Cask Strength

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 018

Barrell Craft Spirits is sort of the whiskey equivalent of an independent filmmaker. Neither are working within the traditional confines of their industry. For example, an independent filmmaker can make their film without having to ‘dumb down’ for mass audiences with explosions, quick cutting, etc. They just focus on the story they want to tell, and how they want to tell it. On the whiskey side of things, big brands prize consistency within each batch of their whiskey. Barrell Craft Spirits, on the other hand, basks in the freedom to showcase a different flavor profile in each batch they release.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 018 is blended from 11-, 14-, and 15-year-old bourbon distilled in Kentucky and Tennessee. The resulting whiskey is bottled at a cask strength of 111.56 proof.

On the nose, this bourbon emphasizes fruit and baking spice. Lots of ripe mango and coconut intermingle with cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice. Taste-wise, there’s lots going on here. A wave of sweet fruit juice kicks things off, closely followed by vibrant lemon curd. Those baking spices from the nose soon show up in moderation on the mid-palate before succumbing to a slightly dark coffee note. The long finish is surprisingly earthy with a touch of orange peel.

I like Batch 018’s balance of fruit & spice, and sweetness & earthiness. It’s nicely structured and complex, but above all – it’s just plain delicious. I seem to be saying this often, but Barrell has another mark in the ‘W’ column with this batch. Nicely done. 8.5/10

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

Review: Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Whiskey

New to the Knob Creek limited edition family is this beauty – a cask strength, unfiltered, 9-year-old rye whiskey. In this case, cask strength means 119.6 proof. The one off (?) expression was barreled in 2009. Though there is no explicit age statement on the label, press materials stated this is 9-years-old.

A sharp eyed viewer mentioned not seeing the word “straight” on the label. I reached out to Beam, and they informed me this is in fact a straight rye whiskey, just not labeled as such.

On the nose, hints of dark caramel and toasted rye bread are joined by baking spice, orange peel, and leather notes. The palate sees more of the same. The rye grain isn’t as prominent as other high rye whiskies due to the seemingly smaller amount of rye in the mash bill, though it is at least 51%. It’s here in the form of a pleasing buttered rye toast, so no sharpness or dill note. Dark caramel and dark brown sugar add sweetness and richness, while the familiar Jim Beam roasted peanut is ever present, as is a generous sprinkling of baking spices. A touch of orange peel and some leather on the backend add more complexity. Finally some astringent old oak leads us into the finish, which is long, bittersweet and somewhat spicy. Compared to Knob Creek Small Batch Rye, this expression comes across as less sweet with a richer, more complex flavor.

The best part here is the price. In a world that sees a large percentage of limited edition releases introduced at the $100+ price point, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye comes in at $69.99. Kudos to whoever made that decision. Older rye whiskies are becoming more and more expensive.

My conclusion – this is a no-brainer purchase. It’s that simple. 9/10

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

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Hochstadter’s Family Reserve 16-Year-Old Rye Whiskey Review

In this current whiskey craze we’re living through, it’s hard to find a well-aged straight rye whiskey. If you’re lucky enough to run into a bottle at a store, the price tag will most likely give you a heart attack. At the very least, your wallet will give you the cold shoulder for a while.

Enter The Cooper Spirits Company.

A couple of years back they released the 13-year-old Lock, Stock, and Barrel Rye for just over $100. A 16-year-old sibling of hit shelves last year at a slightly higher price. For 2017, Cooper Spirits Co. has unveiled Hochstadter’s Family Reserve, a cask-strength (123.8 proof), 16-year-old rye. All of it is sourced from Alberta Distillers Limited in Canada, and it’s distilled from a 100% rye mash bill. Like the other two ryes I mentioned earlier, Hochstadter’s Family Reserve is a limited edition. Only 7,500 bottles have hit the market for a suggested retail price of $199.

Don’t be turned off because this whiskey was distilled in Canada. The bold nose explodes with hints of dark caramel, nutmeg & cloves, buttered rye bread, and cigar box. Some burnt orange peel shows itself with some airtime. Air helps this whiskey. It’s a bit closed off at first. The all rye grain mash bill shows on the palate. An initial burst of rye spice hits and quickly calms, allowing other notes to shine – spice cake, dark caramel, and a touch of red fruit. Mid-palate is where aged tobacco leaf and some oak spice and tannin start to develop. The finish is long and warm with nice citrus and spiced honey notes.

What’s in the glass is really nice.  In fact it’s one of the better rye whiskies I’ve had in recent memory.  It is robust and shows off the complexities of the rye grain nicely without a big oak character normally found in older whiskies.  It’s priced about where it needs to be priced.  Those looking for better value should try to find last year’s Lock Stock & Barrel 16-year-old expression. It’s priced $50 cheaper and comes in at 107 proof.  9/10