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Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

Posted on by Eric Burke

I’m four-fifths of the way through the week and before the night is over I will have booked twice the billable hours of a typical week. Needless to say, this has been a hellish week for me on the work front. I’m getting to work on lots of fun projects, but free-time is in short supply. So since blogging doesn’t pay the bills nearly as well as working does, I’ll need to keep this short was well.

I tend to like whiskey put out by Wild Turkey. This is no secret. I tend to like Rye whiskey. This is also no secret. So when I saw a rye whiskey on the shelf produced by Wild Turkey, that I hadn’t yet had, I felt the need to buy it on the spot. And buy it I did. 

This is Russell’s Reserve Rye Single Barrel. It is a non-chill filtered rye whiskey bottled at 52% ABV. And it is delicious.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

Purchase Info: $59.99 for a 750ml bottle at South Lyndale Liquors, Minneapolis, MN

Details: 52% ABV. 

Nose: Tobacco, mint, Bazooka Joe bubble gum and oak

Mouth: Nice and spicy. Bubble gum, mint, baking spices, vanilla, black pepper and oak

Finish: Long and warm with lingering vanilla, baking spices and just the faintest hint of pickle.

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Thoughts: This is an extremely tasty rye. It’s spicy and has enough sweetness to balance that. It has a wonderful mouthfeel. It pairs fantastically with a well aged cheddar. I can find no faults with the whiskey and look forward to buying another bottle. 

I can however find faults with the packaging. This is a single barrel whiskey. And a single barrel whiskey could allow the consumer the opportunity to learn a little something about the whiskey that they are buying. Is it older than the typical release? Was is aged in a specific place that seems to help create notes they like? What barrel did it come from in case they like it and want another of the same one? The packaging tells you none of that. It tells you how long Eddie and Jimmy have been working at the distillery, but not how long the whiskey was aged. It tells you it’s a single barrel, but not which barrel it came from. One bottle looks just like the next even though the whiskey inside might taste different. It’s a small thing, but for $60, the small things are sort of what you are paying for.

That said, I’ll buy another. It’s too tasty not to. 


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My Wandering Eye: Dusty Cognacs from the 1970s

Posted on by Eric Burke

This post is only part of the My Wandering Eye series as a tangent. It wasn’t cheap. It isn’t readily available. But it was inspired by the exploration of other aged spirits that I conducted as part of the My Wandering Eye series. You see I was trolling eBay looking for photos of old bottles for a project that I’m working on when I happened across a listing from Canada that was offering old miniature bottles from the collection of the seller's deceased parents. In that lot were bourbons, scotches and cognacs. To be honest, the price wasn’t bad…until I got into a bidding war with another person. At which point emotion took over and I ended up dropping about $100 for 15 minis from the 1970s. Of which nine were still full and sealed.

I’ve already reviewed the Wild Turkey I received in the lot, but I was really interested to see what the cognacs in the lot would taste like. I’ve had good brandy and I’ve had terrible brandy. But when I was a kid, cognac in a snifter was visual shorthand for wealth. I was a kid in the 1970s. The fact that these were from that timeframe (even if they were possibly the lower shelf versions) was interesting. So let’s get into it. 

Courvoisier V.S.

Details: Pre-1975 is as close to a date as I can figure. The top was dipped in paraffin by the previous owner. Sealed. 80 proof.

Nose: Dried, dark fruit (raisins or figs), sweet baked goods. Basically this has the nose of a Fig Newton.

Mouth: Sweet and rich with a ton of fruit present. There are some baking spices on the back end.

Finish: Short with lingering fruit.

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Thoughts: Overall, this is ok. Nothing to write home about and I wouldn’t seek out another, but it was interesting to taste a bit of history. It is sweet and fruit forward. A bit too sweet for my tastes.

Marnier-Lapostolle Cognac

Details: Sept 1972 is printed on the back of the label so I’m going with that for an age. Sealed. 40% ABV

Nose: Birdseed, rubber and a hint of spoiled fruit juice.

Mouth: Sugar sweet with an unpleasant spoiled fruit undercurrent to it.

Finish: Short with lingering spoiled fruit.

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Thoughts: There are two options here. One is that maybe there is a reason that, here in the US, Marnier-Lapostolle is known more for their Grand Marnier liqueur than they are for cognac. Maybe they aren’t good at this whole unflavored spirit thing. The other option is that this little bottle has seen some hard times over the last 44 years and the juice just didn’t hold up. I don’t know which it is and am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since, of it’s 40 plus years of history, I only know that this bottle was made in France and ended up in the collection of a Canadian collector before coming to me. But wow. This is downright bad.

Hennessy Fine Cognac

Details: Pre-1975 is as close to a date as I can figure. The top was dipped in paraffin by the previous owner. Sealed. 80 proof.

Nose: Ripe peaches along with floral and oak notes.

Mouth: Very sweet. Caramel, dried flowers and hints of baking spice.

Finish: Fairly short with lingering dried fruits.

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Thoughts: This was hands down the best of the three. Mostly on the strength of the nose. Peaches are one of my favorite fruits and that ripe peach note grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Once it got into my mouth though things fell off and since ultimately the point of the liquid is to be consumed, that’s where I judge it. Once again it was ok. There wasn’t much that would lead me to seek it out again though if a friend were pouring, I wouldn’t turn it down. I will say it was much better than the modern day release of the same that I have on hand for making cocktails. 

This was an interesting exercise for me. It’s fun to taste what our parents or grandparents tasted. And it’s good to be reminded from time to time that not everything that comes from prior to the time we were born is necessarily as good as we are sometimes lead to believe...it’s just harder to come by.


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Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Bourbon: Pre-Hiatus vs. Post-Hiatus

Posted on by Eric Burke

I used to work with some amazing people. My wife was going through chemotherapy for ovarian cancer and was suffering from immense bone pain due to it. They put together a collection to get her a night in a hotel with a private hot-tub to help alleviate the pain. It was an immensely nice gesture and very much appreciated. 

While we were there I was an attentive errand boy, as I was every time a chemo weekend came up. But there were times when she was sleeping or we were watching tv when I could hop on twitter and spend a little time escaping from the reality we were living by reading about whiskey. And then I read a post from Pops over at Bourbon and Banter that Elijah Craig 18 yer old was going away. I didn’t really care too much. I never cared too much for it, but my wife was very upset. At $45 it was one of her favorite bourbons that wouldn’t break the bank. She likes oak a lot more than I do.

So I did what any good husband would do, I left the hotel to go get two bottles to put away. One I still have, we plan to open it up next year to celebrate 5 years cancer-free. The other we drank pretty quickly, but as always I put aside a few samples in my sample library to have in the future. 

It turns out it is now the future. Elijah Craig 18 year is back. It’s almost three times the price, but it has been seen off and on at my local Total Wine. I did not buy it. I didn’t want to spend that much on a whiskey that historically I did not like. But luckily a friend of mine did buy it and knowing that Robin was a fan, gave her a healthy sample. I in turn gave him one of the samples I put away so he could compare. Then I pulled out my other sample so I could compare them as well. 

It was a fun tasting. We did it blind in order to gauge which we liked better without any preconceptions being attached. So…is the one we have in the closet better than the one we could find today?

Elijah Craig 18 Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon Pre-Hiatus Versus Post-Hiatus. 

Bourbon A:

Nose: Pear, caramel, oak and baking spices.

Mouth: Light and fruity with lively spices. Pear caramel, baking spices and herbal notes. 

Finish: Spicy and warm with lingering herbal and fruity notes. 

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Thoughts: I would never guess this is 18 years old. It is a lively pour that almost dances across the senses. It is really good. I might even buy this one…if the price was right. 

Bourbon B:

Nose: Creme Brûlée, floral notes and dusty oak. 

Mouth: A little thin on the mouth feel. Caramel, mint and oak predominate.

Finish: Lingering oak and herbal notes along with a nice burn that sticks around for a while. Much of the flavor comes from the finish on this one.

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Thoughts: This is muted and accentuates the oak flavors. It feels old and a bit tired. I don’t know that I’d buy it again based on this bottle. It’s just kinda meh. 

So which is which? Can I go buy the energetic, virile, young 18 year old bourbon? Or am I stuck buying a tired, old bourbon at the end of its useful life? Well, I’m happy to say that Bourbon A was the post-hiatus Elijah Craig and that Bourbon B was the pre-hiatus version. And in a rare case of whiskey-math working like regular math, I think the bourbon that costs almost three times as much as it used to, is approximately that much better than it used to be. I’m shocked to say it, but I might even buy one of these if I see it on the shelf. Even at $130. Weird.


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Michter’s Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

So there I was. At a Maker’s Mark Ambassador event in Andover, Minnesota. It was interesting. I got a couple black dipped glasses that I will probably never use, I had a free bratwurst for lunch and I was hanging out with other Maker’s Ambassadors trying cocktails and sipping a little bourbon. I didn’t end up buying any Maker’s that day. But I did buy something that sorta surprised my wife.

I don’t normally buy Michter’s products. The juice is alright, but each purchase comes with a little baggage for me. When I first got into bourbon they were an NDP. Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but they were a more than a little dishonest about it. They were selling a story about how they could trace the company back to the American Revolution. The fact of the matter was that they registered an abandoned trademark and ran with it. 

I don’t like being deceived and sometimes I hold a bit of a grudge. Which is why now, when they seem to have become much more honest in their story and have actually started distilling (according to Chuck Cowdery they produce more than 500,000 gallons per year), I still seem to find myself reaching for something else when I see them on the shelf. 

But on that day, something made me go grab the manager on duty to open the case this was in. Like maybe this grudge had gone on long enough and I should give them another shot. I used to like their Straight Rye quite a bit, so a Barrel Strength version was a bit intriguing. 

Michter’s Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Purchase Info: $71.99 for a 750 mL at G-Will Liquors, Andover, MN.

Details: Barrel No: 15C200. 54.4% ABV. Single Barrel (as is the regular release of their Rye)

Nose: Cedar, mint, cloves and a hint of earthiness.

Mouth: Bold and sweet in the mouth. Mint, caramel, vanilla, cloves and cedar chips.

Finish: Very sweet. A nice long warmth that lingers with herbal mint and spicy cloves numbing you tongue. 

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Thoughts: This is very good whiskey. Price and availability will demand that this be a treat not a shelf staple but if you see it and can see yourself through to it, pick it up. Because though I’m still a little upset at being deceived years ago, maybe it’s time to let that be in the past and let the whiskey speak for itself. And this whiskey is saying some very nice things. 


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Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails by Michael Dietsch

Posted on by Eric Burke

As I tend to list my favorite cocktail as Whiskey in a Glass, it should come as no surprise that I am not really a cocktail guy. Not because I don’t like cocktails. I like them quite a bit. And not because they are too hard. I love cooking elaborate meals. No I’m not a cocktail guy, because I don’t know what I’m doing. Go beyond a Sazerac, a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned and I’m not sure what to do. There are too many possible ingredients that only seem to come in 750 mL bottles and which you use a teaspoon at a time.

This is why I was looking forward to Michael Dietsch’s new book Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails. I need help knowing what to make, what types of ingredients I should buy and in what combinations I should use them. Eventually I might be able to get to where I can riff on my own, but for now I’m a relative noob. Plus, I loved his last book on shrubs and even made two or three of them including a Cranberry Apple Shrub that I substituted for the vermouth in a Manhattan for a while. 

The first third of the book is a primer on the different types of whiskey. Everything from bourbon to scotch to Japanese whiskey is covered. There is even a separate section for Tennessee whiskey just to make Jack and George fans feel special. The next 20 pages or so are really great for the cocktail noob. Entitled “How to Make a Cocktail” it gives you an overview on equipment, technique, glasses and more.

Then you get into the nitty gritty. The part I wanted to book for. The recipes. The first night I had the book I went through and put flags on the cocktails I wanted to try. Soon I had run out of flags and had to grab a second package. I must have tabbed about half the cocktails in the book. Then it was time for a shopping list. Luckily I was able to buy just a few of ingredients to make a large number of them. Then I got down to research. If I was going to review the book, I wanted to do more than just read it.

There were cocktails in there that I’d always wanted to try, but never had, like the Vieux Carré. There were the standards that are in every book like the Manhattan, etc. But then there were ones I had never heard of as well. Things with exotic names like Algonquin, Bardstown, Lion’s Tail and Fanciulli. 

One thing I liked about the book is that along with each recipe you get a little of it’s history. A little information about it. Plus, if you are a history buff like I am, a nice touch was that the recipes are organized by historical period. Feel like having a Prohibition-party? You know what to make. Feel like something modern? Turn to the back.

A smile because I like this book.

To say I enjoyed my research would be an understatement. My wife and I spent at least two weeks going through the book and making everything we had the ingredients for and then buying the ingredients to make some of the others. This is a book I can easily recommend to any whiskey fan looking to expand a little beyond Whiskey in a Glass.

Curious about what’s inside? Michael has graciously given permission for me to republish one of my favorite recipes in the book. I really like this one.

Fanciulli

Ingredients

2 ounces of bourbon (Bulleit is suggested though I can attest that other fruity, light bourbons work as well)

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

1/4 ounce Fernet-Banca

Procedure

  1. Fill a mixing glass 2/3 full of ice
  2. Add bourbon, vermouth, and Fernet-Branca, and stir 15 seconds, or until chilled and diluted.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. 

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