Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 Cognac Review

Maintaining consistency within a product might be a challenge for any large spirits company.  On the other side of the spectrum, the ability to create a one-time, limited release can prove to be just plain fun.  These limited releases also mean producers don’t have to necessarily handcuff themselves to a particular recipe.  They don’t have to worry about whether they have enough components to consistently make the product over and over.  They have the freedom to just play around and create.

For the world’s largest cognac producer Hennessy, the end result of playing around is their Master Blender’s Selection (MBS) line.  Introduced in 2016, the experimental cognacs are exclusive to the US market.  Former Hennessy Master Blender Yann Fillioux created the line to feature certain eaux de vie in ways the company’s strong core lineup can’t.  Each year’s release is different and won’t be replicated.  One and done.

The second release in the series, MBS No. 2 is a blend of eaux de vie aged at least 10 years.  The first 18 months of which were in young French oak casks before being transferred to older casks.  Those young casks impart lots of spice.  Hennessy Master of Distillation Olivier Paultes told me in an interview at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail that this particular blend contains a lot of Petit Champagne, giving this cognac some elegance.

This blend is very aromatic.  The nose features hints of dried fruit, baking spices, vanilla and floral top notes.  Brown sugar hits the tongue upon entry, followed by rich and spicy cinnamon cake, vanilla, anise, and citrus zest.  Slightly drying oak tannins appear soon after leading into a fruity and rather peppery finish.  Think black peppercorn.  The finish lingers for a good while.  I don’t remember ever tasting a Hennessy cognac as spicy as this one.  

With its richness of baking spices, Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 is autumn in a glass.  I’m glad a company as big as Hennessy isn’t resting on its laurels.  Experimentation is a wonderful way of showcasing different flavors, through the use of different cru to cask management during maturation.  To borrow Monsieur Paultes’ words, this blend is bold yet still retains a lovely elegance.  Beautifully crafted and thoroughly enjoyable. 8/10


Thanks to Hennessy for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.


Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut Whisky Review

Is Deckard a Replicant? Is this new blend really Black Label?

I remember the first time I watched Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  It was a VHS of the 1992 Director’s Cut I rented from Blockbuster. VHS? Blockbuster? Damn, I feel old.  After watching this Harrison Ford sci-fi flick, I didn’t like it.  It definitely wasn’t what I expected at the time I watched.  As a teenager expecting some sort of big action flick, I felt disappointed.  I thought it was quite boring.  It wasn’t until about a decade later that I decided to revisit the film.  The film’s overarching theme questioning the definition of humanity finally held my attention and curiosity.  The production design and cinematography was pure eye candy upon this fresh viewing of the film.  Ford’s nuanced performance as the Replicant-hunting Deckard captivated me in a way that, like most viewers before me, left me questioning whether the character was human or Replicant.  The film quickly became a favorite.

In a parallel story that began unfolding when I reached drinking age, my first foray with Scotch whisky was not a good one.  The drink was a Johnnie Walker Black with water.  Ignorance and inexperience literally left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I even caught a glimpse of  the bartender smirk a little after she saw the face I made after my first sip.  This didn’t taste like bourbon.  And what the hell was this smoke doing in my whisky?  Again, ignorance and inexperience.  Thankfully tastes change as one ages.  Once I started getting serious about whiskey, I came back to Mr. Walker.  This time around I appreciated Black Label’s many subtle complexities, from the creamy vanilla brought on by the grain whiskies to the silky smoke fired up by Island malts.  It was a trip to Scotland in a glass.

Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original film, opens in theatres this Friday.  At the same time, a new whisky – Johnnie Walker Black Director’s Cut – was announced.  Just another movie tie-in, right?  Wrong.  Johnnie Walker Black Label was featured in Blade Runner as the whisky consumed by several characters.  The bottle was even designed to look futuristic.  So when the chance to appear in the new film presented itself, Johnnie Walker did more than just bottle the same whisky in a redesigned bottle.  They blended a new Black Label whisky.  Director Denis Villeneuve and Master Blender Jim Beveridge collaborated on a new Johnnie Walker blend in the style of the famous Black Label, with a few changes and tweaks.

The limited edition whisky is bottled at 49% abv, a nod to the year the new film takes place.  More than 30 whiskies are used in the blend.  I find familiarity in the nose.  Black Label DNA, for sure.  Slightly creamy vanilla-tinged grain whisky, light toffee, and a touch of orchard fruit play along wisps of smoke.  That last bit is slightly more prevalent here than in the standard Black Label and nowhere approaching the high levels found in Double Black.  More of the same on the palate:  toffee, vanilla, orchard fruits, light oak spice and citrus zest all enveloped in light smoke.  Some dried figs show up in the mid-palate alongside the slightest hint of leather.  The higher ABV makes the whisky a bit bolder in character, but easily drinkable to those used to the low 40% abv of Johnnie Walker Black.  It also expands the finish, leaving behind hints of salted caramel and very light smoke.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut does a great job of paying homage to the original blend by building a similar whisky but with enough of a modern upgrade to keep things interesting for JW fans.  One shouldn’t turn their nose up at this whisky’s lack of age statement.  That would be a mistake.  Now, if you absolutely can’t stand the standard Black Label, skip this release.  Director’s Cut is similiar enough in flavor profile, but elevated in tasting experience thanks in part to the higher ABV.  Higher proof Johnnie Walkers can be dreamy (I still need to taste Blue Label Casks Edition).  

The brand says only 39,000 bottles are being released worldwide, with most bottles coming to the U.S.  A 750ml bottle should cost about $90.  Is this whisky worth price, which is about double the cost of a regular bottle of JW Black?  I think so, taking into account the limited nature of the release, elevated tasting experience, higher proof and cool ass bottle.  Let’s hope Blade Runner 2049 delivers an equally pleasing experience.  At the very least, cinematographer Roger Deakins’s visuals alone will be worth the trip to the theatre.  8.5/10

Johnniewalker.com   Bladerunnermovie.com

Thanks to Johnnie Walker for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 013 Whiskey Review

The folks at Barrell Bourbon have most certainly ramped up production.  New batches are coming in quicker than they used to, or so it seems.  Thankfully, quality has not been sacrificed.  That is true of this latest release, Batch 013.

A batching of 5-year-old bourbon from Indiana and 5- and 8-year-old high rye bourbon from Tennessee, Barrell Bourbon Batch 013 is presented at the brand’s signature cask strength.  In this case, we’re looking at 113 proof.

The nose features hints of kettle corn, cinnamon, and buttered toast with a touch of feint oak.  Taste-wise, Batch 013 offers a classic bourbon experience.  By that I mean sweet corn, spice and vanilla.  Those flavors are presented in a cohesive, balanced manner.  Surprisingly, the young-ish 5-year-old Indiana bourbon component doesn’t dominate the palate, but its big corn note does shine in this whisky’s finish.  On the mid-palate, a creaminess appears, as well as orange zest.  The warming finish features sweet corn and cinnamon sugar. 

At the end of the day, Barrell Bourbon Batch 013 is a delicious, corn-forward (though not corn-dominated) bourbon.  It’s not among my favorite releases from Barrell, but it’s still nice.  I haven’t had a bad batch yet, and I don’t expect to.  Barrell founder Joe Beatrice would probably rather quit his job than release a sub-par whiskey.  7.5/10


Thanks to Barrell Bourbon for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.