Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon Whiskey Review:

“Nothing is so musical as the sound of pouring bourbon for the first drink on a Sunday morning. Not Bach or Schubert or any of those masters.” 
- (Lula) Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands.

Last week I was down in Tucson, AZ for a few days visiting grandfather who is near the end of his life. Knowing that I would be seeing my father, who was already down there, I was sure we would be picking up something special from the local liquor store in the area. Since I rarely get a chance to see my father, much less enjoy a bottle with him, and since this was a rather unique “vacation” where a large toast seemed appropriate, I thought I would be able to get something more unique than the usual tipple to share with him (though as I think about it, we never seem to settle for the "usual tipple" anyway). Yet apparently in Tuscan the only place to find a brown spirit is in grocery stores and Walgreens, meaning a very mediocre selection. After a few failed attempts we finally came across Maker’s Mark 46. Sitting next to Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam White, Maker’s 46 was the most unique selection in the place. Not to say that I have anything wrong with it. I have in fact really wanted to review this bourbon, and while I am not a huge fan of the standard Maker’s Mark (solid bourbon, just a bit too easy-drinking for me), I have heard good things about the 46.

This version is not simply a longer aged bourbon of the original Maker's, rather it receives additional aging in barrels with internal French oak staves that have been seared, not charred. To note, using inner staves has been banned by the Scottish Parliament and will most likely make its way into the EU (according to John Lamond). This somewhat solidifies the bourbon as a bit experimental. And I can positively say that this is how I like to enjoy Maker’s. If anything, I can say this presentation balances out what I felt was too dominant of flavors – the vanilla and caramels. This is a big bourbon while still keeping up with the Maker’s signature profile.

Maker’s Mark 46 Bourbon Review:
Price: Around $34 for a 750ml bottle.
Packaging/Labeling: This expression really looks good. Maker’s did a superior job on the bottle design, clean, neat, with a pleasant modern touch for the first new expression in 50 years. The only issue I would take with the design is that I would have preferred a description of the product on the bottle, rather than having to check out the website.
Alcoholic Content: 47% abv, 94 proof.
Nose: Cinnamon and spice with thick cut oak. Nice vanilla and dried apricot. Light cherry and cola.
TastingRed Hots come right through developing into cinnamon and nutmeg. Sweet dried apricot. Some dark red fruits. Ends with maple and butterscotch.
Conclusion:  This is a solid bourbon and I must say I am a little surprised at how much I like this. I was expecting so much of the original Maker's to come through, and it did, but only in parts. And, I would suggest, only the best parts. With the higher alcohol strength and the addition of the internal wood staves I would definitely recommend this.
As a last note: even though this is a true line, and not a limited edition, from what I have heard, Maker's 46 might find itself in short supply in the near future simply based on the fact that this is a new product and Maker's will not be able to keep up with supply as it is going.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon Review:

"I feel the ideal way to enjoy Bourbon is to drink it the way you like it. If a person wants to mix Bourbon, with anything, it is alright. Soft drinks, cocktails, water, or even neat are perfectly ok." - Fred Noe, Sr.

This last Christmas Santa put a wonderful little nugget in my stocking: a mini of Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon. And no, this is not an abnormal gifting experience. The Christmas prior Santa put 750 ml bottle of Makers Mark in my stocking, with a box of sugar cubes, Angostura Bitters, and an orange. Anyway, I have been so busy with all my other whiskey tastings I only just remembered the mini hiding in the back of the home bar. A nice little surprise!

Produced by Beam Inc. at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, Knob Creek is a straight bourbon whiskey. One of four in a collection of Jim Beam small batch bourbons, including Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s, and Baker’s, Knob Creek is aged 9 years, the longest of any within the group. And it is also the most popular. In 2009, because demand for the bourbon ran well over the prior 2000 forecast, when the stock began the aging process, Beam consequently ran a well placed campaign publicizing, and fully embracing, their failure. It seems to have worked, because people really seem to love it.

Beam worked this whiskey to supposedly express a pre-prohibition bourbon. Yet, based on the sheer size of Jim Beam and the number of bottles they are producing, this sounds dubious. So let’s see how it pans out.

Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon Review:
Price: Around $30 for a 750ml bottle. I have seen a lot of variation on the price.

Packaging/Labeling: Clean modern label with rhetoric that does it no justice, suggesting it to be an old-school small batch and artisan style bourbon.

Alcoholic Content: 100 Proof, 50% ABV. 

Nose: Maple syrup and agave on the front. Makes me think of pancakes. Flint locked notes of blueberry and cherry. There is an oak and creaminess which permeates the whole thing. 

Tasting: This is an oak-centric bourbon. On the front palette there is a straight forward thick cut chocolate dryness. You have syrup and floral notes - violets and cream. there are some great woody/brown spices which end with a (long) dry and bitter oak finish. 

Conclusion: I rather enjoyed this. This is a tasty and solid bourbon with no off notes or flavors, but it is very one dimensional. Likewise this is not something which will provide everything for those with a heavy corn palette. And to enjoy this completely you have to appreciate strong char and oak. This is great to sip neat, though I can't say it is an easy sipper. Cocktail drinkers would love this because of those dominant flavors which could easily be teased out in a mixed beverage, say a manhattan.

*Sorry - no time for an image this week. Here is the image link.

Friday, March 9, 2012

For Portland/Oregon/Washington Whiskey Lover

Each year on St. Patrick’s Day McMenamins’ Edgefield Distillery releases a single edition 10 year old malt whiskey. They usually sell out around noon the same day, so if you want to grab a bottle (200ml) get there early. And yes, their whiskey is much better than their beer. Previous McMenamins' Reviews: One, Two, and Three.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Portland's Burnside Bourbon Review:

"Don't swallow any of that. It'll spoil the taste of the bourbon." - Larry Csonka

Portland, OR has been described as "Munich on the Willamette." However, the more distilled products from Portland I taste, I am not inclined to think it will be the next Clermont or Aberlour on the Columbia. The newly released Burnside Bourbon from Eastside Distilling in Portland, OR is a mystery to me. The bottle says it has been “barrel aged” 4 years and it was “procured” and “bottled” by the Deco Distilling company in Portland, OR.  This all seems very strange to me for three reasons: First, for it to be aged for four years, the bourbon would have had to be distilled at the very birth of the company – and seemingly in secret – since past interviews that I have read suggest a small company that has been extremely busy making rum for the past four years. Second, the bottle does not say it was distilled by Deco. It says it was “procured” by them. What does this mean, I don’t know. It immediately makes me think of an LDI product, like Bulleit or Templeton or even some very well renowned products like Whistle Pig or High West. However, all of these products are, in my opinion, much better. Lastly, the company Deco Distilling is no longer. Its name was changed to Eastside Distilling. All this ends up being very baffling because there is nothing to be said about this on their website, besides saying that Eastside Distilling was "formerly Deco.” I do understand that this bourbon was recently released, but I have not seen one review, or any announcement anywhere about the product itself besides the company website. And the singular site designated for Burnside Bourbon, which the back label on the bottle suggest people should visit if they want more information, is currently "under construction." (Update: now leading you to their general website) All things considered, this is very confusing. Maybe I am making a larger deal about this than needs be – obviously if you have to change your company name for legal reason (if that is the reason?) than it is understandable that you might be behind on some things - but whenever I find a publicly offered product which has little information to be found about it, and one somewhat clouded in mystery, I tend to be hesitant about getting even a little excited about it. Not to mention the price for this micro-distilled spirit (if it is one) is $24.99 for a 750ml bottle (though the bottle doesn't have a ml amount on it). Let me just ask you how many micro-distilleries are selling their 350ml (not 750ml mind you) bottles for less than 30 bucks? I don’t know of any. Rogue, another Portland spirit, which ages their whiskey for less than a year are selling theirs for around 35 bucks, and on top of that I’ve heard its less than proficient. 

On Facebook I did see this photo posted by Eastside (Update: I can't seem to find the photo anymore) of two used bourbon barrels which were said to have 100 proof distillate. So what are they doing? Taking less than barrel proof  distillate and aging it for a few more years? Or was that just an experiment and it had nothing to do with Burnside Bourbon? I could go on but that is enough of a rant, what about the review:

Burnside Bourbon Review:
Price: Around $24.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: The bottle is completely removed from the Eastside Distilleries Rum labels. Appearing to have been made on Photoshop, Burnside presents a different theme entirely, with no information about the company, not even a legend. It does say, “Put some sideburns on your face!” which really confuses me – does it relate to the guy on the label – which I would ask: is this Burnside himself? Does it simply mean that by drinking this whiskey it’ll grow hair on your chest? A "real man’s whiskey”? Well I hope the ladies enjoy drinking this…

Alcoholic Content: 96 Proof, 48% ABV. 

Nose: The nose is the strong point for this whiskey – yet it needs to open up and I would suggest a drop of water. Light corn, apricot, cinnamon, wood spice, and burnt sugar.

Tasting: The palate is green, comprised of boiled fruit with corn and a very distinct saccharin note. The finish barely give hints of buttered corn, cinnamon, wood and nuts. Water does help some to even out this uncontrolled party.

Conclusion:  All in all the whole thing is a bit rough, never quite asserting itself. The palette is mediocre at best. Something only to be enjoyed with a dash of cola. I just don’t know what to say about this, but maybe we should all wait for more information about this product. And maybe more aging. I would just ask the question, if you have the choice between this bourbon and Buffalo Trace, for example, which cost $20, or George Dickel Barrel Select which is 5 dollars more than Burnside, what would you choose? I believe that shopping local is generally a better option and I am even more willing to dish out the extra cash to get it local – but what I expect in return is more, not less – more information, more quality, more everything. I really really wanted to like this. Unfortunately I am underwhelmed.