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Every Whiskey Has a Story

Within every whiskey, there’s a story waiting to be told. The stories revealed can frighten me, excite me, or tickle long-forgotten memories of times past. And the stories vary from whiskey to whiskey and even bottle to bottle of the same brand.

I want to hear all those stories. I want to immerse myself in the plotlines of flavor each whiskey I taste has to offer.

I’m writing Whiskey My Love to share my own stories of what I taste. It’s less about reviews and more about taking notes, so I don’t forget. But at the same time, I’ll be sharing my own story behind the whiskeys that I encounter.

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New Drink Recipe: The Jumpin’ POG

I am in Honolulu, Hawaii as I write this. Came back to the house we rented and I wanted some booze. Didn’t feel like drinking bourbon straight up because it was a hot day, so I experimented with mixing some Passion-Orange-Guava juice (which is a staple here in the islands) with some bourbon. I figured the sweetness of the bourbon would complement the juice, and I was not mistaken. So easy to make:

1 shot decent bourbon (I used Jefferson’s)
8 oz. POG
Pineapple wedge
Sprig of mint

Fill a double rocks glass with ice. Pour bourbon over the ice. Top off with POG and stir. Garnish with pineapple or tropical fruit wedge and a sprig of mint.

Admittedly, I didn’t have either garnish on hand, but you have to garnish with something and my son and I who drank one with me agreed that mint would be a great garnish with this. OMG! It’s delicious and SO refreshing on a hot day!

1792 Small Batch Bourbon

20180313_210405This evening, I had to run out to the store to get some dog food and some sandwich bread at the grocery store, and while there, remembered that I had run out of bourbon (in this case it was Bulleit) and was down to a bottle of Buchanan’s Blended Scotch, and though I really like Buchanan’s, I wasn’t in the mood for Scotch tonight.

So I perused the booze aisle at the grocery store to see if I could score a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 or some more Bulleit. But Bulleit was $32.99 and Wild Turkey 101 was $27.99! Highway robbery. Both were $10 more than Trader Joe’s prices. Literally! Since TJ’s was just down the street and on my way back home, I resolved to go there.

When I got to TJ’s, I really was in the mood for Bulleit but alas, they had run out. So I scanned the shelf for my old standby, Wild Turkey 101, I found it, but a pretty bottle just above it caught my eye. Wow! I thought, A bourbon I hadn’t tried yet! And it’s only $22.99! I figured, what the hell! At that price, I could give it a go, and if I didn’t like it, I could always serve it as a cocktail bourbon.

The thing is… I like this bourbon. I’m not fooled by fancy packaging, and Barton’s probably uses an elegant bottle to communicate some elegance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the liquid inside that counts, and I have to say that I enjoy this bourbon – a lot.

What I Smell

At first opening, and with a small tasting pour, the most predominant smell I detected was oak. But a quick, gentle blow into the glass to clear those vapors changed the aroma profile considerably. The wood became much less prominent and gave way to a pleasing burnt caramel and vanilla taffy, along with a hint of honey, spice, and lemon peel.

What I Taste

Up-front, there’s a gentle bite, which immediately leads me to believe that this bourbon probably has a high rye content. I have no idea what the mash bill is with this, but experience informs me so. I’ll have to check it out later. But note that that’s not a bad thing; it simply is what it is. This is followed up by pleasing layers of honey, vanilla, citrus, and white pepper about mid-palate. The finish is medium-long with undercurrents of burnt sugar and cream corn.

Overall Impression

As I mentioned above, I like this bourbon. At first glance, it doesn’t seem all that complex; especially when the bourbon is newly poured. But this bourbon begs to be aired out a bit. And if you do that, you’ll be rewarded with very nice aroma and flavor profiles. I would even go so far as to say that decanting the bourbon would do it a lot of good. It just needs some air, and once it gets it, it is absolutely delightful.

I will definitely buy this again, though, at this price point, I’d probably buy Wild Turkey 101 before it. Don’t get me wrong, this is NOT at all speaking poorly of 1792. I would get this before I’d get another bottle of Henry McKenna, which is another bourbon that I like a lot, so it definitely has a place on my shelf in the future. It’s just that the 101 has become an old standby. But absent that, I wouldn’t shake a stick at 1792.

When All Else Fails… Old Fashioned…

I have to admit: I’m kind of obsessed with the Old Fashioned cocktail. Don’t get me wrong, I love drinking my bourbon straight, but more often than not, I’ll make an Old Fashioned.

I’m really not sure where this obsession came from, but when the chips are down, and I’m looking for a good drink, an Old Fashioned is what I’ll make or get.

Is it the sweetness? Is it the bitterness of the orange rind? Is it the nostalgia? I suppose… I really don’t know. But what I do know is that I just plain enjoy it.

My recipe is pretty straight-forward. I normally don’t use any other fruit than the orange peel. Honestly, I don’t have Luxardo cherries which is the only cherry one should use with this drink. So if I don’t have ’em, I go without. Maraschino cherries? Nah… Not the same, and WAY too sweet.

Part of why I keep it simple is that despite the drink being a cocktail, I still want to taste the bourbon. I will use rye as well, but my go-to is bourbon. There’s something about the vanilla of a bourbon that just makes the drink. Rye – at least to me – is a bit more citrusy. When I drink rye, it’s either straight or with a peel of an orange. Rarely do I drink rye neat. It’s a little too hot.

In any case, when I can’t figure out what I want to drink, I’ll go with an Old Fashioned.

Wild Turkey 101

I have to admit that I try to avoid writing about “common” whiskeys here, mainly because I don’t want to re-invent the wheel with my reviews. But I did make a promise to myself when I started this blog that I’d write about what I’ve drunk – irrespective of their commonality – so I could document what I tasted. Sure, while I share these reviews, these are more diary entries for me than anything else.

Plus, I’m an equal opportunity drinker when it comes to whiskey and far be it from me to be a snob. Sure, there are things I’ve tasted that I don’t like at all that will never show up here (I don’t like writing negative reviews), but I gave them a fair shake and tasted them. But what I’ve done my best to not be a snob and not try something based solely on my perceptions.

Thus, we come to Wild Turkey 101… Growing up, Wild Turkey was the bourbon my dad would stock in his liquor cabinet. He wasn’t a big drinker; in fact, he rarely drank, but he and mom enjoyed entertaining, and he had a collection of booze for when guests would come to the house. And when he did have bourbon, it was always Wild Turkey.

We always had vodka (my mom like vodka tonics) and Tanqueray, Canadian Mist, and for bourbon, we had Wild Turkey. The funny thing was that my dad revered his Wild Turkey. I was too young to understand at the time, but for some reason, he put particular pride in having a bottle of this.

I hate to admit this, but that reverence my dad had for Wild Turkey kind of made me think that it was an “old man’s whiskey.” Kind of like a dear friend of mine who’s 86 years old who will only drink a Manhattan made with Canadian Club because that’s how she and her late husband drank them since the 60’s. So I guess I had a bit of a bias against it…

Fast-forward forty years, and yesterday there I was at Trader Joe’s with my youngest son, picking up some fixins’ for lunch. I turned down the liquor aisle, and my son asked, “You need to pick up some bourbon?” I told him, “Not necessarily, son. But I do want to see what they have in stock.”

You see, my local Trader Joe’s carries several major brands of booze, and they sell them at prices that are oftentimes far better than even the big-box liquor outlets. For instance, a bottle of Bulleit is only $20 at Trader Joes. It costs a few bucks more elsewhere. And such was the case with Wild Turkey 101, which was only $17.99! It’s $19.99 at Total Wine and Spirits!

I was planning on going to Total Wine and Spirits later that day to pick up a couple of bottles of Henry McKenna for my “cheap” bourbon. But when I saw that price and the fact that I hadn’t had anything from Wild Turkey for years, it was a “no problem, man” (in my best Jamaican accent) moment. I snagged a bottle. After all, at only $17.99, if I didn’t like it, I could always serve it as a cocktail mixer when I had guests over. 🙂

But I have to admit: I was actually surprised and quite delighted that it was great! Cheap price and high production volumes are usually a bit of a turn-off for me (I know, the snob does come on). For instance, while I like Evan Williams, I only drink it mixed, which works really well. But sip it? There are a few harsh notes in it that I don’t quite enjoy. But don’t get me wrong, I actually do like it, and usually have a bottle around to make an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan with it.

And I admit to having a bit of this bias with the Wild Turkey 101 as I was opening it. But it took me by surprise. It is quite enjoyable!

What I Smell

At a 101 proof, I was expecting a hit of alcohol up front. It’s there, but it’s not nearly as powerful as I was expecting. The alcohol immediately gives way to a pronounced peach cobbler followed up by Heath Bar, marzipan, and citrus notes then finishes with cinnamon and clove. With a little air, the alcohol settles and a distinct vanilla powder aroma – the kind you sprinkle in your coffee – pervades the inside of the glass. Nice.

When I smelled this, I made a mental note that this bourbon was far more complex than what I would’ve expected from a high-production spirit.

What I Taste

Wow! Spice up front from the heat, but it’s pleasing. The heat does kick in around mid-palate, but it doesn’t overpower. The palate starts with a foundation of citrus that leans toward orange peel, that persists throughout the taste. This is overlaid with ginger up front that gives way to more Heath Bar mid-palate, then finishes off with a pleasing dustiness the leans toward a light pipe tobacco.

Mouthfeel is velvety smooth and luscious and the finish is medium. While there’s heat due to the high ABV, there’s nothing harsh about this bourbon – at all.

How I Like to Drink It

I could drink this neat any time. That’s how I first drank it. But on a whim, I thought I’d bring out the citrus, and added a couple of drops of Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters. Wow! It only needed a couple of drops, and it was magnificent. I think I will also try this by dropping in a well-expressed twist of orange peel.

After I finished my neat pour, I made an Old Fashioned (yeah, it was a long, hectic work week, and I wanted to get mellow). I have to say that that was one of the most enjoyable Old Fashioneds I’ve had in a long time. This bourbon fits my recipe to a “T!”

Overall Impression

I wasn’t expecting to like this bourbon this much. I had my doubts about it but these have been completely waylaid by the astounding quality that’s contained in the bottle. It’s a testament to the skill of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell to be able to produce this kind of quality over what must be thousands of barrels.

But cheap or not, I now understand why my dad had so much reverence for this bourbon. It’s just plain good. There’s no arguing about it – at least for me. And the fact that this kind of quality and complexity is contained in this bottle at such an affordable price makes me appreciate it that much more. I guess my dad was onto something… 🙂

Paddleford Creek Bourbon

I think I just scored the two best bargains of high-quality bourbon in a long time! As I had mentioned in my review of Henry McKenna, I saw it and this Paddelford Creek on the shelves in Total Wine. I hadn’t heard of either, but at the price I got them for (about $20 a piece), it was a low-risk purchase.

But I have to say this about Paddelford Creek before I continue: I really enjoy this bourbon! It’s smooth and tasty. At the outset, it doesn’t seem to be too complex. But given some time and some air, there’s more to this bourbon than meets the eye!

As for the distiller, I’ve never heard of them. They’re out of Princeton, MN according to the label, but they don’t have any website, so I have a feeling this is sourced bourbon from a variety of places. I also feel that this could possibly be one of Total Wine’s in-house spirits. That’s NOT a negative mark at all. For instance, BevMo has their in-house wine. All of it produced and bottled by Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos. That’s some good shit.

I did some searching for information, and apparently, they used to call this a “small batch” bourbon. Now it just says “Barrel Aged.” And most early reviews kind of wrote this bourbon off, or were downright negative. Reviews as late as last year called it uninspiring. Is it complex with layer upon layer of aroma and flavor? No. For goodness’ sake, it’s a $20 bottle.

But is it bad? Quite the contrary. In fact, at 83 proof, it’s downright enjoyable. Right now, I’m drinking this neat with a single chip of ice added. I really didn’t have to do that, but I wanted to help it along. But I could see making a Manhattan or Old Fashioned or even Whiskey Sour with this. But I have to say that even neat, I’m liking it – a lot.

The snob in me says I shouldn’t like it. But as I’ve learned in the wine world, inexpensive does not at all mean a lack of quality or taste and this bourbon has both.

What I Smell

Fresh out of the bottle, you get a hit of alcohol, that gives way to oak and grain. But with a little air that gives way to honey, vanilla, a little coconut, backed by fresh stone fruit and a tiny bit of leather.

What I Taste

A little more leather and oak and much less grain on the tongue with a medium mouthfeel. Despite the lower proof, there’s a definite warmth. It is also not super-sweet, which I like. Up-front is a citrusy, almost grapefruit bitterness. Love it! More leather mid-palate with a touch of vanilla and fruit. The medium finish is slightly astringent and helps emphasize the citrus. After a while, a trace of apple can be noted.

Overall Impression

Not sure why people have written this one off. I’m definitely going to buy it again. I like the lower proof rating. It goes down easy and has enough aroma and flavor to meet my needs. Maybe my standards are lower than others’ but I trust what I taste and this bourbon is definitely one that pleases me.

Cheers!

Update 11/23/17: I did a side-by-side comparison between this and Wild Turkey 101. I probably will stick with the Wild Turkey. Again, Paddleford Creek isn’t bad. But the 101 is both cheaper and far more complex than the Paddleford Creek.

Heaven Hill Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon

I finally finished the last of my Evan Williams 1.75 liter bottle the other day and wanted to get some more. So I went to Total Wine and Spirits this afternoon to get another. That was a mistake. Total Wine is my Costco for spirits. I always leave with more than I intended to buy, and oftentimes, I don’t leave with what I intended to buy in the first freakin’ place!

So no, I didn’t leave with another 1.75 liter bottle of Evan Williams. Instead, I left with a bottle of Henry McKenna and a bottle of Paddleford Creek (which I will eventually review) INSTEAD of my cheap bottle of Evan Williams. Damn! Oh well, I’ll just go down to RiteAid and get the Evan Williams later. It’s just as cheap there, and the selections are far narrower and thus, I will be less tempted to buy more. But hey! I ended up with some bourbon I hadn’t had yet, and they didn’t break the bank.

So what about this 10-year Henry McKenna? Playing off Forest Gump, Single barrel bourbon is like a box of chocolate. You never what you’re gonna get.” But I’m the adventurous type, so I’ll usually give something I’ve never tried a whirl. Luckily this doesn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty damn good!

The “Aged 10 Years” at the top of the label was what caught my eye. Then when I saw that it was single barrel, I have to admit that I was just a little reluctant because my experience with single barrel anything meant there’s a bit of variability. But what the hell, I figured, it’s only $20, and I could always make an Old Fashioned out of this and just add a lot of sugar to mask out any unpleasantries. 🙂

I was actually a bit surprised that the bourbon is as light as it is, considering how long it was in-barrel. Also, the mouthfeel is surprisingly lighter than what I’d expect for something that has had a long contact with wood. But no matter, as you’ll read below, neither of these is a negative mark.

What I Smell

My first whiff right out of the bottle is alcohol. That got me immediately thinking Yowee! This is gonna be hot like rye! But a little air calms that down and the alcohol gives way to oak, honey, cinnamon, and allspice with a little hint of orange blossom at the end. Nice.

What I Taste

This is amazingly light bodied in texture and smooth as well considering the 100 proof. The flavors come in distinct waves starting with cinnamon and spice up-front, resolving to a pleasing citrusy bite with a bit of vanilla, then finishing off with a long, fresh, mint/menthol finish. It goes down warm, but not at all over-powering.

How I Like to Drink It

I know, this is absolutely brand new for me, but I can see how I like it. First of all, despite the initial heat, this is a nice bourbon to drink neat over a long period of time; or drop in a chip of ice or a splash of water, and the aromas and flavors bloom.

Late at night as a nightcap, I could do with an ounce in a Glencairn glass and sit down with a good book.

When I get back from the Stanford-Oregon game tonight, I’m definitely going to make an Old Fashioned with this. Those citrusy, spicy notes are the perfect foil for bitters and orange oil. Yum.

Overall Impression

At about $20 for a fifth, this is a great value. It’s not super complex by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to say that I like it – a lot. Not sure as of yet if I’d add it to my regular rotation, but I can definitely see having this around!

Sometimes, I Just Can’t Help Myself…

Last night, I was thinking, Hmm…. what do I want for a nightcap? I knew I that I definitely wanted some kind of whiskey, so I went to my shelves. I had a bottle of Talisker 12 Scotch, but I didn’t want anything smokey because I’m in NorCal and the air is filled with smoke. I also had a nice Port Dundas Scotch, but it was a little too light bodied for my mood. I didn’t want any Evan Williams which I always have. I also had a collection of other spirits: Vodka, Rum, Gins, Cachaça. I didn’t want any of those. Then my eye caught the bottle of Bainbridge Battle Point Wheat Whiskey…

But then, I asked myself, How do I want to drink it? It’s SO good neat or with a few drops of water, but I also wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth, so I did something I thought I’d never do with this whiskey: I made an Old Fashioned with it. I just couldn’t help myself!

The result was absolutely MAG-F$^&IN’-NIFICENT!!! The whiskey is so smooth and mouth-coating. Accompanied by orange bitters and the oils from the orange zest, WOW!

I know, I know… It seems like a waste of great whiskey to make a cocktail out of it. But there’s something I’ve learned: Cocktails taste WAY better when you use high-quality ingredients. My brother once puzzled over me making a Manhattan with Basil Hayden. Being flip I answered: “1) because I can; 2) It tastes frickin’ awesome.”

I do have to admit, I had a few seconds of guilt for using Battle Point in a cocktail. But truth be told, I actually used less than a shot because I don’t like to drink a large amount before bed. Just enough to take the edge off. So I didn’t feel THAT guilty. 🙂

But there. I did it. Damn that was good!