Jefferson 25 Yr Presidential Select Rye

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Jefferson’s is back with a vengeance to end the year of 2013. They’ve released 4 new whiskeys and two more on the way. They have a new blend of bourbon and rye called Chef’s Collaboration which is closest in comparison to Wild Turkey Forgiven (see previous review). A new Presidential Select Bourbon at 25 Years, which is excellent but my favorite is the 21 Year released earlier in the year (see previous review). Nevertheless, the entire Presidential series has produced some of the best bourbons in the last 5 years. As part of this end of the year blitz, they have released not one, but two Presidential Select Ryes for the first time. The 21 Year is more on the sweet side with a lot of molasses, vanilla and light maple and baking spice and balanced finish. When we did a barrel tasting for Jefferson’s Reserve in early December (the first cases of which will be arriving early 2014), their representative announced they are looking to purchase their own distillery. They are currently looking at two old distilleries that have been closed for years. It is indeed great news that Jefferson’s of which I am a big fan and supporter of will finally have a home base where people can visit and chat with their master blender Trey Zoeller and pick his brain about the processes and selection of the whiskeys they use to make their excellent whiskeys and where they hopefully will be making their own. And lastly, The Jefferson’s Ocean which was aged on a ship traveling through all 5 oceans of the world and a 30 Yr Presidential Select Bourbon are coming to Untitled early next year.

My favorite of the 4 new releases is the 25 Yr Presidential Select Rye. Although not as exquisite as the supremacy of the Whistle Pig Boss Hog, the 25 Year Presidential has one of my favorite features of whiskeys spending 20 plus years in a barrel and that is the taste as if a warehouse exploded in your mouth. You get that dustiness and oak right off in the nose as well as light vanilla and those trademark Jefferson pepper notes. The taste starts of with caramel and toffee with very light maple syrup. These sweeter notes are only at the beginning, the length in the barrel subdued them quite a bit than in the 17 and 21 year Presidentials. Then, the rye takes over in force blending the pepper and great baking spice notes, primarily clove, allspice and light cinnamon. These spice notes build into the mid-palate where the warehouse takes over with the dustiness and big time oak you experienced in the nose. That mid-palate combo of spice and warehouse is really fantastic. The finish is mostly oak with the dust and spice fading and fairly lengthy. All these new Presidentials as always are limited editions and we will have 6 bottles of each at Untitled, so come in and dive into these whiskeys that bring a great end to a year I consider the finest in terms of a massive amount of top notch limiteds across the board.

Whistle Pig: The Boss Hog

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Before I begin the unveiling of my thoughts on this powerhouse whiskey, a disclaimer. I apologize for not having posted in a month, but I have a very good excuse. I had this novel I completed several years ago (and no, it’s not about whiskey) that I finally published myself via Amazon and that’s what I’ve been doing, preparing and formatting the novel to be submitted. Details for the novel can be found on the about page. I have also been writing tasting notes for nearly 50 whiskeys for the update of Untitled’s Whiskey Guide and choosing the 100 whiskeys that will comprise our updated Whiskey Flight Program. You can find a brief history of Whistle Pig Farm on my review of their Triple One Rye. When I first tried Triple One and after trying other rye releases for this year, I was hard pressed to find a better rye that fits into what I like most in a whiskey. Then, Whistle Pig released The Boss Hog. The release is made from 24 of Whistle Pig’s oldest and best barrels and is aged in a combination of new American oak and second-use bourbon barrels. It is a 12 ½ years old and 100% single grain rye whiskey at 134 proof. It is labeled as “series 1″ which indicates this will be an annual release. YES! Dave Pickerell, formerly of Maker’s Mark, and now Whistle Pig’s Master Distiller, was toying around with different incarnations of a barrel proof rye and was having so much fun with it, they decided to roll out with a bottled version and let everyone else in on the party. What resulted is a beautifully complex whiskey with great balance and a long satisfying finish.

The nose starts off pretty sweet and not much oak and alcohol at all surprisingly although it is there in sparse amounts, but mostly brown sugar, vanilla, honey and cinnamon. The taste definitely takes you on a journey of intermingling flavors. You get the cinnamon and honey upfront with a little bit of clove and allspice. The taste grows past this thick, sweet beginning into deeper territory. Mid-palate is where you get a double dose of oak and vanilla (similar to the Triple One) but on a cataclysmic level with an underbelly of baking spices. The oak and vanilla linger into the finish, the oak more so with hints of chocolate and ginger and warm burn where the alcohol finally stakes it part in the overall balance of this whiskey. We have 4 bottles left and that’s all we’re getting since this is a limited release. Retail it’s going for $140-150, so if you have the cash pick it up, or if you have someone who really likes you, put it on your Christmas list for this year.

Elijah Craig 21 Year

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While still waiting for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection to hit Chicago, I’m going to talk about what I consider one of the very best American whiskeys of the year. As I mentioned in the previous review, I consider the Four Roses 125th Anniversary (2013 Small Batch Limited) the best American whiskey I’ve had so far. Once I tried it, I commenced to try it side by side with Jefferson’s 21 Year Presidential Select and the Elijah Craig 21 Year. It was very hard to pick between the other two. I did give a slight edge to the Jefferson’s, admittedly I do have a strong affinity to Jefferson’s. As I stated in my review of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, the Elijah Craig line are distributed by Heaven Hill Distillery and are named after Craig who was a Baptist minister and bourbon pioneer who reportedly was the first to use charred oak barrels to age bourbon, a tradition that stands to this day and will till then end of time. The no longer available Elijah Craig 18 Year is one of my all time favorite bourbons, it was released in 2008 and just went “out of stock” this year. There are some bottles still floating around if you know where to look and I suggest you snag one if you do find it. The Elijah Craig 21 Year was originally only available at the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, Kentucky and it is a limited edition so like the 18 and 20 year before it, once the allocation has been gone through, it will no longer be available. We have about 4 and a half bottles left at Untitled and I am in the process of acquiring three more (fingers crossed). The barrels used for this whiskey were taken from the middle part of the distillery’s rickhouses.

The nose of the Elijah Craig 21 Year is very interesting. It smacks of an old warehouse with dusty and oak aromas mingled with seeded fruit and cinnamon. You can also find an underlying layer of toffee and vanilla as well. The taste is also very balanced and continually and delightfully opens up as you proceed through a healthy pour. It does have a decently thick mouth feel. One thing I found while drinking it is that it does have slightly heavy fruit notes, which you get right up front with apricot and cherry. Mid-palate you get your rye influence with big cinnamon and other baking spices and some nuttiness with the fruit notes starting to fade at that point. The spice notes follow through with caramel and vanilla on the moderately lengthy finish where the oak presence makes its mark. Not a lot of oakiness for a bourbon of this age, but it does make a contribution in subtle fashion adding to the overall balance of this whiskey. I highly recommend giving this bourbon a whirl while we (or whatever whiskey bar you frequent in your area) have this available. Anyone who enjoys a well-made balanced and crafted bourbon will surely enjoy this offering.

Four Roses 2013 Small Batch Limited 125th Anniversary

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This is going to be American Whiskey of the Year for 2013. I would be very surprised if it isn’t. We started with 3 bottles at Untitled. I went a little nuts this week and sold all but one or two pours of the first bottle in two days. It’s a higher end whiskey, so I was surprised myself that I was able to do it. Then, I think of how I described it. I did refer to as “the best American whiskey of the year” and as “Bourbon Nirvana.” People were happy to jump on board and judge for themselves. I got the biggest kick watching people’s reactions. They would nose it and it does have a very lovely nose and after they took their first drink, they were speechless. It was like their brain was put on a brief hold as it tried to wrap itself around the awesomeness of this whiskey. They would look up and after slowly regaining their voice, begin to expand upon how incredible it is and why it was so for them. I know I am one to review “good” whiskeys, but as I’ve said before, it is a continuing effort to give guests that have come into Untitled a wide array of whiskeys with an equal variety of taste profiles to give them recommendations and help them establish what are their favorites. Four Roses has a terrific history, which I outlined in a previous review of a Single Barrel Limited. I just want to say a brief word about Master Distiller Jim Rutledge. He is quite simply the most impressive distiller working today. He was Whisky Magazine’s Master Distiller of the Year for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and he was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame this year. All the Small Batch and Single Barrel Limiteds he has produced in those 3 years and the Triple Crown Secretariat are all among the top American Whiskeys of each year. The history of Four Roses culminated this year for their 125th Anniversary. when Mr. Rutledge celebrated this with blending 3 of their 10 bourbons recipes at barrel strength (so, no filtering at all) into this masterpiece. We recently bought a barrel of Four Roses and I am pretty certain one of the recipes in this bottle is the one we chose for our barrel, which we will be getting the first bottles of in about a month. I found out the recipes that are in the Anniversary but I couldn’t remember the 4 letter code of our selection. I’ll get back to you on that once I confirm.

Now that I’ve hyped this bad boy up enough. Three words you will experience throughout this are flavor, complexity and balance and it all starts with the nose. The nose has a lot of fruit notes, notably cherry and apricot, cinnamon & vanilla have solid contributions too with a nice touch of oak. Our bottle is 112 proof, but you won’t find much burn at all in the nose, just deep and beautiful aromas. I have seen it referred to as a “Bourbon Ice Cream Sundae”. I wouldn’t go that far, but it does have a solid dessert feel. The Taste: At first, you get massive vanilla, butterscotch and apricot and as I said all balanced so well. Mid palate is when the cherry kicks in and their is a lot of cherry in the taste profile but also in the mid palate is when the cinnamon spice also kicks in, providing a solid combo that continues to build the overall complexity. Any heat from the proof arrives here as well, but what I have called in the past a “welcoming warmth”. The cinnamon slowly starts fading, but the cherry keeps on going where it meets with the oak in a long, satisfying finish. This would be a whiskey one would normally recommend for “expert” whiskey drinkers, but anyone can enjoy this. I had 3 chaps in the other night and they were letting me select 3 whiskeys for each of them, each building on the last to a “grand finale”. The one I served the Anniversary to said he was the “beginner” of the group. He was very impressed and I laughed and said, “I hope I didn’t set your standards too high”, because this is an incredible example of whiskey craftmanship of very high standards by a true Master Distiller.

Stay tuned for my Top Ten American Whiskeys of the Year, which will be coming soon.

Wild Turkey Forgiven

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After doing a bit of research into the latest Wild Turkey offering called “Forgiven”, it seems there’s a bit of controversy hinted at by a few online whiskey reviews as to how much of an “accident” this whiskey was. The story goes on how Forgiven was created (from an Austin Nichols Distillery statement), “When our Distillery’s crew unwittingly mingled a very rare, high proof Rye with perfectly aged Bourbon, our Associate Master Distiller, Eddie Russell, discovered they had created something exceptional: a whiskey blend that’s big, bold and spicy yet exceptionally smooth. Needless to say all was forgiven”. It is a blend of 78 % 6 year bourbon and 22% 4 year rye and is 91 Proof. Some feel that these big distilleries are such large, well-oiled machines that a mishap of this magnitude is unlikely and they are just giving their offering to a growing trend of blending two different whiskeys together. One of the most well-known is Bourye by High West. Well, there’s Bourye and then there’s Parker’s Heritage Blend of Mashbills, which is like comparing a Yugo with a Ferrari. Although, the Parker’s was the exceptional exception, I usually don’t go for blends of this nature. I do, however, admit to a very high bias towards Wild Turkey, being a big fan of their legendary Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell, who with Jim Rutledge (Four Roses) and Fred Noe (Jim Beam) were inducted into the Whiskey Hall of Fame this year. However, as Mike, one of our beverage managers pointed out to me, several big name Master Distillers, Jimmy included, were up in arms when High West released their Bourye, making the release of Forgiven a bit hypocritical. I can see this argument, but I’m such a fan of their select whiskeys like Kentucky Spirit and Tradition, I am willing to overlook it and say “This one’s on Eddie”. even if Dad had something to do with green lighting this. After tasting Forgiven yesterday, along with Elijah Craig 21 Yr, Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope and this year EH Taylor Barrel Proof Uncut, all of which we received yesterday (reviews forthcoming). I am ready to forgive as well. It is definitely a bold whiskey as the distillery statement suggested and one of the best releases of 2013.

The nose of Wild Turkey Tradition is one of the best noses I’ve ever experienced and to me one of the gold standards by which I judge most noses. The nose of Forgiven is also bold and very nice as well. For a blend of two younger whiskeys, you get big oak and spice (cinnamon and cloves) on the nose with an underlying caramel & vanilla. You can tell by the nose, you are in for an intense whiskey ride. The taste of Forgiven in a word, incredible…and a bit intense. The offerings of the bourbon and rye are beautifully balanced. As the percentages suggest, it does start out sweet with lots of caramel and some cinnamon. The alcohol stakes also its claim here. All of which gives the whiskey a big bang and balance from the get go. Then the spice really kicks in mid to late palate with cloves (giving it some nice smokiness here as well), lingering cinnamon and vanilla with the oak notes coming through here in a stealthy fashion. The finish is not terribly long, but does go on for a bit with a lighter, sweeter taste with some of the spice hanging about on the edges. As you can see in each stage of the tasting, you’re getting great balance and complexity. This whiskey is heavy-handed, so it might not be good for beginners. Whiskey drinkers with more experience and good palates will dive right into this beauty of a whiskey and love every minute of it. We have 3 bottles right now, but thanks to Heidi again from Southern Wine & Spirits, who I tasted these whiskeys with yesterday, we will be getting 9 bottles each of Forgiven, EC 21 Yr and the new Parker’s.

McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt

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Ever since I had the pleasure of trying this at a whiskey tasting a couple months ago, I tried tirelessly to get it added to our selection in the Whiskey Library and now thanks to Heidi at Southern Wine and Spirits, we have 4 bottles with more on the way. In the end, we’re gonna have an entire case. JOY! There are some very good American single malts out there, some of the best are the series released by St. George Spirits from Alameda, California since 2000, Balcones Texas Single Malt (both of which we carry) and Pine Barrens from out of New York (which we’re trying to get). McCarthy’s is among the best of these. Clear Creek Distillery out of Portland, Oregon make a wide variety of spirits including a great series of Eaux de vie, grappa, various liquers, Pot Still Brandy and McCarthy’s. They have married European traditional brandy-making techniques with the finest fruit from Oregon orchards and use the traditional European pot still along with techniques learned in Alsace and Switzerland. They have been around for about 28 years so that puts them with St. George Spirits as 2 of the oldest artisan distilleries in America. McCarthy’s is named after Steve McCarthy owner and distiller at Clear Creek. His fruit brandies are consistently given great reviews and considered by some as the best made in America ever. McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey is of the Islay tradition of Scotch whisky. Made from peat-malted barley brought in from Scotland. Widmer Brothers ferments the peat-malted barley into the “wash”. Using the unfinished wash allows them to get the flavor and character of the malt when they distill. The proof at time of distillation is about 150 (75%). They reduced the proof to 85 and barrel-age the rough distillate in old sherry casks. All the Oregon Single Malt now spends some time in barrels made from air-dried Oregon Oak. The present bottling is only 3 years old, but it’s safe to say it’s the best 3 year old American whiskey you’ll likely to have.

Of all the great American single malts I’ve had, McCarthy’s most resembles Scotch. The nose is fairly light, but you get a lot of traditional notes; peat, smoke, salt and also some light citrus notes and slight nuttiness as well. Tasting it you get that peat, smoke and salt right up front like many Islay Scotches. It has a very light and clean taste to it. Very drinkable even for those who aren’t fans of peat. The taste overall strongly resembles the notes received from the nose. After the peat, smoke and salt start to fade. The smoke lingers throughout, but it finishes with a light sweetness and citrus, which likely comes from the Oregon oak. You do get some subtle oak notes in the finish too. The finish is not terribly long but it is very pleasant and light like the overall body and taste of the whiskey. Steve McCarthy has done excellent work here and every member our of staff that have tried it agrees that it is really great stuff. We’ll have it on hand for a while so give it a go if you want to get a good taste of an American single malt. Retail price is $58 if you want to buy bottle for your home bar.

Balcones True Blue

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There are few “micro” or “craft” distilleries hotter right now than Balcones Distillery out of Waco, Texas. When I first heard about them, I wanted to get their stuff into Untitled. At first, it was more for the novelty, because they are the only distillery in the US making their whiskies from blue corn. It’s not any ordinary blue corn though as master distiller Chip Tate explains why they went with Hopi blue corn, “While Hopi blue corn we use has an extremely interesting history, there is really only reason one we prefer it to all other corn for our whisky– taste. Unlike most of the blue corn on the market, Hopi blue corn is not just white dent corn which has been specially crossed to give it a blue tint. Hopi blue corn, however, has been grown with the same rich color and flavor for thousands of years and is the only corn that could impart the rich character we require for our whisky.” It’s doing the trick, because their whiskeys are winning awards and getting great reviews all over the place. Along with distilling in Tate’s hand-built copper still, they also age their corn whisky in small barrels in a non climate controlled room in the distillery that speeds up the aging process. The constant changes in temperature brought on by distillery production aiding the forcing the of the whiskey in and out of the barrel combined with the greater surface area contact of the whisky in the smaller barrels allows them to get more aging in less time.The distillery’s first whiskey “Baby Blue” was the first whiskey produced in Texas since Prohibition. I am proud to say, and special thanks to our COO Art Mendoza for picking these up on a trip out west, that we now carry 5 of their 7 varieties: Baby Blue, Brimstone (a spicier version of Baby, that’s very, very good), True Blue (which is the barrel proof version of Baby), one of the best American single malts around and Rumble (which is distilled from mission figs & Texas wildflower honey). Their whiskeys are hard to place in a category, they are technically bourbons for they are made, distilled and barrel aged in the tradition of bourbon, but the taste puts it in a unique category of corn whiskey

I chose the True Blue because I think it’s the best of their blue corn whiskeys. It is like nothing you ever had before, something really different that will knock your socks off. Three things you’ll take away from it are its complexity, that for a barrel proof whiskey it is pretty darn easy drinking (our is at around 114 proof) and it is has an extremely long finish. The nose gives the first indications that it is decidedly different. It has big brown sugar, cinnamon, chocolate and a great underlying fruit (orange and apricot) and nuttiness. So, it’s sounding complex already, right? Tasting it, I can tell you right now, you are going to give it a quizzical look because it does have young whiskey qualities and because the taste is just as different as the nose, but in a good way, I assure you. Big brown sugar up front with the nuttiness (pecan and almond) with subtle chocolate and fruit notes (from the nose) underneath. A lot of cinnamon takes over after that and maintains for quite a while. After that first series of flavors, it does pack quite a spicy punch. Now that finish, which really places this whiskey on the award-winning level it’s received. The finish goes on for a very long time and starts with a continuation of the atomic cinnamon and really lovely honey notes and any heat you get from the barrel proof comes in here, but not in an overpowering way at all. As this fades, you get all kinds of stuff coming up, dark chocolate and coffee primarily. It is a very lush finish. For right now, we only have one bottle of each of the 5 we have, but one of our vendors can get it, so my goal is to keep this line of great whiskeys on hand at Untitled for they are wonderful additions to our collection.