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Review: Cedar Ridge Bourbon Whiskey

Cedar Ridge bourbon is made by Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery in Swisher, Iowa. The distillery began distilling bourbon in July 2010. All of the distillation and aging is done in small batches, and aged on premises. The distillery also produces a number of brandies, grappa, and liquers in their distilled spirits portfolio.

Let’s take a closer look at this Iowa bourbon.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $37/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Golden/Honey
Nose: Anise, clove, juniper, pineapple, golden raisin, and cedar shavings. Youthful and bright.
Palate: A bit flat but pleasant – rock candy sweetness, clove, and nutmeg.
Finish: Juniper, clove, wood resin grip, and honey sweetness.
Overall: Cedar Ridge is a promising craft product. One sniff and sip and it’s clear the distillery is going for a lighter, brighter flavor profile – much like Koval out of Chicago. From that standpoint it’s unique and different from the onset. The distillery’s grappa and brandy roots are present as well. Frankly I am surprised this is 75% corn in the mashbill – the green rye notes come through well on both the nose and the palate. It’s certainly young, but that funky new make “craft” thing is not present here (that’s a good thing!). The distillate is clean and well made, but it needs more age and proof to add needed depth and richness. I am however intrigued and looking forward to future releases of this bourbon.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.6 (Good)

Review: Woodford Reserve Four Wood Bourbon

Last Tuesday I posted about the latest release as a part of Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release. For more insight on this release please check out the post here.

I received an advanced sample of this new whiskey. Here are my thoughts

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Wood Bourbon, 47.2% abv (94.4 Proof), $99/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Sweet and fruity – butter pecan, maple and toffee meets lush ripe orchard fruits (peach,, golden delicious apple, and muscadine jelly). An almost floral oak aroma adds interest.
Palate: Rustic, youthful, and corn laden up front on the palate. Maple and butter pecan flavors add needed sweetness before a drying oak tannin builds. The fruit hints at showing but never quite breaks through.
Finish: Buttered corn, maple sweetness, and bitter tannin.
Overall: Four Wood begins with an epic bang. The nose is absolutely phenomenal with lush fruit and candy shop sweets everywhere. It’s truly gorgeous and as unique a nose in all of whiskey. And that’s where things sort of get all wobbly. The palate is a patchwork of disjointed flavors with awkward transitions through the sip on to the finish. Frankly it’s a bit of a mess – not without some high points, but never coming together. It tastes a lot more youthful than standard Woodford. What I’m left with is too much of the toasted maple wood dryness on the palate and not enough of the fruit and lushness that the nose demonstrates. It’s not bad whiskey, in fact it begins (as I noted) with a boom, but it finishes with a flutter. Not something I’d recommend at this price. I’m a fan of Woodford Reserve. It gets piled on by enthusiasts but I’ve always felt it’s a very good, quality bourbon. The Master’s Collection releases however come across as a complete money grab by Brown-Forman. That I cannot get behind.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.2 (Good)

Woodford releases new “Four Wood” Bourbon

Each year Woodford Reserve releases a limited edition whsikey as a part of their Master’s Collection. The collection refers to Master Distiller, Chris Morris’s utilization, or focus, on one of five components in the whiskey making process – grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

The latest Master’s Collection release is Four Wood Bourbon, which is mature Woodford Reserve (which ages in new oak barrels like all bourbon) that is put through a “finishing” process (additional maturation/aging) in Maple Wood, Port Wood, and Sherry Wood barrels. It’s not known as of yet, where the Port and Sherry barrels were sourced, but I’m going to try to find out. Each of these barrels were married together in varied proportions to create the finished bourbon.

I must admit that I’ve had very mixed experiences with the Master’s Collection products. At their best the whiskeys have been “very good” (Maple Wood Finish), and at their worst (last year’s Rare Rye) they’ve been terrible. At a retail price of $99.99, there’s some risk involved for the consumer.

This Four Wood Bourbon however has me very intrigued. I should point out that I’m “bought in” on the whole “finished whiskey” thing that has caught on with distillers and independent bottlers in recent years. Is it gimmicky sounding? Perhaps. But there’s no question that finishing in Port wood barrels moved Angel’s Envy from a merely good bourbon to something of definite merit. Last years Parker’s Heritage Collection, which was finished in cognac barrels was downright superb – one of my highest rated whiskeys of the year. Hooker’s House, a bourbon finished in pinot noir barrels, didn’t disappoint either. In short – my experiences with many of these finished whiskeys has been good.

Each bottle of Four Wood will be offered at 750M, retail at $99.99, and at 94.4 proof. Will Four Wood set a higher standard for the Master’s Collection series? I’m expecting to try it within the next week – my thoughts and review will follow soon after.

Review: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel came out in May of this year. Unfortunately I was unable to get a bottle here in the Nashville area until August. Four Roses has three standard products – the “Yellow” label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel bourbon. The later is a top value pour in my book, but I usually can’t wait to see what the distillery puts out in their Limited Edition releases each Spring. With 10 recipes for which to choose from, Four Roses has near limitless options at their disposal.

This years release is the OESK mashbill, the distillery’s lower rye recipe at 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley. The “K” in the designation stands for the yeast strain – which amplifies and enhances the spice aromas and flavors in the whiskey. For anyone suspect to Four Roses’ claims, trust me when I say, “yeast matters!”. Having spent some time with Jim Rutledge nosing and tasting every recipe, yeast is possibly the most under-appreciated “flavor factor” in whiskey making.

Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon, 55.6% abv (111.2Proof), $69/bottle
Barrel Info: Barrel 81-3E, aged 12 years
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Big plumes of maple and barrel sugars, peanut brittle, nougat, peach preserves, hints of cinnamon, and old wood. One of the best noses of the year – unreal.
Palate: Maple, brown sugar, caramel apple, and a swift uppercut of spice notes (cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili flake).
Finish: Long and lingering warmth, spices, and maple sweetness.
Overall: For me it’s a top 5 whiskey of the year at this stage. The “K” yeast strain’s spicy influence elevates a sweet and fruity pour. What impresses me most about Four Roses is their bourbons are unlike any other distillery, at their best achieving a great balance of sweetness, spice, and fruit. The 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel is superb with added depth. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s well worth the price of admission. Here’s my suggestion: while most lament the fact that they missed a Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskey, just walk into your local shop, grab this and smile knowing you have something at least as good.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.5 (Superb)

Most Wanted

This weekend I was pondering the world of whiskey and in particular what I’d most like to see from producers. Obviously, for a whiskey lover, spending too much time on this subject could yield a rather long list. Outside of easy availability for all for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Van Winkle products, here are a few things I’d love to see:

George Dickel Barrel Strength No. 12: George Dickel is probably my favorite distillery. Is it because they produce the best whiskey? No – not exactly. I do love their 12 year old and Barrel Select, and it’s such a quaint, beautiful distillery tucked into a remote hollow in the southern portion of Middle Tennessee. I hate the fact that it’s treated as second class by the parent company, Diageo. Anyways, I would love to try a barrel proof version of their No. 12. I don’t think this one will ever see the light of day. Diageo uses Dickel essentially as a barrel producer for the company’s main whiskey brand, Johnnie Walker. Don’t plan on them doing any special releases that might divert away from their primary mission. Hey, a man can dream though.

Older (17+ year) Four Roses: This kind of goes against Four Roses Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge’s, philosophy on great bourbon. He believes bourbon hits a sweet spot between 8-12 years. I’d be a fool to think I know more than a thimble full of the whiskey knowledge Jim possesses, but I can’t help thinking that their single story aging process would make for some stellar older bourbons(17-20 years). Aging whiskey in a single story warehouse (5-6 barrels high) puts the whiskey through a less volatile aging process. If you’ve tasted many Four Roses products, what you’ll notice in most cases is well integrated oak – it’s a component and not the star of the show. Every now and then we get a taste of some older juice in the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch releases, but it’s usually mingled with 10-12 year old bourbon. What I want to see is either a blend of older bourbons or some single barrels. Are you listening Four Roses?

Four Roses Rye: Four Roses makes it on my list again here. It’s widely known that Four Roses uses more rye grain in their “B” mash bill than just about any other bourbon. A distillery that does that as well as Four Roses I’m sure could produce some outstanding rye whiskey. More than that, I’d be keenly interested in seeing how Four Roses’ 5 yeast strains influence a final rye whiskey. Talk about a hell of a lot a options. Will we see it? Rye whiskey isn’t going anywhere, and provided Four Roses can add it to their product line without hurting bourbon production, I think we will see it one day. Check out my three part discussion with Jim from 2011. He talks about rye a little bit. The reason it’s not an easy decision is because Four Roses, in spite of the history, is still a young brand (reintroduced in the U.S. in the last decade). It has taken tremendous efforts just to get the primary product lines (Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel) entrenched. That’s a smart business model for sure – do a few things REALLY well, but I think it’s time for Four Roses to branch out. A rye whiskey is the perfect way to do so. The bad part is we’ll have to wait a long time before it would be properly aged. I’m patient though.

These are just a few things I’d like to see from a couple of producers. What about you? Let’s hear what you’d most like to see.

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)