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Review: McAfee’s Benchmark Bourbon

You’ve probably seen McAfee’s Benchmark Bourbon at your local liquor depot. If not, head to the Bourbon aisle, look a couple shelves down from eye level – there it is. As many times as I’ve scanned right over this bottle I’ve never purchased it before. I’ve had it a time or two here and there, and been asked my thoughts, but frankly couldn’t ever remember anything specific. It was time to give it a closer look as a we work to “keep it real” in 2015. Is it a bottom shelf gem or merely a solid cheap pour?

BENCHMARK NO 8 2McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon, 40% abv (80 proof), $12/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Gold
Nose: Clean and fruity with notes of vanilla, dried apricot, sweet orange, corn oil, and honey.
Palate: Straight forward – Vanilla, light caramel sweetness and bright fruit.
Finish: Vanilla, fruit and faint spice – finish drops off quickly.
Overall: Benchmark bourbon is a light, bright bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace. It’s an easy, pleasant sip, but doesn’t bring much flavor to the party. While rather cheap, there are other bourbons in the $11-$15 range that are better pours.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good)

Review: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon

Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon is one of the many brands produced and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (KBD) out of Bardstown, KY. If you are unfamiliar with KBD as a company, you will probably recognize many of the whiskeys they produce – Willett Family Estate Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys, Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, Noah’s Mill Bourbon, Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, and numerous others.

KBD operates out of the Willett Distillery, which it has owned since the 1980’s. As an aside, it’s a charming distillery that sits atop a bluff not far from Heaven Hill distillery. The whiskey that makes up Pure Kentucky XO, as well as the others mentioned above, are sourced from unnamed distilleries. KBD has built their supplies by purchasing new make spirit sourced in bulk, and then aged in the Willett Distillery’s aging facilities on property. They’ve also procured fully or partially matured whiskeys that were distilled and aged elsewhere. I’m sure many of you know by now that a lot of this stuff is shrouded in mystery. I’m certainly not going to be able to clear that up – it’s sourced and I suppose that is that.

In January 2012 the Willett Distillery began distillation once again. This past fall the company released their first rye whiskeys that were distilled, aged, and bottled on property. I have bottles of both the 107 and 109 proof ryes (purchased at the distillery). The whiskeys absolutely need more time in oak to realize the complexity and depth that longer aged rye whiskey typically possesses, but Willett has a good foundation with these whiskeys.

Let’s get back on track to the whiskey in question. Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a high proof (107) small batch straight bourbon whiskey. It has no age statement (NAS) so we really don’t know how old the whiskey is, but that’s not uncommon nowadays. As recent as 2-3 years ago, Pure Kentucky XO stated the whiskeys in the bottle were at least 12 years of age. We can venture a guess that is no longer the case. Age only matters to a point, and at the end of the day what matters is how the whiskey tastes. Let’s find out….

pure-kentucky-xo-300x300Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 proof), $28/bottle
Color: Copper/Medium Amber
Nose: Cinnamon and barrel spices (right up front), toffee, maple sugars, dry dusty oak quality. Faint dried apricot and fruit notes linger on the edges.
Palate: Spicy, rustic, and woody. Cinnamon, clove, and some bitter barrel notes (and grip) make way for oily corn, vanilla, and faint toffee sweetness.
Finish: Warming spice/heat and zip, corn, and a fruit. Long finish.
Overall: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a good choice for those that like spicy and oaky bourbons. It’s not overly sweet, and the price point is good considering the proof. It does take water well, and is recommended to brighten up the party a bit. If it has a fault it’s that it’s not particularly well balanced, but it fits a profile that many may appreciate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good)

Sour Mash Manifesto in 2015

Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 was kind to all of you. If it wasn’t –fear not! Simply resolve to make 2015 your best year yet. I’m going to work hard to do the same for me and my family.

There is one a regret I have for last year. I’m very disappointed with my lack of activity on Sour Mash Manifesto. If you’ve visited in the last 12 months you’ve probably read numerous excuses from me. I’ll refrain from making any specific promises, but I do intend to make Sour Mash Manifesto worth your time in 2015. I’m very grateful that you have stuck with me in spite of the snail’s pace of new content.

As I look back on 2014 from a whiskey point of view, I am a little disappointed to be honest. Not about a lack of great whiskey, mind you. There’s some awesome stuff out there. I’m not even overly concerned about escalating prices. Sure, I hate paying more for whiskey, but I adjust my expectations accordingly (probably like you do). What has really disappointed me is all this clamoring for limited releases, rare whiskey, and the constant questioning of “which one’s better, which one should I buy?” The whiskey loving community is so overcome with finding these limited and rare bottles that little else seems to matter. I’m worried we are forgetting to appreciate all that is readily available.

Bloggers must take the bulk of the blame for fanning these flames. I’ve come across as the head of the Pappy Propaganda Parade at certain points over the years (Guilty!). Yes I feel the 15 year is one of the great whiskeys on the planet, I truly do, but it’s all a bit much. Ironically this contributed a bit to the inactivity here. Why pile on to this fervor?

As an aside – I recommend ignoring every review you see on a Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), Four Roses Limited, etc. If you want to secure these rare releases I’d start making friends with a few local merchants. Find out how the store determines who gets a bottle of these highly sought after whiskeys. Then spend your money with the one or two that you feel give you the best shot. You’ll have to talk to owners and buyers at the stores and get a good “read” on that. Show the store that you are committed to giving them your business, and ask them to do the same. Like anything in life, ask for what you want, but be realistic about it (they can’t satisfy everyone). If the store is one that uses a list – get on it and be patient. When you have the opportunity, buy it.

Back on track……

The answer for me and for Sour Mash Manifesto is to get back to basics. That means focusing the majority of reviews on products with at least some moderate availability. There are so many gems out there that are overlooked while we scan for scan for labels of old men or deer antlers. I’m going to shed more light on those whiskeys. Some limited releases will find their way on the site from time to time, but less often. As a result, Sour Mash Manifesto won’t be your best place to find the latest ratings on the 2015 BTAC or Limited Edition Four Roses. For that information there are a ton of other great resources.

Another area I’ll be looking at more closely is “craft”/“micro” whiskeys. I hate both of those terms, but this segment of the industry continues to grow and evolve into a category on its own. It represents a lot of younger whiskeys, regional styles, and more unique grain bills and recipes. Fear not bourbon lovers – this won’t be a micro-only site, but I do wish to help wade through some of this stuff on the shelves.

Honesty, I’ve never had an original idea when it comes to Sour Mash Manifesto. I just talk about what has my attention. Other bloggers and industry folks have stated the same as I have above. I’m not trying to grandstand or act above the fray, and I don’t begrudge others that feel differently. Clearly people want to know what enthusiasts think about certain whiskeys.

To put my thoughts in perspective, consider for a moment that I’m sipping a beautiful Eagle Rare Single Barrel (private barrel selection) from One Stop Wine and Liquors in Johnson City, TN. It’s easily on the best whiskeys I’ve drank in the last six months. It’s spectacular, but writing about it is pointless due to your chances of securing some. Even still, you probably have a better chance getting this than you do some of the others I’ve mentioned. That’s the problem with all this hoopla, and I don’t need to add to it.

Please consider this a glimpse into where things are going at Sour Mash Manifesto. I know it will allow me to provide more value to the whiskey loving community. Thank you again for visiting.

Happy New Year to you and yours and drink your whiskey!

Jason

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram Rye Whiskey

High West released “A Midwinter Night’s Dram” Rye Whiskey earlier this year. It has taken some time to hit my area sadly, but I was finally able to procure a bottle. This whiskey is of the same blend of straight rye whiskeys that make up the distillery’s Rendezvous Rye bottling. It consists of a 16 year old rye whiskey from Barton distillery blended with a 6 year old 95% rye grain whiskey from Midwest Grain Products (MGP), formerly LDI. The final blended whiskey is then finished in both Port and French Oak barrels.

HighWestMidwinterNightsDramFront900_grandeHigh West A Midwinter Nights Dram Rye Whiskey, 49.3% abv (98.6 proof), $85/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Familiar MGP (Former LDI) Rye rounded with more sweet notes. Mint, cinnamon, and gin botanicals meet dried dark fruits and berry aromas. Vanilla caramel sweetness anchors the nose.
Palate: Caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, raisin, and red berry syrup. Nice oak grip and balanced barrel notes.
Finish: The port finish lingers – dark fruits, caramel, and warm spices.
Overall: A Midwinter Night’s Dram is a delicious mingling of rye whiskeys enhanced by the finishing process, not overcome by it. In this case the fruitier, richer aromas and flavors from the port balance the base rye’s bright notes. In an industry that has seen independent bottlers go from sourcing whiskey and placing their label on it, to sourcing whiskeys and shoving it in a finishing barrel, any barrel, it’s nice to see a deft hand with finishing yield an improved product. Well done!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Superb)

Review: Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon

Wild Turkey released a limited edition bourbon in celebration of Jimmy Russell’s 60 years with Wild Turkey. As Master Distiller, Mr. Russell has been responsible for providing the whiskey loving world with great whiskey all those decades. It’s pretty remarkable. The Diamond Anniversary Bourbon is a blend of 13 and 16 year old bourbon from barrels selected by Eddie Russell, Jimmy’s son and the other Master Distiller. Incidentally, Eddie has been with Wild Turkey for 34 years himself – pretty impressive (but it’s not 60). Let’s tuck into this one and see what it’s got.

wild-turkey-diamondWild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon, Barrel 45.5% abv (91 proof), $125/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Golden
Nose: Honey, dried apricot, orange, brown sugar, sweet vanilla & floral notes, dry toasted oak.
Palate: Razor sharp and elegant. Honey, caramel, vanilla, bright orange, fresh mint, chile heat, cinnamon, and dry oak.
Finish: Medium finish, dry, lingering caramel sweetness, bitter char, and barrel spices.
Overall: This whiskey is an absolute beauty – presenting both bright, balanced, clean flavors while being extremely complex and nuanced. On top of that it is effortlessly drinkable. All of this quality comes at a price though – great whiskey abounds for this much dough. Whether it’s worth it to you or not depends completely on your whiskey budget and how much you enjoy this style. If you can stomach the price, you will be rewarded with an outstanding pour. Here’s to Jimmy Russell and a fitting salute to 60 years.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.3 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year

Jim Beam Signature Craft is a 12 year old small batch bourbon that was released in 2013. I’m really over the terms “craft” and “artisan” to describe whiskey or anything else, but I digress. One thing I like from the start is the screw cap. Folks, there’s little wrong with a screw cap. A cork coated in a 1/4 inch of wax (with an ill designed pull tab) is overrated. I do enjoy being able to open the bottle easily.

Let’s get to it……

Beam Signature CraftJim Beam Signature Craft Small Batch Bourbon (12 Years), 43% abv (86 Proof), $40
Color: Medium Amber/Copper
Nose: Toffee, vanilla, cherry liqueur, cinnamon, and rich oak.
Palate: Right on point with the nose – caramel, spiced honey, cherry syrup and cinnamon spice. Nice backbone of oak throughout the sip.
Finish: Toasted almond, dried fruits, vanilla, and toasted oak.
Overall: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 year is really well done. It’s harmonious, balanced and quite elegant (easy drinking too!). My one knock is the fact that it could be a bit under-proofed. However, considering Knob Creek Small Batch is in the lineage (and its a bit too oak driven to me), perhaps they got the proof just right with Signature Craft 12 year. It’s a beautiful whiskey.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.9 Superb)