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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: Parker’s Heritage Collection 2013 Bourbon (Promise of Hope)

Two weeks ago I popped into my neighborhood liquor store. I’m fortunate to have a very good store right in my neighborhood, though my bank account would probably disagree. As I walked into the store, I noticed a familiar face greeting customers – Heaven Hill Master Distiller, Craig Beam. Craig and his father, Parker (namesake of this particular bourbon I’m reviewing) are two of the nicest guys in the whiskey industry. It was great chatting with Craig, hearing what’s going on at Heaven Hill, but most importantly learning that his father was doing well in spite of his battle with ALS.

Each year, Parker Beam and Heaven Hill select a special expression of whiskey to release under the Parker’s Heritage Collection label. This year’s release is a 10 year old single barrel from high up in Rickhouse EE – one of Parker’s favorite spots to select barrels. On top of that, the 2013 PHC release is titled the “Promise of Hope” bourbon as a result of a partnership between Heaven Hill and the ALS Association’s “ALS Promise Fund”. For every bottle sold, Heaven Hill is donating $20.00 to promote awareness of the disease, as well as to help raise funds for research and patient care. Kudos to Parker, Heaven Hill, and the ALS Association for coming together for such a great cause.

parkers-heritage-bourbon-290x290Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon (2013), Single Barrel, 48% abv (96 Proof), $80/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Copper
Nose: Perfectly balanced nose with fruit and spice and some earthy undertones. Caramel apple, hints of maple sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon, elegant oak, dried corn, and a touch of of damp rock and flint.
Palate: A very concentrated entry on the palate of hard caramel candy nuanced with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, chili, and white pepper). Dried golden fruits (apple, apricot) round out the complex and layered delivery.
Finish: Caramel and warmth from the wood spices linger long.
Overall: Those looking for some sort of statement whiskey, some sort of novelty (finishes, old old barrels, etc), are going to miss what this whiskey is all about – a simple and supremely balanced bourbon. Much like the man himself, the 2013 Parker’s is razor sharp in spots but always composed – almost elegant. This is delicious 10 year old single barrel bourbon bottled at a near perfect proof. In fact, if Heaven Hill is listening, I’d like to see the Evan Williams Single Barrel pushing closer to this proof point. Very well done!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb)

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon (2002 Vintage)

If you are a repeat visitor to this website you may already know that I’m a big fan of the Evan Williams Single Barrel (EWSB) vintage releases. Heaven Hill was the first to really embrace this type of vintage dating program similar to the wine industry. At their best they are at once complex yet approachable, with a range of balanced and classic bourbon flavors. That’s not to say the releases are without some hiccups.

In 1996 Heaven Hill’s Bardstown, KY distillery burned to the ground. In response Heaven Hill had to source whiskey (from Beam & Brown-Forman) for a few years, which in my opinion (and many others) saw the product suffer a bit. In 1999, Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim distillery, and since then, the EWSB vintage releases have hailed from that distillery. Since then, the releases have also been excellent. One of my favorites has been the 2000 release – an elegant, honeyed masterpiece that was super easy drinking.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Heaven Hill Master Distiller Craig Beam. I asked him a simple question, “which of the products that you produce is your favorite?” Without hesitation he said the EWSB vintage – citing the more aggressive aging process as well as (in his opinion) an optimal age for bourbon. It’s important to note that the EWSB vintage bourbon is aged in the upper levels of the warehouse, which can typically create a lot more interaction between the barrel and the spirit. That does not however always mean an overly aggressive bourbon. Please keep in mind – single barrel whiskeys can vary greatly even within the same year range. I’ve tasted EWSB’s from the same vintage that had quite different levels of oak and wood influence.

So with that said, let’s dive into some Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2002.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Vintage 2002, 43.3% abv (86.6Proof), $29/bottle
Barrel Info: Barrel 91, aged 9 years 10 months
Color: Deep gold/honey
Nose: Candy corn, vanilla taffy, candied orange rind, dates, hints of clove and nutmeg.
Palate: Caramel and vanilla with a candied fruit heart (golden raisin, orange and grapefruit rind). The oak influence is quite minimal compared to 2001. The personality is harmonious and composed from entry to the finish.
Finish: Subtle sweetness and ever increasing warmth. The finish adds a little pop.
Overall: While this barrel of EWSB Vintage 2002 was not quite as complex as the 2000, nor quite as bold as the 2001, it finds a middle ground between the two. Much of the base aromas, flavors, as well as the personality takes me to the 2011 Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC) finished in cognac barrels, which I rated at 9.6. It wouldn’t surprise me if the same warehouse levels were used for the 2002 and the 2011 PHC. About the only suggestion I can make is I’d like to see the proof increased to 90-92. I think they could do that without sacrificing drinkability. But when a whiskey is this good, why bother screwing with it?
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Outstanding)

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)

Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon Review

Forgive the lack of video, but I wanted to get to this review of the tried and true Evan Williams “Black Label”. Lately I’ve been on a bargain hunt spurned by a number of you returning visitors that have requested we examine some of these often overlooked whiskeys.

The folks from Heaven Hill make this bargain “juice” from the same mash bill (grain recipe) used for Evan Williams Single Barrel and their Elijah Craig products. John Hansell of Malt Advocate recently named it (along with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond that I’ll soon be reviewing) as one of his “Best Buy” whiskeys of the year. Let’s give it a further look……….

Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon, 43% abv (86 Proof), $11

Nose: Caramel, cola, and cinnamon spice showcase a sweet nose that’s made more interesting by a sturdy backbone of oak.

Palate: Corn, cola, vanilla, and maraschino cherry syrup at the front of the palate with a good dose of cinnamon/all spice at mid palate. Like the nose, on the palate the sweetness is lifted by that familiar, and glorious oak. It’s a bit disjointed from the entry, but once the oak asserts itself you might be reminded of Elijah Craig 12 year old.

Finish: Caramel sweetness, light fruit, and oak veneer leave their mark in a moderate length finish.

Overall: Evan Williams “Black Label” lays its cards on the table right from the start, but there’s a great deal of quality here. It’s not particularly complex stuff, but who cares. It’s accessible, drinkable, and has a delicious combination of sweetness and wood that would appeal to a broad audience. Simply put this is well made stuff at a great price. Heaven Hill once again shows us that really good whiskey doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ll drink to that!

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2001 Bourbon Review

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon Vintage 2001, 43.3% abv (86.6 Proof), $26-29/bottle

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Sweet notes of deep vanilla, rich caramel, butterscotch, maple, and banana are spiced with cinnamon, all spice, and toasted oak.

Palate: A reasonably thick viscosity at this proof. A caramel and maple syrup entry are followed early with intense dry spice (cinnamon, allspice), baked red apple (cider-like), and fairly heavy oak, resin, and char.

Finish: Warm spices and dry, toasted oak dominate this long finishing whiskey.

Overall: For my tastes, the Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 Vintage was probably the best sub $30 whiskey released last year. While extremely complex and flavorful, it was also elegant, dancing on the tongue as you sipped. Stylistically there is definitely a family resemblance, but the 2001 vintage delivers it’s flavor in a very different manner. It’s thicker and stickier in mouth feel, richer and bolder in flavor (both sweet and spice), and tasting more of the wood. You might say it lacks a bit of the 2000′s balance and tact, but it makes up for it in other ways. Think of the 2001 as more rock and roll to the 2000′s symphony orchestra. Even though it’s different, it’s still an outstanding whiskey in it’s own right. Therein lies the reason I feel the Evan Williams Single Barrel is one of the best products from Heaven Hill. Each year is distinct and truly a “vintage” expression of grain, oak, and time. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.1 (Outstanding/Superb)

NOTE: The 2000 vintage is still readily available. Until the 2001 is readily available in your area, take the opportunity to grab and hold a bottle or two of the 2000.