Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve

I am going to start off this article by making you all a promise.  I will not make any obvious Billy Idol references.  I make no promises about history references, either way.  With that out of the way, let me begin.

As my frequent readers have led me to believe, I am some kind of poet laureate of the poor man’s hooch. Well, my friends, let me fulfill your dreams.  You see, I’m not entirely sure (because, alcohol) but I’m pretty sure Rebel Yell was my first bourbon.  Clearly this was a successful foray, as you likely have noticed I have gained a touch of an affinity for bourbon.  Now, I’m not sure when the last time I have regular Rebel Yell was, I imagine it’s been years, but let me state for the record, I enjoyed it.  Is Rebel Yell great whiskey?  Feck no.  But as Faulkner famously observed: “there is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.”  That’s like piss whiskey populism, or something.  Well, it just so happens that while Rebel Yell is one of those fine $15 whiskies, there is better whiskey available—and under the Rebel Yell banner none-the-less.  Don’t they call that the Stars ‘n’ Bars?

I’ll be brief in my profile of this spirit.  You have your standard Rebel Yell, perhaps a private of the infantry, which howls at 80 proof for $15 and achieves the general goal of getting you intoxicated.  Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve, honestly doesn’t differ terribly a lot in concept.  Kentucky made bourbon, with wheat as the secondary grain is purchased from an undisclosed distiller and bottled.  Neither have a age statement, but I’d say it’s a good guess nobody is really sure.  At $20 we’re not too picky.  Small Batch Reserve bumps up to 90.6 proof, which is a significant perk in the getting drunk field.   Those are the stats, which beg the question; does bottling a Small Batch Reserve edition ensure that the south will rise again, under the banner of Rebel Yell?

Just the smell of this whiskey harkens back to the glory days of southern pride…no wait, it doesn’t.  It smells like whiskey, more particularly some dark brown sugar, vanilla, perhaps some light tobacco and just a touch of dry wood.  That’s okay, I imagine the antebellum south smelled like swamp, sweat and injustice.   Tasty tasty time… The first note is one of overwhelming honey that rolls from the tip of the tongue on down with a pretty rich mouthfeel.  Once a breath of air passes over the palate a touch of heat is exposed that rises with a somewhat acid note that quickly gives a like burn on the tonsils with an interesting cherry note seems hidden in there underneath some vanilla.  The finish is heavy on the honey, which coats the inside of your mouth pleasantly, but has a touch of a medicinal note hanging about.

Rebel

So will Jefferson Davis be adorning future dollar bills, ya’ll?  No, clearly not, that’s absurd.  But the weekend I bought this whiskey was spent cruising around the campus of Yale in an angry ’85 Camaro with seats that didn’t match, a questionable paint job, and a likely broken carburetor—which seems entirely appropriate.  While a step up from your standard Rebel Yell fare, this is still at its core a low shelf sluggin’ whiskey of the sort that makes you feel a bit more rugged for drinking it.  So while I may not be riding with Quantrill’s Raiders like Jesse James, with a bit of this in me I feel like my buddy, his Camaro and I could scare the piss out of some preps.  Or make them piss themselves laughing…it’s all the same when you’ve had a few.

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A. Smith Bowman: Bowman Brothers Small Batch

Whiskey marketing tends to flow down a few narrow channels.  If you’re walking down the whiskey lanes browsing around, it isn’t exactly hard to see this trend. You wanna sell whiskey?  You gotta have a rugged heritage.  It’s okay if it’s mostly rubbish, just pick a name of a distiller from the 1700s and slap on a word that makes you think Davy Crockett would drink this between eating bear hearts—boom, you’ve nailed the market.  Given whiskey’s image, you’d think it caused your body to develop more testosterone.  If it did, I’d probably look like bigfoot.  Anyways, tonight’s drinking comes courtesy of a company that has clearly mastered this technique, A. Smith Bowman Distilleries of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The product: Bowman Brothers “Pioneer Spirit” Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey.   Long name, I know.  Here’s the thing, this whole marketing spiel I mentioned, it seems to be a more modern trend.  The funny thing is, unlike the names smacked on labels, such as Elijah Craig, this name actually has something to do with the company’s heritage.  Furthermore, Bowman seems to be ahead of the curve a touch—he started the distillery in 1935; in fact, the original distillery location in modern day Reston, Virginia is on the National Register of Historic places.  Then again, Bowman was just naming the distillery after himself, much like Jim Beam; he just happens to have famous relatives…

The namesakes of this bottle, the Bowman Brothers, were intrepid American Revolutionary War Veterans and, no bullshit, pioneers.  They led families west to the wild frontiers of Kentucky (like someone else I mentioned…) to settle communities in two counties.  You probably know Kentucky well for one of its fine exports as well, bourbon.  I’m sure there’s no connection.  Where the hell was I going with this?  Oh yeah, A. Smith Bowman ain’t just another new name on the shelves playing a tired marketing ploy—they were around when whiskey’s marketing ploy was “it gets you drunk.”  Now they have to tell you to drink responsibly, how sad.  As usual, all of this is tangential though—let’s talk juice.

Supposedly, from what I call “research,” Bowman Brothers is made from a Buffalo Trace Mash, about 15% rye, that is triple distilled though a copper still.  What does that smell like? It’s very light, with a crisp apple note leading in, a delectably smooth vanilla middle, and just a dusting of rye spice at the end, almost like apple crisp and ice cream.  I’m kind of hungry now.  Okay, Girl Scout cookies down and I’m back—let us taste! (As if I haven’t already had two drinks.)

Bowman

That rye note is actually pretty up front on the first sip, considering its low station in the mash.  The middle is where this whiskey really shines, with a very rich vanilla flavor that’s rather unusual—did I buy the special release aged with vanilla beans?  Nope, my blood ain’t that rich.  There is also a pretty great chewy, sweet, maple-syrup-over-snow thing as the foundation.  This is enjoyable stuff.

What’s the point here?  Well, one, this Bowman Brothers is a pretty interesting, light and lovely whiskey.  Also, all the marketing money in the world isn’t going to give your brand any legit heritage.  Finally, it seems to me that Virginia pioneers probably taught the people of Kentucky a thing or two about the art of whiskey—even Washington was a distiller—and if this is the kind of whiskey Virginia is still churning out, I think they still know what they’re doing.

Jim Beam Bonded

Mondays.  Nobody is excited for Monday.  Monday is never the best day of the week.  Then again sometimes, it’s worse than others—as was the case for me today.  I woke up early, and I freakin’ hate waking up.  I had to go to the dentist, which meant minimizing morning coffee intake.  I got my cleaning done, with a thorough thrashing of my gums and scraping.  Worse yet, I have to go back to get a filling.  From there I went to one of my favorite coffee shops to catch up on my chemicals, only to realize I had forgotten my wallet.  Onward to work in the pouring rain.  Work was guaranteed a stressful day, payroll reporting, though that went rather smoothly.  Not everything did, which meant—without going into any details—I spent a good hour dealing with someone in a less than pleasant mood.  That’s a touch of an understatement.  That’s a big understatement.  Fortunately, I made it through the day, made the gym, made it home.  Now, I would never be the one to recommend alcohol as a coping mechanism (hahahahahaha,) but I think it’s a fine night for a firm drink.  On the docket tonight?  Jim Beam Bonded.

Jim Beam Bonded is a pretty fresh release, hitting the shelves nationwide.  The first natural question, what the hell does bonded mean?  I imagine this is a pretty frequent question, as the term is rather specific and therefore rarely applied (aside from on my beloved Old Grandad.) Basically bonded, or “bottled in bond,” means that the bourbon comes from one distiller in one distilling season, has spent 4 years or longer in the barrel, and is bottled at 100 proof.  Simple enough, given the government involvement. So the real question here is, is it going to soothe my tattered soul (and taste good doing so?)

beam

That first deep whiff, more deep breathing exercise than nose, comes through robust, with a heavy cedar note, more than a touch of spice, some warm molasses and a lingering forewarning of booze.  The mouthfeel is surprisingly gentle with a rich warm oily consistency hiding the 50% of booze in here quite nicely, and the flavors that pop out are decidedly different than your standard Beam.  The profile, I would say, can best be described as dark, with a touch of leather and toffee resting on a solid backbone of char and toasted oak.  That leather clings on with an almost cigar like finish that is less aggressive than one would expect, pleasantly warming the throat as it winds down.  Overall, I’d probably describe this as old school, if I had any basis for that judgement.

Two fingers down, and it’s almost Tuesday.  Monday doesn’t hurt so badly anymore, except that brutal 3rd person flossing.  The takeaway here is that sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, a full sip, and let it go.  Other days are bonded days—a bit rougher, hotter, but worth the hassle in the end.

Corner Creek Reserve Bourbon

Well, my readers, I must begin by apologize.  I’ve gone dark, slightly.  Not really, but my frequency dipped.  Anyways, that being out of the way, let me give you a little glimpse of your narrator, author—vice-roy, perhaps.  I have a little bit of a process on these articles.  Usually it starts by getting a bottle of hooch.  You probably could have guessed that.  If it’s a good bottle, I’ll stretch it out a bit; start out nights with a single pour.  I start to think on it, find the tastes, get an angle, if I can.  In this case, I have no angle really, but we’ll let that slide.  Once I’ve gotten down to a good bottle, usually I’ll leave that last couple drinks un-drunk.  Basically, I’ll grapple with the base impulses which are always at war within me.  The one that wants to do something creative, that wants to let my mind breath, if just for a couple meaningless paragraphs or a quick solo—and the lazy son of a bitch who just wants to lay back in his chair watching the X-Files for the 15th time and take the edge off with a light buzz.  Usually that lazy bastard wins, because, well, life is goddamn exhausting.  Occasionally the ambitious dude escapes, grabs up that last few pours—puts the bottle in front of him and starts to think.

He tries to rework that angle that ran across his mind on the way to work one day.  He looks at the website of his subject, tries to get the feel for how they present themselves, and tries to get their vibe.  Often, I’ll look at other reviews, amateur and otherwise—see if they’re just bullshitting notes or if maybe they caught something I hadn’t noticed.  A little bit of research, fact-checking, plagiarism.  That kind of shit.  Well, this has been my process tonight. In my research, I’ve found something quite interesting.  There are a lot of people who don’t have much to say about Corner Creek.  Some people have negative things to say.  Now, granted, maybe some of these people are snobs, who treat Blanton’s as their daily drink and occasionally do filthy things with bottles of Pappy Van Winkle.  Wretched perverts.  But then again, a lot of these people seem to be normal bourbon enthusiasts, and more to the point, they’re pulling the exact same notes out of this that I do— and they ain’t diggin’ it.  Before I go into it further, let me give you the rundown, the notes.

Starting on the nose, as any drunkard worth their slug is wont to do, we find Corner Creek is almost self-contradicting, with something like cola on leather underneath being overpowered by a light floral chamomile bouquet with warm vanilla and just a touch of dry oak.  It’s quite a lovely nose, unusual but inviting, and something I would consider splashing in my beard before a date.  If I had what could respectably be called a beard.  I’m trying, goddammit.  The first taste, too, is rather unusual.  While the flavor profile—light vanilla on the entry, a touch of rye, spice, some warm caramel and a nice crisp orange oil near the end—is not unusual itself, there is something unusual, which seems to be a sticking point in each review.  This bourbon is quite dry, almost like the mouthfeel of an old cabernet.  It’s quite unusual, and among the forum folks, quite controversial—but then again, I like cabernet.   The finish, upon which I can agree with some of my fellow tasters is a bit short, is not unpleasant, leaving you with a touch vanilla on a slightly dry palate that seems to ask for a splash more…

Corner creek

With the right Instagram edits it looks even drier!

So, for the most part, many of us tasters find a similar thing with this bottle.  But how do these tasting notes translate into a person’s feeling on the bourbon?  In the case of Corner Creek, quite greatly.  Some reviewers were offering to give their bottles away, some saying they didn’t understand it, but they liked it.  Quite a few people considered it undistinguished, but yet others seemed to find the dry notes distinctly and unwelcomingly out of style?  To be honest, I usually don’t put much stock in the other reviews when I do my “research,” but I found the controversy here quite interesting, and since I clearly have no other angle to this (un)creative ejaculation, I wanted to put in my two centavos down on this $26 argument.

My take on Corner Creek?  Distinct, and refreshingly so.  What makes Corner Creek so interesting to me, is that somehow it fits the mold of an almost quintessential bourbon in the flavors you find on the nose, in the taste, even on the finish—and yet, that touch of dryness to the wood has made a beautiful nose, and a highly controversial, and, in my opinion, interesting, flavor profile.  So while many reviewers out there found this to be flawed as an undistinct and dry bourbon, I find that in being dry it has a unique, and enjoyable distinctness.  Corner Creek may be just another band playing an old song, but there does seem to be a bit of a new twang to their sound.

Baker’s Bourbon, or Why We Fight

It’s Sunday night.  If you’re anything like me, and innumerable other poor insufferable bastards your mind is now spent pouring every moment of your weekend trying to remember where the time went, what did you do, have you really spent the last 11 hours on that couch?  Then there’s that other thought, that lingering dread, that grim cloud of despair that threatens your next 5 days—a combination of the known and unknown sufferings to come.  Or maybe you like your job, in which case, bully for you—self-fulfilled prick.  At some wicked hour you’re going to be awakened by some unnatural thought.  You will roll out of bed, stagger through your morning without being able to enjoy the beauty that is your breakfast and coffee.  You will drive (in the snow, in my case) to the office complex, the job site, the sweatshop.  You’ll bleed for 40 hours as the phones ring, the shitfans spray, the meetings drone and the whip cracks.  Why, dear god why?! Why do we dedicate so much of our lives to something that we find so dreadful, even possibly loathsome?  The short answer—we need shit.

I’m going to really try my best to avoid a rant (rampage) against crass consumerism here; for the sake of your already tormented minds and for the sake of space.  Also, it doesn’t contribute to my point.  The point is, that we work, because we need to make a living.  Maybe some of us legitimately hate our jobs, maybe some of us love them, me, I find it far more tolerable while doing it than warrants my present dread.  I do it though, admitted, because I need to.  I do it because every two weeks a bunch of numbers show up on this website saying I can pay people money that I owe them for that piece of paper I paid way too much for.  That website also says I can eat stuff, and drink some nice booze.  If you couldn’t tell I’m rather fond of booze.  Which brings me to my next point: sometimes there are, emphasis on sometimes, little unexpected perks that make your work go from something you bleed at for 40 hours per week, to a part of your life.  There are times when there’s a reward, be that intrinsic or otherwise, that make Sunday night’s dread perhaps seem a bit unfounded.  When you’re able to make a little impact in someone’s life, when there’s leftover pizza up for grabs in the breakroom, or when you go that extra mile for someone and they go out of their way to thank you.  These are nice moments. Small joys, surely, but without them the shitfan keeps humming endlessly.

Where am I going with all this?  Did the title not give it away? One of those small joys happened for me over the holidays, when my team at work went out for a nice dinner and exchange of gifts.  Many of the gifts were alcoholic (ahh, numbing the stress), my boss kindly bought me a bottle of Baker’s bourbon.  Working with people that you enjoy the company of is quite nice in and of itself.  When they give you good bourbon?  Small joy.  To the point, what of the bourbon?

Baker’s bourbon is a Beam brand project, one of their premier line, running at 107 proof after spending 7 years on oak absorbing, let me tell you, some lovely flavors.  Perhaps that’s an understatement.  You see, the first whiff of Baker’s is warm, round, almost thick and chewy, if your nostrils can detect that.  There are luscious notes of caramel, honey, and an almost cedar like woodiness with some dark and rich spice notes.  I’m pretty sure this would for some manly cologne.  Ah, and to taste this.  Rich chewy molasses cookies are the predominant flavor with a bit of allspice, a touch of dark fruit and a hint of vanilla—the best way I can describe this is simply lustrous. The finish reveals that vanilla that had but hiding just beneath the surface and sinks softly down warming, melting away the tension, the fear that goddamn grim menace of tomorrow.

What it is all for?  It’s for those small joys, that leftover pizza, for those people who make work tolerable, and that special bottle every other Friday that lets you stop the droning, stop the bleeding—lets you reap your just rewards.

Gift Pack Season, Give ’em the Bird and an Aging Kit

Happy Christmas, ya bastards.  I may as well be honest; I have a reputation as a bit of a scrooge.  That’s an under exaggeration, I’m an atheistic anti-capitalist with a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder and a cynical heart. There is, however, one thing I embrace about this season:  gift packs.  Tis the season where buying a bottle of booze means getting a little bit more than a solid buzz and an excuse to hate mornings. Glasses and shakers, muddlers and nips—this is the glory of the season.  This year I feel I have found an extraordinary gift pack, and a gift that keeps on giving—the Wild Turkey cocktail aging set.  This year’s Wild Turkey gift pack, 101 mind you, includes a Wild Turkey embossed mason jar and a piece of charred spiral oak.  At the same price as a bottle of Wild Turkey.  Which also happened to be on sale for $20.  Ho, ho, ho-ly hell yes.

The oak aging concept is something that has been pretty hip for a while now—with mini-barrels on sale for aging white whiskey and bars serving barrel aged cocktail off the barrel, the movement has more legs than a Czech supermodel or a good scotch.  Though there is a chunk of hype involved, yes, but there is also a lot of benefit to aging a cocktail all wrapped in one lovely package, to mix and meld and smooth over the edges with a consistent dusting of smoky oaky goodness.  With this in mind, Wild Turkey have done isn’t anything new.  There are plenty of brands out there selling you decanters or plain old bottles with a spiral or honeycombed stick of charred oak.  The primary word there?  Sellinggggg.  You can buy a bottle with a charred oak stick as a “cocktail aging kit,” that’s $35.  You can buy a bottle of Wild Turkey for $20 and they give you that shit.  Merry Christma-hanna-let’s-get-ripped-akah.

Given my complete absence of holiday spirit it should come as no surprise that my interest in gift sets is purely selfish, and therefore it should be clear by now that I bought this set for myself.  I may be more for myself, because I’m not giving anybody gifts.  Ba-humbug. Anyways, in the world of infinite opportunities, known as mixology, I decided to use this lovely little perk of mine to make a twist on an old favorite—based on the materials I already had at hand.  I went with a twist on one of the oldest, some argue oldest, American cocktails: Le Sazerac.  The twist here is that instead of Rye I used the materials God and the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission gave me, Wild Turkey.  Now it is worth noting that this lil’ kit hold 500ml of fluid fire, which means scaling up your standard Sazerac Recipe significantly.  To make mine I briefly looked over a few interpretations of the standard recipe, thought about doing some math, then rapidly ignored it all and drank some of the other 250ml of Turkey.  I then put something together that may or may not resemble the following recipe.

Ye Big ol’ Sazerac

  • 2 oz Absinthe (La Muse Verte is what I had on hand)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 10 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters (the traditional)
  • 10-15 dashes Embitterment Aromatic Bitters (the one upper)
  • 10-15 dashes Embitterment Orange Bitter (at this point, what the hell)
  • 1 Lemon’s rind, careful to avoid the pith
  • 1 oak spiral
  • About 400+ ml Wild Turkey to the top

Let settle 2 weeks or so.

Sazer-that!

Sazer-that!

There probably should have been more science to it, but I like to go by feel and I’m definitely feeling what I made there…I decided to serve this little monster over a single ice cube. The result? Hail Santa (Satan?)!  There is indeed a wonderful alchemy that occurs when all of these ingredients merge into one, spending weeks together in the bar top equivalent of Stalag Luft III with a little bit of oak to mellow it all together.  Perhaps I went a bit above and beyond the call of absinthe wash, as exemplified by the louche this concoction takes on when chilled, but the ingredients played off oh so well together, with the star of the show being the garnish.  That’s right, the garnish—the tinsel on the tree—the lovely lemon shined after 2 weeks giving off the beauty of her essential oils and soaking in the wonder of the Wild Turkey.  The bitters come through wonderfully as well, warm, sweet and mellow.  A damned good cocktail…though perhaps not perfect—but therein lies the beauty.

The genius that is the 2014 Wild Turkey gift pack is that it is the gift pack that keeps on giving.  Yes, perhaps you could make a cocktail to share—give, if you will—but that’s not where the pleasure stops.  This kit is reusable.  This time around I made a Sazerac.  Next time I could make a Manhattan, age it a bit longer, and maybe even impart a bit of that Sazerac.  I could then make an Old Fashioned that winds up with a hint of sweet vermouth note.  Even when that charred oak has exhausted all it has to give, you have a free mason jar emblazoned with the Wild Turkey emblem—the latest in whiskey chic.  So, though I have not gone on an all-out gift pack spree (yet,) I do declare the coolest (thus far) gift pack of the year is Wild Turkey 101’s do it yourself, drink it yourself, gift that keeps on giving, aging kit.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed, the Rise of “Friendsgiving” and Deep Regression Hypnosis

I left New Hampshire from work, just a hair past 6 p.m.  My car was loaded with the following: a sleeping bag, a back pack with enough clothing for two sober days, a Martin 000-15sm guitar, a case of beer, a roasting pan containing roughly 10 pounds of Cajun cornbread stuffing, and a bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  From the last two contents you may have guessed—I was bound to give some thanks.  This journey was part of a growing movement known as the “friendsgiving,” or some corny ass shit like that, in which young friends get together to reunite, eat, drink, and talk about all the grown up shit they’re doing to convince themselves that the world isn’t beating them bloody and the floor under their feet isn’t about to rot out from cultural decay and student loan debt.  Sounded like a great idea, so I cruised my way down to Philadelphia.  The plan, if I had one, was to get rather intoxicated, review this whole cultural phenomenon thing, eat a mountain of starchy foods, write a review of the aforementioned Wild Turkey Rare Breed, then proceed with the blasting until I awoke with throbbing liver to drive back to New Hampshire.  I succeeded in some respects; at least I made that whole “painful internal organs” thing occur.  I must not have eaten that much though because I came home 3 pounds lighter somehow, still pondering.  Let us behold the mysteries of Turk.  Which brings me to my point—I completely did not take notes on that Wild Turkey.  So here is where things get ambitious.  I’m going to try to piece through my cubist recollections of the weekend and give you some kind of goddamn.  This could be difficult, because I drank a lot of other whiskies, and I need to try to parse them out of my memories.  But buried beneath all of absinthe, beer, chipotle, stuffing (that stuffing, gahhhhd yes), madness, depravity and shame, I think I may pull this together.

First off, the googled portion:  Wild Turkey Rare Breed, a fine product by the Austin Nichols Distilling company, barrel proof (108 and change) bourbon whiskey.  108 proof, seems to explain things a little… Wild Turkey Rare Breed comes in at about the mid-range price point, just ahead of $30 around me, which points it within reasonable grasp.  But is it worth it?  That’s where my impressive memory comes into play.  I swear I remember most of it.

I remember the nose as having a surprising smoothness—warm sugar notes and rich spice, a touch of citrus and surprisingly little heat.  I think that was about 3pm on Saturday, that memory…Now very vividly I remember Friday morning about 1am, shortly after arrival.  Ben and I were commiserating with the Turkey—the body of which was rich, and oily, with a pleasant but in no way overwhelming warmth that revealed, as the nose had, caramel and toffee notes and a full spectrum of spices. Also, I got a good deal of citrus, but on further review I was being enthusiastic with orange bitters (Embitterment plug).  The grand finale?  Warm, happy belly, a few more whiskies, increasing joviality—dare I say, a loss of shits being given?  There was music and wonderful roses.  Wait, no roses.  There was a glass boot that one of the multiple other bottles of Wild Turkey (101) came with though.  That would make a fine vase, Ben.  There were also Cards Against Humanity, because depravity can make for a fine parlor game, too.

This is definitely were I would a picture, if I'd taken one...

This is definitely were I would a picture, if I’d taken one…

So what conclusions can I draw?  First, on the idea of the “Friendsgiving,” it’s a good thing.  Damn terrible name, but the mix of youthful indiscretion and burgeoning maturity is kind of cool.  Also, I really should not be allowed in polite company.  As for the Wild Turkey Rare Breed?  It’s a fine breed, worth every penny, and given it’s festive name, perfectly seasonally appropriate flavor profile, and barrel proof ability to make the oncoming holiday season bareable—it was the perfect choice. Also, I’m pretty sure wild turkeys are now my spirit animal.

Two Bulleits in the Chamber…

Tonight a have a double shot for you, or perhaps a double barrel…double action? Double tap?  Either firearm based pun? Reason for the pun, tonight I’m going at two Bulleits, their bourbon and rye.  I suspect these products need no introduction, based equal parts on their stand out branding, their mid-range price, and their quality Bulleit has—over just 15 years—become a behind the bar staple.  You probably recognize it, the bold molded glass stating alternately “Bulleit Bourbon: Frontier Whiskey,” or “Bulleit Rye: American Whiskey.”  That bold, old west bottle, striped with a simple striped label stands out to even a whiskey novice.  The story behind the Bulleit brand, so it comes from founder Tom Bulleit begins in about 1830 with his grandfather Augustus Bulleit, who brewed for about 30 years, until his death.  On reviving the Bulleit whiskey tradition Tom switched over to a bourbon style whiskey going from Augustus’ 2/3rd rye, 1/3rd corn formula to about 2/3rd corn, 1/3rd rye.  The final product is bottled at 90 proof.  In its short 15 years Bulleit had been bought up twice, first by Seagram’s, second by liquor giant Diageo, with whom they’ve grown into a massive success and expanded their line to include tonight’s rye and the sadly out of my range Bulleit 10 year bourbon.  The rye, by the way is a 95% rye, 5% barley mash produced alongside many other rye brands in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  That’s enough background, I’m thirsty.

Bulleit

 First off I’m going to go to the bourbon, knowing from experience that the rye would heavily influence my palate.  First entry into the nose is a rather powerful experience, full of vanilla, cinnamon and oak—with something in the back that reminds me of apple cider that you left in the fridge too long in the hope it would get a little hard.  The first taste is rich and chewy with caramel, vanilla, smooth oak, with just a bit of smoke—leaving with that lovely rye cinnamon that carries through on the finish with just the right amount of 90 proof burn. 

And now that my palate and my brain are fully lubricated, let’s get to the rye!  First off, the smell—glory be, I love the smell of rye whiskey…not in the morning, I want to keep my job.  But damn this smells fine the rye spice coming across full of cinnamon, brown sugar, cloves…quite frankly it smells like pie.  Delicious, boozy pie.  Certainly the nose on this doesn’t lie, with that rye cinnamon heavily in the forefront, but balanced off with a lovely sweetness that seems to be coming from a heath bar like combination of toffee and soft cocoa.  The finish rounds out with something almost reminiscent of honeyed spearmint and a bit of dry oak.  Overall this rye is very pleasing, and my favorite of the two.  Also worth noting is that in a face-off between these contenders and last week’s Cleveland whiskey the Rye came out the clear winner—and Ian, Ben and I came out rather drunk.

 While there are certainly many factors that have played into the rapid success of Bulleit bourbon in recent years, particularly given the explosion in the popularity of whiskey in general, it’s certain that it’s not hype making Bulleit popular.  The reasonable price and consistent quality ensure that while you may come for the looks, you stay for the whole package—just like any love in life.

Quick Shot: Blanton’s Single Barrel

This one is a solid gold bullet from the hip.  I’m a tad anxious almost, to think that I’ve got one shot at a big one.  Could be a head shot, could be a miss.  Anyways, Blanton’s is one of the big boys, one of those usually out of my price range.  Luckily for me a compadre bought me a nice drinks by the dram set, which held as it’s crown jewel dum-dum-dum Blanton’s.  This is a gunslinger with a big reputation. In the words of Breaker Morant, “Shoot straight, you bastards–and don’t make a mess of it.”

 

Nose: Goddamn phenomenal.  It’s lushly warm, sweet vanilla, spice, reminiscent of baked apple.  Delicious. 

Taste: Do I dare? Pow! Shit, he got me.  Miles of spice upfront, cinnamon rye goodness and, what’s that?  Cherry that borders on the safe side of medicinal and citrus.  This isn’t bourbon, this is an old fashioned.  No wait, it’s wonder-bourbon…

Finish:  …and it fades into smooth, sweet molasses with some oak, vanilla, and something reminiscent of an old tawny port. 

Blanton's

You’ve heard the legends of this bourbon, you’ve seen it’s horse sculptured cap.  Well, it’s the potential triple crown winner the underground claims it to be.  A gunslinger who could hold his own with Doc Holliday. You want a good bourbon tonight? Here’s your huckleberry. 

 

Jim Beam Single Barrel

I’ve been sitting on this article for a while–or laying off the last of this whiskey, at the least.  I’ve had a mental block, a loss of flow.  Shit, I haven’t got an angle on it.  I like to come at these pieces with a direction, a back story, something that brings me to a point on the whiskey.  It gives me the illusion of creativity.  Anyways, I haven’t really got an angle for this article, that’s my goddamn angle.  Pretty lame.  But you see, I’ve been working my ass off, draining myself, ever since I got back from Mississippi (which probably should be the source of some future angle).  Working 7 days a week does not seem to be the ideal creative fodder, for me at least.  Anyways, enough rambling to elongate your suffering.  To the point, whiskey. The good thing about working non-stop is that I can afford a decent bottle every once in a while to take the sting out of life.  This long delayed bottle?  Jim Beam Single Barrel. 

 ImageJ

Bottled at 95 proof, in this case from barrel 9/139 on February 18, 2014.  I think this bottle ran me just short of $30, which is right around the range of quite a few other f upper mid / sub-premium bourbons, yet twice the price of regular Beam and an Evan Williams more than Beam Black.  First off, nose: very soft, subtle orange and a light sweetness, but really very…ethereal?  I’m not sure I’ve ever found a lighter nose; I basically snorted this stuff to smell it.  The initial taste finds that citrus note fully expressed, with a tinge of acidity, and some dark sweetness that fades into a tad bit of oak, almost no vanilla and a lovely warming baking spice finish.  Overall, this is very tame at 95 proof, and very subtle and well rounded.  It’s as easy drinking as the other Beam labels tend to be, but it certainly is clear that they’ve gone to lengths in selecting their barrels.  My take away, my angle, if you will?  This is the perfect bourbon for an overwrought, overworked mind.  Easy drinking, subtle, so smooth you don’t have to think about it—just take a sip and it does the work for you.