The DrinksbytheDram 2018 Bourbon Advent Calendar Review

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Advent is a time for preparation and every year the first Sunday of December marks the official start of the countdown to Christmas. It’s also safe to say that for many, Advent is that much more exciting with an Advent Calendar to help count down the days as Christmas approaches. Even better is that as we get older we have greater control over what’s behind the calendar doors! For many whiskey fans the 24 little chocolates have long been replaced by samples of whiskies. There are various approaches a whiskey lover can take such as decanting 24 samples from your personal collection, drinking a daily pour from a different bottle of whiskey for the 24 days, or buying a commercially available whiskey Advent calendar, and everything in between. Personally, I’ve been making my own Advent Calendar from the bottles in my collection for the past 3 or 4 years but this year I’ve decided to change it up with a commercially available Advent Calendar.

Although there are several options available when it comes to buying a whiskey Advent calendar, few offer the level of choice offered by Drinks by the Dram. The genius idea from the people behind spirit-behemoth Master of Malt, Drinks by the Dram offers drinkers thousands of fine spirits available in their signature 30ml wax-dipped ‘dram’ sample format. These include whisk(e)y samples, gin samples, vodka samples, rum samples, and more as either solo ‘dram’ samples, curated sample tasting sets containing 5 themed sample drams, seasonal Advent calendars, and even Christmas crackers. So with all that choice I decided that this year I would take a look at one of their pre-packaged themed calendars, the Drinks by the Dram Bourbon Advent Calendar.

Containing 24 wax-dipped dram bottles, the calendar really looked the part, consisting of a sturdy, well-presented box covered in bourbon-themed decoration with 24 perforated doors and gold printed numbers. I was filled with childlike glee when it arrived and couldn’t wait to start opening the doors one at a time as the days passed.

The bourbons

Even before the calendar arrived I had committed to doing a daily mini-review on my Instagram page of whatever dram came out of the calendar. Below are all 25 mini-reviews- but if you have been following my exploits you can skip straight to my thoughts on the calendar as a whole!

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Bulleit 10 Bourbon – 10 y.o – 45.6 % ABV

Nose: On the nose there’s sticky toffee, floral vanilla, sweet baking spices, earthy white pepper, and a hint of charred oak.

Palate: The palate follows complex and viscous with butterscotch, smoky charred oak, baking spices again, earthy rye spice, and a touch of dark fruit.

Finish: The finish opens with a kick of spice, fresh sawn oak timber, floral vanilla and burnt caramel with an earthy but cinnamon sweet rye aftertaste.

There’s almost no comparison between this and the orange label. In fact if I was given both side by side I’d have a hard time knowing that they’re even the same mashbill. The 10 takes all the faint flavours found in the orange label and cranks them up to 100% whilst also adding massive complexity and balance between spice, charred oak, and butterscotch. I’m always surprised by how good the 10 is when I dig out my bottle and it’s no surprise I’ve gone through so much of it so quick. This really is a step up from the orange label and I’d definitely pour this for anyone that want to drink something that far exceeds the orange label Bulleit bourbon. A solid 10 y.o bourbon that can be enjoyed straight.

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Maker’s Mark 46 – NAS – 47% ABV

Nose: On the nose there’s soft dark brown sugar, red fruit, warm toasted oak, vanilla, earthy wheat, an almost vegetal barrel smoke note, and a kick of alcohol.

Palate: The palate opens with a viscous mouth feel followed by a burnt caramel note, fading to coffee beans, then sweet toasted oak, a touch of soft wheat, and earthy barrel smoke.

Finish: The finish is long with black tea notes followed by sweet cinnamon, earthy smoke and toasted oak leaving an aftertaste of butterscotch and toasted oak.

This is a delicious step up from the standard Maker’s Mark. The addition of the 10 staves to the barrel for 9 weeks has intensified many of of the delicious flavours already found in the standard expression of Maker’s Mark. The risk with adding more oak is that overtaking is likely but with such a short finishing period makers have reduced this and have instead created a bourbon that drinks bold and flavourful. At 46% abv the wheated notes and added oak notes balance each other out to create a very complex wheated bourbon. My personal recommendation for this one is to let the glass sit 10 minutes once poured to let it breathe.

20181201_153344-01Kentucky Vintage – NAS – 45% ABV

Nose: The nose opens with a mix of young pine, smoky char, and a kick of alcohol. As it breathes the pine note is replaced by earthy rye, deep caramel, citrus and buttery red fruit.

Palate: The palate is creamy at first with soft vanilla, a wave of vibrant fruit cocktail, burnt caramel, and bitter vegetal notes. As it’s chewed these transform into deep caramel peanut brittle, with a touch of plums, baking spices, and oak smoke as it opens up.

Finish: The finish is warming with a kick of spice, a touch of burnt caramel and an aftertaste of fire roasted peanuts, slight pine sap and alcohol burn.

This turned out to be a very interesting! If someone had said “here’s a craft bourbon that’s just leaving its youth and gaining a level of maturity where it becomes interesting” I would have understood what’s going on here. This isn’t a bad pour but it has a lot more pine sap and bitter char notes than I would have expected. It tastes young and green at first but once it opens on the palate more mature bourbon notes emerge. I’m not sure if it’s from barrels of different ages being blended but it gives a conflicting experience as the flavours develop on the tongue. One thing that’s undeniable is the consistent bitter charred oak notes. This bourbon already drinks hotter than 90 proof from what I’m guessing is a healthy helping of rye in the mashbill but adding bitter smoky oak into the mix amplifies the burning. This would be great in an old fashioned but my first experience would keep me from drinking it neat again anytime soon. On the other hand I think Pure Kentucky XO is a delicious bourbon to drink neat, this just didn’t do anything for me overall.

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Koval Bourbon – NAS – 47% ABV

Nose: The nose opens with an initial kick of sharp acetone and buttery shortbread fading to more pleasant sweet notes of apricot jam, honey, and a very faint vegetal char note in the back.

Palate: The palate opens with a wave of dry, woody spiciness that quickly fades to sticky wildflower honey and sweet faint fruit like apricots, whilst an almost malty, vegetal note lingers in the back with more dry oak and earthy baking spices.

Finish: The finish gives a final kick of spice with more sweet honey and flour notes leaving an aftertaste of faint barrel char and new oak.

This bourbon was a marked improvement over the previous night’s offering. Despite being light, and more akin to an Irish whiskey or a Highland Scotch than a bourbon, the flavours are very pleasant and the corn and millet work well together. This bourbon is a classic example of how craft bourbons can sometimes go out of their way to make you question what a bourbon should taste like. This doesn’t taste like a classic bourbon but that does not mean it is not really good. In my opinion a bourbon like this embodies the spirit of craft bourbon – i.e. if it all tasted the same what would be the point. I quite enjoyed this, and the fact that Koval aren’t afraid to push the boat out with the ingredients they use gives this a unique flavour profile that definitely sets it apart from the other craft bourbons that I’ve tasted. In 4 words: it’s very drinkable neat.

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The Boutique-y Bourbon Co. Distillery 291 Single Barrel Bourbon – 11 months old – 49.9% ABV

Nose: The nose opens with deep brown sugar, charred oak, alcohol, and strong vegetal pine notes.

Palate: The palate opens with a combination of notes I can only describe as Christmas plum pudding. There’s brown sugar, nutmeg, ginger spice, cinnamon, raisins, and dried peel mix, followed by astringent pine notes, smoky dark chocolate, and young fruity oak.

Finish: The finish opens with a kick of spice and dark chocolate again before leaving an aftertaste with a hint of tropical fruit, dry oak, and pine sap.

What an unusual and delicious bourbon. On one hand it’s very young and sharp but on the other it’s got a great depth of flavour and is very enjoyable. Despite only being 11 months old it defies expectation with its wide range of bold flavours. No matter how much I chewed it never lost its edge and drinks hotter than its 49.9% abv would have you expect. There’s not much info on this particular bottling because it seems it hasn’t been released yet, meaning those of us lucky enough to own one of these calendars are the first to get a taste. Like I said previously I’ve never had anything from Distillery 291 before but if this is how good their bourbon is at 11 months I can only imagine how good it will be at 2 years or even 5 years old.

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Michter’s US1 Bourbon – NAS – 45.7 % ABV

Nose: The nose gives predominantly sweet caramel, followed by faint vanilla, earthiness, spicy toasted oak, and faint cherries

Palate: The palate gives viscous caramel, vanilla, red fruit, peanuts and a touch of faint smoky oak spice

Finish: The finish is a medium length with intense caramel and a warming oak spiciness that leaves an aftertaste of toasted oak tannins.

This bourbon smells amazing and the influence from ageing in Michter’s own toasted barrels is very apparent but not overwhelming. As this pour rolls around the tongue it is as if flavour is oozing from every drop and makes me think that Michter’s low barrel entry proof (103) isn’t so strange after all. The longer I chew it the more flavours emerge and the whole pour reminds me of warm Christmas cake covered in a thick toffee sauce and topped with roast peanuts – delicious! The proofing I feel is perfect as there is no overwhelming alcohol. This makes it a lot easier to enjoy those classic bourbon flavours. As nice as it is to try new bourbons you can’t beat finding a solid every day sipper like this behind the odd door.

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Elijah Craig Small Batch – NAS – 47%ABV

Nose: The nose features deep caramel, herbaceous spicy rye, faint baking spices, and smoky dry oak.

Palate: The palate opens with deep caramel, buttery corn, a wave of rye spice, baking spices, roast nuts, and bitter charred oak.

Finish: The finish opens with a kick of rye spice followed by barrel char, burnt caramel, with an aftertatse of barrel smoke, baking spice, and roasted nuts.

I’m happy to report that despite being NAS Elijah Craig Small Batch continues to be a solid bourbon to enjoy neat. In this particular batch there’s a dominant note of almost bitter charred herbaceous oak combined with earthy rye and deep caramel. Although charred oak is a note I often get from Heaven Hill’s whiskies this particular batch had more than I would have expected. Although this didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the dram it did make for a smokier dram with more bitterness to balance the deep caramel notes – delicious!

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Old Forester Bourbon – NAS – 43%ABV

Nose: The nose is light and floral with faint caramel, cherries, baking spices, vanilla, creamy corn, and charred oak.

Palate: The palate is thin and slightly muted with faint baking spices, burnt caramel, vanilla, young creamy corn, and earthy rye spice in the back.

Finish: The finish opens with barrel char, followed by a kick of rye spice and an aftertaste of corn sweetness and smoky oak.

This is by no means a complex pour, but then again I don’t think that was Old Forester’s intention. Like most budget flagship brands this bourbon has just enough flavour to entice the inexperienced or novice palate to consider buying this again or looking further into what Old Forester have to offer. Throughout sipping this dram the dominant notes I got where ginger cake, rye spice and charred oak, and although it’s not a show stopping dram by any stretch, these notes gave it enough gusto to make it enjoyable neat. This bourbon would do quite well in cocktails with its tannic oak and spicy rye notes adding some kick to traditional bourbon cocktails like an old fashioned or whiskey sour. Definitely a bourbon to give those who are new to or interested in bourbon.

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Rowan’s Creek Bourbon – NAS – 50.1%ABV

Nose: The nose gives a light but balanced mix of caramel, young corn sweetness, earthy rye, pine sap, smoky oak, and a kick of ethanol.

Palate: The palate has creamy caramel, prickly rye spice, a touch of roasted peanuts, some baking spice and dry charred oak.

Finish: The finish opens with a flash of earthy, nutty rye spice before slight notes of bitter oak, burnt caramel, cinnamon and alcohol course through leaving a faint aftertaste of charred oak, cinnamon and predominantly ethanol.

This unfortunately has been another disappointing release by Willett. The nose is faint despite the proof, the palate has a touch more flavour intensity yet is dominated by rye and oak spice, and the finish follows suit with more charred oak, spice and a kick of ethanol. This pour didn’t pick up for me flavour-wise until the final sip where a bit more complexity emerged as the flavours had built up on my palate and cheeks to a point where they resembled a mature-ish bourbon. I also don’t really understand the need for the .1% in the ABV but my guess is Willett tested for the right ABV sequentially and agreed that the .1% is needed in this release. I’m also aware that this opinion is completely based on a 3cl sample and a further tasting might be needed but as I’m writing this there’s an aftertaste of charred pine on my tongue and cheeks that borders on unpleasant and will have to be washed away by something decent – never a good sign if you ask me.

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Distillery 291 Single Barrel – NAS – 50%ABV

Nose: The nose is surprisingly complex with syrupy caramel, strawberries, a creamy almost malty note, and a touch of dark chocolate and faint charred oak.

Palate: The palate is viscous, opening with toasted oak notes which quickly transform into thick honey with vanilla, earthy young rye spice, bitter dark chocolate, charred oak, and fruity malt on the back.

Finish: The finish opens with a kick of bitter rye spice, brown sugar and exotic fruit with an aftertaste of young ‘green’ oak, fresh lychee fruit and smoky dark chocolate.

What a fantastic whiskey! After doing a bit of digging on this I found it’s distilled by copper pot still, it’s typically just 1 year old, and is finished with Colorado aspen staves. From tasting it there’s no denying that it’s young but what it lacks in age it makes up for with bright flavours and deep complexity. The combination of thick honey, dark chocolate oak, spicy rye, and fruity malt make for a dram that tastes more like a young single malt than a bourbon but is delicious regardless. Before advent I had only ever heard of Distillery 291’s famous rye whiskey but it seems their bourbon is another one to watch. This bottle has officially creeped up to the top 3 bottles on my wish list

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1792 Small Batch Bourbon – 46.9%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with slight orange peel, dark cherries, deep caramel, white pepper and faint charred oak.

Palate: The palate has a nice viscosity with candied orange, deep sweet caramel, slight vanilla, dark fruit, slight roasted nuts, a wave of peppery rye spice and dry charred oak.

Finish: The finish is long with an opening wave of earthy spicy rye, followed by sweet burned caramel, and ending with dry oak tannins carrying into the aftertaste with a touch of barrel char.

This is still a solid pour whether it’s a fresh pour or one that has had a chance to oxidize. Tasted side by side the only notable difference for me was that the intensity of the orange peel note seems brighter in the fresh dram. Other than that the taste profile is pretty consistent and a kudos to the Sazerac Master Blender’s skill in producing a consistent flavour profile. Like I said there will always be a bottle of 1792 somewhere in my house and this is why – it’s consistently delicious, great value, and makes a killer old fashioned every time. What more could a man want from a daily sipper?

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Yellowstone Select – NAS – 46.5%ABV

Nose: The nose is packed with deep caramel, red and black fruit, earthy pepper spice, and sweet almost herbaceous oak.

Palate: The palate opens with medium charred oak notes which quickly fade to subtle red fruit, dark brown sugar, an earthy nuttiness, baking spice, and lingering softer oak notes that remind me of toasted oak finished bourbons (but not as intense).

Finish: The finish follows with a wave of warming spice that moves down the throat leaving notes of dry tannic oak, earthy peanuts, and bitter dark chocolate.

This bourbon is another prime example of a sourced whiskey brand that’s never hidden from this fact and instead uses it as an honest way to keep the lights on whilst their own new make is ageing. As such it’s quite decent for a sourced blend of bourbons with plenty of bitter smoky oak to balance out any overly sweet caramel and fruit notes. There’s no note that stands out as dominant here for me and the balance between smoky, bitter, sweet, and spicy is near perfect. This is another bottle added to the wish-list for next year. It tastes and drinks hotter than its 46.5% abv would lead you to believe but that’s rarely a bad thing and just indicates a healthy dose of rye in the original mashbill of the sourced bourbon – probably heaven hill.

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Hudson Baby Bourbon – NAS – 46%ABV

Nose: Creamy corn and sharp stringent oak doused in herbaceous pine oil with hints of smoke make up the entirety of the nose.

Palate: The palate opens with bitter burnt brown sugar syrup before a flash of herbaceous new oak passes through leaving a touch of green and deep caramel simmering on the tongue like syrup.

Finish: The finish is very short giving a quick flash of oak spice before fading to charred oak and burnt brown sugar and an aftertaste of line needles.

This tastes exactly as expected for something so young and consequently is probably the ‘greenest’ bourbon I’ve ever tasted. That strong note of chewing on pine needles throughout is what I’ve come to associate with young craft whiskies where the oak from the barrels tastes like it’s still fresh and hasn’t matured alongside its contents (As the ageing isn’t very long). What this gives when charred is always a lot of astringency and oak char that dominates on the palate as is the case here. The corn gives this a thick syrupy mouth feel but this isn’t enough to balance the hot young oak from the barrels or the bitter taste of barrel char. This really needs longer in the barrel to develop more complexity and grow out of those young bourbon notes before it can be enjoyed neat. It would however make a great mint jump with those green notes and the mint working together famously.

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Benchmark Old Number 8 Bourbon – NAS – 40%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with classic mashbill #1 notes of rich toffee, vanilla bean, dark cherries, fruity cinnamon spice, and dry smoky oak

Palate: The palate opens with toffee, followed by subtle baking spice, cherries, and dry smoky oak.

Finish: The finish is smooth with caramel, cherries and an aftertaste of dry oak, faint dark chocolate, and cinnamon.

This dram caught me by surprise. Having never had Benchmark Old No.8 before it’s cheap price and cult status as Buffalo Trace’s budget bourbon didn’t fill me with hope for anything special. I was, however, wrong. Unlike other budget bourbons that are usually rough, faint tasting, water thin and begging for a mixer to be added, this bourbon was thick, flavourful and completely enjoyable neat. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be this drinkable, in fact I could probably finish a bottle of this in a few sitting it’s that enjoyable. It’s very reminiscent of bourbons like Eagle Rare and has plenty of dark cherries and rich toffee like its older brother George T Stagg. I’d highly recommend this to beginners and those curious about bourbon.

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James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon – NAS – 46%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with deep caramel, earthy dill, floral vanilla, citrus, heavy charred oak

Palate: The palate opens really thick and creamy with zingy citrus, deep caramel, earthy rye, and bitter smoky oak.

Finish: The finish is long with a kick of rye spice, bitter oak and citrus notes, leaving an aftertaste of charred oak and rye spice that lingers on the palate.

This is a really curious bourbon. From what I’ve read it’s MGP but everything I’m tasting reminds me of Heaven Hill. Either way it’s not very enjoyable and the heavily charred oak and almost fizzy orange peel oil notes are very dominant throughout. This dram didn’t carry an age statement but the 46%abv means it’s not the same 50% abv that’s commonly available. My guess is it’s either 6 or 7 years old but it’s hard to tell. I hope the NAS 100 proof is more enjoyable.

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Buffalo Trace Bourbon – NAS – 40%ABV

Nose: This bourbon opens on the nose with sweet caramel, hints of vanilla, and a touch of minty oak spice.

Palate: On the palate it gives sweet notes of brown sugar, toffee apple, and vanilla, wrapped in a mellow blanket of charred oak and slight rye spice.

Finish: The finish is medium length and very flavourful with spicy rye, caramel, charred oak and a hint of vanilla.

This is the kind bourbon that’s perfect for almost any occasion. It’s well-balanced, flavourful, and very versatile in either cocktails or as a neat drink. Even at 40% this hits all those delicious mashbill #1 notes and really sets the stage for its older companions Eagle Rare and George T Stagg. For the money I think you’d be hard pressed to find a bourbon that performs as well as Buffalo Trace and if you can find it at 45% you’ll be even more impressed.

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David Nicholson 1843 Bourbon – NAS – 50%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with notes of caramel, floral vanilla, earthy oak and alcohol. The nose opens up nicely as the alcohol dissipates and leaves the caramel, sweet vanilla, and earthy oaked wheat notes to flourish on the nose.

Palate: The palate follows with a thin but flavourful mouth-feel featuring a burst of floral vanilla, slight caramel and tropical fruits with oak spice and a slight mustiness coming from the back.

Finish: Spice combines with wheat sweetness and vanilla in a medium to long finish that leaves a beautifully sweet and complex aftertaste to chew on long after the pour is gone

This is a very tasty wheated bourbon with plenty of baking spice and sweetness that’s offset by earthy and vegetal smoke notes. Drinking this I’m surprised there isn’t a bigger deal made about this bourbon, it’s pretty solid! My best guess for its source would be Heaven Hill (Larceny) but this isn’t officially confirmed so it’s just speculative. I’ve had a dram of this before and remember liking it as much then as I do now. When it comes to the David Nicholson range the Reserve bourbon is by far the star of the show but comparing a wheated bourbon to a high rye bourbon is an oxymoron. That being said, this 100 proof wheated beauty isn’t too far behind the Reserve it in terms of balance and flavour and would make a solid neat drink, a cracking Old Fashioned, or maybe a herb-heavy Mint Julep. The possibilities are endless!

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Evan Williams Single Barrel 2010 (2018) – 8 y.o. – 43.3%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with a mix of deep caramel, earthy rye, faint cherries, citrus peel, alcohol bite, and faint barrel smoke.

Palate: The palate opens with earthy caramel glazed peanuts before grainy rye spice washes over the palate followed by sweet dark fruit, citrus peel oil, creamy milk chocolate, and smoky oak in the back.

Finish: The finish opens with a wave of nutty spice followed by milk chocolate, cherries, and sticky caramel with an aftertaste of barrel smoke, cherries and earthy rye.

I have to admit I wasn’t a massive fan of the 2006 but this 2010 is quite good! There’s a bit of a bite on the nose but once it hits the palate it’s all plain sailing with the sweetness, spice and smoky bitterness all balancing each other out quite nicely. This isn’t a release I thought I’d consider buying again but after this dram I’m reconsidering my stance on it. This is delicious and even better when considering the price this can be had for.

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Eagle Rare Bourbon – 10 y.o. – 45%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with sweet caramel, a touch of red fruit, barrel smoke, and earthy dry oak.

Palate: The palate opens creamy with deep sweet butterscotch, a kick of earthy spice, some tart dark cherries, a touch of rich smoky oak, and dark chocolate.

Finish: The finish opens with a kick of dry oak spice followed by caramel brittle, more tannic oak, and a spicy herbaceous aftertaste that slightly dries out the tongue and cheeks.

Eagle Rare is one of the few bourbons I think I could identify blind almost every time. Its balance of sweet butterscotch, tart dark fruit, dry spicy oak, and rich barrel smoke are almost unmistakable, even in a line-up of bourbons from the same mashbill. At no less than 10 years old this bourbon seems to be a high point in the maturation of the Buffalo Trace #1 mashbill and gives bourbon lovers an excellent sipping experience regardless of their level of drinking experience. There’s a level of maturity in the flavours and just enough spice from the oak that neither dominate but instead balance each other out perfectly. This is definitely a bourbon I’d recommend as a gift for any bourbon lover and with the single barrel programme hopefully returning next year we’ll maybe see a single barrel or two pop up around the UK and Ireland.

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Larceny ’Very Special Small Batch’ Bourbon – NAS – 46%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with young wheat grain notes, a slight vegetal herbaceous note, and pine oak, with deep caramel and a touch of dark fruit emerging as it’s left to open up.

Palate: On the palate there’s initially creamy corn notes with a dash of caramel which are swiftly followed by a wave of young wheat spice, pine needles, and slightly bitter and earthy charred oak towards the back.

Finish: The finish opens with a kick of wheat spice followed by barrel smoke and tannic charred oak that dries out the cheeks and tongue leaving an aftertaste of earthy peanuts.

This bourbon continues a flavour trend I’ve come to recognise in Heaven Hill’s whiskies – bitter barrel char. It’s probably the heavy char that they use on their barrels but there’s always a smoky and slightly bitter tang of charred wood in their whiskies. These notes are strong in this bourbon and combine with sharp notes of young whiskey to give a bourbon that’s almost too prickly to drink neat. The more you sip it the more the repeated exposure causes these strong notes to soften but even then they’re still quite dominant. Another thing that surprised me about this bourbon is how much it reminded me of young craft bourbons which usually have a pine sap note from their lack of maturity. This would indicate that this isn’t a very old and mature bourbon. These vegetal, smokey, and spicy notes are probably what make this such a good candidate for cocktails but as a wheated bourbon this isn’t one I’d regularly drink neat, it just doesn’t have any of those mellow wheated bourbon notes that I get from competitors like Weller Special Reserve and Maker’s Mark. Tonight it’s unfortunately the wheated bourbon equivalent of drinking a prickly cactus neat.

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Jim Beam Devil’s Cut – NAS – 45%ABV

Nose: the nose opens with deep caramel, thick vanilla, subtle red fruits, and what can only be described as tonnes of oak notes. These include toasted oak, subtle pine, dark chocolate, and barrel char.

Palate: the palate is very thin with light sweet caramel, wet toasted oak, a kick of oak spice, and some charred bitterness as you chew.

Finish: the finish opens with a rush of spice followed by faint toasted oak notes and a lingering hot spice that warms the chest.

A lot may have changed since I’ve had this last – especially when it comes to my level of experience with bourbon – but, regardless, this just doesn’t taste good and so isn’t something I’d drink neat again. Although it’s an improvement over Jim Beam’s white label, this release promises a decent bourbon on the nose only to fall flat on the palate and finish. There’s really not a lot going on and only on my third proper sip did the flavours begin to build on my palate past anything tasting of wet wood chips and fiery spice. One thing that’s for sure is this has a spicy kick but even with that I don’t think it would qualify as a neat sipper at all. It seems that if you want something solid from Jim Beam you should just stick to their single barrel white label bourbon – now that’s where the flavour is IMO!20181221_191203-01

FEW Bourbon – NAS – 46.5%ABV

Nose: On the nose there’s dark brown sugar bordering on molasses, a touch of pine sap, dark chocolate, and dry oak.

Palate: The palate opens with sweet dark sugar syrup, rich cocoa, a touch of bitter charred oak, earthy rye spice, faint pine sap, and warm soda bread as this is chewed.

Finish: The finish opens with a quick wave of spice followed by burnt sugar, dark chocolate, pine again and an aftertaste of charred oak and burnt sugar.

What a delicious craft whiskey from the bourbon Advent calendar gods. Although this bourbon is packed with flavours which are indicative of small barrel aged bourbon, I’ve always found FEW’s spirits to have a distinct flavour that’s even present in their white dog – herbaceous pine sap. This bourbon is no exception to this note, and it never dominates the flavour profile with its bitter herbaceous edge. Instead, it’s combined with tannic charred oak to balance out the otherwise overly dark brown sugar and molasses sweetness found throughout this bourbon. FEW also seem to have found the sweet spot when it comes to using smaller barrels to age distillate. When compared to the other craft bourbons I’ve tried this month, FEW’s bourbon tastes a lot more refined and balanced between its strong flavours. All I can say is that I hope FEW bring some of their special finish releases to the UK soon.

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Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (B517) – 12 y.o. – 62.1%ABV

Nose: The nose opens with a kick of alcohol followed by deep syrupy caramel, dark fruit, earthy baking spices, leather, vegetal notes, and dry charred oak.

Palate: The palate is thick opening with sweet brown sugar, black cherries, earthy oak spice, barrel char, and thick vegetal notes on the back.

Finish: The finish opens with a wave of spice, followed by dry oak spice, leather, baking spices, a hint of dark fruits and dark brown sugar.

This is an excellent bourbon, I can see why it won Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the year. It’s thick, complex and full of classic bourbon flavours that just keep on giving as you chew it. With a drop of water the oak spice gets cut back and more of the classic bourbon flavours emerge. Finding an unfiltered, barrel proof bourbon with a high age statement is a rarity these days and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is one of the best – especially when you consider its wide availability compared to other bourbons in this category. This is hands down my favourite dram of the calendar to date and the final pour tomorrow has some big shoes to fill after this one.

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Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer  Finish (Pinot Noir Barrels) – NAS – 45.2%ABV

Nose: The nose first opens with strong dark cherries and an oily grassy rye touch before notes of toasted and charred oak play over each other and a kick of baking spices lingers in the back. .

Palate: The palate opens thick and oily with dry red wine notes fading to dark chocolate, dark fruit, some bitter charred oak and an earthy spice. .

Finish: The finish is long, opening with a tingle of bitter oak spice combined with tannic red wine notes, and dark chocolate covered cherries, and leaves an aftertaste of red wine and bitter oak. .

This bourbon was a disappointment after the previous day’s rock star dram. I don’t like wine and this tastes very wine-y. In fact instead of being well balanced between the bourbon and wine notes the wine is almost aggressively dominant. It’s so dominant that I gagged on my first sip because I wasn’t expecting it to be that strong. The palate is the worst affected and is wine-y to the point that I don’t particularly want to even finish this dram. There are some nice bourbon notes, and a lovely oiliness, but oak and wine are the main flavours and if you don’t like wine this isn’t going to be for you either. You can also taste the toasted wine barrels but nothing can distract from all that red wine. Compared to the previous day’s dram (Elijah Craig Barrel Proof) this is quite disappointing. I can taste what they were hoping to achieve with this bourbon but it’s just not there this tastes like wine with added bourbon not bourbon finished in wine casks.

Overall

For me this advent calendar was a great success for the same reasons that Drinks by the Dram has become so popular with whiskey fans all over the world. The calendar itself contained an impressive variety of bourbons from both big and small distilleries. This is perfect for any level of bourbon drinker, and I enjoyed trying several bourbons that I would not have had the chance to otherwise. There was an exclusive sneak-peak dram of an upcoming release, the calendar and sample bottles are completely re-usable in the future, the calendar is  also completely customizable if you wish to create your own- clearly, there was plenty to be happy about!

What I enjoyed most was the variety of the bourbons included, and the balance between whiskies from both big and small distilleries. Drinks by the Dram’s solution to the age old problem of not being able to buy a bottle of everything through their 3cl drams has revolutionized the industry in the UK. Big distilleries only ever do miniatures of their core products, and most craft distilleries don’t do miniatures at all. The result is if you want to try something new or away from the core expressions you either have to buy a bottle, find it at a bar, or engage in a sample swap with a friend. Meanwhile, Drinks by the Dram are offering miniature samples from a wide range of craft, mainstream, and limited edition bourbons, like those in this calendar, meaning you no longer have to buy the whole pig just to get one sausage – as the expression goes.

This calendar is the perfect gift for bourbon drinkers of all levels in my opinion. Yes, I do think it would be best geared towards beginners, but with the drams that were on offer I’d also argue that anyone looking for a better-rounded knowledge and experience of bourbon would benefit from this calendar. It was an incredible way to try 24 bourbons in 24 days and it was impossible to predict what would come out (without snooping that is!)

I also liked that there was an exclusive dram that offered a sneak peak at an upcoming release bottled exclusively for the parent company Master of Malt. This meant that even if you had tasted absolutely every other dram in the calendar there was at least one that you would not have. Also who doesn’t like getting a sneak peak of something months before anyone else?

Another smaller thing I really liked about this calendar was that it’s entirely re-usable. Provided you didn’t rip the box itself to shreds and don’t mind knowing the line-up of next year’s calendar, you can easily re-use this calendar several more times and save yourself some money at the same time.

The final reason I liked this calendar was if you didn’t want to go with the themed calendars (of which there were 28 to choose from covering everything from gin to American whiskey) you could easily make your own from the drams on offer from Drinks by the Dram. The themed calendars had the benefit of having exclusive drams put in (and the suspense of the unknown) but for those who know what they want this option was also available.

I’d highly recommend these calendars for the whiskey drinker in your life because they’re great for drinkers of any level (especially beginners), they’re very well put together and presented, and they have a great variety of pours covering many different styles and sources. For someone who doesn’t know what to get the whiskey lover in their life they really cut out all the guess work and did I mention that they’re reusable?

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