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Author: dbrockmanw (page 1 of 4)

Decoding Four Roses Part 1: A Brief History & Blind Tasting of All 10 Recipes

Today, Four Roses consistently produces some of the most high-quality Bourbon on the market. I’d argue it is among the best, if not the best.

But it hasn’t always been that way. At least not in the United States.

Prohibition, Prominence, and Seagrams

After surviving prohibition through being one of the few distilleries allowed to produce medicinal whiskey, and later reigning for decades as the top-selling bourbon in the United States (Frankfort Distillers was the nation’s 5th largest liquor business between Four Roses and Paul Jones), Seagrams purchased the brand in 1943 for $42m.

Four Roses Ad in background, 1945

Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photo captures a prominent Four Roses Advertisement in Times Square, 1945. The large illuminated and animated sign featuring neon roses that “grew” alongside the logo below which read “A Truly Great Whiskey” was first introduced in 1938 and remained until 1945. Due to it’s visiblity from distances as far away as the Statue of Liberty, it was turned off at dark during WWII so it could not be used it as a target.

Despite its history, Seagrams had different plans for Four Roses. Being the blended whiskey giant they were, they acquired many distilleries to produce whiskey for their blends. Four Roses didn’t escape this fate. By the 1950s, it had become a blended whiskey and was only producing bourbon for export markets. In America, the product slipped into a decades-long dark age that over time saw it fall from the spotlight on the top shelf to the dark and dusty crevices of the bottom.

Four Roses Whiskey ad 1943

A Blend of Straight Whiskies, 1943

Fortunately, after changing hands multiple times, Four Roses was eventually purchased by Kirin Brewery Company in 2002. Under new ownership who understood the quality and potential of their newly acquired Bourbon, the brand eventually returned to the level of prominence it experiences today.

This renaissance was of course in large part due to the vision and dedication of Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, who had worked with the brand in various capacities since beginning his tenure with Seagrams in 1966.

Starting in research and development, Jim moved to work out of Seagram’s corporate office in New York City in 1975. He returned to Kentucky in 1992 after 17 years in New York and became Master Distiller in 1994 with the goal of bringing Four Roses Bourbon back to the United States. That same year, Four Roses Yellow Label was introduced into the domestic market, beginning with extremely limited quantities only available in Kentucky.

Since returning to Kentucky, Jim and his team have incrementally brought back the respect the Four Roses brand deserves by focusing more on what’s inside the bottle than what’s on the outside. The result of that focus has been nothing short of spectacular.

60% Grain Neutral Spirits by 1953

60% Grain Neutral Spirits, 1953

I’m still reeling a bit from all the recognition of my 40th anniversary last year – especially Malt Advocates’ Life Time Achievement Award – and it keeps going. After all these years doing something I absolutely love it keeps getting better and better. For so many years while with Seagram I tried and tried to get them to discontinue production and sale of that *#*&*^ blended whiskey, with our name on it, let it die away and ultimately bring our Four Roses Bourbon back to the U.S. I reminded Seagram marketing people over and over that we were the number one selling Bourbon in the U.S. for a period of time prior to Prohibition and for three decades after Prohibition for a Good Reason – we have a Great Bourbon. Even if I didn’t agree, I honestly understood their logic. They all reminded me that their predecessors – begining in the 40’s ruined the renowned name for Four Roses Bourbon when they introduced a blended whiskey (made mostly in Indiana and Maryland) with our name on the label. It still devastates me that an industry giant, like Seagram, could go out of business primarily because of one person. I have so many Seagram friends and many have struggled since December 2001. However, for me personally, I’m continuing to live a dream come true. Not a lot of people gave us much of a chance, but I believed in our Bourbon and I felt over time that we could shed the image of the blended whiskey and people would once again come to respect and love Four Roses Bourbon for what it is – a Great Premium Bourbon.

"Let us underwhelm you" American Light Whiskey by 1973

American Light Whiskey, 1973

I look around at the people at Four Roses and see the pride in their faces now that Four Roses is on its way back “home.” We’re relatively small in numbers but our hearts are huge and our energy seems to be endless. I hope I can somehow slow the Clock of Life down and stay on for years to come. I now have over 41 years in the business, but I feel like I’m still a Kid in a Candy shop, and I want to be around when Four Roses Bourbon is truly a global brand – including all of the USA. We’re on our way….

- Jim Rutledge, 2008

When the transition to Kirin took place I was only 19, but by the time the single barrel product hit shelves I was 21 and enjoying it. Not much has changed since then.

And I’m not the only one who shares the sentiment. You don’t have to try hard in the Bourbon world to find a fan of Four Roses, but you will have a hard time finding someone with bad things to say.  Because of this, the demand has grown exponentially over the past few years, with sales figures increasing by more than 350% from 2011 to 2014.

The vision and passion has payed off, and on that note Jim Rutledge recently announced his retirement effective September 1 of this year (2015), but not before announcing a $55 million expansion that will double the Lawrenceburg distillery’s capacity.

Hats off to you, Jim!

10 Distinct Recipes

Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg Kentucky

Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg Kentucky

The main unique aspect of Four Roses is their 10 different recipes they produce to supply their core Bourbon lineup.

Here are the basics:

Two different Mash Bills:

  1. E Mash Bill “High-Corn”: 20% Rye, 75% Corn, 5% Malted Barley
  2. B Mash Bill “High-Rye”: 35% Rye,  60% Corn, 5% Malted Barley

5 Yeast Strains:

  1. VLight fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel & creamy
  2. KLight spiciness, light caramel & full-bodied
  3. ORich fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel & full-bodied
  4. Q – Essences of floral aromas
  5. FEssences of herbal aromas

The combination of each Mash Bill with each yeast strain produces 10 recipes:

  1. OBSVB Mash Bill, V yeast.
  2. OESV - E Mash Bill, V yeast.
  3. OBSK B Mash Bill, K yeast.
  4. OESK E Mash Bill, K yeast.
  5. OBSO B Mash Bill, O yeast.
  6. OESO E Mash Bill, O yeast.
  7. OBSQ B Mash Bill, Q yeast.
  8. OESQ E Mash Bill, Q yeast.
  9. OBSF B Mash Bill, F yeast.
  10. OESF E Mash Bill, F yeast.

The “O” in each recipe means the whiskey was distilled at the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

The “S” in each recipe designates Straight Whiskey.

These recipes, or most importantly the individual yeast strains, originate from the Kentucky distillery network previously operated by Seagrams. This network consisted of:

  • Calvert in Louisville
  • The Old Louis Hunter Distillery in Cynthiana
  • The Athertonville Distillery in LaRue County
  • The Henry Mckenna Distillery in Nelson County
  • The Old Prentice Distillery (Four Roses) in Lawrenceburg

Single-Story Warehouses

Four Roses Coxs Creek

Entrance to Four Roses’ Cox’s Creek facility with single-story warehouses in background.

The other unique aspect of Four Roses is that they age their distillate in single-story warehouses.

The barrel house complex at Cox’s Creek, which is about 50 miles from the distillery in Lawrenceburg and about 30 miles south of Louisville, was built in 1960 and encompasses 298 acres with warehouses alphabetically labeled from A to U.

An individual warehouse occupies approximately one acre of land but is only a single story high. Compared to the 35 degree temperature variance between the top and bottom levels of the average rick-house used in Kentucky, Four Roses’ warehouses have a comparatively small variance from top to bottom of only about 8 degrees.

All of this means the barrels stored inside Four Roses’ warehouses tend to age more evenly than they would in a standard warehouse.

Four Roses Core Products

Having so many recipe options is a luxury, and as a result every one of Four Roses’ flagship products is different. Their Yellow Label uses all 10 recipes, but you will not find the same recipe used for their Single Barrel in the Small Batch, unless it’s a special or private release bottle.

Four Roses Product Lineup

L to R: Small Batch, Yellow Label, Single Barrel

  • Four Roses Yellow Label – introduced in 1994 and is a blend of all 10 recipes
  • Four Roses Small Batch – introduced in 2006 and is a blend of OBSK, OESK, OBSO, and OESO
  • Four Roses Single Barrel - introduced in 2004 and is always OBSV

Now that we’ve covered the technicalities, let’s see how each recipe stacks up…

Lineup & Tasting Results

Four Roses Single Barrel Bottles

Photo by Matthew Preston of The Lexington Bourbon Society.

All recipes tasted and ranked in this post are private selections purchased in April 2014 from Liquor Barn Hamburg (Lexington, KY) and Liquor Barn Richmond Rd (Lexington, KY).

Here are the details for the individual bottles:

Recipe Age ABV Warehouse Barrel
OBSK 12 yr 53.2% DN 37-1N
OESK 10 yr, 3 mo 55.7% KW 85-1C
OBSV 11 yr, 3 mo 54.2% ME 2-1G
OESV 10 yr 57.2% GW 38-2S
OBSO 10 yr, 4 mo 55.3%  US  55-1A
OESO 11 yr, 5 mo 56.0% BN 30-3B
OBSQ 10 yr, 4 mo 58.8% JE 42-2I
OESQ 10 yr, 1 mo 59.0% RN 85-3H
OBSF 11 yr, 8 mo 59.1% HW 29-3Q
OESF 10 yr 6 mo 56.6% GE 5-2C


Tasting Sessions and Results:

Though not impossible, objectively tasting 10 whiskeys in one session is a bit much so I decided to break the tasting into two sessions: the first for Mash Bill E, and another for Mash Bill B.

To help with the ranking, I invited two friends who have decent experience and knowledge but who had not previously tasted all 10 recipes.

We tasted everything blind, or at least as blind as possible considering we knew which mash bill was represented in the first session.

First Session: E Mash Bills, April 21 2015

Four Roses E Mash Bill Tasting

The first session was relatively straight-forward with almost completely consistent results between myself and the other two tasters.

OESO and OESK we’re the strong favorites of the lineup. In my opinion comparing O to K, the O was lightyears ahead of the runner-up with an immediate presence of earthy and intriguingly vegetal notes that settled into a beautiful, thick and creamy palate that sweetened into caramelized sugar over time. With an exceptional finish, it was an easy pick for #1.

K was a bit darker with some fig and hints of licorice and honestly I was surprised to learn after the reveal that it was K. A high quality pour but less elegant than the OESO, it had a very well-rounded nose-to-palate-to-finish sequence that landed it in the #2 spot.

Interestingly, the single barrel standard V yeast was ranked right in the middle. It’s certainly a crowd pleaser so this result seemed appropriate.

OESF and OESQ we’re enjoyable, but not solid enough on all parts too make the cut. The F had some dry wood notes that weren’t fantastic and the Q was musty and for that it landed in last place.

E-Mash Bill Rankings
Rank My Rank Taster #1 Taster #2


Four Roses B Mash Bill + Top 2 of E Mash Bill, July 23 2015

Four Roses B-E Mash Bill Tasting

For the second session, we took the top two picks from the E Mash Bill session (OESO & OESK) and placed them among all of the B Mash Bills. We also took ample time off between sessions to make sure we were coming in fresh and without any lingering palate memory. This would prove an important and interesting move as the results will show.

Almost immediately I honed in on a pleasant consistency between the OBSO and the OESO, but attempting to identify them blind proved difficult. I correctly identified the OBSO yeast, but incorrectly guessed that it was an E mash bill because I thought it was “too soft”. It was exceptionally well-rounded with baking spices hanging out alongside creamy vanilla cake icing. It had a cool, herbal note on the palate that led to a finish that was just spectacular.

The OESO followed closely. It lacked a sharp spiciness in comparison to the B Mash Bills, but more than made up for it with a thick buttery deliciousness that allowed the beautiful oak notes to shine through. I didn’t remember the wood being so prominent in the OESO tasted among the E Mash Bills.

Again, V yeast was ranked right in the middle of the spread but bumped up a few notches comparatively as OBSV. This seems uncanny but it honestly can’t be. In my notes I lead with “…has the most distinct Four Roses character” as I personally associate Four Roses mostly with the single barrel flagship, but overall it lacked a strong-enough finish to compete with OBSO and OESO.

The OBSK initially came off as over-oaked, but developed nicely into sweet chocolate and spices. It wasn’t strong on the palate but had a decent finish. Enjoyable but with quirks.

OBSQ had nice notes of sweet gum on the nose that led to a hot palate and a hot finish. I guessed this was F, but was wrong. I tend to often mix up F & Q when tasting blind. OBSF was more cinnamon-forward and just didn’t do it for me.

As for the OESK, it was overpowered by the B Mash Bills which muted its delicateness and brought out a metallic note that led me to reject it almost immediately. I want to revisit this one individually in the near future to get to the bottom of that.

B Mash Bill + Top 2 of E Mash Bill Ranking
Rank My Rank Taster #1 Taster #2



First things first, I’m both happy and surprised with my personal results. I was surprised that I leaned so heavily towards both O yeast recipes, but I welcome it with open arms as I’ve often overlooked OBSO and OESO private picks. Shame on me.

In this lineup there wasn’t a particular recipe in all 10 that I didn’t enjoy, it’s just that I enjoyed some more than others. And some preferences changed drastically in different contexts.

I’ve learned (again) that tasting is very subjective and comparison matters. Add to that the fact that the second round of results were very different between three tasters and it’s hard to come to a solid “this is the best” or “this is the overall favorite” recipe.

I also can’t help but wonder if any of the rejected E Mash Bills would have fared better overall had they been given the chance. With different company than what led me to really enjoy the OESK, it failed miserably. Maybe I wasn’t looking for the flaw the first time, or maybe the initial comparative sensory exercise wasn’t drastic enough for it to become a nuisance? Or, if I picked that one above 3 other E picks maybe the others completely suck?

I could do this all over again in 6 months and probably come to different results.

What I think is most important here is the understanding that–although highly influential–producing variety in Bourbon is well beyond a simple combination of grains and yeast. There are so many intricate variables I’ve not discussed in enough detail that create variety (barrels, weather, warehouse location, age, proof, etc.) that just looking at a recipe on a label and expecting it to be the best of the best by title alone is just dumb.

In other blind tastings similar to this one I’ve ranked OBSK, OESK, and even OBSQ on top. I’ve been completely repulsed by an OBSF in the past whereas I somewhat enjoyed both the F yeasts in this session.

The bottom line is that all of these are pretty damn good, but more importantly they’re consistent, as most Four Roses private selections tend to be. It’s a rare thing to get a bad one. If I were served any of these recipes individually, I’d find much about each of them to enjoy.


What do YOU think about these results?

Have you tasted all 10 Four Roses Recipes? Are you still trying to make your way through them?

I’m conducting a survey to see how the community’s preference at large stacks up against these results. If you have 5 minutes to answer 3 easy questions, it would be much appreciated!


I’ll be publishing the survey results and other interesting information very soon in Part 2!


*Much of the information presented in this post is referenced from Al Young’s book, Four Roses The Return of a Whiskey Legend. It is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in more detail on the subject.

If you’re looking for more information about recipes, I highly recommend covering the basics from the source, then reading what Sippn’ Corn has to say. And of course, questions are always encouraged in the comments below.

Green Spot vs. Yellow Spot: Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey Reviews

Single Pot Still whiskey is a traditional Irish product made from a mash that includes both malted and unmalted barley that is triple-distilled in copper pot stills. The style has seen a resurgence over the recent years, but since I’m late to the party and don’t want to beat a dead horse, the video below is entertaining if you’re in search of a little more information.

…now on to the good stuff!

The Whiskey(s)

Green Spot

green spot irish whiskey

Green Spot doesn’t cary an age statement, but according to the source it is composed of single pot still whiskey aged in new bourbon, second fill bourbon, and sherry casks for 7-11 years and bottled at 40%.

Notes: Green Spot

Initially, Green Spot’s nose is thin with explicit grain notes. This is not typically my thing but there’s more lying beneath the surface that intrigues. Cereal notes are arid and agile. The nose is full but simple; vibrant, spunky, and young. I enjoy it quite well.

Soft traces of lilac, lavender, and other spring herbs build anticipation as though you’re passing through a blooming garden accompanied by a faint breeze as a crescendo of fresh sliced green apple, green grapes, and a hint of prosecco arrive to steal the show. There’s a trace of peach lingering in there as well. Overall, very fresh and playful.

There are not too many surprises on the palate. The entry is abrupt and the vibrancy of seemingly younger malt takes hold. You get almost exactly what the nose primitively suggests: a clean, light, even, and simple experience.

I expected more fruit to follow through to the palate but I was left longing for something a bit more dashing. The mouthfeel is decent; the grain is conspicuous with a faint velvety texture, but it doesn’t particularly excite or disappoint.

The finish is clean and dry. I’m left thinking the 40% bottling proof makes what is probably otherwise an overwhelmingly delicious drink mediocre.

Yellow Spot

yellow spot irish whiskey

Yellow Spot is a 12 year old single pot still whiskey matured in bourbon, Spanish Sherry, and Spanish Malaga casks bottled at 46.0%.

Notes: Yellow Spot

Yellow Spot’s bouquet carries the same coarse, grain-forward character that drives the experience of Green Spot, but with added complexity, depth, and maturity.

Dusty, musky, burnt, and brandy-esque aromas are amplified as notes of shortbread, ginger, and vanilla–exuberant in comparison, but for the ensemble restrained–fill in the gaps.

Extravagant butterscotch and dark fruit enchant. It’s borderline spectacular. Between the two, I’m exponentially more interested in courting this Spot than the other.

When drinking, the front-palate is excited and sweetness moves from front to back as darker notes carry into the finish. The extra wood influence rounds out the palate by calming the spirit and dressing it in modest attire.

There’s more weight on the body here and Yellow Spot is confident carrying it. It introduces itself as relaxed and sophisticated but, unfortunately, as you get acquainted it doesn’t continue to shed layers. A true master of first impressions.

A hint of ripened banana sweetens up the finish. Clean and easy.

Green Spot & Yellow Spot Blend

Green Spot and Yellow Spot Blend

Because both of these whiskeys each had their own distinct profiles, I was curious if they’d work well in a blend. The answer was yes, sort of.

Blending these two mutes the best aspects of each on the nose, but the palate more than makes up for the loss. At a ratio of 50/50 the young spirit is cut with a bit of wood, but not overpowered. The spunky character of Green Spot works quite well with the depth and relaxation of Yellow Spot. The two combine for an interesting and enjoyable blend that is both fresh and buttery.

I [very unscientifically] experimented with different ratios and arrived at 70/30 in favor of Yellow Spot to suit my tastes. If you have both of these bottles at home I encourage you to take them off the shelf and have a little fun yourself.


My first taste of both Spot whiskeys was at the beach, so my initial thought was that the salty/briny air was causing both to come off much sweeter than they actually were. As I eventually tried them in different settings it became apparent that this wasn’t the case.

These are sweet whiskeys plain and simple.

In different settings both held true to their character. I enjoyed Yellow Spot on all occasions, but Green Spot jumped up a few notches the second time, showing off the spring herbs mentioned above.

Could Green Spot be a shapeshifter? I think so, but I’ll need to revisit in a few months to find out. It’s good, but not near as interesting as Yellow Spot. It’s a bit too thin for me, but I can understand why so many are raving fans. It’s an easy, quality drink.

I can’t say Yellow Spot is one of my favorites, but I do like it. It’s assertive and interesting with more complexity–and it has a dark side which scores bonus points with me.

Considering price, Green Spot is a decent buy at about $50 if you prefer your whiskey smooth and polite, but Yellow Spot isn’t worth the 2x markup it commands.

I probably won’t be seeking out either of these bottles in the future, but I’d be delighted to receive either as a gift! And speaking of gifts, I must say thank you to  Marshall Smith for sending these samples!



C++ for Green Spot

B- for Yellow Spot


Smooth Ambler Revelation Rum Review

Maybe it’s that the weather is warming up quicker here than the rest of the country, or maybe I’m just doing my annual change-things-up-a-bit, but the anamnesis of strong molasses notes in some bourbons I tried over the winter have conjured an exploration of rum. I’ve had a few that were enjoyable, but none have been particularly memorable or worth mentioning until now. 

Call it a Revelation.

I discovered Revelation Rum at an event kicking off the Charleston Food & Wine Festival. My regular readers know I’m a whiskey guy, so riddle me this:

You’re at a whiskey event with an open bar pouring things like barrel-proof Elijah Craig, Four Roses 125th Anniversary (and numerous private single barrels), Jefferson’s Reserve 18 year, Whistlepig Boss Hog, Michter’s 10 (overrated), Yamazaki, etc., yet the most memorable pour you have all night is a rum.

Yeeeah. About that… 

Perhaps it’s difference? Rum certainly stands out in a crowd of bourbon, whether it’s an all-star line-up or not, but difference doesn’t necessarily a good dram make. Regardless, this was my initial thought as I first walked away from the Smooth Ambler table thinking something along the lines of “holy shit!”

I went back again, and again. I asked questions and had a nice conversation with the rep and those around the table. I urged others to try the rum but despite my efforts to evangelize the whiskey folk, the bottle just sat there.

What could arguably be considered pestering successfully resulted in me leaving the event with a mostly-full bottle of rum. This review is a thank you to a generous rep and a continuance of my evangelical spirit of fine spirits, whiskey or not.

A Disclaimer

Since I’m nowhere near well-versed in rum, I consider the words to follow less of an actual rum review and more of an “if you love bourbon or whiskey in general you’ll probably like this rum” review, although I’m sure Revelation stands on its own amongst its peers.

I also don’t want to elude that this rum is better than all of the whiskey aforementioned, but if you’re a savvy bourbon drinker like this guy:

…you may want to keep reading. 

The Rum

Smooth Ambler Revelation Rum

99 Proof, 49.5% ABV

According to the label the rum is sourced from Jamaica, and the youngest rum in the bottle was laid to rest in 1990. That could make this up to 25 years old, but the ambiguity leaves me wondering.

I reached out to John Foster at Smooth Ambler for some background on the product. His initial quick reply was, “What we do to make it our own is essentially the same advanced, innovative method we use for Old Scout: we think it’s really good as is and we don’t screw it up!” I’ll update this post if I receive any further details.

The bottle reviewed is Batch #3.

Tasting Notes

Revelation’s nose is very deep but delicate. A citrusy, bourbon-wood character that’s distantly familiar emerges first alongside the sharp, thin ethanol bouquet I’d expect from a rum of this appearance.

Like a wise gentleman, the nose calms and improves over time. A little bit of honey emerges and as the glass becomes empty, licorice settles in force with a very very faint smokey, almost peat note resting in the shadows. Pouring a second round into the glass is truly delightful.

My personal experience with aged rums is that many have an off-putting, herbal note on the nose that doesn’t strike a chord with me (although it works for creating fun blends) and it usually makes for a thick, funky palate. I’m sure I’ll eat those words in due time, so if you’re reading this and disagree with that statement please send recommendations. 

For its age (?), Revelation is the exact opposite of funky, bogged down and syrupy.The first strike on your palate is where the rum solidifies it’s tenacity. At 99 proof it packs a punch, but the heat quickly dissipates and you’re left with tropical fruit on the palate.

As it evolves it becomes brown-sugar-sweet and open like a fresh spring breeze without an overbearing and distinct concentrated nuance. A little bit of coconut is there. A silky mouthfeel matures into a masterpiece; vanilla and chocolate arrive fashionably late.

Passionfruit carries through from the palate to the finish and steals the show. It’s brilliant and stays with you. For. A. Long. Time.

Is that guava? I think so.



This is an energetic drink. It does a bit of shapeshifting through the palate as though it’s having a mild identity crisis, but it comes full circle with a finish that is absolutely delightful.

If you’ve had the pleasure of tasting anything similar to Glenmorangie Signet, you know how fruit can turn to chocolatey notes almost immediately. This rum is a similar experience of flavor contrast, but less sequentially rigid and drastic. It weaves through flavors with ease and restraint to create a dynamic experience. 

If I had to choose one thing that I love about this rum, it’s the finish–without a doubt. The nose is good. The palate is good once you become acclimated. But the finish, the finish is — I’ll say it again — brilliant.

I’m looking forward to picking up another bottle or two and sharing with friends to break the Charleston heat.


Grade: B

A Midwinter Night’s Dram Rye Whiskey Review

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a store and seen A Midwinter Nights Dram sitting on the shelf, the alluring packaging commanding my almost undivided attention while the $80 price tag stares me in the face saying, “I dare you.”

I’m not typically a gambling man. Sure, I’ve pulled the trigger on bottles I probably shouldn’t have, but in all honestly I’ve always preferred what I call the sure bet. That is, opting to purchase a cheeseburger and a beer instead of succumbing to the temptation of going overboard making across-the-board and trifecta-box bets because I have cash burning a hole in my pocket. Anyone who has been to the track with me knows this is an ongoing dilemma that I both embrace and embellish. I’m getting off-topic, but see you in April, Keeneland.

To me, this bottle was a gamble I wasn’t willing to make. I had attempted to split bottles of this with others (to save my money for fancy Scotch) but never actually got around to actually doing it. Thankfully, Sam (@bourbonchaser) was kind enough to send me a very stout sample of this whiskey to try it out.

Thank you Sam, you saved me from having to make a potential confession on a random Sunday morning years into the future. You’re a true gentleman.

The Whiskey

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram Bottle

High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram is a blend of two straight rye whiskeys finished in Port and French oak barrels and bottled at 98.6 proof.

The two mash bills used are 95% Rye / 5% malted barley for the 6 year rye from MGP in Indiana, and 80% rye / 10% corn / 10% malted barley for the 16 year rye from Barton Distillery in Kentucky. I don’t know the exact ratio of the blend, but more details can be found on High West’s website here.

This sample is from Act 2.8, Scene 1405.

Tasting Notes

An extremely thick, rich vanilla nose harkens back to many older whiskeys. Not older in the sense of an age statement, but older as in produced decades ago. Very few contemporary whiskeys I’ve tried have the thick and creamy nose this has in full force. It’s beautiful.

Plums, berries, and more vanilla float out of the glass backed by a slight alcohol sharpness to produce a big and pleasant bouquet. The character of the MPG rye is an unmistakable presence, but instead of running wild as it does in many younger bottlings (think Willett 4yr FE Rye) it’s relaxed and complimentary.

The Port finish also plays prominent and complimentary role in this drama, imparting and amplifying a pleasant mixture of candied dark aromas. For me to say this is typical of the genre would be misleading as I am admittedly not well-versed in Port wines or finishes, but its cameo appearance is noticeable and a welcomed addition to an already fantastic narrative.

The palate entry begins warm and cozy, and settles evenly, incorporating an almost endless list of holiday spices and flavors you can spend abundant time pinpointing. Clove, cinnamon, and citrus (mostly dark orange) are prominent, but beyond that there are traces of cardamom, pepper, mint, and more.

I must note that as the whiskey has had ample time to mingle with air in an open glass, a faint sourness can be detected along with toasted, dry oak, but it’s not anything that would lead me to reach for a rotten tomato. It’s quite the opposite, actually. The oak throughout the palate doesn’t overpower the entire act; instead it lends to a complex and enjoyable, much wetter palate than your typical American rye.

A strong flavor of cola emerges toward the back of the palate and melts into the finish. Mint attempts to take its time moving off-stage, but overall it’s an abrupt conclusion that leaves a little more to be desired.


I can’t help but dream of what this whiskey would be if it had a finish that exudes as much intricacy as the bouquet and palate introduce. I won’t say that it would be a truly great whiskey, but I will gladly go on record to say it would be a fantastic pour to keep around whenever you want something as different as it is approachable.

As much as I’ve downed and ultimately equivocated notes on the finish, my lingering and general sentiments are less negative and more a result of wishful thinking. That’s a good thing. The imperative and honest comment is that every time my glass became almost empty I poured a little more in to keep the experience going. Continually wanting more is a certified mark of interest in my book.

I’m a little upset I didn’t gamble on this–I’d love to have a full bottle–but at $80 I can’t say its absence on my shelf is a tragedy. If you’re on the fence go for it, you won’t be disappointed. You might not be amazed, but you will certainly enjoy.


Grade: B




A Letter To The Whiskey Community of 2015

This year, after years of procrastinating, I finally began to write down my thoughts on whiskey. Just shy of four months isn’t a long time, but in that time I’ve received enough comments, compliments, complaints, shares, and whatever else to make me feel like it’s been worth it. Thank you all.

In the small amount of posts I’ve published, I’ve written positive reviews, a few negative ones, and some other pieces I hope you found different and/or intriguing or, at the very least, entertaining.

At the end of the day I just want to know that I call ‘em like I see ‘em, and that I contribute things of value to the growing community of whiskey enthusiasts.

But I must be honest, I hardly know much of anything about nothing, or at least that’s the way I like to see it. I’m a student, and writing this blog is only one way I can apply (and share) what I’m always in the process of learning.

And, I wouldn’t have learned anything without the generous folks who have helped me along the way.

I’m fortunate to say that some of those folks are involved in the industry but, in reality, those who aren’t have had the largest impact. While I greatly appreciate the time those much busier than I have spent showing me around and answering my questions, I’ve learned more from those of you reading this than many of you may know.

Your comments about flavors I couldn’t place, details of history that were new to me, and questions that went beyond what I thought I knew pushed me to fill in the gaps of my own knowledge and inspired me to look at things in new ways.

The friendships I’ve made over this past year have been nothing short of stellar. And that’s what this is all about. On that note, I’ve been waiting to share something with all of you and I can’t think of a better time than now.

A few weeks ago I logged onto Facebook and actually read something worth reading. A new member of the Lexington Bourbon Society who, due to some of life’s many circumstances has yet been unable to actually attend an event or meet any members in person, wrote a long and heartfelt comment in our forum about how the collective good-nature of our members (as he’s observed over time on social media) has already had a positive impact on his life.

The gentleman wrote:

“After retiring from the Army and moving to a city in which I have never lived, I often wondered, outside of church, where my wife and I would find friends in this new chapter of our lives. The genuine kindness and good heart-ed nature displayed in the simple fellowship of social media postings and communications is such a nice alternative to the sometimes detached, too busy mentality of an arguably large portion of society. I am anxiously looking forward to getting into the swing of things and meeting you all.”

That’s an incredible comment, and we look forward to meeting you, sir, and others like you.

You see, I didn’t get into this scene years ago to become a collector, to flip bottles, or to constantly hound the people and/or corporations making the products we enjoy (or don’t) for the truth. Those things inevitably tend to happen in varying degrees over time, but I pursued a deeper interest in Bourbon and all things whiskey simply because I enjoy it, and because I have an innate desire to learn as much as I can about the the things I love.

This is why communities like ours are much greater than we often think. Sharing knowledge is what pushes us all to grow, and that growth manifests in the friendships we create based on a simple common interest shared amongst us.

As we move into the new year, let’s remember this: If we continue do what we’re supposed to do, and we do it well, it’s inevitable that our community will continue to grow. Let’s call bullshit where we need to, there’s always a time for that, but let’s first raise a glass to the knowledge we’re yet to learn, the friendships we’re yet to make, and the experiences we’re yet to have.

I’m thankful to have met so many great people in 2014, and hope to do the same in 2015. That’s what it’s all about.

Cheers to great whiskey, and all of you.

Happy New Year!