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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 2003 Vintage

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbons have a subtlety and balance that resonate with me. It seems that with each year, Heaven Hill manages to release an EWSB whiskey with flavors that are well integrated and harmonious. Nothing stands too far out in front. The last four vintages have been excellent, but will the 2003 measure up?

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Vintage 2003, 43.3% abv (86.6Proof), $29/bottle
Barrel 78, aged 9 years 8 months
Color: Deep golden
Nose: Caramel apple, honey, vanilla taffy, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Palate: As with the 2000 and 2002 especially, this 2003 is a well balanced blend of sweetness, fruit, and oak. Honey and vanilla up front, burnt sugar, dried apricot, golden raisin, and a solid backbone of oak and wood spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).
Finish: Candy corn sweetness, oak, crushed rock, and warm wood spices.
Overall: Heaven Hill is in a groove with the distillery’s Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage dated bourbons. The 2003 is just a shade less exciting than the previous three years, but sill marked with the usual grace and easy drinking personality. This is whiskey you can buy at a great price and knock them back without sacrificing quality. I will say that Heaven Hill would have a stunner with a bit more stickiness and mouth feel at a higher proof. The distillery is releasing a barrel strength Elijah Craig 12 Year at around $40-45, so I hope they add a similar version of EWSB soon as well.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Outstanding)

Review: Mellow Corn Corn Whiskey

What do you think of when you hear the words “corn whiskey”? Perhaps images of backwoods stills and mason jars come to mind. As my recent post of Balcones’ True Blue corn whiskey demonstrates, a lot of micro distilleries are taking on the humble grain and crafting some very interesting products. However, let’s not forget this category has been around for a long time.

Heaven Hill produces more corn whiskey than any other distillery today, including the subject of this review, Mellow Corn. I’ve noticed over the last couple years the distillery’s pushing this flagship corn whiskey over J.W. Corn and Dixie Dew, which are essentially the same products. To me that makes a lot of sense. How many corn whiskeys does a distillery need to sell?

By now you are probably aware that one of the components required for a whiskey to be called “bourbon” is a corn content of at least 51%. Corn whiskey in contrast must contain greater than 80% corn. In addition, and also unlike bourbon, corn whiskey may be aged in used barrels.

Mellow Corn Specs: Mellow Corn is 90% corn with a small percentage of rye and barley making up the remaining 10%. The whiskey’s golden chardonnay color indicates it has been aged in used barrels. We also know it’s been sitting in wood for at least four years. Even though Mellow Corn is bottled in bond at 100 proof, the resulting aging process produces a much lighter style of whiskey with some rustic edges.

Mellow Corn Corn Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $12/bottle
Color: Gold/Chardonnay
Nose: Bright and brisk – heaps of vanilla taffy, dried banana, sweet corn, and honey.
Palate: A bit of ginger spice and warm spice wrapped around a soft, sweet core of vanilla taffy and banana. Moderate warmth and rustic corn grain edges.
Finish: Longer finish than I expected. Vanilla and bit of white pepper.
Overall: Mellow Corn is not a complex whiskey to say the least, but it’s bright and easy sipping even at 100 proof. Where it gets it right is with balance. It’s not overly sweet, mildly spiced, and with great vanilla and banana fruitiness. I laugh when I read negative comments about Mellow Corn. Mostly because it’s well made, good whiskey. If you put this in the hands of someone like John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky Company overseas, he’d blend this into something marvelous that people would buy for $50. Would I recommend you absolutely go out and buy Mellow Corn? No, I can’t say that I would. However if you are interested in building on your whiskey education, an $11-13 purchase would go a long well to give you an appreciation of the style.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.7 (Good)

Review: 2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon

The 2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC) is a blend of Heaven Hill’s rye-based (Evan Williams mashbill) and wheat-based (Old Fitzgerald/Larceny) bourbon. Put together, the whiskey is an assembly of four grains. This year’s release has large shoes to fill. The 2011 PHC was finished in Cognac barrels and received a 9.6 rating on Sour Mash Manifesto. It was without question one of my top 3-4 whiskeys of the year.

2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon, 65.8% abv (131.6 Proof), $80/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Caramel, demerara sugar, and vanilla wrapped around golden raisin with hints of ground cinnamon and ginger.
Palate: Sharp yet concentrated and syrupy on the palate -caramel syrup, sorghum, vanilla, cinnamon toast and moderate heat.
Finish: Long and lingering – sorghum and caramel sweetness with a roasty/toasty quality and rising warmth. Beautiful finish.
Overall: Not quite the uniqueness and level of quality of 2011′s cognac barrel finished bourbon, but the 2012 PHC is an excellent whiskey. The blend of rye-based and wheated bourbon don’t fight one another, but instead achieve a nice harmony. Maybe even a bit too much harmony.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

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)