Bourbon

Review: Knob Creek Single Barrel (Maisano’s)

Single barrel whiskey can some of the most unique, flavorful whiskey you can taste. These single barrels can sometimes vary wildly from the brand’s core flavor profile. It could come down to age, warehouse location, or even the barrel itself. Store owners, or those choosing barrels, must sometimes make a decision to choose something close to the brand’s familiar profile to please a wider customer base or they can select something more interesting.

In the case of this Knob Creek selection, Jonathan Maisano of Maisano’s Fine Wine & Spirits in Ocean Springs, Mississippi went with the latter. I know because I offered my opinion during the barrel selection. During this year’s New Orleans Bourbon Festival, Jonathan and I tasted through several barrels of Knob Creek with Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe and his son Freddie.

All six barrel samples were varying degrees of delicious. However, for my tastes, one barrel presented itself as ‘the one’ by all parties involved. This barrel, number 6740, matured for 14 years and two months on the third floor of warehouse X. The barrel selection proof was 124.5, which is really close to the final bottling proof of 120.

The nose features hints of spiced cherries, dark brown sugar and caramel, cinnamon stick and sweet toasted oak. Dark notes dominate the palate: brown sugar, dark chocolate-covered cherries, molasses, and vanilla. A touch of burnt orange peel and leather show on the mid-palate, followed by dusty oak and some more spice heading into the back-palate. The finish is long, with barrel char, tobacco and molasses notes lingering.

What I find fascinating about this barrel is the fact that being so old, its oak notes do not dominate in the least. Those dark, heavy notes are here in spades. As much as I enjoyed Knob Creek 25th Anniversary, this barrel blows it away.

Now for the bad news. As of the writing of this post, which happens to be the day after the barrel pick was released, less than 10 bottles remained in stock. That is not only the sign of a beautiful single barrel of whiskey, but of a store’s loyal fanbase. This one is easily the best Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon I’ve tasted. 9.5/10

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Review: Maker’s Mark Private Select (Maker’s Mark Tasting Panel)

Lots of distilleries offer a single barrel program. Customers either travel to the distillery to choose a barrel or have barrel samples sent to them. Either way, they are usually choosing from a selection of three barrels. Maker’s Mark offers a much more immersive, personalized program, called Private Select.

Instead of just picking a barrel, customers choose how their whisky is finished by selecting a combination of five different oak staves:

  1. Baked American Pure 2 – American Oak toasted low and slow in a convection oven. Yields a light, bright sweet style.
  2. Seared French Cuvee – French Oak that’s been cut with ridges to increase surface area and varying degrees of char. Adds brown sugar subtle spice.
  3. Maker’s 46 – French Oak produced with infrared toasting, this is the stave that’s used to create the Maker’s 46 expression, which was the inspiration for this program.
  4. Roasted French Mocha – French Oak cooked at high heat in a convection oven. Adds a dark coffee richness.
  5. Toasted French Spice – Another French Oak cooked at both high and low levels in a convection oven. As the name suggests, this one adds a spiciness to your bourbon, and beefs up the finish.

Customers taste whiskies finished with each stave, and begin creating a flavor profile by blending these whiskies in different portions. The resulting combination of 10 staves is then added to a barrel of Maker’s Mark whisky and stored in the distillery’s new cellar for about nine weeks.

Bottled at 111.0 proof, this Private Select boasts a rich, fruity nose featuring hints of dark brown sugar, baked apples, and some baking spice.  On the palate, an initial wave of soft spice peppers the tongue but is cushioned by decadent vanilla cream and vibrant orange zest that soon follows.  Cocoa dusted apples and a touch of astringent oak show up on the back of the palate.  The long finish is a tad spicy with a lingering dark roasted coffee note.

After having attended a selection for the New Orleans Bourbon Festival earlier this year (more on that later), I have to say it was one of the most immersive tasting selections I’ve experienced.  That pick, which I tasted recently and will review in full soon, was a completely different whisky than the whisky tasted here.

Speaking of immersive, the brand’s new ad that just launched on Youtube is pretty cool.  Make sure to use your mobile device for the best result.  I don’t know of any other VR ads out there right now.

Back to the whisky, I find the Maker’s Mark soft, sweet profile acts as a strong base in which to showcase the flavors brought about by the unique oak stave finish.  I’ve only tasted two of these whiskies, and both were outstanding.  In this case, the Roasted French Mocha staves add just the right amount of rich, dark notes that play with the caramel notes brought about by the Seared French Cuvee staves.  Nicely done here.  If you haven’t tasted a Maker’s Mark Private Select, you’re really missing out on something special.  8.5/10

Thanks to Maker’s Mark for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Review: Old Ezra Barrel Strength Bourbon

When this bottle of Old Ezra came across my sample table, the idea of a 7-year-old barrel strength bourbon excited me. The fact that it’s available for less than $40 is icing on the cake.

From a value standpoint, Old Ezra Barrel Strength checks off all the boxes on paper. But most important of all – is it any good?

It is, friends. In spades.

The nose is bold and full of rich caramel, spice, and some nuttiness. Taste-wise, Old Ezra Barrel Strength is full-bodied and robust, featuring hints of salted caramel, toasted oak, and black pepper. The finish is warm, with lingering cinnamon and toffee notes.

Luxco has another hit on their hands with this one. I hope Old Ezra Barrel Strength is a whiskey we can easily find on shelves. Luxco hasn’t made any mention of this being a limited release in press materials.

I can’t say it enough – this bourbon is fantastic! It’s on my shortlist as one of my favorite bourbons released in 2018. I know the flavor profiles are different and all, but this gives Booker’s a run for its money. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how huge a Booker’s fan I am.

Highly recommended. 8.5/10

Luxco.com

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