We're excited to launch a new segment on our website called “Tasting Note Tuesdays.” It's going to be exactly what it sounds like - tasting notes we publish on Tuesdays! This will be in addition to our standard full reviews and weekly content, but we've found our backlog of bourbons we'd like to review has become so extensive we don't think we'll ever catch up using our standard review process for all of them. To that end, the tasting notes will be much more brief, and won't represent the same in-depth evaluation we provide in our reviews. We hope you enjoy this segment, and we hope that getting our thoughts out more timely and for a greater number of bourbons will serve readers well.
Weller 12 Year (2017 Release)
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Sazerac Company, Inc.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Age: 12 Years
Weller 12 has had one of the more interesting journeys for a bourbon this decade. Prior to 2014, it was routinely found in plentiful numbers and on the bottom shelf at most liquor stores. It’s a great case study for perception of value. Once found under $20, many people simply overlooked it because of the price, but for those in the know, they always had it on hand. There were never reports of mass hoarding or exorbitant secondary pricing. It was a house bourbon that no one paid that much attention to. That is until you couldn’t find it anymore.
I remember hearing that it was starting to disappear from store shelves in mid 2013 and didn’t think too much of it. I had the expectation that it would come back at some point, probably sooner than later. As 2013 came to a close, I started to get a little worried. I’d spend the better part of a day, typing in “liquor store” into Google Maps and driving to pretty much every single store in my city trying to locate one. At that point it was already too late.
It wasn’t until 2015 that I eventually came across another bottle on the shelf. That was the last time that happened, but I also don’t bother looking for it anymore either. In late 2017 I was offered one from a store owner at its retail price: $30. I of course bought it, but knowing in the back of my head reviews for newer batches say it isn’t what it use to be. Well let’s find out.
Very traditional aromas up front. Heavy oak gives hints that it might be a dry bourbon despite good amounts of vanilla and caramel present. It’s surprisingly not sweet smelling at all. It has average depth at best, but still the nose has decent overall composition. The palate is rather nice thanks to its velvety consistency. Its dry oaky, sweet caramel, and buttercream notes have their moments, but almost cancel each other out in a way. This transitions into an oaky and tannic-like finish that tastes slightly off. The flavor is a bit weak on the finish, but it has a mild spicy aftertaste that is rather enjoyable.
All in, Weller 12 Year (2017) is a bit unrefined, but still has its moments. Its palate is its standout trait, I’d just like to see more of a sweet element injected into it. That is where my 2013 bottle shines. It has the punchy sweetness that adds another dimension to it. Being an open bottle for five years certainly didn’t do the bottle any disservice, but I doubt the same will be able to be said about this 2017 bottle in five years time.
Finally, tasting the 2013, 2015, 2017 in succession, the 2017 bottle was the weakest of the bunch. Again, its lack of overall sweetness and disappointing finish holds it back. Where the 2013 and 2015 bottles could easily warrant a $50+ price tag if released today, the 2017 bottle isn’t quite there. I’m satisfied with it knowing that I spent $30 on it, but I wouldn’t have felt the same way, if I’d spent much over that. It’s a good bourbon, nothing more. -Eric - 02/2018
Copper Cross Hybrid Whiskey
Classification: American Whiskey (blend of bourbon and rye)
Company: Copper Cross Spirits
Mashbill: Undisclosed (blend of a high rye bourbon and a rye whiskey)
Copper Cross Spirits was created by Joseph Dehner, owner of Dehner Distillery in Clive, Iowa. With Copper Cross Hybrid Whiskey, Dehner’s goal was to make a smooth, great mixing, or on-the-rocks whiskey, not necessarily a sipping whiskey. To that end, Dehner put this 18 month old MGP sourced blend through a seven step process - a process intended to smooth out the whiskey by removing the rougher notes. He ultimately landed on 84 proof as he found it was most floral at that proof. As noted by Dehner, any less and it was too watery, any more and it was too hot when considering his target flavor profile. I had the opportunity to try pre-release samples of the before and after whiskeys, and as a result can affirm first-hand that his process achieved what he intended it to. Dehner also states that while the blend is not made up of straight whiskeys (the two year minimum time period was not met), it is purely a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys, nothing else.
As for flavor profile, Copper Cross is quite approachable. It’s light and sweet on the nose, with hints of creme brulee and vanilla. Taking a sip brings more sweetness, but also a touch of spice. Caramel, vanilla, and a trace of bubblegum sweetness are followed by a rising cinnamon spice that starts on the sip and grows in intensity into the finish where it crescendos. Sugar candy sweetness and a hint of rye grain linger.
What’s interesting about this whiskey is that it tastes well beyond its age. While there were more obvious youthful and grain-forward notes in the pre-release and pre-processed samples I tried, this final product is more well-rounded, and I think many would be hard-pressed to guess its 18 month age based on taste alone. After speaking with Dehner during his process to bring this product from where he was nearly a year ago, it was apparent from the onset that he set out to create a product with a specific goal in mind, and a product he wanted to be well received and fairly priced at $35. -Nick - 02/2018
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Copper Cross Spirits. We thank him for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey
Classification: American Whiskey
Company: Manhattan Moonshine Company
Age: At Least 1 Day
Mashbill: Oat (Primary Grain), Rye, Spelt, Malted Barley (undisclosed amounts)
Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey is the older sibling of Manhattan Moonshine from the Manhattan Moonshine Company. It carries over the same distinct packaging, which has been made specially so that when the bottle is finished, you can run it under hot water to strip off the labels cleanly and use the empty bottle as a decanter. Manhattan employs a few unique aging techniques, including aging at a lower proof (around 110), and using oak that is baked in a convection oven versus being charred. Additionally, the label indicates Sunshine Reserve is aged for at least one day and finished with additional toasted oak staves, though the company suggests the statement is only there because it’s required by law - the true aging time remains undisclosed.
Sunshine Reserve’s rich dark color is deceiving compared to the actual tasting experience. Extremely youthful notes of sweet oak and lightly baked oat dominate the nose along with the distinguishing scent of ethanol without the actual burn. The youth carries through to the palate with baked oat and oak once again dominating. The finish lingers with dry oak, white pepper, and a touch of sweet oats intermixing together.
While using oats as the primary grain is an interesting twist, Sunshine Reserve leaves little doubt that it’s a young whiskey. This whiskey doesn't follow what bourbon geeks like to typically see, so it will automatically get written off by a lot of people. New aging techniques can produce interesting new products and experimenting is a good thing...unless the product that is being sold has a hard time winning you over. It's easy to write this off based on technique alone, unfortunately the whiskey itself doesn’t do much to counter this. In the meantime you’re left with a gorgeous bottle to use as a decanter while you ponder this thought. -Jordan 1/2018
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Manhattan Moonshine Company. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
Smooth Ambler Very Old Scout 14 Year Barrel #6401
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Pernod Ricard/Smooth Ambler
Age: 14 Years
Smooth Ambler pulled a rabbit out of their hat last August and released a new batch of 14 Year Very Old Scout at their distillery. Only 3 barrels were bottled and were priced at $195. It was gobbled up thanks to previous releases of their Very Old Scout having attained almost cult-like status. A reader was kind enough to share a sample with us so we could explore the latest release in this line.
It opens with rich, yet tempered aromas of butterscotch, vanilla bean, and leather. It’s inviting and extremely enjoyable. The palate is robust with bold spice and pepper against sweet corn and vanilla. The finish comes off a bit heavily oaked and dry, but thankfully a little of the palate’s sweetness sticks around for balance.
Overall this is a very enjoyable 14 year old bourbon. There are pronounced notes of oak that surprisingly don’t overpower the bourbon like so many older bourbons experience. The sweet notes provide classic contrast to the dry notes and really elevate it. This bourbon makes me miss this age range which has all but disappeared over the past few years. Yes you typically have to contend with more oak notes, but they also provide a hardy backbone to a bourbon which is on display here.
At $195 I might be a bit reserved at picking up a bottle, but that seems to be an ongoing trend with high-aged bourbon nowadays. Bourbon north of 12 years old is commanding a high price, and on top of that, this was a distillery-only release (which adds its own premium). Bourbon really needs to knock your socks off at that price and while this was really good bourbon, it’s hard to ignore the price. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see and taste a Very Old Scout again. -Eric 01/2018
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Mike. We thank him for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
Freedom Bourbon Batch #1
Company: Have A Shot Of Freedom Whiskey Company (HASOF Whiskey Company, LLC)
Distillery: Have A Shot Of Freedom Whiskey Company (HASOF Whiskey Company, LLC) - Distilled in partnership with an undisclosed distillery in Spring Valley, CA
Age: 10 Months
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 21% Rye, 4% Barley
Have A Shot Of Freedom Whiskey Company is a 100% veteran owned and operated company founded by Zach Hollingsworth (U.S. Marine Corps) and Scott Brown (U.S. Air Force). The company works in partnership with an undisclosed distillery located in Spring Valley, CA, distilling under the HASOF Whiskey Company, LLC name with the help of a U.S. Navy veteran. Zach primarily collaborated with the master distiller to determine the mashbill, flavor profile, and aging of the bourbon. Scott’s role in its curation is largely taste testing and blending the final product.
Fresh and youthful aromas of sweet corn and raw whiskey are tempered with light vanilla and apples. The palate is lively with sweet caramel and vanilla notes along with a hint of oak. The whiskey is youthful as well, but not overly so. Crisp and clean, the finish is nicely balanced as the potency of flavor tapers off rather quickly. As the flavors fade there’s a hint of smokiness with caramel sweetness lingering.
The guys at HASOF did a fantastic job capturing the feel in their bottle design - a nice strong bottle shape with a bald eagle along with stars and stripes on a shield, ultimately capturing their veteran roots via the label. The bourbon is young, and while it tastes on the better side for young bourbon, there is still no hiding its age - though it does taste well in excess of what I’d expect for 10 months. Batch 1 was comprised of 1,700 bottles, with only about 75 left via the company website at the time of this writing. Batch 2 has already been distributed to numerous states, and we’re told will be available via the company website soon. -Nick 01/2018
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of HASOF Whiskey Company, LLC. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
Resilient Straight Bourbon Whisky Barrel #2
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: BC Merchants
Distillery: MGP Ingredients
Age: 11 Years, 4 Months
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 21% Rye, 4% Corn
Resilient Straight Bourbon Whisky is the brainchild of Brian Ciske of BC Merchants. For this particular release, Ciske sourced 10 bourbon barrels from MGP and released them in single barrel form over three releases. Release 3 consisted of barrels 1, 2, 5, & 7, of which this review is of barrel #2.
Dried banana, caramel, corn, vanilla, and oak on the nose. A straightforward palate of oak, vanilla, hints of white pepper, and dried banana. A drier finish with a touch of heat that consists of charred oak, leather, and vanilla.
For an 11 year old higher proof bourbon, the flavors while tasty, lack the depth I would expect from a bourbon this age and at this proof. Whatever depth it may lack in taste, BC Merchants makes up for it in transparency. It’s refreshing to see the up front honesty from BC Merchants in terms of listing out as much information possible about the origin of this bourbon. That said, this is an easy sipping bourbon that anyone can easily enjoy. -Jordan 01/2018
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of BC Merchants. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Louisville Bourbon Transit Company
Distillery: Sourced (Distilled in Tennessee)
Age: 8 Years
Mashbill: 84% Corn, 8% Rye and 8% Malted Barley
Louisville Bourbon Transit Company was founded by long time friends Scott Ritcher, Carla Jacob and Joel Jacob. As a non-distiller producer (NDP) they sourced four barrels of bourbon from a distillery in Tennessee with the idea that the bourbon “could stand alongside some of [their] favorites.” If you’re a fan of a certain distillery in Tennessee, Bedtime Bourbon will right be up your alley.
The nose brings with it fruity and sweet aromas of butterscotch, caramel, leather and bourbon-soaked cherries. It’s pleasant and inviting and overall a straightforward affair. The plate follows with additional sweetness that’s balanced by notes of nutmeg, oak, and a touch of citrus. It finishes with a short burst of hot cinnamon and dried oak.
This bourbon has enjoyable flavor notes and all around good bones. That’s not surprising when you theorize where this bourbon probably came from. With the first batch consisting of 840 bottles and only available in Kentucky, not many will have the opportunity to try it in this current state. Like all NDPs, continually sourcing good barrels is where the true test lies. For their first batch, it’s a crowd pleaser both in taste and bottle/label design. I bet there are many bourbon drinkers out there that have talked about starting their own bourbon brand while throwing back a few with their friends. These friends actually made it happen. -Eric 12/2017
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Louisville Bourbon Transit Company. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon (2nd edition, 2015 release)
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Garrison Brothers
Distillery: Garrison Brothers
Age: 4 Years
Mashbill: 100% #1 Panhandle Yellow Dent Corn
Garrison Brothers is an artisan distillery located in Hye, Texas, a small community about 60 miles west of Austin. Beginning production in 2008, it’s one of the longest running distilleries in the American “craft” whiskey movement. Garrison Brothers only makes one thing, bourbon, and they seem to take pride in doing it differently. With the intent of making no two vintages that are alike, Garrison Brothers talks about altering different parts of the bourbon making process, including varying mashbill, barrel entry proof, and even headspace within the barrel upon initial fill (filling a barrel only half full, for example). Combined with the intense heat cycles found in Texas, bourbons aging in their barn (currently estimated to be more than 5,000 barrels), the end result turns out to be a flavor profile entirely different from anything else out there.
Cowboy Bourbon is Garrison Brothers’ highest priced and rarest offering. This particular vintage is from 2015, and is from bottle 3,419 out of 5,200. It’s incredibly dark in color, a trait Garrison Brothers says may be the only consistent one among their vintages. The flavor profile is quite different, and quite delicious. Citrus and vanilla greet the nose, along with a dollop of fresh oak. The sip is as rich as it is complex, with heavy caramel, clove, molasses, and brown sugar against intense seasoned oak. It has a thick, oily texture, and drinks less than its 135 proof allowing me to roll it around in my mouth with less burn than expected. It finishes nicely with molasses and brown sugar combined with a hint of fresh oak.
Because Garrison Brothers’ production and distribution are limited, I have yet to see their products on shelves in my area. Combined with what’s also a fairly high price tag on their bourbons, I just haven’t taken the leap to seek out and get to know the brand. Now that I’ve finally tried one, I’m really glad I have. The 2015 vintage Cowboy Bourbon is fantastic, and goes to show that even a relatively young craft bourbon can be just as good as anything else out there. Garrison Brothers is on my radar, and I’m excited to try more of what they have to offer. -Nick 12/2017
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Michael Iurato. We thank him for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
2bar Straight Bourbon
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: 2bar Spirits
Distillery: 2bar Spirits
2bar has recently upgraded their bourbon line to be classified as Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Unlike their past releases, this means that it has been aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels. Up until recently, 2bar had avoided the use of 53 gallon barrels and instead ages in smaller barrels. While no information is readily available, it’s believed past barrels used were of the 15 gallon variety. They have recently begun filling full size barrels for future releases.
The nose consists of classic scents of vanilla, corn, and oak mix with sweet raisins and allspice. Oak and sweet vanilla dominate the palate with hints of baked pie crust and grain peeking out from underneath. The finish is dry and oaky with a dash of heat up front. It ends on a lingering note of dry tannic oak.
Much like how 2bar has been increasing the age of their bourbon, their flavor profile continues to improves over time too. The extra time in the smaller barrel size adds a heavy dose of oak which skews the flavor of the finish negatively compared to the younger version I’ve tried in the past. Overall though, its flavor profile offers a major upgrade comparatively. While still not on many people’s radar, 2bar has come a long way over the years, and now with the recent upgrade to Straight Bourbon, it’s worth seeking out a bottle. -Jordan 11/2017
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of 2bar. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.