2020 has been a year for the history books. Never in my memory has a year thrown so many catastrophes on a near-monthly basis and expected us to be ready for next month’s surprise as soon as possible. With the end nigh and in sight the advent season has arrived to cap off the year that was and hopefully move us into a more sane and stable 2021. Keeping this in mind for 2020’s #bourbonadvent I’ve decided to do something different. For the past two years I have had a commercially available bourbon or American whiskey themed Advent calendar and have done a short review of each dram on their designated day. This has been fun but as with all commercially available calendars, the pours have sometimes been doozies (it happens!) This year I’m avoiding this and instead doing my own advent calendar using the best whiskies I’ve had in 2020 aswell as throwing in some of the exciting samples that I have received from friends over the year. There will be no doozies in my glass this year because 2020 has truly tested us enough. Similar to previous years I will be doing a mix of shortened and long form reviews of all the drams over the next 24 days. These will be posted daily on Instagram, however, I will do a weekly update here on a Sunday where I post the past 7 day’s mini-reviews. I hope you enjoy these straight and to-the-point reviews as we progress further towards flushing 2020 out of our systems.
Don’t forget to vote for your favourites as we go along!
Day #1 – Old Ezra Barrel Proof 7y.o.
Day 1 featured a full-length review of Old Ezra Barrel Proof that can be read in full here. For the purposes of what we’re doing here the notes were as follows:
Nose: The nose opens sweet and complex, with earthy baking spices complimented by deep caramel, cinnamon, and thick dried black fruit and candied orange peel with savoury smoky charred oak at the back.
Palate: The palate opens with deep yet sweet maple syrup, vanilla, and dark chocolate followed by a wave of dark pepper spice that runs down the sides of the mouth and is accented with touch of citrus peel, earthy nut-heavy baking spices, tannic oak, and a char-driven mineral note of bitter smoky oak.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering spice from the palate alongside deep caramel, dark chocolate, dried red fruit, and roasted pecan nuts. This is followed by a faintly herbaceous and tannic aftertaste as well as a warm Kentucky hug.
All I can say is wow! It has everything you could want from that classic bourbon flavour profile. It starts sweet and complex on the nose before moving towards more savoury notes of earthy nuts, charred oak, cacoa powder, and baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The palate is reminiscent of a pie filling with maple syrup, dark chocolate, dried cherries, and various baking spices all mixed in a pot and stewing until it has just started to become smoky. It’s complex, well-balanced between its sweet grain and dark charred oak notes, and bursting from every seam with deep flavours. Even trying to trace all the flavour intricacies as it moves across the palate is quite difficult with nuanced notes at every turn.
Day #2 – Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel (O’Brien’s Wine 2020)
Day 2 featured a store pick of a classic whiskey that introduced me to the Premium American Whiskey category almost 10 years ago, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. This was one of two American barrel picks that came into Ireland in 2020, with the other being a sister barrel brought in by the same retailer.
Nose: The nose initially opens with a big hit of powdered sugar sweetness as cherries, faint banana, and earthy baking spices develop alongside carmelised roasted nuts as you nose deeper. These become almost savoury with chocolate and earthy peanuts as you keep nosing.
Palate: The palate opens sweet with tart black cherry, caramel, vanilla, and tannic toasted oak, before a kick of black pepper spice moves across the tongue and down the jaws bringing with it some heat, earthy baking spices, and faint bananas and vegetal barrel char as you continue to chew
Finish: The finish opens with some lingering spice before fading to earthy peanuts covered in caramel, baking spices, and toasted oak tannins. This becomes an aftertaste dominated by tannins, dark chocolate notes, and a warming Tennessee Hug.
Barrel picks are very much still a new concept in Ireland so when a retailer picks two barrels it’s kind of a big deal – especially if they taste great! This barrel fits the bill and gives an authentic JD Single Barrel experience. Although it still has those classic JD notes, these are secondary in parts to other flavours that typically get left behind for foam bananas and black cherries. Here we taste the rye grain, the toasted oak from the barrel, and the myriad of complexities that a proper single barrel store pick should always have to distinguish itself from what’s already on the shelf. I got a lot more earthy peanuts on this one than I was expecting and honestly it reminded me almost a bit of Dickel bourbon. Just for laughs I compared my last sip to some standard JD SB and found this to be far more complex and black cherry heavy in parts – an excellent pick by all involved!
Day #3 – Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Finished Bourbon (2020)
Day 3 featured one of the most anticipated releases of 2020 – Elijah Craig Toasted barrel finished bourbon (Full review here). Created in collaboration with ISC, Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll took mature stocks of Elijah Craig bourbon and finished these an additional 2-3 months in custom long-toasted barrels that were then flash charred. The results were as follows:
Nose: The nose opens complex with deep brown sugar and warm baking spices covering soft dark stone fruit. An earthier touch emerges as you continue to nose with the warm sweetness of toasted oak present throughout.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with dark stone fruit stewed in butterscotch before a mild earthy spice starts to build on the mid-palate and work its way to the tip of the tongue. Once this heat passes earthier barrel notes of dark chocolate, cloves, and a faint touch of vegetal char all emerge alongside caramel with a touch of dried raspberries.
Finish: The finish opens again with deep brown sugar and warm oak tannins that heat the tongue and throat before notes of thick caramel, cloves, and peppery oak lead into a slightly vegetal aftertaste of cacao and oak.
Wow, this whiskey is delicious. It’s complex, packed full of robust flavours from the toasted barrel and has me wondering why Heaven Hill didn’t jump on the toasted oak wagon a long time ago. Despite only being finished for 3 months the toasted oak influence is a joy throughout. For comparison, the standard Elijah Craig has more classic earthy charred oak, peppery rye spice, and sharp red fruit notes without the level of refinement present in the Toasted Barrel Finish. The caramel in the toasted has a softer creamier texture and there’s a lovely stewed red fruit note I don’t get from the standard Small Batch.
Day #4 – Pikesville 110 Proof Rye Whiskey
Day 4 featured the first rye whiskey in the series – Pikesville rye. Weighing in at 110 proof this is the highest proof rye whiskey regularly released by Heaven Hill and features their standard KY-style rye whiskey recipe.
Nose: The nose opens with deep maple syrup bordering on thick butterscotch and punctuated with herbaceous rye and black pepper. The longer you nose the more a charred oak sharpness emerges.
Palate: The palate opens viscous and sweet with dark maple syrup before herbaceous peppery rye spice washes across the palate alongside dark chocolate and charred oak notes. Dark red fruit notes also emerge as you chew this further.
Finish: The finish opens with faint lingering rye spice before notes of butterscotch, cacoa, and tannic oak emerge and lead into an aftertaste of bitter dark chocolate, herbaceous rye, and warming heat.
This was one of my 2020 whiskey revelations. Sure, I had heard others sing its praises for years but in 2020 I finally took the plunge, tried it, and I haven’t looked back since! This is such a complex and spicy flavour bomb it instantly reminds me of what are called ‘dusty’ whiskies with its combination of bitter oak notes, herbaceous spice, and deep butterscotch notes that are almost perfume-like. There’s just so many layers of thick delicious flavours I can’t help but fall in love all over again every time I sip this. Add to this an almost mahogany-like colour and a classic spicy rye profile and it’s a winner for me!
Day #5 – Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey
Day 5 featured another highly desired whiskey from 2020 that also happened to be a Toasted Barrel Finished whiskey. This time it was a barrel proof rye whiskey from the Master of the toasted barrel finishes – Michter’s. With all these good things in one bottle this is sure to be a home run right? Let’s find out!
Nose: The nose opens with warm toasted oak and faint red fruit stewed in thick maple syrup. This is followed by earthy baking spices, peppery rye, a kick of alcohol, and dark chocolate charred oak.
Palate: The palate opens very viscous with deep maple syrup, sweet toasted oak, and roasted marshmallow, before a wave of peppery rye spice washes across the palate fading to dried red fruit, earthy baking spices, faint charred oak, and freshly cracked black pepper towards the back.
Finish: The finish opens with residual spice from the palate before notes of earthy baking spices and toasted oak tannins fade into an aftertaste of vegetal peppery rye.
This whiskey is packed with robust and complex flavours from nose to finish with the base of black pepper rye whiskey and the maple syrup-heavy secondary toasted barrel influence working together seamlessly to produce a whiskey that continues giving flavour the longer you chew it. When drank side by side with the 2017 release, the profile on the 2020 is not only consistent, but also slightly out-performs the bottle of 2017 I have here in terms of flavour complexity and overall balance – an absolute winner!
Day #6 – Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – William Larue Weller (2019)
Day 6 landed on a Sunday and as such required a top shelf dram to strengthen the spirit against oncoming Monday blues – William Larue Weller. Hailing from the 2019 release of the ultra-premium Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this bourbon is usually a strong favourite and the only bottle I would actively seek out. Although I haven’t yet managed to get my hands on a bottle of the 2019, I was lucky to score a sample from an online tasting I did recently and I had saved myself a pour for my DIY Advent calendar. Let’s see how it tastes!
Nose: The nose opens with peppery dry oak up front, followed by brown sugar caramel, stewed red fruit, floral vanilla, and earthy baking spices.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with sweet red fruit covered in powdered sugar and sticky caramel, followed by a wave of warm toasted oak spice, deep cherries, baking spice, dark chocolate, and faint minty barrels as you continue to chew.
Finish: The finish opens with a warm kick of spice as the notes of from the palate fade to dark chocolate and a long tannic oak aftertaste combined with sweet red fruit stewed dusted with baking spices.
What an amazing bourbon! As always, the William Larue Weller does not disappoint. Although a bit oak-heavy on the nose, the palate balances dark chocolate and spicy toasted oak notes with sweet red fruit and sticky caramel notes typical of this whiskey. It’s punchy, flavour-heavy, and not afraid to give you some ethanol kick whilst delivering a whole mouth full of flavour. This easily takes the top spot between the barrel proof offerings of the 2019 collection but does takes the top spot? Go read my full review of the entire lineup to find out!
Day #7 – Michter’s US☆1 Bourbon
Day 7 featured the classic small batch Kentucky straight Bourbon from Michter’s US☆1 core range. Made from a carefully selected mashbill and the highest quality US 1 grade grains, each batch of US☆1 bourbon is batched in a holding tank sized to fit a maximum of twenty full barrels, leaving no margin for “blending out” imperfection.
Nose: the nose opens with deep maple syrup and fresh cherries with faint toasted oak. The longer you nose the more earthy peanuts and sweet cinnamon emerge.
Palate: the palate opens with brown sugar bordering on butterscotch, thick vanilla, a kick of earthy rye spice, touch of roast nuts, red fruit, toasted oak spice and barrel smoke.
Finish: the finish opens with faint lingering spice, earthy nuts, caramel, and warming toasted oak spices leading into the aftertaste.
It has to be said that Michter’s produce an excellent bourbon for the money. Layers upon layers of flavour await with a high-rye kick that tingles without a burn and is packed with caramel bordering on butterscotch. For anyone wondering what to get for Christmas for a friend, loved one, or even themselves Michter’s is always a safe bet!
Day #8 – Minor Case Rye Whiskey
Minor Case Rye is flagship rye whiskey of the Limestone Branch Distillery and pays tribute to the legacy of Paul and Steve Beam’s great-grandfather Minor Case Beam whose specialty was rye whiskey. Featuring a ‘Kentucky-style’ mash bill of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley, this 2 y.o. rye whiskey is sourced from MGP before being finished in award winning #44 Cream Sherry casks from Meier’s Winery for a period of approximately 8 months. To date, rye whiskies finished in sherry casks are a relatively rare thing, and even rarer when the casks are from American producers. In fact, it seems Minor Case Rye is the only rye whiskey that’s solely finished in US sherry casks. Let’s see how it has turned out as a result!
Nose: The nose is subtle at first, opening with buttery corn and young rye grain alongside sweet fruit and floral notes. As you nose deeper there’s more earthy rye, dark fruits, creamy sherry, and charred oak notes emerge.
Palate: The palate opens with syrupy corn sweetness and light caramel before notes of earthy peppery rye, tingling spice, sweet red fruit, and soft sherry notes emerge.
Finish: The finish opens with residual viscosity from the palate which fades to peppery rye which dries out the tongue and leaves an aftertaste of rye and sherry wine.
This is a great everyday rye whiskey that lovers of Kentucky-style rye won’t want to miss out on. Personally, I think this whiskey is a great example of this style of rye with its minimal rye spice and viscous corn undertones which gives the drinker a rye whiskey that’s soft to the palate but still has enough rye backbone that it’s robust and packed with rye-driven flavours. What sets this apart from other Kentucky-style rye whiskies I’ve tasted is the influence that those American Sherry barrels have had on the final product by adding notes and complexities that advances this whiskey beyond its years. The Beams and the team at Limestone Branch have created a wonderful every day drinker with this whiskey.
Day #9 – Rebel Yell Bourbon Finished in French Oak Casks
Day 9 brought one of the most interesting budget bourbons that I have tried this year – Rebel Yell French Oak Cask Finished bourbon. As Rebel Yell’s first exclusive international-only release, this was designed to meet growing demand from whiskey drinkers in the UK, France, and Italy. With 6,000 bottles, the mature Kentucky bourbon was finished in toasted French Oak wine barrels for 6 months to add a more robust, oak-forward profile. Let’s see how it tastes!
Nose: The nose opens with toasted oak spice mixed with caramel, earthy baking spices, and faint ground cloves. As you nose it longer more red fruit begins to emerge through the toasted oak notes which in turn becomes almost minty.
Palate: The palate opens semi-viscous and a touch astringent with corn and charred oak notes hitting the tongue first. These quickly fade to soft red and black stone fruit stewed in light brown sugar with a near-butterscotch edge before peppery toasted oak, earthy baking spices, faint cloves, and a touch of herbaceous charred oak emerge to balance the sweetness out.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering white pepper spice and a dash of burnt caramel sweetness before notes of old toasted herbaceous oak emerge, leaving an aftertaste of smoky baking spices and old minty oak.
This is one of those whiskies where you might first consider the price and easily think it’s nothing to get excited about – and you would be very wrong. There’s a backbone of old charred and minty oak that sits under toasted oak and traditional bourbon notes which makes this taste almost like a dusty bourbon filled with butterscotch. The French Oak barrels have made a huge difference to the flavour profile, complementing the classic wheated bourbon notes, adding oomph to the flavour profile, turning those caramels into butterscotches, and giving those charred oak notes a herbaceous touch that adds just enough bitterness to you keep you coming back for more. I cannot stress enough how good this stuff is for £30. Imagine something loosely-akin to a low-proof dusty Wild Turkey profile!
Day #10 – Larceny Barrel Proof (B520)
Released in 2020, Larceny Barrel Proof was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Fans had pleaded for what felt like ages with heaven Hill to let us taste their wheated bourbon at barrel proof and finally they relented with the first release in January 2020. This whiskey was the second release under the new label and gave us something to directly compare the first release to. How did it fare out? Let’s find out!
Nose: The nose opens with unsweetened cacao powder and faint alcohol with notes of red fruit and black cherries emerging alongside white pepper spice. As you continue to nose this, earthy charred oak and faint roasted nuts also emerge with a lingering wheat-driven strawberry sweetness lingering around the edges.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with earthy roasted nuts coated in brown sugar alongside concentrated notes of dark stone fruit before a bite of ethanol brings out baking spices and black pepper with dark chocolate, lingering spice, and charred oak also emerging as you continue to chew this bourbon.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering spice from the palate and gives intense red fruit again but mostly baking spices, and unsweetened cacao mixed with pepper and leading into an aftertaste of tannic oak that dries out the tongue and cheek and the lasting bitterness of charred oak.
Now that we’re on the second batch of this bourbon we finally have something to compare the first release to that isn’t a wheated bourbon from another producer. This batch is very barrel-influence heavy with the wheat not really getting the opportunity to shine through as much as on the first batch. That being said this batch is more viscous on the palate and has a lot less burn than the first batch with flavour intensity being more the focus with batch 2 it seems. With a few drops of water, the intensity of the barrel notes dies down and you get more of the wheat profile emerging from under chocolate sauce and baking spices. The finish is also peppery with earthy roast nuts again and a dark, tannic, bitter aftertaste that tastes like there are some older stocks blended into this batch. With the second release of this whiskey under their belt, the team at Heaven Hill have demonstrated that Larceny Barrel Proof (much like the now infamous Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases) remains their strong answer to overwhelming fan demand for a barrel proof wheated bourbon that takes the classic Larceny Profile and releases it in a way that not only showcases individual flavour intricacies between batches but also delivers a unique and deeply flavourful drinking experience.
Day #11 – Very Olde St. Nick Harvest Rye (2019)
Day 11 featured another classic rye whiskey –Very Olde St. Nick Harvest Rye 2019. Bottled at cask strength this Rye whiskey hails from an unknown source and carries very little information on the bottle as to where it might be from, allowing the whiskey to speak for itself. Let’s see what it has to say!
Nose: The nose opens with a kick of alcohol, before giving earthy baking spices, white pepper, young rye grain, a touch of dried fruit, deep vegetal notes, and charred oak. As you keep nosing deep caramel and faint fresh strawberry notes also emerge.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with notes of caramelized nuts, warm baking spices, tart green apples, and a wave of peppery spice that washes across the palate and fades to charred oak, dark chocolate, dried red fruits, deep herbaceous notes, and lingering spice.
Finish: The finish opens sweet with some lingering pepper spice from the palate fading to an aftertaste of earthy baking spices and tannic oak that dries up the inside of the cheeks.
Despite greeting me with an initial kick of ethanol, this whiskey opens up really nicely with some air and delivers a rye-forward drinking experience that holds no punches. At just shy of 120 proof (60% ABV) this is not a whiskey to underestimate and its proof drives the flavours into overdrive alongside the peppery rye influence. I’d say this is the kind of rye whiskey that I would recommend to someone who loves traditional rye whiskey notes served with a healthy dose of proof and rye spice burn. The burn, however, doesn’t completely overwhelm the remaining flavours but is a fiery undercurrent once it kicks in and serves as a reminder that this whiskey is first and foremost a cask strength rye whiskey.
Day #12 – Four Roses Single Barrel
Day 12 was also Single Barrel Saturday so I kicked things off with a bourbon that easily makes my top 10 bourbons of the year every year – Four Roses Single Barrel. Bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV) and always readily available I’ve yet to find a bottle that disappoints.
Nose: The nose opens with deep caramel, slightly sour red fruit and cherries, dark chocolate, hints of leather, white pepper, baking spices, and smoky oak.
Palate: The palate opens viscous and creamy at first before complex notes of deep brown sugar, leather, fresh black cherries and red fruit emerge followed by a wave of dry peppery rye, warm baking spices, and a touch of barrel smoke as the notes of dark and red fruit notes continue to interact with an almost charcoal-y and herbaceous note.
Finish: The finish opens with a wave of earthy leathery spice followed by bitter barrel char, black pepper, a touch of cherries and an aftertaste of slightly tannic charred toasted oak.
This is damn fine bourbon. The palate oozes a balance of red fruit, black cherries, old leathery oak, earthy, peppery rye, herbaceous barrel char, and a dash of smoke. It’s solid, intensely flavourful, and well balanced between sweet and spicy notes with a touch of sour to top it off. The Yellow Label in comparison to this drinks almost like watered-down bottom shelf bourbon with much more muted notes and a lot more peanut butter notes and only a fraction of the spice. Compared to the Small Batch this again has more flavour intensity and also a bit more oak char and herbaceousness to compliment the increased red fruit notes. It also leaves the Small Batch tasting muted but has an almost equal amount of rye spice on the palate, and less burnt caramel and charred oak influence. The OBSV recipe used in the Single Barrel release is a fantastic ambassador for the great-tasting bourbon that Four Roses produce through their unique production methods, it’s spicy, complex, and packed full of fruit flavours that hit several sweet spots on the palate and when put into a whiskey cocktail really represent those bourbon flavours very well.
Day #13 – That Boutique-y Whiskey Company Batch 1 24 y.o. Bourbon
Day 13 and was Sunday again and so I reached for something from the back of the cabinet where I keep all the special bottles that I have to ration by the dram and could never replace. This bourbon was released by that Boutique-y Whiskey Company in 2018 and featured a 24 y.o. bourbon from an indiscriminate source that is as much a mystery as its label would suggest. How does it taste? Let’s find out!
Nose: The nose opens smoky and spicy, followed by notes of rich deep butterscotch, earthy white pepper, herbaceous charred oak, sweet red fruit, warm baking spices, and bitter cacao.
Palate: The palate follows with a thick buttery mouthfeel, before notes of deep caramel, luscious red fruit, a hint of orange peel, a dash of barrel smoke, faint baking spices, earthy nuts, and dark chocolate emerge to tie it all together. There’s also a faint but consistent hint of black pepper spice on the palate that reveals itself without dominating.
Finish: The finish is long and warming, opening first with deep caramel, before red fruit, charred oak spice and barrel smoke wash through leaving an aftertaste of charred oak, burnt caramel, dark chocolate, and herbaceous dill.
This is a fantastic bourbon. Honestly, I expected it to be oak-heavy with intense old barrel flavours but instead was pleasantly surprised by how vibrant, complex, and well balanced it was throughout – and with more kick than its 96 proof would lead you to believe. The influence of the oak is still present, however, instead of dominating the entire whiskey it adds spice and barrel smoke to support and round out the other flavours. Another thing I really like about this bourbon is the mouth feel. Whereas I would usually expect a thinner mouth feel around 96 proof this whiskey is as thick and buttery as something that’s bottled at cask strength. This works strongly in this bourbon’s favour because it adds a smooth buttery mouth feel that carries the flavours exceptionally well. The biggest mystery with this bourbon is the source. I honestly can’t definitively work out where it’s from and the label gives away no secrets. To me it tastes like a high-rye bourbon, based on the hefty kick of earthy black pepper spice throughout, but that’s where the trail runs cold for me. It could be Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Beam, Buffalo Trace, hell it could be any distillery that’s been around long enough to have 24 year old bourbon stock. Also, remember that because this is not a US release it doesn’t have to follow any US labelling laws and as such what I have here is a true mystery – kind of like the Sasquatch, Alien, and Area 51 references on the label seem to suggest.
Day #14 – Michter’s 10 y.o. Rye (2020 Release)
Day 14 was a Monday and whilst searching for some Monday motivation I found myself a whiskey that never fails to impress – Michter’s 10y.o. rye! Typically aged longer than the label would suggest these whiskies are from the mysterious sourced stocks Michter’s acquired before starting their own distillation phase.
Nose: The nose opens with brown sugar, faint vanilla, and earthy rye spice jumping out of the glass alongside a hint of green apples dusted in cinnamon and stewed in caramel. A dark chocolate edge develops on the end of the nose where the influence from the barrels makes its presence known.
Palate: On the palate you’re greeted tart green apples stewed in thick brown sugar and dusted in earthy rye spice, with a notes of fresh strawberries adding a touch of fruity sweetness. As you continue to chew the rye spice becomes bolder, dryer, and hotter as it builds on the tongue alongside notes of dried green apples and dark chocolate oak.
Finish: The finish opens with a warming Kentucky hug that moves down the throat and leaves notes of tart green apples, rye grain, and baking spices tingling on the tongue. There’s no burn just warmth as the flavours are peeled back layer after layer and giving a very long finish.
This year’s release is packed full of the grassy, green-apple-heavy flavours I’d typically associate with a rye whiskey that has a much higher rye content. The rye spice is also more concentrated than what I’ve experienced in previous releases, making this drink hotter than the labelled 92.8 proof would have you believe, and also removing any doubt that KY-style rye means you’ve killed the spirit of the rye in pursuit of a bourbon-esque rye whiskey. In typical Michter’s fashion there is enough rye-driven heat on the palate that your focus is kept but not so much that you can’t taste the subtle flavour nuances in this whiskey. This heat fades to a warming Kentucky hug once you swallow and doesn’t leave any residual fiery spice or burn in the throat. This is a delicious whiskey and every year fonds its way onto my top 10 by flying under the radar because the proof isn’t off the charts crazy. If you’re sleeping on this it’s time to wake up!
Day #15 – Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 7y.o.
Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 7 y.o. was released in 2019 after their 6y.o. BIB was discontinued. What had changed in the few months in the middle was that the 7 year old came out with wider distribution and a year older with an increase in price to reflect the quality of the liquid. As the #1 producer of Bottled in Bond spirits excitement ran hot for this release, let’s have a taste!
Nose: The nose opens with deep caramel, thick vanilla, toasted almonds, faint dried cherries, black pepper, subtle baking spices, dark chocolate, and charred oak.
Palate: The palate has a medium viscosity, opening with deep caramel and vanilla before a flash of dark stone fruit and a wave of prickly rye spice washes over the palate leaving faintly bitter charred oak, earthy baking spices, and thick dark chocolate on the palate as you chew.
Finish: The finish opens with a kick of dark chocolate and faint earthy spice on the sides of the tongue, fading to a buttery aftertaste of charred oak and dark chocolate as the rye spice from the palate continues to linger.
Now this is a workhorse bourbon that everyone needs to try. Although I’ve never tried the 6 y.o. variant, this bourbon works hard and delivers a flavour-heavy dram at a proof that can’t be argued with. It’s big, bold, and packed full of flavours that distinguish it above other Heaven Hill bourbons such as Elijah Craig small batch. Instead of soft butterscotch and faint rye spice this bourbon brings deep caramel, bold rye spice, and unapologetic charred barrel notes. I have never tried the 6 y.o. Bottled in Bond but if it tasted anything like this then it is no surprise that it gained the cult following that it had. I for one am glad that they brought it back as a more accessible product with a wider availability and let’s not forget that in an era where age statements are dropping like flies this release is a shining example of what is possible.
Day #16 – Old Forester Statesman
Released to coincide with the 2017 action spy comedy film Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Old Forester Statesman is named after the fictional distillery used in the film as a front for a US-based spy organisation. A now-permanent addition to the Old Forester family following its success, the bourbon features Old Forester’s standard bourbon recipe blended from barrels pulled from the warmest parts of the Brown Forman rickhouses by Master Blender Jackie Zykan and bottled at a higher proof than the standard offering.
Nose: The nose opens with black cherries, deep caramel, faint floral banana, earthy baking spices mixed with warm leather, peppery oak, and smoky char.
Palate: The palate opens viscous, buttery, and sweet with brown sugar and floral vanilla before a growing wave of toasted oak, leather and slightly bitter baking spices make their presence known. It’s leathery, peppery, and there’s a dash of citrus riding the back of the wave. As the wave passes it leaves deep vanilla, buttery caramel, a touch of cherry, and warm oak notes as it’s chewed.
Finish: The finish opens with a touch of vegetal notes before giving warm baking spices, leathery oak tannins, and ending on a long-lasting dark chocolate and charred oak aftertaste.
Oh man that’s good! No wonder there’s so much love for this out there! Throughout drinking this you get all those classic Old Forester notes but now they’re jumping from the glass with added zeal, strengthened by a hefty dose of added baking spices, leather, and toasted oak influence. This really tastes like a bourbon that has squeezed more oak-driven notes from the barrel with all those spice and leather notes. Its amazing how picking barrels from only the hot spots in warehouses has really given this bourbon a drastic flavour boost. The added 9 proof points (4.5% abv) have also made a big difference in terms of the intensity of the flavours and how they’re carried on the palate. Whereas the 86 proof release can be enjoyed both in cocktails and neat this release really steps it up and almost demands to be sipped neat.
Day #17 – Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (C920)
The third release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof this year the C920 batch landed smack in the middle of the A120 and B520 batches at a proof of 132.8 (66.4% ABV). Having only tried the B520 this year the increase in proof was just over 5 points and promised a much heavier handed pour than what I got from the B520. Let’s taste!
Nose: The nose opens bright with lots of brittle caramel spun from brown sugar, followed by thick cherries, baking spices, and tannic charred oak
with notes of deep barrel toast. The longer you nose this and the further you
move away from the glass the earthier it gets with ground nuts and oak-heavy notes
of cloves, and maple syrup.
Palate: The palate opens sweet with powdered sugar and caramel before
quickly turning hot and tannic as oak spice floods the palate. Once this fades
bourbon-soaked black cherries, maple syrup, and dark chocolate notes emerge.
The more you sip this the less spicy the oak spice becomes, instead bringing
beautiful notes of toasted oak and baking spices before fading and again giving
maple syrup, black cherries, and tannic charred oak that dries the tongue and
Finish: The finish opens with a warm Kentucky hug that travels down
the throat and leaves cinnamon, brown sugar caramel, dark chocolate, earthy
nuts, and toasted oak spice that continues into the aftertaste.
Now this is what barrel proof bourbon should taste like! Drinking this has brought me right back to my first experiences of barrel proof bourbon: when the flavours were big, the alcohol was hot, and the oak was drying as tannins coated the inside of my mouth. Neat this tasted like I was sipping a concentrated bourbon, with the effects of the tannins and the proof quickly becoming apparent as my mouth dried out, however, as this passed it opened the door to a range of delicious classic bourbon flavours that work very well together. In fact, this bourbon is as good as anything I’ve tasted at barrel proof to date. That heavy brown sugar profile is simply delicious and combined with everything else easily elevates this into my top 5 bourbons of 2020. Yes, the tannic oak can be a bit of a shock to the palate initially, but as your palate adjusts the flavours open up in a way that makes it all worth it. Compared to the previous B520 batch (which I also really liked) this batch’s flavours are driven by the added proof which delivers more flavour intensity and oak spice. There’s also more dark brown sugar caramel on this batch compared to the almost butterscotch-like notes of the B520 and with a mere 3 drops of water this bourbon gains deep butterscotch notes on the nose, loses its tannic edge, and gains sweeter and more toasted oak-forward notes on the palate with tart cherries to compliment.
Day #18 – Last Drop Distillers 1980 Bourbon
Day 18 and for this review I was drinking something so rare that it only comes in a 10ml sample – Last Drop Distillers 1980 Bourbon. This whiskey was distilled from a wheated bourbon mashbill at the George T Stagg distillery by Master Distiller Gary Gayheart in 1980 and aged for 20 years in new charred oak before being transferred to stainless Steel containers for a further 20 years. Let’s see what makes this bourbon worth $4, 500 a bottle!
Nose: The nose opens the classic dusty butterscotch and old minty barrel notes I’ve come to associate with older bourbon from the 80s, these are followed by tobacco, leather, and hints of dried black cherries.
Palate: The palate opens thick and creamy with old, charred oak, deep maple syrup, old wheat, dark chocolate, herbaceous funk, more dried cherries.
Finish: The finish opens with old tannic oak, faint sweetness, and herbaceous oak leading into a bitter yet pleasant aftertaste.
This whiskey is almost perfume-like and carries all the hallmarks of a ‘dusty’ bourbon. It has butterscotch funk, minty oak, dark chocolate, dried red and dark fruit, and a little barrel spice to boot. Being a wheated bourbon there was very little spice and the flavours go together very well with the oak nowhere near as overwhelming as you’d assume for 20 years old. Trying this was a once in a lifetime opportunity but with the RRP for this whiskey being in the region of €4,500 I won’t be buying a bottle anytime soon unfortunately!
Day #19 – Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style
Day 19 and the star of the Whiskey Row series has found itself in my glass – Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style. Released in 2017 this 115-proof bourbon has made quite the splash in the global bourbon community but just how good is it? Let’s find out!
Nose: The nose opens with thick butterscotch, caramel bordering on being burnt, dried cherries, faint banana, and earthy baking spices with a hint of cola sweets and almonds. As you nose deeper it gives more dark chocolate, fresh black cherries, and tannic oak.
Palate: The palate is viscous with dark chocolate, black stone fruit, rye spice, and a tingling heat from the alcohol. Once this dissipates somewhat, a faint burn travels down the sides of the tongue whilst a deep black cherries and dark chocolate continue to dance across the palate with spice on the fringes. The dryer dark chocolate and clove notes from the barrels becomes more apparent as this fades, balancing out the initial sweetness.
Finish: The finish opens faintly bitter with dark chocolate, almonds, charred oak, and an aftertaste of tannic charred oak and cloves.
From the day it was released, Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style hit the ground running released and has proven extremely popular with bourbon drinkers across the globe. The whiskey itself is robust and packed with jacked up Old Forester notes, giving drinkers a spicy but balanced sipping experience. Thanks to its overall flavour complexity, it can be enjoyed both neat or mixed into a cocktail that needs a solid oak-driven backbone and shines through beautifully in whatever it mixes into.
Day #20 Smoke Wagon Uncut & Unfiltered Bourbon
Day 20 and once again I was in search of something big, bold, and delicious to prepare my soul for Monday. This week I reached for some Smoke Wagon Uncut and Unfiltered to fortify my weary spirit with some barrel proof MGP goodness! Let’s see how it fared!
Nose: the nose opens with a mix of earthy rye spice and dried red fruit alongside sweet caramel, faint citrus peeled, and spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. These are followed by a dash of herbaceous charred oak which becomes more prevalent the longer you nose this.
Palate: the palate opens viscous with dark maple syrup, faint red fruit, and peppery rye before a wave of spice and dark chocolate washes across the palate. Once this fades more barrel-driven notes emerge with creamy chocolate fudge coming out alongside faint cinnamon, cloves, citrus, and freeze-dried raspberry. The longer you chew this the more sweetness emerges to round out the spice.
Finish: the finish opens with residual rye and barrel spice which warms the mouth and throat before oak-driven spice, dry cacoa powder, faint citrus peel emerge and fade into an aftertaste of maple syrup and tannic oak.
This is one hell of a pour! On one side it’s super viscous with all the creaminess you can ask for, and on the other hand it is packed full of a kaleidoscope of barrel notes, fruit notes, and baking spices. Combining their high rye content with the barrel influence from the 8y.o. stocks in this batch with the veracity of the young 4 and 5y.o. stocks makes for a versatile bourbon. Add a great proof to this mix and the fact that this product is made up of completely uncut and unfiltered whiskey and you get a true untamed barrel proof experience.