Wild Turkey “Rare Breed – Barrel Proof” (56.4%, OB, 2016, 112816A12029M)

I came across this no-batch Rare Breed in a hypermarket whilst on holiday in Poland. It sat there (two of them to be precise) on a sad little shelf made of metal wire, between some marked down totally anonymous cheap wines lit by cold light. So I just had to take these two golden orphans with me. These were also marked down considerably, so essentially a no brainer. I reviewed a Rare Breed before, one with batch number WT-03RB, and that was certainly not bad, since it scored 82 points, and I may have been a bit on the conservative side. I ended that review with the remark that Wild Turkey is axing the batch numbering and making it younger an lighter in the process. I read somewhere that Rare Breed was a blend of 12yo, 10yo and 8yo Whiskies, but more recent batches are said to be 12yo, 8yo and 6yo Whiskies, by word of WT themselves. Well, and finally here it is, one of those no-batch younger and lighter Rare Breeds.

WT-03RB was pretty good, and was almost there, (but not quite), so I’m hoping the next step will be forward in stead of backward. I might be getting ahead of myself assuming it probably got worse is also not very professional, now isn’t it? So I opened this bottle a while back, in a time when I actually was very much busy with Whisky from Scotland, so Bourbons were shifted towards the back burner, big time. After finishing a recent review, I parked myself on the couch, opened the doors of my stash, and my eye fell towards the bottom shelf, bar one, where the Bourbons are. Its just one of the bottom shelves, not “the bottom shelf” quality wise. I started with Evan Williams, decent, easy and reduced too much, so the next step was obviously to go ahead and move up with this no-batch, younger and lighter Rare Breed. Well this certainly hits the spot. I pressed repeat two times more before finishing off with Booker’s. And guess what, sometimes I like this Rare Breed better than Booker’s and almost all of the time I prefer it to the Evan Williams, which is most definitely not a dud in it’s own right. Where the previous Rare Breed had some soap, this one has none. This batch of Booker’s also has this very floral, soapy, floral perfume notes to it. It seems to me this “batchless” might be better than the WT-03RB. Lets find out for sure if its lighter and d-lighter or not.

Color: Light orange gold. (Much lighter than the WT-03RB batch)

Nose: Big on aroma, creamy and chewy. Cookie dough. Fresh spicy wood and gravy. Yes, this has a meaty note. Vanilla and sappy oak. It’s like you can discern several different ingredients in this. Toasted oak, grains and cereals and even the yeast. Next comes a more fruity note. Little forest strawberries and hints of red lemonade. This passes quickly and moves towards a more drying note. Warm desert wind, with lots of wood and showing the youngest Whiskey blended in. The more you smell it, the sharper and drier the wood note gets. Finally it smells like a wood shop altogether. Sawdust and all, turning into paper and cardboard over time. Also the yeasty bit stays around as well. The big creamy aroma, from the start, subsides quite a bit. Give it even more time, and after some sips, (the aroma I smell is also released from my mouth), the wood note itself starts to evolve into a more fragrant, perfumy note. A hint of honey even. Nice.

Taste: Hot, quite dry and woody. Not so creamy as expected, but the odd toffee and liquid caramel notes are there. Yes some vanilla and sweet corn notes as well. (Wild Turkey use 75% Corn in their mashbill, the rest is 13% rye and 12% malted barley). Sometimes a bit thin and definitely wood driven, sometimes I even pick up a licorice note in the woody bit. Still a good dose of corn and a little bit of rye. Only slightly bitter. Dry leaves. Wood seasoned by high temperatures. Nice thin layer of sweetness laughed away by the wood, but extra points to the sweetness for trying. If I remember correctly, somewhat simpler than the WT-03RB batch I tried earlier, much earlier. Hey almost 4 years ago, so give me a break! The sweetness keeps battling with the wood, and this makes it fun to drink. It just doesn’t know how to give up. Nope, even with 12yo Whiskey blended in, this still lacks a bit of complexity it should have had, but still, this is much better than many other Bourbon’s around. This is why this bottle is almost empty already. The finish is medium at best, hot and fun, but the aroma’s don’t have a lot of staying power.

This is a whisky made with a high corn mashbill, however it is also a wood driven Whiskey. It has quite a stiff backbone and enough alcohol to carry it well. Sometimes a bit simple, but nevertheless quite enjoyable.

Points: 84

P.S. rummaging around my stash I found a sample of the WT-03RB batch I reviewed 4 years ago! This older batch is definitely much darker in color, much softer in taste, but quite similar in complexity. The 2016 no-batch, easily overpowers it. Sharper and bolder, much more fresh sappy oak and more of the yeast notes as well. Seems much higher in alcohol too. WT-03RB even seems a bit less balanced with quite a lot of toasted and burned notes to it. Even though WT-03RB is older and darker, it isn’t better. I really thought I might be upping the original score of 82, but alas, after careful tasting, H2H, 82 is still the right score for that batch. Go figure.

Evan Williams 9yo 2000/2010 (43.3%, OB, Single Barrel #379)

Sometimes Master Quill tends to repeat himself, well, not really this time. Yes, In the fall of 2015, The Master did do a review of an Evan Williams Single Barrel bottling, and now here is yet another, but not a repetition, because luckily this “new” one is from a different vintage. The former review was this spicy 2003 vintage and this time we’ll have a go at a 2000 vintage. Is older better? I understand that the mash-bill for Evan Williams Single Barrel looks something like this: 78% corn, 12% barley and 10% rye. Lots of corn and not a lot of rye in this mash-bill. The “vintage” range already saw the light of day in 1986, so with this 2000 expression, Heaven Hill already had some 15 years of experience bottling this. So without further ado: take it away Evan, ehhh Master, ehhh Quill. Nevermind. Go, just take it away…

Color: Light orange brown.

Nose: Wood, lots of fresh cut oak. Perfumy. Sweetish and even more floral. Wood driven, but with lots going for it. Balanced and likeable. Greener notes come next, some hay and grass, oak and latex wall paint. More cuttings from the garden and after a while some more fruity notes appear. Slightly acidic and fresh, only adding to the balance. Hints of toffee and caramel. Excellent nose if you ask me. One moment fresh and lively and the next, deeper and more brooding. Definitely some Rye in here, but less so than expected, even though I didn’t expect a lot. After some more breathing, honey notes come forward. Smelling this after some sipping only enhance the honey notes that were almost absent from the start. Interesting.

Taste: On first entry, a bit thin to be honest. I prefer Bourbons at high strength, because especially Bourbons release their intricate aroma’s better at a higher proof. That said, this Single barrel smells very good and is definitely interesting (there is that word again), even when you like your Scotch Whiskies. Another sip. Well, this does the trick, beyond the low proof, some nice aroma’s emerge. Wood, latex paint again. Honey, hints of toasted oak and a tiny hint of leather. Definitely not as sweet as I would imagine, even though this Bourbon saw lots of corn. A slightly bitter note comes next, oak, tree sap, wax. The finish has less length than the nose and is also less complex. medium at best (and it has paper notes). Today the bitterness has some staying power which was less so on other days, so it depends on the taster (as always), time of day and the moment trying it. Aftertaste somewhat indistinct, so it definitely suffers from reduction to 43.3% ABV. Nope, in the taste department, this turns out to be much simpler than the nose promised.

For a nice evening with some Bourbons this is the starter. Well priced, and interesting, but I prefer other, (higher strength) Bourbons more. Compared to the earlier review, this 2000 example is softer (weaker is maybe a better word this time around) and less spicy, and also is lacking the licorice and cherry notes of the 2003. The 2003 is definitely a step up from the 2000. So yes, the date makes a difference. So choose your single cask vintage Evan Williams wisely!

Points: 81

Booker’s 6yo (62.45%, OB, Batch C01-A-18, 750 ml)

In 1987, Booker Noe, grandson of James “Jim” Beauregard Beam (you might have heard of Jim Beam), introduced Booker’s. Booker’s is uncut (so no added water) and thus bottled straight from the barrel. Booker’s friends and to no lesser extent, Booker himself, really liked the cask strength Whiskey, so Booker introduced it to the grand public in 1992, making it the first of Jim Beam’s “small batch series”. Already in 1984 Elmer T. Lee (you might have heard of him as well), from the Buffalo Trace distillery, introduced the first widely available cask strength Bourbon by releasing Blanton’s, so the people at Jim Beam already knew there was a market for these high strength Bourbons.

Other additions to the original Jim Beam small batch collection were: Baker’s, which is 7yo and bottled at 53.5% ABV and Knob Creek, 9yo and reduced to 50% ABV. Essentially all Bourbons made by Jim Beam come from the same recipe, and variations are only made by different ages, different ageing (hotter or cooler parts of the warehouse) and dilution with water. There is one exception though. Basil Hayden’s is a Bourbon made with the original recipe used for Old Grand-Dad which is the final addition to the original small batch series.

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: A short whiff of acetone. Very fragrant and spicy wood. Sawdust and altogether quite floral. Honey, paper and cardboard. Smells of an old barber shop (shaving cream, perfume, old furniture). Fresh almonds and more dusty wood. Cigar box and a minute amount of pencil shavings. Tiny, tiny hint of lavas. Cookie dough and leather. Not very creamy nor sweet, but there is some vanilla to it, however less than expected. Sometimes hot, lots of alcohol and it has a lot of aroma, but still you can’t call this really “big”. Sometimes its even soapy and highly drinkable. A sort of feminine counterpart to Old Grand-Dad. Definitely Jim Beam (Jug) yeast this time, with a minor role for rye. Wood driven, but all kept well in check, very balanced wood. More dust later on, and meaty notes after that. This keeps on giving. Excellent.

Taste: Starts hot, with lots of wood and woody bitterness. Next some wonderful tobacco and even more wood. Waxy, soapy and woody. More honey as well. I gather this came from the hot part of the warehouse. Nutty, fresh almonds and cotton. Slightly perfumy in the taste as well. Funky sensation. Grassy, and sometimes a bit green. Spicy old wood, like in an old attic of a wooden house, thus more perfumy notes. Indistinct hard fruit candy. Yellow fruits, not the reds. Big entry and a big body. Warming, not hot. Remarkably short finish with matching aftertaste (short), nothing mentioned above really stays behind apart from the soapy elements, which takes away a bit from this Bourbon. I can imagine other batches of this bottling have the potential to perform better than this particular expression. This is in a way a bit simple, although the nose showed a lot of complexity. At times it’s a bit to floral, so pick your moment wisely with this batch. Still, this is a very good Bourbon which I can easily recommend.

If I had to pick only a few bottles made by Jim Beam it would be this one and Old Grand Dad 114, these two sum it up for me. This the best they can do, and these two, if you can handle the high ABV. makes all the others a tiny bit obsolete. With these two yeast strains you get all Jim Beam has to offer.

Points: 83

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

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.

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