The Pappletini: PVW15, Cocchi Americano Rosa, Agave, Grapefruit, and Lime.

Review: Barterhouse

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Barterhouse is one of the Orphan Barrel releases by Diageo. They claim that they are “rescuing lost barrels of rare and delicious whiskey, hidden away and long forgotton in the backs of rickhouses.” Barterhouse is a twenty year old whiskey and, if you put two and two together, you can pretty easily determine that Barterhouse is most likely remnants of Diageo’s Old Charter stock distilled at the New Bernhiem Distillery and stored at the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery.

To start, this bottle is really pretty. The design is great and, although it has enough text on it to fill a novel, I really love the way it looks. Here’s to hoping the liquid inside matches the beautiful design and $75 price tag. I poured a glass neat into a Glencairn from bottle number 23,785 and let it sit for a few minutes, nosing it every so often. From the nose, I got tons of oak, hints of vanilla, some sweet fruits, and a little cinnamon. On the sip, I get sweet, fruity citrus with astringent, a lot of oak, and some very small hints of caramel. The finish is medium in length and very dry, Most of the finish is very oaky with some cinnamon spice coming out in the end. Overall, if I had forgotten what this was or how much I had paid for it, I would say this is a good mid to low shelf bourbon. When I remember that this was $75, I slowly begin to freak out and start making tasting notes again hoping that my palate was somehow compromised. I drink room temperature water and try again. I wait a day and try again. I let it air out for longer. I wait a few weeks. I try again. After several rounds of tasting, I keep coming to the same conclusions. Honestly, I didn’t expect this to be stellar bourbon to begin with, but I did expect it to be worth it’s price. I had all the hopes in the world that this would make me be happy I got it. I’m not. For a bottle priced at $75, this is awful. I get the same complexity and qualities from much, much lesser brands. If this bottle were $35 - $40, this wouldn’t even be a slam dunk. It would be an okay bourbon at $40 and I would keep it on the shelf to make cocktails with. At $75, this leaves me regretting paying for it and wondering what I’m even going to do with this bottle. It seems like that sly fox on the front of the bottle earned his money tricking me into this one.

Review: Four Roses 125th (2013 Limited Edition Small Batch)

So I start this review with some regret. I didn’t buy into the hype of this bottle so mine ended up going to another member of the club. Luckily, he was nice enough to crack it open and we had a pour. I jotted down some quick tasting notes so I could post them here. This small batch is a mixture of three of the ten Four Roses recipes; an eighteen year old OBSV, a thirteen year old OBSK, and a thirteen year OESK.

Nose: Rye, dark sweet wood, fruit, and citrus.

Flavor: Loads of cherry, fruit, baking spice, and citrus.

Finish: Long and woody with a great balance of cherry.

Overall: The more citrus and fruity bourbons aren’t really my preference, but this one is very good. If that’s your thing, this could very well be one of the best bourbons you’ve ever had. If it’s not, this is still one of the best bourbons you’ve ever had. 

Happy Derby Day!

Review: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

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This is the first review on the blog from a member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. I’ve managed to try all of them except the Sazerac 18, but never in an environment where I could make tasting notes.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac is named for the bartender who first used rye in the Sazerac cocktail. This is a barrel proof, unfiltered rye. I’m usually not a rye fan and there are few that I like and this is certainly one of them.

Nose: Leather, spice, rye.

Taste: Sweet vanilla, rye, spice, citrus, toffee.

Finish: Spice, cinnamon, long and warm.

Overall: As I’m not a huge fan of rye, this isn’t my favorite of the BTACs, but it is certainly my favorite rye and on my list of top 10 whiskies. Any rye fan needs to try this once and probably stand in line to buy yourself a bottle when the fall rolls around.

Review: Stagg Jr

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I picked up a case for the bourbon club and was debating on finding them all a new home at cost to the members or keeping them all for myself. Well, after three of them found a new home, I decided to open up one for myself. Not disappointed. This release comes in at 128.7 proof. I’ll get to the point.

Nose: After swirling and airing it out for a minute, lots of vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch.

Flavor: This packs a punch. With a little water, you get some very pronounced flavors. Vanilla, caramel, spice, and cinnamon.

Finish: The finish last forever and is intense. You get a lot of smoke, char, and tobacco with it which makes you want it to last longer. Don’t get me wrong, it is a long finish, but I could keep that around for hours.

Overall: I’m looking forward to putting this head to head with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. I have friends that swear by it, but I haven’t tried it yet. For now, for $50, I don’t know of another barrel proofer that I would buy. This is just delicious. Oh, and I’m keeping three bottles on the shelf for me, no doubt.

Guest Post: Classic Cocktails

By Clair McLafferty

People are really territorial about classic whiskey cocktails. If you’re having a conversation about Old Fashioneds or Ward 8s, you might as well accept that you have a different recipe than the person you’re talking with. Out of this riffraff, we’ve come up with three cocktails we regularly enjoy.

The Boulevardier

You may never hear me say this again, but Prohibition is to thank for the Boulevardier’s creation. Since hooch was illegal, many bartenders fled the country to practice elsewhere. In Europe, they found a variety of spirits they’d never had available, and created some pretty magical drinks.

This particular libation is a Negroni variation that substitutes bourbon for gin.

As the Negroni is a variation of an Americano highball, the Boulevardier is twice removed from its origin. This bitter – and absolutely delicious – cocktail will chase away any hesitations you have about enjoying the warmer weather.

Note: nose and palate depend heavily on the types of vermouth and bourbon used.

My favorite combination is Cocchi Vermouth di Turino and W. L. Weller Special Reserve.

Nose: Orange, exotic spice

Palate: Rich body with a sweet, herbal front palate that fades into peppery, savory spice. The finish is long and bitter with hints of leather and a slight bite.

  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz bourbon

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously for 17-25 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a flamed orange peel.

The Ward 8

Born out of a Boston election party (or so the story goes), this cocktail was first created as a whiskey sour made with grenadine instead of simple syrup. It became so popular that, in 40ish years, over 500 recipes for the cocktail were documented.

If this recipe doesn’t strike your fancy, tweak it until it does. Chances are that it’s been made before.

Nose: Citrus, ripe red fruit

Palate: Medium-bodied with a sweet and tangy front. This transitions smoothly into citrus and vanilla on the mid-palate. It finishes surprisingly dry.

1 tsp – 0.5 oz grenadine

.5 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

.75 oz freshly squeezed orange juice

2 oz bourbon

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice and shake vigorously for 17-25 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into chilled coupe.

The Old Fashioned

Like the Ward 8, the Old Fashioned’s history is difficult to pin down. In fact, so many origin stories exist that entire books have been written on the subject. We know a few things for sure – the Old Fashioned is modeled on the Great American Cock-Tail template of bitters, sugar, water and booze. It was probably created early in the 19th century, and most likely didn’t contain muddled fruit.

From there, little is certain. Since so many recipes exist for this singular cocktail, the garnish, type of sugar and even the type of whiskey used are uncertain. As with the Ward 8, customize and experiment to find your favorite recipe.

Nose (for below recipe): Bright orange fruit

Palate: Full-bodied with a dark, sweet front, rich caramel and cinnamon mid-palate.

Finishes dry, though with a slight lingering burn.

2 dashes old fashioned aromatic bitters

1 dash orange bitters

1 tsp rich brown sugar simple syrup (ratio 2:1 sugar to water)

2 oz bourbon

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously for 17-25 seconds depending on the proof of the spirit (higher proof spirits will need to be stirred longer). Strain into a chilled Old Fashioned glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Clair is a freelance writer and assistant bar manager at Octane Coffee + Bar. When she’s not working, she can usually be found nerding out on trashy sci-fi, playing with her puppy, or researching cocktail history. Check out her other writing at clairmclafferty.com.

Review: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

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Continuing with my reviewing of all the Buffalo Trace Mashbill #2 single barrels, I’ll review Rock Hill Farms now. Prices on this seem to vary wildly throughout the country. I picked up this bottle for around $50, but have heard of prices being up to $100 in other places.  

Nose: Fruit, oak, leather, spice with a slight citrus.

Taste: Vanilla, corn, caramel, spice, oak, nice amount of rye.

Finish: Sweet and spicy balance that dies out a little too soon.

Overall: This is, to me, is a good bottle at $50 or under. For some of the astronomical prices seen on various forums, I would have to pass. My best way to describe this is as a less refined version of Blanton’s or a slightly more refined version of Elmer T. Lee. The three bourbons share many of the same characteristics. Rock Hill Farms tends to be more spicy and a little more rough around the edges than Blanton’s. This is not a bad thing as I sometimes find Blanton’s to be a little boring. The finish on this leaves you wanting a little more. If you can find it for a reasonable price, pick up a bottle and give it a try. If you can’t, just grab a bottle of Elmer T. Lee, save a few bucks, and have an, arguably, better bourbon.

Review: Hancock’s President’s Reserve

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We’ve already reviewed Elmer T. Lee on the blog, so we will follow with this particular Buffalo Trace single barrel. There is no age statement on the bottle, but, from what I hear, it is an 8 year old bourbon from Buffalo Trace’s mashbill #2, the same as Elmer T. Lee, Blanton’s, and Rock Hill Farms. This bourbon has a lot to live up to as I consider the other offerings mentioned as wonderful bourbons. Here are the tasting notes:

Nose: Vanilla, oak, leather, citrus, and spice.

Sip: Fruity, vanilla, and very mild spice

Finish: Super mild. Vanilla and oak.

Overall: This is an incredibly smooth bourbon. This is maybe something that you would want to drink with a heavy meal. There just isn’t a lot of complexity here and nothing that really stands out. I picked this bottle up for around $50 and it doesn’t live up to the other Buffalo Trace single barrels. There just isn’t enough here to justify the cost. It almost feels watered down and too mellow. If that is what you like, then this is perfect for you, but this just isn’t my preference.

Review: Belle Meade Bourbon

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The original Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery operated from 1870 until 1909 under the guide of Charles Nelson, who purchased the distillery in 1870 and ran it until it closed due to prohibition in Tennessee. His great-great-great-grandsons, Charlie and Andy, have now begun revising the old family business and have released Belle Meade, a sourced bourbon, but they are currently working on establishing their own distillery and bringing back more of the original Greenbrier offerings.

Now to the Belle Meade.

Nose: Citrus, syrup, mild floral hints.

Sip: Vanilla, caramel, citrus, and robust rye.

Finish: Quick and smooth with some lingering of dry fruit and rich warmth.

This is one of my standards I keep on the shelf for a daily drinker. I honestly can’t wait to see what’s next for the Nelson brothers.

Review: Four Roses Single Barrel - Private Selection Barrel Strength

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I’ll start this off with some honesty. I’ve never been a big fan of Four Roses. I don’t know why. I tried it a long time ago, didn’t particularly care for it at the time, and didn’t really pay it any attention afterwards. I walked into my local store recently and didn’t see many options that I didn’t already own, so I grabbed this and decided to Four Roses another shot. Glad I did! This particular bottle is the Single Barrel Private Selection Barrel Strength from Alabama ABC.

Nose: Subtle corn, oak, vanilla, and mild fruit.

Sip: Fruit, rye, oak, vanilla, and caramel.

Finish: A good burn. The barrel proof is going to guarantee that. The oak and char turn to a mellow citrus and caramel.

Overall thoughts: This changed my mind on Four Roses. As a side note, a restaurant here (Veranda on Highland/Steva Casey) did their own single barrel and I tried it as well. Even better than this one. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong and, on Four Roses, I certainly was.

Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Bourbon

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This bottle has been sitting around on my shelf for a pretty long time as the photo may suggest. It was one of my go-to bourbons for a nightly drink for a good while. There’s not much you can elaborate on this on past the tasting notes other than it is a good standard bourbon to keep around.

Nose: Vanilla, maple, oak, caramel, sweet corn.

Sip: Oak, spice, char, vanilla, sugar.

Finish: Medium in length. Some tobacco, some char, then sweet corn and vanilla. 

For it’s price, there are other bourbons that I would rather have, but don’t let that dissuade you from picking up a bottle and trying it. It may not be the most complex or deep bourbon out there, but it’s a solid, faithful drink that’s not going to let you down.