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Review: Henry McKenna Single Barrel (BIB) Bourbon

Happy New Year all. Once again I deeply appreciate everyone’s patience with me the last 6-8 months. Posts and reviews have been sparse, and I’m working hard to get things rolling on Sour Mash Manifesto. Thanks for sticking with the site.

Now, let’s get 2014 started off with a new review of a Heaven Hill brand, Henry McKenna Single Barrel (10 year old) Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Whiskey. Henry McKenna was said to have brought his family’s whiskey recipe from Ireland in the 1830′s, and established a distillery in Kentucky in 1855. Heaven Hill procured the Henry McKenna brand from Seagrams and began producing this whiskey in the mid 90′s. Let’s take a further look shall we?

Henry-McKenna-HMSB-copyHenry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled In Bond Bourbon (10 Years), Barrel #1025, 50% abv (100 proof), $30/bottle
Color: Deep Amber/Russet
Nose: Caramel, golden raisin, rustic corn, vanilla, root beer, and firm oak.
Palate: Classic bourbon flavors of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, golden fruits with some spicy zip (cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper). Sturdy oak backbone provides some structure. Concentrated, sharp with a beautiful mouth feel.
Overall: This is a satisfyingly delicious bourbon – straight forward in delivery, and rich with rustic character. There’s a healthy dose of spice and heat on the palate to give this bourbon a little pop as well. If you enjoy the Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage dated releases – this 10 year old Henry McKenna has similar DNA, albeit with just a tad less finesse and grace. Outstanding value.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Very Good)

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)

Mint Julep Perfection: The Components

I mentioned in my earlier post this week that I am a purist for the most part.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the bizarre every now and again, but it does however drive my philosophy about a number of things.   Most notably food and drink.  We tend to over complicate stuff that is so perfect to begin with.  When it comes to cooking and making cocktails I start with great ingredients.  Then I showcase them as purely and simply as possible.

Mind you, there is no Mint Julep police out there.  You can go nuts with this if you so choose.  I’ll share with you some of my recommendations on variations that have worked well for me.  For now, let’s dive into the individual components that make up a perfect Classic Mint Julep.  At the end of this post I have included a video recipe to follow.  It was produced about a year ago, the sound is poor, but it’s a great recipe.  Supplemented with the information below, there is no doubt that if you follow these simple ideas, and execute well, you’ll be sipping the finest mint juleps on Derby Saturday (and hopefully every Saturday thereafter).

Let’s get started!

The Components for the Perfect Mint Julep


The Right Vessel:

The perfect vessel for a mint julep is creatively enough called…..a Julep Cup.  It’s usually made of stainless steel or pewter.  Stainless Steel is my preference because it’s a great heat conductor, pulling heat away from the contents in the cup.  This helps to create condensation on the outside of the cup that actually freezes with the proper application of ice (below).  This frost silver cup is not just dramatic to look at.  It’s also quite practical on a hot spring/summer day, helping to produce a colder finished cocktail.  Smarter people than me can tell you why.  I just know it works.

Where do you find a mint julep cup?  They are everywhere online (google it) and you can pay as little or as much as you  wish.  My one recommendation is to spring for stainless steel – you won’t be sorry.   However, DO NOT fret if you don’t have a Mint Julep cup.  It’s a unitasker that you’ll use for one thing and one thing only.  A simple rocks glass will work just fine. The thinner it is the better for proper frost buildup, but it’ll still taste fantastic regardless.  A mint julep in a rocks glass is a hell of a lot better than no mint julep at all.

The Perfect Mint:

Peppermint is to a mint julep what finger nails are to a chalkboards.  They don’t go together.  If you try to force the marriage, the results can be cringe-worthy.  A mint julep requires a much rounder, sweeter form of mint.  In short – spearmint.  If this is a little confounding, let me give you a practical example.  Head to your nearest supermarket or convenience store and purchase a pack of peppermint and spearmint gum.  Try both.  Which is sharper, spicier, and more intense?  I would imagine 90+% of you would say the peppermint.  And you’d be correct.  Sure the gum  probably contains artificial mint, but this little experiment drives home exactly what you’re dealing with in the fresh form.

Spearmint’s soft sweetness blends harmoniously with the bourbon, syrup, and ice.  And frankly it doesn’t taste like toothpaste.  My favorite types of mint for this purpose is red stem spearmint, and Kentucky Colonel.  Both are brilliant choices.  If you live in the Southeastern U.S., and purchase packages of mint from the grocery store, take note of a red stem on the mint sprig.  If you look closely in the picture above you may be able to make out the rhurbarb colored stem.  If you see that, you’ve got what you need.  If you have wild mint growing in your back yard, try a leaf.  Is it acrid, overly minty, or does it have a soft minty flavor to it?  Let your taste buds be your guide, but hopefully the above gives you an idea of what you are looking for.

The Ice is Right:

This is pretty easy.  You need good clean ice.  If your freezer produces ice with “off” freezer flavors, don’t ruin all your hard work and effort.  Go grab a good quality bag ice from the super market.  Once you’ve got clean, great tasting ice to work with, it’s time to get to crushing.  The perfect mint julep requires an almost snow cone-like powdery ice.  First, it chills the bourbon and syrup within much quicker.  Second, it helps with frosting the glass.  Think whiskey, mint, and simple syrup snow cone and you have the right idea for the ice consistency.  So how do you get that?  You can use a Lewis Bag if you have one.  If not (I don’t have one) you can simply use a good clean lint free tea towel.  Grab your ice, load it up in the tea towel, and gather everything up tightly (see below).

Once you have everything tightly gathered, begin bashing away with a meat cleaver or soft rubber mallet.  You can even use a rolling pin.  The goal is to turn that ice into powdery snow (see below).  The tea towel helps to wick away any moisture, leaving the ice dry and ready for making the perfect Mint Julep.  When I’m making mint juleps for the masses, I will spend a morning bashing away and reserving the ice in containers I can freeze until I’m ready to use.

Simple Syrup:

I am not a fan of watered down cocktails.  To combat this,  I use a simple syrup recipe that consists of a sugar to water ratio of 2 to 1.   Most use a 1 to 1 ratio.  To start, simply take 2 cups of sugar, add 1 cup of water, place in a medium saucepan, and bring up to heat over a medium flame.  Don’t use high of heat.  All you want to do is fully dissolve the sugar.  Once that happens, remove the simple syrup from the heat and reserve to the side.  You will need to cool it down to room temperature before making any mint juleps.  If you’d like to ramp up the mint flavor, here is a great opportunity to do so.  Grab a good 4-6 sprigs of fresh mint and add it to the hot simple syrup while it cools.  Much like steeping tea, you’ll infuse the simple syrup with even more mint flavor.  You can also make this well in advance (days if need be) and reserve in the refrigerator.  It’ll be ready when you are.  Remember, you can vary the sweetness you desire with just a bit more or less simple syrup.  Play with it to see what works for your tastes.

The Main Ingredient: Whiskey

I’ve said this a number of times already.  Each of these components is critical to the finished product.  However, because we’re using anywhere from 2.5-3 ounces of whiskey – this ingredient may be the most critical.  My preferences lean towards higher proof bourbons for a mint julep.  The additional proof takes longer time to water down with the ice and syrup, resulting in a stronger drink to start, but one that mellows more slowly than lower proof whiskey.

Now, if you don’t believe just how greatly a specific whiskey can influence the finished drink, I have another experiment for you.  Two bourbons I really enjoy using for a mint julep are Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  Because of the Four Roses’ healthy dose of fruity flavor, the resulting mint julep is more fruit forward.   It’s beautiful.  The Buffalo Trace is drier and more rustic, yielding an entirely different mint julep, but equally wonderful.  Pick your poison.

My “house” julep is made with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond.  At 100 proof and with ample rye character and balanced sweetness, this makes a tremendous julep.   Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, also 100 proof, adds a bit more rye zip.  What’s important to note is each of these whiskeys are below $30.  The last two I mentioned are well under $20.  Don’t break out the expensive stuff for mint juleps.  It’s not necessary.

If Rye whiskey is your thing – by all means give it a go.  I prefer bourbon in a mint julep, but a great rye adds a whole other dimension of flavor.  Give Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond, Sazerac Rye, and Wild Turkey 101 Rye (if you can find it right now) a try.

Mint Julep Variations:

I don’t make variants on the classic very often.  When I do, I keep it simple, introducing perhaps one, but no more than 2 additional components.  In the heat of summer, when peaches are at their finest, I’ll muddle a good chunk of peach, skin and all (lots of flavor there!), with the mint and simple syrup.  It’s pretty fantastic.  I have also not hesitated to add a couple dashes of bitters, or even muddled lemon wedge from time to time.  Feel free to play with this and add things you like.  I’m not a big fan of berries – it sounds good on paper, but the results I’ve found to be a bit inconsistent.

The Finished Mint Julep:

There you have it.  The components are pretty simple, but require just a bit of forethought and a little preparation.  I’ve included a photo of a finished mint julep below – a Kentucky Snow Cone.  Doesn’t that look incredible?

As mentioned to start this post, please check out my Mint Julep Video where I actually show you how to craft one.  Now get to making those mint juleps and let me know what you think.

Enjoy the Derby, and Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason

Old Grand-dad Bourbon (Bottled In Bond) Review

Old Grand-Dad is a high rye bourbon offered in a couple of different proof points. This one is their 100 proof Bottled-in-Bond bourbon whiskey. The “Granddad” reference in the name is homage to Basil Hayden, a very recognizable name in bourbon and also the name of another product I’ve reviewed on this site. Basil Hayden was known for using a higher percentage of rye grain in the mashbill (whiskey grain recipe) for his bourbon whiskey. His grandson, Raymond Hayden, started Old Grand-Dad using his grandfather’s high rye recipe. While we don’t know the exact percentage of rye in the mashbill, I’m guessing it’s pushing somewhere around 30%. If you know, please share.

As a side note, we’ve talked about the term “bottled in bond” before. It essentially refers to a single distillery bourbon whiskey that was distilled all in one single season (vs. pulling from various barrels distilled and aged at different times), and aged in a federally bonded warehouse for a minimum of 4 years. It’s also offered at 100 proof, or 50% alcohol.

Old Grand-Dad Bourbon (Bottled in Bond), 50% abv (100Proof), $19

Color: Medium Amber with Orange tones

Nose: Sweet corn and spicy rye yield to candied orange peel, cinnamon, honeysuckle, maple syrup, and kiln dried wood. There’s an alcohol punch you have to dodge but with time this one opens up nicely.

Palate: Big flavors of brown sugar, orange jellybeans, and loads of woody and peppery spices. The corn and rye is always present and welcoming. A healthy dose of barrel char emerges from mid palate.

Finish: This long finish is leaning towards the char, but mint, black pepper, and corny sweetness give relief.

Overall: This is a hell of a bourbon, and a continuation of the “parade of value” that I’ve been consciously trying to showcase on the site. It’s a marvelous thing when you can find such fantastic whiskey at this price. Old Grand-Dad BIB is a big whiskey with a spicy character, excellent and mature grain quality, and healthy doses of sweetness and wood to add complexity. All of that for around $20 or less.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.7 Very Good/Excellent)

Very Old Barton Bourbon (Bottled in Bond) Review

Very Old Barton has a myriad of bourbons that include 80, 86, 90, and this 100 proof product. Made by Barton Brands at the Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown, KY. Today it’s owned by Sazerac (Buffalo Trace). This particular bourbon is offered at 6 years old and “Bottled in Bond”. What does that mean? BIB, as it’s abbreviated, refers to a bourbon from one distillery that has been distilled in one season (not bourbon pulled frome barrels of various ages), aged in a federally bonded warehouse at least 4 years, and is offered at 100 proof or 50% alcohol. This came about in the late 1800′s largely because people were selling inferior, diluted products as bourbon. It was also backed by a lot of the power players in the bourbon industry at the time to curb this practice.

From a mashbill standpoint, VOB BIB is 75% Corn, 15% Rye, and 10% Barley. It’s also well under $15 a bottle. Recently, Malt Advocate named it one of their best value picks of the year. And without ruining any review suspense I will say that designation is certainly not a stretch. Value is a very subjective topic because what one person considers a great value another person might have higher expectations. So how does VOB BIB rate out? Let’s give it a try.

Very Old Barton Bourbon (Bottled in Bond) , 50% abv (100Proof), $12

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: A fairly big, bold nose that has ample measures of fruit, spice, and grain. Corn and caramel/toffee at first with a sour apple fruitiness and baking spices galore (Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg). Oak lingers along with an earthy twang (barn?) to keep you sniffing happily.

Palate: The comforting synergy between the nose and palate is apparent with the first sip. Corn, chewy caramel, apple, cinnamon stick, and a good punch of rye make for a firm and assertive whiskey.

Finish: The finish is moderate in length with some drier, spicier oak quality emerging to blend and harmonize with after-sweetness of vanilla and caramel.

Overall: What is great about Very Old Barton BIB is the fact that it’s pure bourbon flavor to the core at a tremendous price. There is enough corny goodness to make you aware of what you are drinking, but so many other flavors to keep things very interesting and pleasant. No wonder many Kentuckians consider this their “table bourbon” of choice. Is this the best whiskey value on the market? I don’t think I can quite give it that designation, but it’s certainly right up there with some of the best values on the market.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.6 Very Good/Excellent)

Critical Beach Business

I am heading for a week vacation to beautiful Charleston, SC – Isle of Palms to be exact. But don’t fret, I’ve got a couple of new reviews in the queue that I hope to have out over the coming week.

One is a great new unaged rye from a small distiller in California called 1512 Barbershop Rye. It’s one of the best unaged or “white” whiskeys I’ve had – fruity, crisp and full of great rye character all at the same time. Stay tuned for that.

In addition I have a little value bourbon faceoff between Very Old Barton (Bottled in Bond) and Old Forester.

I hope you all have a great week, and please forgive me if I’m a little late to respond to comments.

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason