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

Round 1b of the 2018 BourbonGuy.com 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.


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Basil Hayden's Dark Rye

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

This is my favorite holiday of the year. I love the spooky theme of all the decorations. I love jack-o-lanterns. I love seeing the little kids in their costumes. And, I love the candy. 

Way back in college, I used to love the parties and the costumes too. But these days, I'm more grown up. I sit at home, hand out candy to the few kids brave enough to head around the neighborhood and watch a spooky movie. 

You wouldn't think I would be as happy for Halloween to get here as I am. Ignoring the calendar, before Halloween, it's Autumn. And even though I hate winter, I love Autumn. I love the crisp mornings with the hint of a warm afternoon. I love the fact that, on occasion, I can still get away with shorts and a t-shirt while doing lawn work. The idea that even if you get snow, it probably won't last. But after Halloween, it's winter. November in Minnesota means you are more likely to need a snow shovel than you are shorts. 

But in spite of all of that. In spite of the fact that it'll feel more like winter tomorrow than it does today, I still love Halloween. It feels good to indulge my inner child for one night and eat pizza, candy and drink some beer.

All of which has nothing to do with tonight's whiskey, Basil Hayden's Dark Rye. Basil Hayden's Dark Rye is the latest in the line of Basil Hayden brand extensions. It is a blend of Straight Rye whiskey from Kentucky, Canadian Rye whisky from Alberta Distillers, and Port. If this tickles a memory for you, that is because Beam already has a similar product on the market in Alberta Rye Dark Batch. That is a blend of Canadian Rye, Bourbon and Sherry. So similar, but not exactly the same. I didn't care for the Dark Batch, let's see how Dark Rye fares.

Basil Hayden's Dark Rye

Purchase info: $44.99 for a 750 mL at Lakeville Liquors, Lakeville, MN

Details: 40% ABV. A blend of Kentucky straight rye, Alberta Distillers Canadian Rye, and Port.

Nose: Strong caramel notes lead off. Baking Spice, citrus, and ripe red fruits follow. 

Mouth: Caramel, lots of baking spice, and ripe red fruits.

Finish: Short, but sweet with jammy wine notes dominating. 

Thoughts: I'm going to do something I almost never do. This is getting two ratings from me. 

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Neat: I was ok with it up until the finish. I don't care for most fortified wines outside of a cocktail and the finish being very wine forward was a problem for me. That said, there is nothing wrong with this if you like that sort of thing. So this gets a dislike from me when tasted neat. 

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Cocktails: Night and day difference. Because of the fortified wine notes, we first used it in a Manhattan. My wife thought it was ok, but I thought it was a little too sweet. Then I tried swapping the Vermouth in the Manhattan for Amaro (Ramazzotti is my house amaro), and it was really quite good. It accentuated the baking spice notes which was quite tasty. So tasty that I've used most of the rest of the bottle in various cocktails. I've personally favored the ones that feature bitter notes to play off of the sweet fortified wine finish. So it gets a like from me for use in cocktails because this has been a go-to for as long as it has been here.


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George Dickel No. 8

This is extremely strange. My wife and I both insist that we have reviewed George Dickel Rye whiskey. I remember having the bottle. I remember recommending that people check it out if they liked the 95-5 MGP Rye and wanted to try a version that had been filtered before bottling (since that's all it is). But as I look back through the site, I can't find that review anywhere. I even googled my own site and can't find it.

Is it possible that I'm suffering from my own mini-Mandela Effect? Probably not. I don't know if it is a technology problem or that maybe something came up and I never posted the article, but whatever it is, I apparently have been misremembering all this time. And I guess that just means I have to do it again in the future.

And you might ask why I might need to do that. Well, I've had Dickel Single Barrel selections and reviewed them. I've had the Barrel Select and never reviewed it (as well as the rye...apparently). But until recently I've never had the Flagship No. 8 release or the slightly older No. 12. I don't think...after tonight, I really don't know anymore. And to be honest, It's about time to add them to the list of products I've reviewed. That and if I'm going to talk about the high-end products, it just makes sense to know a little more about the standard releases.

So what is George Dickel No. 8? As I said, it is the most widely distributed of the George Dickel line. George Dickel, being Diageo's answer to Jack Daniel's. Like Jack, it's dripped through a charcoal filtering process before barreling and aging to help remove some of the undesirable byproducts of distillation and help jump-start the aging process. 

But how does it taste? Let's find out.

George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Whiskey 

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

Details: 40% ABV. Non-age stated. 

Nose: Honey with floral and chalky notes.

Mouth: Sweetness and spice with just a hint of mint.

Finish: Medium length with some warmth. Citrus, cinnamon, mint and chewable vitamins.

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Thoughts: In a tasting glass, this is fine. Nothing offensive about it, but nothing really to recommend it either. Unless you either really like or really dislike the mineral/vitamin note. Then you might find something offensive or delicious. 

In a rocks glass or tumbler, this is better and might provide a nice bit of social lubricant as you chat with friends. It's good. It's just not great. And for $18, I'm happy with that. 


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Kentucky Gentleman, or "Don't Get Distracted at the Liquor Store"

Sometimes I go into a liquor store, and I know exactly what I want. Other times, I know roughly how much I want to spend. When I visited the Party Source with a fellow blogger back in September, neither of these were true. 

I was in Kentucky to stock up for a few months of blog posts, see some friends and drink some bourbon. And when we made plans to visit the Party Source, I knew I would probably be picking up a few things that I had on the list to bring home. I figured this would be a good time to get some of the non-limited, everyday items out of the way. What I didn't expect to do was get so carried away with tossing things into the cart that I didn't bother to read the labels...either that or I was too busy chatting and wasn't paying close attention. In any case, I found myself with two miniature bottles of Kentucky Gentleman in my cart. 

Now if you know what Kentucky Gentleman is, you are probably wondering what could have caused me to pick that up? To you I will say, please see above. If you don't know what Kentucky Gentleman is, be assured you are not alone. I knew it was a cheap whiskey brand and I knew that it probably wasn't worth buying a full bottle of. 

It turns out that Kentucky Gentleman is not a bourbon. It is: "A Blend of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Spirits from the Finest Grains." In other words, it's bourbon mixed with neutral grain spirits (NGS or as it is more commonly known unfiltered vodka). It's an American-style Blended Whiskey made from 51% three-year-old bourbon and 49% NGS. And to be honest, it's the first one I've reviewed and possibly the first one I've had since I got serious about whiskey. 

So...yay? There's learning to be done here.

Kentucky Gentleman

Purchase info: $0.99 for a 50 mL at the Party Source, Bellevue, KY.

Details: 51% three-year-old bourbon and 49% neutral grain spirits.

Nose: Delicate with light mint and faint baking spices.

Mouth: Flat in the mouth with faint mint and baking spices.

Finish: Short and unbalanced. Medicinal vodka and whiskey notes fight for prominence (and the loser is my mouth).

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Thoughts: So...this is not the worst whiskey I've ever reviewed. That honor still goes to the Hayes Parker Reserve. But this is really close to the worst I've reviewed. To be fair, I'm tasting this neat in a Glencairn, which is just the opposite of what it was intended for, which brings me to my major problem with this whiskey. 

I'm just not sure what it actually is intended for. 

I know that this style of whiskey has long historical roots. I know that it was a way to stretch supplies after prohibition. I know that Seagram's built their business on it. And I know that maybe 40 years ago, people may have hoped it would compete favorably with vodka. 

But today, why does anyone buy this stuff? If I want ok whiskey, I have plenty of ok whiskey to buy, much of it sold at the same price point. If I want vodka, same thing. Hell, if I want something that has just a little more flavor than vodka to put a spin on a vodka cocktail, I can buy plenty of new make spirits. 

I'm sure that this fills a hole for someone, but I think I've learned that there isn't a hole in my life that an American-style Blended Whiskey can fill.


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Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond

The bottle of Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond I bought after tasting the sample my friend gave me. 

There are seldom times when I am so pleasantly surprised by a whiskey as I was by the one I’m reviewing tonight. No matter how many times I read that people (even people I trusted) were recommending Mellow Corn, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it. In fact, this would probably have never been reviewed if I hadn’t received a big sample from a friend of mine. 

I thought he was giving it to me because he was trying to get rid of it and I accepted it because…free whiskey. Over and over I’d have a thought about things I could do with it. But each time I was almost ready to crack the sample the little thought of “you know you’re going to have to put that in your mouth, right?” would start up and I’d put it back on the shelf. 

Finally, I’d had enough of that little voice. I decided to just plow ahead and review it. I figured in the worst case, I always need something to warn people away from. And who knows, in the best case, I might actually like it as much as others seem to.

I’ve had a lot of corn whiskey. Most of it had no age on it. Most of them I hated. And even those I liked, I don’t find myself going back to that often. So the fact that this was aged for four years and was Bottled in Bond was a factor in it’s favor. According to Chuck Cowdery it was four years in used barrels, but still four years is nothing to sneeze at. 

When I sat down to review this, the first thing I did was nose it. And…the nose was really nice! Hmmm…

Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond

Purchase Info: MGM Wine & Spirits, Burnsville, MN. $12.99 for a 1L bottle

Details: 50% ABV. Distilled at DSP-KY-354. Bottled at DSP-KY-31. 

Nose: Sweet and fruity with notes of caramel, vanilla and green apple. 

Mouth: Hot and sweet. Vanilla, mint, and almond notes are readily apparent.

Finish: Warm and sweet with decent length.

A smile because I like this.

Thoughts: This is not a complicated whiskey. But if you are looking for something warm and sweet to sip on while playing cards or chatting with friends, this is one to check out. I was very pleasantly surprised with this one. 


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