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1512 Barbershop Rye Review

“White” or Unaged Whiskeys can be sort of a mixed bag. By that I mean they mostly suck. Harsh? Perhaps, but in my experience that’s just been the case. I’m from the “wood is king” school of thinking. Wood does something to distillate that is pure magic. What more can be said?

About 4 weeks back I received an email from John Henry, a CA resident and visitor of this site. John asked me if I’d heard about an up an coming distiller out of the San Francisco Bay Area called 1512 Barbershop. He’d had a bottle and was floored by it and wanted me to be on the lookout. Soon after that I received a sample for review.

Here’s the scoop. Salvatore Cimino owns an actual barbershop in San Francisco called 1512 Barbershop. During prohibition, many barbershops acted as fronts for bootlegged spirits and whiskey. It wasn’t uncommon during those times for such “whiskey” to be of the unaged variety. Salvatore is a throwback whiskey purist of sorts having grown up distilling whiskey in an an old-school manner; milling grain by hand and copper pot distillation over open flames. 1512 Barbershop makes the not so subtle reference to this being Salvatore Cimino first “public” release. I chuckled when I read that. Thoughts of my granfather setting a mason jar with a peach floating in it popped into my memory.

So, how does this unaged Rye Spirit/Whiskey taste?

1512 Barbershop Rye, 45.5% abv (91 Proof), $30 (375ML Bottle)

Color: Crystal Clear

Nose: Green apple, ripe pear, clean, fragrant rye grain, and a confectionary sweetness.

Palate: The palate is crisp and clean with dusty, peppery rye grain shining through from the onset. Rock candy and taffy sweetness anchor this one as does an ever present fruity quality.

Finish: The finish is all rye, mild pepper, and a scant, haunting licoricey note.

Overall: I have to say this one caught me way off guard. To date, there are two white whiskey/spirits that I would consider “outstanding”. One of them is Four Roses OBSK mashbill (OBSQ isn’t far behind). The other is this one. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, K&L Wines has some in stock.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.9 Superb/Outstanding)

Old Forester Bourbon Review

I just returned from vacation with three new reviews ready for this week. Unfortunately there won’t be video accompanying them, but we’ll be back to the vids starting next week. First up on the review front is Old Forester Bourbon. 1512 Barbershop Rye and Very Old Barton (BIB) are up next. Cheers!

Old Forester Bourbon has been around a long time, since around the 1870′s in fact. Produced by Brown-Forman in Shively, Ky, Old Forester’s 72% Corn, 18% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley is the same mashbill used for Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, two bourbons I rated quite highly. There is no age statement on the bottle, but this one is around 4+ years in age and at a great price point. So how does it fare?

Old Forester Bourbon, 43% abv (86 Proof), $15

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: The strength of this whiskey – caramel corn, ripe apricot, wood spices, earth, and barrel.

Palate: Corn, caramel, vanilla, a diluted fruitiness, and a pinch of cinnamon/nutmeg spice – all encapsulated by a sturdy oak veneer.

Finish: The finish is moderate in length with dry oak asserting itself mightily, along with some bitter char, and a faint caramel sweetness struggling to bust through.

Overall: This one starts with a bang – the nose is very good and presents numerous layers, especially for a whiskey at this price point. The flavors on the palate however lean a bit towards pedestrian. The sweetness, fruit and spice never quite assert themselves as much as the oak influence on the palate. However, considering the price point, Old Forester packs some value in that simple bottle.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (7.9 Good)

Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon Review

Forgive the lack of video, but I wanted to get to this review of the tried and true Evan Williams “Black Label”. Lately I’ve been on a bargain hunt spurned by a number of you returning visitors that have requested we examine some of these often overlooked whiskeys.

The folks from Heaven Hill make this bargain “juice” from the same mash bill (grain recipe) used for Evan Williams Single Barrel and their Elijah Craig products. John Hansell of Malt Advocate recently named it (along with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond that I’ll soon be reviewing) as one of his “Best Buy” whiskeys of the year. Let’s give it a further look……….

Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon, 43% abv (86 Proof), $11

Nose: Caramel, cola, and cinnamon spice showcase a sweet nose that’s made more interesting by a sturdy backbone of oak.

Palate: Corn, cola, vanilla, and maraschino cherry syrup at the front of the palate with a good dose of cinnamon/all spice at mid palate. Like the nose, on the palate the sweetness is lifted by that familiar, and glorious oak. It’s a bit disjointed from the entry, but once the oak asserts itself you might be reminded of Elijah Craig 12 year old.

Finish: Caramel sweetness, light fruit, and oak veneer leave their mark in a moderate length finish.

Overall: Evan Williams “Black Label” lays its cards on the table right from the start, but there’s a great deal of quality here. It’s not particularly complex stuff, but who cares. It’s accessible, drinkable, and has a delicious combination of sweetness and wood that would appeal to a broad audience. Simply put this is well made stuff at a great price. Heaven Hill once again shows us that really good whiskey doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ll drink to that!

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

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey Review

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $21

Rye Whiskey has been hotter than a $2 pistol these days. The independent bottlers and craft distillers had their ears perked up and their finger on the pulse of where things were going. Because of that, these little guys were able to take advantage of this Rye Whiskey surge. Well, I imagine it didn’t take long for some of the big boys to ramp up production of their Rye products. And that’s a great thing, because when that happens, we are able to find true gems like this one on the shelf. It’s not a new whiskey, just one that had been tough to find for a while. I hope that is changing. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey is made by the folks at Heaven Hill.

Color: Dark Amber/Copper
Nose: Dusty cocoa, rye, flint, and wood spices mix beautifully with vanilla infused caramel and toffee.
Flavor: Wow what a sipper – rich and intense. Dark Chocolate, Rye, Clove, with sticky caramel and well integrated oak. Marvelous stuff.
Finish: Long with cocoa, licorice, and lingering spices.
Overall: This might be the best whiskey in the world around $20.00. It’s just that good. Spice, sweetness, and a deep, dark rich quality that blew my mind. It’s always great when you find a whiskey that brings this much flavor at such a great price. I’m not sure how Heaven Hill does it but this one gets “Cabinet Staple” status from me.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.3 (Outstanding/Superb)

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)

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project

Friday, April 29th, Buffalo Trace is making an announcement of sorts at their distillery concerning a new product they are unveiling. It’s called the Single Oak Project and it appears the folks in Frankfort, KY have been mighty busy.

To sum it up, 10 years ago Buffalo Trace hand selected single trees and had them coopered into two barrels from each tree. They identified 7 critical areas they believe make up a bourbon’s “DNA”, and varied these factors with each barrel. The result apparently is 192 different barrels of bourbon they will bottling and releasing.

Check out the website here. While not what I expected them to announce, I am certainly looking forward to trying as many as I can. Let’s all hope we can actually find them on the shelves.

POST UPDATE

Buffalo Trace has a release out this morning which explains things in a little more detail.

-Drink your Bourbon!