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Review: 2013 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Brown-Forman has been producing the distillery’s annual Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (OFBB) release since 2002. Named after the distillery’s founder, George Garvin Brown, the release celebrates Mr. Brown’s September 2nd birthday. I personally have a love-hate relationship with the OFBB release. The 2010 I rated a whopping 9.3 – superb stuff. Other annual releases have ranged from underwhelming to very good. The question is did Brown-Forman bring out the good stuff for 2013…….

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2013), 49% abv (98 Proof), $54.95/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Copper
Nose: Vanilla custard, caramelized banana, chocolate, dried dark fruits, and bright orange oil. Gentle oak character, but overall rich, sweet, and fruit forward.
Palate: Vanilla, butterscotch, pecan, and dried fruit livened with bitters, ginger, nutmeg, and hints of toast.
Finish: Lingering caramel sweetness, barrel spices (clove, nutmeg), and humming warmth.
Overall: The 2013 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (OFBB) is as epic a nose as you will find in the whiskey world – absolutely jaw dropping. The palate is perfectly proofed, harmonious, and on the sweeter side. I can easily say you’d have to look at the 2010 release to find an OFBB release as strong as this years. Even at $55 I consider the 2013 release a must try for bourbon lovers. Send me your opened bottles if you don’t enjoy the hell out of it – my birthday is right around the corner.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.5 (Superb)

Review: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel

Four Roses has been on one hell of a roll. Aside from having an excellent product line in the company’s primary whiskey portfolio, Four Roses’ Limited Release offerings (two annually) are always highly anticipated. The 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch received my highest rating for 2012 for example.

The 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel is a 13 year old barrel proof whiskey using the distillery’s OBSK recipe (high rye mash bill, “K” yeast strain). Let’s taste it…..

four-roses-limited-edition-single-barrel-2013-202x300Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel (2013), 57.3% abv (114.6 Proof), $70/bottle, Barrel #3-2D
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Elegant and refined. Caramel, orange blossom honey, maple syrup, crisp mint, nutmeg, strawberry jam, and graham cracker.
Palate: Very composed flavors of maple syrup and honey, touches of cocoa and mint, and light fruit character. Additional water brings on more chocolate and fruity notes. Full of flavor, yet uncluttered.
Finish: Maple and butterscotch sweetness, a touch of old barrel and nutmeg linger.
Overall: Another stellar offering from Four Roses! There isn’t a distillery producing better limited release whiskeys today. The 2013 Limited Edition (LE) Single Barrel takes over where 2012′s LE Small Batch left off (and the 2012 LE Single Barrel before it, etc. etc). This one keeps you guessing with each sip as the aromas and flavors are so well dovetailed together. Easily one of the best whiskeys of 2013.
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)

Hoarding Whiskey Part 2

Apparently the whiskey hoarding debate from my post in late January struck a chord. Some response was positive, some negative, but regardless a fun discussion where over 50 comments can be read here. A nasty cold and cough have derailed my tasting and review plans for the week. But that’s okay – it allows me a chance to revisit this topic if you will allow me.

First, I wanted to further clarify my position. Like most things, it’s never black and white. I consider the hoarding mentality one of collecting whiskey for the sake of the collection. Who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your whiskey? It’s your money. If you can build your stash while not sacrificing your personal enjoyment of good whiskey, then I say go for it.

There were a number of great points made about being a smart consumer. Something I am not. I can only speak for myself but for me, my title as whiskey blogger runs opposite of the title, “smart consumer”. I buy 90+% of the whiskey I review, and taste a whiskey no less than 2-3 times (sometimes more) before writing about it. That requires plenty of sipping and not a ton of saving. If a smart consumer knows he loves XYZ whiskey, shouldn’t he take advantage of good pricing and stock up? Absolutely. If that smart consumer enjoys that whiskey and drinks it regularly that is not a hoarders pursuit in my opinion.

The biggest point I wanted to make is don’t let a hoarding mentality keep you from enjoying the great stuff you have in your cabinet. Don’t rush to finish all those open bottles, don’t crack your Pappy just because you think I said so (but if you already did – save me some), but do find the time to enjoy these whiskeys that you’ve purchased. Don’t always wait for the perfect moment – a great whiskey MAKES the perfect moment perfect.

And finally, for some background, I’m not one that lives in the past. I don’t believe that everything made back in the day was better. Doesn’t mean some wasn’t better, but nobody can convince me that the juice put out by some of these distilleries today is not as good or better today as it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Buffalo Trace makes better whiskey than Stitzel-Weller did from top to bottom. Is that subjective? No. ; )

A number of comments also saw an underlying optimism in my post. Those folks are absolutely correct. I don’t believe the whiskey bubble is close to popping. I don’t have facts or figures to discredit what others feel to be an absolute certainty, citing rising prices, rising gimmicks, and depleting supply as chief reasons. Sure, it saddens me to see stuff aged on boats, but constraints (lack of supply) also lead to wonderfully creative products we’d never have otherwise.

Distilleries are making more whiskey today than ever before. Yes it’s getting more expensive – that happens. But we will soon have even more viable choices with natural selection doing its thing on a number of the micro distilleries. I tasted a Balcones whiskey that is very good and will only get better. The better micro distilleries are forcing other micros to make ever better products. It’s also forcing established distilleries to be more creative.

You could argue that 2012 would be a chief knock against my theory for the most part. I consider it an average year for whiskey, perhaps one of the worst for me in the last 5 years. Still, I tasted enough great stuff from the likes of Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, High West, Heaven Hill, and St. George Spirits, among others, to keep me optimistic. Therefore I still encourage you to drink your good stuff.

It’s Wednesday night – have a pour in good health!

-Jason

Review: Balcones True Blue

As “micro” or “craft” distilleries go, few are hotter right now than Balcones out of Waco, TX. The distillery’s portfolio of whiskeys and spirits is ever increasing. Not to mention they’ve snagged some pretty high honors in recent years. In 2012 they were named craft distillery of the year by “Whisky Advocate” magazine. Master Distiller, Chip Tate, has taken the road less traveled with the distillery’s use of interesting grains, such as blue corn, for Balcones’ signature whiskeys.

Today’s review is for Balcones True Blue, the distillery’s cask strength, 100% blue corn whiskey. At 125.6 proof, this one is a big one.

Balcones True Blue Corn Whiskey, Batch TBU-12, 62.8% abv (125.6 Proof), $57/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar syrup, cinnamon spiced pecans, and creamy coffee liqueur overcome some of the funky, new make undertones. The oak stays very much in the background, with a rustic corn quality adding savory aromas to a very sweet nose. Overall there is a level of complexity here that belies its age
Palate: Brown sugar, HUGE cinnamon spice and chile heat, tamed a bit by dried fruits (dried apple and apricot) and honey.
Finish: Increasing warmth with a very long cinnamon and honey finish.
Overall: True Blue gained favor with me at every sip. With more air time, and a splash of water, the layers of aromas and flavors developed dramatically. It is young juice – there is no mistaking that. However there is also a level of complexity with True Blue that is astonishing. It’s clear that Chip Tate and Balcones are making very good whiskey. I’m now paying attention and looking forward to trying more of their products. If you are listening Balcones, keep a few of those barrels back for some older releases. If you do that I think you have a real stunner on your hands.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.1 (Very Good)

Review: Bulleit and Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon

Bulleit is a growing brand owned by the largest beverage alcohol company in the world, Diageo. Bulleit has certainly made a name for itself in the last 14 or so years. A lot of Bulleit’s growth has to do with being embraced by the ‘craft’ cocktail movement that has taken place in the last decade. I don’t have a plethora of facts to back that up admittedly but if you have been paying attention at your local upscale watering holes I think you’ll agree.

The first product produced under the Bulleit brand was Bulleit Bourbon, a high rye grain bill made for Diageo by Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. Seagrams owned Four Roses since the early 1940′s, and purchased the Bulleit brand name in the late 90′s. Upon hitting hard times due to a diluted portfolio, Seagrams was purchased by Vivendi, who then sold it’s whiskey brands to Diageo. Whew (almost done)! Diageo then sold Four Roses to Kirin out of Japan, but kept the Bulleit brand name, which was distilled at Four Roses under contract. That contract continues to this day for Bulleit brand bourbons.

In the last year and a half, Bulleit expanding portfolio saw the introduction of a rye whiskey produced by Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly LDI). In the last month they’ve released a 10 year old version of namesake Bourbon. The subject of this review is the company’s orange labeled flagship as well as the new 10 year old. Let’s get to tasting shall we…….

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Deep Orange
Nose: Caramel, fragrant and sweet orange rind, clove, vanilla, spiced honey, hints of banana, and wet stone. The nose is crisp, mildly floral, and razor sharp.
Palate Caramel and vanilla up front but overcome quickly by cinnamon red hots, orange rind, and clove. Healthy spices here but with an attitude that is not overly aggressive nor too “hot”.
Finish Cinnamon, vanilla, lingering earth/minerality and barrel.
Overall: One sip and you’ll see why Bulleit is loved by cocktail enthusiasts. It’s clean and sharp leaning towards the drier side of things on the palate. As a neat sipper it works very well and offers versatility in a shaker to boot. Much like Four Roses Small Batch, when used to make an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep, the fruit and spice notes really come through. This one is not very frontier like at all, and that’s probably a good thing.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)

Bulleit 10 Year Old Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, 45.6% abv (91.2 Proof), $45/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/ Deep Orange/ Copper
Nose: Stickier, richer and fuller on the nose than little brother. Caramel candy, maple sugars, vanilla, citrus rind, black tea, clove, and a healthy backbone of wood.
Palate Caramel and vanilla wrapped around a fruity core of orange and red apple. The wood notes ramp up quickly at mid palate. Barrel spices abound (cinnamon, clove, and a bit of licorice bite) without being overly dry.
Finish Big barrel spice and wood notes. Subtle caramel sweetness. Moderate length.
Overall: Certainly the oak influence is ramped up considerably as you would expect, but not overly so. It’s a bit sweeter, richer, and bolder than the younger Bulleit. It’s also a great sipper neat, with a splash, or with a cube. I found the fruitier and sweet spice notes more pleasing to my palate on the whole, but keep in mind the $20 price difference. Is it worth it? If you are a Bulleit fan or a fan of drier bourbons I’d recommend this one.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)