Friday, July 15, 2016

The Bold and the Beautiful Review of the Limited Edition Booker's Rye Whiskey

Once the announcement was made that Jim Beam was going to produce the first 13 year old, barrel proof rye under the Booker’s label, my initial (much like everyone reading this) was “Gotta have it” & “When is the release?”  This is of course based on my undying love for rye at this stage of my affair with whiskey paired with a deep respect and appreciation for the quality of the Booker’s bourbon.  Periodic releases at varying proof create uniqueness to the Booker’s bourbon.  Each time a new batch is released, we are able to experience distinct flavors developed over the 6-8 years it took to mature.  Something that may never again be replicated.  The bourbon is further elevated through un-cut, non chill-filtered bottling.  There are no indications that this will be copied with the Booker’s rye so take this opportunity to sample a treasure of the whiskey world.  

This bold rye coming in at 136.2 proof is a tribute to Booker Noe.  Mr. Noe originated the small batch collection under the Jim Beam moniker and before his passing personally selected these bottlings – initially only for friends and family.  In the early 90’s, he let the public in on a secret – the true essence of bourbon comes straight from the barrel.   As you know, this will be a much sought limited edition package.  The retail price hovers around $300 if you are able to track it down.  Let me describe to you in the following notes why it is worth the search – even if just for a sample.  

Nose – wet wood.  I recall a time that I had the opportunity to visit a distillery on my dad’s birthday.  We watched them dump a barrel and the smell was one of those memories I hope to never forget.  This nose reminded me of that perfect moment.  The aroma was so strong that after it was poured, the waft was so tempting that I just couldn’t wait for the first sip.  

Color – unique and almost blood red.  The 13+ years of contact this juice had with the wood really imparted a beautiful color and deep maple syrup hue

1st Sip (straight) – immediate flavor bomb.  I was tasting notes that I had never experienced before in a rye.  I was trying to write as fast as possible.  The full flavored and rich whiskey engulfs your entire mouth with flavors of baked bread and unripe red fruits.  The flavors are complex.  Simultaneously, your mind is telling you that you want to sense sweetness but there are so many savory qualities to this drink.  As the whiskey breathes, you get notes of baked fruit accented with herbal notes of sage and thyme.  The finish is long with a bitter finale.  

2nd drink (added a small ice cube) – when you add water or ice to this beauty, it opens like your summer garden.  The nose exposes sweet red berries and now you are really getting the sense of the sugars of the oak.  The palate is extraordinarily long.  The lowered proof is softened to sour cherry, burnt bread and caramelized sugar with a final punch of cracked black pepper.

It is crucial to enjoy this beautiful spirit first without ice – exactly how Mr Noe intended.  Then, I suggest nothing but the smallest of ice cubes to see how the flavors and the intricate nature of this rye evolve.  Enjoy!

Where to find it:  Good Luck!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Flavor in Basil Country - Review of Basil Hayden Bourbon

Normally, I shy away from low ABV bourbons and whiskies but recently I discovered that not all juice should be judged on ABV alone.  

With the lowest ABV that Beam currently distributes, Basil Hayden is and always has been quite a bourbon that would surprise even the biggest bourbon aficionados.  At just 80 proof, Basil Hayden is the lightest bourbon whiskey in this small batch family but still manages to carry an interesting and flavorful palate.

The Basil Hayden bourbon brand was introduced in 1992 and is named after Basil Hayden, Sr.  Hayden Sr. was a distiller, and he used a larger amount of rye in his mash than other bourbons of his day.  Later, Hayden's grandson Raymond B. Hayden founded a distillery in Nelson County and named his label "Old Grand-Dad", in honor of his grandfather, which bears a rendering of Basil Sr.'s likeness.

Unlike the traditional Jim Beam low-rye mashbill, Basil Hayden has a higher-rye recipe (27%) and is the same whiskey that goes into bottles of Old Grand-Dad. (see our review of Old Grand-Dad 114)  The only difference between the two is how long they slept.  Basil Hayden is older and has a lower proof – depending on which version of OGD you pick up.  With the absence of an age stamp on both labels, consumers are left to distinguish the level of maturity using their keen sense of tasting.  The BH label was updated in 2014 to reflect “artfully aged” rather than the traditional dating.  It is common thought that this liquid is approximately 8 years old.  Other brands have since done this as well (demand, supply etc.), but no specific reason was found for Basil Hayden.  Beam claims the mash used that the Basil Hayden we know today is similar to the original mash used by Hayden himself in his original recipe. 

With the growing popularity of American Whiskey, Basil Hayden has stayed strong on the shelves and is usually available.  It is artfully designed and typically lines the shelves with its small batch mates in the Beam SB family. 

Tasting Notes:

The color mimics that classic bourbon hue – golden and similar to that of a light maple syrup. 

The nose leans to the herbal side with mint and dried sage.  Maybe it was me or because of the name but I also got some basil(?)

The juice is very buttery with warm spices. A very soft, smooth front of cinnamon and hints of pecans.  Not much of a bite here.  For those looking for an easy drinker – this is your dram.    
The finish has a lighter presence then one would think with a higher rye.  It certainly does not linger on the palate for any period of time.  The balanced mash bill lends to perfect drinkability and is a good example of a daily drinker. 

Final Sip:

Basil Hayden is a great dram for many occasions and for a variety of palates.  I try to keep multiple bottles around so I can share with those who aren’t ready to adventure into higher proof bourbons yet still want to enjoy a good whiskey. 

I would highly suggest drinking it neat and suggesting others to do so as well.  This also helps newcomers to learn how to drink bourbon the right way.  


Region: Kentucky, USA
Distiller: Jim Beam
Mashbill: 63% Corn, 27% Rye, 10% Malted Barley

ABV: 40%
Price: $39 - $53


 * - Photo taken from open source of the web


Thursday, June 30, 2016


FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (June 28, 2016) Four spirits from Buffalo Trace Distillery were awarded “Best of Category” at the 2016 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, including Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey. An additional 12 medals were awarded to spirits from Buffalo Trace Distillery, seven of which were Gold Medals.
These spirits were ranked among 401 spirits that were submitted from a total of 29 countries.
Spirits earning medals include:
Gold Medal
·         Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
·         Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
·         Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
·         Blanton’s Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
·         Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
·         E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
·         Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream
            Silver Medal
·         Benchmark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
·         Wheatley Vodka
·         Platinum 7X Vodka
·         Rain Cucumber Vodka
            Bronze Medal
·         E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
            The Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition was formed in 2007, with an esteemed panel of judges using a blind-tasting method to award medals to the best distilled spirits from around the world.  The award-winning entries will be displayed during the Los Angeles County Fair, Sept. 2 – 25, in “The Wine, Beer & Spirits Marketplace.” 
            Complete results of the 2016 LAIWSC are available at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

News from Buffalo Trace - Second Year of Corn – A New Variety – Planted

FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (June 23, 2016) A little over a year ago, Buffalo Trace Distillery quietly purchased an additional 293 acres of farm land adjacent to the Distillery, with the intention of building more barrel warehouses to meet the growing demands of bourbon. In the meantime while permits were being secured for the new construction, Buffalo Trace decided it would be “fun” to plant its own corn, with an idea of creating its own farm to table “single estate” bourbon experience. 
But it couldn’t be just any corn that was planted, the Distillery wanted to plant something that had historical meaning to this 243-year-old National Historic Landmark. Research began, and soon a strain was identified that dated back to 1876, around the same time E. H. Taylor, Jr. was making his mark on Buffalo Trace. The strain originated from a White Mastodon variety and through selection techniques in isolation it became “Boone County White,” after a farmer named James Riley coined the name. Coincidentally, Harlen Wheatley, Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace, was born in Boone County, Ky., making that strain even more fitting. 
After planting 18 acres of the non-GMO white corn in the summer of 2015, Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley and his team eagerly watched the corn sprout up and begin to grow, and grow, and grow!  And harvest time, the stalks were well over 12 feet tall! The corn was harvested in August of last year and the grain was processed to be dried. After drying all winter, the corn was fermented and distilled at Buffalo Trace on May 31, 2016. All told, 117 barrels of the Boone County White Corn variety were distilled and are now aging in Buffalo Trace’s warehouses, to be taste tested periodically over the next few years to check on progress, and then eventually released, provided the taste profile is up to Buffalo Trace’s rigorous standards.
Now, in 2016, the cycle is beginning again, with Buffalo Trace planting its second year of non-GMO corn, this time Japonica Striped Corn, a strain originally from Japan and dating back to the 1890s. This variety will have variegated leaves of green, white, yellow and pink stripes with dark purple tassels and burgundy kernels. Typically used as an ornamental corn, this variety will be a true experiment to see how it tastes once fermented and distilled next year!  In addition to both the Boone County and Japonica Striped corn being from E. H. Taylor, Jr.’s era, both are dent corn varieties, which have a high starch content and are ideal for distilling, unlike traditional sweet corn one might see in the grocery store.  Buffalo Trace uses a different variety of dent corn in the distillation of the rest of the bourbons in its portfolio.
            Buffalo Trace Distillery intends to plant a different variety of corn each year at its farm so each year in the future there will be a unique release.  Name, age or price of this future bourbon has not yet been determined.
About Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery is an American family-owned company based in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky. The Distillery's rich tradition dates back to 1786 and includes such legends as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee.  Buffalo Trace Distillery is a fully operational Distillery producing bourbon, rye and vodka on site and is a National Historic Landmark as well as is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Distillery has won seven distillery titles since 2000 from such notable publications as Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate Magazine and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It was named Whisky Magazine 2010 World Icons of Whisky “Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year.” Buffalo Trace Distillery has also garnered more than 200 awards for its wide range of premium whiskies. To learn more about Buffalo Trace Distillery visit

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tales from the Bottom Shelf - Review of Old Grand Dad 114

The title of this post, “Tales from the Bottom Shelf” may be perceived as a negative connotation.  Trust me when I say that this is only referring to the spot that the liquor stores choose to place this hidden gem of the bourbon world.  In an age where some enthusiasts are only seeking the latest limited edition offering from one of the big boys, there are missed opportunities for great tasting from these same distilleries.

One such offering is the classic 114 proof sipper from Jim Beam – Old Grand Dad.  Since this bottle spends its life on the bottom shelf of almost every liquor store, it doesn’t get too much attention.  My first introduction to this beauty was in a cocktail paired with a cinnamon syrup, ginger and soda.  A fine cocktail but once I realized how great this was on its own, I quickly changed my ways.

There is a ton of flavor packed into to OGD 114.  Much like its brethren, the more mature Basil Hayden, the lower proof 100 edition and the 86 (or 80 depending on how old the bottle is) it presents in a deep amber color with nose of orange among the classic caramel notes.   My favorite way to drink bourbon is to find the sweet spot around 108 proof.  At 57% ABV, This can be a bit spicy.  I suggest letting your dram breath for a few minutes, take a sip and add a small piece of ice to further soften.  

The palate brings more orange with hints of fresh pepper, cinnamon, herbal notes of sage and mint with a classic vanilla tone.  Though it does not offer an age stamp, OGD 114 drinks like 4-year-old bourbon.  The hints of oak and deep color validate this assumption.  

My favorite part of this $24 bourbon is the finish.  Long, rich, delicious without a hint of bitterness.  Even at this proof, it is dangerously smooth and easy to drink.  One warning - don’t enjoy it too much – it will make you swear off those 80 proof “watered down” bourbons! 

Where to find OGD - Any liquor store....

Price - $19 - $30.00