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Review: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon

Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon is one of the many brands produced and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (KBD) out of Bardstown, KY. If you are unfamiliar with KBD as a company, you will probably recognize many of the whiskeys they produce – Willett Family Estate Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys, Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, Noah’s Mill Bourbon, Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, and numerous others.

KBD operates out of the Willett Distillery, which it has owned since the 1980’s. As an aside, it’s a charming distillery that sits atop a bluff not far from Heaven Hill distillery. The whiskey that makes up Pure Kentucky XO, as well as the others mentioned above, are sourced from unnamed distilleries. KBD has built their supplies by purchasing new make spirit sourced in bulk, and then aged in the Willett Distillery’s aging facilities on property. They’ve also procured fully or partially matured whiskeys that were distilled and aged elsewhere. I’m sure many of you know by now that a lot of this stuff is shrouded in mystery. I’m certainly not going to be able to clear that up – it’s sourced and I suppose that is that.

In January 2012 the Willett Distillery began distillation once again. This past fall the company released their first rye whiskeys that were distilled, aged, and bottled on property. I have bottles of both the 107 and 109 proof ryes (purchased at the distillery). The whiskeys absolutely need more time in oak to realize the complexity and depth that longer aged rye whiskey typically possesses, but Willett has a good foundation with these whiskeys.

Let’s get back on track to the whiskey in question. Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a high proof (107) small batch straight bourbon whiskey. It has no age statement (NAS) so we really don’t know how old the whiskey is, but that’s not uncommon nowadays. As recent as 2-3 years ago, Pure Kentucky XO stated the whiskeys in the bottle were at least 12 years of age. We can venture a guess that is no longer the case. Age only matters to a point, and at the end of the day what matters is how the whiskey tastes. Let’s find out….

pure-kentucky-xo-300x300Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 proof), $28/bottle
Color: Copper/Medium Amber
Nose: Cinnamon and barrel spices (right up front), toffee, maple sugars, dry dusty oak quality. Faint dried apricot and fruit notes linger on the edges.
Palate: Spicy, rustic, and woody. Cinnamon, clove, and some bitter barrel notes (and grip) make way for oily corn, vanilla, and faint toffee sweetness.
Finish: Warming spice/heat and zip, corn, and a fruit. Long finish.
Overall: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a good choice for those that like spicy and oaky bourbons. It’s not overly sweet, and the price point is good considering the proof. It does take water well, and is recommended to brighten up the party a bit. If it has a fault it’s that it’s not particularly well balanced, but it fits a profile that many may appreciate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good)

Sour Mash Manifesto in 2015

Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 was kind to all of you. If it wasn’t –fear not! Simply resolve to make 2015 your best year yet. I’m going to work hard to do the same for me and my family.

There is one a regret I have for last year. I’m very disappointed with my lack of activity on Sour Mash Manifesto. If you’ve visited in the last 12 months you’ve probably read numerous excuses from me. I’ll refrain from making any specific promises, but I do intend to make Sour Mash Manifesto worth your time in 2015. I’m very grateful that you have stuck with me in spite of the snail’s pace of new content.

As I look back on 2014 from a whiskey point of view, I am a little disappointed to be honest. Not about a lack of great whiskey, mind you. There’s some awesome stuff out there. I’m not even overly concerned about escalating prices. Sure, I hate paying more for whiskey, but I adjust my expectations accordingly (probably like you do). What has really disappointed me is all this clamoring for limited releases, rare whiskey, and the constant questioning of “which one’s better, which one should I buy?” The whiskey loving community is so overcome with finding these limited and rare bottles that little else seems to matter. I’m worried we are forgetting to appreciate all that is readily available.

Bloggers must take the bulk of the blame for fanning these flames. I’ve come across as the head of the Pappy Propaganda Parade at certain points over the years (Guilty!). Yes I feel the 15 year is one of the great whiskeys on the planet, I truly do, but it’s all a bit much. Ironically this contributed a bit to the inactivity here. Why pile on to this fervor?

As an aside – I recommend ignoring every review you see on a Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), Four Roses Limited, etc. If you want to secure these rare releases I’d start making friends with a few local merchants. Find out how the store determines who gets a bottle of these highly sought after whiskeys. Then spend your money with the one or two that you feel give you the best shot. You’ll have to talk to owners and buyers at the stores and get a good “read” on that. Show the store that you are committed to giving them your business, and ask them to do the same. Like anything in life, ask for what you want, but be realistic about it (they can’t satisfy everyone). If the store is one that uses a list – get on it and be patient. When you have the opportunity, buy it.

Back on track……

The answer for me and for Sour Mash Manifesto is to get back to basics. That means focusing the majority of reviews on products with at least some moderate availability. There are so many gems out there that are overlooked while we scan for scan for labels of old men or deer antlers. I’m going to shed more light on those whiskeys. Some limited releases will find their way on the site from time to time, but less often. As a result, Sour Mash Manifesto won’t be your best place to find the latest ratings on the 2015 BTAC or Limited Edition Four Roses. For that information there are a ton of other great resources.

Another area I’ll be looking at more closely is “craft”/“micro” whiskeys. I hate both of those terms, but this segment of the industry continues to grow and evolve into a category on its own. It represents a lot of younger whiskeys, regional styles, and more unique grain bills and recipes. Fear not bourbon lovers – this won’t be a micro-only site, but I do wish to help wade through some of this stuff on the shelves.

Honesty, I’ve never had an original idea when it comes to Sour Mash Manifesto. I just talk about what has my attention. Other bloggers and industry folks have stated the same as I have above. I’m not trying to grandstand or act above the fray, and I don’t begrudge others that feel differently. Clearly people want to know what enthusiasts think about certain whiskeys.

To put my thoughts in perspective, consider for a moment that I’m sipping a beautiful Eagle Rare Single Barrel (private barrel selection) from One Stop Wine and Liquors in Johnson City, TN. It’s easily on the best whiskeys I’ve drank in the last six months. It’s spectacular, but writing about it is pointless due to your chances of securing some. Even still, you probably have a better chance getting this than you do some of the others I’ve mentioned. That’s the problem with all this hoopla, and I don’t need to add to it.

Please consider this a glimpse into where things are going at Sour Mash Manifesto. I know it will allow me to provide more value to the whiskey loving community. Thank you again for visiting.

Happy New Year to you and yours and drink your whiskey!

Jason

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: Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey

Angel’s Envy Bourbon has no doubt been quite a success story. The company set themselves apart with a sourced (not distilled by Angel’s Envy but procured) bourbon finished in port barrels. This easy drinking, fruity bourbon has won over a lot of folks, including me. I rated it a 9.3, which is an extremely high rating on my site. What I appreciated most about Angel’s Envy Bourbon is the company took a pretty standard, “good” bourbon whiskey and made it FAR better than the sum of its parts through this finishing (a second aging) process.

So what does the company do for the next major release?

Angel’s Envy has just answered that question with a new Rye Whiskey finished in Caribbean Rum casks. Offered at 100 proof, Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey begins with a sourced rye from Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly LDI). Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, or not paying attention, you’ve likely had an MGP rye in the form of Bulleit Rye, George Dickel Rye, or many other products on the shelves. MGP has built a name for producing unique bourbon and rye whiskeys that many independent bottlers are working overtime to make less unique.

Needless to say, a whiskey geek like me certainly looks forward to trying something like this. Here are my thoughts….

Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $70.00/bottle
Color: Light Amber
Nose: A trip to the islands. Brown sugar, Orange and grapefruit rind, candied pineapple, coconut cream, clove, and cinnamon with the green, fresh herbal and gin botanical spice notes ever present in MGP rye whiskeys. The rum influence is heavy handed, and I’d prefer something a bit more harmonious, but it’s intriguing and completely unique. A splash of water brought out some lemon-lime soda (WTF?).
Palate: Creamy on the palate with spiced honey, brown sugar syrup, golden raisin, cinnamon, and a sweet rye notes. The rye spice is most prevalent on the palate.
Finish: The finish lingers moderately with a big return of the rum, tropical fruit sweetness, and green rye spice.
Overall: I haven’t been more confused about a whiskey in a long time. In a world of sameness (all those other MGP ryes that taste VERY similar), it’s nice to nose and sip something different. Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey certainly qualifies as “different”. More similar to rye flavored rum from a profile perspective, I cannot say I have ever tasted a whiskey that’s picked up more aroma and flavor from a finishing process. That’s good and bad because the fresh, green rye notes fought the heavy, sweet rum influence from sniff to finish. I’d have preferred something a bit more harmonious and well integrated. One interesting little note – my lips and hands (dripped a little) smelled like I’d been drinking pina coladas all day. If you love (I mean LOVE) rum, and are looking for something totally different in the American Whiskey category – this one ticks all those buttons. I predict most will either love it or hate it, but give it a try and let me know what you think. It certainly has character (and a big price tag). Ahoy me hearties!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (Very Good)

***Sample provided for this review***

Thanks Bob!

What a crazy couple of months it has been. Between running a growing staffing firm and trying to corral three beautiful, active girls, I’m learning just how tough managing it all can be. But who isn’t busy right?

I just have to say thanks to Robert Parker, noted wine expert and writer, for digging me out of my hole a little sooner than I anticipated this week. Frequent readers know I’m a fan K&L Wine’s blog, Spirit Journal, written predominantly by David Driscoll. David’ post from yesterday has more than a few bourbon writers/bloggers puzzled. You can check it out here.

I’ll summarize by simply saying that Robert Parker felt compelled to go on a bourbon “conquest” for us all. That is correct. One of the foremost experts on wine decided to lock down bourbon and rye whiskey in a nice, tidy list.

Tim Read over at Scotch and Ice Cream had a strong take on Parker’s efforts. Chuck Cowdery did as well. I can’t wait to read Sku’s that is surely coming down the pipe (no pressure Steve!).

Obviously, Robert Parker is well known and clearly accomplished, but I am more than a bit surprised at his audacity. You might say, “Jason this man clearly has a great palate and a rolodex of descriptors to boot.” I’d agree…..when it comes to wine. Ask yourself if a man, regardless of his resume, knows the brown stuff if he is compelled to state this “shocker”:

“To tell you the truth, I have never been a big fan of liquor, but I was blown away by the quality of the top bourbons. They are every bit as good as a great cognac or Armagnac … and I’m not kidding!

For another laugh, check out his notes on Blanton’s, where he remarks that its either “a masterful blend or a bourbon of serious age.” You all of course know that it’s neither. In addition, The curious arrangement of whiskeys he chose to talk about also made me scratch my head a little. Experimentals mixed with some middle shelf stuff, a dash of the highly lauded releases, and a sprinkle of micro for good measure. To me it ended up an odd collection.

Of course there’s no law against Parker’s foray into “liquor”. It also doesn’t upset me in the least. In fact he’s shown a lot of balls tackling something he clearly knows only a wee bit about. Hmmm – Grapevine Manifesto has a ring to it.

One thing Parker and I do agree on: “Drink your bourbon!”