Stagg Jr Barrel Pick

Back in 2020 a group raised $150000 for St. Jude as part of an auction and got to pick the first 2 barrels of Stagg Jr released to the public. The second barrel picked ended up being released first and I was part of a group that got to split a bottle. I am in the middle of moving so the only thing I had on hand that I could reasonably compare this too is a Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel. The SFTB was only 129 proof so I tasted it first then the Jr.

 

Stagg Jr

Age: NAS

Proof: 134.6

Neat

Nose: Proof sting, cola, rich oak and caramel.

Taste: Powerful flavors with cola, baking spice, oak, rye spice, caramel and tobacco. Great mouthfeel and proof integration.

Finish: Long, warm and dry finish with oak and baking spice notes balanced by a bit of sticky caramel.

Conclusion

This pick was very, very good and easily bested the SFTB. It was on the darker side of the Buffalo Trace profile with the cola, tobacco and oak notes but none of the bright cherry I often get from Buffalo Trace including from the SFTB today. It was hard to capture in the tasting notes but what really stood out about this wasn’t the flavor notes themselves but the intensity of the flavor without it being overly hot. This had to be from a high floor on the rickhouse given the proof and flavor profile but it wasn’t overpoweringly hot.

 

TL;DR: Big and bold with intense flavors. It’s a winner.

 

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Stagg Jr Batch 15 Blind Tasting

I got lucky and snagged the latest Stagg Jr today and after chatting with a friend who contended that he didn’t think Stagg Jr was worth it at secondary and potentially not a retail. I decided to knock out a quick blind tasting to see what I thought and then sat down to write the more detailed tasting notes.

 

Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Batch 49

Age: NAS

Proof: 113.8

Neat

Nose: Rich and sweet with brown sugar and oak backed by subtle spice and vanilla.

Taste: Well balanced with sweet brown sugar, rye spice and subtler oak. Just a hint of grain. Great mouthfeel and proof integration

Finish: Medium to long warm finish with rye spice, slightly dry oak and a decent amount of sweet vanilla and brown sugar.

3 Stars - Excellent whiskey: I would be willing to hunt down a bottle

Russell’s Reserve 13 Year

Age: 13

Proof: 114.8

Neat

Nose: Vanilla extract, oak, baking spice, and cherry notes with a very slight proof sting.

Taste: Vanilla cream, caramel, warm spice, rich oak and subtler cherry. Very nice, very viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Long balanced finish with lingering warm spice and sweet caramel.

4 Stars - Extraordinary whiskey: An all time favorite

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B521

Age: 12 years

Proof: 118.2

Neat

Nose: Sweet and nutty with caramel and peanut notes.

Taste: Very on profile with plenty of nuts, oak and caramel plus a little baking spice and vanilla. Decent mouthfeel but I wanted more for the age and proof. Not even a hint of the proof.

Finish: Long, sweet and woody with oak, caramel and peanut.

1 Star - Good whiskey: I would choose to drink this over readily available whiskies

Stagg Jr Batch 15

Age: NAS

Proof: 131.1

Neat

Nose: Cherries, rye spice and heat!

Taste: Cherry cola, rich oak, baking and rye spices, caramel, something earthy ala Eagle Rare and enough proof to let you know it’s there. Great texture and mouthfeel that is thick but not oily.

Finish: Long finish with lingering spice, oak and faint cherry.

3 Stars - Excellent whiskey: I would be willing to hunt down a bottle

Conclusion

First off that Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is amazing. It handily won the blind tasting and I am in no way surprised.

The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was disappointing but in the way that disappointing fried chicken or weird RPGs can be where they are still good because you like the formula even if this iteration wasn’t exactly what you were looking for.

Stagg Jr continues to be a strong release. I missed batch 14 but I’m glad I scored this one. That said it wasn’t all that much better than Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered. In light of that closer call and how much the Russell’s won by I agree that batch 15 wouldn’t be the Stagg Jr to overpay for or spend a lot of time hunting though it’s an easy buy anywhere near retail.

 

TL;DR: Russell’s is the 🐐, Junior and UU were surprisingly close, poor ECBP

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Willett Family Estate Bourbon Cipher

I recently realized that I have far more open bottles of Willett Family Estate Single Barrels than I do written reviews so it’s time to change that. In addition to sample mountain I am now trying to work my way through my open Willetts as well!

I got this bottle almost 2 years ago in a charity event run by Bob’s Lake City Liquor who somehow got two barrels of Willett Family Estate Bourbon! This is the younger and lower proof of the two and is the wheated mashbill from Willett. I’ve been savoring the bottle but it recently hit the half way mark so it’s time to start hitting it. I got this via a combination of buying a ton of chili for a food bank and of course getting lucky in the raffle.

 

Willett Family Estate Bourbon Bob’s Liquor “Cipher”

Age: 6 years

Proof: 120.8

Mashbill: Wheated

Neat

Nose: Sweet cherry, honey wheat bread, caramel and faint spices. No proof sting.

Taste: Stronger fruit notes, less bread and more baking spice. Some oak and caramel notes as well. Great viscous mouthfeel and very nice proof integration until the very end.

Finish: Long and hot with both baking spice and proof sting along with more sweet wheat bread and subtle, fading caramel

Conclusion

I don’t know that I’ve ever had cherry jam but I suspect the nose of this Willett would be pretty close to cherry jam on honey wheat toast. The palate and mouthfeel a great too but the burn on the finish is just a little too hot and the grain/bread notes are just a little too prevalent for this to get the 4th star and live up to Highway Kind, my favorite 6 year wheated Willett. I’d gladly grab a replacement for this bottle if I thought there was even a remote chance of finding one at a semi reasonable price but that seems unlikely.

Overall these wheated Willett single barrels tend to remind me of the things I like from Weller picks and Four Roses picks rolled into one bottle. I can’t wait for the them to get a little older and in a crazy dream world a little more available.

 

TL;DR: Excellent whiskey, worth the retail price and all the chili cans. A little too young and hot for the 4th star

3 Stars - Excellent whiskey: I would be willing to hunt down a bottle

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Sample Mountain Week 25: Old Forester Distillery Releases

For week 25 of Sample Mountain I am revisiting Old Forester special releases with 2 distillery bottles that my local whiskey club shared. The first is the 117 series High Angel’s Share (which isn’t 117 proof) and the second is a President’s Choice Single Barrel (which is 117 proof 🤷‍♂️). The previous President’s Choice was one of the best Old Forester bottle’s I’ve ever had so my hopes are high for that one. I don’t know what to expect with the 117.

 

Old Forester 117 Series “High Angel’s Share”

Age: NAS

Proof: 110

Neat

Nose: Dark fruit and caramel with subtler charred oak.

Taste: Very on profile for Old Forester with caramel, oak, warm spice, some nuts and a hint of banana. A woody candy bar. Unremarkable but pleasant mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium length and well balanced with spice, oak and caramel.

Buy a bottle? No - enjoyable but unremarkable other than the nose

Old Forester President’s Choice

Age: 9 years

Proof: 117

Neat

Nose: Sweet vanilla, caramel, baking spice and subtle oak.

Taste: Again very on profile for Old Forester with the caramel, vanilla cream, rich oak and faint banana. Very creamy, very nice mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium to long with balanced spice, vanilla and caramel.

Buy a bottle? No - Very good but not enough of a step up from the Single Barrel Barrel Strength picks

Conclusion

The nose on the 117 series was outstanding but the rest was a let down and at the end of the day I’d rather have a barrel strength pick. Maybe if it was higher proof or cheaper/more available I’d be interested but even then it’s a stretch.

The President’s Choice was much better and an instant buy at the MSRP but it wasn’t enough better than the local barrel strength picks to be worth tracking down or overpaying for.

 

TL;DR: President’s Choice > 117 Series. Both were enjoyable but stick with the barrel strength picks.

 

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Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Rye 2015

Early in my bourbon journey SAOS went from being a shelfie NDP bottle to very sought after in what seemed like no time. While I was able to grab a 10 year single barrel bourbon at retail before things got too crazy the rye eluded me. I eventually ended up getting one and had high hopes.

 

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Rye 2015

Age: 7 years

Proof: 99 proof

Batch No: 63

Neat

Nose: Sweet and herbaceous with vanilla frosting, dill, mint and spice notes. No proof sting

Taste: Spicier than the nose but with the same vanilla and herbal notes behind the rye and baking spices. Good mouthfeel for the proof and great proof integration.

Finish: Long and lingering with fading vanilla and oak then herbs and spices that stay in the back of your throat.

Conclusion

Well that was good but it wasn’t some legendary bottle from yesteryear that blows away modern MGP releases. I don’t think it’s worth tracking down one of these older 7 year, 99 proof SAOS ryes with the increasing availability of 6-8 year MGP ryes from places like Nashville Barrel Company, Proof and Wood, Barrell and Nulu. For example it’s taken me a lot longer to get through this bottle than some of the 7 year NBC picks.

 

TL;DR: Good whiskey, especially for the age and proof, not worth the hype

1 Star - Good whiskey: I would choose to drink this over readily available whiskies

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Sample Mountain Week 24: Father's Day MGP Tasting

For Week 24 of Sample Mountain I am back to older MGP bourbons specifically with some Smoke Wagon for Father’s Day. I got most of my early Smoke Wagon bottles and almost all of my Desert Jewel from my dad running it back from work trips to Las Vegas so this felt fitting. For this week’s “Buy a bottle?” we’ll be assuming you are in the market for older MGP and aren’t paying retail price. I tasted these blind to pick a winner then poured the rest of the samples and sat down to write more detailed tasting notes.

 

Old Pepper 11 Year Single Barrel

Age: 11 years

Proof: 112 proof

Neat

Nose: Big and bold with rich oak and sweet brown sugar but enough spice to balance it.

Taste: More brown sugar and more oak with vanilla and rye spice underneath. Nice mouthfeel but I was expecting more for the proof.

Finish: Long and slightly bitter with lots of oak and a little warm spice.

Buy a bottle? No - dubious at retail even given Redemption 10 Year High Rye

Smoke Wagon Private Barrel New Jersey Bourbon and Yacht Club

Age: 13 years

Proof: 108.4

Barrel: #5636

Neat

Nose: Softer than the Old Pepper with brown sugar, rye spice and oak.

Taste: Brown sugar and rich oak take the lead with some barrel char, rye spice, vanilla extract and a bit of mint. Excellent, oily mouthfeel.

Finish: Long and slightly dry but in a good way with lots of oak and a good amount of baking spice and a bit of sweetness.

Buy a bottle? Yes

Conclusion

The NJBYC Smoke Wagon was great. I don’t think it stood out compared to the other 2 13 year Private Barrels I’ve had (Austin Dead Liver Society and one from Dallas) but it’s still top tier older MGP. The Old Pepper was very good but definitely not worth tracking down vs grabbing a Redemption 10 Year High Rye or even a Remus Repeal.

 

TL;DR: The Smoke Wagon is a winner. The Old Pepper is good but so is most older MGP.

 

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Sample Mountain Week 23: Michter's Legacy Series

Week 23 of sample mountain is Michter’s Legacy Series week. In addition to their Michter’s named lineup Michter’s also releases two whiskies named after the previous names of the distiller: Bomberger’s and Shenk’s.

Unlike the other weeks so far in the series I did not taste these together. I had tasted and written the notes for the Bomberger’s earlier this year and did the Shenk’s this week so they aren’t in the same photo. This isn’t the plan going forward but when I realized I had samples of both I decided I wanted to put the write ups together.

 

Shenk’s 2019

Age: NAS

Proof: 91.2

Neat

Nose: Simple and sweet with caramel, grain and faint spice notes.

Taste: Start with sweet caramel with a wood note that’s not quite oak and some spice toward the end. Decent but unremarkable mouthfeel.

Finish: Short to medium length finish with caramel and baking spice.

Buy a bottle? No - it was fine but nothing special

Bomberger’s Declaration 2019

Age: NAS years

Abv: 108

Neat

Nose: Rich and sweet with caramel, oak and faint spice notes along with something fruity I couldn’t place.

Taste: Big oak notes balanced by vanilla, caramel, cherry and baking spice. Viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium length finish with more of the same especially the oak.

Buy a bottle? Yes - I’ll be trying to grab this year’s release

Conclusion

I really enjoyed the Bomberger’s it was like a better, higher proof version of Michter’s bourbon and it nails the classic KY bourbon profile. The Shenk’s was enjoyable but nothing special and I wouldn’t buy one.

TL;DR: The Bomberger’s nails the classic bourbon profile, the Shenk’s was a thinner, more boring take

Russell's Reserve 13 Year

I managed to snag a Russell’s Reserve 13 Year yesterday and immediately got a fellow Turkey fan to agree to come to a blind that evening. We pit this against Moonshine’s Cheesy Gold Russell’s Reserve pick, the Single Cask Nation Wild Turkey 10 Year and as a sort of wild card Russell’s 2003. After the Turkey blind I sat down to write some more detailed tasting notes.

 

Russell’s Reserve 13 Year

Age: 13 years

Proof: 114.8

Price: 75

Neat

Nose: Vanilla extract, oak, baking spice, and cherry notes with a very slight proof sting.

Taste: Vanilla cream, caramel, warm spice, rich oak and subtler cherry. Very nice, very viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Long balanced finish with lingering warm spice and sweet caramel.

Conclusion

This was amazing. Every note hit just right, the proof was present but in a good way, the sweet notes took the lead but didn’t overwhelm the spice and oak notes. If I had to nitpick the mouthfeel was only very nice and didn’t wow me like everything else did.

It reminded me a bit of the Master’s Keep 17 Year Bottled in Bond with the sweet and cherry notes but lack of proofing down and chill filtration elevated this above the 17 easily. It was more refined than the Single Cask Nation Wild Turkey 10 and had a much better nose though the brown sugar notes on the palate of the SCN are hard to beat. I gave this the edge in the blind but it was close.

This release was really impressive especially after the Russell’s 2003 let me down a little bit. I’m already hunting for a backup and won’t stop there. I hope we continue to see age stated, barrel proof, ncf releases from Wild Turkey because this was a winner.

 

TL;DR: Possibly my favorite modern Wild Turkey

4 Stars - Extraordinary whiskey: An all time favorite

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New Riff Taste Select Repeat 'Dad Life' Single Barrel

I recently got to go on a trip to do a few barrel picks with Taste Select Repeat and while the highlight of the trip was getting to pick one of the first 10 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof picks the first thing to arrive was our New Riff barrel! It’s a 4 year old pick from Floor 2 of their Central KY rickhouse that was aged in a Char 4 Kelvin Cooperage Char 4 barrel. I recently learned that New Riff uses both heavily and lightly charred barrels for their bourbons which does help explain how different their single barrels can be. When we tasted the sample kit the consensus tasting note was bacon so let’s see how it holds up now that it’s been bottled.

 

New Riff Taste Select Repeat ‘Dad Life’ Single Barrel

Age: 4 years 3 months 14 days

Proof: 105.8

Price: 62

Barrel: 17-0537

Mashbill 65/30/5 Corn/Rye/Malted Barley

Neat

Nose: Sweet and smoky BBQ, hints of rye and vanilla.

Taste: Smoke, meaty notes, sweet BBQ sauce, rye spice and subtler vanilla extract. Nice mouthfeel that is what I would expect from the proof.

Finish: Medium length with more sweet and smoky BBQ notes.

Conclusion

This was one of the smokier and meatier bourbons I’ve ever had. It almost reminds me of a peated scotch but much sweeter. It’s definitely got smoked meat vibes but tasting it by itself at home I am more on a sweet BBQ than a bacon. Otherwise this was a great barrel that was very different from the last New Riff pick I helped with (the og Diamond in the Riff). I’m glad I got a back up bottle.

 

TL;DR: The smokiest, most BBQ bourbon I’ve had

No score: I was part of the pick team

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Sample Mountain Week 22: Tri-state Proof Monsters

Week 22 of Sample Mountain is tri-state high proof week featuring a Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof pick, Parker’s Heritage Blend of Mashbills and Garrison Brothers’ Cowboy Bourbon! I’m not usually the biggest fan of super high proof stuff so we’ll see if any of these can win me over and I might splash some water in there to be safe. I tasted these blind to rank them then wrote more detailed tasting notes.

 

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof “Sharedpour” pick

Age: NAS

Proof: 131

Neat

Nose: Banana, caramel and heat!

Taste: Less proof sting than the nose with more banana, lots of spice and a good amount of caramel. Very nice mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium length, hot dry finish with oak and spice and a bit of dried banana.

Adding a splash of water tames the heat and brings out more of the spice and wood notes though the banana stays strong.

Buy a bottle? Yes if it was local or you can’t get it local, not worth it over a replacement pick

Parker’s Heritage Blend of Mashbills

Age: 11 years

Proof: 131.6 proof

Neat

Nose: Sweet and hot with butterscotch, cinnamon, nuts and ethanol.

Taste: Hotter and oakier than the nose with a good amount butterscotch and nuts (boozy cinnamon nut bar maybe?). Good mouthfeel but I preferred the JD

Finish: Long and hot with oak and cinnamon.

Water maybe helps? I kept adding it until it didn’t sting but it wasn’t any better than Larceny Barrel Proof by then.

Buy a bottle? No - there are many other Heaven Hill special releases I’d chase over this

Garrison Brother’s Cowboy Bourbon 2017

Age: 4.5 years

Proof: 137

Neat

Nose: I’m going to get weird here: Oak smoked cornbread with caramel and a lot of spice.

Taste: Ethanol, oak, corn and caramel. Very thick mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium length hot finish with oak and caramel. Thankfully the youthful grain note is gone here.

Buy a bottle? No, there are better years of Cowboy if you really want Cowboy

Water helps a lot with the heat but not the youthful grain.

Conclusion

I’m not surprised that none of these wowed me but I am surprised the Jack came out on top. I definitely thought the Parker’s would win but the proof integration was a lot better on the JD and it took water better. Also I love making Old Fashioned with JD Barrel proof so I know I crush a bottle of that pick. The Parker’s was too intense for me but I can definitely see folks that love that kind of stuff thinking this bottle was a winner. Lastly, the home team came solidly in last. I’m no Garrison hater but I tend to think the Cowboy isn’t anything special and 2017 isn’t the best year imo (2019 was). Plus if I am buying Garrison it’s either a 6+ year old pick or Balmorhea.

Next week will definitely be back to lower proof!

 

TL;DR: The Jack was the winner!

 

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