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Review: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon

Larceny Bourbon is the latest release from Heaven Hill Distillery. This small batch bourbon consists of 100 barrels “or less” aged in the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors of the aging warehouse. The name refers to John E. Fitzgerald’s (Old Fitzgerald namesake) propensity to use his keys to the aging warehouses to “steal” bourbon from the very best barrels at his disposal. These barrels became known as the “Fitzgerald barrels”.

I’m not exactly certain if Heaven Hill intends to eventually replace the Old Fitz line with Larceny, or if this is simply an additional product offering. Time will tell. For now, let’s take a taste of this new wheated bourbon.

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon, 46% abv (92 Proof), $24.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, caramelized banana, honeysuckle, corn, and a healthy dose of ground cinnamon. There is a bit of oaky resin as well.
Palate: Velvety on the tongue and surprisingly well spiced. Brown sugar syrup, vanilla, and notes of sweet corn are livened up big time with a cinnamon and wood spice punch.
Finish: Falls off quickly, but with an even warmth, never too hot, and a hint of honeyed sweetness.
Overall: This is an impressive release from Heaven Hill at this price point. First off – the proof is right on for an easy sipping and inexpensive wheated bourbon. They’ve left the flavor here without compromising drinkability. Because of the price, the natural comparison is against Maker’s Mark, but to me this compares closer in flavor profile with Maker’s 46. The healthy doses of cinnamon and wood spice have made for a much more interesting sip than the standard Maker’s.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

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)

Review: Old Fitzgerald 12 year Bourbon

Old Fitzgerald Bourbon first hit the market in the late 1800s, and was eventually produced by the much lauded Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, KY. Yes, the same distillery that once made bourbon under the Weller and Old Rip Van Winkle labels among others.

Diageo purchased the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1992, thus taking over the Old Fitzgerald brand. In the last 1990′s the brand was sold to Heaven Hill along with the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY which produces Old Fitz today.

Old Fitz still follows a wheated recipe made famous by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Exact mashbill proportions I am not aware of, but it’s safe to say the recipe is probably identical to the original.

Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $39.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Banana bread, toffee, buttered popcorn, and deep vanilla notes. There’s quite a bit of cinnamon spice and some staler aromas of sweet corn mash.
Palate: Soft as a puddle of toffee sauce. Rich vanilla custard, some maple sugars, and spicy cinnamon prickles the tongue. Very simple in terms of the flavors presented, but it does so with excellent structure. It’s not fat and overly sweet in the least.
Finish: A zippier finish than expected. The warmth from the cinnamon dominates with that ever present buttery toffee sweetness.
Overall: Old Fitz 12 year old is a beautiful whiskey full of classic wheated bourbon aromas and flavors, but made far more interesting with age. A wealth of cinnamon spice notes add some complexity, cutting the richer, sweeter flavors. My only slight criticism is the price is a good $13-15 more expensive than W.L. Weller 12 Year Old, which I rated an 8.8. Still, Old Fitz 12 is excellent whiskey and a delight to sip.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

2011 Sour Mash Manifesto American Whiskey Awards

The world doesn’t need any more whiskey awards. This is probably a fact we can all agree on, but I felt compelled to acknowledge some great work in 2011. I hope you’ll allow me to add my contribution to what I believe to be the best of American Whiskey for the year.

Sour Mash Manifesto America Whiskey Awards – 2011

Distillery Of The Year: Buffalo Trace
This was actually the easiest pick of all. When it comes to whiskey, few distilleries in the world can touch Buffalo Trace’s monstrous portfolio of rye whiskeys and bourbon. If you favor value focused products, then Buffalo Trace’s namesake bourbon delivers in spades. If you are looking for high end whiskey offering more distinctive flavors, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bring 5 whiskeys to the table with three or four vying for best American Whiskey of the year. This year also saw the first (from what we’re told) Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon made entirely from Buffalo Trace wheated bourbon stock (they supply the Old Rip Van Winkle line as well). On top of all of that, Buffalo Trace undertook perhaps the most educational whiskey endeavor ever with the unveiling of the Single Oak Project. In spite of what I think of Single Oak as a whole, there is no doubt that it will serve to provide Buffalo Trace with invaluable information to help them continue to craft great whiskey. There are many great distilleries in America, but in my opinion none can match Buffalo Trace in 2011.

Bourbon Whiskey Of The Year: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
If you want to get hardcore bourbon enthusiasts riled up, start feeding them information about shortages of their much beloved Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon. Stitzel-Weller, closed since the early 90′s, has been the source of bourbon whiskey for the longer aged Pappy Van Winkle line. Last fall, Preston Van Winkle made it known that the Fall/Winter 2011 release of Pappy 15 was 100% Buffalo Trace wheated recipe bourbon. From that point the anticipation and frenzy reached new heights even by Pappy Van Winkle standards. Would it be as good? Did they ruin one of the most highly regarded bourbons on the planet? The short answer is “No!” The resulting bourbon lacked some of the softness and refinement of the Stizel-Weller whiskey, but made up for it with ramped up spice and bolder wood notes, which in some ways made the whiskey even more interesting. In spite of slight differences, the Pappy 15 DNA was still present, resulting in the highest rated whiskey of the year (9.7/10).

Rye Whiskey Of The Year: Sazerac 18 Year
2011 was a big year for rye. The craft and micro distillers have been on the rye bandwagon for a while now, but some of the big boys and independent bottlers got in on the act as well. A common trend for the year were sourced rye whiskeys from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI). LDI’s 95% rye mashbill could be found in various ages, and bottled under names like Bulleit, Templeton, and Redemption to name a few. While quite good, many of these whiskeys tasted similar, leaving an opportunity for a new release rye whiskey to stand out from the crowd. Enter Buffalo Trace with their home run release of the 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey. Each year this whiskey proves to be one of the better ryes, but the 2011 version had added depth and complexity. Few whiskeys can match the balance of dryness and sweetness as well as capturing both the vibrancy of rye with the stateliness of older whiskey. Not to mention that it’s one of the best noses in whiskey – period. Without a doubt one of the best Rye Whiskeys I had this year.

Craft Whiskey Of The Year: St. George Spirits Single Malt, Lot 10
Situated in a former Naval aircraft carrier along the San Francisco Bay sits one of the coolest distilleries in the country. St. George Spirits has been making whiskey longer than most craft or micro distilleries, but their approach and attitude is still fresh and vibrant. Well known for creating fantastic gins, absinthe, and liquers, the pride and joy of the distillery is the Single Malt Whiskey. Actually I just made that part up. They’d probably tell you their pride and joy is something else that they make, but to me it should be their pride and joy – it’s phenomenal. The Single Malt is made from a Sierra Nevada Beer, crafted especially for the distillery using a number of different barley malts (chocolate malt makes it’s presence felt). The resulting whiskey is unlike any other being made today – fruity and full of deep, rich, smoky notes from the beer. With more than 15 years of whiskey making under their belt, I can’t wait to see where St. George takes this delicious Single Malt Whiskey.

Value Whiskey Of The Year: Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Bottled In Bond
I consider whiskey a “for the people” product – something to be enjoyed by all. As a result, value is very important to me. Don’t get me wrong I love the high end stuff and can’t wait to try them each year. But I get really excited when I get my hands on a whiskey at a great price that sacrifices nothing in the way of flavor and character. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey (Bottled in Bond), which is distilled by Brown Forman for Heaven Hill, is undoubtedly one such whiskey. At 100 proof, this rye whiskey packs a wallop with great depth and balance. Unlike some of the newer rye whiskey offerings consisting of 90+% rye grain, Rittenhouse is less rye-forward. I categorize it as a “bourbon drinker’s rye” – a bit richer and fuller bodied. At between $19-$24 depending on your area, Rittenhouse is a must find for the value seeker. I keep a bottle on hand at all times, and consider it a foundation whiskey for any great bar. NOTE: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond is now being distilled at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery.

As we all know, taste is very subjective. The above represent whiskeys and a distillery that I believe to be worthy of distinction relative to their peers. What about you? What gets your vote for whiskey of the year?

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon

There are a number of whiskey sites and blogs that I frequent on a consistent basis. Two that I enjoy are Steve Ury’s (he goes by Sku) Recent Eats and Tim Read’s Scotch & Ice Cream. Both of these guys are entertaining writers and good people to boot. If you are a whiskey geek you will be right at home at their sites. If you are a novice or interested in learning more about whiskey – there’s no shortage of knowledge either. Check them out on a regular basis, but particularly today, for reason’s I am about to explain.

With the ass kissing out of the way, let me give some background on how this review came about…….

A few weeks ago Sku posted a piece on Whiskey Collectors. He went so far as to categorize the various types of collectors with a “which of these categories fits you best” field guid. While almost dead on, I noticed I didn’t fit into any of Sku’s categories. I sent at Tweet informing him of the same, and he responded (jokingly) that he forgot the “Blogger that spends too much money on whiskey to blog about it” category. Sku can sympathize with this behavior as well. He recounted a recent moment of weakness where he almost bought a bottle of Rebel Yell just to write a post, before finally thinking better of it (“what was I going to do with the rest of it?!?!”).

I thought we were moving on, but Tim (who had seen these Tweets go back and forth) seized the opportunity to propose a simultaneous review of Rebel Yell on each of our sites. The only stipulation was no Billy Idol references, which was harder than I thought it would be. Rebel Yell was also a fitting suggestion since I had intended to review more entry level and lower price point whiskeys over the months of February and March. What a way to get started.

I invite you to take a look at my review below, then please go check out Sku’s and Tim’s websites for their thoughts. If it turns out they don’t agree with me, just remember they are wrong. Cheers!

Rebel Yell Bourbon, 40% abv (80 Proof), $13

Background: Rebel Yell is actually a pretty storied name from the standpoint that it was one Stitzel-Weller Distillery’s (S-W) primary brands (along with Old Fitzgerald, Cabin Still, and W.L. Weller). For more background on S-W, check out this post. After the S-W closed in the early nineties, these brands were all sold off to other distilleries and independent bottlers. Today, Rebel Yell is distilled, aged, and bottled by Heaven Hill (their Bernheim Distillery) for Luxco, a spirits company that owns Ezra Brooks Bourbon and a few other liquor and spirit brands. It’s a similar wheated recipe bourbon that was made popular by Stitzel-Weller.

Color: Medium Gold, like over-oaked chardonnay

Nose: Heavy sweet corn, corn oil, vanilla, and honey are the predominant notes. Candied orange, hints of dry corn husk and light hickory are also faint but present. NOTE: A healthy splash of water and time actually improves the nose a great deal, bringing out a whole lot more fruit (ripe pear and soft golden delicious apple) and lessening the crude corn assault.

Palate: Think corn whiskey rounded by the wheat. No surprise the sweet corn and vanilla are still the major flavors. Some sweeter, golden dried fruits (golden raisin, apple, and apricots) do their best (unsuccessfully) to lift the insipid whiskey. The influence of the wood is negligible, except for a light dryness/toastiness and bitterness most of the way through the sip.

Finish: 3-2-1……done. The faint flavors of ripe orchard fruits, sweet corn, and a kiss of honey are all that’s left. Some soapiness also.

Overall: What struck out to me the whole time I nosed and sipped this whiskey is the irony in the name. “Yankee Whisper” would be much more appropriate since there is little character or shape to this whiskey. Actually I take that back – I like yankees and mean no disrespect, but this whiskey is anything but a yell. It’s also lacking so much in the flavor department that it makes it hard to even call it “bad”. One thing is for sure – it’s just not worth your time in the least. The price point is low, but at half the price it still wouldn’t be worth it. There are so many other whiskeys (around this price) that offer more flavor, more character, and more value: Very Old Barton (80, 90, and 100 Bottled In Bond), George Dickel No. 8, Evan Williams Black Label, and Old Grand-Dad to name a few.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 6.8 (Decent – Palatable only)

Thanks to Sku and Tim for the suggestion. Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection (Cognac Finished) Bourbon

Parker Beam is American Whiskey royalty. Few men in the industry have accomplished more. Today he and his son Craig, decendents of THAT Beam, are the Master Distillers at Heaven Hill Distillery, makers of Evan William, Elijiah Craig, and many others.

Five years ago Parker introduced a limited annual release under the label Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC). He’s continued to release a PHC whiskey each year since. While many of you are quite familiar, these PHC products stand up with the best in whiskey almost every year. Last year’s release was a 10 year old wheated bourbon. I thought it was wonderful, but not quite different enough to stand out.

A month or two ago word got out that the latest PHC release would be a 10 year old bourbon (with rye as the small flavoring grain, not wheat) that had been finished in massive Grande Champagne Cognac barrels from Frapin Cellars in France. The bourbon used is the same recipe as Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. This bourbon is aged high in the upper levels of the rickhouse where temperature exchange is greatest. Once the barrels are dumped, the bourbon was placed in the cognac barrels for another four months (the label says six but Parker confirms it was actually four) high up in the aging racks.

Folks, I wasn’t exactly moved upon hearing about this cognac finish. While we haven’t seen such a finishing process in many many years, I was somewhat concerned this was a bit of a gimmick of sorts. I was foolish for thinking that…………..

Parker’s Heritage Collection (Cognac Finished) Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $80

Color: Deep, rich amber with glints of copper

Nose: Rum soaked fruits, toffee candy, banana, bright floral fragrance, and vanilla bean at the fore. Crushed rock and barrel in the background along with well toasted oak.

Palate: Structured and well rounded. The layers of flavor peel back like an onion. First, syrupy toffee sauce is brightened with candy apple, and dates over an undercurrent of warm spices (clove, nutmeg, and a gentle hum of chili). There’s a welcomed bitterness from the barrel as well.

Finish: Long, sweet, and well spiced. Rum raisin, chewy caramel, and spicy warmth remain.

Overall: Easy to sip even at 100 proof. I don’t recommend cutting it with any water – it drinks too well right from the bottle. However, don’t be fooled either. There is still loads going on here, but it’s just so well integrated. The 2011, 5th Edition Parker’s Heritage Collection is a whiskey masterpiece and also a clear whiskey of the year candidate for me.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (9.6 Epic/Whiskey Classic!)