Reviews #274-275: Barrell Armida and High West Campfire Barrel Select

For the penultimate entry in the finished whiskey series I’m drinking two pretty unusual options with the newish Barrell Armida and a distillery release of High West Campfire. Both of these are blends of 3 different whiskies, 3 bourbons for the Armida and bourbon, rye and peated scotch for the Campfire, that are finished in amaro casks. I honestly didn’t know amaro was barrel aged before writing this! So let’s see how these hold up.

 

Barrell Armida

Age: NAS

Abv: 112.1

Finish: Pear Brandy, Jamaican Rum and Sicilian Amaro

Neat

Nose: Honey, pear, holiday spices, rich herbs and vanilla.

Taste: Very sweet, almost cloying at first then spiced pear cider, oak and anise notes

Finish: Slightly harsh with lots of herbs and spices

6 - a good whiskey I’m still happy to drink

I wasn’t really how to rate this. It doesn’t really taste like bourbon or even whiskey all that much anymore. It’s certainly interesting and enjoyable in its own way but it’s not something I’m ever reaching for.

High West Campfire Barrel Select

Age: NAS

Abv: 100.6 proof

Finish: 1 year and 2 months in Amaro

Barrel Number 16874

Neat

Nose: Rich herbs and savory smoke with some subtler sweet notes. What I assume a vegetarian BBQ would smell like.

Taste: Sweet and smokey with an initial caramel that gives way to BBQ smoke.

Finish: The amaro influence is more prevalent on the long finish with rich herbs, warm spices and subtler but lingering smoke.

6 - a good whiskey I’m still happy to drink

This was another unusual one. I prefer it to the Barrell but not by much. The peated scotch component overpowers the amaro influence for the most part.

Conclusion

Overall these were enjoyable but a little too out there to be something I would want to have regularly. I definitely think that the wine and rum finishes are more to my taste!

 

TL;DR: Great whiskey at an unfortunately low proof and too high a price.

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Reviews #271-273: Spec's Smoke Wagon Private Barrels

When Smoke Wagon first started releasing younger Private Barrels I was a little concerned for the the quality after loving the 12 year picks. On the other hand I’d heard plenty of hype around the old 7 year SAOS bourbon so I was cautiously optimistic for these picks.

 

Smoke Wagon Private Barrels Spec’s 8 year picks

Barrel 505

Age: 8 years

Abv: 115.6 proof

Price: $80ish

Neat

Nose: Caramel, vanilla with subtler oak and rye spice notes underneath.

Taste: Butterscotch, warm spices, faint oak. Very nice viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium to short finish with caramel and rye spice.

Barrel 507

Age: 8 years

Abv: 115.8 proof

Price: $80ish

Neat

Nose: Strong vanilla extract and fainter oak, ethanol and rye spice notes underneath.

Taste: Slightly medicinal with more vanilla extract and rye spice. Decent mouthfeel

Finish: Medium finish with warm spice, vanilla and caramel.

Barrel 515

Age: 8 years

Abv: 114.5 proof

Price: $80ish

Neat

Nose: Brown sugar, vanilla and oak.

Taste: Brown sugar, dark fruit, baking spice, rye spice and a touch of oak. Great mouthfeel.

Finish: Long warm finish with baking spice and oak balanced by a bit of caramel and fruit.

Conclusion

I enjoyed all of these and was glad I got them. The 8 year Smoke Wagon picks are holding up!

 

TL;DR: 515 was the clear winner for me.

Tasting Notes: Whistle Pig Picks Oak Liquor Cabinet and Debs

I had the good fortune to help with 2 Whistle Pig picks this year and now that they are both out it felt like a good time to do a side by side and write some notes. I tasted them blind and then sat down to write more detailed notes afterwards.

 

Oak Liquor Cabinet Sweet Sixteen

Age: 16 years

Abv: 115.6 proof

Price: $79.99

Neat

Nose: Rich oak, sweet vanilla and faint herbs.

Taste: Oaky without being dry or tannic with lots of sweet herbal notes and some rye spice.

Finish: Long and sweet with herbal liqueur and sweet vanilla notes balanced with some oak.

Obviously I am biased but this is honestly one of my favorite Alberta sourced ryes. It’s got a lot of oak without being over oaked, to me at least, and tons of herbal notes. It’s almost like a the rye already has a dash or two of herbal bitters in it.

Debs Liquor Fryeday The 15 Year

Age: 15 years

Abv: 106.2 proof

Price: $89.99

Neat

Nose: Oak and herbs with vanilla and fainter cinnamon candy(Red Hots or Hot Tamales etc) underneath.

Taste: It starts very sweet with vanilla cream and herbal notes then more cinnamon candy comes in as it goes.

Finish: Medium length but high intensity finish with more cinnamon candy, rich herbs and finally some oak.

I really like this pick too but it doesn’t beat out the Sweet Sixteen. The cinnamon candy note was very prevalent and reminded me a little bit of the wonderful cinnamon notes in the the Boss Hog VII. Overall this is one of the sweetest unfinished Whistle Pigs I’ve had but it still has a lot else going on and the sweetness isn’t cloying.

Conclusion

Austin had a great crop of Whistle Pig picks this year especially if you like the Alberta ryes. I was very glad I got to participate in the panel for two of these picks and am looking forward to more. It’s really interesting to me to see the different samples different shops get access to and the different ways groups pick. In both cases we didn’t know how old the samples were and didn’t check the proof until the end.

 

TL;DR: Great picks! Sweet Sixteen was the winner.

Review #270: Russell's Reserve 2003

I got lucky and got the call to get a bottle of Russell’s Reserve 2003 this week. I’m a big Russell’s Reserve fan and I enjoyed the Master’s Keep 17 year BiB from earlier this year even if I did think it was a bit pricey so I decided to take the plunge and buy a bottle. Let’s see how it holds up!

s Reserve 2003

 

Russell’s Reserve 2003

Age: 16 years

Abv: 89.5 proof

Price: $250

Neat

Nose: Surprisingly robust for the proof with rich oak and baking spices, Wild Turkey funk, sweet caramel and vanilla notes.

Taste: Sweeter than the nose with more caramel and vanilla along with something else I couldn’t place. The spice and oak picking up on the back of the palate. The specific taste of the baking spice notes is very nice. Unfortunately a relatively thin mouthfeel.

Finish: Very long finish with lingering oak, baking spice and sweet vanilla.

Conclusion

This is an excellent whiskey and is very well balanced. That said the low proof definitely takes a toll on the mouthfeel and there weren’t any really standout notes compared to a good Russell’s pick. On the other hand I was surprised how strong the nose was and how long the finish was with the low proof.

Overall I’d give a slight edge to the Master’s Keep 17 Year Bottled in Bond if you had to pick one of this year’s high end Turkey releases and I don’t think this bottle justifies the price. I am going to enjoy drinking it though.

 

TL;DR: Great whiskey at an unfortunately low proof and too high a price.

8 - an excellent bottle I’d like to have at home

Poor - Overpriced, not worth the money

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Tasting Notes: Doc Swinson's Exploratory Cask Releases 7-9

The folks from Doc Swinson’s generously sent me a sample kit with 3 of their new 15 year bourbon releases and their new rye. I couldn’t wait to crack into the bourbons and the rye was proofed down to 90 so I haven’t sampled it yet. I was a big fan of their previous 15 year Kentucky Straight Bourbon so I went into this with high hopes. Since I got these samples for free I won’t be assigning a score.

s

 

Doc Swinson’s Exploratory Cask Series Tasting Notes

Release #7

Age: 15 years

Abv: 109.8 proof

Neat

Nose: Sweet and nutty with vanilla and caramel notes. Very slight spice.

Taste: Rich oak, sweet caramel, roasted nuts and warm baking spice. Slightly dry on the back of palate.

Finish: Long dry finish that combines strong oak and spice notes with subtler caramel.

Thoughts: This was a very classic bourbon profile. It reminds me a lot of the better Knob Creek 15 year picks out there but easier to drink without losing any flavor.

Release #8

Age: 15 years

Abv: 114.2 proof

Neat

Nose: Lots of oak with some vanilla in the background.

Taste: Earthier than batch 7 with more prominent spice notes as well. The sweet caramel is there but toned down.

Finish: Very long slightly hot finish with plenty of spice and oak.

Thoughts: The age and barrel notes come through a lot stronger on this batch. 7 was more to my taste but if you want something where you taste the age this batch does that! This dram also has one of the longest finishes I’ve had on a bourbon.

Release #9

Age: 15 years

Abv: 113.8 proof

Neat

Nose: Roasted nuts, baking spice and oak.

Taste: Starts sweet with a nice caramel note before the baking spice and oak kick in. Very viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium finish with fading baking spice and caramel.

Thoughts: This batch had the sweet to spicy flavor journey I enjoy and the palate was particularly good. The finish was a bit disappointing but that was possibly because the finish on the other two was fantastic.

 

TL;DR: Tasty samples, good bit of variance between releases. I think they are Beam now. 7 was my favorite of the bunch

Home Barrel Finishing

For part 28 of the finished whiskey series I’m finally tackling home finishing. I’ve got 5 different home finished options with 2 from me and 3 from other folks. For a bit of background my wife knows I am a fan of finished whiskies so she got me minibarrel last year so I could try my hand at it.

 

Grand Old Funk

What is it?: Old Granddad 114 finished in a mini barrel that previously held Rum Fire, an overproof white rum.

Neat

Nose: Funky Jamaican rum notes of banana and pineapple with ethanol and oak in the background.

Taste: Bitter oak, lots of funk, warm spices, faint nuts and vanilla.

Finish: Long oaky and funky.

Thoughts

The rum influence definitely makes the OGD114 more interesting and overall this is an improvement even if the added bitterness detracts a bit. I think this spent a little too long in the small barrel with the bitter oak notes on the palate. It’s definitely promising and another crack at it using either a more depleted mini barrel or a shorter finishing could be nice.

Belle Meade Reserve Rum Finish

What is it?: Belle Meade Cask Strength finished in a mini barrel that previously held whatever the cheapest overproof rum Spec’s had that week for 2 weeks.

Neat

Nose: A hint of ethanol then lots of oak with some caramel and vanilla.

Taste: Oak, caramel, warm spices and a sort of out of place banana note.

Finish: Medium length finish bananas and caramel.

Thoughts

This answered the question: what if I used a better base bourbon and cheaper rum but finished it for less time? Well it definitely made the Belle Meade worse. I can’t describe it particularly well but the rum and bourbon notes seemed to be clashing as opposed to being integrated with one another. I think it is marginally better than the Grand Old Funk but that was purely from the Belle Meade being better not from the barrel finish, which again made this bourbon worse.

Weller Special Reserve Boulevardier Finish

What is it?: Weller Special Reserve finished in a mini barrel that held rum, then Belle Meade, then two rounds of Bouldevardier cocktails made with 1792 Full Proof for 6 weeks.

Neat

Nose: Sweet, almost cloying but not quite, with red fruit, butterscotch, vanilla and cinnamon

Taste: Primarily a sort of muted caramel and oak with bits of red fruit and something bitter. Thin mouthfeel though.

Finish: Longer finish than I expected from WSR that pretty much tastes like a Boulevardier cocktail

Thoughts

I had a handle of WSR for some reason and after doing a couple barrel aged cocktails I decided to pour this in there and see what happened. I tasted it every couple days until it stopped improving and this was the result. Overall I am pretty happy with this iteration and I think depleting the oak in a minibarrel first is a good call. Overall I think this added some interesting notes to the WSR and is a nice substitute for an after dinner cocktail. That said it’s nothing special and I would certainly take a High West Double Rye Barrel Select over this any day.

XV Black Edition

What is it?: A super secret blend of Stagg Jr and a wheated bourbon finished in a French Oak mini barrel.

Neat

Nose: Rich oak and strong spice notes with something sweet I can’t place underneath

Taste: Lots of oak and lots of spice, definitely not Maker’s Mark notes and some cherry. Great mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium length finish with more oak and spice as well as some of the same sweet notes from the nose.

Thoughts

Overall this was an enjoyable pour but much like the Belle Meade I would of rather had a glass of Stagg Jr. This also suffers from the oak domination that tends to occur with a new mini barrel.

XV Red Edition

What is it?: A super secret blend of Stagg Jr and a wheated bourbon finished in a cherry wood mini barrel.

Neat

Nose: Sweet and inviting with dark fruit and vanilla notes.

Taste: Cherry cola, warm spices, sweet caramel and vanilla cream. Great mouthfeel.

Finish: Long and sweet with cherry and caramel notes.

Thoughts

This was the best of the bunch for me. Perhaps a different kind of wood makes a big difference for mini barrel finishing?

Conclusion

That was an experience. Overall I think home finishing spirits is a hit or miss affair but can certainly be a fun thing to do with bottles you aren’t excited to drink. I’m not going to be finishing anything like Belle Meade Cask Strength again but I’ll definitely pour a random bottle that I didn’t care for in there and see what happens. The barrels do tend to get better as they get more use.

On the other hand barrel finishing cocktails at home has been awesome and will certainly stay the primary function of my mini barrel.

 

TL;DR: Mini barrel finishing is more fun than function for bourbon. It’s great for cocktails.

Jack Daniels Barrel Proof Maple Old Fashioned

Thanks to u/PucksNPlucks over on Reddit for suggesting this recipe. In a thread about Stagg Jr someone suggested using it to make an Old Fashioned to which u/PucksNPlucks suggested using Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof. I have a 375ml bottle of the stuff that’s been chilling for a while as well as the other ingredients so it seemed like a good time to mix 1 or 2 up and try writing about a cocktail!

 

Jack Daniels Barrel Proof Maple Old Fashioned

Recipe

  • 2oz JD BP
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 3 dashes Orange bitters
  • 1 teaspoon dark maple syrup

On a rock

Nose: Strong banana and maple notes with subtler citrus

Taste: Bananas foster but with maple instead of caramel and some vanilla towards the end

Finish: Maple, citrus and vanilla ice cream

Conclusion

I quite liked this. Apart from the 2019 Heritage Barrel release I tend to only drinks JD when I’m in the mood for the banana notes but it was excellent in a cocktail. The high proof and strong base spirit
flavors really cut through the cocktail so that the bitters and maple syrup felt very much like they were adding to the flavor of the whiskey instead of masking it.

 

TL;DR: The strong banana notes in Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof make for an excellent rendition of a classic cocktail.

Review #269: Stagg Jr Batch 12

Stagg Jr is the younger brother to the legendary George T Stagg and become increasingly hard to find. Batch 12 is particular got a lot of hype as potentially being better than the low proof GTs release that year. Personally I preferred the ‘19 GTS but Jr is no slouch so let’s get to the review.

 

Review #269: Stagg Jr Batch 12

Age: NAS

Abv: 132.3 proof

Price: $55

Neat - rested ~5 minutes

Nose: Bold with cherries and heat with baking spice and cola notes under the heat.

Taste: Big rye spice and caramel with cherries, vanilla, oak and a hint of citrus coming in as it goes. Excellent mouthfeel.

Finish: Long slightly dry finish with cherry syrup, holiday spice and lightly tannic oak notes.

Conclusion

The flavors are great here even it’s a little hot especially on the nose. I usually add a few drops of water to Stagg JR and honestly might prefer this out of a rocks glass to mellow the nose out a bit. Stagg Jr is still a got to for me on barrel proof bourbon and this batch was no exception. I am not in a hurry to grab another bottle of this specific batch but I’ll be keeping an eye out for a new one.

Also I am uncertain on the citrus note but there was something a little tart or maybe acidic toward the end and that was the closest thing I could come up with.

 

TL;DR: I love Stagg Jr and this was a great batch!

8 - an excellent bottle I’d like to have at home

Great - A great deal, I’d buy it again

I also blinded this with ‘19 GTS and ‘19 EHT BP on Instagram.

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Reviews #267-268: Single Cask Nation Whistle Pigs

For part 27 of the finished whiskey series we are taking a look at the new Single Cask Nation Whistle Pig bottles! Single Cask Nation has had some legendary releases over the years so when they announced they were releasing not one, but two, MGP sourced Whistle Pigs and that they would both have sweet finishes I knew I needed to include at least one of them in this series. Thankfully I got lucky in their raffle and was able to get both bottles.

 

SCN Whistle Pig Tokaji Finish

Age: 12 years

Abv: 115.4 proof

Price: $

Neat

Nose: Rich oak, rye spice, strong herbs and a little sweet vanilla.

Taste: Warm baking and rye spices are well balanced with oak and sweet herbal notes. Oily mouthfeel that coats your tongue.

Finish: Long and lingering with herbal notes including a hint of MGP dill and more oak.

8 - an excellent bottle I’d like to have at home

SCN Whistle Pig Rum and Vermouth Cask Finish

Age: 12 years

Abv: 100 proof

Price: $

Neat

Nose: Sweet red fruit, herbs and rye spice.

Taste: Sweet fruit and wine notes followed by an herbal medley with a bit of oak and spice toward the end. Excellent, viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Very long finish with red fruit fading to oak, herbs and rye spice.

10 - an all time favorite, must buy/hunt

Conclusion

The Rum and Vermouth finished bottle is right up there with the High West Rendezvous Rye Barrel Select finished in Port Casks for 4 years and 7 months for my favorite rye whiskey of all time. It has everything I like about an MGP rye perfectly balanced by everything I like about a sweet finish. The herbal notes aren’t on the dill end, the sweetness is just right, the rich fruits are delicious and there is enough spice and oak to lend complexity without it being too spicy or dry. The Tokaji finish was very much an MGP rye whiskey and the barrel finish had a lot less influence for me. That said it did lend a little extra sweetness is pleasant way.

Overall I am super happy with these releases and I wish I could have gotten a backup on the Rum and Vermouth. Shipping was a slow, as is tradition with SCN, but I really wanted to include these in this series as it approaches its end.

I also tasted these blind on Instagram.

 

TL;DR: Great bottle, the rum and vermouth is an all time favorite rye

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Reviews #264-266: SMWS Global Gathering 2020

The Scotch Malt Whiskey Society moved their Global Gather to a virtual event this year and sold the bottles that would have been released there online instead. That worked for me and I went ahead and grabbed all 3. I’m a fan of most IB Longmorn and Highland Park bottlings I’ve had and I’d never had an IB Clynelish before so I was curious.

 

Reviews #264-266 SMWS Global Gathering 2020

SMWS Cask 7.244 Abracadabra

Distillery: Longmorn

Age: 15 years

Abv: 118.8 proof

Neat

Nose: The PX influence is very clear with sticky sweet dark fruit and a little spice.

Taste: Butterscotch, dark cherries, holiday spices, nutty notes toward the end. Very viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Long and lingering with warm spice and sticky sweet notes. Almost like a figgy pudding.

8 - an excellent bottle I’d like to have at home

SMWS Cask 26.144 Herbal Reveries

Distillery: Clynelish

Age: 16 years

Abv: 108.6 proof

Neat

Nose: Vanilla, baking spices, malt

Taste: Honey then clove then spices. A bit of ethanol burn despite the reasonable proof.

Finish: Long and hot with black pepper and cinnamon notes.

6 - a good whiskey I’m still happy to drink

SMWS Cask 4.255 When Pineapple Met Pigeon

Distillery: Highland Park

Age: 17 years

Abv: 113.6 proof

Neat

Nose: Charred oak, slight brine, something almost cloyingly sweet cotton candy maybe?

Taste: Smoke, oak, caramel, warm spices and a bit of funky rum notes. Great mouthfeel.

Finish: Long and lingering with smoke and oak notes balanced by sweet vanilla and caramel.

7 - a great whiskey I’d order at a bar

Conclusion

Overall I enjoyed all 3 of these though the Clynelish was easily the most mundane of the bunch. The PX Longmorn was delicious and would be a great dessert dram while the Highland Park was also tasty and very unique, at least for my experiences with that distillery. The PX Longmorn was the definite highlight for me.

As far the the SMWS tasting notes go I can see where they were coming from on the Herbal Reveries and the Abracadabra but the only thing I got in common with them on the When Pineapple Met Pigeon was the smoke!

Overall while I enjoyed these I was hoping for a bit more from a sort of special release by SMWS at the price point of $450 for all 3. Some of that is certainly the tariffs’ fault and while I am aware that SMWS has made some tradeoffs on quality for quantity I was hoping this release would hold a higher bar.

 

TL;DR: The Longmorn and Highland Park were great and had something unique about them compared to OB offerings. The Clynelish not so much. All 3 were good whiskies and I’ll certainly enjoy them

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