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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Private Barrel Selections.

Private selection barrels are hot items.  Retailers, serious whiskey bars, and local whiskey societies desperately want them.  Unfortunately, the demand has resulted in some distilleries being overbooked, some are low on available stock, some give a take-it-or-leave-it option of barrels that are nothing special, and some have had to suspend their barrel selection program. 

For the most part, the barrels offered for selection are going to be superior barrels.  This does not mean, however, that privately-selected Bourbon is going to taste better than the standard issue of that brand.  Sometimes private barrels are not better, they’re just different.  Oftentimes, they can essentially taste the same as the standard, less expensive bottles, and occasionally, they’re disappointing because they’re not as good as the standard offering.

A private selection can be disappointing due to the lack of experience of the selection team, or because their personal preferences are a little off, and you can end up with a Bourbon that is too bitter, bland, or unbalanced.  Additionally, very few distilleries permit bottling of private selections at barrel strength, so when proof is taken down, the flavors in the private selection change and it might not taste anything like it did straight from the barrel, so the selection team has to toy with adding the right amount of water.  The key is that consumers need to look for private barrels from palates they trust.

In some circumstances the stars line up, a knowledgeable selection team has access to enough barrels, and fate includes a true honey barrel in the mix.  A quick Twitter survey (thanks for all of the tweets!) came up with a great list of retailers and bars who have selected your favorite private barrels.  Four Roses, Smooth Ambler, and Willett (whose program is now on a hiatus) absolutely dominated your tweets, with an occasional Old Weller Antique, Knob Creek, Woodford Double Oaked, and a few others rounding out the list.

Some of these private barrels are known by the people who selected them, like Doug Philips – whose Rye selection is spoken of in legendary terms – and newer selection groups, particularly the Bourbon Crusaders.  On rare occasions, private barrels are known by their own name, like “Wheated Warrior” and “Aged Truth.”

Certain retail stores have gained a reputation through consistently great picks across all distilleries, like Liquor Barn, or an award-winning selection, like Crown Liquors with its 2014 Four Roses OBSK pick.  Bars and restaurants with private barrel programs can become renowned for their picks too, like many Louisville establishments (as should be expected), but non-Kentucky players, too.  Dry 85 in Annapolis, for example, has an outstanding private barrel program, but it goes a step further and has also worked with Angel’s Envy on developing unique private blends.

Consumers are starting to look not just for any private barrels, but for barrels with particular characteristics, like OBSK and OESK barrels aged on the East side of Warehouse M at Four Roses (“ME” barrels), and odd 65 gallon barrels stored upright at Heaven Hill for 15 years (which became part of mysterious private barrel of Heaven Hill Select Stock).  Keep an eye and an ear tuned for these kinds of tips because this sort of information can help give the consumer confidence that the extra money will be worth it. 

I haven’t been lucky enough to try any of the Doug Philips selections, Wheated Warrior, or Aged Truth, but I’ve been amazed by the quality of private barrels that are more readily available.  Some of my favorite private barrels over the past several years (not necessarily ranked in order) have included:

·         2014 Four Roses OBSK, 9 year, 11 month, selected by Liquor Barn;

·         2015 Four Roses OESK, 9 year, 7 month, selected by Bourbon Crusaders for Joyal’s;

·         2014 Heaven Hill Select Stock, 15 year from 65-gallon barrels, selected by Bourbon Bar (despite being on the menu as a $40 pour, these bottles were returned under a shroud of mystery, and have since trickled out into retail);

·         2015 Knob Creek 120 proof – aged 15 years instead of the standard 9 years – selected by Liquor Barn (I’m in the middle of this one now; it’s the best Beam product I’ve had other than Booker’s 25th Anniversary).

·         2015 (first batch) Dry 85 Angel’s Envy Private Blend, comprised of three six-year old Bourbons each finished in port barrels.

What has been your favorite private barrel selection?  Which retailers and restaurants or whiskey bars routinely stock the best private barrels?  Your Twitter responses gave the following stops for an epic road trip across the U.S.:

Kentucky / Cincinnati
Liquor Barn (Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green, Danville, KY)
Haymarket Whiskey Bar (Louisville, KY)
Down One Bourbon Bar (Louisville, KY)
Bourbon’s Bistro (Louisville, KY)
Westport Whiskey & Wine (Louisville, KY)
Cork ‘N Bottle (Crescent Springs, KY)
The Party Source (Bellevue, KY)
D.E.P.’s Fine Wine & Spirits (Cincinnati, OH and northern KY)
The Livery (Lexington, KY)

Julio’s Liquors (Wesborough, MA)
Joyal’s Liquors (West Warick, RI)
Dry 85 (Annapolis, MD)

McScrooge’s (Knoxville, TN)
Bottles Beverage Superstore (Mt. Pleasant, SC)
Decatur Package (Decatur, GA)
Lincoln Road Package Store (Hattiesburg, MS)
Nasa Liquor (Houston, TX)

Midwest / Northern Midwest / West
Big Red Liquors (Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Bloomington, IN)
Crown Liquors (Indianapolis, IN)
Liquor Locker (Evansville, IN)
Tippins Market (Ann Arbor, MI)
Antioch Fine Wine (Antioch, IL)
Binny’s Beverage Depot (all over Chicago, IL)
West Lakeview Liquor (Chicago, IL)
Warehouse Liquors (Chicago, IL)
South Lyndale Liquors (Minneapolis, MN)
Ken & Norm’s Liquors (Minneapolis, MN)
Davidsons Liquors (Highlands Ranch, CO)

West Coast
Hard Water (San Francisco, CA)
Elixir Saloon (San Francisco, CA)

Which stores or bars are missing from this Twitter list?  Please add your favorites in the comments below.  Cheers!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Sipp’n Corn Scale 2.0 – No more “value” considerations.

I’ve been pondering revisions to my scale for some time now, and I appreciate the feedback on Twitter about whether, or how to, include my opinion on value in ratings.  In the past few years, I’ve reduced ratings of some high-priced Bourbon and I’ve increased a rating or two because the Bourbon was so refreshingly inexpensive or because it was lightyears better than Bourbon costing two or three times more.

Retail markets can vary pretty wildly on price, though, which reduces the usefulness of my adjustments for whatever I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to pay by virtue of living in Bourbon Country.  Plus, the secondary market has skewed value, and flippers have made finding some brands on the shelf at retail prices a rarity.

To top it off, my use of a value component is more subjective than my palate, so I’ve decided to remove it from the rating.  I’ll continue to comment on my personal opinion of value, but since everyone has their own price threshold and comfort level regardless of quality, my scoring will no longer include my perception of value.

So here’s version 2.0 of the Sipp’n Corn Scale:

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:

1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Which bottle is a better value? That’s your call.

Sipp’n Corn Review – Tudor Ice and Old Limestone Water.

Many enthusiasts will scoff at the idea adding anything to their Bourbon.  Most will acknowledge that a small amount of water can help open up flavors in some Bourbon, but it’s risky because it mutes the flavors sometimes, and there’s a risk of over-dilution.  Ice can be more controversial than a drop of water.  In a recent trip to Scotland, the distillery tour guides uniformly berated the idea of Scotch over ice.  Here, sentiment is much more forgiving, and personally, some hazmat-proof Bourbons become absolutely perfect with the slow melt of a single large cube or sphere.

Before you add water or ice to your whiskey, think before you turn on the faucet or open the freezer.  Water that is too hard or too soft, or which has too many minerals (or the wrong minerals), can influence the taste of your whiskey.  As your ice melts it can create those same issues, and if your freezer has an odor, it can be absorbed by your ice, and then your whiskey.  I’ve been to too many places with funky water that I’d never let get near my Bourbon.

In Louisville we’re blessed with fantastic tap water, so it is not really a concern here.  Louisville’s tap water has 159 mg/L of calcium carbonate per gallon, making it “moderately hard” (the range to avoid “soft” or “hard” designations is between 60 mg/L and 180 mg/L).  Although the Ohio River is Louisville’s water source, most of Kentucky’s interior rivers and spring-fed streams drain into it, thus contributing to Louisville water.  Louisville has won national and international awards for its water purity, quality, and taste, and when it costs a penny per day for 60 8-ounce glasses of water, there’s really no point for a Louisvillian to buy bottled water.

Of course, there’s a solution other than moving to Louisville for those who want to assure the quality of their water and ice.  Old Limestone bottles limestone-filtered Kentucky spring water.  Kentucky’s aquifer and naturally limestone-filtered, iron-free water played a role in the early development of Bourbon (along with frontier freedom, perfect weather, and abundant corn crops), and many people swear that Kentucky spring water is perfect for adding a splash back to Bourbon.

Tudor Ice Company traces its roots to 1806 when Frederic Tudor harvested ice from New England and shipped it to the Caribbean, and succeeded in convincing consumers that they wanted and needed ice.  Electric refrigeration put an end to the business, but now Tudor’s descendants are launching a reinvented Tudor Ice Company with pre-filled, sealed ice molds, using distilled water that removes most dissolved solids.  Tudor also uses a patent-pending process to remove dissolved oxygen from the water to create a denser ice cube.

Some people take their water and ice very seriously.  Bar ice has exponentially more surface area than even everyday home freezer cubes, which results in a fast melt and watered-down whiskey, so many people avoid standard bar ice.  For home use, most sphere molds have a release hole, which allows excess water to escape when filling the mold, and which also allows for expansion when freezing.  As an aesthetic annoyance, this also creates a small protrusion on the sphere.  For the truly obsessed, ice sphere presses can set you back over $1,000.00.  Some enthusiasts also strive for clarity in their ice.  If you have the time and inclination to do something that won’t affect the taste, you can boil and cool water twice to remove dissolved gasses that cause cloudiness.

The Test

To test the Tudor cube, I compared it to a sphere made with Old Limestone water, after freezing both for 24 hours.  My current sphere mold is silicone, so the spheres pop out effortlessly, but I’ve noticed that they are not particularly dense.  The Tudor cube mold was a little difficult to pop out, but its density was unmistakable.  I poured two ounces of 58.6% ABV Four Roses OBSV into each glass, and sipped them equally.

The first sip from each glass showed that the cube – which of course had more surface-area contact – had added a little more water to my Bourbon.  Additionally, after about eight minutes, my Bourbon had carved into at the cube, whereas the sphere was had a more even melt and was egg-shaped.  The sphere seemed to be performing better.

After about 10 minutes, however, the tide turned dramatically.  My Bourbon with the Tudor cube was much colder than my Bourbon with the sphere, and the sphere was melting fast.  By 14 minutes the sphere had essentially disintegrated into a small jagged mess with one curved side.  My Bourbon was considerably lighter in the glass with the sphere, and had that watered-down taste we want to avoid.  In the other glass, the cube still held its structure.  After 20 minutes, the cube looked more like a flat-top mushroom, but it was still sizeable, and my Bourbon was not at all watered-down.  This is when I called the experiment and finished each glass.

The taste of both Tudor and Limestone was equally remarkable, clean, and refreshing.  Both of these are perfect water for adding to Bourbon.  I was not about to ruin a fantastic Bourbon (even in the name of science) with water containing iron or some odd aroma, so I cannot offer a comparison or suggestions on water to avoid.  I also did not compare these to Louisville tap water, which might have performed just as well, although I never could have been able to replicate Tudor’s fantastic density.  Regardless, the quality of your water and ice can definitely make a difference, so sip wisely my friends.

Tudor Ice Co. and Old Limestone both kindly
sent me samples to try,
without any strings attached. Thank you.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Review – Glenfiddich 14 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky Bourbon Barrel Reserve

New charred oak barrels in Scotland?  Maybe this is a sign that Bourbon is gaining even more worldwide traction.  Maybe this is partial recognition that charred oak barrels hold the secret to whiskey – and even whisky.  Or maybe this is just experimentation by our Scottish forbearers and friends.  Whatever it is, I like it.

Talk of Bourbon barrels in Scotland almost always refers to used Bourbon barrels – where in their second life they mature Scotch.  I’ve wondered how much flavor different barrels can impart, depending on things like how long they held Bourbon, their char level, and the type of Bourbon they aged (certainly a high-rye Four Roses barrel will result in a different Scotch than a Heaven Hill barrel that aged a wheated Bourbon, right?).  And how much flavor is left in former Bourbon barrels, as an overall component of Scotch, especially when sometimes the barrels are used up to three times for Scotch?

Now, after aging whisky for 14 years in former Bourbon barrels, Glenfiddich has finished that whisky in new charred American Oak barrels from Louisville’s Kelvin Cooperage, to “deliver a bourbon heart with the soul of a single malt.”  Related to my interest in the influence of barrels, I inquired into the specifics of the finishing here.  Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich’s Malt Master, provided the answers.

I learned from Brian that Glenfiddich finished this whisky for four months, using a 3.5 char level in the Kelvin Cooperage barrels.  The finishing period may vary, but typically will be three to four months.  Entry ABV at the time of finishing was about 60%, and this percentage does not change materially during finishing. 

Glenfiddich used new charred oak barrels for finishing in order to add intensity and sweetness, along with a color more associated with Bourbon.  Climatic conditions in Scotland don’t encourage the same degree of interplay between spirit and wood as in Kentucky, so I expected the contribution of four months to be subtle.  Either way, I envy the research team that got to play with varying amounts of time for finishing before reaching the desired profile.

Tasting Notes

Disclaimer: Glenfiddich kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Glenfiddich 14 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky “Bourbon Barrel Reserve”

14 years in former Bourbon casks, finished for four months in new charred American Oak

43% ABV (86 proof)

$49.99 MSRP

Bright amber and darker than single malts of this age, presumably from the time spent in new charred barrels.  Straight Bourbon fans will be curious about the color without additives, but this is Scotch, so we’d better get over it; Glenfiddich is able to add a small amount of caramel coloring to ensure consistency between batches.

Unmistakably Scotch, but reminiscent of Bourbon at the same time.  There’s some oak, but overall it’s light and fresh, with vanilla, honey, ripe pear and honey crisp apple, and a bit of fresh citrus.  The nose did not pick up much caramel aroma from the new barrels, which I thought it might, or perhaps I’m just used to heavier caramel aromas from Bourbon.

First and foremost, this is single malt Scotch; there’s no mistaking 100% malted barley for at least 51% corn plus rye, giving Bourbon sweetness and spiciness.  Glenfiddich 14 Year is silky and rich, with sweet flavors of vanilla and honey, along with light, ripe fruit and orange zest.  The finishing barrels add a lovely subtle oakiness and flavor of raw almonds for a great slow-sipping whisky.

The finish is medium in length with lingering warmth, and some more oak, although predominantly sweet.

Bottom Line

Given the origin of American distilling and our shared history, it makes sense that Scotch devotees will want to try Bourbon, and that Bourbon enthusiasts will want to try Scotch.  Those who have not yet found the balance between whiskey and whisky might also have preconceived notions about the other, like Bourbon is always candy-sweet or all Scotch tastes like that heavily-peated variety that took you by surprise.  Glenfiddich 14 Year bridges that gap remarkably well. 

One reason that it bridges the gap so well is that Glenfiddich has not tried to create a whisky that tastes like Bourbon, instead finding a way to remain distinctively Scotch while capturing some of the influences of Bourbon.  Glenfiddich 14 Year won’t be confused with Bourbon – it’s missing caramel and a robust punch of spice – so I’m keeping my Bourbon, but I’ll be looking for Glenfiddich 14 and it will get me to try more Scotch, which perhaps was the goal of this release all along. 

While Glenfiddich 14 Year is a new permanent member of the Glenfiddich line, it is only being released in the U.S., with plans to keep it here exclusively.  Glenfiddich 14 could certainly enjoy a broader audience, so for those who can get it, I recommend giving it a try, especially the Bourbon enthusiast who is curious about Scotch.
Glenfiddich 14 certainly has the color of Bourbon...            

Sipp’n Corn Opinion: Sazerac Tries to Erase History by Suing the Owner of the Historic Old Taylor Distillery.

When George T. Stagg and Col. Edmund H. Taylor, Jr. parted ways effective January 1, 1887, Col. Taylor left behind the O.F.C. and Carlisle distilleries.  After many changes in ownership and names, that property is now Buffalo Trace, owned by Sazerac.  Col. Taylor, in the meantime, built the monument of a distillery known ever since as “The Old Taylor Distillery” in Millville, Kentucky.  The Old Taylor Distillery closed in 1972, but it kept its name (including the sign), and it certainly kept its spirit and legendary status.  While the brand name “Old Taylor” was bought and sold, eventually winding up with Sazerac, and the whiskey was made elsewhere, the property always remained The Old Taylor Distillery.

After decades of falling into serious disrepair, as noted in an earlier post and countless other articles, Peristyle LLC and Master Distiller Marianne Barnes came to its rescue and have been in the process of returning The Old Taylor Distillery to its former glory.  The new entrepreneurs were very careful to not call their business “The Old Taylor Distillery,” likely because Sazerac was claiming rights to the Taylor brand name.  A geographic location, however, does not follow a brand name that is bought and sold.

This week, months of negotiations and proceedings before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board came crashing down with Sazerac’s filing of a federal lawsuit against Peristyle.  In its new lawsuit, Sazerac claims that it owns the trademarks “Old Taylor” and “Col. E. H. Taylor,” and that Peristyle is offering “event-hosting services” using Sazerac’s brands “and confusingly similar variations thereof.” 

But all Sazerac could point to in its Compliant is Peristyle’s use of the true geographic name of the property – a name Sazerac could not bring itself to mention.  In fact, when referring in the Complaint to the historic site known as “The Old Taylor Distillery,” Sazerac ignored that name, and instead called it the “Frankfort Distillery.”  The only time Sazerac used the real name of the property in its Complaint was when it included a photograph showing the old sign still standing above the front door:

Sazerac should know that “The Old Taylor Distillery” is the name of the property, and that using a historically accurate geographic name is allowed.  In the 1880’s, a former ward and protégé of Col. Taylor, James E. Pepper, tried to prevent Labrot & Graham from using “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery” as the name of the distillery that is now Woodford Reserve.  The case of Pepper v. Labrot, 8 F. 29 (C.C.D. Ky. 1881) describes how the distillery built by Oscar Pepper in 1838 became known as the “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.”  Oscar Pepper died in June 1865, and the distillery was leased to Gaines, Berry & Co. (a partnership that included Col. Taylor), and the distillery continued to be known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.

James gained control of the distillery, but lost it in bankruptcy, and the property was acquired by Labrot & Graham, which continued to call it the “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.”  James sued Labrot & Graham because he believed that only he should be able to use the “Pepper” name.  Labrot & Graham won the case, however, because they owned what was actually called the “Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.”   The court ruled that reference to “Old Oscar Pepper’s Distillery” meant the place of production, and was not a trademark.

Here, Sazerac seems to be attempting exactly what James Pepper failed to do – it’s trying to lay claim to all of Col. Taylor’s history and anything named after him.  While Col. Taylor certainly made a lasting impression with the O.F.C., he failed there in 1877.  It was after he moved to The Old Taylor Distillery that he became truly legendary through the passage of the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897 and through the brand he built at his castle.  That history cannot be suppressed by Sazerac.

My posts have recounted over 100 years of litigation between Kentucky Bourbon distillers, but there has also been a tremendous history of cooperation.  Bringing life back to an important, historic distillery, such as The Old Taylor Distillery, is one of those occasions when producers should have banded together and cheered on Peristyle.  Sazerac took the bully approach instead, and should be ashamed for trying to erase history.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Four Roses 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch.

I was seated next to Jim Rutledge at this past Bourbon Affair while we blended our own small batch from half-pints of an 11-year OBSV, an 8-year OESO, a 6-year OESK, and a 15-year OBSO.  We learned how different recipes can complement each other, can do surprising things to each other, or can be difficult to fine-tune.  My first few blends were mostly unremarkable.  Then, when I landed on a blend that I thought was fantastic, I got a little cocky and traded with Jim, who had put together a blend that was practically the opposite of my components.  As you might imagine, Jim’s batch tasted like it could have been in the running for a Limited Edition bottling and mine had a long way to go in comparison.

That’s how the Four Roses Limited Edition process works.  They start with a test blend, tinker with it, refine it, experiment with it, and keep trying it until they reach a consensus.  The 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch took upwards of 70-100 test blends (depending on who you ask) before it was finally selected.  This year, however, the 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch was set after only 16 test blends.  Jim and his team knew that that landed on gold.

Four Roses 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Total Bottles:

16-year OBSK, a 15-year OESK, a 14-year OESK, and an 11-year OBSV

54.3% (108.6 proof)

$127.00 (gift shop price) or $109.00 retail

Tasting Notes
Deep amber with that reddish hue that comes with nice age (before turning the corner to brown).

Despite being barrel proof, there’s no singe here.  Feel free to soak up the aromas, and enjoy the “K” yeast shining through as I had hoped.  It has sweet scents of caramel, dark chocolate, brown sugar, honey, and dark fruit, balanced with a great punch of spice from the high-rye mash bills, and subtle cinnamon and clove.  Not as much oak as might be expected, but a great deep oak added to the balance.  I love this nose.

Creamy – please try the “Kentucky Chew” with this one, and let it coat your mouth.  I don’t usually find the flavor of cherries in Four Roses, but here it is, with just a bit of orange citrus.  The spice is just right, and then transitions to rich sweetness like dark chocolate I detected in the nose, along with honey, cinnamon apples, and more caramel, and a perfect balance of oak and leather.  It’s such a treat when a Bourbon can be multi-dimensional, and this Limited Edition nails it.  Add a drop or two of water if that’s your thing (making it a little sweeter in this case), but this Limited Edition is best enjoyed neat and slow.

The finish doesn’t quite keep up with the expectations created by the nose and the taste, but I’m not complaining.  It’s moderate in length, lingering, and warming, ultimately being dry with oak and leather, with just enough vanilla to provide balance, and mint to provide some flare.

Bottom Line:

After two years of winning “American Whiskey of the Year,” with the 2012 and 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch releases, 2014 could not “three-peat.”  This 2015 release should have Four Roses back in the running, and thus far based on what I’ve been able to try this year, it’s firmly in contention.

I knew going into this that I’m a sucker for the “K” yeast.  Private barrels of OBSK and OESK have been some of my all-time favorite bottles, so the heavy use of those recipes had me excited from the second that I first learned about this year’s batch.  Beginning with a fantastic nose (as in hands-down best nose of the year), this Limited Edition does not disappoint.  The balance of flavors is phenomenal too.  The high bar set by Four Roses probably contributed to my wanting more out of the finish – expectations are stratospheric – and with a slightly more robust and longer finish, it would have already been crowned American Whiskey of the Year.  This just means that I’ll have to try it blind alongside other contenders.

While there’s some sentimental value attached to the 2015 Limited Edition because it’s the last with Jim at the helm, this Bourbon blows past sentiment and will be remembered on its own merits as one of the best Bourbons of 2015.

Scores on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 4.5

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent Bourbon and even worth its high price.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Review – Alberta Premium Dark Horse (“Dark Batch” in U.S.)

Thanks to some friends north of the border, I was able to get a bottle of two Canadian Whiskies, one of which is only available in Canada (Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye Whisky), and Alberta Premium Dark Horse Canadian Whisky, which was released this past spring in the U.S., but called “Dark Batch.”

Some people have wondered why the name “Dark Horse” would be abandoned in this land where horses are featured on so many whiskey labels.  The answer probably involves the new craft distillery in Kansas, Dark Horse Distillery (, or maybe the existence of the Dark Horse Wines in Modesto, California, or perhaps Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, Michigan.  Either way, it’s “Dark Batch” to those in the U.S.

Dark Horse is a bit hard to explain, even before getting to tasting notes, so maybe this table describing its four components will help: 

100% Rye Whisky distilled in a pot still, aged 6 years in new #4 char American Oak barrels

100% Rye Whisky distilled in a column still, aged 12 years in used Bourbon barrels

Old Grand-Dad Bourbon (age and proof undisclosed, though)

Oloroso Sherry

Dark Horse hasn’t followed the trend of finishing barrels, and instead it goes right to blending in a small percentage of fortified wine.  As you might imagine, even at 1%, the Sherry notes are much stronger than merely being Sherry finished.


Alberta Premium Dark Horse Canadian Whisky

Alberta Distillers, Ltd.

Undisclosed on label


Beam Suntory

90 proof

$29.99  - $34.99 locally for U.S. version

Tasting Notes

As the name suggests, it’s dark, but it still hangs on to a glint of amber and reddish tones.  It looks darker in the bottle because (at least the Canadian version) uses the Stagg Jr. trick of a big black back label.

The nose was more herbal than I expected, along with sugary-syrupy sweetness, honey, dark fruit, pine nuts, and dark, earthy aromas.  But there’s more than just that; there’s enough going on that I found new scents on each re-taste (cinnamon, clove, furniture polish), and I expect to find more every time that I go back to it.  I’m not exactly sure that I like the roller coaster ride, however.

This is complex and coating:  root beer immediately, and then honey, vanilla, and rounded out with coffee, oak and smokiness.  The Sherry is prominent, and sometimes it’s tough to grasp.  Some of the favors complement each other, but others compete.  It never quite hooked me.

Peppery but sweet flavors linger and fade softly for a moderate finish.

Bottom Line

I enjoy my whiskey neat, or sometimes on ice, but that’s not where Dark Horse necessarily shines.  In fact, it’s a little puzzling neat.  I’m also puzzled in trying to decide whether to give bonus points for innovation and originality, or deduct points for blending scraps together.  I will say, however, that Dark Horse grew on me through my course of tastings.

I’m perfectly pleased to have this bottle, but I’ll be experimenting with cocktail recipes, hoping that the rye shines through.  I won’t go back to it neat right away, but I will eventually.  As perhaps the true test, I don’t really think that I will replace my bottle when it’s gone.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 3.0

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent Bourbon and even worth its high price.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.