About – This high proof, Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon was named for Henry McKenna, the Irish immigrant who adapted his family’s whiskey recipe to work the grains he found in Kentucky. Henry McKenna is the longest aged Bottled-in-Bond available today, resting in the barrel through 40 Kentucky seasons. Critics agree that this is perfectly balanced Bourbon. This whiskey is produced by Heaven Hill, aged 10 years, and bottled-in-bond at 100 proof. Normal price for Henry McKenna 10 year seems to be around $30.
Nose – Sweet honey with a slew of baking spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, a hint of clove. Classic straight forward bourbon aroma with the 100 proof alcohol making its presence subtly present.
Palate – Strong oak profile with undertones of vanilla. Some heat sneaks up in the form of cinnamon similar to than from a mouthful of red hot candies.. Even at 100 proof the alcohol is just as subtle on the palate as it is on the nose.
Finish – Medium length finish showcasing the oak, but not in an overpowering way and fading into a cinnamon spice similar to the red hots mentioned earlier.
Score – A
Verdict – In a world where age statements are disappearing and single barrel offerings are either going away or rising in price, Henry McKenna 10 year represents one the best values available in the current market. For me this holds a slight edge over both Russel’s Reserve and Eagle Rare in the same price range. I would imagine though that in this current market that either the age statement will disappearing soon or the price will be increasing, so pick this up while it still holds the value it does.
About – Four Roses is a brand that carries a lot of historical weight holding the crown of being the top selling bourbon brand in the U.S. after prohibition through the 1950’s. The distillery located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky opened in 1910. Today Four Roses is well known for producing a premium product and having 10 different recipes made up of 2 different yeast strains and 5 different mashbills. All of these recipes can be found as single barrels store picks and in the gift shop. The standard single barrel release which is being reviewed here is always the OBSV recipe consisting of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley, and as the V indicates uses their V strain of yeast. Four Roses Single Barrel carries no age statement and is bottled at 100 proof. Price varies from $35-$40 one store I frequent usually has it for $32.99.
Nose – Light and subtle blend of dried fruit and oak. After adding a couple of ice cubes it really opens up. The rye takes center stage and is accompanied by caramel and a good dose of mint.
Palate – Contrary to the nose this bourbon explodes onto the pallet. Apricots lead along with a strong dose of oak and honey rounds it out on the back end along with a dash of pepper.
Finish – Long and dry. Just like the nose and pallet oak stands out the whole way through and is accented by a touch of cinnamon.
Score – A–
Verdict – A very complex and versatile bourbon that manages to walk a tightrope between the flavors of a typical bourbon and a rye whiskey. This is one of my favorite bourbons. I usually try to keep some on hand and when at a bar there aren’t many others I will order above it given the chance. Truly great stuff here!
About – Founded by Tom Bulleit and now owned by Diageo, Bulleit bourbon is one the highest selling and most well known bourbons on the market today. It is known for its high rye content (28%) and its trademark bottle design. The whiskey in the bottle is actually distilled by Four Roses. The final product is aged around 6 years, bottled at 90 proof, and generally costs around $25.
Nose – Bright, floral, rye spice, wildflower honey, vanilla. All the classic bourbon smells are there along with a nice floral touch.
Palate – Very bright, even more so than the nose with citrus, caramel, and a healthy dose of oak forming the base for everything.
Finish – Long and woody leaving a cooling hint of mint behind
Score – B
Verdict – Overall this is a very solid bourbon with nothing really jumping out either good or bad. That is what makes it a favorite of many bartenders. I would recommend it as a base whiskey for any home bar as well. At the $25 price point it is a bargain, especially when you take into account the crazy state of the bourbon market.
About – James E. Pepper is one of many historic bourbon brands that has been purchased and relaunched during the recent surge in bourbon popularity. The 1776 label dates back to the civil war and was even a favorite of Ulysses S. Grant as well as Andrew Jackson. The modern iteration is an extremely high rye recipe (38%) that is distilled for James E. Pepper by MGP. The finished product is aged 6 years and bottled at 92 proof with a price around $30- $35. This bourbon won the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Word Spirits Competition in 2013.
Nose – Dark fruit, mildly reminiscent of a dark red wine, an uncanny hint of smoke. It is clear from the nose that this is a very high rye content bourbon.
Palate – Not sure exactly what I was expecting, but the first taste was definitely a curveball, leading me to regroup and give this bourbon another go. On the second taste I am picking up dark honey and the dark fruit from the nose. If you can’t tell so far this bourbon leans on a deep, dark profile.
Finish – A decent amount of oak followed by a burst of characteristic rye spice, followed by more of the sweet dark fruit fading out slowly for a nice long and luscious finish.
Score – B-
Verdict – By no means is this your typical bourbon, but it is a tasty and unique pour. Due to the unique flavor profile I could see this bourbon being very polarizing, and would recommend trying it at a bar before picking up a bottle. It probably isn’t for everyone, but if it sounds like a flavor profile that is up your alley, go for it.
About – Maker’s Mark is one of those brands that everyone, including those who don’t drink bourbon, is familiar with. Any many ways it is the brand that started the modern bourbon revival as well. Maker’s is a wheated bourbon distilled in Loretto, KY by Beam Suntory and is bottled at 90 proof.
Nose – Bold nose especially for a 90 proof bourbon, sweet vanilla and caramel are accompanied by the trademark Maker’s Mark spice
Palate – Surprisingly tame in spite of the nose. Oak and vanilla are present, but the thin mouthfeel leaves much to be desired.
Finish – A short flash of heat, a surprise for a 90 proofer, with little else of redeeming value.
Score – C+
Verdict – Is this really the bourbon that sparked the bourbon revival? I can’t believe that to be the case. Something must have changed since then with either the recipe or the age of the whiskey put into the bottle. I know it is unlikely, but if you haven’t tried Maker’s Mark before I would only recommend it for use in cocktails.
About – 1792 Small Batch is a product of the Barton distillery which is a member of the Sazerac conglomerate which also owns Buffalo Trace. 1792 gets its name from 1792 being the year that the state of Kentucky joined the union. It is a high rye content bourbon and is bottle at 93.7 proof.
Nose – Bright, slightly floral with a trace of caramel tinged with ethanol. After resting for 10 minutes of so dark fruit appears.
Palate – Caramel leads the way along with oak that doesn’t stand out in the nose. Not a lot else going on.
Finish – Surprisingly on the borderline of being hot, a long tannin laced oak finish with with a hint of vanilla coming along for the ride.
Score – C+
Verdict – This is not a bad bourbon, but to be honest it isn’t that good either. I have seen it priced anywhere from $22-$30. It can compete on the lower end but at $30 it doesn’t hold up against options such as Russel’s Reserve, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, or Henry McKenna.
About – Colonel E.H. Taylor is a name is that is drenched in bourbon history. He is the father of the bottled in bond act. Although that may seem of little importance today, at the time it was an important act to protect bourbon drinkers by making sure they were getting quality juice. Colonel E.H. Taylor was also the founder of the O.F.C. distillery which is now the site of the modern Buffalo Trace facility. The Taylor brand itself is one that has been around for a long time and has switched hands several times with varying quality throughout its existence. Today the brand is made by Buffalo Trace and has a variety of offerings including Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Rye, and some limited offerings as well. Today we will be focusing on the Small Batch which is a bottle in bond bourbon which means it was aged at least four years and is bottled at 100 proof.
Nose – The first sniff reveals a huge whiff of citrus, as you dive deeper in it is joined by notes of caramel and honey as well.
Palate – A true explosion of flavor hits you immediately. This is a bold bourbon, the citrus from the nose introduces itself first and in a big way along with a generous amount of vanilla, there is a trace of pear in there as well. The pallet is underlain with oak throughout and there is a substantial mouthfeel to this bourbon as well.
Finish – The oak is the star of a nice long finish that slowly fades into vanilla.
Score – A
Verdict – Colonel E.H. Taylor is a fine example of what great bourbon is. It brings all of the classic bourbon flavors to the table and adds a nice amount of citrus making for a very pleasurable experience. At around $40 a bottle it may be a bit expensive for an every day drinker, but is still in the range of things that are affordable to pour to treat yourself after a long day at the office. This is a bourbon that makes a fantastic gift as well thanks both to its great flavor and its elegant packaging.
About – Rittenhouse is a classic Pennsylvania style rye. Pennsylvania and Maryland were both hot beds for rye production in the early United States, and up until prohibition rye whiskey was the most popular alcohol in the U.S. Over the last few years rye has seen a resurgence in popularity, and Rittenhouse is among the brands at the forefront of the category. Rittenhouse Rye, produced currently by Heaven Hill, is bottled at 100 proof and is aged at least four years as indicated by it being bottled in bond.
Nose – The first thing that strikes me about Rittenhouse its light aroma, something rather untypical of a rye. Most prevalent are the scent of bananas and cereal grain. I am again surprised by the lack of rye spice on the nose.
Palate – Contrary to the nose this is not a weak whiskey in the flavor department. The first thing that jumps out is fruitiness defined by apricots and peaches, next is cinnamon, and baking spice on the backend.
Finish – A bit of the rye spice shines through here with that nice fruitiness lingering behind for a short to medium length finish.
Score – B+
Verdict – Rittenhouse Rye is not your typical rye. It is subdued, but not in a bad way. Even with a bit of an increase in price as of late you it is still around $25 and can be found on sale for $20 or slightly less. At it’s price point it is one of the best deals in today’s crazed American whiskey market. It is great on it’s own and is a favorite among bartenders as well as it makes an excellent cocktail. This is my house rye, and I always keep a bottle on hand. I would recommend the same for anyone with a home bar.
About – Old Weller Antique is a 107 proof wheated bourbon in the Weller line that is now produced by Buffalo Trace. As of the last few years Weller bourbons have taken off in popularity as part of the “Pappy” craze. The reason for this being that Old Weller Antique (no age statement but aged around seven years) is essentially a slightly younger version of Old Rip Van Winkle. The two share the same mashbill, warehouse, and proof. While it is getting harder to find Old Weller Antique can generally be found on the shelf and holds a price of $25-$30.
Nose – First whiff is of spiced orange, then a healthy amount of vanilla that gives the nose a nice holiday candy quality. With a bit of water or ice these aromas become even more apparent and are accompanied by jolt of cherry. A really remarkable smelling bourbon.
Palate – This bourbon greets you with a nice velvety mouth feel that is sweet and almost syrup like in the way that it coats the mouth. The spiced citrus from the nose makes another appearance on the back end.
Finish – Shorter than expected given the mouth feel, but still medium in length with a solid but not overwhelming punch of heat. The sweetness is still present with citrus and vanilla, but the finish is where the oak truly shines.
Score – A
Verdict – A longer and more complex finish is really the only thing missing from this one to make it an elite bourbon. I haven’t had the pleasure yet of sampling the Van Winkle line, but being essentially an older more select barrel version of this, I can see where the hype comes from. At a price under $30 Old Weller Antique is a no brainer. Definitely one of the best values to be found in today’s bourbon market.
About – Distiller’s Select is the flagship bourbon for Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Brand. It is one of the most popular bourbons on the market and is easily recognizable thanks to it’s unique bottle shape. Woodford Reserve lays claim to being distilled in the oldest Kentucky distillery still in operation with the distillery building being constructed in 1838. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown-Forman originally purchased the distillery form Labrot & Graham in 1941, they eventually sold the property in 1971 and repurchased it in 1993 introducing the Woodford Reserve brand in 1996. Woodford Reserve is a no age statement (NAS) Kentucky Straight Bourbon and is bottled at 90.4 proof.
Nose – The first thing that hits you is a fruit flavor of fresh apples, as you dig deeper rye spice and oak come through. After a touch of water a note of caramel really shines through.
Palate – Just like the smell apples and fresh fruit come through first along with rye spice and cinnamon really similar to a spiced apple pie. As it opens up vanilla and burnt sugar become more evident. On the back end the oak starts to come through. On first tasting I picked up an unpleasant bit of acetone as well, but after tasting the bottle a week or so later it seemed to have faded.
Finish – The caramel from the nose comes through and fades into a nice long touch of oak that lingers around.
Score – B
Verdict – Over the years Woodford has been a gateway bourbon for many into the land of premium bourbons. When first really getting into bourbon it was my go to and is always enjoyable to return to like greeting an old friend. Value wise it is one of the better bourbons in $30 dollar range right there with Eagle Rare. This is one of those quintessential bourbons that should be found in the home bar of any avid bourbon drinker. If you are a bourbon drinker and somehow haven’t tried Woodford yet you owe it to yourself to pick up a bottle.