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Rest In Peace Elmer T. Lee

The whiskey world lost an icon today with the passing of Elmer T. Lee. While it may be arguable that Mr. Lee was responsible for pushing for the release of the first Single Barrel Bourbon in Blanton’s Single Barrel. What is not arguable is that Mr. Lee certainly deserves recognition for making Single Barrels more accessible to all of us. He made them popular by taking a risk that none were taking at the time. Eventually Elmer T. Lee got his own namesake bottle of Single Barrel bourbon produced at Buffalo Trace. I believe right up until very recently he was still hand selecting barrels for the ETL bottling.

For me, I will always remember Elmer T. Lee fondly for his namesake whiskey, and what it represented for me personally. This single barrel bourbon was the bourbon that ignited the flame of passion for me with regard to whiskey. I remember the first time I tasted it how harmonious it was, how drinkable, yet how complex the flavors were. To this day I enjoy the hell out of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, keeping a bottle on hand at all times. I have a beautifully engraved glass caraffe bottle at the office. Contained within is Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel for when the 4:30 hour calls. I will think fondly of him each time it does.

My sincerest condolences and prayers to Mr. Lee’s family. May he rest in peace.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Review: Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

The line of Colonel E.H. Taylor whiskey products just keeps on growing and growing. The Small Batch is the latest in the lineup, and hits the shelves at the least expensive price point. Here are my thoughts on this bottling:

Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $40/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Caramel corn, sorghum, vanilla fudge, red apple, and rich wood spices. Gorgeous sweet, mildly fruity nose with a balance of wood and spice.
Palate Butterscotch, corn, molasses, cinnamon heat, and wood astringency (grip). Some bitterness really sets in late in the sip.
Finish Cinnamon and wood notes prevail – moderately long finish for a flatter palate profile.
Overall: This is one that settles in the “good” range for me. I’m just not sure what it is – none of these E.H. Taylor whiskeys have really wowed me. Pleasing, straight forward in flavor, but the palate of this small batch has some flaws – sweet and heat up front, very flat ride in the middle, then emerging bitterness. Buffalo Trace rarely misses, but for me this one slips a bit from the nose on through to the finish.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.7 (Good)

Review: Antique Ryes – 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy

Two rye whiskeys are a part of the highly anticipated Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) released each fall, Sazerac 18 year and Thomas H. Handy. The later is a youthful 6 year old bottled at cask strength, while it’s older brother of 18 years is released at a more composed 90 proof. Their greatness cannot be disputed, at least not by me. I cannot recall a year when these whiskeys have not been at worst very good, and at best, some of the top whiskeys released in a given year.

So as not to add to the frenzy over these releases, I was leaning towards making Sour Mash Manifesto a BTAC free zone for 2012. That went out of the window as I simply I have no self control (for the record I’m sticking to my Pappy free zone pledge for 2012). Thanks goes to Brad Kaplan, of Thirsty South, for sending me a sampling of the Saz 18. Brad has an excellent post on the make up of this whiskey. It’s really quite interesting, and rather than rehash it, I’ll just link to his well written post.

Below are my tasting notes and ratings on these two rye whiskeys.

2012 Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00
Color: Medium/Deep Amber
Nose: Bright notes of mint, vanilla, spiced orange tea, cinnamon and old, dusty rye with a core of caramelized fruits (banana, orange), ripe berry, and hints of maple. Gorgeous layers and complexity. Softened by time.
Palate: Drier, and only moderately sweet. Toffee is fleeting now with a plethora of sweet orange flavors (marmalade and candied rind) dominating the palate. Vanilla, mint, clove and cinnamon add sparkle with hints of coffee bitterness.
Finish: Old wood, bitter orange, berry fruit, and hints of toffee.
Overall: Time continues to soften this whiskey into an even more harmonious sip. Perhaps the finest rye whiskey made today with one of the best noses in all of whiskey. Not much has changed with this one, but I consider it a must buy if you can locate it.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

2012 Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, 66.2% abv (132.4 Proof), $75.00
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich and syrupy – maple sugar, caramel, ample blasts of mint, licorice, and Big Red chewing gum. Hints of sticky fruits – cherry, raisins, and candied orange.
Palate: Bold and brash – big rye influence. Honey, maple syrup, kirsch, chili and cinnamon heat with bitter burned sugar.
Finish: Long and lingering warmth, wood spices, and sweet fruit.
Overall: An exceptional pour even at 6 years of age. Rich and concentrated with ample spice, fruit, and enough sweetness at it’s core to keep the whiskey anchored. What’s more – perhaps the easiest BTAC whiskey to located. Requires a healthy dose of water to wake things up.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

In spite of the family lineage – the 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy are two very different whiskeys. One uses finesse and well developed flavors that only time can create. The other – brute force and concentrated sweetness, fruit and spice. Both are superb.

Review: Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon

Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon is the 4th release under the modern day E.H. Taylor name. Produced by Buffalo Trace, the namesake is a nod towards one of the bourbon industry’s major innovators and owner of the Old Fire Copper (OFC) distillery. OFC and an adjacent distillery, Carlisle, would eventually become Buffalo Trace.

My experience with these E.H. Taylor releases have been a gradual increase in overall quality. The first one was just a little weird. The Single Barrel was an improvement, and the 3rd, the Tornado Surviving Warehouse C release, was a big step in the right direction (rating out at 8.9). Does Buffalo Trace continue the improvement in this series? Here are my thoughts on this barrel proof monster.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon, 67.25% abv (134.5 Proof), $75/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Sorghum syrup and molasses, dried figs, cherry licorice, and sour apple. Tons of punchy spices as well (clove, nutmeg, anise).
Palate: Molasses, cherry cough syrup, baked apple, and a good bit of resin and grip from the wood. The spices are again ablaze in this one – chili heat and clove taking the foreground.
Finish: Heat and warmth abound with wood spices. Molasses sweetness as well as some bitters.
Overall: Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon is a monster pour at 134.5 proof. It benefits GREATLY from a healthy dose of water to calm the fire and levels the assault so to speak. The main complaint I have is there’s not a great deal of layered depth in spite of the proof. As a result it drinks a lot like what I imagine an air traffic controller feels like – stressed and intense. That’s not to say it doesn’t have many fantastic high points (boiled sugars, fruit and spice), but there’s a lot going on at a surface level. If you love ‘em big, brash, and in your face – this one is for you!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (Very Good)

Review: Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Bourbon

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery, out of Frederiksburg, VA, has been producing some excellent products in recent years. Owned by Sazerac since 2003, Bowman sources Buffalo Trace new make distillate and re-distills it at the distillery for a total of three distillations (reportedly). They age the whiskey on premises and recently opened a visitors center onsite.

A. Smith Bowman produces a Rye, a Small Batch Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and a number of limited release whiskeys. Last year I reviewed a barrel strength rye that was one of the best rye’s I tasted all year (2011).

Today I’ll be digging into the Small Batch Bourbon.

Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $29.99/bottle
Color: Light-Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, sorghum syrup, sweet cinnamon, red apple, and moderate oak influence.
Palate: Well balanced sweetness (brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla) with ample sharp spice notes (pepper, cinnamon, and all spice).
Finish: A shade dry and spicy. Charred wood bitterness and cinnamon with a touch of maple sweetness.
Overall: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon is a whiskey of very good quality. It offers a balance of sweetness and spice. I cannot say it’s very full flavored, nor is it complex, but it’s a damn fine sipper that offers some classic bourbon flavors. If you favor zippier bourbons, this one would certainly please you with its well defined wood/barrel sugars and spices.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)

Review: Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year Bourbon

The Ancient Age (AA) brand has been around for more than 60+ years. Today Buffalo Trace distillery distills, ages, and bottles AA in a couple of different bourbon offerings. The standard entry Ancient Age is around 3 years old, the Ancient Age 10 Star is a 6 year old, and their oldest is the 10 year old Ancient Ancient Age (AAA). The subject of this review is the later.

First off this is distilled from the Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill #2, which is a higher rye version of the standard entry #1 Mash Bill, used to make the flagship bourbon, Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, etc. Mash #2 does share such company as Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm, Elmer T. Lee, and others. Not bad for a bourbon that costs well under $20.00. The price is right but does it taste “budget”?

Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year Bourbon, 43% abv (86 Proof), $18/bottle

Color: Medium Amber/Copper

Nose: Well ripened peach, caramel apple, and bright orange are backed by gentle baking spices, graham cracker, vanilla, flint, a whisper of fragrant oak and wood perfume. Gorgeous!

Palate: Orchard fruit mingles with caramel, vanilla and toffee only briefly before the spice takes hold (cinnamon and clove, anise, bitter orange rind, and a very healthy punch of rye). For an 86 proof bourbon this is also quite concentrated in flavor with outstanding balance of spice and sweetness.

Finish: Elegant yet definitely in the moderately long category. Toffee, citrus rind bitterness, and lingering (but gentle) rye “bite”.

Overall: To put it succinctly, this is a real “find”. The nose hints at something quite sweet and fruity, but the palate reaffirms the spicier side of the higher rye mash bill. There is little not to love with Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year Bourbon. For under $20 this is a whiskey that stands up well to its higher priced “cousin’s” (mentioned above) without trade off. This one will absolutely be in consideration for my “Value Pick of the Year”. If you can find it – grab it! Quick note – don’t be fooled by the “10 Star” version. This one says “Full Ten (10) Years Old” on the label.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.1 (Superb/Outstanding)