Whisky Advocate

Some new whiskeys I like, and some I don’t like (part 1)

August 12th, 2013

John HansellWhiskeys might be more expensive (and perhaps harder to find) these days but, after tasting my way through some new releases, it’s pretty clear that there are still plenty of high quality whiskeys coming on the market. Here’s a run down of the ones I like, don’t like, and why.

Part 1 focuses on American Whiskeys. Part 2, which I will publish in about a week or so, will address some new single malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch whisky, and a new Indian whisky I’ve recently tasted.

Bourbon & Tennessee Whiskeys

Four Roses Small Batch 2013Let’s start with new bourbon releases. There are quite a few of them. For those of you who enjoyed the Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch (I did–I named it Whisky Advocate’s American Whiskey of the Year last year), I think you will like the Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch. It  is similar in flavor profile, with a little more oak spice and a touch less honey. This whiskey is already on my short list of favorite new bourbons for 2013.

Similarly, I am equally impressed by the new Elijah Craig 21 Year Old Single Barrel review sample that I have (Barrel No. 42). Heaven Hill has discontinued the most recent 20 year old offering and has replaced it with a 21 year old release. As you will recall, two years ago I named the Elijah Craig 20 Year Old  Single Barrel (Barrel No. 3735) our American Whiskey of the Year. The new 21 year old single barrel is very similar in profile to the award-winning 20 year old with a bit more oak influence. It’s elegant, subtly complex, with some intriguing tropical fruit, and–most important of all–not over-oaked, which is something we all need to be concerned about when buying bourbons that are 20+ years in age.

Let me be clear about one thing though, regarding these Elijah Craig 21 year old single barrel offerings: I’m giving you my thoughts on whiskey from just one barrel (Barrel No. 42), and I don’t know what the other barrels are going to taste like. Hopefully, they will be similar in profile. However, after I tasted our award winning EC 20 single barrel two years ago, I tasted two other barrels after that and both–whiles still very nice bourbons–definitely showed more oak in their flavor profiles. I am hoping to taste more of the Elijah Craig 21 year old single barrels as they come out. If I do, I’ll offer my thoughts here in the comment thread. Bottom line here: the barrel that I’m reviewing (and that other writers are reviewing right now) are review samples sent directly to us from Heaven Hill. Could they have cherry picked the best barrel or barrels? It’s possible. Fair warning…

EC 21I’ve been checking out the recent Booker’s Bourbon offerings. There’s one in particular I wanted to tell you about that I think really stands out. It’s richly flavored and nicely balanced. It’s my favorite Booker’s so far this year, and it’s just about get into circulation. (I’m not sure exactly where, though. Sorry.) It’s bottled at 127.1 proof and is Batch No. 2013-4.

You may have heard rumblings of a new George Dickel Barrel Program. Well, it’s definitely a reality. I’ve always been a big fan of George Dickel (especially the Barrel Select), and when I heard that they were going to start offering older, single barrels to retail accounts for purchase, I got very excited.

At the moment, there are two different ages of single barrels available to retailers to chose from: a 9 year old (bottled at 103 proof) and a 14 year old (bottled at 106 proof). Diageo was kind enough to send me two barrel samples from each year, and I’ve just tasted them. They are delicious! If you’re a Dickel fan, then you’ll want to track down a bottle. Based on the samples I was sent, here’s my advice: go for the 9 year old if you can find one. I think they’re a little more balanced (i.e. not as oak-driven) as the 14 year old and I suspect it will cost less too! (If any of you know where to find the 9 year old, let us know. I’d like to buy one myself!)

BTEC Wheat Mash Enrty ProofThe newest release of Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection is out, and this time there are four of them. They’re all wheated bourbons and the difference between them (from a production standpoint) is the barrel entry proof (125, 115, 105, and 90). In short: if you can find yourself a bottle of one of these, give it a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed, if you enjoy wheated bourbons. (My favorite is the 90 proof entry expression.) Some will rate a 90 or more when I eventually review them formally.

STAGG JR FrontOkay, and now for the bourbon that didn’t impress me: the new Stagg Jr. by Buffalo Trace. It is, according to my press release, a younger sibling to the more mature George T. Stagg releases. There’s no age statement, but it contains whiskeys aged for 8-9 years. Yes, Stagg Jr. big and bold like the original George T. Stagg, but it is harsher and more aggressive (with the spice and oak notes) than George T. Stagg. I just don’t enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong. George T. Stagg is certainly no wimpy whiskey. But it’s usually also incredibly complex and well-balanced. Stagg Jr.’s aggressiveness crosses to line. My advice: save your pennies and spring for the older George T. Stagg if you are choosing between the two.

12 Responses to “Some new whiskeys I like, and some I don’t like (part 1)”

  1. Derek Miller says:

    What did you think about the recent Booker’s releases in general? I used to really like it, but I got a few bottles in a row that seemed a little simpler and sweeter (perhaps younger?) than expected. I haven’t tried any for six months or so now.

    • John Hansell says:

      Until the last few, I hadn’t tried it in years. I think they’ve all been releases within the past 3-6 months. I thought they were good, but I like the most recent one (which I mention above) even more.

  2. Carlton says:

    Makes me wonder whether Stagg Jr. is stock originally earmarked for George T. Stagg that clearly wasn’t going to make the cut. No matter – with the Stagg name and barrel proof, BT will be able to sell all they can make.

      • Carlton says:

        This is perplexing. BT produces some outstanding whiskeys. If they had set out 8-9 years ago to build Stagg Jr as a new brand, allocating and monitoring stock, I expect we would be seeing an outstanding whiskey now. Given John’s review and a few more I have seen that are also less than favorable, that is not the case. This seems to me to have the fingerprints of the Marketing department all over it. Have to speculate whether the demise of Old Charter 10 Year Old was just a coincidence.

  3. OudErnest says:

    On a somewhat tangentially related subject I drank a Hill Farmstead Brewery beer last week that had been aged in 18 yr-old Elijah Craig barrels that was one of the best barrel-aged beers I’ve ever tried.

  4. Scott Brown says:

    John, did you try cutting the Stagg Jr. with water?

  5. John Hansell says:

    Incidentally, people have been emailing me Dickel Single Barrel sightings. So far, I’ve been told they are at the following locations. Happy hunting!

    The Party Source (KY)
    Frugal MacDoogal (TN)
    The Liquor Barn (KY)
    Park Ave Liquor (NYC)

  6. Warren says:

    John, I can confirm that the Party Source in Bellvue had the 9 & 14 year Dickel and 21 year EC.

  7. Richard Sather says:

    The Stagg Jr. comments you espoused, don’t do Sazerac dependent retailers much good. We get them or we don’t. Hopefully, the Stagg Jr. is better for most consumers than you.

    • John Hansell says:

      I’m just one person, but I have to be honest and say how I really feel about a whiskey, good or bad. I sleep better at night that way. No doubt they will sell through regardless what I say.

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