Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Posted on by Eric Burke

When I was first getting into cocktails, I read everything I could on how to "up my cocktail game." There was no shortage of listicles telling me what 10 things to try and what 10 things to avoid.

And on almost every list were cherries. List makers of the late aughts and early teens were terrified that someone might use a grocery store Maraschino Cherry in their cocktail. And at the time, the fear was probably well founded. There were not a lot of pre-made cocktail cherries on the market that weren't Glowing Red Neon Balls of Dye and Sugar™. Of those that were suitable for grown-up cocktails, Luxardo was the brand that was recommended the most. 

Unfortunately, Luxardo Maraschino Cherries run almost twenty dollars a jar so, for the longest time, I just omitted the cherry garnish. But my reading led me to believe that the syrup surrounding the cherry made more difference to the drink than the cherry itself and that by omitting it, I was actually losing flavor.

So being a DIY sort of guy who loves to cook, I devised my own recipe for cocktail cherries. Sure, they probably ended up costing more than the store-bought, but I had much more than $20 worth of fun making them. And I got a lot more than a 16-ounce jar for my effort. I made a lot of versions. Two of them were good enough to write about: Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries and Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries. The latter being my personal favorite and our current go-to cherry for whiskey cocktails. 

But last year, I couldn't find the materials to make any homemade cherries. So I've been buying them this year. I previously reviewed the Woodford Reserve Cherries from Bourbon Barrel Foods and found them to be a good, if lesser, substitute for my own cherries. This time around I thought I might finally give the original a try. See what all those listicles were talking about.

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Purchase Info: $16.99 for a 400 Gram Jar at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

 Image: hand-drawn Neutral face

Thoughts: The syrup these cherries are packed in is pretty damn good for adding a delightful cherry note to your cocktails. But, the cherries themselves are very disappointing. They are certainly a step up from Glowing Red Neon Balls of Dye and Sugar™ but they are the possibly the worst of the cocktail cherries I've tried if you are a grown-up and want to actually eat the cherry in your drink. The skins are tough and sticky and the insides are mush. 

If I were to recommend a cherry for your cocktail, I'd recommend making your own. If you'd rather buy them, go with the Woodford ones from Bourbon Barrel Foods. I'd give these a pass. In fact, I'm actually considering tossing the cherries and just keeping the syrup. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

I'm going to say that it was my first serious taste of whiskey that was the last time I truly liked a malt whiskey. In that case, I think that for me, liking that taste was more about enjoying the switch in flavor from clear spirits to aged ones than it was anything about the Malt Whiskey itself. Shortly afterward, I made the switch to Bourbon and Rye and have seldom looked back.

That should tell you something about my tastes. I used to say that it wasn't that I didn't like Malt Whiskey, it was just that I hadn't yet found one that I liked. But now, it's been enough time and I've tried enough that I'm willing to admit to the fact that I generally do not like Malt Whiskey. And that's ok. We all like different things. 

Not caring for Malt whiskey is one of the reasons that it appears on the site so infrequently. I have to really be interested in something about one to spend the money on one. Sometimes, as in the case of Stranahan's, I'm in the distillery and pick one up because the tasting went well. Other times, it is because of a cask finish that I found interesting. One I tried because it was made by a well-known large bourbon producer and I wanted to taste their version. 

That last one made me quite happy that my friend had spent the money on it and not me. I disliked it so much that in 2016 I named it one of the five worst American Whiskeys I'd ever had. That one was the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection: Double Malt Selection. It resulted in both my friend and I taking our drams and dumping them down the sink.

So, it was with some trepidation that I bought the recently released
Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey. After all of that, why did I buy it? Well, it's new, I figured that they may have had time to perfect their recipe, and I liked the rest of the non-experimental whiskeys under the Woodford name (Bourbon, Double Oaked, and Rye).

So what does this bourbon drinker and admitted Malt disliker think of it? Let's find out.

Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey

Purchase Info: $26.98 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

Details: 45.2% ABV. 51% Malt mashbill (via the brand website).

Nose: Nutty with caramel/vanilla and uncooked oatmeal.

Mouth: Sweetened, cooked cereal with nuts and a hint of dark chocolate. 

Finish: Warm and of medium length. Chocolate and dried grains that show as slightly bitter and a touch medicinal. Almost grassy after a while. 

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn neutral face

Thoughts: You know what? I do not dislike this. I wasn't a fan while doing the tasting. But after giving it a couple more tries and some time, I'm ok with this one. Don't get me wrong, it's not something I'm likely to ever buy again, but I'm not going to dump the bottle or relegate it to prop whiskey either. So I didn't like it, I didn't dislike it, that sounds like the very definition of Meh to me. 

But maybe take that with a grain of salt and give it a shot yourself, as I'm not generally a fan of Malt whiskey, I may have ranked it lower (or higher) than you would. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Rebel Yell Bourbon: Revisited

Posted on by Eric Burke

It has been fourteen hundred, sixty-eight days since I last published tasting notes of Rebel Yell Bourbon. It has been seven hundred, seventy days since I proclaimed Rebel Yell one of the five worst American Whiskeys I've had. The first time it appeared on the blog I noted: 

I have no idea what I will do with this bottle, but I certainly won’t be drinking it. My wife has been bugging me to give her bourbon to use in a homemade bug repellant recipe. This might be fine for that. 

The second time I proclaimed it one of the five worst whiskeys I'd tasted and said: 

Eventually I did find a use for it. It became “Prop Bourbon.” When I need to take a photo for a review, but already finished the bottle, I pour my prop bourbon into the empty bottle for the photo. Afterward I dump it back into the Rebel Yell bottle and stick it back in the closet.

Crazy thing happened to that prop whiskey, I tried it in a cocktail. It wasn't bad. I tried it in a couple more. Still not bad. Of course, by this time, it was no longer straight Rebel Yell. Other bad whiskeys having joined it in some sort of unholy infinity bottle. But, it got me to thinking that, since I drink a lot more cocktails now than I did when I posted the original review, it might be time to go back and take another look at this one. Especially since I have liked most of the other expressions that use the name. Heck, they redid the branding, maybe they've gotten their hands on better whiskey to put into the blend as well.

Rebel Yell Bourbon

Purchase Info: $15.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.

Details: 40% ABV. Non-age stated. 

Nose: Bran muffin, almond, wintergreen and fleeting hints of melon.

Mouth: Sweet. Almond, pepper, and baking spice.

Finish: On the shorter side of medium. Pretty dry with dried grain notes. 

Thoughts: This is not as bad as I remember. I know, damning with faint praise. But seriously. The bottle I reviewed in 2014 might still be one of the worst I've tasted, but this one does not taste like that. In fact, if it wasn't for the dry, dried grain note finish, this would be an enjoyable sip. As it is, it works well as a mixer when you want to use a sweeter bourbon and don't want to break the bank. I'm upgrading this from dislike to meh and wouldn't fault fans of wheated bourbon (I tend not to be) for liking it more than I do. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Round 1b: Hirsch Selection Straight Corn vs. Two Stars

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1b of the 2018 Bottom Shelf Brackets features number 2 seed Hirsch Selection Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey versus Number 3 seed Two Stars Bourbon. 

Hirsch Selection Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey is a Limited Edition straight corn whiskey. But wait? Why would a Limited Edition be in the Bottom Shelf Brackets? Well, mostly because the price was right. I found it on a shelf in Minneapolis for $16.99. I haven't seen it anywhere else, so I'm going to guess this is an inexpensive shelf turd from a few years ago. So, now you know. This has no age statement so it is at least 4 years old. It states it was aged in used barrels. 

Two Stars bourbon is a Total Wine exclusive bourbon produced by the Clear Springs Distilling Co. Clear Springs is a dba used by Sazerac when they produce house brands for stores. Last I heard (2016) this one was a product of the Barton distillery, though it is possible that has changed by this point.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Hirsch Selection: Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey

Purchase Info: $16.99 for a 750mL bottle at Surdyk's Liquor and Cheese Shop, Minneapolis, MN

Details: 45% ABV, non-age stated.

Produced by: Preiss Imports

Nose: Delicate. Almost a white wine note and brown sugar. After sitting a bit a vinegar note flashes across the nose before disappearing again 

Mouth: Cooling and thin at first. As it sits in the mouth a sweet baking spice note develops. 

Finish: Starts almost nonexistent but a gentle burn develops after a little bit of time.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This could be a wonderful whiskey for a white wine drinker. I find it interesting, but not something I'd come back to.

Two Stars

Purchase Info: $17.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Eagan, MN.

Details: 43% ABV.

Produced by: Clear Springs Distilling Company (Sazerac)

Nose: Almond, brown sugar, nutmeg. 

Mouth: Gentle at first with more spice developing as it sits in the mouth. Almond and mint.

Finish: Warmer than the mouth. Lingering bitter almond, baking spice and mint.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This is more to my tastes than whiskey #1.

Who wins?

I'm not sure either of these would have won if they had drawn a different matchup. They are both pretty meh. They are strangely similar. Both of these start very much the same, they are both gentle and both take time to develop in the mouth. But at the end the day, I like where Two Stars ends up better than Hirsch Corn. Winner: Two Stars. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Crown Royal: Bourbon Mash

Posted on by Eric Burke

I used to work with a guy that almost no one in the company liked. He'd been there forever and was extremely enthusiastic about the job and the mission of the company. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that after a while his habit of going around the proper channels to get his pet projects done started to grate on my nerves as well. Especially since, though he had a lot of enthusiasm, he didn't have nearly as much talent as he thought he did. Unfortunately for him, everyone knew this fact about him, including the higher-ups. As such, he got shuffled from position to position until he was finally let go in the first of many rounds of layoffs that the company went through. Apparently, after he lost his job, he had a hard time of things and ended up taking his own life. 

While he was still with the company, he had a piece of paper taped up in his cube where he and passers-by could see it. It had three simple words on it: "Assume positive intent." Something about that simple reminder to be empathetic made a big impact on me. It was a key point in adopting my "don't be a dick" philosophy. I wish I could tell him how big of an impact he has made on my life. I feel bad that after this long, I can't even remember his name. 

I thought of this tonight when I was doing a little research on tonight's whisky. This one received a lot of flack from the self-proclaimed "consumer advocates" of the whisky community. See, the TTB originally approved the label for this whisky even though it was in clear violation of the standards of identity (§5.22 (l)). I will be kind and assume that these "consumer advocates" really think they are doing a public good by going after these companies. And they probably are having a positive effect. But from the outside, it sure does seem that they love the "gotcha" moment, appearing to assume that every company is out to pull a fast one and that the regulators are corrupt, stupid, incompetent, or some combination of the three. 

I will, however, choose to "assume positive intent." The description on the label is technically correct. It is a Canadian whiskey distilled from a bourbon mash. The fact that it is also a prohibited use of the word bourbon? Sure, it may have slipped past someone on a bad day. Hell, people make mistakes. Even marketing people. (If I got fired from every job where I made a mistake, I'd have never kept one.) That the TTB then came back to Diageo and revoked the approval and asked them to surrender it makes it a non-issue to me. So Diageo gets to sell it for a year based on the agreement with the TTB. Then it goes away and becomes a piece of trivia for hardcore whiskey nerds. And a collector's bottle for those who think it will become a collector's bottle.

But now on to the important question: How does it taste?

Crown Royal Bourbon Mash

Purchase Info: $26.99 for a 750mL bottle at Savage Liquors (Hy-vee), Savage, MN.

Details: 40% ABV. Non-age stated (but to be called whisky Canadian whisky has to be at least three years old).

Nose: Delicate. Caramel, vanilla, mint and almond.

Mouth: Thick, almost syrupy mouthfeel. Tingly spice. Nutty sweetness.

Finish: On the short side of medium. Gentle spice. Lingering notes of nuts and cocoa. 


Thoughts: This is alright. Not great, not terrible. It splits the difference between a bourbon and a Canadian whisky. Unfortunately, when I'm in the mood for a bourbon, I want a bourbon, and when I'm in the mood for a Canadian whisky, I want Canadian. That said, this is fine, but it doesn't really have a place on my shelf. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!