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Review: 2011 Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon (Comparison w/ 2009)

As mentioned in earlier posts this week, the 2011 Pappy 15 Bourbon is 100% Buffalo Trace whiskey rather than Stitzel-Weller.  This was stated by Preston Van Winkle in a podcast with David Driscoll of K&L Wine and Spirits. For more information on the Stitzel-Weller portion of this story and what all of this means, please check my post from Tuesday December 13, 2011.  It gives more background about a great old American Distillery. For this post I will spare you the redundancies because lord knows I talked enough in the video. It’s all in the interest of getting to the bottom of the hoopla. Is Pappy 15 better? Is it worse?

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 Proof) $75.00

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose:  Deeper oak and a flintier opening than the 2009 Pappy 15, but still so familiar. Maple syrup, toffee, sweet vanilla, root beer, dried figs, caramelized pecans, and toasted wood. Less rummy and a notch spicier than previous releases, and gorgeous all the way around – masterclass stuff. Time and air serve to open this up even more – it gets better.

Palate: Syrupy textured and luscious. The front entry is sharper and spicier than the 2009. Otherwise we’re again in familiar Pappy 15 territory. Sticky dried dark fruits, chewy toffee, butterscotch, vanilla, roasted nuts, big wood spices (nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon), sassafras, and a healthy dose of barrel char.

Finish: The finish is long with caramel, barrel, coffee, and warming spices (nutmeg).

Overall: Amazing bourbon! For me, few whiskeys achieve the depth, power, and richness that Pappy 15 does at that proof point. Sweet and soft in ways, but also well spiced. You can spend an evening discovering new aromas and flavors. The differences between this and the 2009 release are very slight. It’s a bit bolder and drier on the nose and sip, the oak is a shade more pronounced, but again it’s Pappy 15 through and through. I believe they’ve been working towards this release for a long time. It’s just my opinion only but I have to believe previous years have had increasing percentages of Buffalo Trace whiskey integrated with them. And that’s fine with me, because what we have here is still one of the finest whiskeys in the world, and certainly a candidate for America’s best bourbon this year.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.7 (Epic/Classic)

Review: 2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon

It’s perhaps the most highly anticipated release of the year in American Whiskey. Each Fall the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) releases a line up of five whiskeys; George T. Stagg Bourbon, Eagle Rare 17 Bourbon, Sazerac 18 Rye Whiskey, Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, and the subject of this review, William Larue Weller. Supply and demand are clearly good for business because these whiskeys can be tough to come by. Some might suggest you have to have compromising pictures of your local spirit merchant to even get a bottle or two. I say just make friends and/or be a great customer and that usually helps.

William Larue Weller is made from a wheated bourbon mashbill (grain recipe) that contains no rye grain. It’s a similar (likely exactly the same) recipe as used in Pappy Van Winkle.

2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon, 66.75% abv (133.5 Proof), $80/bottle

Color: Mahogany, deep amber

Nose: Dark dried fruits (dates, raisins), Fruitcake, toasted almonds, cocoa, and creamy cafe au lait. This is one where a splash of water releases beautiful roasted notes of coffee beans and saddle leather.

Palate: Dark and sultry. Toffee, roasted and caramelized nuts (slightly burned?), candied fruits, black coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and clove. The balance of sweet, rich, spicy, and bitter is just outstanding.

Finish: Chocolate caramels, concentrated berry syrup, toasted oak and vanilla.

Overall: Clearly one of the three best whiskeys I’ve sipped this year thus far, but I do hate the fact that this stuff is so damn tough to get. I can’t believe they don’t have more of this to get to the public. Keep searching though because this is without question an Epic whiskey. It’s the best William Larue Weller of the last 2-3 years for sure, and based on the three I’ve tasted from the collection this year (Stagg and Handy), it’s the best so far in my opinion.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic/Classic)

Abraham Bowman Rye Whiskey Review (Barrel Strength)

This is a quick review that I was spurred to write after tasting a sample of Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit Virginia Whiskey. Whew, that’s a doozy of a name, but in short this is a rye whiskey first distilled by Buffalo Trace before being re-distilled at the A. Smith Bowman distillery in Virginia. This particular one was a single barrel bottled for The Party Source, a wine and spirits store in Kentucky. It was distilled on March 14, 2001 and bottled on February 1, 2011. This is from Barrel #1 and it’s a whopping 68.2 abv or 136.4 proof.

Think of this one as a nearly 4 year older (10-ish years vs. 6 years) version of Buffalo Trace’s other cask strength rye – Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey. While I’ve not done a review of Handy, I feel it and the George T. Stagg from the 2010 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) were the 2 stars of last years BTAC releases.

This is the first I’ve been able to get a hold of this whiskey. However, thanks to Steve Ury, otherwise known as Sku, from Sku’s Recent Eats, I was able to try a sample. Steve is a gem of a guy, one of the best whiskey writers on the internet and has one of the more entertaining blogs as well. Check out his site when you can.

Enough blabbering, let’s get into this review…..

Abraham Bowman Rye Whiskey, 68.2% abv (136.4 Proof), $70
What a massive pour of whiskey. Abraham Bowman Rye is mahogany hued and drinks just like it looks – intense. The nose blasts you with rye grain and spice, is calmed ever so slightly with toffee and brown sugar syrup, then fistfulls of mint, licorice, and Kirsch. The palate is just enormous (there’s a theme here and it’s big!) with an oily texture that coats anything it comes in contact with. However, even at 136 proof, this is not too hot to sip neat if you take it slow. Syrupy toffee sauce, black pepper, mint, eucalyptus, menthol, and cherry cough syrup are delivered in layers on the palate. The finish is long and lingers for days with cherry, cola, peppery spice, and a gentle bitter quality that is a welcomed respite from the intense flavors that preceded it. Abraham Bowman Rye Whiskey is an absolute stunner and a must try for those that love big barrel proof whiskeys.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (9.5 Superb/Outstanding)

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

Single Barrel Bourbon Comparison: Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm, and Kentucky Spirit

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Bourbon, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $45-50
Background: Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit sits at the top of Wild Turkey Distillery’s (Lawrenceburg, KY) primary line of products. Not including some of their limited releases of course. The Wild Turkey hallmark is a spicy rye character that is quite prevalent (albeit in varying degrees) throughout the range. Jimmy Russell, a bourbon icon, and his son Eddie are the Master Distillers at Wild Turkey.
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Crushed rock, leather, and dry oak at the front with dried banana, vanilla, herbs, and rye to follow. Maple syrup increasingly more prevalent with air time.
Flavor: This one is almost dry and crisp throughout the sip. It starts spicy with peppery heat and a rye-heavy punch. Hard caramel candy sweetness struggles through just gripping oak takes it to the finish.
Finish: Long and spicy with a bit of corn and toasted, dry oak.
Overall: The nose is fantastic, bringing some aromas that don’t present themselves very often in other bourbons. On the palate it leans heavily towards dry and spicy, so if you are a fan of this type of flavor profile, Kentucky Spirit will please you.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45-50
Background: Produced by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY, Blanton’s was the bourbon that started the single barrel craze in the early 1980’s. It’s disputed by some noted historians and industry figures as to whether it was the first Single Barrel, but nobody can dispute that it was the first to really achieve commercial success. Others took note and quickly followed. It’s named after Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, a former George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) president. His favorite bourbon came from Warehouse H, which is where Blanton’s barrels are selected today. We owe Elmer T. Lee for getting Blanton’s released. At his urging, the distillery agreed to release this bourbon to the public in 1984. It is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Corn, apples and apricots, cinnamon, rye, and a little caramel sweetness adds weight.
Flavor: Corn, orchard fruits (apples, peaches), bracing rye spice, and the bitterness of charred wood.
Finish: Baking spices, fruit, maple syrup, and barrel yield a moderate length finish.
Overall: Blanton’s is a wonderful expression of a rye recipe bourbon full of grain and barrel aromas and flavors. It is also accessible and relatively easy drinking. My only complaint is Blanton’s flattens a bit on the palate. I would love to see this at barrel proof as Colonel Blanton used to sip it. Buffalo Trace, are you listening?
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Rock Hill Farm Single Barrel Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $45-50
Background: Rock Hill Farm is a Single Barrel bourbon made by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. Like Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Deep Golden/Amber
Nose: Corn, honey, apple cider, a sprinkle of rye, mint, and wet oak. What a fantastic nose this is, and with fruit and corn prevailing and enough oak and spice character to keep it lively.
Flavor: Again we have corn right from the fore, loads of honey, rye, peppery bite, burned sugar, maple, and again that apple note.
Finish: Moderate length -fruity with caramel and peppery spice.
Overall: Rock Hill Farm is a tremendous bourbon that really doesn’t get its due. It has depth and layers of flavor that Blanton’s didn’t quite measure up to. More than anything I enjoyed the balance of grain and fruit that shines through.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Outstanding/Superb)