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Stagg Jr.

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As its name would imply, Stagg Jr. is a younger version of Buffalo Trace's prized barrel-proof monster, George T. Stagg. It has no official age statement, but is rumored to be around 8 or 9 years old (while Stagg senior is more in the 16-17 year timeframe). It's also barrel proof in that same hazmat range of 60-70% ABV.

When it was first released in 2013, it ran aground amidst huge anticipation and hype. Perhaps nothing could live up to the expectations, but all accounts of that initial batch indicate a rough, overly-hot mess (as one review put it, it's "like drinking warm pepper spray"). Naming it Stagg Jr. probably didn't help. George T. Stagg is second only to Pappy in terms of bourbon obsession and hype, so that alone raised expectations to unrealistic levels.

Perhaps as a result of this lackluster reception, the next few batches seemed to linger on shelves longer than you'd expect. Around batch 3, its reputation started to turn around. Reviews started to wonder if Buffalo Trace had righted the ship and dialed in their newest product, but even I was able to snag a bottle of Batch 4 juice way back when, and I'm not exactly an expert whiskey hunter. I gather that subsequent releases have started to disappear more quickly, so I don't think people are sleeping on this anymore, but it'll still be a lot easier to get than Stagg senior.

I originally bought this bottle because I thought I'd never get the chance to try George T. Stagg... only to unexpectedly win the PLCB lottery a few weeks later. That Stagg is among the top 2 or 3 whiskeys I've ever had in my life, so Stagg Jr. did have a lot to live up to, but I tried to temper expectations. It helps that I'm still making my way through a lot of the more standard, boring offerings out there, so this still feels special to novice whiskey dorks like myself. It was nice to try this right next to Booker's to get a feel for how different these two bourbons can be:

Stagg Jr.

Stagg Jr. - Pours a dark amber orange color, long legs. Smells nice, typial oak, caramel, vanilla notes, some spice, cinnamon, molasses, brown sugar, booze not as nose-singing as Booker's despite the higher proof. Taste again hits those oaky notes pretty hard, some vanilla and caramel, plenty of spicebox, and ah, there's that booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, and yes, very boozy. Again, somehow not as harsh as Booker's, but still pretty hot (as per usual, take my baby beer palate into consideration here). Overall, this is quite nice, maybe a step up from Booker's but comparable. B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 132.2 Proof, 66.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 4/8/17. Batch #4. Vintage 2015.

Beer Nerd Musings: I'm not aware of any beers specifically aged in Stagg Jr. barrels, but then, as I understand it, Stagg Jr. is just barrel proof Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare, both of which are frequently cited barrel provenances. As you might expect, I think these barrels would do quite well with beer, and indeed, Buffalo Trace won the FiftyFifty Eclipse horizontal tasting I held a few years back. The concept of a sorta baby version of a more prized beer is something that does happen from time to time, though the differentiator is more about the amount of alcohol rather than the age. Some examples might include Great Divide Velvet Yeti (a lower alcohol version of their Yeti Imperial Stout that's designed for nitro pours) or The Bruery So Happens It's Tuesday, a slightly lower alcohol (and thus "more affable") version of the monstrous Black Tuesday. There are probably tons of other examples.

Fellow Travelers: Obviously lots of other folks have tried various batches of this out:

So this was a pretty decent bourbon. I enjoyed it a little more than Booker's, but I'm told it falls a little short of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (a bourbon I've never managed to get my hands on). Alas, this will probably be the last whiskey I review during this year's Beer Recession. That being said, I've got another beer-adjacent bottle of booze that could use some reviewing, and even some things that don't involve alcohol at all. The horror!

Booker's Bourbon

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Booker's is one of Jim Beam's four small batch products (the others being Knob Creek, Baker's, and Basil Hayden) and it has a reputation of being the best thing Beam makes. That being said, it doesn't seem to be the topic of much conversation (except for an ill-advised price increase that was walked back recently), perhaps because it's been around for a while, perhaps because it's actually available and you can find it on the shelf. We all know that rarity makes things taste better, so this is a truly black mark on Booker's.

In the 1980s, the first bottles were hand-made Christmas Gifts from Beam master distiller Booker Noe and were so popular that it was made an official, publicly available brand in 1992. Upon his retirement, he left instructions with his son to not let anyone "mess with my Booker's." Indeed, little seems to have changed with his namesake Bourbon - it's still 6-8 years old, unfiltered, and cask strength (usually pretty high-test stuff too).

This particular bottle clocks in at 128 proof, which is a nice flammability factor for sure. Each batch gets its own little pet name these days too. This one is named "Bluegill Creek Batch" because the bottling day was particularly hot and humid and Fred Noe (Booker's son and successor to the master distiller role) was reminded of days spent fishing a creek for bluegill with his father. Sounds nice, so let's dive in:

Bookers Bourbon

Booker's Bourbon - Pours a clear golden orange color, nice legs. Smells intensely of oak with some caramel and vanilla pitching in, some earthy tobacco type notes too. With water, some cinnamon spice emerges. Taste is rich and sweet, lots of caramel, toffee, oak, and vanilla, some spice kicking in too, maybe cinnamon? And booze, tons of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and yes, boozy af. I mean, yeah, I have a baby beer palate, but this is pretty tough. But tasty, and not the worst heat I've experienced. A little dry in the finish as well. Overall, a little hot, but it's a really good bourbon. Worth the current pricetag, but maybe not if they pump it up to $100... B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 128 Proof, 64% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 4/1/17. Batch #2016-04 "Bluegill Creek Batch". Age: 6 Yrs 5 Mo 28 Days.

Beer Nerd Musings: I haven't had anything specifically marked as a Booker's Bourbon barrel aged beer and I don't see many out there either. Allagash apparently made a Booker's aged variant of their Curieux, but I must admit, the tripel style is not my favorite way to showcase a bourbon barrel treatment. Still, I'd assume this would make for a pretty good barrel for beer aging... but then, what wouldn't?

Fellow Travelers: Some other folks who've grappled with Bookers:

Another cask strength monster bourbon review coming tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Barrell Bourbon Batch 009

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Barrell Bourbon is a NDP that's nevertheless gained a following amongst whiskey dorks. It's also got an extra "L" on the end of their name there, which means... well, owner Joe Beatrice has declined to explain. My guess? It's a branding gambit. Searching for "Barrel Bourbon" will produce millions of irrelevant results, whilst "Barrell" (with the extra "l") will get you the right stuff.

We've covered NDP (non-distiller producer) before, so I won't harp on it, but it is the sort of thing that normally arouses suspicion in whiskey nerds. That being said, Barrell puts a few interesting spins on their philosophy. First, they're all bottled at cask strength, which is like catnip to whiskey dorks. Second, each batch is unique and will never be seen again. Exclusivity and rarity is always a draw. Third, while the sourcing is usually vague, most other details about the bourbon are often available (i.e. state of origin, mashbill, age statements, etc...) Fourth, they appear to be doing a good job of picking their barrels, so while they may not be as transparent as everyone would like, they have cultivated a reputation for quality.

What we have here is Batch 009, a 13 year old bourbon sourced from Tennessee with a mashbill of 75% corn, 18% rye, 7% malted barley. Again, Barrell does not specify the exact provenance, but reading around, I see that well-aged bourbon sourced from Tennessee is usually code for "George Dickel", so there is that. Let's dive in:

Barrell Bourbon Batch 009

Barrell Bourbon Batch 009 - Pours a clear golden orange color with big legs. Smells quite oaky, lots of wood, vanilla, coconut, caramel, rye spice, something a little bready too. Taste has a nice rich caramel and molasses sort of thing going on, a little spicebox in the middle and finish. Oaky without being overly so, which is certainly in my wheelhouse. Mouthfeel is rich and coating, lots of alcohol heat, but in a pleasant, mellow way, with a finish that lasts a while. Overall, this is fabulous stuff, complex and balanced, great. Compares favorably to my favorite bourbons. A-

Whiskey Nerd Details: 112.10 proof, 56.05% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/14/16. Aged: 13 years. Vintage: 2016. Mash bill: 75% corn, 18% rye, 7% malted barley.

Beer Nerd Musings: I've already talked about the NDP parallels with contract brewing and gypsy brewers. Barrell's approach seems more reminiscent of Scotch's independent bottlers (except, of course, for the lack of transparency around the original distillery). The notion of each batch being unique (and not just from a "each single barrel is unique" sort of situation) is interesting and certainly speaks to the explosion of craft beer offerings. I mean, it's not Tired Hands with their ~900 different named beers in 3 years, but there's something to be said for the experience of drinking something you know you'll probably never get again. I have not ever had a beer aged in a George Dickel barrel, but they do exist, even if they don't seem particularly common. There are some beers that only specify being aged in a Tennessee whiskey barrel, which I suppose could also mean Dickel. If this bourbon is any indication, I think these barrels would work pretty well with beer (though this is perhaps too good to waste on homebrew!)

Fellow Travelers: As mentioned above, these bourbons have gained something of a following, so if you don't feel like taking a beer nerd's word for it, here's some other folks who've reviewed it:

  • signde drinks gives it a B/B+ and calls it "this is the best by far" of Barrell batches he's had...
  • The Bourbon Buddy gives it a 90-91 (A-) and also mentions that it's the best Barrell batch he's had...

So yes, I'm going to be keeping my eyes peeled for more Barrell batches, as this is a new favorite. I've got two more bourbons in the pipeline, and who knows what I'll find in the meantime. Up next this week, though, we move to wine. I might even have a beer review or two, even during my current beer hiatus. Or quasi-hiatus, as it were. Stay tuned!

George T. Stagg

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Amongst whiskey nerds, George T. Stagg appears to rival the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle line as the most lauded bourbon around. Stagg is basically standard Buffalo Trace that is aged extra long and then bottled at cask strength (usually with eye-popping, hazmat range proofs). It hasn't quite captured the mainstream as much as Pappy (I don't think I saw it on Justified, for instance), and thank goodness for that, but it's usually mentioned in the same breath as Pappy and as such, it's apparently just as difficult to land as any other whiskey out there.

I managed to get a bottle purely by luck. I complain a lot about the PLCB, but last year they instituted a lottery system for limited release spirits like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (which Stagg is part of), and I was lucky enough to win a bottle. The stats for the full BTAC lottery are pretty interesting, as not a single bar got a bottle of Stagg because it was picked last in the lottery and thus all of the bars had already won something else. More for us consumers, I guess. There were about 3,500 eligible entries for Stagg, and 186 winners (of which I was one). Also of note? The bottles were priced at $59.99 (As I understand this, the bottle normally retails for $79.99 and will go for 10 times that on the secondary market, easily). Hard not to be pretty pleased with the PLCB in this scenario, I must admit, and when I got my grubby hands on the bottle, I immediately went into the Gollum pose and started referring to it as "my precious". Seemed appropriate.

The 2015 iteration of Stagg was distilled in the spring of 2000 and released in the fall of 2015, making it about 15 years, 1 month old. It is comprised of 128 different barrels (#4 char), which sounds like a lot of whiskey considering a barrel is 53 gallons, but according to Buffalo Trace, 84.46% of the original whiskey was lost due to evaporation. Those angels were mighty thirsty! And it appears they soaked up mostly water in the process too, raising it to a nice and flammable level of 138.2 proof. Let's take a closer look:

George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg - Pours a deep, dark golden amber, almost brown color, nice legs. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, vanilla, oak, notes of spice but this is clearly the low rye recipe. Not that it matters, as this nose just keeps opening up, the sort of bourbon that you can savor for hours on end. After a little water, the caramel softens a bit, feels more molassesey or something, still amazing. Taste hits the rich caramel, oak, and vanilla up front, some spicy, earthy notes too, lots of booze. Water mellows it out some, brings out some sweet notes. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, coats your mouth with a long finish, is naturally very boozy, but somehow not as harsh as some bourbons that are much lower in ABV. A little watter smooths it out some, at the cost of a little intensity (though you kinda have to at some point, and it's still pretty amazing). Overall, this is pretty spectacular stuff, definitely in the running for best whiskey I've ever had and probably takes that crown. A

Whiskey Nerd Details: 138.2 Proof, 69.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/11/16. Vintage: 2015.

George T. Stagg label

Beer Nerd Musings: For all the hype about Pappy barrel aged beer, I don't think I've ever seen a Stagg barrel aged beer. They exist, of course, but they seem few and far between. Evil Twin made a Stagg barrel aged Belgian Pale Ale, which seems like a tremendous waste. In fact, I can't seem to find any of the more prized BA styles like stout or barleywine, but it does seem like a ripe market for the taking. I guess you could say these are just "Buffalo Trace" barrels, which might work. These are definitely used a lot with beer, and usually turn out quite good, as evidenced by the win in the FiftyFifty Eclipse horizontal tasting. Also pretty tough to beat Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Black Magick (though the Pappy Black Magick did, I think). Personally, I don't think I'd use this for homebrew. Seems like a crime to do anything but drink this whole bottle, neat (and, you know, with a little water).

Fellow Travelers: As a highly sought after bourbon, lots of folks more qualified than myself have written about this, so here's a few other opinions:

Well, that was an impressive bit of bourbon. Someday, I may even try some of the other BTAC bourbons. I'm particularly interested in William Larue Weller, but I'm betting that this will not happen anytime soon. I got lucky in the lottery last year, I'm doubting it will work out again (it certainly didn't in the Pappy lottery!) I'll probably take a flier on Stagg Jr. someday too, and will be sure to post about that when I get a chance. But for now, I think that wraps up the Bourbon reviews for this hiatus. However, we still have one whisky to go, a very nice, well aged Islay single malt. Look for that sometime next week...

I've often noted my fondness for the openness Four Roses displays with their recipes. It makes the homebrewer inside of me all squishy. That being said, I've only ever had one recipe on hand. I was able to sample a regular single barrel (OBSV) with a cask strength private selection of the same recipe and that difference blew me away. This time around, I sought out something different, then lucked into another bottle that I'm guessing is as different as possible.

First up is a Private Selection from TalkBeer.com. Yes, you read that right, apparently a community of beer nerds can purchase their own barrel. In fact, this is the third time a group of beer nerds got together, traveled to Louisville, KY, met with Jim Rutledge, and sampled from about 10 barrels. You can get the background at the TalkBeer thread (needless to say, somebody chose their best man well!), but here's the barrel they chose:

TalkBeer Four Roses Barrel
(Click to Embiggen)

It's an OBSK, which is the high rye recipe with yeast that produces a light spiciness, light caramel, and full body bourbon. It's 10 years, 8 months, and 19 days old, and bottled at 113.2 proof (not quite the boozy monster that my OBSV pick was, but certainly enough to pack a punch). Sploosh.

Then last fall, during a trip to the Garden State, I decided to stop in at a liquor store to see if they had any Carton beer, and what did I stumble upon? Another Four Roses Private Selection, this one from White Horse Wine & Spirits in Absecon, NJ. I don't think it's possible for this bottle to be more different than the TalkBeer pick. It's an OESF, so it's lower rye with a yeast that trends towards herbal character (I kept calling it floral though, go figure). Oddly, it was also 10 years and 8 months old (doesn't list the days), but it's only 107.8 proof. Nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but it's awfully close to the regularly available single barrel. While not my favorite bourbon, this did make for a truly fascinating double feature because these two bourbons are very different. Really happy I got both of these bottles though, and will certainly be looking to expand my collection in the future. Let's take a closer look at each:

Four Roses Private Selection for TalkBeer

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon - TalkBeer OBSK - Pours a reddish orange brown (leather bound books and rich mahogany). Smells very nice, spicy rye, cinnamon candy, oak, caramel, and a beautiful wallop of vanilla, and that fruity bubblegum character that seems to wind its way through all the Four Roses expressions I've had (thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Padraic's observation long ago, I can't not notice it now). Taste starts off with that spicebox character, cinnamon and the like, with a nice caramel, oak, and vanilla middle, then the spices strike back in force towards the finish. Very complex and layered, I'm picking up different pieces with each sip, and after some time, that caramel and vanilla character really opens up. Mouthfeel is full bodied, not quite syrupy, but it's got a nice coating factor, and the boozy heat is quite approachable (even to my baby-like beer palate). Overall, this is a fantastic, well rounded Bourbon, among my favorites ever. A-

Four Roses TalkBeer Label

Whiskey Nerd Details: 113.2 Proof, 56.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/26/16. Selected by TalkBeer. Four Roses Recipe Selected: OBSK. Aged 10 Years 8 Months 19 Days. Warehouse No.: QS. Barrel No.: 87-20.

Four Roses Private Selection for White Horse Wine and Spirits

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon - White Horse Wine & Spirits OESF - Pours a bit lighter than the TalkBeer, a golden orange brown color (less Anchormany). Smells quite different, more sweet corn, less spice, more in the way of floral, vegetal, herbal aromas, actually even less of that fruity bubblegum (though it's still there). Taste follows the nose, sweeter, much less spice, much more of the floral, herbal character. Mouthfeel is lighter, less spicy, less hot. Overall, by itself, I find this a bit disappointing, but still quite nice. It is, however, fascinating to drink this beside other Four Roses recipes, as it's quite distinct. Personally, I tend to prefer the spicier, more caramelly recipes, but this is worth trying. I do wonder about the low-ish ABV though, and if it were higher, would that intensity win me over? I'll have to keep an eye out. In fact, a while ago, I might have had the 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel at a bar, which was also an OESF, but I can't find the picture to confirm this, and I remember that sample to have a distinct minty character that was awesome. Alas, no such minty goodness here. B

Four Roses White Horse Label

Whiskey Nerd Details: 107.8 Proof, 53.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/26/16. Selected by White Horse Wine & Spirits. Four Roses Recipe Selected: OESF. Aged 10 Years 8 Months. Warehouse No.: GW. Barrel No.: 48-1U.

Beer Nerd Musings: Plenty of beer has been aged in Four Roses barrels, but you know what? To my knowledge, no one has ever specified which Four Roses recipe they were using. Next level beer nerdery: a series of imperial stouts aged in all ten recipe barrels of Four Roses. FiftyFifty, you're up! Somehow, I doubt this will ever happen. However, I hold out hope that someday, I'll visit a really small brewery and they'll show me the barrel the beer is aging in, and I'll be able to see the stenciled recipe on the barrel. A man can dream. Or, um, not. This is getting pretty wonky. I'll stop now.

Fellow Travelers: Lots of people more knowledgeable than myself have tackled the different Four Roses recipes, often in a much more complete and detailed fashion:


  • Josh at Red, White, & Bourbon has helped select a barrel ("unquestionably the best barrel of Four Roses every picked", an OBSO) and he's managed to collect samples of all 10 recipes. He's posted about the the OE set, as well as the Limited Edition Single Barrel 2013 (an OBSK, but with higher proof and more age than my bottle) and 2014 (an OESF that seemed very similar to the above in terms of stats). He seemed to like the OESF much more than me, but then, they were different barrels:P
  • Sku also reviewed the 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel and seemed to love it. He also reviewed the 2014 pick, and noted that it "doesn't jump out at me as particularly special", which goes along with my experience here (in your face, josh!)
  • Josh at The Whiskey Jug has a review of an OBSK pick as well as a post about all 10 recipes. There, the OESF did better than the OBSK, go figure.
  • Josh at Sipology (why are all you Bourbon drinkers named Josh?) has also partaken of the 2013 LESB and also had a similar experience comparing an OBSK with an OBSF (not quite what I did, but hey, close enough).

We've got at least one more doozy of a bourbon to go before this little beer quasi-hiatus concludes, so stay frosty folks, we'll be back to beer in no time (or, uh, a few weeks from now).

Old Grand-Dad 114

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Continuing my tour through the realms of unsexy staples brings me to the Old Grand-Dad line of bourbons (a subset of Beam Suntory's lineup). There are several expressions (most of which are packaged in industrial grade neon orange labels), but they all use the same high-rye recipe (30% rye compared to Beam's normal 15%), with the main difference being the proof. There's also Basil Hayden's, which uses the same recipe and is apparently named after the "Grand-Dad" in question (it used to be an 8 year old bourbon, but they dropped the age statement a while back). That one is also quite disappointing. I've seen the fancy bottle with the moderately high price tag in the liquor store and considered it, but I'm glad I opted to get a pour at a bar one night, as it didn't make much of an impression. I later found out that it's bottled at 80 proof, which might explain the underwhelming reaction.

What we've got here, though, is Old Grand-Dad 114, which is a significantly higher proof than Basil Hayden's at half the price. I snagged this one last summer during one of my pilgrimages to State Line Liquors, as the name sounded familiar (it turns out that I had been looking at this list Sku posted long ago and this particular recommendation stuck out I guess). Not long after, Josh at the Whiskey Jug reviewed all the Old Grand-Dad expressions (including Basil Hayden's) and concluded that OGD 114 is "everything that Basil Hayden's should be but isn't." Let's take a closer look at the OG...D bourbon:

Old Grand-Dad 114

Old Grand Dad 114 - Pours a golden orange, copper color, thin legs. Smells quite nice, caramel, spicy rye, lots of cinnamon, oak and vanilla, maybe something earthy in there too. Cinnamon seems to be the standout here, and every time I pour a glass I love the cinnamon blast (it seems to fade a bit as I drink). Taste follows the nose, but with different emphasis. Some earthy leather, less cinnamon, though it's still there. Caramel is certainly present as well, but the earthy nature really comes out in the taste. Mouthfeel is rich and a little on the hot side (keep in mind my baby-like beer palate, but I had some higher proof stuff this weekend that felt less harsh than this), coats the tongue and lingers for a bit. Overall, this is really nice. It's not a mind blowing affair, but it makes for a hefty daily sipper, something I could see hitting often as a reliable go-to when the sub 100 proof stuff wouldn't get the job done. Certainly blows Basil Hayden's out of the water, and the low-ish price ($25-30) certainly makes it attractive. B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 114 proof (57% ABV) bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/12/16. Bottle sez: Lot No. 1.

Beer Nerd Musings - There are plenty of beers aged in Jim Beam barrels (Allagash apparently favors those barrels), but ones that specifically call out Old Grand-Dad are few and far between. The only one I could really find was from Rock Bottom, ugh (I mean, I haven't had it so I shouldn't judge, but a 5.5% ABV stout aged in OGD barrels for 2 weeks doesn't inspire confidence). As per usual, I'm sure some of the bigger barrel aging programs use these barrels as part of a larger blend, not to mention the large amount of folks who don't specify which brand of barrels they used (perhaps the notion of OGD being a "budget" bourbon doesn't lend itself to such marketing efforts). I could see OGD working well though, so maybe someone should give it a shot (looking at you, Fifty Fifty - how have you not used any Beam products in your Eclipse series? Unless you count Maker's, I guess.). If I didn't already have my oak cubes soaking in Four Roses, I might have used this for my next BBA homebrew. It seems like it could work well.

Fellow Travelers: Reviews of OGD 114 from folks more knowledgeable than myself...


So that's the boring bourbon we'll be covering, stay tuned for some more exciting bottles, including some single barrel Four Roses selections and, why not, George T. Stagg. We'll also be hitting up some Scotch soon enough. In the meantime, I've got a couple of wines to discuss this week...

New Holland Double Feature

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One of the more interesting crossovers between beer and bourbon is New Holland's Beer Barrel Bourbon. First, they get old bourbon barrels to age their imperial stout in, resulting in Dragon's Milk (that accessible beginners BBA beer that is a reliable standby). Next, they went out and sourced some bourbon (presumably from MGP, because who else?) at 110-115 proof, then dumped that into the old Dragon's Milk barrels (i.e. this is a third use barrel). The result is a beer barrel finished bourbon that lots of people seem to enjoy and that I thought I'd never find. However, during a recent jaunt to the Garden State, I spied a bottle of this very juice and immediately snatched it up, knowing in my heart that I would also snag a Dragon's Milk to complete the double feature. So let's get it on with some hot bourbon on beer action:

Beer and Beer Barrel Finished Bourbon
(Click to Embiggen)

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light tan head. Smells sweet, lots of vanilla, a little caramel, hints of roast. Taste has a nice caramel and vanilla character to it, roast in the background. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, smooth and creamy, no real evidence of booze. Overall, it's not quite the revelation it once was, but it's a rock solid BBA stout and you have to admire the price point and availability. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/12/15. Vintage: 2015.

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon - Pours a light golden color. Smells kinda new makish, but with a nice kick, vanilla and caramel and toffee. The vanilla seems most prominent. Taste again has some new make rawness to it, a little more prominent in the taste than the nose, but there is some hints of vanilla in the background. Mouthfeel is light and smooth, hardly even boozy (ah, it's 80 proof, that explains it). Overall, its a little disappointing, but it's also interesting enough that I tried it. Was it worth the flier on the whole bottle? I'd have to drink more to find out for sure. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me. For now: B-

Whiskey Nerd Details: 40% ABV bottle (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 12/12/15.

Beer Nerd Musings: The beer barrel almost certainly lent some of those vanilla, caramel, and toffee notes to the bourbon, but my guess is that cutting it down to 80 proof did this a disservice. I'm not looking for barrel proof here, but maybe give us a little more heft, let those beery notes shine, you know? I'm betting this would be fine cocktail material though, and I should really try that. There are apparently some other beer barrel finished whiskeys out there. Sku has tried Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon (which used barrels from Hardywood's BBA Gingerbread Stout) and found it interesting, but perhaps not whole bottle interesting. Berkshire Mountain Distillers has a whole series of beer cask finished bourbons, using barrels from the likes of Troegs, Sam Adams, and Terrapin. I'm sure there are others, but the all appear to be small micro-distilleries, and thus it feels like they'd all be a little young. I'd gladly try more though!

This was fun, and something I will clearly need to try again soon. It appears that New Holland has even started putting out some variants of Dragon's Milk, though none of them sound particularly exciting to me. If I see one, I might take a flier on it, because I'm the worst.

I wondered if it would be too on the nose to drink some Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving, and I was reliably informed by Josh of Red, White, and Bourbon that this was an "Almost mandatory" practice. I see Sku also likes to get in on the action as well. It's all in corny fun, I guess. (Get it? Corny? Like bourbon is made from mostly corn? Alright, that pun has got to be much worse than drinking Wild Turkey on Thansgiving, right? I'll stop now.)

If I'm reading the whiskey nerd community right, it appears that Wild Turkey has fallen on hard times of late. This seems to primarily be due to lackluster special releases that nevertheless ran high on pricing. Even some of their standard offerings disappeared for a while, and I know many lamented the temporary loss of budget favorite 101 Rye (it is back, though I have never seen a bottle). At least one recent special release has garnered some praise, even if it seems on the pricey side. But as a part-time whiskey dork, I'm still working my way through the standard expressions out there, so all this talk of disappointing $250 bottles of bourbon don't really phase me. When I saw this private selection at State Line Liquors this summer, I took a flier on it.

From what I hear, Wild Turkey does two things differently than most distilleries. First, they make a big deal about using the #4 barrel char level, also called "alligator" charring because the oak splits and looks a little like alligator skin, but near as I can tell, the grand majority of bourbon you'll ever see on a shelf uses #3 or #4. Second, they tend to put their juice in the barrel at a lower proof than most other bourbons. This seems to be a true difference, not just marketing fluff (as evidenced by the fact that they don't seem to trumpet this the way they do with the char level). I've also heard that master distiller Jimmy Russel (this bourbon is named after him, BTW) has tried to keep the process identical during his tenure, which is saying something since he's been at the job for 60+ years (his son Eddie is also helping).

Single barrels are, by their very nature, inconsistent, but even then, I've seen mixed reports. Some seem to have gotten an exceptional barrel, most seem to get more middling efforts. How lucky will I be?

Russels Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon - State Line Liquors

Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon - Private Selection (State Line Liquors) - Pours a dark golden orange color with moderate legs. When I first opened this bottle, I was really worried, as it smelled like turpentine and was quite harsh. Fortunately, after a bit, it opened up and mellowed out. Smell is all caramel, toffee, and charred oak, a nice combo for sure. Taste hits those caramel and toffee notes, lots of oak too, maybe some vanilla, on the sweeter side, with only a little spicebox pitching in. Mouthfeel is rich and sweet, and I know this is perhaps redundant, but a little on the boozier side. At 110 proof, that's to be expected, I guess, and my baby beer palate isn't used to that, but even for that proof, it feels a bit hotter than normal. Water mellows it out some. It generally feels off balance, though not dramatically so. Overall, this is a nice dram, certainly worthy of a try and I'm glad I snagged the bottle, though it feels a bit one-note and I don't think it really approaches the better bourbons that I've had. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 110 Proof, 55% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass. Personally Selected for State Line Liquors. Barrel: 2390. Rickhouse: H. Floor: 3.

Beer Nerd Musings: My initial thought is that Wild Turkey's unique attributes, like their lower entry proof, would make for interesting bourbon barrel aged beer. However, in my experience, beers aged in Wild Turkey barrels have been somewhat disappointing. Anderson Valley supposedly only uses Wild Turkey barrels for their program, but while Huge Arker was nice, it's not really top tier stuff either (and their other entries are not quite at that level either - generally having a surprisingly low bourbon barrel character). Local favorite Neshaminy Creek has used Wild Turkey barrels a few times. I haven't had the barleywine, but the first BBA Leon they made was a middling effort as well (then again, so was the second vintage, which used Buffalo Trace barrels - I think the base beer is the determinant factor there, or perhaps the process). Oskar Blues made a Wild Turkey variant of Ten Fidy and last year Goose Island released a BCBS single barrel or something too (one suspects that WT barrels are part of the blend for regular BCBS and variants). Both of those have much better ratings than the ones I've had, but I'm still not quite inclined to use this stuff in my homebrew or anything like that (if I ever get around to it, that is!)

Hey look, I'm not the only beer dork drinking a Russel's Reserve retailer selection, and it appears DDB has a similar reaction (though, as always, he doesn't beat around the bush the way I do). Go figure. I've got some big guns coming in the Bourbon department though. Stay tuned for some Four Roses single barrels and, at some point, some Stagg (I am one of the few, the proud, the lottery winners in PA). And I've actually got a couple other bottles of interesting whiskey, so there's that too.

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