Johnny Drum Private Stock, 101 proof

Posted on by Eric Burke

For some reason or another, I've never really tried a lot of the non-single barrel, non-"Willett Family Estate Bottled" products put out by Willett. It's not like I don't like Willett. I like them quite a bit. I've gone on record as stating that you should go into the gift shop with a budget, buy the most expensive one that is within that budget and you will never regret that purchase. And I've had a glass of the Willett Pot Still here and there and given bottles of it as gifts to people that are impressed by pretty bottles. 

But for the products that don't bear the Willett name on the label? I've just never gotten around to it. I've decided that it is time to remedy that. Last month I reviewed the 80 proof Johnny Drum Green label. It was fine, but nothing special It was enough to make me want to take a look at it's higher proof label-mate the Johnny Drum Private Stock as the next step in my exploration of all things Willett.

Johnny Drum Private Stock

Purchase Info: $27.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.

Details: 50.5% ABV

Nose: Mint, grain, honeydew melon and allspice

Mouth: Dry and fairly grain-forward with mint, brown sugar, oak and spice baking that up.

Finish: Warm and spicy with a decent length. 


Thoughts: While I normally don't like grain-forward bourbons, this is one I'm ok with. There are nice flavors of spice and mint that help it to present itself as a well-integrated whole. I like this and would recommend it to people who prefer bourbons that aren't oak bombs. 

A Tale of Two (Wild) Turkeys

Posted on by Eric Burke

A few weeks ago I ran across something a little too good to pass up. I was out antiquing and found a seller who had a bunch of miniature liquor bottles for sale. Full, sealed bottles. They were only available as a set so I took the entire lot. Out of that lot I got three bourbons of varying antiquity. A early 1970s IW Harper, a Blanton’s (can’t be older than the early-mid 1980s when the brand debuted) and the one I was most excited about a Wild Turkey from 1979. 

Since I am a lover of most things Wild Turkey, and constantly have a bottle of 101 on my shelf, I thought it might be fun to taste this along side of the current release. The 1979 version is eight years old and both are the 50.5% ABV that Wild Turkey built their reputation on. I was initially going to do the comparison blind. Unfortunately for the plan (but fortunately for me) the 1979 juice was so much darker that I had no trouble picking out which was which. So I decided to just taste them side-by-side and compare them that way. 

The 1979 pour needed a lot of time to breathe before we got down to business. Upon pouring it was very strong with the scent of nail polish remover. After about a half hour or so that dissipated and instead there were thick notes of maple, brown sugar and oak with a lovely fruitiness underneath. By way of comparison, I found the 2016 pour presenting an anise note that I had never picked up in it before. 

Back to the 1979. The mouth had a nice thick mouthfeel with herbal hints of mint, spice, brown sugar and oak. It reminded me very much of a barrel proof Four Roses Q yeast bourbon. The finish was warm and long. 

Moving over to the 2016, the mouthfeel was thinner but retains a nice velvety texture. There were fewer sweet candy flavors from the oak and the rye flavors were more pronounced. The finish was warm and while shorter than the 1979, was still of decent length. 

I found this to be a fascinating process. While I would have said that the 1979 pour was tasty if tasting it by itself, I don’t know that I would have had quite as much fun if I hadn’t had the current release to contrast it off of. And as for the current release, I might not have found the interesting anise notes in the nose or realized how pronounced the rye notes were on the palate if I hadn’t had the older one to contrast it with. Overall this was just fun. And honestly, isn’t that why we do this?

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Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Rye

Posted on by Eric Burke

It sometimes seems that, as people, we spend our whole life being too young. 

For the first quarter century of your life it seems you are constantly being told you are too young. Too young to hang out with your older siblings, too young to stay up late, too young to drive, too young to vote, too young to drink, too young to have discounts on car insurance.

But then, all of a sudden you wake up one day to realize that other people are no longer telling you that you are too young. You still hear it, but now it’s coming out of your own mouth. I’m too young for this pain, I’m too young to be this sore, I’m too young to repeat myself this much, I’m too young for my kid to be old enough to do this, I’m too young to have pop stars from my youth die (RIP Prince).

A few years ago it was announced that Jack Daniel’s was going to start distilling rye whiskey. As a tease, they released bottles of unaged distillate, which was obviously too young. A few years passed and they put out the “rested” rye. Not fully aged, but getting older, getting closer to being old enough. Finally early this year, it was old enough to be released as an actual product and we got Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye. Unlike me, it is no longer too young. 

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye

Purchase Info: $64.99 for 750 mL bottle at Ace Sprits, Hopkins, MN

Details: Barrel #: 16-0838, Bottled on 2/2/16, Rick #: L-3. 47% ABV

Nose: There is a good hit of alcohol right off the bat, but after letting that settle for a bit I get rye notes of spearmint and grass, brown sugar, caramel and oak.

Mouth: Drying with lots of mint and spice

Finish: This has a nice long, warm finish with lingering rye spice notes

A Heart becasue I'm in love.

Thoughts: This is a delicious rye. As I write this, my bottle isn’t even half gone (though it's much more than half gone as I post this) and I’m already planning to grab another. Jack Daniel’s doesn’t get a lot of love from whiskey geeks but this could very possibly start to change that. Delicious.

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My Wandering Eye: Mount Gay Barbados Rum: Black Barrel

Posted on by Eric Burke

As we all know, Bourbon prices are creeping up. So much so that even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. There was a time when Cognac in a snifter was visual shorthand for rich luxury. But these days a $50 750 ml bottle of Cognac or Armagnac doesn’t sound outrageous next to a $50 Old Forester 1870 or a $50 375 mL of the Jim Beam Harvest collection. As a response to this, my eye has started wandering down other aisles of the liquor store just to see what I thought price had kept me from checking out.

When my eye first wandered down the rum aisle, I found an inexpensive rum that sadly tasted like an inexpensive rum. After checking in with a friend of mine who is a rum aficionado with what I should be looking at for a rum that might appeal to a bourbon drinker he quickly told me about the Mount Gay Black Barrel. 

By a strange coincidence my wife, who was unaware of the previously mentioned conversation, was looking for a gift for me. She was talking with one of the employees at my local liquor store. The guy is pretty knowledgable and so she asked him what she should pick up for a bourbon drinker who was looking to branch out. He recommended the Mount Gay Black Barrel and so she bought it.

Well that was enough for me. The question was asked twice, to two very different people, and the answer was the same both times. I had to try it and I had to share the findings. 

Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum

Purchase Info: ~$35 for a 750 mL bottle, Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 43% ABV, Bottle number: AZ 86491

Nose: Molasses, caramel, wood and hints of banana

Mouth: This tastes like a soft, warm ginger/molasses cookie in a glass. Ginger spice, molasses, sweetness and yum.

Finish: Continues the mouth. Fades gently.

 smile since I really like this

Thoughts: This is really tasty. I wouldn’t call it a bourbon replacement—if I want a bourbon I won’t reach for this—but if I’m not feeling particularly specific on what I’m looking for then this will certainly be in the conversation. It tastes like one of my favorite cookies without being too sweet about it. Big fan of this one.

Antiquing and Bottle Dating: Four Roses and Related

Posted on by Eric Burke

Due to a recent sickness I’ve been talking about buying old bottles and how I go about figuring out a little about what I’ve just bought. How old it is, what’s the story of the company, etc. I couldn’t end this little series without a look at the bottles I picked up from one of my favorite brands of whiskey: Four Roses.

Once again I’m presenting a little bit of how I got to where I gave up with each bottle and this time I show that the results you come up with aren’t always as firm as you’d like them to be.

Paul Jones Whiskey Bottle

Picked up for $8 at a bottle and advertising show.

If you are a Four Roses fan, you’ve probably heard the name Paul Jones. He is the man who they credit with starting the brand. Less well publicized is that Four Roses was just one of Paul Jones’ brands. One of which was just named: Paul Jones Whiskey.

I found this bottle at a Bottle and Advertising show here in the Twin Cities. It was being sold by the man who dug it up, I believe locally. Being a Four Roses fanboy, I noticed it right away in the mess of bottles he had on his table. Unlike most of the tables, he hadn’t really spent a lot of time polishing the years of age off his bottles. They looked like they were dug up and washed, still containing all the scuff marks that time and elements had put on them.

Once I got home, it was time to see what I had. I opened my usual bottle dating site and found that to my surprise, it was no help. Bottle dating as is done on that site depends on a lot of small features: mold seams, embossing, makers marks, etc. The problem was this bottle had no marks, no seams, no embossing. The only thing it had was a glass seal containing the name of the whiskey and the words Louisville, KY. This seal had been applied to the shoulder of the bottle after the bottle was formed. Other than that, nothing. It’s a very well made, cylindrical and symmetrical bottle of uniform thickness that was somehow made without seams, or the seams had been polished off either during production or after. In either case, it was of no help to me.

So knowing that this whiskey was from one of the most well known historical whiskey men, I turned to my next favorite site for help in dating bottles: Google. And there I found a lot of interesting information. Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men has a great write-up of the man Paul Jones and his business interests. has another that contains similar, though slightly different information. But the biggest bit of information came on an image search. There I found tons of examples of this or very similar bottles for sale. All of them said they were from the 1880s or 1890s. How did they get that info? No idea. But it is all I have to go on so I’ll have to tentatively go with that. If I ever see the bottle seller again, I’ll need to see if he has any further info.

Four Roses Embossed Bottle

Picked up for $10 at a bottle and advertising show.

Speaking of Four Roses, the other bottle I picked up at the same seller was a bottle from Four Roses itself. The amber bottle is embossed on the front with four roses on vines and space for labels. In the upper space is the battered remnants of a label. On the label are the words: “Four Roses, Spiritus Frumenti, 100 Proof, An Alcoholic Stimulant Made From The Fermented Mash of Grain.” Along the tattered edges of the label are a few leaves.

I have an inkling that this bottle was a medicinal whiskey bottle as it looks a lot like others I have found online. Right down to the threads for the screw on “shot glass cup” that others in much better shape still have. So let’s see if I can glean any info from the bottle itself.

The “FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR REUSE OF THIS BOTTLE” statement is not on the bottle so the bottle is either pre repeal or post 1964. Other than that, the bottle dating site isn’t of much help. There is a scar on the bottom of the bottle, the statement: TM REG U.S. PAT OFF, PAT PENDING,” what looks to be a 7 and what looks to be a Diamond makers mark. Unfortunately, the scar runs right through the diamond obscuring if it has an I inside if there was, it is an Illinois Glass logo if it is empty it would be the Diamond Glass company. Either could be in use during Prohibition. So no help. 

Once again Google image search is my answer on this one and this particular Pinterest pin by friend of the blog Coopered Tot makes me think I was correct all along. The label is the same (though in better shape), the metal cover matches where the screw threads are on mine. I’m calling it. Prohibition-era medicinal whiskey pint.

Four Roses Mini

Picked up for $10-$20 at an antique mall in Southern Minnesota.

This little miniature bottle of Four Roses was purchased about a year or so ago so I’m not quite sure on the price, but I’m thinking it was in the $10 to $20 range. I picked it up both becasue I am a Four Roses fanboy and because I noticed that there happened to be something in it. Now I’m not quite crazy enough to put something in my mouth that has been sitting in a partially full bottle for half a century or more, but I will smell it. And it smells pretty tasty.

Miniatures can be a bit harder to date as it seems many of the federally mandated features that allow me to date a bottle of whiskey are allowed to be missing. Those features only being mandated on items over 8 ounces.

Starting with the basics. I notice this bottle has both a state and federal tax stamp. This little guy came to southern Minnesota by way of New Mexico. I often wonder about things like this. Why did a mostly empty bottle of whiskey travel from New Mexico to Minnesota? How did it end up on that shelf in the store? These bottles only have about 2 ounces in when full. Why leave two-thirds of an ounce or so behind and why not return later if it was good or at least dump it out if it wasn’t? I picture all sorts of stories when I think of things like this. Maybe one day I’ll write one of them down.

The bottle is amber with a metal cap and a black foil label. The label reads: “Four Roses Bourbon, A Blend of Straight Whiskies. Blended by Frankfort Distillers Incorporated, Louisville KY Baltimore MD.” The back label is intact as well reading: “Four Roses, Reg U.S. Pat Off. 100% Straight Whiskies • 90 proof. Blended by Frankfort Distillers Incorporated, Louisville KY. A Blend of Straight Whiskies. 90 proof. 1/10 Pint. The Straight Whiskies in this Product Are 5 Years or More Old. Contains not less than 51% Straight Bourbon Whiskey.”

The bottom of the bottle is stippled and includes the Owens-Illinois logo. To the left of that is a 6. To the right is a 41 and below it is a 5. If the placement of everything is as usual, the 41 should be the date code. The description of the state tax stamp for that time period matches so I’m pretty confident in that being the date. Meaning that this little guy was made in 1941. Purchased in New Mexico. Partially consumed. Sealed back up and left to sit for almost 75 years. Somewhere along the way it made its way halfway across the country before ending up in rural southern Minnesota where I found it. I know the story is probably mundane, but I wish I had a way of knowing it. Thoughts like these are what keeps me going back to antique stores.

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