Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Batch A120)

The first 2020 batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (ECBP), one of my favorite barrel proof bourbons, hit shelves back in January. Batch A120 arrived with a bruiser of a proof – 136.6. That’s a whopping 68.3% abv!

What I appreciate about ECBP is its consistency of flavor between batches. Sure, no two batches are exactly the same, but it seems to me that ECBP does a great job of keep its character between batches.

How’s it fare? Very well, even with a splash of water. I’d certainly advise a at least a few drops of H2O with a whiskey of such high proof. Remember, it’s about enjoying the whiskey, and not about destroying the lining of your palate.

The nose carries wonderful brown sugar and molasses, cinnamon stick, and freshly baked pastry. Dark cherries lead the palate alongside wave after wave of caramelized sugar and a sprinkling of baking spices. Tobacco and slightly astringent oak appear in the back palate, a sign of the bourbon’s age. The finish is long and rich.

I’m rarely if ever disappointed in a batch of ECBP. Batch A120 is a winner for sure, living up to the dark caramel-centered nature of the bourbon. Recommended!

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

Review: Ragged Branch Rye Whiskey

After looking at Ragged Branch’s bourbon offerings, I thought we’d spend some time with a couple of the distillery’s rye expressions – a standard rye whiskey and the 2020 New Orleans Bourbon Festival release.

Ragged Branch Virginia straight rye whiskey is a single barrel release. It’s also bottled-in-bond, which means it’s bottled at 100 proof and at least four years old.

On the nose, hints of spiced rum, cinnamon stick, molasses, and rye grain are prominent. There’s a slight fruitiness on the palate to match the whiskey’s caramel lushness – think bananas foster without a HUGE banana note. Baking spices season this rye appropriately, complementing rather than overpowering it’s sweetness. The long finish sees slightly toasted oak, brown sugar, and spice. Overall, Ragged Branch Rye is surprisingly sweeter than expected. Where the distillery’s bourbon offerings feature the main grain prominently, the rye here takes a slight backseat. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. One more observation is that this rye tastes far beyond its “at least four years” age. Good stuff.

Photo credit: Tracy Napolitano

The Ragged Branch 2020 New Orleans Bourbon Festival release utilizes the same undisclosed rye mash bill as their standard bottling. This one, however, is bottled at cask strength. In this case it’s 126.06 proof.

This single barrel, cask strength beast carries over the DNA from it’s BIB sibling while amplifying those notes. Lots of brown sugar on the nose, which sits alongside cinnamon-sprinkled rye bread, and baking spices. The palate closely follows, featuring hints of maple syrup, baking spice and toasted oak. There’s a dark fruity jam on the mid-palate. The long finish sees the spices ramp up and brings a touch of added heat. A solid rye offering that’ll please fans of sweeter style rye whiskies. Recommended!

Thanks to Ragged Branch for the samples. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Look at Ragged Branch’s Bourbon Lineup

Coming off a bit of an extended break from this blog, I’m happy to kick things back off with a look at Ragged Branch’s offerings. Located near Charlottesville, Virginia, Ragged Branch was helped along by the late Dave Pickerell. It’s a farm-to-bottle distillery, growing, harvesting, and milling their own wheat, rye and corn. On the occasion of their recent award wins at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC), let’s get started with a look at their bourbon lineup.

Ragged Branch Wheated Bourbon – Louisiana Reserve

Let’s start off with Ragged Branch’s easy-sipping Wheated Bourbon. This Louisiana Reserve is batched from select barrels available only in Louisiana. Ragged Branch Wheated Bourbon is also fresh off its Double Gold win at the 2020 SFWSC. It’s bottled at 90 proof and aged for more than four years. The nose is sweet and approachable, hinting at caramelized sugar, vanilla, and orange peel. There’s a bit of freshly baked brioche. Taste-wise, toasted sweet wheat bread sprinkled with cardamon is complemented by a faint oak note. The semi-sweetness initially encountered becomes a bit dry on the medium-length finish, leaving a lingering sweet oak and caramel notes. Compared to other popular wheated bourbons, Ragged Branch is more grain forward. I like this one. It’s light and easy going.

Ragged Branch Signature Bourbon – Louisiana Reserve

Like its wheated brethren, Ragged Branch Signature Bourbon sees at least four years in the barrel before bottling. This expression won Silver at the 2020 SFWSC, and for good reason. The nose carries a deep caramel base note complemented by hints of citrus, and spice. The soft, caramel-filled entry sees a buildup of baking spices. Buttered rye bread appears mid-palate. Though the rye grain is prominent, it’s not sharp. The medium-long finish sees a slight minerality and spiced caramel. The traditional corn/rye/barley mash bill here adds more complexity than the wheated expression. That extra kick of spice makes for quite an enjoyable sip (and fantastic Old Fashioned).

Ragged Branch Double Oaked Wheated Bourbon

This single barrel wheated bourbon fully matures for at least four years in a new, charred oak barrel. It is then transferred to another new barrel with a higher char level for a short finishing period. The resulting whiskey is bottled at 45% abv and features a darker, richer flavor. Dark caramel and brown sugar lead the nose, followed by hints of roasted marshmallow, cherries, and nougat. The palate closely follows the nose with layers of rich caramel, baking spice, dark fruit, and slightly dry oak. The long finish carries toasted maple, caramel, and spice. There’s so much more going on here, thanks to the finishing process in a new barrel. All the notes in the wheated bourbon are amplified and enriched. Fantastic stuff!

Ragged Branch Double Oaked Bottled-In-Bond Signature Bourbon

Bottled-in-bond? Check. Single barrel? Check. Double Oaked? Check. This Ragged Branch expression certainly seems to have a lot going for it on paper. How does it fare in the glass? Like a dark, rich dessert… that’s how. The nose features dark caramel, cocoa, cinnamon, and burnt orange peel. The higher proof gives this whiskey a stronger start on the palate. Dark chocolate-covered cherries are paired with vanilla cream and caramel-drizzled cinnamon cake. The back palate sees the spice notes ramp up more, as well as the introduction of toasted oak. The long finish sees a lingering caramel-tinged cognac-like note. Like I said – a dessert whiskey. I can see why both Double Oak expressions won gold at the 2020 SFWSC. It’s packed to the gills with big, bold flavors. This is easily my favorite of the bourbon offerings.

Thanks to Ragged Branch for the samples. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.