Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon Whiskey Review:

“No one is quite sure why [Paul] Jones named the whiskey after four roses. Even within the distillery, there are two competing stories. One says that a colonel by the name of Rose had four daughters. The problem is that Colonel Rose actually had five daughters. The other story says that the brand was named after Jones fiancé, supposedly named Rose. Why, then, four roses? Shame on anyone who thinks Mr. Jones might have been up to no good…” – Marc A. Hoffmann


Right next-door to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, the Spanish Mission style distillery, Four Roses, sits. Founded in 1888 this distillery is possibly one of the loveliest looking in the United States; currently it is also one of the most loved, being named "2011 American Distiller of the Year" by Whisky Magazine. 

Founded by Ire “Old Joe” Peyton, it is supposed that he began the distillery shortly after arriving in Kentucky by way of canoe in 1818. Originally holding the name, “Old Joe,” Peyton’s products had huge success. After being sold to Gratz Hawkins, it was renamed Old Prentice. The distillery ended up exchanging hands frequently, once being owned by the Ripley Brothers, until 1888 when it was bought by Paul Jones who registered it under the current name. 

The rest of the story is fairly long, and so rather than explaining it here I am going to direct you to Jason Pyle’s blog, The Sour Mash Manifest, in which he held a three part interview with Jim Rutledge, the master distiller at Four Roses. Jim explains everything in great detail and I would definitely encourage you to check it out. Plus Jason Pyle is a great interviewer. 

Up until 2002 every product in the Four Roses line was export only. The details to why are well explained in the interview referenced above, but I will say that the Yellow Label, reviewed below, has been the hardest brand to find in the United States until recently. From now on we should start to see all three selection from Four Roses Distillery much more accessible.

Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $17 – $20 range for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Nothing special. For this bourbon I would have preferred something closer to a craft presentation, simply because I feel the product is worthy of it.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: Clean and neat. Banana cream pie. Nutmeg, clove, spice with winter green undertones. There is an overarching yeastiness.

Palate: There is a real light marshmallow introduction with maple wood and vanilla, slowly expanding into thin air. This leaves one with cinnamon sticks, drying out into a nice spiciness, with hints of a very light blueberry creaminess (don’t really know where that came from).

Conclusion: This is a great value bourbon. Won't feel bad putting this in cocktail, but it holds up when consumed neat. Definitely recommended, and one of the better made bourbons under $20.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jim Beam Rye and Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey Comparison Review:

“Here's to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned


Rye is on the rise. Everyone knows it. Each year more distilleries are jumping on the rye bandwagon, loading up their warehouses full of the stuff. Yet the revival as it stands is still very small. Much of the new products coming out are really old products. Or rather they have been in production and are simply bottled by different companies, many of these companies utilizing LDI’s large stock of 95 percent rye – Bulleit ‘95’ Rye coming to mind. Today, however, I thought I would focus on another interesting rye product. Or rather two rye products: Jim Beam Rye and Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey. At present everyone seems to know Old Overholt, partly due to its more recent cameo performances made in the popular Mad Men series. Jim Beam Rye on the other hand, being overshadowed by Beam's larger labels, has just recently began receiving its due attention. So why am I talking about two products as if they are really one product? Simply because they are one product. When you're buying a bottle of Overholt you are inevitably buying a bottle of Jim Beam Rye. They both come from the exact same distillate. The difference, as far as I can tell, is in the barrel selection for each brand. 

So how did this happen? When Jim Beam merged with National Distillers in 1987 it
consequently inherited Old Overholt. Being that Rye had been on decline since the repeal of prohibition, Jim Beam immediately ceased Overholt's distilling at the Forks of Elkhorn Distillery and simply waited for the supply to run out. Once the stock had been consumed Beam merely began using their own production of rye for Overholt, the same rye used for their own Beam Rye. And this has been relatively unchanged up the present day.

So the question we really want to know as whiskey drinkers is: Does it taste the same? I would answer yes and no. Whatever Beam is doing (different barrel choices, etc) both are admirable and each unique enough in their own right for someone to actually question buying one over the other. So how do they review?

Jim Beam Rye Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $15.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Classic square Jim Beam bottle with a yellow label. Nothing to complain about.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: Fresh and clean. Sweet green apple. The rye grain is not overbearing – it holds a unique malty note. It opens up and displays some of your typical vanilla, corn, and caramel notes.

Palate: Clean and quick. Light fruit, lavender, honey, mint, and clove. All melded together with a creamy strain. Very similar to the nose – what you smell in the glass is what you taste in the glass.

Old Overholt Rye Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $16.95 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Cheap brown bottle. As much as the get-up looks mass market I find that I wouldn't want it any other way.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: This comes on much bolder than the Beam rye. The rye grain is more robust, less menthol, mint and fruitiness on the front – more earthy and vegetal. Throughout there are stout wood and flint notes.

Palate:  The woodiness comes through much more on the Overhalt. The tannic notes are definitely there, as they were in the nose, however there is an overarching creaminess which balances out the flavors nicely.

Comparison Conclusion: These are both very similar. Each of their noses are where they differ most heavily, and the tannic nature of Overholt compared to the fruitiness of Beam also distinguishes them on the palate. Yet they both come together in the mid-palete with the pleasant creaminess of lavender. They are both surprisingly great products for being so inexpensive. And the price is only $1 or $2 difference which means you won't have to simply choose the cheaper one. What do I most likely prefer from the two? Probably the Old Overholt. Loads of tannins/woodiness can be overbearing in some whiskies, yet this ain't bad at all when not being compared to Jim Beam Rye, and it also gives a fairly average whiskey something more to offer.