilla, cocoa, flint and roasted nuts.

Palate: This is brooding whiskey – molasses, toffee, dark chocolate caramels, bitter espresso, and heavily toasted bread. There is a good bit of waxiness as well. In spite of the deep dark flavors, this whiskey does not drink it’s proof. I would have guessed something around 100-105 – it hides it very well.

Finish: Huge finish with cocoa, coffee, toffee and more of the wood spices than were present on the palate (clove and cinnamon in spades). There’s a nice interplay between bitter and sweet.

Overall: What a fantastic whiskey! This is “end of a great meal” whiskey that could easily substitute for a well balanced dessert. Intense, sweet, bitter, solidly spiced, and interestingly smoky. I loved it from start to finish. At $50 it’s certainly not inexpensive, but considering the proof it is a tremendous value. Without hesitation, this can go toe to toe with the big boys from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. One note of caution – as mentioned in the opener, KBD sources these barrels. I can only imagine their program focuses in some way on consistency and flavor profile, but it’s still a single barrel product. As a result I would expect some variation. Please note that I’ll continue tasting some additional barrels and will post my thoughts and updates as I try them. Even considering the potential for variance, I highly recommend you give this one a try.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Eagle Rare 17 Year Bourbon

I am making my way through the last of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. For this review we are taking a look at Eagle Rare 17 Year Bourbon. This 17 year old whiskey is made using the same mashbill as Buffalo Trace’s namesake whiskey. The 2011 release is one of the better Eagle Rare 17′s I’ve had in the last 3-4 releases.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Vanilla, baked banana and apple, sorghum syrup, old rum, a touch of corn, and sweet baking spices.

Palate: Viscous and creamy mouth feel. Vanilla fudge, spiced (cinnamon and clove) caramel, corn cakes, maple syrup, apple cider, and well toasted oak. There is a bit of resinous grip as well, but it drinks so easily.

Finish: Lingering fruitiness, tea, and juicy old oak – moderate length.

Overall: Eagle Rare 17 Year is not quite as interesting as it’s 4 other brothers in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC). For starters it has a rather pedestrian proof point in comparison. However, let’s remember that the BTAC is made up of some of the best whiskeys in the world. The pluses for Eagle Rare 17 are still many. It’s absolutely the easiest drinking of the bunch, and has an oily “texture” on the palate with tremendous aroma and flavor – no doubt aided by 17 years in oak. If you are new to the world of bourbon or perhaps don’t like the challenge of 125+ proof whiskey, then this is absolutely where I would point you within the collection. For the initiated willing to water their own, I would probably steer you to one of the others. Regardless this is beautiful stuff worthy of a Superb/Outstanding rating.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

2011 Sour Mash Manifesto American Whiskey Awards

The world doesn’t need any more whiskey awards. This is probably a fact we can all agree on, but I felt compelled to acknowledge some great work in 2011. I hope you’ll allow me to add my contribution to what I believe to be the best of American Whiskey for the year.

Sour Mash Manifesto America Whiskey Awards – 2011

Distillery Of The Year: Buffalo Trace
This was actually the easiest pick of all. When it comes to whiskey, few distilleries in the world can touch Buffalo Trace’s monstrous portfolio of rye whiskeys and bourbon. If you favor value focused products, then Buffalo Trace’s namesake bourbon delivers in spades. If you are looking for high end whiskey offering more distinctive flavors, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bring 5 whiskeys to the table with three or four vying for best American Whiskey of the year. This year also saw the first (from what we’re told) Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon made entirely from Buffalo Trace wheated bourbon stock (they supply the Old Rip Van Winkle line as well). On top of all of that, Buffalo Trace undertook perhaps the most educational whiskey endeavor ever with the unveiling of the Single Oak Project. In spite of what I think of Single Oak as a whole, there is no doubt that it will serve to provide Buffalo Trace with invaluable information to help them continue to craft great whiskey. There are many great distilleries in America, but in my opinion none can match Buffalo Trace in 2011.

Bourbon Whiskey Of The Year: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
If you want to get hardcore bourbon enthusiasts riled up, start feeding them information about shortages of their much beloved Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon. Stitzel-Weller, closed since the early 90′s, has been the source of bourbon whiskey for the longer aged Pappy Van Winkle line. Last fall, Preston Van Winkle made it known that the Fall/Winter 2011 release of Pappy 15 was 100% Buffalo Trace wheated recipe bourbon. From that point the anticipation and frenzy reached new heights even by Pappy Van Winkle standards. Would it be as good? Did they ruin one of the most highly regarded bourbons on the planet? The short answer is “No!” The resulting bourbon lacked some of the softness and refinement of the Stizel-Weller whiskey, but made up for it with ramped up spice and bolder wood notes, which in some ways made the whiskey even more interesting. In spite of slight differences, the Pappy 15 DNA was still present, resulting in the highest rated whiskey of the year (9.7/10).

Rye Whiskey Of The Year: Sazerac 18 Year
2011 was a big year for rye. The craft and micro distillers have been on the rye bandwagon for a while now, but some of the big boys and independent bottlers got in on the act as well. A common trend for the year were sourced rye whiskeys from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI). LDI’s 95% rye mashbill could be found in various ages, and bottled under names like Bulleit, Templeton, and Redemption to name a few. While quite good, many of these whiskeys tasted similar, leaving an opportunity for a new release rye whiskey to stand out from the crowd. Enter Buffalo Trace with their home run release of the 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey. Each year this whiskey proves to be one of the better ryes, but the 2011 version had added depth and complexity. Few whiskeys can match the balance of dryness and sweetness as well as capturing both the vibrancy of rye with the stateliness of older whiskey. Not to mention that it’s one of the best noses in whiskey – period. Without a doubt one of the best Rye Whiskeys I had this year.

Craft Whiskey Of The Year: St. George Spirits Single Malt, Lot 10
Situated in a former Naval aircraft carrier along the San Francisco Bay sits one of the coolest distilleries in the country. St. George Spirits has been making whiskey longer than most craft or micro distilleries, but their approach and attitude is still fresh and vibrant. Well known for creating fantastic gins, absinthe, and liquers, the pride and joy of the distillery is the Single Malt Whiskey. Actually I just made that part up. They’d probably tell you their pride and joy is something else that they make, but to me it should be their pride and joy – it’s phenomenal. The Single Malt is made from a Sierra Nevada Beer, crafted especially for the distillery using a number of different barley malts (chocolate malt makes it’s presence felt). The resulting whiskey is unlike any other being made today – fruity and full of deep, rich, smoky notes from the beer. With more than 15 years of whiskey making under their belt, I can’t wait to see where St. George takes this delicious Single Malt Whiskey.

Value Whiskey Of The Year: Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Bottled In Bond
I consider whiskey a “for the people” product – something to be enjoyed by all. As a result, value is very important to me. Don’t get me wrong I love the high end stuff and can’t wait to try them each year. But I get really excited when I get my hands on a whiskey at a great price that sacrifices nothing in the way of flavor and character. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey (Bottled in Bond), which is distilled by Brown Forman for Heaven Hill, is undoubtedly one such whiskey. At 100 proof, this rye whiskey packs a wallop with great depth and balance. Unlike some of the newer rye whiskey offerings consisting of 90+% rye grain, Rittenhouse is less rye-forward. I categorize it as a “bourbon drinker’s rye” – a bit richer and fuller bodied. At between $19-$24 depending on your area, Rittenhouse is a must find for the value seeker. I keep a bottle on hand at all times, and consider it a foundation whiskey for any great bar. NOTE: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond is now being distilled at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery.

As we all know, taste is very subjective. The above represent whiskeys and a distillery that I believe to be worthy of distinction relative to their peers. What about you? What gets your vote for whiskey of the year?

Review: 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey

Sazerac 18 year old Rye Whiskey is one of five Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskeys released each fall. It is usually the more composed, elegant, and stately representative of the lineup’s two ryes. The much younger Thomas H. Handy Rye, which is offered at barrel strength and around 6 years of age, is the second in the release. (As an aside, I’ve often wondered why the Handy fits into a release called the “Antique Collection”, but it’s outstanding whiskey!)

Does the 2011 Sazerac 18 live up to its billing as one of the best rye whiskey releases of the year?

Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00

Color: Deep amber

Nose:  The rye is floral and sweet with a darker side. Vanilla taffy, soft mint, sweet orange rind, a bit of cinnamon stick, caramelized banana, and maple syrup against old leather. The rye’s edges have been rounded beautifully by wood and time, but still have some vibrant zip.

Palate: Only moderately sweet, which is a different impression than the nose indicated. Brittle toffee and orange marmalade try to anchor the vanilla, crisp mint, and cinnamon. Chicory coffee, pepper, moderately spicy rye, and some light woody grip adds interest.

Finish: Bolder wood notes and chicory bitterness are mellowed with lingering fruit (citrus rind, berry) and rock candy.

Overall: One of the best available Rye Whiskeys each year, but this year is exceptional indeed. The nose alone is one of the finest in whiskey. A slightly higher proof might help to add more body. Outside of that, it is simply brilliant rye.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection: George T. Stagg Bourbon Review

2010 George T. Stagg Bourbon, 71.5% abv (143 Proof), $70-$80/bottle

Color: Deep Mahogany

Nose: Rich and flooding with almond toffee, ripe banana, vanilla, sweet spices, popcorn, and a tangy sweetness of sorghum and molasses. A scant teaspoon of water to a 2 oz. pour ramps up the spices, dried fruits, and deep oak notes.

Palate: On the palate this bourbon just hits you with flavors in waves and it keeps on coming. Few whiskies can match it in that department. Deep dark sticky caramel, Rum Bananas, vanilla, Dried Dark Fruits, root beer, fudge, and intense sweet spices of cinnamon, clove, and mint are dominant when sipped neat. A teaspoon of water brings out the barrel flavors and rounds out the alcohol edge and heat.

Finish: Candied sweetness, smokey oak, and woody spices. Very long.

Overall: The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection produces five of the most highly anticipated releases each year. Finding them can be a real pain in the rear. Allocation of this stuff, particularly the bellwethers of the group, George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller, is frustrating. Both are huge whiskies at barrel proof, but certainly different. George T. Stagg is the leader of this pack. Some may argue Weller or one of the ryes (Sazerac 18 or Thomas H. Handy) are better, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Stagg is probably the single biggest bruiser of a whiskey on the planet. At 140+ proof, it packs a hell of a punch. Some may find it lacks a little grace and tact akin to taking a bazooka to a knife fight, but there is no arguing that it’s special. It’s also fun to sip a whiskey that is over 1.5 times the strength of todays more standard 90 proof offerings. But if that sounds like a novelty only, it’s not. George T. Stagg is is seriously fantastic whiskey. I’d recommend taking all the time you need and enjoy this one neat first. But for me, a splash of water helps to cool the alcohol flames enough to where those flavors shine even further. Don’t dilute it too much – after all you bought it for the beast that it is.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic classification)