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Is this safe to drink? (My review of 1920 12 Year Canadian Rye)

Like any good whiskey hunter, I was in a liquor store during my lunch break today.  I was at the Total Wine, the place where I scored my only 2 BTAC, perusing the ryes.  I always go in there once every 2 weeks just in case I get lucky again and a Saz 18 is sitting in the rye section.  There was no Saz 18, but there was this lovely looking bottle that said 1910, Aged 12 Years, Canadian Rye Whisky.

Now I realize not a whole lot of good comes from Canada.  They have coins worth $2.50 that allow you to buy a Happy Meal (with a single coin, cool huh?), and they have like good Hockey Teams and yes Justin Bieber, he’s freaking money, but they also have this rye up there that sometimes makes its way down here.  Or I guess a lot of it does but rarely does it get attention.  I’ve tried Lot 40, a Canadian Rye that is actually pretty good.  And I love me some Whistlepig.  So where does 1910 fit in line?

Well for starters, it smells like a 2 year old rye whiskey.  Like paint thinner mixed with that caramel sauce you pour on ice cream.  It’s 80 proof, and since I like my whiskey a little cold, I threw in an ice cube effectively lowering the proof to that of a Schnapps.

When you sip it, it starts off a bit like…..like that orange candy that’s wrapped in wax paper that somehow like 2 or 3 end up in your kids’ Halloween basket.  Usually you throw it out, but in this case, someone collected it from the trash bins and threw a ton of them into a giant vat of rye whiskey.  It’s almost shocking when the flavor hits because it’s just not what I expect with rye.  There is no spice, there is no sweetness.  It’s like it hits a taste bud that isn’t even defined in Science.  The 5th type of taste, notgoodcaramelystrangeness.   There is no discernible finish, just an ickyness that leaves you wondering if maybe I have a bad bottle of this stuff.  Maybe somehow when they were bottling this they forgot to wash out the hydrochloric acid or the bleach from inside the bottle.  Are my insides rotting out?  Will I crap blood tonight?  I don’t know.

Strangely I can’t stop sipping it only because I giggle a little bit each time a bad flavor comes to mind.  Rotten bananas, smushed crickets, eating yellow snow, I just can’t stop imagining things that could potentially taste better than this.

Oh well, it was worth a $40 experiment.  Perhaps I’ll figure out a way to vat this with something else.  For now at least, I need to go wash it down with some Listerine.

Two letters have ‘flipped’ the whiskey secondary market upside down…

Two letters, C and S, have changed the whiskey secondary market.  Used together, it’s C+S which stands for Cost + Shipping.  It started as a basic idea a few months ago by one individual (no, not me).  That person, who will remain anonymous, had been searching for an Orphan Barrel Barterhouse and was unable to find it locally.  Finally he found it at a store, but that store marked up the price too much for him to buy.  He then went looking online and became frustrated that everyone who was selling it online had marked it up quite a bit so that they could make a profit.  Annoyed that he couldn’t find anything he wanted at retail pricing, this guy started a group, a place where people could come and find items at cost with no markups.  It also become a place where people could have access to stuff that might not be available in their area.  And thus the birth of C+S.

The basic premise of C+S was born from this individual, and it slowly grew from there.  It was supposed to be used for standard shelf items or more rare but fairly well allocated stuff.  It was a regional trade of sorts, one that helped both the store owner (by moving slow inventory) and one that helped the buyer (by getting items they couldn’t get in their area).  The seller also benefited, as the process of buying and shipping made them known to the small group as someone who was dependable and should be rewarded in the future when they sought something out.  The basic premise also included the notion that no purchases were to be used for flipping (resold at a higher cost), but that everything being bought was for personal consumption.  It was not a market motivated by greed, but by generosity and curiosity to try new products.

The C+S group (actual name and location has been hidden) has grown faster than the founder or any of the original members could have ever imagined.  Almost overnight the group has amassed hundreds of followers.  And the buying has moved beyond standard shelf items into more rare and allocated items.  Recently I have seen many allocated items being sold at cost including Orphan Barrel products, Michter’s 10 and 20 year, Weller 12 and OWA, private store picks, and even rare gift shop bottles.  No one has seen any Pappy or BTAC at cost, but we will see what happens this Fall (if such groups still exist).  With the ever expanding group, greed is inevitable.  A rare bottle gets many buyers, but not all of those buyers offer to reciprocate.  Thankfully, the group does police itself and calls out excessive greed, as generosity still remains at the core even as the group grows daily.

Today, C+S is more than a group.  I have seen it now in multiple places, on multiple platforms.  It’s not just a group, it’s a movement.  A revolution, if you will.  People are flat out tired of flippers taking away bottles that whiskey drinkers want to buy and consume and they are tired of stores that mark up items well beyond retail to take advantage of a crazed market.  I have no idea how long this trend will last.  It may be something that goes on heavy and burns out many people.  Or perhaps demand in C+S will outgrow inventory across the country, leading to an even greater bourbon shortage.   Time is going to tell what happens, but for now, I am going to sit back and watch this amazing trend.  I have always said that people who are big into bourbon and rye are some of the most generous, amicable people out there, and now they have a home with C+S.

Cheers to you, anonymous man.  I hope that Barterhouse you found at retail price is as tasty as you hoped it would be.

 

First Impression : Orphan Barrel Old Blowhard

Old-Blowhard-BourbonOld Blowhard by Orphan Barrel

Age : 26

Nose : Very nice.  Smells almost identical to Eagle Rare 17 to me.  Oak, leather, caramel.

Palate : Very nice on the tongue.  Strong on the caramel and butterscotch.  Oak stays.  Hint of spice.

Finish : It goes down nicely, with butterscotch and leather and oak leading the way…..then….the strangest flavor/taste comes back.  I don’t know what that is.  It almost tastes like dish soap, or an old person’s perfume.  What the hell is that?  I drink some more water and went back again.  Orange peel maybe?  I guess maybe that’s it, but like orange peel dish soap.  It doesn’t satisfy me.  As I sipped it slowly, that strange finish seemed to fade away.  Maybe it mixed with the bourbon I had before it.  Seems weird because I had a glass of water in between.  As I sipped it, it became more pleasant, but still a bit ordinary, and very similar in profile to Eagle Rare 17.  I guess I expected a little more from a bourbon aged 9 more years than ER17.

Overall : Once the strange finish left me, it was an enjoyable sipper, but nothing extraordinary by any means.  I expected more.

Lots of Roses… (My review of 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch)

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Imagine you wake up one day and decide you really want a Toyota.  You don’t really care which model, just that you want a Toyota.  You walk into a Toyota dealership and you ask for a Toyota.  The salesperson laughs a little and says ,”ok which model”.  Suddenly, you have another decision to make.  You picked a Make, but you never picked a Model.  Now you have to walk around and figure out which model you want.  You could go with a lower end model, maybe a Toyota Yaris.  It’s still a Toyota, but doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other models.  Maybe you want to go middle of the road with a Camry, or splurge for the best available Toyota, a highly decked out Land Cruiser.  Whatever you choose, they are all going to be different, even though they are all Toyotas.

Now equate this if you will to bourbon.  Suppose you went to a friend’s house and tried some really good bourbon and you looked at the label and saw ‘Four Roses’.  You go into a liquor store the next day and say, “I want Four Roses”.  In the world of Vodka, this would be easy.  Oh you want Grey Goose, ok no problem, it’s over there.  There are also some flavored Vodkas if you want.  But with Bourbon, its not that easy.  Perhaps if you just wanted Jack Daniels, or Makers Mark, you could be shown a single bourbon.  But for many others, there are multiple varieties, blends, and styles.  That includes Four Roses.

See, with Four Roses you have the standard Yellow Label:

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The Small Batch:

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The Single Barrel:

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and the Private Barrel selections which are Single Barrel at Barrel Strength:

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On top of that, there are 10 different recipes for the Single Barrel (both regular and Barrel Strength).  There are 2 different mash bills and 5 different yeast strains, all which create a different flavor profile, as it mentioned on the side of the bottle:

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Four Roses Single Barrel – Barrel Strength OBSV is different from OESK, etc, etc.

So if that isn’t enough variety, there is also 2 additional ones released each year, the Limited Edition Small Batch and Limited Edition Single Barrel:

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These are amazing bourbons, released in very limited quantity, and hand picked by the master distiller of Four Roses, Jim Rutledge.  They are hard to find and generally in the $100 range per bottle.

Now to be fair, I do not currently have a bottle of the 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.  I did, but I ended up trading it away.  Had I known how amazing this bourbon was, I would not have traded it, and I would have searched for another.  As it is, I ended up with a few samples of it, and thus had enough to review it.

The Limited Edition Small Batch this year is a combination of 4 different recipes each aged between 9 and 13 years.  The bottle is beautiful, or at least it was in my mitts.  The color is a nice deep amber, and it just looks so damn tasty, like sweet tea.

The nose of this bourbon is awesome.  I can smell oak and caramel, like any good bourbon.  I do have faint tinge of alcohol on my nose with really deep breaths.  Dill and mint are also present in the nose for me.

The mouth feel is thick and syrupy.  Its delicious, a bit of honey, caramel, mixed with some spearamint, black licorice, and citrus fruit.

The finish is awesome as well.  It’s like I just drank a bourbon macchiato.  Caramel candy and mint stay around for awhile, and it just makes me want more.  A truly delicious drink.

If you are lucky enough to land a 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, enjoy it, drink it slow, and savor it.  It’s amazing stuff, and only the first Limited Edition Four Roses I have ever tried.  I’m excited to see what else they have made, and what awaits us in the future.  You want it?  You got it.  Well…maybe….if you get really lucky.

 

Pulling for the little guys… (My review of American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey)

One of the coolest parts of my new hobby is getting to know new people on social media.  I am pretty active on Twitter and Reddit, and have met a lot of good bourbon folks on those sites.  Another cool part is that it gives me access to pictures and reviews of spirits that I have not tried, or spirits that are new and not available everywhere.  One night while browsing Twitter, a new follower tweeted a picture of what I thought was the coolest bottle of bourbon I had ever seen.  It had a snake, a dog tag, a shotgun, and looked like a bullet casing.  The name of the bourbon was American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey.  All of that screamed ‘Merica like no other product I had seen.  I had to try this stuff.  I contacted the Twitter person and eventually I was led to Michael Reed, owner of American Barrels.  I requested a small sample, I got a bottle.  I was impressed, but I vowed to make my review honest, and not swayed by the more than generous sampling of the product.  It was only fair to the company, and to people reading this, if I kept an honest opinion no matter what.  I sampled the bottle a few times before sitting down to write this review.

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As I described above, the bottle is really cool.  Michael Reed says he came up with the idea for the brand and bottle while at a bar at Indiana University.  He says he designed it as a “shotgun shell wrapped in the iconic American rattle snake,” and that the name American Barrels represented “whiskey barrels and gun barrels, the two barrels Americans hold quite [sacred]”.  It is a very cool looking bottle.

I have to be honest, the first time I opened this bottle and gave it a big whiff, it smelled like Moonshine.  The back of the bottle states that the bourbon is aged less than 2 years, and it was apparent in the nose.  Grain alcohol mixed with corn prevailed on the nose, and maybe a little bit of caramel.  Just to compare, I opened up my half empty bottle of Prichard’s White Lightning and took a whiff.  Ok, that’s moonshine.  This stuff just smells like a mix between moonshine and bourbon.  After a few weeks open, the nose of the bourbon lightened up a little bit, but not by much.  There is no depth to the smell of the bourbon, and is expected for such a young juice.

When I first poured it neat, I was a little scared.  I expected the gross, grainy, corn based rocket fuel flavor of Moonshine.  At a minimum, I expected it to burn quite a bit, even if I got a taste of some bourbon in there.  I took a sip and let it sit on my tongue for a second before swishing it around and swallowing.  I winced and readied for the pain…and…it never came.  I was pleasantly surprised.  There was very little burn.  Pecan, peanuts, and caramel were consistent flavors for me.  As Michael stated, “It’s a young bourbon, but it’s filtered through a unique post – barrel refinement system that uses ultra sonic energy to remove the minor alcohols which results in a taste profile of a more mature whiskey, but as a bonus essentially double the smoothness and the removal of the hangover effect.”  Now, I haven’t had a hangover in a long time, but regardless, I liked the idea of not having one.

Though the taste is not bad, there really is no finish.  There is a little alcohol burn at the end, but not much bourbon flavor.  I think that is also a trait of young bourbons.  There is no oak or caramel sweetness lingering after the fact that I have come to love with bourbons.  To be fair, American Barrels is not a sipping bourbon.  At least not for me.  I made a few mixed drinks with the bourbon and I can say that is where this stuff truly shines.  It mixes well in an Old Fashioned, and in a Manhattan, and I even preferred it over Buffalo Trace.  The nice smooth palate remains, but the mix of the drink removes the lingering alcohol finish.

So in conclusion, American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey is probably not going to become a regular drink for me.  It’s young, it lacks depth in smell and finish compared to what I usually drink.

But this is a new company, with a new product, and I came away impressed.  It’s a young product trying to compete in a world of 10+ year aged bourbon.  How can anyone expect to come right out with a well polished bourbon and compete in the market place?  It takes time, it takes money, and it takes a passion.  Michael Reed with American Barrels has that passion.  He will continue to improve his product and continue to expand.  He has already produced a product that I prefer over a well-known brand name in mixed drinks.  I expect good things from American Barrels in the future and I look forward to hearing about it’s successes in the years to come.

Cheers to you Michael Reed, keep on fighting the fight of the little guys.

Al Capone’s drink….(Review of Templeton Rye)

During a recent family dinner my 8-year old daughter asked me if I had tried Templeton Rye.  I don’t even know where she got that from.  I had seen it in stores, but I have never bought it, never ordered it, and never spoken of it at home.  That question, along with the email from my son’s kindergarten teacher that mentioned my son’s persistent need to discuss my bourbon selection with his buddies, made me realize how much my kids had become involved in my new hobby.  One look from my wife was enough for me to decide they could no longer go on hunts with me.  It was fun while it lasted, and it was cute to hear them discuss my favorite bourbons, but it had gone too far.  Especially when the Kindergarten teacher sent home the picture my son had drawn during creative time that day….. a picture of my bourbon shelves.  Damn those kids and their memories.

Yet despite the cutoff, my daughter would still occasionally ask me if I had tried Templeton Rye.  She must have seen a bottle in one of our store searches and committed it to memory.  On a recent out of town family trip, I came up to the hotel bar to see a bottle of Templeton Rye staring at me.  I had no choice, I tried it for my kid.  I had a single the first night, and followed it with a double the next night.

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Templeton Rye is made by…what appears to be…a company called Templeton Rye Spirits, LLC in Templeton, Iowa.  From what I gather on their website, this is their only product and replicates the Templeton Rye that was made back in the Prohibition Era in Templeton.  Al Capone was a regular drinker or Templeton Rye, and smuggled it into Alcatraz, both of which make this kind of a badass spirit.  Production on this rye stopped sometime mid-century, but it was replicated last decade by two guys who were from families that had bootlegged and distilled Templeton Rye back in the 20’s.  They started their own distillery in Templeton, and from what I can tell are distilling some, of it not all, of their product.

On to the tasting:

The nose of the Templeton Rye is very pleasant.  It smells like caramel and butter.  Or better yet, caramel butter.  I don’t know if they make caramel butter, but they should, and this is what it should smell like.  The nose is so pleasant my wife even smelled it and thought it smelled nice.  Normally she hates the smell of bourbon.  She agreed with caramel butter.  She also smelled honey.  The color is the same color as every other rye and bourbon I drink……amber.

The palate is incredibly smooth with TR.  There is no burn, just a very pleasant taste of rye bread, caramel, and butterscotch with a very light spice from the rye.  It’s so smooth and pleasant, and the finish is nice and smooth as well.  5 minutes after finishing my double, I still had a pleasant sweet taste in my throat.  It’s truly a soft and sweet spirit, almost like a dessert wine.  The only annoying part was that I had no buzz at all.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drink to get drunk.  But after a double, I would have enjoyed a more relaxed feeling than I had.

Overall I am really impressed with this rye whiskey.  It’s smells wonderful, and is incredibly drinkable neat.  My only complaint is the low proof (80).  I have started to like stronger ryes, and I feel like this one could really open up with a depth of flavor if they could cut it down a little less.  A little less sweetness and a little more spice would definitely improve this rye.

Overall, it’s an excellent dessert rye, easily sippable, but probably not going to be added to my every day rye selection just due to the ‘just enough proof to be labeled a rye whiskey’ characteristic.

Score – 86/100

Chasing the rye unicorn… (Review of Sazerac 18)

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Ok so first off, this review does not matter.  It does not matter than I am deeply, madly in love with this aged rye.  It does not matter that of the all of the strong southern-named men on my shelves like Rip Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Elmer T. Lee, are not my baby.   Saz 18 is my baby.  But it doesn’t matter, you won’t find a bottle, not by walking into a liquor store.  Oh you may be a professional hunter; perhaps a Craig’s List seeker, or perhaps you got one by trading away your left kidney, but you still probably had to sweeten the deal.  Right now, if you happened across one in the secondary market, you will pay about $375.  In May, you may be paying a lot more.  Part of me feels bad for reviewing such unattainable goodness, but I just need to declare my love for this stuff and then I can move on to stuff you can actually find.

So how did I find this nectar of the gods?  Through absolute sheer luck.  I found my way into a liquor store in Atlanta during a lunch break from work one afternoon.  I was looking for plain Sazerac Rye (called baby Saz).  It’s also rare, but still findable as it gets released several times over the year.  I walked over to the rye whiskey section and ask a nice man if he had any Sazerac Rye.  In his hands was a bottle of Sazerac 18.  He told me he was looking for a place on the shelf to place this item.  Realizing what I was seeing, I squeezed my buttcheeks together to prevent sudden accidental leakage and asked if I could purchase the bottle.  He handed it to me and I quickly and prompty paid and left the store before he or anyone else could change their mind.  I sat in my car for awhile and looked at this beauty.  I had fallen in love.

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As most of you know, or some of you may not, Buffalo Traces releases a limited collection of 5 Bourbons every fall called the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  With names like George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, and Thomas H. Handy, this collection has become increasingly more popular and harder to find.  The bottles are beautiful and really allow the juice inside to shine through.  If you are lucky enough to get a hold of one or two, you know you have scored a nice treasure.    Two of the five antique collection releases are rye whiskeys (meaning at least 51% of the mash bill is made up of rye).  One is called Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye.  It is a rye whiskey that is aged for 6 years and bottled directly from the barrel with a proof this year of 129.2.  The other is a rye whiskey that has been aged for 18 years before it is bottled at 90 proof.  Now, word on the street is that in 2006, master distillers at Buffalo Trace tasted some Sazerac that had aged for 18 years and decided it was at its peak and removed it from the oak barrels and put into metal containers.  The metal containers stopped the aging process and every Sazerac 18 since then has been the exact same.  The Sazerac 18 from 2014 tasted the same as it did last year, and the year before, and the year before that.  Regardless of how and where or when this stuff was made or bottled, it is beautiful, like angels dancing in my mouth

What’s interesting to me about Saz 18 is that the nose totally doesn’t match the taste.  To me, the nose is kind of flat.   It smells to me more like a bourbon than a rye whiskey.  A whiff of 6 year Sazerac (baby Saz) reveals more of the sweeter rye smell that I am used to.  I actually smell a good bit of corn on the 18, some rye, and some tobacco.  A deep inhale burned just a little, like some peppermint.  Again though, the nose just doesn’t set the tone for what follows.

The palate is nice.  The flavor of the rye permeates along with a minty flavor and a sweetness, like sugar or honey.  It’s so pleasant, but it quickly gets replaced by that finish….

Holy shit that finish.  This is where this thing shines.  It’s like a leathery, oaky, caramel thickness that doesn’t burn even slightly going down.  It’s so amazing.  It’s like I’m a termite and I’m eating a delicious wooden stair that has caramel spilt all over it.  In the process I also accidentally chewed up a little bit of leather and tobacco and swallowed it all down at once.  I actually don’t even taste the rye at all once it goes down, just this amazing finish that sends me into the world of termites and leather straps and wooden steps.  It’s messed up I know, but my brain just works in mysterious ways.

It is going to be a sad day in my life when I finish this bottle, for a I may not see it again until next year.  Heck even then I may not see it.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try.  My baby will always be out there, and I will always be looking.

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The motion of the ocean – (Review – Jefferson’s Ocean 3rd Voyage)

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I first heard of Jefferson’s bourbons about 6 months ago on poker night with the fellas.  A friend of mine brought over a bottle of Jefferson’s very small batch.  I was not that into bourbons at the time but I tried it out and really liked it.  One of the members of the poker group told us that it was named Jefferson’s because it was Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe for whiskey.  Although that does not appear to be the case, none of us had any reason to disagree with that statement, and ultimately, I began repeating that to many people once I purchased my own bottle.  It was one of those misconceptions that no one is really going to question at the time, and you really have no reason not to believe it.  To this day, although it is not true, it seems like a cool reason alone to buy a Jefferson’s bottle.

Over the past few months I have grown to really love Jefferson’s bourbon.  They have a great twitter presence who likes to retweet me and they also makes some really tasty stuff.  Rumor is they don’t actually make their own bourbon from scratch, they get it from other distilleries.  Apparently that is very common.  But it’s what they do with the bourbon after they get it makes it truly awesome stuff.  There are about 6 different varieties offered by Jefferson’s.  Their entry level bourbon simply called Jefferson’s Very Small Batch is a fantastic every day bourbon, especially at under $30 a bottle.  They also make a reserve whiskey that features older whiskeys blended together, a rare 10 year rye, a chefs collaboration, and much harder to find Presidential Select variations.  And then….this Ocean version.  While on a boat a few years ago, their master distiller, Trey Zoeller, came up with a brilliant idea to age some bourbon barrels on a boat for a few months.  The idea behind the ocean voyage was that the constant motion of the waves would allow the bourbon to have much better contact with the oak than sitting in a rack house.  Basically, the motion of the ocean allows better contact with wood.  That’s….what…she…said.

I found out about Jefferson’s Ocean about 2 months ago.  At that time bottles of the second voyage were sold out and very hard to find.  I become obsessed with finding a bottle, so much so that my 5 year old son who made liquor store stops with me after work began telling all of his preschool friends about Jefferson’s Ocean.  “My daddy wants dis bur-bun that’s been on a boat around Earf for 4 years”.  I knew it was trouble when random Pre-school kids asked if I had found Jefferson’s Ocean.  Forget the local neighborhood tennis team, 5 year olds gossip more than anyone else on the planet.  I finally got ahold of Jefferson’s Ocean Voyage 3 a few weeks ago when some barrels hit larger stores in Atlanta.  I got it at Sherlock’s, a nice large store with a big bourbon selection but a smug liquor staff.  If it hadn’t been so far away, I would have gone to Tower.  Another large store with a big bourbon selection but a friendly staff, and cheaper Jefferson’s Ocean.

Any-hoo, on to the important part.  First off, the nose of the Ocean is awesome.  It’s so smooth, like a sweet candy caramel.  I do smell alcohol and on very strong whiffs it actually burns my nostrils a little.  I kind of like that, especially since it’s not barrel strength.  Maybe it’s the saltiness like a saline spray shooting up my nostrils.  Either way, I like it.  I also got a hint of raisins.  The color is a nice lighter amber too, almost like a sweet tea or something.  It’s lighter than anything else on my shelf, sans the moonshine that I will never touch.

The palate of the Ocean comes across so smooth, with very little burn.  Caramel is the most easily recognized flavor for me, and it finishes with it nicely.  There is definitely a saltiness to it, and it makes it taste so unique to almost every other bourbon.  But I love it.  Perhaps I like a sweeter/saltier tasting bourbon, something a little different.  There is a finish that lingers, a sugary/saltery blend.  It tastes a little like toffee aftertaste, mixed with some raisins and some caramel and some slight cinnamon.  It’s a truly smooth and pleasant after taste.

People have waited in long lines this season, and they will continue to do so for a chance to buy the elusive Pappy Van Winkle.  While doing so, they might be bypassing the Jefferson’s Ocean that has just arrived.  I used to be on that ignorant boat, the one that would make that mistake, but no more.  I would take a bottle of this stuff over Pappy any day of the week., well at least prior to 15 years.  This is a delicious spirit, unique, and beautiful.  Well done Mr. Jefferson, you and this company using your recipe have made something awesome.  🙂

 

I wanted to love it…. (Review – Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year)

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Really I did.  I wanted it to be earth shattering.  Weeks after my obsessive search began for the elusive Pappy, I had just unwrapped the plastic seal on a bottle of Van Winkle Special Reserve for my 38th birthday.  A trade of a Thomas Handy Sazerac Antique Collection bottle netted me my most prized possession, and I was ready to wait no longer.  I had read all the reviews, heard all the tales, taken in all the mythical lore I had come across.  This was the stuff of legends.  People waited in lines across the country just a week ago to score one bottle.  One bottle of booze.  Billionaires couldn’t get it even if they tried, or so said the article I found.  Another article told me to skip Pappy and buy one of their aforementioned alternatives.  Yet I continued, unabated in my quest for the unicorn whiskey as some referred to it.  I couldn’t count how many store owners laughed when I asked if they had Pappy.  I visited every store, tried to befriend every owner, and used any technique possible to place myself in a position of acquiring a bottle.

Two months after my quest began, here it was.  As I set the freshly opened bottle down on the kitchen counter, a strong aroma of the unicorn whiskey started to fill the air.  My wife commented that it smelled really good as it wafted around the kitchen.  I have to admit, the stuff smells pretty legendary.  Hopefully as you begin to follow my blog, you will see that I am fairly new to the bourbon tasting/reviewing party.  I consider my sense of smell and taste pretty good, but damn if I know how to put it into words.  People say they smell caramel, oak, butterscotch in this bottle.  I just smell some damn fine whiskey.  It’s sweet for sure, and I just can’t place the smell.  I would say the butterscotch reference is the closest for me.  Butterscotch and f*@ing awesome whiskey smell.

I poured about 1.5 ounces and let it air out for a minute or two.  I admired the color, a beautiful amber brown, with a nice looking coating where it had hit the side of my glen cairn glass.  I swirled it around a little bit, noticed the complexity, and continued to enjoy that damn fine smell.  Then I took my first sip.  It was a little harsher than I expected.  In fact it almost burned a little.  It was only 90 proof, but it stung the back of my throat a little and that alone kind of covered up the flavor for me.  I added a small ice cube and let it melt and tried it again a few minutes later.  This time it was less harsh and I had some nice flavors come across, but again I don’t know how to describe them.  I definitely got some oaky flavor, some honey, but it still ended with a little burn in my throat.  The aftertaste I would say had some caramel, but there had to be some spice there that was burning.  A few more sips netted the same result, a nice flavor, but a gentle burn, followed by an aftertaste that was almost like a caramel candy.  I finished the glass, set it down, and realized… that it was disappointing.  Really disappointing.  And I also realized I have had much better whiskey at a fraction of the cost.

I thought surely there must be a mistake.  Maybe it was dinner that I had that messed things up.  Maybe my glass was dirty, or the ice cube was polluted.  Or maybe I was getting a cold and that effected things.  Surely if someone would wait in 32 degree weather for a bottle of this stuff, that something was just wrong with me.

So I waited a day and tried it again.  This time, I put 1 whole ice cube in and let it melt all the way.  I let the whiskey sit for 10 minutes after that to open up.  And then I began to sip, slowly, trying to find myself loving it.  And sure enough, the same result.  A decent taste over my tongue, a slight burn, a slight sweet finish, but not near one of my favorite whiskeys.  On both nights, I filled my glass back up with some Elmer T. Lee, and realized how much better it was.

I am only 1 guy and I only have 1 opinion, but this wasn’t worth the hype.  It wasn’t worth the obsession.  This is decent whiskey at best.  Perhaps the 15 year or 20 year are earth shattering, and this 12 is simply a meteor that blazes out in the sky.  Perhaps I’ll never know if that is the case, but to be honest, I’m not going to lose any more sleep over it.

 

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