Angels Envy “Port Cask Finished” (43.3%, Batch #113)

The Story of Angel’s Envy is, in part, also the story of Lincoln Henderson, whose signature is conveniently placed upon the bottle. Mr. Henderson used to be Master Distiller at Brown-Forman and was in part responsible for creating Woodford Reserve (personally not one of my favorites), and Gentleman Jack, as well as Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. Since I don’t really like Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, I never was in a hurry to try the rest. I hope this Angel’s Envy will be more to my liking.

Lincoln HendersonIn 2004 Mr. Henderson retired from Brown-Forman and in 2006, joined his son Wes(ley) and grandson Kyle in their Louisville Distilling Corporation, experimenting with finishing Bourbons in casks that previously held other distillates. The Bourbon itself is said to be made by MPG in Indiana, which is very odd for a Kentucky Bourbon, as stated on the label. The Bourbon is around 4 to 6 years old, obviously first aged in American oak, as all Bourbons are, and finally finished for 3 to 6 months in 225 litre Ruby Port barrels made from french oak. It’s a small batch Whiskey each time made from 8 to 10 barrels only.

The first Angel’s Envy saw the light of day in 2012. Sadly, Mr. Henderson’s lights went out in September 2013, aged 75, becoming a spirit himself. Angel’s Envy itself, the legacy of Mr. Henderson,  was finally sold off to Bacardi in 2015.  It is said that Mr. Henderson, throughout his career, tasted some 430.000 barrels of Bourbon. Who said Bourbon is bad for you?

Angels Envy PortColor: Light copper gold.

Nose: Chewy sweet Bourbon smell with indeed an added winey note. The finish seems to be done with taste, since in no way does it dominate the profile. If tasted blind you’d still call this a “normal” Bourbon. The Bourbon part reminds me a bit of Four Roses actually, (the low rye mashbill). Nice, soft and creamy. Some worn saddle leather combined with the smell of a cold cob of corn, Give it some more time to breathe and the finish becomes more apparent as well as a different kind of oak. Honey and an appetizing fresh leafy note. I’m amazed at the wonderful balance achieved. Lovely stuff to nose.

Taste: Aiii, a bit to sweet and thin on entry. A short flash of fresh oak, with milk chocolate and honey, quickly followed by red fruit aroma. The oak returns for a moment delivering a nice balancing bitterness, Nice jammy note as well. Creamy vanilla. Again the Port finish has been done with taste and works extremely well. It is a Bourbon, but in part it has a “new” edge to it. The Finish is of medium length at best, but if you have a moment to spare you can wait for the aftertaste which leaves a nice creamy mixture of honey, and vanilla with again some hidden elements of the Port. As was the entry, the finish is a bit too sweet as well. Nevertheless, a job well done, even when reduced too much.

Probably made for a hip market, and not to scare to many people off, it has been reduced to 43.3% ABV, At this strength the Bourbon is also dangerously drinkable, which in my case would mean the bottle would be finished sooner than later. As I am based in Europe, prices here are much steeper than across the big pond. I understand the US pricing of this, but over here for such a drinkable Bourbon I find it too expensive. Pricing aside, this may look as a designer Bourbon, and it probably is, but it still carries a lot of quality and good taste from the makers. There is also a (Plantation) Rum finish, Rye with a Rum finish, as well as a cask strength edition, also finished in Port barrels. Depending on availability, these seem to be extremely expensive.

Points: 83

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Wild Turkey “Rare Breed” (54.1%, OB, WT-03RB)

The story of Wild Turkey starts with two Irish brothers called James and John Ripey. In 1855, they came to America from Tyrone, Ireland to start a store, selling general goods. They settled on the banks of the Kentucky river near Lawrenceburg, underneath some limestone cliffs. They named their plot “Tyrone”. In 1869 they opened their first distillery. The first distillery quickly became too small, and a new facility was built in 1873, which expanded quickly. The whiskey they made had quite a reputation and was chosen to represent Kentucky at the World Fair.

During prohibition, the distillery still made some Whiskey, for medicinal purposes, and was sold by Austin, Nichols a wholesale grocer specializing in tea, coffee and Spirits, but concentrated solely on Wines and Spirits by 1939. By the way, even in 1939, there was no Wild Turkey in sight. Not the brand anyway, but there seemed to be a bird, yes, a wild turkey.

In 1940 Thomas McCarthy from Austin, Nichols took some samples of 101 proof Whiskey with him on an annual shooting trip to South Carolina, shooting wild turkeys. Since then the party asked for that “Wild Turkey Whiskey”. In 1952 the Ripey family sold the distillery to the Gould brothers, which in turn, sold it off to Pernod Ricard in 1980. By 2009 The Campari Group took ownership of the distillery.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (54.1%, OB, WT-03RB)Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Wonderful fresh and slightly floral. Just the right amount of wood. Development starts quickly when it gets some air. Becomes very nutty and a bit funky as well. Definite aroma’s of clear glue. Velpon. Dumbed down fresh leather with cookie dough. With even some more air, the nutty part transforms into oak, with still some funky organics going on. It’s not a particular sulphury smell, but it does smell like a compound with sulphur. In the end it settles down, giving off a nice and silky smooth smell. Soft with some obvious vanilla and hints of honey.

Taste: Sweet on entry, but also with quite a white pepper attack. Lots of wood is noticeable now. With the wood the sweetness is almost gone, drying out the whole. Lots of rye florality with powdery and silky smooth vanilla with some tannins. Thin corn sweetness, definitely made with a high rye mashbill. The more this breathes, the more pronounced the rye gets. In fact, one can say the rye takes over. Especially the finish is dominated by the rye florality. The finish is multi layered because even when dominated by the rye, (for a while the rye even gets a bit soapy), the longer you wait the more the wood gets to play a role, although never the lead.

If you like rye, then you gotta love this. The WT-03RB batch ended somewhere in 2014, and is replaced by a new batchless Rare Bread. I’m told the new batch is younger and lighter, even in color. So the advice would be, get one of the older batches if you get the chance.

Points: 82

Jim Beam “Black” 8yo (43%, OB, Circa 2004)

Jim Beam white was my first Bourbon ever, in fact is was my first Whiskey ever! Especially for the money I always considered the bulk produced White quite decent. Later in my “career” I bought this Black label, which looks more serious and brooding. Just like a bride stands out next to the Terminator. This used to be 8yo, and it said so on the label, but todays version became a NAS. I don’t think it got much younger, but this way, I guess, the company has the possibility to mix in some 6yo and 7yo Whiskies.

Jim Beam BlackColor: Light copper orange.

Nose: Honey, and lots of it. Nice creamy wood. Vanilla. Very friendly and appetizing. Whiffs of burning newspaper, and sometimes a tiny, tiny whiff of fireworks. Toasted cask, but again, not much. The honey never takes a step back, its omnipresent. The more time you are able to give this the more the wood comes to the front. At twice the age of the “White” that should hardly come as a surprise. Well balanced stuff. Still, after the wood, caramel and toffee show themselves more as well as some white pepper and some, wait for it… rural organics. This is pretty good, considering the price and the industrial amounts that are made of this.

Taste: Quite light. Floral. Honey again. After a short delay that warm honey runs down my throat, quickly turning into slightly burnt sugar and oak. Very friendly and not the big hitter the label seems to promise. Definitely family of the White label, with more of everything, just maintaining the friendliness of it all. Extremely easily drinkable. Creamy vanilla and honey again. Quite sweet and lovely, with nice woody characteristics. Oak stays behind after you swallow. Not very complex, but very well-balanced. Especially when given some air and time. Mellow stuff.

The profile of Jim Beam Black fits that of Evan Williams Single Barrel, but half the price. I have to say I don’t know how a more recent “Black” will perform, but this 2004 bottling performs just nicely. Compared to Binny’s Buffalo Trace, the “Black” has way more honey, and seems soapier, which is something I haven’t picked up on, trying it by itself. The Buffalo Trace is more strict and in a way more fruity and even better balanced. I guess now it becomes a comparison of yeast strains. Jim being more floral and the Buffalo being more fruity.

Points: 80

Four Roses “Single Barrel” (43%, OB, H294D, 2003, 70 cl)

After the Four Roses in disguise, called Bulleit, let’s compare it to a true Four Roses (with a similar profile). In 2012 I reviewed the current 50% ABV version of the Four Roses Single Barrel and I refered to this discontinued 43% ABV. version, calling it: “Too weak, very light and too floral and girlie for my taste”. At the time of writing I thought I finished the bottle, but as luck would have it, I found a box of archive sample bottles filled with different Bourbons I used to have. I guess it pays to save something for later! So many years later, let’s find out if this 43% ABV version is as hideous as I seem to remember it! By the way, this one is said to be 8yo and was bottled on 12 April 2003.

Four Roses Single BarrelColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Yup it’s the floral rye again. Lilac and Lily of the valley. Easily recognizable and even more pronounced than the new 50% ABV version, the only bottle I had, I forgot to fill up an archive sample of, so no direct comparison is possible, only from memory and notes. Fruity and floral, it’s almost a perfume. Powdered vanilla and coffee creamer. Almonds and fresh cookie dough. With air dusty wood comes into the fold. Elegant and perfumy. Not a lot of wood actually. Well integrated. A lot of honey is starting to emerge too as well as some turkish Delight and licorice, and anise. Don’t like how the honey and floral aroma’s turn out together. Add to that a slightly acidic fruit note, and you’ve lost me a bit. No notes of toasted cask. It comes across as a designed Bourbon. A Four Roses for people who wear a bow-tie, not for rugged lumberjacks. It is actually a Bourbon for the metro man. Although it’s not quite clear what I am, this is my least favorite Four Roses expression to date, but wait, I still have to taste it again after all those years. The nose is something I don’t always like, although I do recognize the quality.

Taste: Paper and wood, pencils (cedar). Quite a lot of waxy notes. Lightly sweet, but the sweetness washes away with the added water to be replaced with some sour, and slightly bitter oak. Honey and creamy sweetness, but here these two do a better job at integrating with each other. A bit weak on entry and not so long a finish, built around the paper and weak woody note, especially when compared to its stronger brother. Good aftertaste though, nice aroma’s return and a great creaminess is added to the aftertaste. Nice delayed effect. The aftertaste even seems stronger than the finish itself, nicer too. The move to 50% ABV was a good move. Alright, this isn’t my least favorite Four Roses anymore. Now it is the “Yellow Label”…

Even though I prefer the 50% ABV “Single Barrel”over this one. Both are well made and do resemble each other. This 43% ABV has some exaggerated floral Rye and doesn’t combine all that good with the honey and fruity notes. The 50% ABV is the same, but for me is better balanced. Having said that, this may be a tad more special, more unique, so it is definitely worth seeking out.

Points: 83

Bulleit 6yo “Frontier Whiskey” (40%, OB, Circa 2010)

Bulleit is a brand owned by Diageo. Diageo is the biggest drinks company in the world and they are known for loving to make a buck. Nothing wrong with that. Making booze is not a charity you know. In 1983 sensible economics made Diageo close a lot of distilleries in Scotland, and Diageo are also the ones who closed the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery, their only distillery in the US, correct me if I’m wrong. Why then put out a Bourbon Brand? Economics, getting a foot in the door? The regret closing Stitzel-Weller? Who cares what the reasons are. They decided to put out a brand of Bourbon and had it made by Four Roses. The mashbill contains around 28% Rye, which is right in the middle of Four Roses’ own B (35% Rye) and E (20% Rye) mashbills. And at Four Roses they know what they are doing. By the way, The old Stitzel-Weller distillery is now a centre for promoting Bulleit.

Bulleit BourbonColor: Light orange gold.

Nose: For me, Rye Whiskies always smell a bit floral, even though they (should) have a taste with a bite. I don’t know how to describe it differently. This isn’t a Rye Whiskey, but it does smell like it, sort of. High Rye mashbill it is. Dusty, floral and vegetable. Buttery with dry leather. Delayed mint. Funky stuff like crushed beetle and cold dishwater. Old honey and do I detect a wee whiff of urine in there? Well, don’t be fooled, this smells rather nice, but we already know, Four Roses know what they are doing, but i might have said that already. Powdery and dry with some charcoal. Well balanced, especially considering its age.

Taste: Smoother than the nose led me to believe. Slight dryness, but also quite sweet. Sugar water. Funky rural toffee and a bit of leather. Some toasted oak, but the focus lies more on the toast then the oak. Nevertheless, the oak is there, but it’s hardly woody at all. Creamy, but a bit too thin. I believe 40% ABV. is a bit too low. Spicy and chewy Rye. Light, but good. Medium to short finish, with a slight bitter edge towards the aftertaste. I do believe the distillate to be promising, but it is a bit killed by the low ABV.

I didn’t like it when I first opened it, but I warmed up to it now. I remember I didn’t like the pronounced florality of it, and it may have been slightly soapy when it was freshly opened. In the end Four Roses make a pretty good Whisky, even if they do it for Diageo. I would ditch the 40% ABV version and get the 45% ABV version if you have the chance, but it isn’t available in all markets.

Points: 81

W.L. Weller 7yo Special Reserve (45%, OB, Circa 2007)

Just like the Old Fitzgerald, W.L. Weller is a Wheated Bourbon that used to be made at Stitzel-Weller Distillery.  When that closed down, the Old Fitzgerald brand was sold to Heaven Hill and W.L. Weller was sold to Sazerac, owners of Buffalo Trace. The W.L. Weller 7yo “Special Reserve” is no more. After this one, a similar looking bottle was released, but without the 7yo age statement. Later the look was altered altogether. It’s still called “Special Reserve” and it still lacks an age statement. Other Wellers that are still around are the W.L. Weller “Antique” bottled at 53.5% ABV. and a 12yo, which is bottled at 45% ABV, just like our 7yo. Finally there is a William Larue Weller that is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), which is bottled annually at barrel strength, something in between 65 and 70% ABV.

W.L. Weller 7yo Special Reserve (45%, OB, Buffalo Trace)Color: Medium orange brown.

Nose: Lots of cream and toffee, very appetizing. Honey, vanilla and wood, nutty and dusty. Again toffee and warm runny caramel. Nice spicy wood in the distance even reminiscent of a dry (salty) meaty aroma, beef jerky or polish kabanosy. Sappy charred oak. Savvy and supple. Sawdust, perfumed caramel and chocolate bonbons. A hint of sweet corn and charred cask, and dare I say it, minute amounts of smoke and ashes, probably from the toasted cask. This smells like it owns it. Very well made, interesting and nice. Love how this smells.

Taste: Sweetish, nutty, fresh and well-balanced. Quite some wood influence as well as paper. Sawdust I would say. Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts and lots of vanilla ice-cream with caramel sauce on top. Small hint of dry bitter wood trailed by some, but not much, vanilla sugar sweetness. This works well and gives the Bourbon some backbone. Again, this is a very appetizing Wheated Bourbon. This is a perfect example where all the aroma’s come together nicely, but having said that, this doesn’t seem to be your most complex Wheated Bourbon. It’s very tasty in an almost simple kind of way, but I don’t consider this a daily drinker. It pack a wee bit too much for that and it deserves to be savoured.

Who said that Wheated Bourbons are light and dull? After this one I’m curious if the new “Special Reserve” comes near this one, because this 7yo is quite the winner for me. I like it a lot. I compared it to the Old Fitzgerald 12yo I reviewed earlier, but that one almost seems soapy compared to this one.

Points: 86

Old Fitzgerald 12yo “Very Special” (45%, OB)

I finished the Four Roses single barrel as well as the Old Grand Dad 114, so it’s time to open some fresh bottles. One was very easy to pick, and  that was the Old Fitzgerald 12yo “Very Special”, the next, well you’ll see later I guess. Old Fitzgerald 12yo is a Wheated Bourbon made by Heaven Hill in Louisville Kentucky. If you happen to stumble upon a very old bottling of this, or even a “Very Very Old Fitzgerald”, you’ll have a distillate of the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery, worth quite some money today. The Old Fitzgerald brand was created around 1889 by Charles Herbst maybe even as early as the 1870’s. Pappy van Winkle bought the brand during prohibition and changed the mashbill of the Original Old Fitzgerald by adding “a whisper of wheat”.

As you might know, the Bourbon mashbill must have at least 51% of corn, and usually Rye is used as a secondary grain with some malted barley. For Wheated Bourbon, the Rye is substituted by Wheat. Apart from these two, also Rye Whiskey (at least 51% Rye) and Wheat Whiskey (at least 51% Wheat) exist, and of course Whiskies with both Rye and Wheat.

Old Fitzgerald 12yo VSColor: Orange brown.

Nose: Dry and dusty, cold soft ashes. Hints of glue. Dry leather, honey and soft almonds. Tiny hint of apple skin, dried out orange skin and some unripe banana. The wood itself is quite floral, like old lavender soap mixed with cocoa powder. Not a lot of spicy wood or toasted cask, even after 12 years. Quite a surprise considering the color of this Bourbon. The age dulls out the fruity notes it probably had when it was younger. Still the nose is built around a dry and dusty wood and leather notes.

Taste: Wood most definitely is the first aroma you taste. Dark cocoa powder, with soft sweetish cinnamon comes next with an elegant sweetness (corn), meaning not too much. The sweetness was toned down by the time this Bourbon spent in cask. The Whiskey goes down like a syrup, very slowly, taking its time, giving a little heat and good length in the finish. Some unbalanced acidity from the wood shows itself in the aftertaste, especially on the tongue, but it’s easy to deal with, even though it has some staying power. Even later in the aftertaste the more powdered creamy notes emerge, buttered popcorn and toffee.

It’s rumoured that Heaven Hill wants to stop making this, but that really would be a shame. It’s good stuff and definitely one you want to try if your favourite wheated Pappy Van Winkle is getting worse a bit, or becoming to expensive to enjoy properly. Also a nice one to try against some of the Weller’s that are around, which are also Wheated Bourbons.

Points: 85