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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: 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: Willett Family Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon – 8 Year (Barrel 305)

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) is an Independent Bottler based in Bardstown, Kentucky. While KBD has been in the process of renovating the old Willett Distillery, until recently it had not been doing any distillation. The company’s model has centered on sourcing choice barrels from other distilleries for bottling under their many labels. After the first of the year KBD was able to crank up the still at the distillery, and I sure hope to see some of their own distillate coming out soon. Until then…….

One of their more popular products is the Willett Family Reserve line of longer aged bourbons. The subject of this review is the 8 year old version. The source distillery is unknown and the folks from KBD would probably have to take out all of my taste buds one by one (a fate worse than death) if they told me. Here are my thoughts….

Willett Single Barrel Bourbon (8 Year) , Barrel #305, 64.15% abv (128.30 Proof), $50

Color: Deep Mahogany

Nose: Baked banana, smoky caramel, sorghum syrup, vanilla, cocoa, flint and roasted nuts.

Palate: This is brooding whiskey – molasses, toffee, dark chocolate caramels, bitter espresso, and heavily toasted bread. There is a good bit of waxiness as well. In spite of the deep dark flavors, this whiskey does not drink it’s proof. I would have guessed something around 100-105 – it hides it very well.

Finish: Huge finish with cocoa, coffee, toffee and more of the wood spices than were present on the palate (clove and cinnamon in spades). There’s a nice interplay between bitter and sweet.

Overall: What a fantastic whiskey! This is “end of a great meal” whiskey that could easily substitute for a well balanced dessert. Intense, sweet, bitter, solidly spiced, and interestingly smoky. I loved it from start to finish. At $50 it’s certainly not inexpensive, but considering the proof it is a tremendous value. Without hesitation, this can go toe to toe with the big boys from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. One note of caution – as mentioned in the opener, KBD sources these barrels. I can only imagine their program focuses in some way on consistency and flavor profile, but it’s still a single barrel product. As a result I would expect some variation. Please note that I’ll continue tasting some additional barrels and will post my thoughts and updates as I try them. Even considering the potential for variance, I highly recommend you give this one a try.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye

The Willett Brand is owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, LLC (KBD), a Bardstown, Kentucky Independent Bottler. The company is responsible for a number of well known bourbon and rye whiskeys – Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, and of course the Willett label to name a few. In spite of having the word “distillers” in its name, KBD does not currently distill whiskey. Instead, the operation relies on partnerships with established distilleries to produce its whiskeys.

As an aside, KBD has been working for years to get the former Willett distillery up and running (in Bardstown, KY). In a discussion I had this past fall with Drew Kulsveen, the man behind most of the company’s whiskeys, KBD is making significant progress in getting the distillery operational. Kulsveen estimates the distillery will be producing whiskey at some point in 2012. Until that time, Kulsveen takes a hands on approach to selecting barrels for KBD’s many products.

The subject of this review is KBD’s Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye. What we know is this product is made by Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. For more information on LDI, please check out my reviews on Bulleit Rye, Redemption Rye, Templeton Rye, and a number of the High West whiskeys. LDI is responsible for distilling each of those products.

Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye Whiskey, 55% abv (110 Proof) $35.00

Color: Medium Amber

Nose:  Razor sharp rye, granulated ginger, pine sap, licorice, and fresh, juicy oak at the fore. Rock candy and vanilla share the stage, but in the background.

Palate: Concentrated, brittle caramel sweetness fades to crisp, dry peppermint, evergreen, and clove at mid-palate. Lots of deep, dark barrel notes anchor the brighter flavors of this whiskey, adding depth and complexity.

Finish: The finish is huge – spiced with rye, clove, and mint as well as bold notes of the oak.

Overall: The hallmark of LDI’s rye whiskey, particularly their 95% rye, is that bracing rye nose and palate, with brittle caramel, juniper, and fresh green notes (evergreen, pine, and herbs). Willett 3 year Single Barrel Rye certainly demonstrates the family resemblance, but is also different from the rest in the way it delivers aroma and flavor. I consider this a good thing because most of the independently bottled LDI juice tastes so very similar. Releasing this at 110 proof was a wise move first and foremost. The result is a deeper sweetness, complexity, barrel/toasted notes. From a textural point of view, the Willett Rye is more viscous as well. I’d go so far as to consider this one of the best young whiskeys (under 4 years old) made. Quite a distinctive pour for $35.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Superb/Outstanding)

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2011

This years 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel from Four Roses is another great reminder of why Four Roses is one the more exciting distilleries in the country. No other distillery works with more recipes (10 to date). This years release is their high-rye (60% corn/35% rye) “B” bourbon mashbill with their floral “Q” yeast. And while not overbearing, the floral fragrance is very apparent. Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, noted that he smelled a big bouquet of red roses when he first nosed this bourbon right from the barrel.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2011 Bourbon, 55.4% abv (110.8 Proof), $70/bottle

Color: Deep Copper

Nose: Maple syrup, baked orchard fruit, mashed berries, and brown sugar play sweet foil to big vanilla, toasted barrel, and floral fragrance. The spice lies below the surface.

Palate: Viscous stuff with an array of sweet maple syrup, jellied orange and berries, ground hot spices (white pepper, mint, and cinnamon), leather, and ever present bitter floral flavors. The sweetness hits first but doesn’t last long before the spice takes over.

Finish: Dries rapidly with a wicked mix of red sour fruits, stale pancake syrup, spicy oak essence, and bitters.

Overall: This one is fun and totally unique indeed. The OBSQ recipe with it’s mix of spicy high rye mashbill and the floral “Q” yeast strain yields a finished bourbon that isn’t overly sweet, adds a pop of floral fragrance and flavor, and also has enough of that signature Four Roses fruit and spice. This isn’t as good as other limited edition single barrels and limited edition small batches from Four Roses, but it’s still excellent stuff. It also underscores what different combination of mashbill and yeast strain can do to the final product.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)

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)