Bourbon Review: Rebel Yell

I recall Rebel Yell from when I was living in the Louisville, Kentucky area and you could only buy it south of the Mason Dixon Line. The “Rebel Yell” brand was created for Stitzel-Weller by Charles Farnsley (a former Mayor of Louisville) around the 100th anniversary of the original Weller company, with the idea to distill it in limited batches for exclusive distribution in the Southern United States

The brand name Rebel Yell is currently owned and marketed by Luxco, and the bourbon itself is distilled and bottled under contract by Heaven Hill at its Bernheim distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.

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I bought my bottle at Trader Joe’s where you can currently get a 750 ML bottle for $9.99. You read that right – less than $10 before tax. This is a brand that 30 years ago was aged 6 years and was 90 proof. It was a very good bourbon back then. But now it’s $9.99 and really only a good choice for using as a mixer. I hate to see a good bourbon mixed with anything other than a little ice if necessary. If you are looking for an economical bourbon to use for mixed drinks this will work nicely.

The bourbon starts off with a strong alcohol taste but mellows to caramel, oak, and vanilla. I am not tasting much char at all. It has its nice flavors but they are just not developed to their fullest potential.

As I have said before I am a sucker for good packaging. I have always liked their name, type style, label graphics and bottle. They have changed from the original bottle but the new bottle is a nice shape, very heavy glass with a die cut label.

Age: Not available
Proof: 80
Color: Cinnamon
Aroma: Raisins, caramel
Taste: Alcohol, vanilla,
Price: $9.99 at Trader Joe’s

Bourbon Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The first time I saw Duke I thought, “I have to try it.” I always find unique Bourbons at Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California. A couple years ago, I spotted Duke and bought a bottle. It seemed like a good week to try it. The Academy Awards were last week, and Duke was just sitting there on my bar cart waiting to be opened.

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I love the oval bottle with The Duke on the label. The top edge of the bottle has “Monument Valley Distillers” molded into the bottle. It has a classic red label over the cork that says its 88 Proof. The red label ties into the red DUKE name printed on the label. And, of course, on the back of the label it says: A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. -John Wayne

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Their website says the following about the bourbon:

The Style of DUKE Bourbon was inspired by bottles from John Wayne’s personal whiskey collection, preserved for over 50 years and only recently discovered. Meticulously blended to reflect The Duke’s preferred whiskey flavor profile from tasting notes left behind during the time he was planning his own distillery. Distilled the old-fashioned way; hand crafted in small batches and aged in new hand built heavily charred American Oak barrels. A selection of 5 to 10 year old whiskeys are chosen barrel by barrel and blended by hand before the DUKE Bourbon reaches the bottle, and ultimately, you.

Now, how is Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey? It’s spicy and smooth but with a kick. Would you expect any less from The Duke? I was pleasantly surprised not knowing what to expect. Ethan Wayne, John Wayne’s son, created this spirit using the notes, writings and spirits that had been saved from his dad’s past. It was always John Wayne’s dream to create his own whiskey.

The nose is spicy but soft. I get a lot of vanilla when I smell it, and I get the caramel I seem to smell with all the bourbons I taste. I guess I just love caramel! The taste gives those same flavors with a hint of smoke. The finish is medium and soft on the palette.

I know when it first came out it was a little scarce but I am seeing it in more stores. I would suggest this is a bottle to have on your Bar Cart for the classic look, and ode to John Wayne.

Age: 5-10 year Blend
Proof: 88
Color: Cinnamon
Aroma: Vanilla, caramel
Taste: Spicy, vanilla, smoke
Price: $29.99 at Hi Time Wine Cellars

Bourbon Review: Lexington Finest Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

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For horse racing enthusiasts like myself, spring when a man’s thoughts (fancy?) turns to horse racing and Bourbon. Kentucky has a lot of horses and even more barrels of bourbon. According to the article in the Men’s Journal about the “Pappy Heist” some 5.7 million barrels currently reside in the state, and, yes, they pay taxes every year for sleeping in those warehouses. But that is off the subject. Spring is when the 3-year-olds who are eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby begin their campaign for the Triple Crown. It is also the time of year that part of the country talks bourbon, Mint Juleps and thoroughbred racing.

Lexington Bourbon was inspired by one of horse racing’s most successful thoroughbred sires. It was first launched by Western Spirits (Wyoming) in 2012. So we have a Wyoming bourbon with a Kentucky Thoroughbred on the label. Makes you think it’s made in Kentucky. Thus, the issue with many of these new bourbons you see on the market. You don’t know where they are made or anything about their age or heritage. They have tried to give it heritage with the “Lexington” name and the bottle has a very Woodford Reserve look to its contour.

The bourbon runs about $25.99 at Total Wine. Being my first review of the Racing Season I want to be positive. But unlike some of my other reviews, it’s not a new favorite. It is a lighter, less complex bourbon. It’s a good bourbon for your Whiskey Sours, and other cocktails. It is rather short on finish but has a vanilla, spicy, sweet, and some say woody taste to it.

They have done a wonderful job of packaging this bourbon to have that old Kentucky look. It would look good on your bar on Derby Day. But I would stick to Woodford Reserve, Blanton’s, or some of the other Thoroughbred inspired Bourbon’s for those dressed-up mint Juleps you want to make to impress your friends this Spring.

Age: Unknown
Proof: 86
Color: Golden Brown
Aroma: Vanilla, Woody, Spicy
Taste: Woody, Vanilla, Sweet
Price: $25.99 at Total Wine

Bourbon Review: Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea

Remember when you were little and Mom or Dad would hand you a conch shell? They would say put it up to ear and you can hear the ocean. You would and you would be amazed at how you could hear the ocean. How could the shell could do that and take you back to the sea?

Trey Zoeller, Master Blender at Jefferson’s Bourbon, is good friends with Chris Fischer of OCEARCH, a nonprofit that researches great white sharks and other marine species. Chris has been featured on National Geographic Channel’s “Shark Men.” What happens when a Bourbon Man and a Shark Man get together? They came up with the idea of aging the bourbon, in its barrels, on board the 126 foot OCEARCH research vessel.

In 2012, Jefferson’s released the first Jefferson’s Ocean, aged 4 years at sea. There were only 200 bottles the first year. They are now on their 4th release of Ocean. They seem to be perfecting the process and its getting bigger and better every year.  You can even track the voyage of their ocean aged bourbon on their website.

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Anyone who has toured the Bourbon Trail has heard all the stories about the warehouses and how aging the barrels hot in the summer and cold in the winter pulls the bourbon into and out of the oak.   The French have aged Cognac by the sea. Why not bourbon?

Well, open a bottle of Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon and they will take you back to the sea as well. I know what you are thinking. Just like me when I first read about Jefferson’s and I said, “No way.” Well, I am here to say “WAY.” You can taste the ocean, honest, you can taste the ocean. Aging at sea is allowing that breathing barrel to bring in the salty air, and the taste profile it brings with it.

The first whiff you get of the bourbon is soft, at first mellow, but with a full flavor profile of caramel and cinnamon, and a strong finish. It is like a very good wine or cognac as it gets to the middle of your palate.

I highly recommend you try a bottle and relax by the sea without even leaving the house. Turn on House Hunters International, or the Travel Channel and watch the sea as you sip it. Or better yet take a bottle on that next vacation to the bay, beach, coast, ocean, or shore depending upon which coast you inhabit.

Age: 4 years+
Proof: 90
Color: Dark Amber
Aroma: Caramel, Cinnamon, raisins
Taste: Salted Caramel, brown sugar, vanilla
Price: $84.99 Total Wine

Bourbon Review: Basil Hayden’s

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I have had a bottle of Basil Hayden sitting on our bar cart for over a year, unopened.  After opening it the other night I am not sure WHY I waited so long.

I didn’t know what to expect, as I had never tasted it or read a review. I’m actually not really sure why I originally bought it — maybe the packaging.  But I have heard a lot of good things recently, and it turns out they were all true. Taylor wrote about Basil Hayden’s in her guest post earlier this week – it’s a favorite at her house, and now mine too.

What an incredibly smooth bourbon!  I am putting it on the same pedestal with the best.  I starting sipping while working on another blog post and I had to stop and savor the moment.  It reminded me of the first time I tasted Pappy (which I’ll talk more about in a couple weeks).  It was one of those moments when you say to yourself, “This is a special moment, stop and enjoy it.”

The History (from their website):

In 1796, Master Distiller Basil Hayden Sr. broke ‘the rules’ by mixing small grains into the mash of a traditional corn base. A Maryland transplant unafraid to stand out amidst the residing establishment, Basil conjectured that the spicy flavor of rye would be a striking complement to the sweet smoothness of corn in his distillery’s standard bourbon. And much to the chagrin of the traditionalist set, Basil was right. His recipe was a masterpiece, resulting in a unique, singular small batch bourbon whiskey that was blessed with rich hints of peppermint, notes of pepper, slight citrus overtones, and a spicy, warming finish.

I have to agree with their notes of strong pepper and a spicy aroma.  As it sits on the granite counter by my keyboard, it has a wonderful smell and color to enjoy.  Each sip brings new tastes and a warmth with the finish.  I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed this bourbon.

In their notes they say, “Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied bourbon whiskey in the family of Jim Beam small batch bourbons produced by Beam Suntory.”  It is that light body that makes it soft and a great sipping whiskey.  I just wish it would cool off again here in California so I could build a fire to sit by and enjoy this wonderful bourbon.  Pick up a bottle and enjoy it this weekend!

Age: 8 years
Proof: 80
Color: Golden amber
Aroma: Spice, tea, hint of peppermint
Taste: Spicy, peppery, honey, light-bodied, gentle bite
Price: $38.99 BevMo

 

Whiskey, Taxes, and a Little History

Whiskey is woven throughout the history of America, whether it was the Whiskey Rebellion, prohibition, the roaring 20’s and speakeasies, or today with the renaissance of the Bourbon Trail, mixology, and classic cocktails.  Caskers in New York City posted a new Bourbon for sale yesterday that I had never heard of, with an ironic historical name, “Bower Hill.” What grabbed my attention, being a bit of history buff, was the name. Bower Hill was the home of Tax Inspector John Neville — a central figure of the Whiskey Rebellion.

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Here is the story from Caskers’s website:

In 1794 a group of approximately 600 Mingo Creek militiamen surrounded Federal Tax Inspector John Neville’s fortified home, rebelling against the Excise Whiskey Tax of 1791. The farmers and militiamen taking part in this “Whiskey Rebellion” were fighting for the very same principles which fueled the American Revolution, and during the attack on Neville’s home — Bower Hill — two rebel leaders were killed, including Revolutionary War Major James McFarlane. Upon completion of the two-day battle, Neville’s home was razed by fire, and now, Bower Hill and the Whiskey Rebellion are commemorated with a new rebellious spirit, Bower Hill Single Barrel Bourbon.

Distilled and aged in Louisville, Kentucky, Bower Hill Barrel Reserve Bourbon has a warm amber appearance and an aroma of vanilla spice and rich, charred oak. On the palate, there are more spicy oak tannins complemented by lush fruits and wheat toast, leading to a long, smooth finish defined by caramel and popcorn.

Bower Hill Barrel Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon just hit the market in 2015 — be the first to pick up a bottle today!

Isn’t that a great story, and what a good looking bottle! It’s a relatively new bourbon – released in 2015. I need to spend a little more time researching who makes this and what the story is behind the bourbon.

There are so many whiskeys and bourbons with historic names. George Washington is the first to come to mind. I have a bottle of Rye Whiskey from George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon, Virginia (that’s a neat tour btw, we visited the distillery last spring when we were in Virginia visiting our daughter).

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Jefferson’s is the another. Some of their bottles even have Thomas Jefferson’s image on them.

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Booker Noe named Knob Creek after the small stream that flows through Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home in Kentucky.

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Another one that comes to mind is 1792 — the year Kentucky became a state (did you know prior to becoming a state it was part of Virginia?).

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And, Calumet is named for the horse farm that bred many Derby and Triple Crown Winners.

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Reviews on many of these are to come.  There are many more stories behind the names of today’s whiskey brands. Next time you pick up a bottle look into its history, then sip in the sweet success of years of the distiller’s craftsmanship. I, personally, can’t wait to try Bower Hill!

All of these bourbons are available on Caskers’s website. I’ve included links to them below:

George Washington Estate Rye Whiskey (Sold out, they usually release in December)

Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Knob Creek Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Calumet Farm Bourbon Whiskey

(This post was not sponsored by Caskers. I am just a big fan! It’s a great website to go to learn about bourbons and buy online.)

 

Bourbon Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2005 Vintage

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As you will learn from reading my blog, I am a big fan of Evan Williams bourbons. Evan Williams makes very good bourbon at a great value. The bottle I’m reviewing today, Single Barrel 2005 Vintage, was put in oak in 2005 and the label even tells you the exact dates it was barreled and bottled.  The Single Barrel Vintage is personally selected by their Master Distiller for this bottling.

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It was ranked #2 in the Fall 2015 Whisky Advocate’s Buyer’s Guide:

#2 – Evan Williams Single Barrel 2005 Vintage (barrel #292), 43.3%, $29
Complex fruit (clementine, pineapple, golden raisin) balanced nicely with honey, vanilla custard, and dusty corn, along with a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. An extremely versatile whiskey with its medium weight, easy to embrace personality, and subtle charms. Perennially one of the best values in whiskey.—John Hansell
Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

This bourbon has a spicy vanilla smell, is a little smokey, and I think strong caramel. Everybody smells different things in the same sample. To me it smells sweet and inviting. The first sips will give you the same impression. It goes down with a strong caramel taste and glides down very smoothly. It has a strong finish that should please most bourbon drinkers.  This is the type of bourbon you could drink any night and also dress up for a special occasion.

Aged: 9 years
Proof: 86.6
Color: Medium Cherry
Price Point: $27-29
Whiskey Advocate Rating: 93

If you want to find out even more about Evan Williams they now have their “Evan Williams Bourbon Experience” in downtown Louisville — I highly recommend it!

Bourbon Review: Wild Turkey 101

It’s 101 Proof and as good as it sounds.  Doesn’t it sound interesting and a cut above?  Being 101 proof means it’s 50.5% alcohol.  They get Wild Turkey to 101 when they dilute the bourbon down from about 109 after filtering to  bottle it.  It has matured in barrels with a #4 char between 6, 7 & 8 years.   Austin Nichols was Established in the mid 1800’s but it hasn’t always been called Wild Turkey.  A little history is below from the Campari Group’s website.

In 1940, Austin, Nichols executive Thomas McCarthy inadvertently established the Wild Turkey Bourbon brand name. An avid sportsman, McCarthy gathered with friends each year for a wild turkey hunt on a South Carolina estate. McCarthy, who was asked to bring the whiskey, pulled a sample of undiluted 101 proof from the warehouse. The following year, his friends insisted he bring more of “that wild turkey bourbon.” McCarthy, a businessman with a background in marketing, realized he had a winning product and soon began to market Wild Turkey Bourbon.

Knowing it was 101 proof, the first time I tried it I wasn’t sure what the first sip would bring.  It was delightful, very robust in flavor and a wellspring of flavors as it opens up.  As I was tasting it for this blog post, I was looking for the bite of the proof but it’s smooth for a high proof bourbon.  A lot of complex flavors: cinnamon (I would call it liquid cinnamon in color), very strong caramel, nutmeg. I detect some fruit which to me is apple, others call it orchard fruit.

I enjoy this bourbon and would recommend you try a bottle for sipping or mixing.  It will play well with other flavors.

I have had many bottles of Wild Turkey on my Southwest Airlines flights (thanks for the free drink coupons Southwest!) but never the 101.  Watch for it at your local store and give it a try.  Like me, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Aged: Blend of 7, 8, & 9 Years
Proof: 101
Color: Deep Russet (Distillers Notes)
Price Point: $24.99 (at BevMo)
Wine Enthusiast Rating91

Bolder but hotter than the 81 proof version, this Kentucky Bourbon has a drying feel, and lots of maple, caramel and vanilla flavor, finishing long with touches of dried orange peel and clove. Add a splash of branchwater to even out the alcohol. (Read more here)

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Bourbon Review: Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy is the creation of bourbon industry legend Lincoln Henderson. It is known as his masterpiece and until his passing in 2013 he watched over the entire creation process. In the process of aging bourbon in barrels there is a lot of evaporation. The portion that evaporates is known as the “Angel’s Share.” The name “Angel’s Envy” is derived from what is left in the barrel. It is bottled in a tall bottle with angel wings on the back of the bottle.

Angel’s Envy has a distinct spiciness. I, personally, detect a very strong caramel flavor. Others say they taste black cherries, almond, and raisins.   The bourbon is aged 4-6 years in American oak and finished for 3-6 months in port barrels. This is what gives it a sweet taste with a hint of cherry.

I will be the first to admit I don’t have a discerning pallet. What I like about a bourbon or whiskey is how it opens up and how it finishes. When my wife Lynn tried it for the first time, her initial comment was, “This is very smooth.”

I first tried it when it came out in 2010 and regularly keep a bottle around. It is one of the bourbons I like to keep around to sip and to introduce to friends who are new to bourbons and want to try something a little different.

Aged: 4-6 years
Proof: 86.6
Color: Very Medium Rich
Price Point: 750 ML $44.99 (Total Wine)
Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey finished in a port pipe. This is veteran master distiller Lincoln Henderson’s newest creation, and it’s a beauty. Richly textured, silky, and well-rounded, with ripe berried fruits, candied tangerine, light toffee, maple syrup, and creamy vanilla, sprinkled with spice (cinnamon, hint of mint). Smooth, silky finish, and dangerously drinkable! The port pipe notes dovetail perfectly. Lovely just the way it is, but it’s begging for a cigar. My only gripe: why not 45 or 50% ABV? But I’m splitting hairs. I really enjoy this stuff!
(Spring 2011) Reviewed by: John Hansell

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Photo from http://www.angelsenvy.com