Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Whiskey

Whiskey Reviews in the Time of Quarantine

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Hard Pass

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Tough To Find Whiskeys That You Need To Try

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

In 2017 I sampled some amazing whiskeys. From old, rare and collectible to new, limited in production and seemingly impossible to find, there were so many drams to try. Before I get into my list of thought to find whiskeys to try, I want to start with the one I missed out on. The white whale, if you will, was Bainbridge Yama. Never heard of it you say? You’re not alone. What first drew me to this dram was the description:

Bainbridge Yama is the first-ever non-Japanese whiskey to be aged exclusively in hand-crafted barrels made from rare Mizunara oak harvested from the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Tell me more…Ok, will do. So, then, I found out it was Whiskey Advocate Magazine’s 2016 whiskey of the year. Say what? How did I not hear about this? I tried unsuccessfully, 5 different times to purchase it on the secondary market and missed out each time. Definitely a bummer.

With that, here’s what I tried, in 2017, that’s hard to find (but can be found).

Booker’s Rye

Jim Murray anointed it the 2017 Whiskey of the Year. I concur. It blew my mind. Booker’s, in general, is a favorite of mine. The Rye took it to a whole other level. The right amount of spice. A wonderful finish. And, a killer color. Just about everything you want in a whiskey.

Westland Garryana

You’re saying, huh? My friend Eric turned me on this and I was not disappointed. Drinkhacker describes it best:

Who or what is Garryana? It’s short for Quercus garryana, a species of oak native to the Pacific Northwest, where Westland Distillery is based. While American oak barrels are traditionally formed form Quercus alba, a species of oak common to the midwest, Westland, as you might have guessed, aged part of this limited edition release of its single malt whiskey in so-called Garry oak, where it spent three years slumbering before hitting the bottle.

Intriguing, right? I don’t have a better way to describe it, other than, funky. It’s incredibly unique and unlike anything, I’ve ever sampled.

Ichiro’s Port Pipe and On The Way

I’m a big fan of Ichiro Akuto and his whiskey. I’ve yet to have a bad one. My first introduction to Ichiro was his “Chichibu The First.” For such a young whiskey it was full of flavor and complexity. This year I tried On The Way and Port Pipe. They couldn’t be more different and yet, both, awesome. Port Pipe is rich, flavorful and almost sweet. On The Way is assertive, layered and warm.

Crooked Water Kings Point

I move to Minnesota and my buddy Kasey, a Minnesota native says, “you have to try Crooked Water bourbon!” Ok, I’m in. Not the easiest to find, but I’m glad I hunted for it. The Whiskey Wash describes it well:

It is described by Crooked Water as a two-year old bourbon that was finished for over six months in a used port barrel imported from Portugal from a 100+ year winery.

I always applaud distilleries that can create or extract flavor from young whiskeys. Crooked Water nailed it with the Kings Point bourbon.

Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon
I read about the hype. I read more about the hype. Finally, I broke down and took a flyer on a bottle. Initially, I was not a fan. It was not my cup of tea, I felt. But, After 3 or 4 glasses over a month, I became a fan. While not the best whiskey I’ve ever had, it’s very good and has an incredibly distinct taste. The boys in Texas really know what they’re doing.

There’s a lot of great whiskey out there. If you look hard enough you may find a sought-after gem.

10 More Whiskeys To Try

Hibiki 17 at an ancient temple in Kyoto.

2 years ago, after starting a journey that I didn’t even realize I was taking, I developed a list of 10 whiskeys to try. Since then, I’ve personally tasted nearly 100 distinct and unique whiskeys, in 4 different countries and more than a dozen states. I’ve found whiskeys that are just not for me, but I know would be great for others and then I’ve come across whiskeys that I’ve absolutely fell fallen in love with. What a trip it’s been!

In adding 10 more whiskeys to the original list of 10 whiskeys to try, I wanted to keep with the same basic principles.

  1. You should be able to easily buy this bottle online or at a store.
  2. If you can’t buy the bottle, any solid whiskey bar, should have it.
  3. The cost should equal good value. That doesn’t mean the cost will be cheap, but in thinking about overall taste and/or experience, the cost should be in-line.
  4. I’m not choosing a specific bottling year. Keep in mind taste does change subtly in different vintages.
  5. Where possible, I’m avoiding large mainstream recommendations.

With that out of the way, here’s 10 more whiskeys to try.

Westland Sherry Wood: Sherry finishing has become a thing, again, thanks to Yamazaki’s offering being named the 2014 best whiskey in the world, by Jim Murray. This is a young whiskey. Roughly 3 years old. Usually young whiskeys are raw, untamed and lacking a smooth finish. Sherry helps manage that issue. This is such a great whiskey. You get a wonderful flavor, a beautiful color and a nice finish. A bottle will run you ~$85.00 and a glas ~$16.00.

The Hakushu 12: I don’t normally go for peated whiskeys. They’re just not my cup of tea. I don’t like the smoke. The Hakushu 12 changed my point of view. You get smoke, but you also get sweetness and spice. It’s a flavor conundrum, but oh so pleasant. At $75 a bottle and $14 a glass, this is a solid value and is sure to please all palettes.

Nikka Coffey Grain: They also offer the Nikka Coffey Malt. They couldn’t be more different. Make sure you know what you’re buying. I don’t recall what prompted me to buy my first bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain, but I’m glad I did. It’s probably become one of my top 5 favorite whiskeys. There’s nothing bad about it. It’s rich in color, has a wonderful nose, smooth on the taste and with a pleasant finish. At roughly $55 a bottle, you can’t go wrong.

Oban 14: My friend, Zach West, introduced me to Oban. From the first glass, I could see why. This is the whiskey people should be given when they’re introduced to whiskey. It’s light in color, neutral in taste (goes with anything) and lacks the “burn” people associate whiskey with. There is simply nothing not like, including the price! For only $50 a bottle, you get all that!

Ichiro’s Malt and Grain: Not a lot of people know about Ichiro’s whiskey. Google Ichiro Akuto to learn more. The Malt and Grain product, is a marrying of his whiskey with whiskeys from across the globe, to create a perfect blend. Heck of a story, right? It’s a heck of a whiskey too!  Fruity, floral and smooth, this is one great tasting whiskey. This might be a little harder to find and will set you back $125, but like I said at the beginning, I’m focusing on value and this is great value.

Very Old Barton: I was persuaded to visit the Old Barton distillery by a friend. She raved about it. So, I visited. She was right. Let me get this up front, Very Old Barton costs $20 a bottle. Yes, $20. Why it’s only $20 is anyone’s guess. It’s a fantastic bourbon.

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram: What is this whiskey? Well, it’s complicated. Technically, it’s just their Rendezvous Rye. But, it’s then finished in port and French oak barrels. Similar to sherry, a port finish offers a certain sweetness to a whiskey. I snatched this bottle up from the High West Distillery in Utah. At $90 a bottle, I had high expectations. I was impressed.

Sazerac Rye: This is the perfect whiskey for making cocktails. The Sazerac Rye is fine with a cube, but shines in a cocktail. I was once a Bulleit Rye or Basil Hayden cocktail guy. After having Sazerac Rye, that all changed. Full of flavor and the right amount of spice. This is a great choice for reminding you what a good whiskey cocktail should taste like. Oh and it’s only $35 a bottle!

Angel’s Envy Bourbon: At $45 a bottle, you’re getting one heck of a unique bottle, a refined smooth finish (thanks to the port barrel finishing) and enough punch to remind you that you’re drinking whiskey. I find it to be spicy, but balanced, with a great nose. One of the few whiskeys, in my opinion, that benefit from a drop or 2 of water.

Knob Creek Rye: Dark and rich, like maple syrup, in color, with a good, but not great nose and surprisingly butterscotch/toffee smoothness on the palette, this rye was so much more than I expected. And, at $35 a bottle, it’s a steal!

That’s 10, folks. You should be able to score these at your nearest bar, liquor store or online. I would like to add, that if you’re willing to spend some time hunting and/or opening up your wallet, here are 5 other whiskeys to check out: Yamazaki 18, Willett XCF, Blade and Bow 22, Old Pulteney 21 and my personal favorite, Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope.