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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three Bourbons At Once!

Wow, I must be thirsty this week...

Three bourbons today, from three different locales, lined up in one Taste Off.  I'm going to list the findings the same way I did for Tuesday's Canadian collection.  But unlike the whiskies from Tuesday's post, all three of these bourbons were from their actual bottles.

McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey (Finger Lakes Distillery), 5 years old, Batch 15/2014, 45%ABV
I visited the Finger Lakes Distillery last summer and wrote a post about these Upstate New York liquor makers.  In that post, I also reviewed batch 10 of their bourbon (70points).  At the time I found all of their whiskies to be quite young and jumbled.  At their distillery tasting, I liked the wheat whiskey better than the rye, bourbon, and pot still -- which is unusual for me.  Actually I liked their gin even better, but anyway......from what I gather they do indeed distill their own stuff.  This winter I had an opportunity to try another batch of the bourbon, courtesy of my in-laws.

Beanball Bourbon (Cooperstown Distillery), 5 years old, Cask #7, bottled 5/12/14, 43%ABV
Another Upstate NY distillery.  Despite the fact that they do distill their own gin, they're currently bottling MGP bourbon.  And the label actually does reference the Indiana part.  The bottle I sampled was a 375mL from the distillery shop (courtesy of the in-laws).  In stores, Beanball Bourbon is actually 6 years old and 50%abv.  So this is lighter and younger than their normal retail whiskey.

Blanton's Single Barrel (Buffalo Trace Distillery), Barrel #109, bottled 9/15/13, 46.5%ABV
I've written two posts about barrel 18.  At the top of the bottle the whiskey good, at the bottom of the bottle it was excellent.  My in-laws have a bottle of barrel 109 which has been enjoyed two-thirds of the way down already.  Another difference between the earlier bottle and this one is that the old one was open for nearly two years, while this one has been open for a just a few months.  So while I'm hoping that oxidation does great things for this Blanton's as well, there hasn't been as much time.

The Colors
McKenzie -  The darkest of the three, curiously. Maybe a little extra char on those barrels?
Beanball - The lightest, almost like a first-fill ex-bourbon single malt.
Blanton's - A little lighter than the "maple syrup" color I've previously seen in Blanton's.

The Noses
McKenzie - Paint fumes, turpentine, roasted corn, and (um...) matzos appear first.  Later on: mint chewing gum, fresh cut wood, honey mustard, and fresh pears.  That matzos note hangs on throughout.
Beanball - Bark and sawdust first.  Then corn syrup, dijon mustard, and something faintly fishy.  Then minty toffee (if that's a thing).  Finally a green woody burst followed by peanut candy, very Brown-Forman-ish.
Blanton's - Mint leaves, cherry candy, roasted corn, and sesame seeds arrive first.  It eases into caramel sauce, orange pixy stix, and salty beach air.  With additional time, the vanilla and butterscotch candies arrive, though those notes remain mild.

The Palates
McKenzie - Lots of fresh pears with caramel sauce and butter. Some peppery spice, but otherwise not many signs of rye. Seems kind of wheaty too. Lots of corn. It's still quite raw and grainy.
Beanball - Bubblegum, soap, and candy corn make up the entire package for a while.  After some time, there's a little bit of pepper and a woody bitterness.  A very thin mouthfeel.
Blanton's - A spiced cane syrup.  Black cherry syrup.  Salt and cayenne pepper.  Toffee and Robotussin.  After a while, this all converges into single point: Sugar Daddy pops.

The Finishes
McKenzie - The pears remain prominent here.  Some newspaper, mint, and vanilla notes show momentarily.
Beanball - Just vanilla, corn, banana, and bitterness.
Blanton's - Sweet and spicy. Lots of pepper. Caramel-covered apples.


McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey, Batch 15/2014 - $35-$45
I'll start with the good news.  This is an improvement over batch 10, with fewer odd spirity vegetal notes.  I like the fresh pear character, though I have no idea where that note comes from; probably the distillate.  I like the fact that it goes easy on the usual oaky notes of caramel and vanilla.  But.  This is still the rawest five-year-old bourbon one will find.  Even Breckenridge's two-year old whiskey feels more mature than this.  Ultimately it's not really my cup o' bourbon.  I'd love for an Upstate NY distillery to succeed but I'm not sure to whom I can recommend this whiskey.
Rating - 75

Beanball Bourbon (distillery shop only), cask #7 - price unknown
Very watery, that's the first thing I thought of during the tasting and it's the first thing that came to mind while typing this up.  It's very light, probably inoffensive to most palates.  But I don't think it will appeal to most palates either.  My in-laws bought the bottle and they weren't enthused with their first pours either.  There may have been something good here at barrel strength, but now the bourbon barely exists.  As mentioned above, the retail version of Beanball is a year older and 50%abv, that would likely be of more interest than this distillery shop bottling.
Rating - 72

Blanton's Single Barrel, barrel #109 - $50-$60
A full step ahead of the other two bourbons......but also a full step behind barrel 18.  Barrel 109 is good bourbon, with a great nose and vibrant palate.  But there's not much here that you can't get elsewhere, which is a bit concerning for a bourbon that's approaching the $60 mark, especially with the high quality stuff at half its price.  Again, it's not bad.  It's good.  I'd be happy to drink it again.  But it ain't great, and with American whiskey you'd better be bringing at least your B+ game at this price level, not your B- stuff.
Rating - 82