Aberlour A'Bunadh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Aberlour Distillery.; Someplace in Scotland; $90/btl
When I first met her, she was seated at the bar, her tawny legs stretched out oh so temptingly beneath a cream-colored getup that left me in awe. She appeared simple and easy-going, if not possibly a bit moody. I couldn’t help but look her over and wonder what she might be like if I could only get a little closer. To my surprise, she looked at me with that look you only get when there is definite interest, and motioned for me to sit with her. So, mustering the courage to take the next step, I moved over.
"What’s your name?” I asked, trying not to sound desperate.
“Sherry,” she responded, and I could sense her addictive qualities by the sound of her voice.
“Is there a last name in there?" I asked in a tone that told her of my curiosity.
“Cask,” she cooed. “It's Sherry Cask.”
“Where are you from, Sherry Cask?” I asked, my voice musky and protruding.
“A little place called Aberlour. You might know it. It’s in the Highland District.”
“I’ve heard of this Aberlour you speak of. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, like you.”
Sherry Cask smiled at me and turned away, a soft blush in her cheeks. “You flatter me too kindly,” she said as she reached over and placed herself in my hand.
I squeezed her tender fingers softly, and for just the briefest moment I was quite certain she purred. It was a gentle, almost poetic sound, something like, “A’bunadh.”
So, I grabbed her, tore her loose of the bar and wrestled every last drop of nectar from her and now she’s imprisoned on my Bottom Shelf!
Ah, Aberlour. Of all the Scotch whiskies, she is my favorite. Just the 12-year will do nicely, but there are others. The 16-year is a hoot (I’ll write about that one a bit later), and I have yet to try some of the more rare gems (20-year and such) but they’re on my gotta-have-it list.
Such as it is, I happen to have this wonderful bottle of Aberlour A’bunadh (#64) and cannot say enough nice things about the stuff. Right off the bat is that smokey punch in the face you expect from a good Scotch — but not too smokey; this ain’t Laphroaig, after all! Then, just as you’re getting ready to say, “Wow!” you’re hit with this sweet, sherry blast right across the sides of the tongue, and you realize this is really good stuff. There’s a bit of fruit in there, and the finish has a long and addicting quality to it that just loiters in the back of the mouth screaming for her buddies. “More,” she seems to be saying. “Give. Me. More!”
And so I do, because why make the poor girl suffer? And just in case, I invited her twin to hang out in the storage cabinet. I mean, you never know, right?
So, yeah, I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I took Miss Sherry Cask home on the first date. I mean, she was single and all, and I got her for a good price. I mean, $90 ain’t bad for a Single Malt of such character. Fact to know: I would pay more for such company, and it would be worth every last penny!
Aberlour A'Bunadh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Kentucky Springs Distilling Co.; Frankfort, Kentucky; $45/btl
Some time ago, my wife’s uncle died. Yes, it happens. He was getting ready to take a shower and had a heart attack. As the saying goes, “Life sucks, and then you die!” It happens to all of us, and when our time is up, well …
As it happens, my wife’s mom was the sole inheritor, and she got her brother’s house. Unfortunately, Uncle Tully was a bit less tidy than one might hope, and the home was quite a mess. The appropriate term would be “A disaster touched by a tornado in the midst of a hurricane out in the desert.” It was bad. The only perspective I can give you is that television show called Hoarders.
At any rate, since I had lots of remodeling experience the family asked my wife and I to move in and fix the place up. It was both a curse and a blessing, and it took 2 years of my sweat, blood, and tears to remodel the place. In the end, though, my mother-in-law sold us the home and we’ve been here, now, for 9 years.
So, what does that have to do with this particular selection of Daddy Juice? Well, there came a day — a Sunday, actually — when I was nearing completion of the remodel. In fact, I was hammering the very last nail on the very last sheet of paneling in the garage, and the place was finished. Finished, I say! I was working alone that day and there was no one else around the place. I was super-excited about that last nail and I wanted to treat myself to something special. At first, I had no idea what that was going to be, but then I new it had to be a nice bottle of whiskey.
So, I headed to the liquor store and did what I normally do: I hunted the labels, looking for the bottle that would jump right into my arms. On that day, at roughly 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the bottle that yelled loudest was Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It was wearing this nice, little paper suit held up by a little wood and copper belt and seemed so formal and proper. I read the label copy and learned that Mr. Hayden was 4 when George Washington was running the country, and that he wanted to make some good whiskey to show off his skills and blah, blah, blah. You know how it is.
Anyway, I took that bottle home and, having no one to drink with, sat down next to the fire pit and poured a shot into some random glass I had laying around. It was at that moment that I realized just how special that bottle was. I hadn’t even put it to mouth, yet, when I was reminded of the incredible blessing my wife and I had received. 2 years of hard work had impressed my mother-in-law enough that she sold us the place for 1/2 what it was worth on the open market. I felt so truly blessed right then that I decided to do something most will find strange, but which I knew in that moment was the right thing to do. I gave thanks to the God of Heaven and poured that first shot out into the fire pit in honor of Him. I was just completely moved and wanted Him to have the first taste.
Then I got down to business. 9 years later and Basil Hayden's sits on my Bottom Shelf because of that story. And it has held up very well. It’s so smooth and easy to drink, and the spices come at me like toasted cinnamon bread and honey. Every time I drink it I’m immediately transported back to that day and I reminisce over the hard work that lead to the 1/2 acre chunk of ground my family has called home for nearly a decade. And I'm also reminded of just how good I thought it was then, and still to this day. Basil Hayden's is good whiskey!
To finish this one off, I want to say that, sometimes, it’s not just what’s in the bottle that shines. Sometimes, it’s why you have the bottle in the first place. Most whiskey doesn’t carry much of an individual, personal story, but some of it does. Sometimes, there is that special place, or that special someone, or — in my case — that special blessing, and that person or event or place or whatever adds at least one star to whatever you happened to be drinking at that particular time. Fortunately for Basil Hayden’s, it doesn’t need any help!
Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Four Roses Distillery; Lawrenceburg, Kentucky; $45/btl
Did you ever buy a bottle of whiskey, or beer, or wine for that matter, based solely on the label? Seriously, have you ever walked into a liquor store and scoured the shelf wondering which bottle to dump $50 on? Well, I have. In fact, that is precisely how I discovered this gem. There I was, looking like a lost goat, trying to decide which graphic designer had the most talent, whiskey the last thing on my mind. I wasn't there for the golden nectar, baby. No, I was there to see which artist could draw the best circle.
Sound like a convenient excuse from a guy who doesn't really know that much about whiskey? Well, if you answered, "Yes!" to that question, then you're smarter than I am.
Thing is, most of the great whiskey artists also hire great label artists, because most of the great whiskey artists want you to try their stuff — and fall madly in love with it. So, with that in mind, here's the Four Roses story straight from their website:
"It began when Paul Jones, Jr., the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, became smitten by the beauty of a Southern belle. It is said that he sent a proposal to her, and she replied that if her answer were “Yes,” she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming grand ball. Paul Jones waited for her answer excitedly on that night of the grand ball…when she arrived in her beautiful gown, she wore a corsage of four red roses. He later named his Bourbon “Four Roses” as a symbol of his devout passion for the lovely belle, a passion he thereafter transferred to making his beloved Four Roses Bourbon."
How romantic is that? I mean, can you really resist a whiskey whose label has that heritage? I sure couldn't. So, I plopped down my $44.95 (plus 6 percent Idaho sales tax) and absconded with a beautifully — and tastefully — designed bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel (mine is from Warehouse SN, barrel 28-4T), and I'm having a sip as I type this. So don't go thinking I'm writing this from memory like I did with that Rip Van Winkle stuff.
In my opinion Four Roses Single Barrel is one of the finest values in all of the whiskey world. In terms of overall value, only Jim Beam Black Label is better. This is a rich, beautifully designed whiskey with deep amber color and a clean finish that makes me want to lean back and drift away into la-la land! The master distiller, Brent Elliot, talks about fruit and apricots and pears, but when I drink this stuff I think of no such thing. I think of a calm, artful sunset on the Oregon Coast, wife by my side, holding hands and waiting for the "Master Distiller" to work His wonders in a splendid display of smokey reds and burnt orange, and that amazing deep purple that precedes the last light of the setting orb we call the Sun. It's genuinely pleasing to swirl the smallest sip around in your mouth and beam with pride, knowing the way you pick a bottle of whiskey is second to none. It's in the label, baby!
Four Roses Single Barrel was my absolute, second to no one nothing no how, for the longest time. For five long years it sat alone in the place of honor, only to be knocked down a few months ago by the new king of this average, ordinary, everyday Ken's top spot, Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask. And here's the thing: It's not that Four Roses Single Barrel suddenly went bad or anything like that. It hasn't. As I sit here sipping away, I am pleasantly reminded why I love it so much. Even the annoying little hangy-tag on the bottle is precious in this Ken's eyes. It's just so good! Smooth and creamy, delightfully dreamy. See what I did there? It's a Dr. Seuss whiskey rhyme! Few whiskies will drive my creative writing skills to such levels. If this stuff were a woman I'd be getting divorced, because I've got my tongue so far down the bottle's throat It'll take a visit from the fire department to recover it.
The thing about labels is that they can tell a wonderful, magical story. Far Niente does that with their masterful wine labels — they just make you want to buy a bottle. That day some 5 years ago when I was scoping for a flavorful bottle of daddy-juice, something jumped out at me and I knew there had to be a story behind those roses on the bottle. I knew that, somewhere in the past, something struck some distiller and made him say, "Oh, I know what I'll do …" After reading the Four Roses story, I knew why I had selected that particular bottle amongst all the others competing for my eye. I knew there was something special in there. Because there is!
Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; SN-28-4T
Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year; Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery; Frankfort, Kentucky; $1,500*+/btl
Where to begin?
Oh, I know. Tell the story! Okay, well, you see, I have this friend who's really into whiskey. He has one of those fancy certifications that says he can taste whiskey and tell you whether or not it's actually whiskey with something close to 100% accuracy. I've done a few podcasts with the guy (Whiskey Wonder Podcast), and we have quite a good time, mostly because we're really just drinking whiskey and talking about it. It's fun.
My friend has a friend — a coworker, actually — and her husband won the lottery! That's right, he won the lottery. No, not that lottery, the Idaho State Liquor Lottery. You see, some whiskies are so painfully difficult to get that a given state may be allocated just one or two bottles, especially a backwoods, redneck state like Idaho. We've only got $17 between the 1.5 million of us, so Mr. Van Winkle, Sir, only sends us 1 bottle in a given millennia. In order to get that bottle, you have to write your name on a piece of paper and wait for it to get drawn out of a hat, along with a bunny rabbit. If both things happen, you win!
So, yeah, my friend's friend won. Well, he sort of won. You see, what you win is the first right of refusal. You can buy said bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle, or you can pass and let the runner-up have a shot at it. The smart person mortgages their house and takes the bottle, because by the end of the week it will have doubled in price! And here's the neat thing: You pay the $80 MSRP, not the $1500 secondary market price. So you get it cheap, and then you can drink it or sell it to someone with too much money in their pocket, and then buy yourself a lot of very worthy whiskey.
Get online, I dare you, and look up the price of this stuff. If you can find one, a bottle will set you back minimum $1500! And, no, it will not be washing your dishes.
So, this friend of my friend was incredibly generous and loaned him about 2 ounces of the stuff. I say "loaned" because I'm pretty sure it came with the caveat that my buddy owed a major favor, like if he ever gets elected president he'll arrange for a multi-million dollar bank transfer. We got about 2 ounces of the stuff. A little flask of nectar worth some $200 on the open market, and we got to try it. In fact, we talked about it on my friend's Whiskey Wonder Podcast, Episode 24. It was the first time tasting for both of us. Yes, we were Old Rip Van Winkle virgins. My cheeks are flushing. To think that we got to try the very same stuff the rich give their children for their 16th birthday drunk-bash!
So, what does this millionaire's beverage taste like?
I like to be honest when I drink whiskey, because sometimes the stuff is really good and I want to shout about it, and sometimes the stuff is really bad and I want to toss it over my shoulder. Old Rip Van Winkle is good. Good enough to talk about, but not good enough to shout about. Why? Well, for starters the stuff is really expensive. Too expensive for the common man, and way too expensive for this average, ordinary, everyday Ken. At $1500 plus per bottle, it's very hard to justify. I mean, I could buy 15 bottles of the 5-star Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask and have money left over for a nice dinner. And Westward's astonishingly good single malt is superior in every way except one. Old Rip Van Winkle is uncommonly smooth. So smooth, in fact, that you could spread it on toast! Maybe too smooth?
As for the flavor profile, my buddy and I were taken by surprise with notes of snickerdoodle! Yeah, it's October-pumpkin-spice-level stuff. The kind of whiskey a rich girl would buy going into that weird October pumpkin thing that lasts far too long. Now, don't get me wrong. Old Rip Van Winkle is good stuff, and super smooth, it's just that it doesn't have that whiskey-kick I was expecting. I was reminded a bit of Southern Comfort and American Honey, both very good fortified whiskies that are very smooth and easy to drink (and both were favorites of mine for many years — something like gateway whiskies before I discovered the good stuff). Now, I'm not talking flavor profile, here, I'm talking smoothness. There was no bite in there at all!
My biggest issue with Old Rip Van Winkle is the lack of drive I felt when I tasted it. It was delicious whiskey, but I couldn't get over the gingerbread-cookie feeling of it. Seriously, it did remind me of those fortified things. There was just no "oomph" to the stuff. I guess what I really need to do is get my head straight with the $80 MSRP, rather than the $1500+ market price, and then maybe I wouldn't be so critical. At $80, I would call it a good buy and a decent sipping whiskey, but at $1500 it's just a novelty most people will never be able to try. In fact, on the podcast I likened it to owning a Ferrari versus test-driving a Ferrari. I said that our little sip of the stuff was a bit like a poor man going to Vegas where you can pay a few hundred bucks and take a 6-figure super car out for a couple of laps. When you get done, you think, "Well, that was fun. Now what?"
And that's how it ended. "Well, that was fun. Now what?" With the party over, I'm looking back on something I first tried back in September of 2020, right in the middle of the giant poo-fest we were all struggling through. It was a nice treat, a rare opportunity — and one I won't soon forget. Still, I left that night knowing that I had gone in believing in something mystical, and left with a feeling of "Meh." There's so much hype around the stuff that it's very difficult to try it knowing how much it costs, and then not be let down by my own honesty. And, honestly, it's not worth it. It's barely worth $80. And, although the MSRP is $80, I'm not going to list my pricing that way, because unless you win the lottery, you ain't getting a bottle of this stuff for less than $1500.
* Price as I have it listed is after-market. Rarity makes the stuff hard to find in my neck of the woods. Retail is $80-$140, but finding it at that price is a matter of luck.
Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year
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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