Sample Mountain Week 2: Young and Tasty

Welcome to Week 2 of sample mountain! From now on these will try to have some theme bringing the samples together beyond just me having them. This week’s line up was inspired by me getting an Old Kirk sample that I couldn’t wait to get into. The internet consensus is that these are Willett distilled and I’m a fan of that. I decided to put it up against two other young but sought after bourbons with a real Willett Family Estate pick and a wheated Boone County pick.

 

Old Kirk Yorkshire Pick

Age: 6 years 9 months

Abv: 129.5

Neat

Nose: Strong and balanced with cherry, rich oak and warm spices.

Taste: Cherry syrup, oak, warm spices and a touch of licorice. Excellent mouthfeel that is viscous and almost sticky.

Finish: A touch hot on the otherwise enjoyable medium length finish with lingering cherry syrup and warm spice.

Buy a bottle? Yes

Willett Family Estate Angle’s Share Pick

Age: 6 years

Abv: 121.8

Neat

Nose: Mellower than the Kirk with a slightly musty note then spice and oak.

Taste: A bit of leather then a lot of oak and spice with subtler caramel notes running through the palate. Note quite at the level of the Old Kirk on viscosity.

Finish: Very long, though the lingering portion is subtler, with quickly fading oak and vanilla then fainter spice and caramel.

Buy a bottle? Yes

Boone County 6 Year Wheated Lion’s Share Pick

Age: 6 years

Abv: ??

Neat

Nose: Sweet with honey wheat bread and vanilla notes.

Taste: Sweet and herbaceous with some bready notes as well. Decent mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium to long with some warm spice and lingering sweet herbs.

Buy a bottle? No

Conclusion

For me it can be hard to describe why I like these 6-7 year old Willett distilled bourbons so much. The tasting notes typically aren’t anything impressive. It’s very bourbon flavored bourbon but the way the notes come together and the intensity of them stands out especially for such a young bourbon. I’d happily buy the Old Kirk of the Angel’s Share Willett anywhere reasonably close to the MSRP though I wouldn’t pay what Willetts tend to go for these days. Overall I’d put the Old Kirk on par with a mid range WFE 6 year bourbon including this sample but not at the level of something like Highway Kind. The finish was the highlight of the Willett as it left gentle warm and sweet notes lingering for a very long time. The leather and mustiness where also pretty unusual for such a young bourbon.

As far as the wheated MGP pick it was enjoyable even if the youth did shine through a bit more than I’d like. It’s certainly on the right track but just short of making me want a bottle. I tried a different pick of this that I enjoyed more but I think it was a 7 year.

 

TL;DR: The Old Kirk was great, unsurprisingly I liked the Willett and the Boone County fell a bit short but was still enjoyable.

 

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Russell's Reserve Beastmaster's Club Stachey Spice

Spicy Girls #2 is a Russell’s Reserve pick from Beastmaster’s Club that came out back in 2019. It’s a Camp Nelson A bottle from Floor 4 and was supposedly 111 proof out of the barrel so it’s pretty much cask strength at 110. I didn’t open this bottle right away but it has been open for some time now and was hovering at 50% full when I wrote this.

s Reserve Beastmasters

 

Russell’s Reserve Beastmaster’s Club ‘Stachey Spice’

Age: 9 years

Proof: 110

Price: $75

Neat

Nose: Sweet, funky and spicy with caramel, almost nutty notes and baking spices.

Taste: Lots of caramel, vanilla extract, rye spice, more of the nutty notes from the nose and rich oak towards the end. Excellent, thick mouthfeel that coats your tongue.

Finish: Medium to long finish with lingering oak, baking spice and Wild Turkey funk. Slightly dry at the very end.

2 Stars - Very good whiskey: I would want to have a bottle

Conclusion

I tend to be fan of Russell’s Reserve picks and overall the entire Spicy Girl Russell’s series from Beastmasters was pretty solid. They are on the sweeter side of the modern Wild Turkey profile but without losing the funky and spicy notes that make Turkey great. The initial caramel rush, excellent mouthfeel and the finish are the highlights here and I’m very happy to have a bottle. That said it doesn’t crack the ranks of truly next level Russell’s picks.

 

TL;DR: Great example of a Russell’s pick, especially the mouthfeel. Beat out the 2020 Beastmaster’s Russell’s lineup for me.

Scale

 

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Sample Mountain Week 1

Happy 2021! I have a mountain of samples I need to work through so I am trying not to open any new bottles until I’ve cleared out enough samples that they all fit in their dedicated space of 3 Little Book and 1 Booker’s 30th boxes. Going forward for these sample reviews I’ll be trying to stay brief and just focus on whether the sample convinced me I’d want to buy a bottle or not.

All samples are tasted neat after 5-10 minutes of resting.

 

Joseph Magnus DFW Whiskey Club Pick

Age: 13 years

Abv: ??

Nose: Sweet and oaky with brown sugar, leather and faint spice.

Taste: Thick and leathery with supporting oak and spice. Great mouthfeel

Finish: Long and slightly dry with more oak and leather balanced by a sweeter vanilla

Buy a bottle? Yes

Four Roses Private Select “Buy Rite Select”

Age: 10 years and 1 month

Abv: 120

Nose: Sweet and rich with herbal and fruity notes

Taste: Very on profile for Four Roses with sweet fruit, oak and warm spice. Nice viscous mouthfeel.

Finish: Long finish with slightly cooling herbal notes, almost minty

Buy a bottle? Yes

Bardstown Bourbon Company Copper and Kings Collaboration Sherry

Age: 12 years

Abv: 100

Nose: Grape! Sticky dark fruit, sweet.

Taste: More dark fruit and sticky sweetness with some rich oak coming in. Decent mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium to long finish that basically taste like armagnac.

Buy a bottle? No

Conclusion

Overall all 3 of these were enjoyable bourbons. The Magnus pick just leans in on the leathery and oaky notes I like in older MGP. It’s definitely on the drier side on the finish and that’s certainly not for everyone but I like it. Even with the relatively high retail price of Magnus picks I would have bought this. The nose and finish were great on the Four Roses while the taste was just good. That said the almost minty finish was really unique and just good for Four Roses is still something I like. I’ve had other OBSFs like the Beastmaster’s Crude Oil that I prefer but this, like most Four Roses picks, would be a Buy from me near retail pricing. I’ll start by saying I am generally a fan of what Bardstown is doing but this bottle just didn’t land for me. It was almost in this weird uncanny valley between bourbon and brandy where I’d rather either have more of the MGP bourbon notes come through or just drink a armagnac. I’m also a little disappointed at it being proofed down. I probably wouldn’t say no to a bottle if it was offered but between the price, scarcity and step down from the Chateau De Laubade and Apple Brandy releases this is an easy pass.

My goal to do one of these every week during 2021.

 

TL;DR: The Magnus and Four Roses pick were awesome. This BBC Collaboration was too heavy on the sherry for me.

 

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2020 Whiskey Awards

It’s New Year’s Eve so it’s time for my second annual whiskey awards! There’s no Pappy 15, Alberta Premium or Larceny Barrel Proof to be found here. Just like last year I haven’t tasted nearly enough whiskies for this to be even remotely authoritative and I am just as unqualified to call something the best so these will just be my favorites.

Requirements to be on the list:

  • Released in 2020
  • I was able to get a bottle and drink a reasonable amount of it
  • No barrel picks for the non-barrel pick award categories (IB releases don’t count as barrel picks ie SCN)

Judging Criteria

  • For whiskies I wrote reviews for this year I respected the scores given
  • Otherwise it is whatever I enjoyed most

To be clear this my favorite whiskies released in 2019 and not “The best whiskies released” or “Whiskies I think everyone will love” and definitely not “Things you should tater over.”

Straight Bourbon

Winner: 2020 George T Stagg

Runner Up: Doc Swinon’s 15 Year Release 6

This year’s Stagg was even better than last year’s but not quite at ‘17 levels for me. That said it was definitely my favorite straight bourbon from this year. It feels bad to but a BTAC here since they are so hard to get but it really did stand out.

Doc Swinson’s first 15 year old release was also fantastic. It was sweet, nutty, complex and still approachable especially compared to something like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. While the 7-9 releases were also good none of them was at the same level as the 6 for me.

Finished Bourbon:

Winner: Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend 19

Runner Up: Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau De Laubade Collaboration

Basically the same as last year but what am I supposed to do? Cigar Blend remains one of my favorite pours and I think this was a great year even with the increase in the number of batches. I do think some of the batches from this year were a little weaker and sort of diverged from what I consider to be the classic Cigar Blend profile(ie 25 and 29) but the great batches this year like 19 were still some of the best bourbons I drank. This year Bardstown narrowed the gap with their exceptional Chateau De Laubade Collaboration which was MGP finished in Armagnac casks so it’s no surprise I loved it.

Straight Rye:

Winner: Thomas H Handy Sazerac 2020

Runner Up: High West Rocky Mountain Rye 16 Year

After last year’s very disappointing Handy release I was cautiously optimistic after seeing some early hype for this year’s release and it definitely lived up to it. COVID has gotten in the way of me doing a BTAC/Van Winkle round up but I’m optimistic that bars will still have their bottles long enough for me to do it.

I learned that High West was bringing back their Rocky Mountain Rye early this year and was very excited especially when they announced that it was a blend of 16 year straight ryes, higher proof and was a relatively reasonable 130. Thankfully my Park City connection came through and the bottle delivered. It’s old and delicious and I’ll definitely be doing a longer write up on it.

Finished Rye:

Winner: Single Cask Nation Whistle Pig Rum and Vermouth Finish

Runner Up: Single Cask Nation Whistle Pig Tokaji Finish

These slapped basically everything else I tried this year. MWND 8 was enjoyable but wasn’t on the same level as these two and the same goes for the other various High West barrel select ryes I tried. I skipped the finished releases from Sagamore so I can’t say how they stacked up.

Bourbon Barrel Pick:

Winner: ADLS Smoke Wagon 13 Year

Runner Up: Bourbon Enthusiast XO Cognac

When I found out a local club I’m in was getting a 13 year old Smoke Wagon Private Barrel I almost couldn’t believe it. The presale sold out in minutes and thankfully I got one. I was fan of Smoke Wagon going into the year and this 13 year old bottle is right up there with the original Chip’s Liquor Drink Smoke Every Day for my favorite Smoke Wagon release. It’s a great balance of sweet MGP brown sugar and strong oak notes.

With Belle Meade putting their barrel selections on hiatus I was very fortunate to be able to grab a couple of Bourbon Enthusiast’s XO Cognac finished pick. Surprising no one I was a big fan of good cask strength MGP finished in a cognac barrel. The finish is heavy without being overwhelming leaving enough of the MGP notes to cut through the rich dark fruit.

Rye Barrel Pick:

Winner: Bourbon Boyz Nashville Barrel Company Rye

Runner Up: ADLS Nashville Barrel Company Rye

Nashville Barrel Company has been releasing some amazing 7 year old MGP and these two bottles easily topped my list of the 6 or so I tried this year and beat out the Barrell and Nulu 7 years ryes as well(though those were no slouches either). I’m super excited to see these middle aged MGP ryes coming back and still delivering.

Scotch:

Winner: GlenDronach Single Cask ‘The Belter’ GAS Selection

Runner Up Winner: Edradour Spec’s Single Cask

I was a little hesitant to buy an expensive scotch pick from a group I’d never heard of but I was very curious about these GlenDronach single casks and this was the lowest entry cost I’d had on one so I went for it and I’m glad I did. The PX sherry cask does wonders to GlenDronach’s excellent distillate leading to tons of rich dark fruit with leather, oak, spice and everything else I’d want in an old single malt.

Despite being only 10 years old this basically looks like motor oil thanks to the first fill Oloroso butt. I’d never had cask strength Edradour before and this little sherry bomb has made sure I won’t keep missing out. Hopefully more places here in Austin start doing scotch selections.

Whiskey You Can Actually Buy For a Reasonable Price:

The criteria here are simple a bottle must be on shelves at ~MSRP in Austin and <$5 for a 1.5 oz drink so <80 for a fifth or <40 for a pint.

Winner: Wilderness Trail Rye Picks

Runner Up: Remus Repeal Batch 4

The first one is sort of cheating but there are currently at least 2 Wilderness Trail rye picks sitting around town (ABC Liquor and Austin Shaker) and I think they are both great bottles. The Shaker pick is on the sweeter side of the Wilderness Trail profile while the ABC is a bit spicier.

This year’s Remus Repeal was another winner for me. I’m an MGP fan and 100 proof is a sweet spot for me so it’s not a surprise though.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Willett Family Estate Single Barrels: I loved the Willett single barrel releases that hit town this year and grabbed as many of them as I could. Highway Kind was the standout bourbon and Walkin the Floor was the standout rye for me.
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series 3: The addition of older MGP to this years Discovery Blend led to a really interesting end product where both the Indiana and Kentucky notes shine through without overwhelming each other. That said it’s pretty pricey and if I was going to go by a ~150 bottle of bourbon it would Doc Swinson’s over Bardstown right now.
  • Moonshine Four Roses OESK: It was a tossup between this and Bourbon Enthusiast XO for the runner up spot for bourbon barrel picks for me this year. Moonshine keeps killing it with the Four Roses picks even if I did prefer the previous 12 year OBSV to this one. That said it handily beat out this year’s Beastmaster’s OESK and another random OESK from my shelf.
  • All the Whistle Pig picks I did this year: I did 3 different Whistle Pig picks with 3 different stores throughout the year which ended up being sort of awkward but I loved them all and would do it again haha. Also I’d definitely take a WP pick over Alberta Premium any day even with the higher price tag.
  • Boss Hog VII: I wasn’t sure whether to count this as a finished rye or not with the teakwood so I just dropped it here. I’ve never bought a Boss Hog before and I’m not sure I would again but this bottle was fantastic and tasted like cinnamon rolls to me. I had the chance to buy it in the low 400s, which is still crazy expensive, right when I was looking to buy something nice as a celebration bottle and this did the job.

Conclusion

2020 was another great year in bourbon for me and once again most of my favorites barrel picks or other releases outside the usual tater suspects. Ignore the awards, ignore the internet hype and drink what you like.

New high cost releases did a bit better for me in 2020 than in 2019. I didn’t get suckered into buying anything from Kentucky Owl this year and I skipped all the Cream of Kentucky releases. The gamble on Doc’s paid off, Bardstown’s Discovery releases were great and Four Gate was good if pricey for what it was. Still my general advice would be to stay away from these 100+ bottles if value is important to you.

Craft distilleries keep getting better with a slew of great picks coming out of New Riff and Wilderness Trail. Woodinville, Wyoming Whiskey and Still Austin here are also dialing it in and will be ones to watch for me. The New York craft distilleries haven’t impressed me yet and Texas whiskey is still divisive.

 

TL;DR: 2020 was a great year for bourbon

Tasting Notes: High West Double Rye! Barrel Select Debs Liquor

It took all year but here is the end of my 30 part series on finished American whiskies. In addition to drinking a lot of finished bourbon and rye this year I got to do participate in my first and second finished whiskey picks with two High West selections for Debs Liquor here in Austin.

For the first selection me and one other guy tasted through 10 barrels with 6 Double Ryes and 4 American Prairie Bourbons. It was very clear after the initial tasting that we wanted to go with a Double Rye. We narrowed it down to a funky Jamaican Rum and a more accessible Syrah finish that was reminiscent of a higher proof, less sweet Yippe Ki Yay. After some deliberation we landed on the Syrah.

 

High West Double Rye! Barrel Select

Age: NAS - finished for 9 months in Syrah

Abv: 103 proof

Price: $50

Barrel Number: 17247

Neat

Nose: Strong wine influence with lots of dark fruit and warm spice with subtler oak and vanilla.

Taste: A lot going on with rye spice, red wine, cloves, rich herbs and oak notes.

Finish: Long slightly dry finish with lingering baking spice and oak.

Conclusion

Obviously I am fan of the barrel we picked but I’m also biased since I picked it. For our second pick we unfortunately did not get the same wide selection. This time we only had 3 options with 2 Double Ryes and an American Prairie Bourbon. This time it was obvious which barrel we wanted to pick with a Double Rye finished in PX Sheryy easily outclassing the other two options. The barrel unfortunately got delayed into next year so it didn’t make it into this series but I’m looking forward to it as well.

Overall I’ve enjoyed tasting through so many finished American whiskies this year and I’m still a fan of what using a finishing cask can do. Scotch has been using wine casks to produce excellent whiskies forever and I’m glad to see this practice continuing to gain traction in America.

Lastly I am never writing a 30 part series again!

 

TL;DR: After writing about finished whiskey all year getting to do 2 finished rye picks was awesome! 30 parts is too many.

Review #276: Elijah Craig Beast Masters Club Beaver pick

Beast Masters Club released a series of 3 Elijah Craig picks this year “Smell”, “The” and “Beaver” and while I didn’t need that many EC picks I did decide to pickup Beaver.

 

Elijah Craig Beast Masters Club ‘Beaver’

Age: 10 years

Abv: 94 proof

Neat

Nose: Sharp vanilla and oak notes with sweet caramel underneath.

Taste: More caramel and rich oak with vanilla extract and faint spice. Nice mouthfeel for the proof.

Finish: Medium length finish with vanilla cream and a building spice.

Conclusion

Overall this was on par with most Elijah Craig picks I’ve had. It was heavy on the vanilla but I enjoyed it. I usually think EC picks are a great value but with Beast Masters Club’s New York prices and shipping I would have gladly settled for a local pick.

 

TL;DR: About what you would expect from an EC pick.

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

Scale

 

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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.

Scale

 

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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

Scale

 

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