Paste readers seemed to appreciate our repeated dives back into our liquor collection as we’ve been reevaluating whiskeys during quarantine, so we’re at it again. Here are some more bottles I’ve been digging out from the back of the liquor cabinet to see how they’re faring.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thanking your lucky stars or deity of choice right now for the fact that you were already maintaining a very well-stocked home bar before the world descended into its current, apocalyptic state. Because if there’s one thing you want to make sure you have on hand during the new societal age of social distancing, it’s … toilet paper. But it doesn’t hurt to have some whiskey, either.
With that thought in mind, during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I’ve been returning to the back shelves of my liquor cabinet with more regularity, re-sampling some of the various bottles of whiskey I haven’t necessarily been thinking about recently. It’s been a good opportunity to revisit some old classics and bottles I’d half forgotten about, while possibly finishing off some of those pesky bottles that have been hanging on to their last two ounces for a year or more.
Here, then, are five more interesting bottles of whiskey I’ve been revisiting during quarantine. If your state’s liquor stores are still in operation, consider picking up some quarantine whiskey for yourself!
Pinhook Bourbon has been around for a decade now as a non-distilling producer (NDP) in Kentucky, and they’ve sort of flown under the radar despite having well-liked products. Their mission statement is “to bring the concept of vintages to bourbon and celebrate the tradition of Kentucky horse racing,” which they do by releasing specific, different whiskey vintages on a yearly basis, named for horses—once that vintage is gone, it’s on to the next one. Sort of begging those Blanton’s horsie-top collectors to come calling, is it not?
For the vast majority of its existence, Pinhook’s bourbons have been drawn from MGP of Indiana like so many other non-distiller producers, but 2020 brought a change that is of considerably interest to whiskey geeks. For a few years, Pinhook has been having a proprietary mash bill distilled and aged by the renovated Castle & Key distillery (formerly Old Taylor) outside of Frankfort, and this year’s Bohemian Bourbon release therefore represents the first actual whiskey release to hit the market that was distilled at Castle & Key, while the market waits on the release of C&K’s own brand. Of note: We just reviewed Castle & Key’s surprisingly good London dry gin the other day.
As for this bourbon’s vitals: It was distilled at Castle & Key from a mash of 75% corn, 15% rye and 10% malted barley, and aged “more than 3 years,” according to the label. This flagship variant weighs in at 47.5% ABV (95 proof), which is down from the “high proof” Bohemian Bourbon release from earlier this year, which was 114.5 proof.
The first thing one notices on this 95 proof example of Bohemian Bourbon is that it’s notably light in color—a very pale straw yellow that makes you wonder what kind of char level is being used. On the nose, it’s redolent in corn—creamed corn, vanilla and sweet cornbread make for aromatics that are very purely “corny,” along with traces of clove and nutmeg. It almost reminds me of how “corn ice cream” might be expected to smell. Over time, additional florals and grassy notes also start to emerge.
On the palate, there’s a good amount of corny sweetness and butterscotch here, along with red berries and oatmeal-like cereal notes/graininess. There’s some of that cornbread and vanilla, but the rye grain shows up much more on the palate than on the nose, with notes of sweet herbs, grass and mint. Overall, the palate turns surprisingly herbaceous, and certainly not lacking in character—it’s actually a bit hotter than I’d expect for the proof, which would likely mellow out with a few more years in the barrel. On the back end, things turn slightly tropical, with hints of coconut cream. All in all, this is pretty nice for roughly 3-year-old bourbon from a new distilling operation. It certainly strikes me as the beginning of something interesting, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.
Last year, Brown-Forman’s Old Forester revamped its older single barrel program, tweaking the core “single barrel” expression and also adding a barrel proof bottling of the same. Most of the attention from whiskey geeks was likely focused on the existence of that new cask strength Old Forester—lost in the hubbub was the regular Old Forester Single Barrel (available exclusively via store picks) going from 90 to 100 proof.
I have one of those samples here—100 proof Old Forester, non-age-stated (which is the usual for the company), from the brand’s single mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. Be aware, of course, that any given single barrel pick you get from Old Forester may highlight a significantly different aspect of the company’s typical flavor profile, something that is nicely featured by the new Old Forester 150th Anniversary trifecta of bourbons.
On the nose, this single barrel features some light banana fruitiness, followed by toffee and slight coconut. The profile then merges into more of a rye-driven dimension, with slightly musty notes of rye bread and citrus, into lots of mint.
On the palate, things initially lead off with that quintessential Brown-Forman banana, but this is actually one of the less fruity Old Forester expressions I’ve had in recent memory. Instead, it touches on caramel and then really plays up the rye spice, with citrus and lots of mint, along with light baking spices. In this way, of the three 150th Anniversary batches, this particular single barrel definitely has the most in common with Batch #3, which has a more herbal and rye-driven profile rather than the banana/cherry so common in other Old Forester expressions.
Chicago’s FEW has been a fixture in the craft spirits game for quite a while now, but it had been a while since the last time I sampled one of their bottles. This rye, though, has recaptured my interest—this is very unique stuff, combining rye whiskey and tea influences in a way I haven’t seen before. Specifically Immortal Rye Whiskey is cask-strength rye from Illinois that is then proofed down using cold-extracted “8 Immortals” Oolong tea from Denver’s The Tea Spot, instead of water. The whiskey is thus proofed down using tea to the final strength, which is 46.5% ABV (93 proof). Roughly 6,000 bottles were made for its fall release, and the company claims to be the first to apply this method of proofing down via tea.
The results are quite interesting. The nose is predominantly fruity, with big notes of peach and orange, which slowly take on more of a passionfruit dimension. It’s also unmistakeably malty, in a biscuity kind of way that I assume can be attributed to the tea, with streaks of caramel and vanilla. It smells “rich” more than “spicy,” per se, with slightly rye breadiness, but not the peppery quality you might be expecting from the rye whiskey.
On the palate, this is warm and malty, with rye bread and still plenty of fruit—peach, orange, passionfruit—but now the spice is moving in a big. Vanilla is plentiful, and sweetness is mild to moderate, with lots of honey and more exotic tropical fruit notes that creep forward over time. It’s just an interesting combination of flavors—biscuity, malty and rye bread, with pepper and ginger, alongside all that fruit. It’s going in a few different directions at once, but it works.
The word that comes to mind on this rye is “fun”—they went out on a limb, and it has an interesting and enjoyable result.
In terms of this year’s limited releases, I don’t think there’s been a better value than the 9-year-old, age-stated, 100 proof Bulleit Blender’s Select going for $50, especially when you factor in how delicious it is. Regardless of the origin of the whiskey itself—most likely Four Roses, but trying to talk about whiskey sourcing and Bulleit is a whole can of worms—the liquid inside these bottles is some excellent stuff. It’s the first release in the Blender’s Select series at Bulleit, part of a wider initiative from parent company Diageo called the Diageo Craftswomen campaign. The blending of this particular brand is credited to Bulleit blender Eboni Major. As previously stated, it bears a 9-year age statement, but is a considerably deeper, more densely flavorful bottle than the comparable, year-round Bulleit 10 Year, suggesting the influence of Major’s curation.
On the nose, this is a sweet and fruity dram, with lots of vanilla, gooey caramel and brown sugar, toasted oak and lots of red fruit. It’s very gentle and inviting in terms of restrained ethanol at 100 proof, and has lovely notes of juicy strawberry and black cherry, along with fudgy chocolate. On the palate, the bourbon is likewise luscious, soft and inviting, with big fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry along with cocoa, brown sugar and cinnamon/allspice. Tried alongside a piece of dark chocolate, it really stands out beautifully in terms of both its dark fruitiness and roasty finish.
Simply one of the tastiest releases of the year, and at a decent price to boot.
Wild Turkey’s yearly Master’s Keep releases are the distillery’s most prominent LE series, and they’re almost always hot ticket items for the extremely passionate group of collectors who obsess over Wild Turkey bourbon. This year’s Master’s Keep release is only the second bottled-in-bond bourbon in the company’s history, after 2007’s American Spirit. It’s an especially old, 17-year-old batch from the company’s Camp Nelson rickhouses, with a steep $175 price tag. It also proved to be one of the most unique and individualistic bourbons I’ve tasted in the last few years, justifying the premium you can expect to pay.
On the nose, Master’s Keep BIB projects a combination of fruit, vanilla and roast—you get dense char, oak and smoke along with cherry, coca and cola spice. It’s more dominated by oak and char initially, but time in the glass helps this one open up and unlocks its richer notes of roasted almonds, honey, caramel, graham cracker and cherry. There’s hints of the funky, older oak profile here on the nose as well.
On the palate, as when I initially reviewed this bourbon, the aspect that really stands out is how it seems to be constantly changing and morphing from sip to sip. In one moment, it seems on the drier side, with mesquite bbq smokiness, pepper and rye spice, but then you’ll come back for another sip and get creamy orange, vanilla and red fruit. One thing it definitely is on every sip is uniquely savory, with an old oak funkiness that is likely a “love it or hate it” quality only to be found in older batches like this. As I did before, I find myself appreciating how truly unique this release is. I haven’t tasted anything else very similar to it in 2020, and I may not in 2021.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.