About – “Pursuit United is the perfect blend of three states. These barrels of rye and wheated bourbons were united to create an uncommon whiskey. A blend of mash bills that has both fruit and spice.” If you have followed my site then you are familiar with Pursuit Spirits. If not it is the brand created by Ryan and Kenny from the Bourbon Pursuit podcast, and to this point all of their releases have been of the single barrel variety from various distilleries. Pursuit Series Ep. 29 took home 2nd place in my 2020 Rye of the Year Blind, and several of their other releases have ranked highly in other blinds I have done. When it comes to picking bourbon they have a track record that I trust. Pursuit United is their first foray into blending, featuring bourbons from Bardstown Bourbon Company, Finger Lakes Distilling, and an undisclosed Tennessee Distillery (not Dickel). It is unfiltered, bottled at 108 proof, and retails for around $60. It is currently available at select retailers in GA, KY, TN, and TX, as well as Seelbach’s online.
Nose – Dark is the first word that comes to mind. Chocolate and cinnamon graham crackers lead the way with rye spice being evident on the back end, stinging the nostril slightly at 108 proof. Apple comes through as it opens up lightening things up a bit. Interesting nose that is almost leaning towards a whiskey with a high malt content.
Palate – Darkness from the nose carries across to the palate. Cinnamon graham hits me up front with a dark honey that starts to come through on the mid palate along with a heavy vanilla that carries through to baking spice on the back of the palate. The finish is long moving between baking spice and barrel char before ultimately ending as milk chocolate.
Score – B
Verdict – I was excited to crack this release open and it does not disappoint. It has a dark profile with a some chocolate notes that I don’t get very often in bourbon. Considering the low age of most of the stock used in this blend, Ryan and Kenny have done a really great job blending out those youthful notes. If you were thinking this would be a mediocre release or an attempt by a podcast to cash in on their following, you couldn’t be more wrong. Do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle of Pursuit United.
I would like to start of by saying thank you to Boone County for taking the time to show us around. You were definitely great hosts. Boone County distilling is located in Independence, Kentucky a short drive from either Cincinnati or Lexington. The first thing you will notice when pulling up is that Boone County is not sitting on a picturesque piece of farmland like you experience at many of the larger distilleries. The distillery is located near the back of a industrial park. So know when you see this you are in fact not lost. They are currently in the process of expanding their tasting room so there is some construction going on. In the gift shop they have all of the offerings your would expect plus some exclusives such as 5 year barrel strength rye, 7 year barrel strength wheated bourbon, and a barrel proof version of their small batch bourbon finished in Oloroso sherry casks.
After doing a quick tasting we headed to the back where Ed showed us around and we got the chance to see the distillery in operation. Boone county has a combination style manufactured by Vendome. This still allows them to get all of the flavors that are created by the tradition pot style stills while also achieving the higher production rate of a column style still. If you look at the photo to the right of the column you will notice a gin basket that is used for adding botanicals to their Ruckers & Gaines gin. They produce their gin twice a year in the spring and winter never using the same batch of botanicals so they always have a new take on their gin available.
As you go through the distillery and the gift shop you will notice the tagline “Made by Ghosts” everywhere and this line pays homage to the history of the “Boone County” name. There are a ton of distilleries that have been started up in the last 15 years resurrecting the name of a bygone historical distillery and claim to have found the original mashbill buried in a family basement etc… and use that as their brand and marketing story. That is not what Boone County is about. They are very up front and honest about the fact that this is not the same distillery that once stood in Petersburg and they are not claiming some historical recipe rescued from the ashes. Instead they are paying tribute to a distillery in their area that was once one of the largest producers in the nation before being shuttered in 1910. If you are interested in that history they do a much better job of telling it on their site than I could here.
As we made our way out the rickhouse it became even more apparent that Boone County is a distillery that is more concerned about the quality of their product than rushing it out the door for profit’s sake. The company started by bottling sourced bourbon from MGP under their now discontinued 1833 label. This was never a long term plan for them and was only meant to generate income while their own whiskey aged. Those MGP barrels sold through much faster than they anticipated. The only barrels left now are being used to mix in with their own whiskey that is being sold under their current small batch label. Their whiskey is currently up to five years and the quality is where it needs to be. They just don’t have enough supply to start releasing it yet. From what Ed told us sometime next year when the whiskey has hit 6 years they should have enough supply to keep up with demand and will be releasing their own bourbon to the public.
As we made our way back into the distillery we got the chance to see something else that you don’t see at a large operation. They were in the process of bottling their bourbon cream and everyone at the distillery, owner included, was working the bottling line. Every bottle at Boone County is hand labeled and sealed as well. Overall it was a great experience and I am always happy to visit a distillery that is focused on putting out a quality product and not cutting corners to get whiskey on the shelves before it is ready. If you are in the Lexington or Cincinnati area stop by and give them a visit. You will be glad you did.
About – “Since 1946 this bourbon has been held in high regard. 80 proof and distilled from corn, rye and barley malt, it’s smooth and simple, yet robust in its own way. There is much to love about this bourbon that has withstood the test of time.” Ancient Age is produced by Buffalo Trace using the #2 mash bill that is shared with Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farms, Elmer T. Lee, and Hancock’s President’s Reserve. Ancient age is the most affordable of these at around $13, is aged for at least 4 years, and is bottled at 80 proof.
Nose – This is straight up vanilla buttercream. with some green apple behind it. Not very complex but I could sit and nose this all day.
Palate – Nice and buttery in both flavor and mouthfeel. The vanilla from the nose is very prominent with a slight spice on the backend. The finish is short and is straight buttery oak.
Score – B-
Verdict – Ancient Age may not be very complex and may be low proof, but damn it is tasty. Buttery notes are something that always do it for me and this bottle has that in spades. If you don’t have a bottle of this in your bunker, get one. For $13 there is just no way you could go wrong here.
About – “Renowned for rye – America’s oldest whiskey variety – since the earliest days of our history, we take the production of Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Rye extremely seriously. Our Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Rye is made from select American rye grain that is sheared to maximize the extraction of flavor from the grain. Ideal neat or in cocktails, every bottle comes from a single barrel – a unique attribute reflecting our extraordinary commitment to offering Kentucky Straight Rye whiskey of the absolute highest quality at every level of the Michter’s range.” Michter’s is a historical brand that has risen to prominence through heavy investment in both facilities and in the people responsible for crafting their whiskey. Michter’s Single Barrel Rye is bottled at 84.8 proof and is available nationwide for around $45.
Nose – Bright citrus and green apples lead the way for a very clean a refreshing nose. Behind that there is just a touch of honey and a faint spice.
Palate – Loads of green apple carry from the first taste through the mid-palate and is joined by a sweet caramel. A touch of dill comes through on the mid-palate. This finish is short and is dominated by dry oak.
Score – B-
Verdict – The first thing to address here is the low proof. If you are someone who turns their nose towards the sky when presented with a sub 100 proof pour then walk on by because this isn’t for you. The flavors are nice and play very well together, but they don’t jump out punch you in the mouth. Because of the low proof Michter’s Single Barrel Rye also doesn’t carry a lot of heat that you usually find in rye. What they have done here is create a fantastic gateway rye for the bourbon drinker. You get the classic caramel notes of a bourbon and also the fruit and a touch of the dill that you find in many ryes. Overall this is an enjoyable pour and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates a low proof pour.
About – “The bad boy of Bourbon is bottled at a robust 103 proof, but its 6 years of aging smooth out the feathers real well. Through award-winning packaging and point-of-sale, and a unique and irreverent marketing campaign, Fighting Cock appeals to both male Gen X-ers and serious Bourbon lovers alike. The “kickin’ chicken” has been a favorite throughout the South for years.” Produced by Heaven Hill in what is clearly a bid to sway Wild Turkey drinkers, Fighting Cock carries a lot of value with its $15.99 price point.
Nose – Honey covered grain, followed by a big blast of cinnamon. The nose is very lively, kickin’ you may say. There is some vanilla once you work past the cinnamon and the spices becomes more of a rye spice. The honey sweetness takes on more of a brown sugar note as well.
Palate – Very light as it hits the palate. Just a touch of freshly milled grain as it opens accompanied by a faint honey. There is a bit of a light citrus element up front as well. Cinnamon takes over on the mid palate along with just enough oak to let you know it is there on a short finish.
Score – C+
Verdict – It is enjoyable just a tad thin. If the goal is to go head to head with Wild Turkey 101 they have fallen a bit short. In the sub $20 price point this is still a winner though.
About – “We took the same vintage blending philosophy that we used to create Small Batch, except this time the goal was to create high proof bourbon that tasted its best neat. Uncut is so rich and sweet with an unbelievably thick mouth feel, the heat and rye spice finish are a welcome addition. It’s like milk with cookies!” Like the name implies Uncut Unfiltered makes use of barrel proof bourbon sourced from MGP. The Smoke Wagon brand has been expanding its footprint into new markets and has recently made it into the Tennessee market with great fanfare. Uncut Unfiltered will set your back around $60.
Nose – Big time cinnamon spice with brown sugar behind it. As it opens up a nice pipe tobacco note moves in along with stewed apples. A great fall/winter nose here.
Palate – Cherry is the first thing that registers with rye spice hitting in a big way on the mid-palate. There is a solid oak structure holding everything together indicating a decently aged product. The pipe tobacco from the nose is back on the back end of the palate as well. The finish is long and spicy with the cherry from the front palate making a return shortly, before clove and nutmeg become dominant to end things.
Score – B
Verdict – It has all of the hallmarks of the properly aged MGP products that have enjoyed. The thing that Smoke Wagon has done through blending is accenting the smoke and spice to go along with those fruit notes. Smoke Wagon is definitely riding the hype train so availability and pricing may vary depending on your area. At retail pricing Uncut Unfiltered is a definite buy for me, and something I will likely keep on had going forwards.
About – “Whiskey takes time. We started this journey in 2014, barreling our first product in 2016. In 2020, we feel it’s ready to share. Each batch of our Restoration Rye Whiskey is blended using a series of pods. Each pod is created by grouping barrels to create a specific sensory profile.” If you go on to the Castle and Key website you will find detailed notes for the for the pods used in each batch. Today I am reviewing batch 1 which is comprised of whiskey from 12 different pods. Restoration Rye is the first whiskey to be released under the name Castle & Key since the rebirth of distillery. If you are interested in the history of this famous distillery you can find much more information on their website. This rye is aged for 3 years, bottled at 103 proof and carries a retail price of around $41.99.
Nose – The nose starts of very sweet with freshly sliced green apples. The typical rye spearmint is hanging out behind that, but is fairly light. There is some spice on the nose in the form of black pepper that leaves a small sting in the nostrils. Lastly there is a subtle vanilla behind everything and a faint note of freshly milled grain.
Palate – Bright and sweet. Like the nose apple is the first note that I pick up with grain coming behind that. After that things start to go a bit green. Again like the nose spearmint is subtly present on the mid palate. The spice that was black pepper on the nose is now green peppercorn and the backend has a vegetal note before more green that leads to a finish that is on the short side of medium.
Score – C
Verdict – The flavor profile here is promising it just needs more time to develop. I will say that I think Castle & Key is heading in the right direction with their distillate and we will see good whiskey being released from them fairly soon. I will also say that the packaging on this release is top notch. The bottle is gorgeous, the bottle topper is very ornate, and the neck band and metal plate near the bottom with the release year are nice touches as well.
2020 Bourbon of the Year – Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch 120
Every batch of Elijah Craig offers something slightly different up, and for me A120 offered up the best bourbon of 2020. It satisfies the traditional bourbon profile with caramel and brown sugar sweetness that is balanced out by bitter oak tannin. It is a bourbon that draws you in more and more as you continue to drink it. It started out 4th in my Bourbon of the Year Blind (video here) before moving all the way to the top spot to claim my Bourbon of the Year award. Read my full written review here.
2020 Craft Bourbon of the Year – Still Austin Straight Bourbon
This one came out of nowhere for me. The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful label, and that is only a precursor to what is inside the bottle. A beautiful creamy mouthfeel that serves up apricots and nutmeg before leading into a spicy cinnamon finish. This two year old bourbon punches well above it’s age and more balance that many bourbons with much higher age statements. Still Austin has worked some kind of sorcery with this product, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in the future. Read my full written review of Still Austin Straight Bourbon here.
2020 Rye of the Year – Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Rye
If you have followed e this year this one should come as no surprise to you. I have been singing the praises of this whiskey since the first time I cracked the bottle. It scored one of my highest scores of the year (read review here), and won my blind battle (video here). It isn’t every day that I find myself reaching for a bottle of Crown Royal, but they really knocked it out of the park with this one. The descriptor that comes to mind with this whiskey is juicy fruit. It just has a beautiful splash of fruit flavor as soon as it hits the tongue. The lower proof may turn some people off, but Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Rye is my 2020 Rye of the Year.
2020 Small Distribution Rye of the Year – Pursuit Series Episode 29
This is another rye whiskey that took my by surprise. Coming from an undisclosed distillery in Tennessee and being aged 4 years, there was no way to be prepared for what this rye brought to the table. The thing that sticks in my memory here is the lime that shines through on the finish. It is great to pick up a note that doesn’t usually come through in rye profiles. Kudos to Kenny and Ryan at Pursuit Spirits for searching out great barrels of whiskey from sources that others just aren’t pulling from. 2020 was a great year for the brand, and with the upcoming release of Pursuit United 2021 looks to be an even bigger year for the brand. Read the full review of Episode 29 here.
2020 Outside of the Box Rye of the Year – New Riff Backsetter Rye
This release is outside of the box, but a trend that we will probably start seeing more of as American whiskey continues to expand and experiment in new ways. This one missed the mark for a lot of people, but I really enjoyed the dimension the smoke from the peat rounded out the bright fruity notes in the New Riff rye (full review here). New Riff has great flagship products and continues to push the envelope with their New Riff Whiskey Club releases. They seem destined to be mentioned with the Buffalo Traces and Wild Turkeys of the world in the coming years.