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The Legend: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pappy Van Winkle 15 yr Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $65/bottle

Each year I drink the latest release of this bourbon. Each year I’m taken aback by how great it is. It’s scarce and extremely tough to locate. And it seems just when I’m frustrated enough, I get a call from my local merchant informing me, “Pappy 15 is in!” This year was no different. I intended to review this with at least one of its older brothers, the 20 or 23 year expressions, but you needed to know about this one quick enough to get your hands on a bottle.

Pappy 15′s nose is as nearly perfect as you can get; rum, dried fruits (dates, apricots, raisins), soft caramel, maple syrup, buttery toffee, vanilla, barrel, leather, and light cedar. It’s rich, sweet, well spiced, but still vibrant in spite of it’s 15 years on the barrel. Pappy 15 pours into your glass like slightly watered down syrup or honey. From that moment you sense just how rich, thick, and lush this whiskey is. Flavors of rum soaked fruits, dried red or berry fruits, salted caramel, nutmeg, clove, maple, vanilla, toasted coconut, almonds, and char plow over your taste buds. This bourbon is huge – just a monster of flavors, with a long finish of toffee, caramel, fruits, barrel, and warming spices (nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon). Simply put, it’s one of the finest whiskeys made on the planet – an EPIC expression of Bourbon. The highest of recommendations.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.8 (Epic)

Bourbon Style Comparison: Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Bourbon Whiskey has a vast range of styles. Here’s an example of two on opposite ends of the spectrum: Rare Breed with it’s rye-heavy and barrel proof offering and Maker’s Mark with it’s soft, younger, wheated style. There’s something out there for everyone – give ‘em a try.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle

To many folks, Maker’s Mark IS bourbon whisk(e)y. Regardless of your stance on where it sits amongst its peers, Maker’s Mark is a well executed wheated bourbon made with a “forward” flavor profile in the mouth. The nose and sip mirror one another with chewy caramel, vanilla, nougat, toffee, toasted nuts, and light oak. Very minimal spice, moderate body in the mouth, and a clean finish that falls off sharply leaving little trace of warming heat or spice. A great “gateway” bourbon for those that are looking for some classic bourbon flavors without the burn and spice. But you sacrifice complexity, nuance, and finish mightily. Still, it’s well crafted and extremely easy to drink.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good/Solid)

AND

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Whiskey, 54.1% abv (108.2 Proof), $40/bottle

Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a barrel proof, uncut, and rye-forward Bourbon Whiskey. The nose is almost savory with tobacco, leather, barrel, charred oak, sour dough bread, pancake batter, and maple syrup. There’s some rye spice lingering, ready to assert itself with that first sip. The flavors of this bourbon are somewhat bracing and hard with a leathery, resiny grip from the barrel, some maple syrup sweetness, and then a punch of rye spice that moves along the spine of your tongue. The finish is long and hot with plenty of spice. Unfortunately, bitter tannins assert themselves a bit too heavily on the mid-palate through finish. In lengthy tasting sessions with this bourbon I found it best straight up without any water added. The high proof seems to combat some of the bitterness. Diluting with water subdued the alcohol punch and sweetness, thus elevating the tannins. I can’t help but wonder how good this whiskey could be if it had more balance. Personally I find this whiskey very solid, if unspectacular, and a bit overrated. Still, it’s a good expression of barrel proof, rye-heavy bourbon.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.8 (Good/Solid)

Woodford Reserve Releases Limited Edition Maple Wood Finished Bourbon

I received the following press release today from Woodford Reserve. Their new “Maple Wood Finished” Bourbon sounds pretty darn fantastic. I cannot wait to try it.

Woodford Reserve Releases Limited Edition Maple Wood Finished Bourbon

Industry’s First Bourbon Finish Aged in Maple Wood Barrels Available November 1

November 1, 2010, Louisville, Ky. – Woodford Reserve announces the latest extension of its acclaimed Master’s Collection which will be released on November 1. Called ‘Maple Wood Finish,’ it is the fifth in the series of limited edition bottlings and continues Woodford Reserve’s tradition of crafting rare whiskeys that extend the category in bold new directions.

This whiskey is one of the most unique Master’s Collection’s to date as it is the industry’s first bourbon to be finish aged in barrels made from sugar maple wood. Barrels play a key role in producing bourbon, with approximately 70 percent of the spirit’s flavor and aroma and all of its color provided by the barrel. Woodford Reserve’s new offering features bourbon finish-aged in uniquely crafted barrels made of maple wood, something never before done in the industry.

“Sugar maple trees have a complex natural chemistry, rich in calcium, potassium and other minerals, but they are best known for their flavorful sap which contains as much as 3% sugar,” said Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. “Though it was thought that whiskey barrels could not be crafted from sugar maple wood, our Brown-Forman Cooperage has done just that. Of all the distillers in our industry, we are the only bourbon company that crafts its own barrels, giving us unique knowledge and control of the process. The Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish uniquely finish-ages Woodford Reserve in a toasted, not charred, maple wood barrel, resulting in a whiskey enhanced with hints of maple, honey and cinnamon.”

Ever year, one of the five sources of flavor is changed for the Master’s Collection expressions. These five sources – grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and wood-aging – are unique to bourbon whiskey, and altering just one of them creates a totally new flavor profile.

“Bourbon must be matured in new, charred oak barrels, and in our quest to fully understand the contribution oak wood makes to bourbon, we have studied other Kentucky hardwoods as well,” said Wayne Rose, brand director for Woodford Reserve. “This has led to some exciting discoveries and innovative barrel finish concepts. One of these – Maple Wood Finish – is a first for the spirits industry and has resulted in an amazing, elegant whiskey.”

Maple Wood Finish is the fifth in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection series following the Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, Sweet Mash and Seasoned Oak offerings. Released periodically at the master distiller’s discretion, the Master’s Collection whiskeys are extremely limited in quantity and bottled only once, in a proprietary package inspired by the copper pot stills of The Woodford Reserve Distillery.

The inspiration for the Master’s Collection is rooted in the rich history and tradition of what is today known as The Woodford Reserve Distillery. In the mid-1800s distillery owner Oscar Pepper and Master Distiller James Crow studied and recommended use of key processes like sour mashing and charred barrel maturation at the historic Woodford County distillery. These practices are still maintained in the bourbon industry, and today the distillery receives more than 100,000 visitors annually and is the only one in America to use bourbon triple distilled in traditional copper pot stills.”

Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish will be sold in 45 U.S. markets, and a limited quantity will be available in Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Each bottle is individually hand-numbered and presented at 94.4 proof. Available in major metro markets, only 1,676 cases are available with a suggested retail price of $89.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Tasting Notes for Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish
Color: Golden brown.
Aroma: Rich and sweet with hints of brown sugar glazed baked apricots, milk chocolate and fresh toasted oak.
Taste: Warm with cinnamon spice, faint hints of maple syrup, berry fruit and a touch of nuttiness.
Finish: Crisp with delicate maple syrup notes lingering on with a touch of warm fruit.

Woodford Reserve is a product of the Brown-Forman Corporation, a producer and marketer of fine quality beverage alcohol brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, Finlandia, Fetzer, Korbel, Tequila Herradura, Sonoma-Cutrer, Chambord, Tuaca, and Bonterra. Please enjoy your bourbon responsibly. For more information on Woodford Reserve, visit www.woodfordreserve.com. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 45.2% Alc. by Vol., The Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY ©2010.

Maker’s Mark 46

Maker’s Mark 46, 47% abv(94 Proof), $35/bottle

Maker’s Mark 46 is the first true (read: not limited edition) product line of bourbon that Maker’s Mark has produced in over 50 years. Talk about pressure! With a “finishing” process to the tried and true, but somewhat flat, Maker’s Mark original, Kevin Smith (Master Distiller) and Bill Samuels Jr. (CEO) have delivered with a pretty impressive bourbon whiskey. Maker’s 46 opens up far bigger and fuller than its little brother with intense vanilla, caramel, maple syrup, toast, cinnamon, and baked apple. It’s really a masterclass of Bourbon noses with sweetness and high notes of spice. The first sip assures with that smooth, sweet “front of the mouth” flavor of caramel and vanilla that are so familiar with the original Maker’s Mark. “46″ takes that a couple notches further with heaps of maple syrup and honey. The major difference between these two family members is almost immediately felt down the top center of your tongue. Intense cinnamon bite akin to fireball candy or big red chewing gum emerges. There’s a hint of wood tannin and bitter grip that asserts itself as the spirit runs it’s way to the back of your throat. In this moment, this bourbon is telling you, “See – I’m very different!”. The finish is long and lingering with cinnamon burn and toasted oak. Maker’s Mark 46 is an outstanding pour that is a recommended “buy” for any bourbon or whiskey lover.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Superb/Outstanding)
***Note: The only thing keeping this bourbon from scoring well into the 9′s is that slightly intense wood tannin that shows late, growing in intensity as you sip. I’d recommend taking your time with this one, thus lessening that impact. I think over time Maker’s Mark will get this fine tuned and I can’t wait to see where it goes. And it’s also possible this bottle I purchased was just a little more tannic than others.***

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon, 45% abv(90 Proof), $33-38/bottle

This one is a big bruiser of a bourbon opening up with a lot of barrel char, oak, vanilla, caramel, and some moderate spice on the nose. Not a whole lot of finesse here, and really gives you some “pop”. It drinks a good bit stronger than it’s 45% alcohol or 90 proof might indicate. The first sip (or chew) yields a lot of burned sugar & caramel, along with maple syrup, light mint, dry spice notes, and some resiny grip (tannin) and char. The mouth feel is thick and coats well leading to a long finish of vanilla, oaky dryness, and some light tingle on the tongue. Perhaps a bit “loose” around the edges but I respect it’s rough and tumble ways and recommend this bourbon.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Excellent)

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon, 45% abv (90 proof), $28-35/bottle

Old familiar as I call it. Elmer T. Lee is quite possibly one of the most comforting Bourbons or Whiskey’s of any kind made today. The first whiff floods the nose with Maple, Caramel, gentle spice, and the wonderful bright notes of citrus and orange peel. The sip echoes the nose beautifully with caramel, maple, honey, vanilla, bitter orange, and light oak. The finish is moderately long with gentle spice coating the tongue. Just a brilliantly crafted bourbon of balance – deep and rich, yet so easily drinkable. A perfect bourbon for the novice and the connoisseur alike. And to think a Bourbon icon like Elmer T. Lee still selects the barrels to this day. Makes it all the more special. Highly recommended. Note: Bottled expressly for Brinkmann’s Wine and Spirits, Franklin, TN.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Superb/Outstanding)