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Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon, 8 Years Old, 40% abv (80 Proof), $30-38

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection, which includes Knob Creek Small Batch, Baker’s 107, and Booker’s. Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied and highest rye recipe of the four, with as much as double the rye grain content. This bourbon is named after Mr. Hayden himself, who moved to KY in the late 1700s. He was a distiller and was reportedly one of the first to employ this very high rye mash bill for bourbon distillation. It yielded a very different flavor profile. So how does it fare?

Color: Light Amber/Golden

Nose: Clean, and crisp. Wildflower honey, mint, eucalyptus, loose leaf black tea, menthol, and dried citrus peel work in tandem with intense rye grain. Vanilla makes brief appearances. This nose could pass for rye whiskey, and it immediately put me into summer time.

Palate: Again, light with flavors of honey, mint, vanilla, candied lemon peel, and rye in spades.

Finish: We’re seeing a theme with this whiskey. The finish falls off sharply and dryly, but in proportion to what you’d expect for such a light bodied pour. Rye grain and minty warmth remain just to let you know it’s there.

Overall: It’s been noted by visitors to this website and others at just how often Jim Beam products can get brushed aside by “enthusiasts”. I suppose it’s tough to pull for the big boys, and you don’t get much bigger than Beam. Well, I beg of you to cast aside any preconceived notions and bias when you try this one. If you do, then a light and fresh whiskey with rye intensity and subtle sweetness awaits you. Basil Hayden’s refreshingly crisp quality lends itself well to warm weather sipping – it immediately reminded me of summer. I would like to see this offered around 90-92 proof (it would get lost above that). At that range I feel we’d see more of the heat, spice, and complexity that’s been diluted down a bit at the current proof.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Knob Creek (9 Year) Small Batch and Single Barrel Bourbon Reviews

Knob Creek is an extremely popular and well made bourbon from the folks at Jim Beam. If you drink bourbon or American Whiskey, the chances are great that you have tried or heard of Knob Creek. It’s a 9 year old small batch bourbon (a batching of numerous barrels) that is a part of Jim Beam’s “Small Batch Bourbon Collection” along with Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Booker’s Bourbon.

This past February Beam put out a very highly anticipated Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve. It too is 9 years old and is a single barrel version of the small batch. Based on the below thoughts I’m pretty convinced it’s also from some very choice barrels. Enjoy the review!

Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon, 9 Years Old, 50% abv (100 Proof), $32
Color: Deep Amber w/ glittering orange highlights
Nose: Burnt sugar and maple syrup dominate at first, then joined by dark dried fruits (particularly raisin quality), flint, and fresh oak. The oak influence is very prevalent in the nose of this whiskey.
Palate: Much like the nose, the small batch starts out with a sweet maple syrup entry as you bust through a crackle of hard caramel candy. Bitter char and sappy, wood resin intensifies almost as soon as the sweetness subsides. Things begin to quickly dry up as the spice takes over with cinnamon, clove, and black licorice playing the lead roles. The later third of the sip is an eruption of dry oak through to the finish.
Finish: Dry, lingering oak for days with some sweet and herbal notes. It’s worth noting, that while I didn’t detect it from the nose and palate, the empty glass (after drying) had a definite honeysuckle scent to it.
Overall: I can surely see why Knob Creek Small Batch has such a strong following. It’s a hefty bourbon with great sweetness, spice, and wood. With each tasting I grew to like it more and more. I would have preferred if the oak influence had been toned down just a bit, but I did enjoy the strong and hearty ways of this bourbon. Beyond just being a fantastic neat sipper, I am certain it would make a fantastic old fashioned or whiskey cocktail. The spice and oak really shines through.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

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Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, 9 Years Old, 60% abv (120 Proof), $40
Color: Deep Amber w/ glittering orange highlights
Nose: The family resemblance is definitely there, but the Single Barrel handles it’s business a bit more harmoniously in spite of 20% more alcohol. The nose is richer, fuller, more earthy and complex than the Small batch. Spicy cinnamon, mint, and floral notes are sandwiched between sweet maple syrup and a dry, clean oak. Leather and tobacco linger in the background.
Palate: This is a sticky, viscously textured bourbon with heaps of maple and marmalade livened with black pepper, clove, sweet spearmint, and a smoky oak quality (BBQ smoke). The char and barrel flavor is very prevalent, but in better balance with the other flavors than in the small batch.
Finish: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve finishes with sappy wood, mint, sweetness, and rising warmth that lingers.
Overall: This Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve was a real eye opener for me. In fact it is superb. I expected a more intense version of Knob Creek at 20% more alcohol. While I got that to some degree (there is a family resemblance for sure as mentioned), the flavor delivery is so much better with the Single Barrel. This is a complex bourbon packing loads of great flavor in a more balanced package than the Small Batch. With only about an $8 upgrade in price, the decision for me is pretty easy. The Single Barrel is the hands down winner and a good value at the price. Please do note: As with all single barrels there most certainly will be some variance from barrel to barrel. However I have a pretty good feeling they hand selected the very best barrels for their single barrel offering.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

A Day at Four Roses

A Mighty Fine Monday
****Picture Links Below****

February 7th wasn’t a normal Monday for me. When bourbon awaits, not even a steady, bone chilling rain (that soon turned into two inch flakes of snow) can mess up your mood. By 9:30 a.m. I was sitting out front of Four Roses’ aging and warehousing facility in Cox’s Creek, KY. What a great place to take in the views of twenty aging warehouses holding barrel after barrel of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It may have been a mental thing, but you could almost smell bourbon in the air.

Shortly after arriving, I was joined by Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge. A month or so earlier, Jim had extended an invite to come check out the facilities. Obviously, I jumped at the chance. Jim is responsible for the end quality of amber nectar that bears the Four Roses emblem. As you will see in posts that will follow, he’s responsible for a lot more than just that.

Jim had just returned from a week-long trip to California. As Four Roses’ most prominent brand ambassador, Jim doesn’t pass up a chance to talk about Four Roses Bourbon to anyone that will listen. He quickly tells a story about an event the previous week. “Last week I was asked by event organizers how long I had prepared to speak”, he starts out. “I told them as long as anyone will listen…….. I was serious.”

That point wasn’t lost on me as the day continued. Nearly seven hours later I was still talking whiskey, bourbon, and Four Roses with Jim Rutledge. Two inches of snow and falling temperatures might have been the only reason the conversation ended when it did. It was a hell of a day.

The Week Ahead

Over the next week, Sour Mash Manifesto will be posting content from the visit with Four Roses and Jim Rutledge. With nearly 2 hours of video footage and hundreds of pictures, it’s a tough task to consolidate. Rather than smash things together in 1-2 posts, I’ve broken them down into 4-5 segments for easier viewing.
This was a lot of fun. I truly hope you enjoy it as well.

Four Roses Distillery and Aging/Bottling Facility

Today’s post is focused on a tour of the distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY and the Aging/Bottling facility in Cox’s Creek, KY. I’ve divided them into two Flickr photo sets. Each picture has a caption with a good bit of detail. If you have the time, please take a moment to read the captions. They will help give more context and background on Four Roses operations, the history of the distillery, and the uniqueness and philosophies behind the product.

Click on the “red” link below to check ‘em out!

Four Roses Distillery Tour

Four Roses Aging/Bottling Facility

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2001 Bourbon Review

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon Vintage 2001, 43.3% abv (86.6 Proof), $26-29/bottle

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Sweet notes of deep vanilla, rich caramel, butterscotch, maple, and banana are spiced with cinnamon, all spice, and toasted oak.

Palate: A reasonably thick viscosity at this proof. A caramel and maple syrup entry are followed early with intense dry spice (cinnamon, allspice), baked red apple (cider-like), and fairly heavy oak, resin, and char.

Finish: Warm spices and dry, toasted oak dominate this long finishing whiskey.

Overall: For my tastes, the Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 Vintage was probably the best sub $30 whiskey released last year. While extremely complex and flavorful, it was also elegant, dancing on the tongue as you sipped. Stylistically there is definitely a family resemblance, but the 2001 vintage delivers it’s flavor in a very different manner. It’s thicker and stickier in mouth feel, richer and bolder in flavor (both sweet and spice), and tasting more of the wood. You might say it lacks a bit of the 2000′s balance and tact, but it makes up for it in other ways. Think of the 2001 as more rock and roll to the 2000′s symphony orchestra. Even though it’s different, it’s still an outstanding whiskey in it’s own right. Therein lies the reason I feel the Evan Williams Single Barrel is one of the best products from Heaven Hill. Each year is distinct and truly a “vintage” expression of grain, oak, and time. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.1 (Outstanding/Superb)

NOTE: The 2000 vintage is still readily available. Until the 2001 is readily available in your area, take the opportunity to grab and hold a bottle or two of the 2000.

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)

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $32/bottle

Color: Deep Amber/Gold

Nose: Mint, anise, coconut, spiced honey, vanilla, chili, red berry fruits, cigar box, and cedar.

Palate: Nicely structured and almost tight (in a good way). Mint, clove, nutmeg, licorice, barrel char, and eucalyptus are all wrapped around a sweet core of crushed pineapple, red berries, honey, and vanilla fudge. This nice core of sweetness anchors the spice notes well. Elegant, full of finesse, and clearly well crafted.

Finish: Long and lingering mint, nutmeg, clove, fruitiness, honey, and dry oak. Very vibrant!

Overall:I have such admiration for Jim Rutledge and Four Roses. They make elegant, sophisticated bourbons that are so well balanced. The Single Barrel is one of my favorites out there. For the money it provides extremely good value. It’s a truly unique whiskey that begs to be drunk neat and savored slowly so you can appreciate all the nuances it brings to the party. Highly recommended!

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.1 (Superb/Outstanding)