Stagg JR – Batch 5

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Distillery/Brand: Buffalo Trace | Region: America | ABV: 64.85% | Colour: Mahogany
Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.2 | Finish: 8.2 | Overall Score: 8.2

Review
I’m desperately trying to close out 2016 on a positive note. Personally as well as from a whisky review perspective. Of late it seems all I’ve been doing is getting angry at whiskies and their masters for letting me down. Some have in mildly irritating ways and others in much more spectacular fashion.

But the general aim this year has been to upset me and, along with fattening the books, they seem to have met their target. But I won’t let them drag me down to their level. No, thank you.

So while I do have some scathing reviews tucked away they’ll be better suited to the dawn of a new year. My objective now is to comment only on whiskies that make me happy until this dreaded year is finally over. I look forward to an interesting ten days.

And that brings me to the Stagg Jr.

For those who know me know that I am in love with the senior. It changed my perspective on how I perceived bourbons especially ones that came close to spontaneously combusting thanks to inhuman levels of alcohol strength. I’m talking 70%+ here ladies and gentlemen. To achieve a bouquet of flavours and balance in a beast that strong is almost an unfathomable work of art.

And that’s precisely what the Antique Collection is. A work of art.

The Stagg Jr comes from the same pedigree as the senior. Introduced back in 2013 as a younger alternative to the George T Stagg it uses a blend of whiskies 8 or 9 years old and the same mash bill – Mashbill #1. The recipe is pretty much a secret and all we know is that #1 uses less than 10% rye in the overall mix. As for the remaining grains I’m sure there’s a large percentage of corn and then some wheat. There could be some barley too. But I’m not certain.

Panned by critics when it first came out it was considered an unworthy alternative to the George. However, later batches saw the same set of non-believers warm up to this rather tasty barrel proof bourbon. I have sat in my glass Batch 5, recognisable by the proof hastily scribbled on the label. Mine sits at a wonderful 129.7 which, in layman’s terms, is around 64.85% ABV. My sample is from a half empty bottle opened just a week ago.

Nose: That familiar sweetness. Instantly took me to the George. Peppers. Black berries. Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Chocolate milkshake. Did I mention chocolate? Touch of black liquorice. Brown curry powder. In a good way! Burnt caramel marchiato. Breakfast toast. Ripe watermelon. Watermelon? Seriously? Quite drying with a ton of cooking spices on a dry forest fire. What’s not to like? 8.2

Palate: As you would expect. A nuclear explosion of pinpricks brought under control by a dark chocolate. Like a Lindt red chilly. Cherries. That smoke from that fire. Milk chocolate. Quite tannic. Dries mid-palate. The oak is quite pronounced. As are the spices. Not as sweet as I expected it to be. A hint of maple syrup. Feels youngish for some reason. But I love the strength. 8.2

Finish: Long. Long. Long. Oaky. And oily at the same time. Barbecue rub. 8.2

Overall Comments: First up let’s consider what is on offer here. A solid whisky made from the same recipe as the George. A touch younger, yes, but when you compare the price point it’s a no brainer. Pick this up for no more than US$60-70 (the later batches, of course) instead of mortgaging your children for the George T Stagg – that is, IF YOU CAN FIND IT! Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges but aren’t we all? In fact that’s what makes us so endearing, doesn’t it?

Overall Score: 8.2

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Four Roses Single Barrel

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Distillery/Brand: Four Roses | Region: America | ABV: 50% | Color: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 94

Review
It’s been a while since I put a good old fashioned bourbon on the tasting block. Five months to be exact. No real reason other than getting swept up in my single malt purchases and ignoring this spirit from the West.

For some reason I always get grief from my whisky club about my love for American whisky. Not that they’re snobs or anything. It’s just that I organized a bourbon tasting one night and, let’s just say, things got out of hand.

The following morning was a barrage of half coherent phone calls blaming my generous pours and the Devil that was inside this damned spirit for their complete lack of motor skills.

Sure guys. Blame the bourbons.

I’ve had my eye on Four Roses for a while but just didn’t get around to picking one up for the bar. Good thing I did. I’m quite proud of my growing bourbon collection and the Four Roses makes for a worthy addition.

My sample is from Barrel 69-6W from warehouse ME bottled at a perfect 50% ABV.

Nose: Howdy pardner! So many aromas all working together in near perfect harmony. Maple syrup. Chocolate fudge brownies. Overripe oranges. Espresso coffee beans. Black licorice. Burnt caramel. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Oak. The longer you nose the more aromas you get. In the interest of space I had to stop.

Palate: Brilliant delivery. Controlled at 50% which I think works beautifully. Oaky at first before getting sweeter mid-palate. Honey. Molasses. Cherries. Dark plums. Chocolate caramel. Black peppercorns. Cinnamon.

Finish: Satisfyingly long. Touch bitter with vanilla and black peppers.

As a recent practice I’ve been drinking the actual whisky while writing my review. For some reason this review has taken twice as long. You figure out why.

Rating: 94

Parkers Heritage 6th Edition

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Parkers Heritage Collection
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 68.95%
Colour: Old Sauternes

Nose: 23
Taste: 24
Finish: 24
Balance: 23

Review
Ok so here’s the deal. I love Parkers Heritage. And I’ve managed to put Editions 3,4 & 5 safely on my shelf for all to admire. I remember first purchasing the 3rd Edition wondering what I was getting into and then proceeding to get blown away.

This 2012 Sixth Edition features select barrels of 11 year old Heaven Hill rye-based Bourbons mingled with select barrels of the wheated mashbill Heaven Hill uses for the Old Fitzgerald line, also aged for 11 years.

The rye-based Bourbon was pulled from the 4th floor of Rickhouse “R” in Bardstown, while the wheated Bourbon aged on the topmost 7th floor of nearby Rickhouse “T”.

I’ve always felt mixing rye with wheat is a tricky exercise because they tend to fight or cancel each other out. But not here.

Nose: BIG. Lots and lots of vanilla and sticky sugar. The sweetness then mellows out and gives way to chocolate almonds and coffee beans which is quite delicately enveloped in a fine mist of rose water.

Palate: The experiment seems to have worked! The rye and wheat manage to stand out independently from each other. There is big oak smeared with dark berries and cocoa dust rubbed with an equally dusty cinnamon clove. The delivery belies the alcohol strength though adding a drop of water gives it a drop of caramel. Quite fantastic actually.

Finish: Very long. Very oaky. Lingering spices.

This is such a class act of balancing high strength alcohol with flavors that truly work. And for me the real joy is seeing those two grains work so well together.

Rating: 94

Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 50%
Colour: Gold

Nose: 21
Taste: 22
Finish: 21
Balance: 22

Review
I’ve always had a hard time telling one bourbon apart from another. I mean they are essentially the same flavor profiles so it can be a bit tough. But this Rittenhouse Rye is possibly one of the strangest and most unique.

I just don’t know why.

Nose: Unusually fragrant with a pulpy tropical fruit quality. Over ripe jack fruit and soft dates. All on a bed of underlying molasses. Very strange. Not sure if I like it.

Palate: The strangeness continues. Burnt sugar on pudding layered with spicy banana slices. There is that over ripe jack fruit again but this time with a touch of aniseed. Not sure if a bourbon should be tasting like this. I’m still a little confused.

Finish: Oaky dry with a date and rice pudding mix.

Now this is not terrible but it certainly does take you by surprise. Do I want my bourbons tasting like this? I don’t know. I really don’t.

Rating: 86

Evan Williams 23 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Evan Williams 23 Year old
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 53.5%
Colour: Old Gold

Nose: 24
Taste: 24
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

Review
I’ve realized I managed to get quite lucky during my initial purchase period as a whisky drinker. I don’t know why I chose to invest in this 23 year old class act but so glad that I did.

Nose: A lovely clove marmalade on burnt toast with a side of caramel marchiato dusted with sweet cocoa powder. One of the finest noses I have ever come across.

Palate: Strong and creamy hot. Lots of dark chocolate, raisins and plums with a hint of cherries. I remember the first time I ever tried this bourbon – it literally evaporated off my tongue onto my palate. One of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had.

Finish: Seductively long with a woody cinnamon sprinkle.

This is an absolute beaut of a drink and re-affirms my faith in this world class distillery.

Rating: 94

Elijah Craig 18 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Elijah Craig 18 Year old
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 45%
Colour: Burgundy

Nose: 23
Taste: 24
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

Review
This exceptional bourbon from Heaven Hill Distilleries is from a single barrel (the Scotch equivalent of single cask) and has spent 18 years in one place becoming sexy. This was one of the first bourbons I had ever tasted and I was hooked!

Nose: Beautifully creamy and elegant. There’s french toast and toffee apples dipped in dark honey with a side of gorgeous vanilla infused roasted carrots.

Palate: The creaminess continues with a chocolate waffle and cherries mixture. But the balanced spices are what makes this special. Black pepper, cloves and cumin all come wonderfully together in tiny pinpricks.

Finish: Long with an oily oakiness and mild spices.

This is truly an exceptional bourbon and one of the oldest I’ve drunk. And let me tell you something. There was a fire 18 years ago at the distillery which wiped out most of the stock so don’t expect a new batch of 18 year olds coming out any time soon.

Rating: 93