Your Top 10 Whiskeys for 2015

Everyone loves end of the year lists, so I bring you my 10 most viewed reviews of 2015. This list is compiled from a year of analytics based on your fellow whiskey lovers.

Lets just get right to it… But as first, as always, this is only an exhibition. This is not a competition. Please, no wagering.

10. Hancock’s President’s Reserve

This might be the least known of Buffalo Trace’s single barrel Bourbons. It’s not really that widely available and no one seems to really talks about it. Not one of my favorites, but happy to offer some info.

9. Colonel EH Taylor Jr Single Barrel

The CEHT line from Buffalo Trace has been popular this year as it takes up three spots on this list. Some of that could be due to the unicorn 2015 Cured Oak release, I suppose, but it’s also a fine line of Bourbons. I like the Single Barrel expression, although I think it’s a bit pricy compared to the Small Batch further down the list.

8. Weller Blend / Poor Man’s Pappy

Pappy mania shows no signs of subsiding, so it shouldn’t be surprising this little experiment was popular. Essentially blending two different WL Weller products should get you in the ballpark of an Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year, which for practical purposes is still a ‘Pappy. Forgetting that goal for a moment, blending Old Weller Antique and WL Weller 12 does make for a nice Bourbon.

7. Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

Crown Royal is a big name in whiskey, so not really surprising this special single barrel program has gotten some attention. It’s a unique single barrel Canadian rye whiskey, which is typically blended. This release shows uniqueness of Crown Royal’s Coffey still, which typically creates the more robust components in Crown’s blends.

6. Four Roses Small Batch

I’m a fan of Four Roses Small Batch for its price, complexity of four blended recipes and simply for being a great Bourbon. It’s mellowness makes it approachable plus nice berry fruits and floral goodness. It’s widely available and won’t break the bank, which is always a big plus.

5. Bowman Brothers Small Batch

I feel like Bowman Brothers Small Batch was a bit under the radar. This seems to be changing based on this year’s hits. To me, this one is a bit tamer version of some of Buffalo Trace’s stuff that might be harder to find, such as Elmer T Lee.

4. W.L. Weller 12 Year

Did you know that Weller 12 is basically pappy??? If you haven’t heard that one, then you probably haven’t read a mainstream Pappy-Mania article in the past few years. Combine that bit of Bourbon lore with Buffalo Trace’s inventory issues and Weller 12 has been harder to find in recent years. I’m a fan though and it’s my favorite of the Weller line.

3. Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch

While I think the CEHT Single Barrel up above is better than the Small Batch, I don’t think it’s 50% better, which is  price difference of these bottles. I like this Bourbon quite a bit, and along with good pricing and decent availability, this is the Buffalo Trace bottle I always keep on hand.

2. George T Stagg (2014)

George T Stagg is the only bottle in the Antique Collection that I’m most interested in tracking down. It’s generally available enough for me to win in a bottle brawl and it’s the one I like best. I’ve got the 2015 version, but I feel silly reviewing these unicorns. By time I get to forming an opinion and putting it down in words, bottles are long gone. That is unless you’re willing to pay stupid money for a store trophy or from some weirdo on the Internet. I don’t recommend doing either. Best bet I think is to just indulge in a 1-oz pour at a Bourbon bar spend your time and money elsewhere.

1. Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof

This might be crazy to some, but I actually prefer the CEHT Barrel Proof over Stagg. I just prefer younger Bourbons in general, and these releases have been very solid to great. Plus it’s easier to find and generally cheaper at retail.

So there you have it. Hopefully you found this interesting, and here’s to a great 2016 of Bourbon.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – Review

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Background

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

Launched in 2013, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel comes in at 110-proof and is non-chilled filtered. I find Wild Turkey’s lineup to be a little confusing with some overlap. Russell’s Reserve has become its own brand that to me has some parallels to the Wild Turkey brands. Perhaps making it a little more confusing, to me Wild Turkey has a distinctive flavor profile so they all have shared traits. I enjoy them all, so the goal with Wild Turkey Bourbons may be simply finding the flavor you like best at a favorable price.

How I wrap my head around Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and I could be wrong, is I see it as a premium single barrel version of Wild Turkey Rare Breed, but a little older like Russell’s Reserve 10 Year. Maybe. We do know though that Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is selected from “center cut” barrels, meaning barrels from the middle floors of the aging warehouses. Wild Turkey uses seven story warehouses and the Russells feel the middle floors are the sweet spot of their inventory. The upper floors get hotter and age faster with more robust flavors and lower floors age slower and more mellow.

The bottle shown here is actually their old label as the Russell’s Reserve labels recently were revamped. The old label here is kind of funny saying a small batch single barrel, which I guess is the smallest batch possible, technically. The new labels I think help unify the Russell’s Reserve brand and appears to also clean up the superfluous buzzwords.

Details

No Age Statement. Bottled at 110-Proof. Mash recipe of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. $53 Shelf Price

Aroma

Vanilla, Grainy, caramel, orange peel, toast, cinnamon,

Flavor

Toffee, oranges, Werther’s Originals. Berries. A bunch of spices. Some nail polish remover. Dark roasted flavors. Viscous, soft and creamy. Woody tannins coming towards the finish. Grainy and roasted corn.

Overall

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel seems a bit of a contradiction. It’s got some of that signature big flavor and zip of Wild Turkey, but it also quite full and creamy backed up by sweet caramel flavors. It doesn’t seem like a 110-proof Bourbon to me, but at the same time flavor is big and bold with just some rough edges towards the finish. I’m getting a little roasted bitterness, some alcohol, and tannic bite that leave a little cotton mouth. Between there is a sweet caramel goodness and full-flavored barrel char.

If there’s ever a case to be made for higher proof Bourbons skipping the chilled filter process, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel would seem to be a good example. Chill filtering is a practice of crashing the temperature of Bourbon near freezing and running it through plate filter. Proteins, fatty acids, and other stuff precipitate out of solution at lower temperatures and then get filtered out. If they’re not chilled and filtered, they could appear as a haze or clumps in your glass when ice is added. But this is only an issue for below 90-proof or so, and even then it’s largely a cosmetic phenomena. Filtering may make whiskey more visually appealing under certain conditions, but it also strips away components that lend to mouthfeel and perhaps also flavor.

Anyway, I’m a fan here of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. I think Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is a nice step up from Wild Turkey Rare Breed, and Wild Russell’s Reserve 10 Year. I could also toss in Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, which in my mind is basically an older single barrel version of Wild Turkey 101. Basically, I think Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is my favorite from Wild Turkey, although the other’s listed have their respective charms and value.

I feel like you can get the Wild Turkey experience for less, so Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel pricing I think is a little high, but at the same time reasonable for what appears to be a top tier bottle. The few things towards the finish have me hedging a bit, but everything else is plenty to enjoy.

Recommendation

Buy Again – 4.0 out of 5.0 Rating

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

I like to offer some options for similar Bourbons around this price. Feel free to investigate other reviews for further research.

If we call this a high proof Bourbon, some similar options may be Booker’s, Stagg Jr, Knob Creek Single Barrel, and if you can find it, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. I think too it’s worth checking out Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, and Russell’s Reserve 10 Year.

Links & Other Reviews