After forays into rye and malt whiskey, it´s time to return to Kentucky and a set of interesting bourbons.
Willett Pot Still Reserve, 94 proof (47%).
Coming from the Willett Distilling Company in Bardstown, Kentucky, we have yet another slightly convoluted backstory to this whiskey. The company was started in 1935 by Lambert Willett and several of his sons. After the death of Lambert his son Thompson took over responsibility of the company and served as president until 1984. Experience and knowledge of whiskey distillation went back much longer in the family, and their bourbons were made from family recipes from the late 19th century. In 1984 the facility was bought by Even G. Kulsveen, son-in-law of Thompson Willett, who together with his family runs the company today. Kulsveen renamed the company Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, initially bottling whiskey from existing reserves of barrels, since their own distilling facilities had been shut down in the beginning of the 1980´s. The company has since then been sourcing bourbon from other distillers, making a fairly large line of bottlings sometimes under fictitious company names. As of January 2012, the company again has distilling capabilities and is returning to calling themselves the Willett Distilling Company.
This particular whiskey is made from a distillate of unknown origin (even if the Heaven Hill distillery has been named as a suspect), and I´ve managed to find no information about the mash bill. Each bottle comes from a single barrel of new white oak, after having matured for 8 – 10 years. My particular one was number 67 of 110 from barrel number 7 077.
The whiskey shows a pleasantly glowing amber colour. On the nose you get a beginning of sweetness and vanilla, followed by some spice, orange peel and fleeting notes of eucalyptus. Neat in a tasting glass the mouthfeel is medium bodied with a light start of corn turning more complex in the middle, where wood, citrus and spice gives way to a fairly long finish dominated by oak. In a tumbler with ice you get notes of banana and chocolate both on nose and palate.
The bottle deserves special mention. A 1,75 liter giant formed as a pot still. Very unique and stylish and something I´m going to keep as a decanter. To sum it up, a very nice and complex whiskey that would be fun to try again sometime.
Jim Beam Black, 86 proof (43%).
Here we have a producer with a long and winding history beginning in the late 18th century, after members of the Böhm family emigrated from Germany to Kentucky. Changing their name to Beam, seven generations has been involved in the distillation of Kentucky bourbon as well as being Master Distillers at the famous Heaven Hill Distillery. Later acquired by Japanese company Suntory, this is one of the giants in the whiskey business, with many different products in their inventory.
This variety of Jim Beam bourbon boasts of being triple aged, which means that it´s matured in barrels for 6 years, three times the requisite two year aging needed for the “straight bourbon” epithet. The version I´m writing about is for the international market, the US Jim Beam Black is actually aged for 8 years.
Deep amber colour. The nose shows corn, caramel, vanilla and some wood. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a start of caramel and vanilla, changing into toasted oak and spice in the middle which carries on into a short finish of slightly adstringent wood. In a tumbler with ice the wood on the nose becomes stronger, and the taste shifts into much sweeter vanilla and caramel notes, finishing on sweetness instead of oak. Not that much to say about the bottle, it´s instantly recognizable as Jim Beam and as such serves its purpose well.
In my opinion superior to their regular 4 year old bourbon. Very nice and smooth, balancing the usual bourbon sweetness with it’s somewhat dry, woody character. Nothing stellar, but competent and honest.
Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 100 proof (50%).
Aiming at restoring bourbon to its pre-prohibition splendor, this drink goes a long way towards achieving its goal. The mash bill contains the 51% corn regulated by law, along with an undisclosed percentage of rye and malted barley. Pure, limestone-filtered water together with a proprietary yeast strain is used during fermentation, and “set back” (mash from previous distillations) is added twice at different stages of production. It´s then double distilled and aged for 9 years in heavily charred barrels of new American oak, at an initial proof of 125. For the finished bottle a selection of small batches stored at different locations in the warehouse is blended to assure an even quality.
The colour is a radiant, dark gold amber. The nose is big and bold, with loads of maple syrup, burnt sugar, caramel and strong oak notes. Neat in a tasting glass (I´m discounting three drops of water) you get less of an alcohol kick than could be expected at this proof. There´s a big, chewy mouthfeel to this whiskey, beginning with sweet maple syrup and caramel turning into spice, toasted oak and wood resin at the middle, with a long and lingering finish of dry oak. In a tumbler with ice it manages to retain the big nose with a slant towards oak instead of sweetness. On the other hand, the palate turns sweeter and slightly less complex.
The bottle is square and chunky in a very distinct way, and along with the label recreates pre-prohibition bourbon bottles. The plastic/cork stopper and wax seal also aims at a higher degree of sophistication. Personally, I must confess to quite liking it.
A really well made and distinctive bourbon with lots of character and punch. I´ve enjoyed this immensely and would very much like to try the single barrel variety and their other products.
John Medley´s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 80 proof (40%).
One of the cheapest bourbons available in Sweden, with not that much information to find out about the distillers. Made from a mash bill of 51% corn and 49% barley you can´t really accuse the makers of John Medley´s of being that original. What we get is a pretty traditional Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but with a much longer barrel aging than necessary.
A medium amber colour. The nose has oak, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass it gives a smooth and mild impression of caramel, vanilla and some oak, with a short and quite unremarkable finish. In a tumbler with ice much of its to begin with pretty mild character is diluted and you end up with something rather anonymous. The bottle just as the whiskey is a no-frills square and chubby variety without any unique design features.
A whiskey well worth its admittedly low price, but too lacking of character to merit another tasting.
Maker´s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 90 proof (45%).
Many years of tradition lies behind this whiskey, which has a definitive edge its own. Clear, limestone water combined with a mash bill of 70% corn, 16 % wheat and 14% barley. Replacing rye with red winter wheat making this what is called a wheated bourbon. First introduced in 1958 this whiskey has a long history, and is one of the staples of American whiskey production.
Golden amber colour. A nose dominated by oak, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass you get a well balanced combination of caramel, vanilla, spice and oak. In a tumbler with ice much of the complexity is lost, and a dominating sweetness takes over.
The bottle is both distinctive and unique, with its square format and wax seal. One of the true originals and a whiskey I would like to always have in my liquor cabinet.