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Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon, 8 Years Old, 40% abv (80 Proof), $30-38

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection, which includes Knob Creek Small Batch, Baker’s 107, and Booker’s. Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied and highest rye recipe of the four, with as much as double the rye grain content. This bourbon is named after Mr. Hayden himself, who moved to KY in the late 1700s. He was a distiller and was reportedly one of the first to employ this very high rye mash bill for bourbon distillation. It yielded a very different flavor profile. So how does it fare?

Color: Light Amber/Golden

Nose: Clean, and crisp. Wildflower honey, mint, eucalyptus, loose leaf black tea, menthol, and dried citrus peel work in tandem with intense rye grain. Vanilla makes brief appearances. This nose could pass for rye whiskey, and it immediately put me into summer time.

Palate: Again, light with flavors of honey, mint, vanilla, candied lemon peel, and rye in spades.

Finish: We’re seeing a theme with this whiskey. The finish falls off sharply and dryly, but in proportion to what you’d expect for such a light bodied pour. Rye grain and minty warmth remain just to let you know it’s there.

Overall: It’s been noted by visitors to this website and others at just how often Jim Beam products can get brushed aside by “enthusiasts”. I suppose it’s tough to pull for the big boys, and you don’t get much bigger than Beam. Well, I beg of you to cast aside any preconceived notions and bias when you try this one. If you do, then a light and fresh whiskey with rye intensity and subtle sweetness awaits you. Basil Hayden’s refreshingly crisp quality lends itself well to warm weather sipping – it immediately reminded me of summer. I would like to see this offered around 90-92 proof (it would get lost above that). At that range I feel we’d see more of the heat, spice, and complexity that’s been diluted down a bit at the current proof.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Michter’s Unblended Small Batch American Whiskey

Michter’s Unblended Small Batch American Whiskey , 41.7% abv (83.4Proof), $30/bottle

Color: Deep Amber

Nose: Corn, candy corn, vanilla bean, marshmallow, and musty wood notes. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Black Maple Hill Small Batch. I later found out from Ethan Smith, a Michter’s historian of sorts, that Kentucky Bourbon Distillers LLC (makers of Black Maple Hill) is aging and bottling all Michter’s products today. So perhaps there really is some relation between the two.

Palate: Candy corn, vanilla, and custard to start, and then a thin veneer of oak and spice emerges at mid palate through to the finish. For a whiskey aged in barrels that had already been used for aging bourbon, this has a good bit more oak than I would have expected. There is also some slight astringency. All in all, it’s a bit simplistic, but it’s tasty.

Finish: Prickly spices continue to warm the tongue with some dusty oak and confectionery sweetness. Moderate in length before gently fading.

Overall: This whiskey has a long name. That stems from the fact that it has been aged in refill barrels that once aged bourbon (this is similar to what the Scotch industry does with bourbon barrels). While not 100% stated on the packaging, one has to use their imagination to decipher what “Aged in bourbon soaked barrels” means. All in all, this is a fine, simple sipping whiskey that is good, albeit unspectacular. Michter’s is a storied brand, and one of the oldest distilleries in the US at the time of its closing in 1989. Some say George Washington and his troops sipped Michter’s (rye at the time I believe) whiskey well back into the 1700s. Regardless of that, this particular product in the Michter’s line left me wanting more depth, richness, and character.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good/Solid)

Interview with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Master Distiller (Part 3)

This is the final segment of a 3 part interview with Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller at Four Roses. Frankly, this was my favorite part of the conversation because it shed so much light on Jim’s thoughts on the industry. What fantastic insight from arguably the most noted Master Distiller in the American Whiskey Industry today.

This piece of video starts after I had asked a question to Jim about the somewhat touchy subject of “blending”. I was concerned he might give me the boot for even bringing it up. I’m serious – I wasn’t sure how he was going to respond. The term “blended whiskey” was talked about a good bit in my piece on the history of Four Roses. And when you consider their history, it makes perfect sense why Four Roses would want to move far away from associating with the term “blend”. On their website they even go so far as to describe the “blending” of their 10 recipes of straight bourbon into their batched products as “mingling”. Remember, “blended whiskey” has historically referred to whiskey blended with grain neutral spirits (GNS). Some folks consider it whiskey-flavored Vodka.

I feel the connotation associated with this term is old and stodgy. It doesn’t have to be negative. If you’re interested to learn more about great blending, I encourage you to do a search on Compass Box Whiskey Company and owner John Glaser. Compass Box is doing amazing stuff, and it’s all blended whiskey (or vatted). In the course of this segment, Jim Rutledge talks about David Perkins, proprietor of High West Distillery and Saloon in Park City, Utah. David worked a bit with Jim before starting High West. High West distills their own spirits (Vodkas, “white” whiskey, and a number of other cool things in the works), but like Compass Box, they source (purchase from other distilleries), blend, and bottle some fantastic stuff. I’ve reviewed some of them here and here. In short, blending is an art and can be a big part of creating a great whiskey.

Now let’s look back at Four Roses. I’ve always felt that Four Roses, more than any other American Whiskey Company, was the most like the Scotch Industry in their philosophy and approach. They distill 10 different straight bourbon whiskeys, and blend them to create harmonious end products (for all but their Single Barrel products of course). In my opinion I consider this ultra premium blending or vatting of various straight bourbon recipes. It just all happens inside their own walls. But did Jim agree?…….

In addition to touching on that subject, Jim also talks about the prospects of a Four Roses Straight Rye Whiskey (cross your fingers and give your opinions to Four Roses if you want it!), his thoughts on the craft movement, and finally the level of camaraderie between the Master Distillers and other distilleries.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 3 part conversation, because I really enjoyed doing it. What a pleasure to speak with Jim Rutledge, and I look forward to the opportunity to do so again……….hopefully soon.

Interview with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Master Distiller (Part 2)

This post is Part 2 of my video conversation with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Master Distiller. I hate to even call it an “interview” because frankly it’s a conversation I caught on camera. In this segment Jim continues to tell us more on the background of Four Roses. He also talks about which Four Roses product he consumes most, gives a rundown on “Whiskey Flavor Factors” (including some detail on barrel aging), and some comparisons to Scotch whiskey. Enjoy!

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon Review

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon, 55.1% abv (110.2 Proof), $65-70/bottle

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose: Vanilla, Confectionary like a candy or fudge shop, sweet spices, and candied golden fruits (pineapple, apricots). Oak is present on the nose but not overpowering at all.

Palate: An eruption of sweet spices, black pepper, mint, rye grain, and alcohol heat. Then waves of red berry fruit, bitter orange rind and char. The sweetness is ever present throughout the sip with loads of burned caramel, vanilla, and rock candy. Not cloying in the least. The oak really asserts itself at the back of the palate.

Finish: Long and lingering with sweet spices, barrel char, and those confection sweet notes.

Overall: A superb bourbon that is well structured and balanced to the hilt. I love love love that it’s also at barrel proof which really helps to elevate those flavors. As with many Four Roses Bourbons, this one has those fantastic fruity and spicy flavors that is a hallmark for the distillery. While this sucker is expensive, I do highly recommend it. But I will say that this price underscores just what a fantastic value the Single Barrel is.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Superb/Outstanding)

The Legend: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pappy Van Winkle 15 yr Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $65/bottle

Each year I drink the latest release of this bourbon. Each year I’m taken aback by how great it is. It’s scarce and extremely tough to locate. And it seems just when I’m frustrated enough, I get a call from my local merchant informing me, “Pappy 15 is in!” This year was no different. I intended to review this with at least one of its older brothers, the 20 or 23 year expressions, but you needed to know about this one quick enough to get your hands on a bottle.

Pappy 15′s nose is as nearly perfect as you can get; rum, dried fruits (dates, apricots, raisins), soft caramel, maple syrup, buttery toffee, vanilla, barrel, leather, and light cedar. It’s rich, sweet, well spiced, but still vibrant in spite of it’s 15 years on the barrel. Pappy 15 pours into your glass like slightly watered down syrup or honey. From that moment you sense just how rich, thick, and lush this whiskey is. Flavors of rum soaked fruits, dried red or berry fruits, salted caramel, nutmeg, clove, maple, vanilla, toasted coconut, almonds, and char plow over your taste buds. This bourbon is huge – just a monster of flavors, with a long finish of toffee, caramel, fruits, barrel, and warming spices (nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon). Simply put, it’s one of the finest whiskeys made on the planet – an EPIC expression of Bourbon. The highest of recommendations.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.8 (Epic)