Today, I am going to introduce a new section to the website called Quickies. Sometimes, when I’m out and about, I may try something that I don’t really get an opportunity to review, or that may warrant a more in-depth review sometime down the road.
This past weekend I took the family (daughter, wife, mother) to McCall, Idaho for Thanksgiving. We stayed in a wonderful AirB&B house just a few blocks from the lake and had a very peaceful, relaxing 4-day weekend.
On Saturday night, we went out to dinner, and then we went to the Shore Lodge for a drink. I got pretty excited to discover that the lounge had Larceny Barrel Proof on the list for $14/pour, so I ordered one. Turned out the bottle was empty, so the bartender suggested I try Colonel E.H. Taylor KSBW Barrel Proof, instead.
So, I did.
Apparently it’s expensive, hard to find, and was tucked in the “Under There” cabinet. And, since I have one of those and know what’s hiding in it, I knew the stuff would be good.
Also, my friend Mike from the Whiskey Wonder Podcast has been nagging at me to try The Famous Grouse Scotch, so we tried that, too.
Thus, to start out the Quick Notes page, I’ve got a few words to say about each of these fun whiskies, one of them cheap and easy to find just about anywhere, and one of them a money-vacuum that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere.
Michter's Small Batch KSBW; Michter's Distillery; Louisville, Kentucky; $45
Every few months a friend of mine and I get together for a little whiskey tasting. This friend, Mike from The Whiskey Wonder Podcast, is a genuine lover of all things whiskey, and he knows how to pick a good bottle. Then again, he also shoved some swill down my throat that still has me having nightmares. So, you win some, you lose some.
Well, Mike was over the other night and pulled out a happy, little bottle of Michter’s Small Batch KSBW. Upon first taste, I knew it was a nice, easy-drinker, but I really try to give any whiskey a second go before I make a call on it. There are few whiskies I’ve reviewed that I’ve made a decision on with just one drink. The reason is simple, or should be. Other things I might be eating or drinking may have an influence on my taste buds, so I like to get a second opinion.
Mike came over on a Friday night, and as I write this it is Monday evening. Three days should be enough for that second opinion, and indeed it is.
Michter’s claims their KSBW Small Batch is faithful to a recipe from 1753, which was a minute or two before I was born and just before America came into existence. Great! So, it’s been around for a while.
Tastes like it, too. The distillery knows how to convert corn into delicious, amber daddy juice loaded with a nice, alcohol bite and a delightfully smooth finish. There’s a fun, smokey thing going on right in mid-swallow, and some marshmallow-vanilla happening that makes me smile.
And then I coughed, because 90-proof will do that to me at 9:15 in the evening.
It's good stuff, and while it won’t be getting a spot on my Bottom Shelf anytime soon, Michter’s Small Batch is worthy enough to find a home in my bar. And, while I only have enough room on the shelves for about 50 bottles and have to be somewhat selective, this one is good enough to find a semi-permanent home — at least until it’s gone. With so many options out there to choose from, the only “safe” bottles live on The Bottom Shelf. Everything else is expendable. Also, with enough selection to keep me busy for a few days, it will likely be around for a while.
It’s good stuff, and I can recommend it to anyone looking for a reasonably priced treat come Friday night. Or Monday.
Michter's Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Tennessee Whiskey; Jack Daniel Distillery; Lynchburg, Tennessee; $65
Mr. Jack Daniel makes his everyday, reasonably inexpensive hooch for the masses. Of all the names in the industry, few invoke greater fandom than good, ol’ No 7. In fact, a quick Google demonstrated that Jack Daniel’s whiskey is the number one-selling whiskey in the United States, and the 6th best in the world. (For those of you who are curious, McDowells — out of India, no less — is number one. I would probably be accused of being naughty if I made a phone support joke right now, so I won’t.
Knowing this piece of information, is it any wonder that you hear the following phrase no matter which dive-bar you drop into?
“Gimme jagandgode …”
And the bartender knows exactly what to do! He calls Mrs. Pedandercough and asks her to come and collect Hank from off the bar.
I talked very briefly about my feelings on Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 in my Roaring 20’s post last week. This week, we’re talking about Old No. 7’s big brother, Single Barrel Barrel Proof which, at 131.7 proof, makes for a dandy rust remover, and an even more dandy sobriety remover. The stuff is just absolutely potent, and brilliantly good (mine is from barrel 19-01208, which tells me only that the distillery has more than 1 barrel laying around). JD SBBP (I’m abbreviating to save the one’s and zeroes from extinction) has a touch of cinnamon, some light honey, charred caramel, and fuzzy vision all mixed up into one helluva nice sippin’ whiskey.
So what’s the story? Well, it’s quite short and straight to the point. I have a friend who loves the stuff, and he made me try it. That’s right, he tied me up, put a gun to my head, and forced it down my throat, which is the usual tactic necessary to get me to drinking. He’s the same friend that I met half-way to collect some Eagle Rare, and from whom I was first introduced to Westward Stout Cask. Like me he’s got an uneducated palate, but he knows what he likes, and he’s a Jack Daniel’s fan through and through.
Which means something.
I wouldn’t call myself a Jack Daniel’s “fan” per se, but I can drink the stuff easy enough. But, this Single Barrel concoction is straight-shootin’ and darn-fallootin’! It’s got that muscle-car kick that I like in a brilliant whiskey, and it pulls it off without being all high-and-mighty, or burning the hair out of my nostrils. It’s “smooth” in the sense that it has a nice mouth feel, and razor-sharp when it falls across the back-side of the ol’ licker. Hey, is that why they call it “liquor”?
Anyway, I can easily recommend this dandy nectar to anyone that likes a stiff, hard drink, whether as a straight shot or a bad-day-ending sipper by a hot fire. But, please, don’t mix this one with coke. Leave that for the little brother.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Tennessee Whiskey
I've decided to expand what I do on the blog just a whee bit. This week, instead of writing another boorish tale of discovery, I thought I'd offer up a review of eight decent whiskies that have their prices fixed in or near the 20's. So, from $19 per bottle to $32 per bottle, I'm reviewing some common picks that can be had at just about any liquor store within the borders of the good ol' US of A. I thought I would do this because a good percentage of my reviews involve whiskies that can be north of $50, with some well north of that.
So, here they are. I love some, I like some, I … well, I don't hate any of them — although one is close. They're all reasonably priced, easy-drinking, and available in tiny bottles for a couple bucks — which is what I bought for the purposes of this write-up. You know them all by name, they're mostly a bit average, and there isn't a rockstar in the group. But average also means consistent, so they all have wide followings and are very good values. That said, here are my thoughts on The Roaring 20's:
Jim Beam KSBW; James B. Beam Distilling; Frankfort, KY; $19
Jim Beam's Black Label is the house whiskey at Ken's Bar. It's just brilliantly good. But, it's not on this list for one reason: Because this is my blog and I said so! Instead, Jim Beam KSBW is on this list, and it's the cheapest of the lot at just $19 per bottle. It's got some caramel and honey going on, and is smooth enough that some might consider it a good sipper. But I don't, it's too gritty for me. It needs a coke. Not lemonade, mind you — that's reserved for Jack — but a good, old-fashioned Coke. I have a bottle of this stuff beneath the bar just in case I have someone over that just has to have it. So it stays below and out of sight. But it still has a home in my bar.
Old Forester KSBW; Old Forester Distilling; Louisville, KY; $23
As I write this it will be the very first time I've ever tried Old Forester. Upon first impression it has just a touch of black licorice going on. It's smooth with notes of pear and campfire, although that's not a bad thing in and of itself. Of the whiskies in this list, I think it has the most unique flavor, but not one that I enjoy as an everyday sipper. It's not as chemically as Buffalo Trace, and perhaps on par with Jim Beam. In other words, it needs a mixer. Not sure what that mixer is, since the flavor profile doesn't seem compatible with Coke or lemonade. Sprite, maybe?
Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey; Jack Daniel Distillery; Lynchburg, TN; $25
The only whiskey in this list that refuses to call itself Bourbon is Jack Daniels Old No. 7. Few whiskies are better known — worldwide — than Jack, of Lynchburg, Tennessee! Nowhere near Kentucky, Tennessee heralds itself as being on an entirely separate world from Bourbon County. It's Tennessee whiskey, you morons! There are lemonades named after this one, cocktails de' jour, aperitifs, teas, and just plain, ol' Jack & Coke. Drink it straight, mix it up, pop some cubes in there, whatever. Jack covers all the bases. It's smooth, a bit pear-ish, clearly filtered through burnt wood, and simple.
Buffalo Trace KSBW; Buffalo Trace Distillery; Franklin County, KY; $26
The very front end of this stuff has a bit of a lingering chemical thing that I cannot place. It's harsh and reminds me a bit too much of paint thinner. I know that's a rough thing to say about a whiskey like Buffalo Trace (especially when I consider that they're the folks behind Eagle Rare), but that's just what I get from it. It's inexpensive and tastes like it. I don't honestly know what makes it such a dead-end in this crowd, but it's my least favorite. Maybe it's that I just don't like really "corny" whiskies, especially when that corn is accompanied by something like rotten apricots. I'm just not a fan. In fact, I've removed the bottle from the shelf and put it down in the "drink it till it's gone" spot. I think that's the worst thing that can happen to a whiskey at Ken's Bar.
Wild Turkey 101 KSBW; Wild Turkey Distilling; Lawrenceburg, KY; $27
The ultimate shot! Wild Turkey 101 is quite possibly the best straight shooter that exists on the market. It's crisp, gritty, and has a back-of-the-throat, acidic alcohol bite that makes for a great shot, preferably with a chaser to catch the bitter after-taste and knock it down the pipe. To this average, ordinary, everyday Ken no other whiskey says "party" like WT 101. It just has that … flare? It's definitely not one that I like straight, so tasting it this way is rough. It needs a coke like few others, and just doesn't work for much else. So, get yourself some shot glasses, pour a few, line them up, and prepare yourself for a rough night!
Maker’s Mark KSBW; The Maker’s Mark Distillery; Loretto, KY; $30
I originally thought it would be a toss-up between Maker's Mark KSBW and Elijah Craig as to the best of this crowd (boy, was I wrong). Both are very smooth, easy-drinking whiskies that I can drink neat with no regrets. There's cinnamon and honey in there, some smokey-oak, and notes of a diesel pickup firing up on a cold morning. Maker's is well-balanced and doable in any fashion, but I like to sip away at it slowly. It's also one of my wife's favorites, and at $30 that's a good thing. As with most of the others in this list, take it however you want it.
Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey KSBW; The Bulleit Distilling Co.; Plainfield, IL; $30
I gave this fellow's older brother 3 stars in my review a couple of months ago. It's a nice whiskey, easy drinking and smooth, just not something that jumped out and made me say "Whoa!" The younger brother, aged a bit less — a lot less, actually — is better. In fact, I'm 5 samples into 8 and this one is my favorite thus far. I like it even more than Elijah Craig, which is a couple bucks more per bottle. Bulleit's entry-level contender has a bit more corn (although not as much as Buffalo Trace) and a nice little kick on the sides of the tongue. It's also one of the few in this crowd that holds its own as a daily sipper, not needing anything else to help it go down.
Elijah Craig Small Batch KSBW; Elijah Craig Distillery; Bardstown, KY; $32
This one is pretty easy for me. It's been a favorite for many years and still holds up, even now that I've been experimenting with far more expensive samples. A bit of caramel, some zesty citrus, a solid kick from of a well-used oak barrel, and enough bite to make it a good sipper. It's the most expensive of the bunch, but just a few nickels outside the 20's. This one can be mixed with coke or blended into fancy recipes, but I'd rather sip it neat.
I never set out for this to be a competition. It's really more of a simple comparison of the Roaring 20's, that is, whiskies in or close to the $20 mark. There must be a zillion that fit the description, but the ones in this list also happen to have been available at my local liquor store in those cute, little 50ml bottles that cost two or three dollars. I didn't want to get saddled with a bunch of 750's sitting on the "Drink it 'til it's gone" shelf, so I intentionally reached for the tiniest bottles I could find, and all of these suckers made that cut.
Either way, though, I do have a winner, although there will be no trophy or fancy labeling. Of the eight whiskies I sampled for this post, I've decided that Bulleit's Frontier Whiskey is the best of the Roaring 20's. It stood out the most, is a decent value, and I could sip away at it without squinting.
But! If you want the best of the Roaring 20's, get down to the liquor store and spend $25 on a bottle of Jim Beam Black Label KSBW. This average, ordinary, everyday Ken thinks there's nothing else in the price range even close, and not very many below $50.
Who is this guy?
I'm just an average, ordinary, everyday Ken, and nothing more. I like wine, whiskey, and beer. I write when I'm bored (and to prove it I've published three books). I like to garden, work with wood, and laugh with family and friends. Ken's Bar is an expression of my enjoyment of adult beverages of all shapes and sizes, but especially whiskey. My tasting notes are as much about stories and connections with people as they are about fluffy, snobbish adjectives. I've tasted a lot of whiskey (including the costs-way-too-much Rip Van Winkle stuff) and decided to start writing about it. Or something. So, sit back and read. If you can.
How do I rank?
Cost per Bottle:
$ - $0-$25
$$ - $26-$50
$$$ - $51-$75
$$$$ - $76-$100
$$$$$ - Over $100
* - Swill. Dump it out.
** - Mix it with coke
*** - A good sipper
**** - Straight from Heaven.
***** - Heaven called and wants its whiskey back!
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