With fewer opportunities to eat out, I spent the last seven months redirecting that money into several other avenues. One of them being many new whiskeys to try and add to the library.
My network of whiskey friends spans the entire country, including Washington, California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, Wisconsin, Illinois, and more. I’m fortunate to have a great group of people who enjoy the brown stuff.
All told, I tried some 20+ new whiskeys since the COVID-19 quarantine setup started. Some have been life-changing. Others made me wish I’d lit my money on fire because it would have been more satisfying. I’m not going to go through all of them. Instead, I’m going to share five that were exceptional, two that were bad, and three just weren’t for me – but, might be great for you.
- Garrison Brothers HoneyDew: This one surprised me. I typically hate flavored whiskeys. But, I have never been disappointed by anything from Garrison Brothers. This review swayed me to give it a try, and I’m glad I did. Honestly, I don’t even taste the “honey”, but what I do tase are subtle layers that seem to build on one another. There’s a sweet and approachable nose. Then oak and vanilla on the tongue. And the finish is just where I want it – upper 3rd. It’s enough to let you know it’s there, but not so much as to overpower the dram. It’s pricy at $89.99 a bottle, but worth it.
- Joseph A. Magnus & Co. Murrary Hill Club: So, I walk into a liquor store. I’m checking out. Behind the cashier is this bottle for $115 that I’d never heard of. I ask him about it. He doesn’t know much. $115 for a bottle that I’ve never tasted is straight-up bananas. I text my buddy who lives in Cinci about it. He says the same thing. But, he also says, everyone he knows who’s tried it loved it. Hmm. So I head back to the store, and it’s gone. Well, those are the breaks. A few days later I’m at a boutique grocery store/deli. And, well now, there it is! So, I buy it. And, just wow. Honestly, it’s better than $300 bottles that I’ve tasted. Everything about it is delightful. It has the right amount of everything. From the heat to the oak on the nose, to the apricot on the tongue, it’s basically flawless. This review gives a great background and more tasting notes.
- Maker’s Mark 101: I like Maker’s Mark. The whiskey is as reliable as it gets. There’s nothing spectacular about it. But, at $22 or so, a bottle, it’s a good value for cocktails to sipping neat. But, I always felt it lacked some punch. Maker’s 46 was supposed to address some of that. It just wasn’t for me. I had heard about Maker’s Mark 101, but it was basically a white whale. It was only available at the distillery. But, this year, it hit the shelves. For $35 – $50 a bottle, you will not find much better. It gives you the familiarity of Maker’s Mark, with some extra heat, spice, and depth.
- Basil Hayden 10 Year: WOW. This is my whiskey of the year when you factor in price, availability, flavor, and any other variable you want to throw in. I was bummed to miss out on the first release. Then, one day, I’m killing time while my daughter is at soccer practice. I pop into local liquor store and there are three bottles on the shelf. I grabbed all three. I’m glad I did. Getting age statements on bottles is becoming harder and harder these days. And having a 10-year statement is nearly impossible. This bold release from Beam-Suntory hits all the right notes. As this review details, you get some Summer fruit, caramel, and oak. At $60 a bottle, you aren’t breaking the bank.
- Smoke Wagon Small Batch: Whiskey, from Nevada? Ok, you have my attention. I started seeing Smoke Wagon in my Instagram feed, a lot. The name turned me off. I tend not to like smoke flavored whiskeys. But, one day, I decided to read up on the whiskey. There is no smoke. Smoke, in the name, has nothing to do with the taste profile. A good friend was able to track down some bottles and get them shipped to me. Spicy, but the right spice, was everywhere. It’s in the nose, the taste, and the finish. But, when I say, “spicy”, I want you to think of spice as flavor. Yes, there’s rye, but there’s a nice toasted element, brown sugar, and maybe some nuttiness. I dug it, a lot.
- Kentucky Owl Confiscated: I should have known better. Really, I should have. This overview should have been a giant red flag. But, when you say rare, hard to find, and give it a killer story, I’m hooked. This was bad. The flavor was all over the place. A big tell for me is if I smell or taste pine. I caught it the minute I opened the bottle. You live, you learn.
- George Dickel 9 Year Hand Selected: This should have been awesome. I love Dickel. I dig small batches. Age statements are typically a good thing. The reviews were generally very positive. But, honestly, it was bad. It’s like bad jazz that portends to be some freestyling. There was too much oak, it was thin, and it just burned. I couldn’t really get a distinct flavor profile of any kind. When Dickel #12 is so good at $20, the 9 year is criminal for charging nearly $60.
Not for Me, but Maybe for You
- New Riff Single Barrel: Everyone was telling me, I had to try this. The reviews were all solid. But, it was not for me. Spicy, yes. However, the spices aren’t what I wanted in a bottle. This moved almost immediately to the cocktail shelf. When I have whiskeys that I don’t enjoy neat, I transition them for use in making an old fashioned, sazerac, or manhattan. With this many great reviews, surely it’s me. So, give it a whirl.
- Heaven’s Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey: I had high hopes for Bob Dylan’s whiskey label. The reviews were great. I love a good Tennesse whiskey. Specifically, I really dig George Dickel #12. Many suspect the whiskey is sourced from Dickel. But, despite all of that going for it, I was disappointed. There was nothing wrong with it. However, there wasn’t anything that stood out.
- Stagg Jr. Batch 12: I’m all over the place with Stagg Jr. Some batches are great. Some are not. You know you’re going to get heat with Stagg. But, this was over-powering for me. It really required an ice cube or two. But, I feel horrible doing that to such a great whiskey. If you like heat, you’ll love this whisky.
So there you have it. Ten different whiskeys, all with a different story. The thing I love about whiskey is that each person experiences each pour differently. What I love, you might hate, and what I might hate, you might love. Either way – keep tasting!