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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.

Whiskey Grab Bag

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For the past couple of years, I've given up beer for Lent and substituted other beverages to make up the shortfall. One of the joys of this, aside from a shrunken waistline, is that I've got whole swaths of new territory to explore, including Bourbon and Rye. While I'm certainly not going to turn down the latest and greatest hyped stuff and have already tackled some of those, I'm also content to work my way through some of the more standard expressions that don't generate a lot of buzz on blogs or social media. This is good, as Pennsylvania is something of a booze wasteland. I mean, sure, I'd love to be reviewing Elijah Craig Barrel Strength instead of the standard 12, but the entire state's allocation sold out in, like 10 minutes (ditto just about every other special release I've ever seen). They're instituting a lottery system this year, but I'm not really counting on that (I'm pretty sure I've already lost my first lottery a few days ago!) and I've got plenty of old standards to work through anyway. Someday, I definitely want to take down more Pappy and BTAC, but for now, let's drink some stuff that I can actually manage to get my hands on (though I should note, half of these were procured in Maryland rather than PA).

Anywho, sometimes it's nice to take a break from obsessing over beer to take a look at other realms of boozy glory, so today we have four reviews compiled over the past few months. I'm a beer nerd with a baby palate, so take the reviews with a grain of salt. I've gotten pretty good at describing beer, but whiskey is still something of an enigma, but I do think I'm getting better.

First up is a Rye Whiskey named after PA Age of Enlightenment man David Rittenhouse, a noted astronomer and clockmaker who went on to become the first director of the United States Mint. Originally distilled in PA, it's now made in Kentucky as a result of the seemingly endless parade of acquisitions and consolidation that happens in the whiskey world. Rittenhouse Rye is part of Heaven Hill's portfolio, but as it turns out, I'm reviewing what is now a highly sought after bottle.

Every distillery has a registered Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) number, and for whatever reason, Rittenhouse Rye lists the DSP number on their bottles. Back in the 1990s, Rittenhouse was made at Heaven Hill's DSP-KY-31 distillery. Alas, that distillery burned down in a tragic 1996 fire. To make up for the loss in capacity, Heaven Hill contracted with Brown Forman to make Rittenhouse at the DSP-KY-354 distillery. This happens to be the bottle that I'm reviewing today. Just recently, Heaven Hill retook responsibility for distilling this rye at DSP-KY-1 and it looks like they've also done a rebranding. As a result, the old DSP 354 bottles are now highly sought after, especially since the new DSP 1 juice doesn't seem to be as well regarded (though some like it fine, especially considering the price point). Finally, the fact that it takes me 2 years to get through a bottle of whiskey pays off.

One of the reasons I think this took me so long to get through is that, well, it feels a lot like bourbon. I always thought this was just my inexperienced palate talking, but this is apparently one of the "barely legal" ryes, meaning that the mashbill has the minimum required 51% rye (with the rest presumably comprised of corn and a small amount of barley). I've got the Bottled in Bond expression, which is a legal classification meaning it was aged in a federally bonded warehouse and bottled at 100 proof (among other niggling requirements). It's also labeled as Straight, meaning it's at least 4 years old. Let's dive in:

Rittenhouse Rye

Rittenhouse Rye - D.S.P. KY 354 - Pours a light golden color with moderate legs. Smell has a nice spicebox component to it, a little oak and vanilla kicking in as well, but feels very bourbony (as opposed to distinct rye). Certainly get that rye spice in the taste as well, almost peppery, with some caramel too. Again, though, it has a very bourbony feel. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little on the oily side, a little harsh and moderately boozy. Overall, it feels like a pretty standard whiskey, very nice for what it is, works fine neat and it makes good cocktails, but there's nothing here that melts my face either. I'm no rye expert, but this feels more like an extra high rye bourbon than full rye, but maybe that's just my lack of experience coming through. Still, as an all purpose whiskey, it's good, and cheap too. A high B-

Whiskey Nerd Details: 100 Proof, 50% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass. Distilled at D.S.P. KY 354.

Beer Nerd Musings: The Rittenhouse Rye barrel aged Eclipse stout was my favorite entry from the 2012 vintage, though it did not fare quite as well in the 2014 vintage horizontal tasting. I don't know of any other beers specifically aged in these barrels, but I always wonder if younger barrels make for better beer aging than older ones. As a homerbewer, I see potential for a rye oaked beer here, though I tend to prefer using bourbon (not that I'm that much of an expert in such things).

Next up, we have Sazerac Rye. Named after the cocktail of the same name, this is distilled by Buffalo Trace. They make are two expressions, a 6 year old and an 18 year old (a venerated rye that's part of the fabled Buffalo Trace Antique Collection). What I have here is the younger of the two, affectionately nicknamed "Baby Saz" by those in the know, and like a lot of ryes these days, it's apparently also in shortish supply. I did miss out on it when PA sold their allocation recently (another online flash sale that went in less than an hour), but Kaedrin favorite State Line Liquors in Maryland had some for the taking. This appears to be another "barely legal" rye, but oddly, I found it to be much more distinct from Bourbon, perhaps less spicy, but more subtle. Let's take a closer look:

Sazerac Rye

Sazerac Rye - Pours a yellowish orange color with thin legs. Unlike Rittenhouse, this doesn't smell much like bourbon. Definitely a little spice, but an almost fruity note to it (I notice this in high rye beers too), certainly not "new make" but the oak does not tamp down the rye at all, some nice vanilla though. Taste has a lot more of that spicy rye character, not as harsh or boozy as Rittenhouse, though I guess the lower proof will do that to my baby beer palate, a little oaky character pitches in too, but like the nose, it's not overwhelming and what you really get is the rye. Mouthfeel is lighter than the Rittenhouse, more subtle, less oily, with an approachable booziness. Overall, this reminds me of a more mature Dad's Hat Rye in that you really get that rye character coming through, but it's got less of a new make feel to it. I'm sure this is great for cocktails, though I haven't used it for such just yet. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 90 Proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: Rye has a reputation for contributing spicy elements to both beer and whiskey, but as mentioned above, I find that some higher rye beers tend to also exhibit a distinct, almost fruity note that I got out of Sazerac too (and not at all from Rittenhouse). Funnily enough, one of the examples I've had of a rye wine that exhibited this fruity twang was a beer aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels. Go figure. I've never had anything specifically aged in a Sazerac Rye barrel, though there are apparently a few examples out there. To be honest, I don't know how well it would work, as it seems a little too subtle to really impart that great, rich character that a good barrel aged beer displays. If you think I'm full of it, I will gladly submit to your Sazerac Barrel Aged brew to test it out.

Now we transition to Bourbon, but we'll stick with Buffalo Trace and check out their flagship product. It uses their lower rye recipe (also used for Eagle Rare 10, a bourbon I never really took a fancy to, as well as some of the more prized BT products like Stagg) and while it carries no age statement, consensus seems to indicate it's around 8 years old. Pretty basic stuff, but I actually really enjoyed this more than I thought (though clearly not as much as the high rye Elmer T. Lee, which is fantastic).

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace - Pours a golden orange color with adorable little legs (i.e. not much). Smells sweet, caramel, toffee, vanilla, leavened with hints of spice. Love the nose on this. Not intense, but it hits the right notes for me. Taste hits the spice a little harder, but the underlying sweetness is still there, a little caramel and vanilla goes a long way. Mouthfeel is soft and approachable, light on the booze (keep in mind by beer palate is unused to this sort of assault, so this is saying something). Overall, this is another all purpose bourbon, great neat and I'm sure it would do fine in cocktails. Would be perfect for bourbon-oaked homebrew. It's not intense or mind-blowing, but it gets the job done. B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 90 Proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: The Buffalo Trace Eclipse variant won the blind horizontal tasting I held recently, narrowly beating out Four Roses and Elijah Craig 12 (each of which had a single outlier that dragged them down). Local brewery Neshaminy Creek got in a whole boatload of Buffalo Trace barrels last year and aged a few beers that I've had in them, to varying degrees of success (I think any issues I have with them come down to the base beer). Not so local, but close enough Voodoo brewery made a few imperial stouts aged in BT barrels, one of which was fantastic and the other of which didn't work quite as well. Again, not sure if that's the fault of the barrels so much as the base beer, but make of that what you will. I'd still consider using this for bourbon oaked homebrew, and might actually use the remainder of this bottle for a Scotch ale I've been dreaming up (though, uh, perhaps I should use a Scotch for that, eh?)

Finally, the oldest and probably most well regarded whiskey in this post, we've got Elijah Craig 12. Named after the Rev. Elijah Craig, one of a few historical figures that are dubiously credited with inventing Bourbon, we're back with Heaven Hill now, and this one's pretty darned good. Apparently, they recently changed the label to omit the 12 year old age statement. Though the age statement still appears on the back label, many believe this is a precursor to a reduced or genuine NAS release in the nearish future, so stock up I guess. As you can see from my bottle, I rather enjoyed this and finished the whole thing within a year of purchasing.

Elijah Craig 12

Elijah Craig 12 - Pours a dark orange color, almost brown, medium legs. Smells very spicy and oaky, big spicebox component here, hints of caramel, vanilla, maybe some maple character. Taste follows the nose, big spice component, cinnamon, red pepper, cocoa, tons of toasted oak, caramel, maple sugar. Mouthfeel is almost full bodied, spicy, kinda dry, not super boozy. It kinda reminds me of a better Orphan Barrel bourbon (at about a third of the price), oaky, but not overly so, such that it doesn't overpower other flavors. Overall, this is fantastic, great oak and spice character with a sweet maple backbone, a solid choice for an everyday Bourbon. This would also be perfect for a bourbon oaked homebrew, if I didn't just finish the bottle. A high B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 94 Proof, 47% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: EC12 is a highly prized barrel for brewers. It's well known that Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout (and some variants) uses these (though their barrel program is so huge today that I wouldn't be surprised if they used barrels from every major producer). As mentioned above, the EC12 variant of Eclipse fared very well in the horizontal tasting and is generally one of the more prized variants (the 18 year variant they did a few years ago also has a spectacular reputation). This, too, would be great fodder for homebrew. It's rich and intense character at a relatively low proof should impart a lot of flavor (I'd go stout with this one).

Phew, that was a lot. This is obviously a beer blog, so it may be a while, but I've got some interesting stuff coming my way (or sitting in my cabinet waiting to be opened), so I will try to check in with a Bourbon review every now and again, just to break things up. I've got a couple of Private Selections, including a Four Roses barrel selected by a bunch of beer nerds, and another State Line Liquors private selection of Wild Turkey. I'd say stay tuned, but it might be a while, but hang in there.

Not long ago, in a watering hold not far away, a few friends mentioned that they might be taking a trip to Vermont to visit a few breweries and squirrel away some bottles for rainy day (or just regular day) fun. As a veteran of two invasion campaigns (Operation Cheddar and Operation Cheddar II: Sharp Cheddar), I was fully on board. As it turns out, there was a secondary operation to this trip which took us to Boston for the American Craft Beer Festival and other wanderings. I shall dub this portion of the trip Operation Chowder and cover it in more detail tomorrow1.

Unlike the surgical strikes of Operation Cheddars I and II (single day affairs, with only a few tactical maneuvers), part III was a more extended campaign, stretching out across three days (with some travel time embedded in the first and last day) and reaching a more varied list of targets. It turns out that Vermont Beer is more than Hill Farmstead, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and Heady Topper. Not that we didn't partake in that holy trinity as much as possible, just that we hit up other places as well:

Fiddlehead sign
(Click to embiggen)

First stop was Fiddlehead brewery, before we even arrived at our hotel. It's a pretty small little tasting room for filling growlers and selling cans, but alas, no cans of the fabled Second Fiddle were available. We partook in some small samples and snagged a 4 pack of something else (covered below). There is also an attached pizza place, which a friend in Boston mentioned was better than the grand majority of pizza available in Boston (he also mentioned that this was not a particularly high bar - moar on Boston pizza tomorrow), though we did not partake as we wanted to get to our hotel, which was the Best Western just north of Waterbury.

The Waterbury Triangle

When I mentioned my trip to Vermont on twitter, VT beer peeps came out of the woodwork to provide recommendations and planning for our attacks. The Vermont Beer Bros mentioned that we were near the fabled Waterbury triangle, a series of bars in "downtown" Waterbury arranged as the picture above shows. It was a bit of a lengthy walk, but totally doable (and honestly, I find walking a bit before and after drinking to be a good thing and enjoyed the walks, though my friends were a little less excited, especially at the big hill near the hotel). The first place we went was the place I'd heard the most about:

Prohibition Pig
(Click to embiggen)

The Prohibition Pig is a bar that has a little brewery attached in the back. They serve their own beer, but also a pretty fantastic selection of local VT beer. It turns out that there was a Waterbury-wide Hill Farmstead tap takeover the previous weekend, so while we missed out on some of the more limited brews (we shall meet someday, Flora), there were a bunch of things we hadn't had on tap. Not to mention some Lawson's (Sip of Sunshine and Super Session IPA), amongst others. I sampled some of Pro Pig's brews too, and would recommend Bantam, a DIPA that holds its own against the other stuff I was drinking (the other stuff I had was not as successful, but still nice). Also of note, Pro Pig has a rather fantastic Bourbon selection:

Pro Pigs Bourbon Selection Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15
(Click to embiggen)

BTAC, Pappy, and lots of other stuff you don't see too often (at least, around here!) I was on the fence, but when the bartender mentioned that Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 was on its last pour and didn't quite have a full 2 ounces left so he'd charge half price, I was on board. It was fantastic, rich and spicy, silky smooth and didn't drink at all like a highish proof bourbon... but I don't think it's really worth the $48 pour (and while I'm glad I tried it, $24 was still a bit much for the 1.5ish ounces I got, though obviously much more manageable). I can see why the hype is there, but that doesn't make it any less overhyped. This basically represented my only non-beer drink during the trip, and I was pretty glad I chose it.

Of the other bars in the Waterbury Triangle, the other one that really stood out was the Blackback Pub (the one in the center of the triangle). The taplist was great (if similar to Pro Pig and the Reservoir), but we made immediate friends with the bartender and scored some beer that wasn't available at Pro Pig either (more on this in a later post!) Also of note is that the Blackback has some pretty good food, and as a Philly native, I was very tickled to see their emphasis on using Amaroso rolls (Italian rolls that they somehow get delivered up to them). It's a great bar, a little smaller, but seemingly more lively, perhaps because we were chatting with the bartender for a while. The Reservoir was also pretty great, comparable beer selection, though we never ate there (but they seemed like they had a decent menu). The Blue Stone was the only one we didn't really get much out of... we were actually planning on grabbing some pizza there, but by the time we got there (around 9 or 9:30), their kitchen was closed (!?) so we didn't really stick around (and headed over to the Blackback for some snacks). Next time, Blue Stone!

Ultimately, staying in Waterbury was a fabulous idea, and as there's plenty to do and it's a pretty central location when you start to visit breweries, etc... Recommended!

Day 2 started off at a little supermarket and a rather fantastic bottle shop called Craft Beer Cellar (right across from Pro Pig), where we picked up some cans of Heady and Sip (more on that later), amongst other miscellaneous beers:

Miscellaneous Haul
(Click to embiggen)

What we have here are some Jack's Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter, Barrel Aged Framinghammer, Vanilla Barrel Aged Framinghammer, and Saxonator. Also some Switchback Citra-Pils and Foley Brothers Fair Maiden. Super excited for pretty much all of this! Next stop, that old chestnut:

Hill Farmstead Sign
(Click to embiggen)

Hill Farmstead Haul
(Click to embiggen)

Not much to say about Hill Farmstead. The beer is excellent as ever, and seemed more plentiful than the last times I made the trip (though it appears we missed out on more limited stuff like Flora the previous week... and dammit, this week too - poor timing, I guess). As for the haul, I got some Dorothy, Arthur, and Grassroots Brother Soigné bottles, and growler fills of Susan, Harlan, and Double Citra. Quite a successful sortie. Next up, Lost Nation:

Lost Nation
(Click to embiggen)

It was starting to rain at this point and we were hungry, so we decided to get some lunch here and holy crap, that was the best decision ever. They have some fantastic food here. I had a smoked lamb flatbread thing (with some sort of garlic feta aioli) that was out of this world good. Definitely a recommended stop! I was driving, so only had a couple sips of beer, but it seemed good enough to snag some bottles/cans.

Not far away from that is Rock Art, which had a little tasting room and lots of other bottles and general stuff for sale. Once again, I was driving, so I didn't really drink much beer, but snagged a few bottles:

Lost Nation and Rock Art Haul
(Click to embiggen)

So the haul from those two breweries begat us a few bottles (cans covered somewhere below), including: Lost Nation Lamoille Bretta and The Wind and Rock Art Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout (Smugglers Notch Barrels) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale. Another successful sortie, and thus day 2 closed with another trip around the Waterbury triangle (already covered above).

The Warren Store. Again!
(Click to embiggen)

Day 3 began with a trip to one of my favorite little VT stores, The Warren Store. Got some nice cans and the requisite breakfast sandwich (fantastic, as always, eaten outside on the deck by the creek).

We also managed to pop over to the Burlington to hit up a couple of breweries, Zero Gravity and the Vermont Pub & Brewery. Alas, we ran out of time and had to begin the trek to Boston before I got a chance to stop at some of the other Burlington targets, particularly Four Quarters Brewing. Ah well, next time.

All in all, a pretty successful trip, and here are some more of the beer we picked up:

Nice Cans
(Click to embiggen)

What we have here is some Lawson's Sip of Sunshine, Alchemist Heady Topper, Fiddlehead Tejas Marron, and some cans of Lost Nation Lost Galaxy and Gose. On the end there, two lonely cans of Night Shift Morph that are actually from Operation Chowder, but included here as a bonus or something.

Glassware
(Click to embiggen)

The glassware haul turned out well too, with Pro Pig, Lawson's, and Blackback Pub glasses, which I guess you'd call snifters, though they're also kinda tulip-ish. Whatever they are, the VT breweries seem to love them, because everyone had one like that, and most restaurants had them in several sizes...

Syrup, Hot Sauce, and Jelly, Oh My!
(Click to embiggen)

I also bought some things that were not beer. Astounding, I know. What we have here is some VT Maple Syrup aged in Bourbon Barrels (hnng), some VT Habanero hot sauce, and some sort of weird beer jelly stuff (from Rock Art). I also snagged a couple of tshirts, not pictured here because come on, this post is long enough and we still have to cover our final Vermont stop:

Worthy Burger beer menu
(Click to embiggen)

Per a recommendation from our bartender friend Eric from the Blackback Pub, we stopped at Worthy Burger on our way to Boston for some lunch. As you can see, it's another fabulous tap list, and they have this great wood burning grill where they cook their burgers, which are rather fabulous:

An actual Worthy Burger
(Click to embiggen)

Quite tasty! Once again, I was driving, so I partook in some local root beer, which was also rather nice. Oh, and we shared a strip of heavenly deep fried bacon as well (let's just say it was good). While a bit out of the way of most other VT beer stops, if you can make it work, it's worth a trip...

Well, this trip was quite a bit more eventful than previous Operations Cheddar, but totally a good time. Stay tuned for the slightly more tame Operation Chowder, wherein we actually managed to snag some of the VT beer we missed out on in our travails above!

1 - I named this Operation Chowder despite the fact that no Chowder was actually consumed at any point in our Boston wanderings (not exactly Chowder weather). We did, however, get a fair amount of Lobster, but I'm saving Operation Lobster for the inevitable Maine invasion, should that ever happen.

Four Roses currently enjoys quite a popularity amongst the beer nerd community, some even going so far as to place them at the top of all bourbon distilleries (above Buffalo Trace and their Pappy juice, zomg). During last year's hiatus from beer, I tackled Four Roses standard Single Barrel offering, and was suitably impressed, noting in particular my appreciation of the openness Four Roses displays with their recipes. It makes the homebrewer inside me all tingly.

Four Roses has three standard labels. The Yellow Label is a blend of all 10 recipes, and their basic, 80 proof, everyday bourbon. There's the aforementioned Single Barrel, and a standard Small Batch bourbon, which is a vatting of a few recipes. They have some special releases of Small Batch that are released at cask strength and include well aged stocks (plus, the blend changes from year to year), which seem to be approaching Pappy level hype amongst the hardcore beer nerds (I believe the PA allocation sold out in 10 minutes or so). Then there's their Private Selection program, where various restaurants, bars, and liquor stores are able to purchase a single barrel and get the cask strength juice bottled exclusively for them.

This is what I have here, from the beer nerd paradise of State Line Liquors (in all honesty, they seem like a great whiskey and wine store as well). While many of these barrels use various recipes, State Line chose a barrel that happened to be the same recipe as the standard Single Barrel: OBSV (high rye, expressive yeast). This makes for an interesting experience for a relative newb like myself, as I get a chance to see exactly what the differences are in this higher proof and slightly older whiskey.

While I was at it, and since I was just at the end of this year's hiatus from beer, I used the opportunity to crack open another Eclipse Stout variant, aged in, you guessed it, Four Roses barrels. FiftyFifty does not specify which recipe they used for their barrels (and in all honesty, it could be that they used several barrels and just blended it all together in the end). Regardless, my affinity for this series of barrel aged stouts is well documented, and I never tried sampling the bourbon next to the beer aged in that bourbon's barrels. It was fun, so let's not waste any more time:

Four Roses Eclipse and Four Roses Single Barrel Double Feature
(Click to Embiggen)

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon (State Line Liquors) - Pours a burnished golden orange brown color (let's call it copper), with legs that go all the way up (whatever that means). Beautiful nose, deep oak, rich caramel, nice spicebox component, cinnamon and the like, and that fruity bubblegum character that seems to wind its way through all the Four Roses expressions (thanks to my friend Padraic, I can't not notice it now). This might be my favorite nose on any whiskey I've ever had. Not that I've had a huge number of whiskeys, but still, I could just keep my nose buried in this glass for hours. Taste hits the same notes with varying strength, lots of oak, good dusting of spicebox, some rich caramel, hugely boozy in the finish. Mouthfeel is viscous, mouth coating, full bodied, almost chewy, and sooper boozy. I don't even think this is my baby beer palate speaking here, I suspect most folks add some water to this at some point. At 62% ABV, it's not exactly an everyday whiskey. When I added some drops of water, the palate softened a bit, but then, so did the wonderfully intense nose. Overall, it's a fabulous bourbon, one that approaches the top of my (admittedly paltry) list. Significantly more intense than the regular Single Barrel. Compared to the other cask strength Bourbon I tried recently (Maker's Mark), this is the clear winner by a mile. A-

Private Selection Details

Whiskey Nerd Details: 124 Proof, 62% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass. Specially Selected by State Line Liquors on February 13, 2014. Four Roses Recipe Selected: OBSV. Aged 11 Years 1 Months. Warehouse No.: ME. Barrel No.: 2-5H.

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Four Roses

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Four Roses - Pours a deep black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted malt, with some vanilla and oak peeking through, but surprisingly little in the way of bourbon. Taste is sweet, with a little bit of that roasted malt character coming through, maybe some dark chocolate, again surprisingly little in the way of bourbon, though the oak and vanilla do show up (not as prominently as other variants, but they're there), and a little bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not as rich or chewy as other expressions of Eclipse. Overall, this reminds me a bit of the Elijah Craig Eclipse in that it retains more of its base character and the barrel notes are minimized. Still, I don't think this one quite hits the high of Elijah Craig, even if it is pretty darn good. On the lower end of A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml red waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/3/15. Vintage: 2014. Bottle Run: BR 1.

Beer Nerd Musings: This pairing was less fruitful than expected. Perhaps the quick sample of the real thing ruined my palate for the beer, but I just wasn't getting a lot of Bourbon out of the beer. Not sure what this means. One of the interesting things about the Eclipse series is that the beer spends just about the same amount of time in the barrel, no matter which barrel we're talking about. So beer aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels (i.e. relatively young barrels that impart a lot of oak and vanilla) ages for the same amount of time as the beer in Evan Williams 23 barrels (i.e. really old barrels that impart more straight bourbon than oak or vanilla). In this case, I'm not positive what's going on. There's a fair amount of oak, but not much straight bourbon character.

One of these days, I'll put together an Eclipse horizontal tasting and try a bunch of these suckers side-by-side to see what's up. I've got a few of these suckers laying around, so I think I'm going to try and make that happen in the near future. Ish. Anywho, this marks my triumphant return to beer, so look for a couple more reviews this week. Also, comments are working again. Feel free to tell me how little I know about bourbon.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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