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Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Reviewed by: Nick

buffalo-trace

Tastes like bourbon.

Ok, I freely admit, that statement alone does not do this dram justice. After all, this is whisky made at one of the oldest distilleries in the world! And yes, I do include Scotland in this claim.

Buffalo trace was founded in 1787 at a small settlement called Lee’s Town, a town presumably established by someone called Lee. The title ‘Buffalo Trace’ was given to it much later, but refers to the 18th century name for the distillery’s location: a trail forged by American bison as they crossed the Kentucky River. Buffalo Trace continued sending whiskey up the river across the ensuing centuries – even during prohibition when it was given a permit to produce medicinal whiskey. Unsurprisingly it was a very popular remedy.

But how does it taste?

Like bourbon.

No!

Well, yes.

But it’s good bourbon!

On the nose is, as you’d expect, sweet corn and vanilla, but also present are subtle notes of cinnamon and brown sugar. The palate is lightly spicy with grassy oak notes. The finish is medium in length with flavours of toffee and honey.

All in all, Buffalo Trace is a great example of a bourbon. It’s accessible and, all things considered, pretty darn smooth. Best of all, it’s a bourbon with a story. It allows you to cast your mind back to the late 1700s when settlers battled to survive – and make whiskey on the side!

And it tastes like bourbon.

★★★

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Heartwood Convict Resurrection

Reviewed by: Nick

Heartwood Convict Resurrection

In Scotland, independent bottling of whisky is commonplace. Companies such as Gordon & MacPhail, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Flora & Fauna – basically anything with an ‘&’ in it – run successful businesses and produce some fine drams. In Tassie, well, it’s a little rarer. While Trappers Hut and Tasmanian Independent Bottlers are coming along nicely, there’s one name leading the way: Heartwood.

Heartwood was created by Tasmania’s own mad scientist of whisky, Tim Duckett, whom I imagine spends his days bent over a steaming cauldron of luminous Tasmanian whisky, stirring it with a wooden oar and chanting “double double toil and trouble”.

If you’ve ever come across a bottle of Heartwood, you’ll attest that it was unquestionably a memorable drop. There’s certainly a lot to remember, from the wonderful designs on the labels to the distinctive names: ‘Vat Out of Hell’, ‘Release the beast’ and ‘Any Port in a Storm’ to name a few. However, the most memorable aspect of any Heartwood bottling – by far – is the strength. The ABV of all releases ranges from percentages in the mid 60s to percentages in the mid 70s. That’s right – mid 70s!!!

The bottle I decided to purchase sits at an eye watering 72% and is called the ‘Convict Resurrection’, part of a series of convict-inspired bottlings referring to Tasmania’s original function as a penal colony. The whisky comes from Sullivans Cove barrel HH0239, which was an American oak ex-port cask. And boy, is it something.

Every aspect of this whisky is massive. The nose hits you like a boxing glove wielded by Sugar Ray Leonard, teeming with creamy fruit flavours like plum jam spread on rich brie. As is to be expected, the palate also packs a punch – taking a sip is like wrestling a crocodile – and yet there are so many flavours to be found: raisins, nutmeg, pinecones and blackberries – perhaps with the thorns still attached!

The finish is the most surprising element of the whole dram as it is incredibly smooth. It seems to evaporate at the back of your throat, leaving the most glorious lingering warmth with notes of jam and honey.

If you ever see a nip of Heartwood available anywhere – don’t think – just buy it. Sure, it’ll be pricey, but only 200 or so of each bottle is made and once they’re gone, they’re actually gone. Heartwood fans don’t buy the stuff to leave it sitting on a shelf.

Seriously, try it if you can. I promise it will be memorable – in the best possible way.

★★★★★

Heartwood n Nick

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Pappy Van Winkle 20YO

Its pretty common for distillers to lay down Scotch for long periods of time, with age statements in the range of 18-25 years in relative abundance. Bourbons on the other hand are a whole different kettle of fish. Warmer storage temperatures and the use of virgin oak casks means that bourbon reaches maturity and develops character far more quickly than its Scottish counterparts. Therefore, if you come across a bourbon that says it’s 20 years old, you know you’re looking at something pretty special.

The Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old is an experience unto itself, a man amongst the boys. Now into its 4th generation, the dynasty began in the 1870s when Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle entered into the proud Kentuckian tradition of bourbon making. These days the Van Winkles make their spirit at the Buffalo Trace distillery, but they have not lost their dedication to crafting spirit of an exceptionally high standard.

Apart from the age, what makes Van Winkle bourbon special is that they use corn, barley and wheat instead of the more usual corn, barley and rye in their mash bill. They claim that the use of wheat creates a much softer, smoother spirit and helps with the aging process.

Compared to your standard ‘ol bourbon, the PvW Family Reserve 20yo is a far more delicate creature. You can still tell it’s bourbon when you take a sniff, but it doesn’t wave the fact in your face. Instead it gently strokes your nostrils with vanilla, ginger and Grand Marnier.

As you would expect for a spirit this age, it is superbly smooth with no alcoholic kick at all, which is interesting as it is still bottled at 45.2%. It feels very light and silky in the mouth, and if you draw some air through it goes all tingly, sending shivers down your tongue. Floral notes, particularly rose, mingle with sweet white grapes, maraschino cherries and alcohol-soaked cake. The finish is quite short and as smooth as a baby’s proverbial.

The PvW Family Reserve is the thinking man’s bourbon; gulping it down is simply not an option as it needs some time to respond in the mouth. At first glance it seems deceptively simple, however with some gentle probing it reveals more and more character. There are definitely interesting things going on, but you have to chase them down, work for the full flavour. The dedicated and thoughtful approach is worth it in the end though, as the reward is a spirit of epically elegant proportions.

★★★★

‘Big Peat’ or ‘The Perks of Random Conversation at the Bar’

Reviewed by: Ted

Big Peat

This story begins, as so many great stories do: m’colleague and I were at the bar. Admittedly not an unusual state of affairs. On this particular night we were chatting to our barman mate, and a friend of his that he’d just introduced us to. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Doug. Doug was feeling in a rather celebratory mood as he’d just scored himself a job working as a pharmacist in sunny (and I mean that in the most ball-of-thermonuclear-fire sense of the word) Alice Springs, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Australia. Quite a change from little old Burnie on the NW Coast of Tasmania, which can occasionally be sunny if it really makes the effort.

After the usual necessary social preamble was out of the way, the conversation happily turned to that most mysterious, complicated and variable of subjects… women! No, wait, I meant whisky! Doug, as it turned out, was quite the connoisseur (and not just of whisky. On a side note he very charitably bought us a glass of Cognac from the highest extremity of the top shelf, an interesting experience to say the least). We all shared a common passion for peated whiskies, particularly those from what is arguably the spiritual home of the smoky dram: Islay.

These days people mostly talk about Islay in terms of its single malts, but historically the island’s distilleries injected popular blends with some much needed character (and they still do!). However, there is a theory that history works in cycles, and what was once old becomes new again (which probably explains the questionable return of scrunchies and chokers). Interestingly enough, what was getting Doug excited that evening wasn’t the single malts from one of the hallowed Islay distilleries, but a blend. An all-Islay blend. “It’s fantastic! You should track it down”. Fateful words readers, because a few cheeky drams relaxing the mind and the heady world of internet shopping instantly at ones fingertips is a dangerous combination. Let’s just say that I didn’t take much convincing, and moments later I was the proud owner of a bottle of this curious beastie.

Cut to a few weeks later and m’colleague and I were staring with anticipation at a large post box that we had dubbed ‘The Bunker’. With no little ceremony (mostly involving the humming of the tune from the start of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) we cracked open the box, and were greeted by one of the coolest bits of tube artwork this side of Eilean Mhic Coinnich. Meet the Big Peat, an all-Islay blend purporting to contain ‘a shovelful’ of single malts from the distilleries of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. The aforementioned artwork is a brilliant graphic-style picture of a hirsute gentleman standing in front of what I can only assume is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on a beautiful island day (which is to say that the sky is the colour of tea, and our man has his face squinched up against the wind, which is trying its best to blow his hair away).

Chuckling with glee we popped the top and unsheathed our prize from its scabbard. Gasps of surprise met the sight before us (don’t worry, we hadn’t been ripped off and sent a bottle of JW Red instead). You see, normally we would picture the drams of Islay as being dark and brooding in hue, but the Big Peat was filled with bright spirit the colour of pale golden straw. Some people just like to mess with your mind. Of course, there was only one sensible recourse to meet the conundrum before us, and it wasn’t hiding under the table. Bust out the glasses and crack that sucker open good sir!

A generous splash of whisky later and we were ready to begin uncovering the secrets of the Big Peat. There was no denying that it lived up to its name. The smoke was there as soon as we poured it into the glasses, infused with plenty of dark chocolate, malt, rich earth and those medicinal notes that Ileach whisky is famous for. We were in no doubt about the heritage of the spirit sitting before us, whatever the colour. A closer snort revealed thick sweet notes and perhaps a bit of overripe fruit, like a squashy banana. We eyed each other off; curious, but not too bad a start.

Slurp! Hot, woody, ashy smoke poured into our mouths and then… not much else. Sure, there was a light, sweet after-taste, but it was gone in a flash, and all that was left was spicy, medicinal smoke coiling around the tongue. It was like being on the edge of a bush fire; plenty of smoke getting all up in your face, but no blazing heat to go with it. Hmmm…

We could see what Douglas Laing & Co, the makers, were trying to get at; surely crafting a vatted blend out of the great single malts of Islay should be as awesome a combo as haggis with tatties and neeps! Yet somehow they’d got a wee bit over excited with the whole BIG PEAT malarkey and forgotten that it isn’t just the smoke that makes an Islay dram exceptional, it’s the bricks and mortar and the shape of the fireplace too. The way that sweetness melts into savoury, medicinal tang challenges the tastebuds, dark flavours are shot through with light, seaside elements help wash everything across the palate, and then finally the smoke that sits over them all. It’s a complex ecosystem that requires careful balance to work well.

Sitting back we mused upon the Big Peat. By no means did we think that it was a bad dram, far from it, just that somehow it deserved to be better. Perhaps the mix wasn’t quite right, maybe a dash of Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain could have rounded out the flavours working underneath the smoke. Who knows? What we did know though, was that the Big Peat had challenged us, and that a random discussion in a bar can lead to interesting and unexpected places. So go on, strike up that conversation, you might just find something new.

★★★

 

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 120 Proof

Reviewed by: Nick

Knob Creek 110 Proof

We at Whisky Waffle pride ourselves on our light-hearted, satirical and occasionally even entertaining take on whisky. So when sitting down to review a bottle entitled ‘Knob Creek’… well, it’s almost a little too easy. So I did my best to refrain from the obvious jokes on this topic and tried to keep things above the belt. But this task proved to be a bit of a hard one…

Knob Creek comes in many varieties, but mine is clearly the biggest: 60% ABV, or as they say in America, 120 proof. They also make a 100 proof and a rye, but this is the one that really sticks out. It is named for the area of Kentucky where Abraham Lincoln (AKA guest reviewer Stretch) grew up. It is said that the creek nearly claimed his life as a boy while swimming (Lincoln that is, not Stretch), coining the phrase ‘dead as a doorknob creek’.

Knob Creek is part of the Jim Beam toolbox, and forms a quarter of their small batch range alongside Bakers, Bookers and Basil Hayden. Unlike the other three, Knob Creek doesn’t start with a B. It is also aged for a period of nine years, which as we have learned is a long time for American whiskey (though a blink of an eye for the Scottish stuff). Nine years seems to be a good decision from the Knob Creek crew, as the finished product is quite the package.

Nick and Knob 1

Alongside the usual bourbon notes of caramel, honey and vanilla the Knob Creek also contains scents of stewed apricot, cinnamon and candied pop-corn, although surprisingly there is no trace of banana. It’s a nose with some power, though the first sip is even stronger. The warmth from the alcohol is immediately noticeable: this is a whiskey that is seriously ballsy. Flavours of golden syrup, cashews, pepper and multigrain bread flood the palate and are followed by a bucket load of spice which truly throbs across the tongue. The finish is surprisingly easygoing, without being inconsequential or flaccid. It lingers gently with notes of vanilla, apple… and of course a whole lot of wood.

Nick and Knob 2

Knob Creek claim to be the ‘number one super-premium bourbon in the world’. While I am not entirely sure what the term ‘super-premium’ means, I am not unhappy with this claim. This is a bourbon to sip and to savour. It is not a whiskey I would always have in my pocket, but one that I would always be pleased to see.

★★★

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Russell's Reserve

Amongst bourbon makers there seems to be an unwritten rule that as a mark of skill and dedication to the craft, a master distiller will fashion a unique spirit that reflects his own tastes and then slap his name on the front. Not that I’m complaining mind, as by and large this involves the distiller selecting the most exciting and tasty barrels to represent his eponym.

Case in point is the Russell’s Reserve. This premium small batch bourbon is a child of the well known Wild Turkey distillery, which in one form or another has been producing bourbon in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, since 1869. The man that we have to give thanks to is Jimmy Russell, who has worked at Wild Turkey since 1954, apparently making him the longest tenured active master distiller in the world. Well and away enough time to earn the right to his own expression.

Russells and Ted 2

As its name suggests, the Russell’s Reserve 10yo small batch Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is selected from older aged barrels of Wild Turkey spirit (standard bourbons generally using younger stock), and then reduced to 45%. Interestingly this big bird likes to fly south for winter, for in addition to smooth gooey caramel and hot spicy oak, there are notes of bananas, cashews, cantaloupe and feijoas swirling around on the nose.

Once introduced to the mouth the Russell’s is hot, spicy and complex, rather like a latin dance (probably not the rumba though. Wrong drink). The feel is thin and supple, rather than oily and thick, and the finish is sharp and astringent, lingering across the tongue.

Russells and Ted 1

Jimmy should be proud to lend his name to this expression of the Kentucky craft, as in his wisdom he has created a bourbon that tastes of more than just bourbon, an emergent system of flavours that as a whole are greater than the sum of their parts. Rather than a scrawny corn-fed pot boiler, the Russell’s Reserve 10yo is a magnificent tom turkey wearing a Tom Selleck mo, a sharp Hawaiian shirt, Miami shades, and playing dirty 80’s sax as the sun rises across the skyline.

★★★

Makers Mark

Reviewed by: Nick

Makers Mark

Wearily, the Whisky Waffle boys trudged onwards through the corn-fields of Kentucky. They were on a quest to find the Holy Grail of American whiskey: a bourbon which tasted of more than just bourbon! There were those that called them foolish, others that declared them mad, others still that claimed it was just an excuse to drink whiskey (fair cop), but unperturbed they soldiered on. Finally, they stumbled upon a hooded figure, beckoning them into a distillery.

The dark wooden building with red colonnades looked nothing like its fellow American distilleries. Fire engines and statues of the Virgin Mary in bathtubs lined the path. Our heroes turned to each other thinking: could this be it?

They were handed a dram of the golden liquid, shimmering in the moonlight and wondered what complex and unique flavours they would discover. They drank. And the flavour! It tasted… rather familiar. In fact it tasted… like bourbon. The Whisky Waffle boys’ shoulders slumped. This was not the Holy Grail. Their quest was not at an end.

Nick and Makers 2

Makers Mark’s attempts at individuality – the wax dripping down the neck of the bottle, their use of wheat instead of rye alongside the corn and barley, even spelling their product ‘whisky’ despite American conventions – are all a cunning disguise to hide the fact that Makers Mark is, when it comes down to it, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

It’s by no means a bad one. The nose presents oak, cinnamon and vanilla which combine to suggest a nice dessert, perhaps a peach crumble – though possibly without the peach. Or the crumble…

The palate is even less like a peach crumble, instead elements of sweet caramel and cornflakes are present, combining to form something akin to Honey Joys. A less dessert-related tasting note is that this is actually a rather spicy drop; a much fuller bodied whisky than many of its fellow American whiskies, and being bottled at 45% surely helps this.

The finish is long and leaves a certain amount of lingering spice: like a half-hearted cinnamon challenge. There are also the more abstract and subjective notes of grass cuttings and saddle leather. You’ll have to take my word for this.

Nick and Makers 4

This bottle was intended by the makers of Makers Mark to be a whisky that appeals to people who don’t like bourbon. To that extent, it seems that they have failed. In fact, they have possibly achieved the exact opposite. This is a perfectly acceptable entry-level drop, and one that will keep bourbon drinkers perfectly content.

So if you see that hooded bartender beckoning you towards the Makers Mark on the top shelf, be warned. Look past the metaphorical wig and the fake moustache. Despite this wily disguise, the Makers Mark is not the Holy Grail – it is simply another bourbon.

★★