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… 🙂

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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!

What’s Your Go To?

If there’s a whiskey that I have in the house at all times, it’s bourbon. I like all kinds of whiskey, but I’ll go to bourbon before I go to anything else.

Today, a co-worker visiting from out of state and I got into a discussion bourbon. She asked me what my go-to was, and I said, “It’s usually Bulleit.” She sheepishly replied, “Mine’s Evan Williams because I can drink it with ice and coke and not feel guilty that I’m ruining a good bourbon.”

I smiled and told her that I have a liter bottle of Evan Williams that I’ve almost polished off. I’ve been making an Old Fashioned with the stuff nearly every night for the last three weeks (I only use a little at a time), just to wind down before bed.

What can I say? It’s not a bad bourbon at all, and at $15.99 for a liter, it’s pretty easy to pour a drink and not look longingly at the bottle as the volume drops! 🙂

Yeah, I still have my fine bourbons and whiskeys on hand. But I’ve only been enjoying those on the weekend. It’s nice to see that their volumes haven’t dropped. So I think I’ll keep getting this trusty bourbon, though I think I might have to get some Wild Turkey as well to add a change of pace.

Bainbridge Battle Point Organic Wheat Whiskey

This trip to Seattle has been incredibly fortuitous with respect to discovering new whiskey! Right before I left my hotel, I was at the hotel’s bar speaking with a man who turned out to be the western regional sales manager for Bainbridge Organic Distillers on Bainbridge Island.

When I first encountered the man, I had no idea that he was part of Bainbridge. But he had struck up a conversation with two ladies within earshot of me, and though I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I couldn’t help but listen to him tell his elevator pitch. Once I heard it, I got up, introduced myself, and told him I write a blog about whiskey.

At that, the bartender pushed a shot glass towards me that had a sample taste of the whiskey, which they just so happened to carry. 🙂 Nice. I had to go, so I didn’t have much time to converse with him, but I did get to taste the whiskey. Wow!

What I Smell

I must have a weird nose, but one of the first smells that hit me was a subtle banana bread aroma. I looked up, puzzled over it, but didn’t say anything. I absolutely loved it! I then detected a slight, wet, sweet hay, and forest floor, along with a buttery note that seemed to indicate that a richness was awaiting me.

What I Taste

Oh wow… I’ve never had a 100% wheat whiskey. I know it’s whiskey when I drink it, but it doesn’t have the expected notes that come from mixed grain spirits. They’re certainly similar, but well… the characteristics are different enough to make this unique.

For me, there’s a sweet, buttered bread-like quality up-front, like liquified King’s Hawaiian Bread. The banana bread certainly persists on the palate, but it’s accompanied with a bit of raw cane sugar, giving way to a slight raw honey note, that then breaks into Wheat Thins. Underlying that, I also get spicy notes of clove and cinnamon to highlight the palate even further. The finish is moderate, with a slightly sweet brown sugar note. Mouthfeel throughout is silky-smooth and full-bodied.

Overall Impressions

Because I only had the one taste thus far, it wouldn’t be fair or right to include a “How I Like to Drink It” section. But should I get this whiskey – which I certainly will – I’d probably stick to drinking it neat or over a cube. But this would also go great with a medium-bodied robusto cigar. I have a couple of Cubans in my freezer that I might thaw out to drink this.

This is definitely not a whiskey I’d drink every day. It’s far too unique, complex and sophisticated to waste as a daily drinker. It is a whiskey that is meant to be savored and sipped. But that said, this whiskey has got me curious enough to explore it further since I only had a brief tasting. I really need to see how it changes in the glass and that will take a longer amount of time.

I can’t wait to finally spend some time with this whiskey. At least from my initial tasting, it shows lots of promise!

2Bar Bourbon Whiskey

I’m up in Seattle as I write this. I’ve been to Seattle and all over the Pacific Northwest a myriad of times over the course of my life, and one thing that always sticks in my mind whenever I visit: The Pacific Northwest is… well… eccentric. Who woulda thunk that Oregon, though famous for wine (especially Burgundian-style wines), would be on the forefront of the craft brewing craze?

Seattle, on the other hand, has been known for coffee. This is the birthplace of Starbucks. But besides Starbucks, little craft coffee houses dot the Seattle metropolitan area. I’m not a fan of Starbucks, but I am a BIG fan of good coffee. So I know that in Seattle, the lifeblood of my morning will be enriched and enlivened by good coffee.

Then there are the distilleries…

I have to admit that I had no idea that this Seattle had so many distilleries. I only learned this yesterday, while conversing with the bartender at my hotel, the Kimpton Palladian, right new Pike Market. I saw these bottles I had never seen before on his shelves and he told me they were all produced locally. So of course, I had to try them; well, not all at once. But in the few days that I’m here, I’m going to sample a few. Besides, they’ll give me subjects to write about here, which brings me to the subject of this post.

2Bar has got to be one of the most unique bourbons I’ve had in awhile. Most bourbons don’t take me by surprise, but this one definitely did. It has a weird nose up-front – almost offputting – but it finishes very well.

While I was drinking it, I looked for some reviews. Ratings were all over the map. Having from the wine world, when I see ratings that are all over the map, it tells me one thing: The item is unique. Some will hate it, others will love it, and typically, there’s very little middle ground. 2Bar fits that profile.

Interestingly enough, the more popular blogs and rating sites give it only a fair rating. Methinks that this is because they expect a fairly traditional flavor profile. 2Bar is NOT traditional. I think a lot of that has to do with the mash, that is made from 100% Pacific Northwest grains.

For me, while I’m not too wild about the initial aromas, from a pure flavor perspective. I LOVE this bourbon!

What I Smell

My very first smell of this was not all that pleasing. It was from a newly-opened bottle, right into a glencairn glass. My first thought was, yuck! Sulfur dioxide. But I swished the glass a bit to get some air on the liquid to open up the whiskey. Once I did that, smelled it again, and the unpleasant aroma went away. Then things got a little interesting…

With the unpleasant initial aromas blown off, there’s a distinct alcohol presence in the nose, giving a nod to the 100 proof strength of the bourbon. Underlying that is bit of honey, vanilla, and an ever so slight orange blossom. As the bourbon opens up over time, the alcohol aroma mellows out letting the other aromas bloom. It’s actually quite nice.

What I Taste

I was expecting a bit of burn from the 100 proof. But I was surprised by the smoothness. This is largely due to the silky mouthfeel, which is magnificent. Up front, I get more vanilla and honey which then gives way to a moderate burnt citrus peel, which forms the base of the finish, which is long and pleasing and transforms to black licorice; not that cheap, “Red Vines” black licorice, but that distinctive, traditional, old-school stuff.

This bourbon finishes in an absolutely amazing way. I love that black licorice taste and combine that with that silky mouthfeel, this is a totally distinctive bourbon.

How I Like to Drink It

More likely than not, I would drink this neat. I’d add a couple drops of water to help dissipate the initial aromas. I need to try to see how it would do poured over a large cube or globe of ice. I suspect that may have an even greater effect on the initial aromas. But I will have to see.

Overall Impression

I have to get a bottle of this. It’s not an inexpensive bourbon at around $50 street. But this is definitely a sipper, so it will be on my shelf for a long time.

Here Are a Couple of Ways to Get More Booze When You Go to a Bar

c-and-b-old-fashioned1Way #1: When I go to a bar the first time, I look to see what bourbons they carry. If they’ve got some decent ones, I’ll order an Old Fashioned. But I always tell the bartender or the server to make sure that they don’t add any soda water to top off the drink.

You see, I’ve come to learn that many bartenders – especially those old, crusty ones – hate serving glasses that aren’t full, so to make it look that they’re providing value, they’ll top off a drink with soda water to make it look full.

I think it actually really bugs them! So when I say don’t top it off with soda water, many times, to help quell their phobia of serving a half-full glass, they’ll bump up the bourbon. In several places I’ve gone, this means that they bump it up to a double, but charge me for a single. 🙂

Way #2: This has happened to me several times over the last few years. If I go to a bar that caters mostly to young people and the sports crowd, I will order an Old Fashioned. Invariably, the bartender gets a look of panic on their face because even though they’ve heard of the drink, most likely, their typical clientele never orders one. A few of these folks will even remark out loud, “Wow! No one ever orders that.” That’s my cue. 🙂

I then say, “You want to know my recipe? People will flip over how good this tastes.” Unfortunately, at bars like this, all their oranges are cut up into slices. That’s okay because I just direct them to use the pulp part of a 1/4 slice, show them how to muddle it with a bit of sugar and bitters (amazingly many have orange bitters). Then they add the bourbon. What immediately bugs them is that a shot – even in a single rocks glass – doesn’t look like much. I don’t say anything at that point besides just telling them to add just enough ice to fill 1/2 the glass. It still looks wrong to them, so they’ll pour in more bourbon!

The last time I did this was last year at Champs Sports Bar & Grill in Honolulu. I saw that they stocked Buffalo Trace, so I ordered an Old Fashioned. The young guy there said, he hadn’t poured one of those in awhile because most people just ordered drinks to get drunk or he just pulled levers to pour a beer. But a “real” drink? He hadn’t done that for awhile. So I taught him my recipe and he even made one for himself and remarked that it was no wonder I liked that cocktail.

I visited Champs three days in a row, and from that point on, he poured me doubles for a single price. Of course, that was in appreciation for teaching him, plus hey! It’s ALOHA spirit! On the last day I visited, he told me he’d been pouring Old Fashioneds for people because he was so proud of learning how to make that drink, and people loved it! When I got my final bill of three rounds, the guy only charged me $12! I gave him $60 because I believe in Aloha as well. 🙂 He looked at it and said, “Uncle, that’s way too much.” I just smiled, got up, and said, “Mahalo! Late-ahs!”