Category Archives: Taste of the…

Gateway Series #12: Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon
45% ABV/90 Proof
$20-25, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
The distillery doesn’t say much about the whiskey (even on the website). At least they lack some sort of pithy statement of purpose. What we can tell you is that this is the most widely available wheated bourbon on the market. That means the folks at Maker’s Mark use wheat instead of rye in the mash. Maker’s also lacks an age statement. The bourbon spends at least six years in barrels, but is not bottled until everyone agrees that it has reached maturity. So what does that mean? Read on.

What Richard Says:
Nose: The Maker’s nose is a very pleasant olfactory experience. It’s a lightly sweet nose with very understated alcoholic notes. At the back of the nose is a damp woody note that reminds me of an old log cabin.
Palate: Lightly sweet, grassy, and mellow. Classic wheated bourbon. As it moves through the mouth the oak jumps forward.
Finish: The higher proof shows as a slow warmth down the esophagus. The oak remains but begins to turn slightly nutty and sweet. Maybe this is what acorns taste like?
Comments: Maker’s is a consistenly enjoyable dram. I’m always more than content to drink this neat. I’m not sure if it fits in the Gateway Series. It’s really more of a transitional bourbon moving away from the standard and toward the premium. This is the same issue I had with the Three Glens when we reviewed them.
Rating: Across the bourbon spectrum it falls mind center. Among the Gateway Series it stands out.

What Matt Says:
Nose: There is that damp cold feeling I’ve mentioned before. It’s almost like a wet tea bag of English breakfast tea left on the counter too long. There are also some citrus, caramel and floral notes. Despite being higher in proof than the rest of the Gateway Series, the nose is not very sharp or alcoholic.
Palate: Oak, wheat berries, English breakfast tea.
Finish: Cherry lollipops with very little burn and a touch of oak.
Comments: I’ve never given Maker’s Mark much thought. I’ve mostly experienced it in really sub-par cocktails. That is not a statement on the whiskey itself, but on the cocktail crafters. Maker’s is the only American whiskey within the Gateway Series that I would consider drinking neat. It is not as bold or complex as some of the harder to find or more expensive brands, but it is quite enjoyable and easy to drink.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

Black Bull 12yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky

The good folks at Duncan Taylor were kind enough to send us this sample of Black Bull 12yo.  After trying the 30yo some time ago, Matt was especially eager to try this one.  Richard has not had the pleasure of either yet.  We’ll update the post with his notes soon.

Black Bull 12yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky
50% ABV/100 Proof
£32.99, Available Now In The UK & Soon In The US (we’ll update the price to US dollars when we have it)

What The Distillery Says:
This special blend is a marriage of the finest 12 year old single malt and single grain whiskies distilled in Scotland.  The selection of whiskies falls true to the Duncan Taylor ethic of unbridled quality, each whisky from each cask is nose and tasted before going into the Black Bull vatting.

Black Bull contains 50% malt whisky and 50% grain whisky and is non-chill filtered.

What Matt Says:
Nose: Without water, the nose is very “grainy.”  It’s quite a bit like a pot stilled rye with a few light notes of dark fruit.  With water, the nose opens up to beautiful florals and notes of citrus, orange blossom honey, and cacao nibs.
Palate: Again, the grain is dominant without water.  The palate is dry and spicy with a citrus tang.  Water makes the palate much more Scotch-like.  Flavors of dark fruits, caramel apples (green ones), and oak come out to play.
Finish: Without water, the finish is almost like whisky bitters.  The lingering flavors are oak, bitters, and orange zest.  Water brings out pears, pomegranate, and dark chocolate.
Comments: This is an interesting sensory experience.  I’ve never tasted a whisky that changed quite this much with water.  It might as well be straight grain whisky without water.  With water, Black Bull 12yo turns into a suitable entry-level whisky.  Strangely, the finish is much more bold and interesting than the palate; an about face compared to our Gateway Series Scotches.  A while back, I had the opportunity to sample the 30yo: a fine dram indeed.  While this does not come close to the 30yo (not that anyone expects a challenge), the Black Bull 12yo is fine blend and worthy of a tipple. The finish alone is worth a try.
Rating:  Average

What Richard Says:
Nose: Fruit and old unpolished wood with hints of candied orange slices.  It turns floral and grainy with water.
Palate: Very spicy with hints of apple peel.  With water it quickly mellows the spice and turns to floral notes with a minute sweetness.
Finish: Very dry and oaky.  Water smoothes out the finish nicley and adds lingering apple peel again but I don’t get the same dramatic changes that Matt does.
Comments: This is a very dry whisky.  More so than any I’ve had in recent memory.  It’s interesting for sure and definitely one to have with some water.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating:  Average.  Strongly consider adding water to this one.

Tuthilltown Spirits New York Whiskey

Tuthilltown Spirits New York Whiskey
Batch #3, 2009
46% ABV, 92 Proof
About $45, Limited Availability

What The Distillery Says (from notes taken at the distillery tour):
New York Whiskey is Tuthilltown’s experimental line, a series of one-offs used to let the distillers flex their creative muscles.  It all started with a blend of leftovers from the weeks distilling.  Matt loved that one.  It was complex and weird (in a good way).  Batch #3 is 100% wheat.

What Richard Says:
Nose: A sweetness that brings to mind a dram that’s now forgotten. It seems like a mixture of rum and Canadian whisky.  Water dampens the rum notes and pulls forward the oak.
Palate: A very medicinal flavor.  Sinus clearing bite with little of the sweetness promised on the nose.  Water opens it up but it is still not the most outgoing whiskey.
Finish: It finishes spicy and then retreats to something reminiscent of cough syrup.  Odd but not altogether unpleasant.
Comments: It became more evident to me as I try more whiskey matured over a shorter time span through the use of smaller casks that this imparts a medicinal note on the whiskeys.  I get this from Laphroaig Quarter Cask too.  I’m all for innovation but I haven’t seen proof yet that this is a corner worth cutting.  Overall, this is an interesting whiskey.  It’s not for me but I don’t want t dissuade others from trying it.  Innovation has a tendency to be polarizing when it comes to whiskey.  If you’re in the area then give it a go and decide for yourself.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Karo syrup, pecans, heavily citrus, honeysuckle and a big plug of charred oak.
Palate: Oak, sweet potato, brown sugar and sweet cream butter.
Finish: Dark fruits, light spice, sweet cherries and menthol.  Like a very sweet cough drop or the cherry lollipops my pediatrician gave out when I got a vaccination or had blood drawn (did this happen to anyone else?).
Comments: My experience with this whiskey was very different from Richard’s.  I really enjoyed it at the distillery and didn’t get the menthol/medicinal note.  Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but I get it every time now.  I still enjoy this whiskey though.  It feels like Fall.  My official rating is “average”, but I really think it’s somewhere between “average” and “stands out”.
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average.  An interesting dram worth trying.

Gateway Series #12: Canadian Round-Up

After Crown Royal, we decided that providing two negative reviews for the remaining Canadian whiskies was a bit overkill.  So Richard took one for the team and reviewed two of the other three on our list.  I think I got off pretty easy (the Canadian Mist was my contribution).

Canadian Club Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Citrus, vanilla, and burnt tire.  This smells pretty awful.
Palate: I would say that the only good thing about the palate on this is that it got the taste of Seagram’s 7 and Black Velvet out of my mouth from the same tasting but that’s not an improvement.  This is like industrial drain cleaner.
Finish: The finish is actually the best part.  It is rather smooth but the after taste is too reminiscent of the palate.
Comments: Wow, this was not a pleasant experience at all.  I know we pledged to review the often over looked entry level stuff as part of the Gateway Series but I can only hope that if you’re reading our site then you’re drinking better than Canadian Club.  Please tell me you are.
Rating: Possibly the worst whisk(e)y I’ve ever drank.

Black Velvet Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Juvenile oranges and rubbing alcohol with notes of sweet vanilla.  Agitation make the nose almost industrial.
Palate: On the palate this tastes like unaged grain alcohol.  Very little flavor and very rough.
Finish: It actually finishes rather smooth on the throat but it leaves a hornet’s nest in your mouth.
Comments: Every time I see this somewhere I think of that Alana Miles song about Elvis.  Unfortunately this doesn’t resemble the King in any way, shape, or form. Don’t bother.
Rating: I’ll Pass (so bad that I’m adding another rating to our system)

Canadian Mist Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Really nice right after the pour, like high-rye bourbon.  Sweet, toffee, and caramel.  When agitated, the nose becomes antiseptic (rubbing alcohol).
Palate: Not much to it.  It tastes more like a honeyed Lowland Scotch than anything from North America.  The flavor is very delicate.  What little flavor is present, is honeyed and cereal with an oily mouth feel.
Comments: This seems like it would be a good mixer.  It stands out among the other gateway Canadians in that it is not retched.  That being said, it is like whisky light.  This could be a true gateway whisky for folks unaccustomed to drinking alcohol with flavor.
Rating:  Average

So, there you have it.  The Canadian round-up.  You may think that we are being unfair to our Northern cousins, but we cannot help our tastes.

We still have a few more gateway reviews on the way, so stay tuned.

Matt & Richard

Gateway Series #11: Crown Royal

Crown Royal Fine De Luxe Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Around $25, Widely Available

What The Distiller Says:
The distinct blend of 50 full-bodied whiskies has captivated senses for 70 years and continues to be a staple of our portfolio. Though created in 1939 to celebrate the visit to Canada of King George VI and his Queen Elizabeth, Crown Royal remains approachable and unpretentious to the everyday drinker.

What Matt Says:
Nose: Caramel, hazelnuts, vanilla, and mint. There is also something sour lingering in the background (smells like stomach acid). Water opens up the rye notes (mint and spice) to create something quite lovely.
Palate: Not bad upfront, with toffee sweetness, but turns woody and bitter. Although Richard Paterson suggests holding whiskies “long in the mouth,” I would not suggest doing that with this particular dram. It becomes thoroughly unpleasant, not unlike chewing the shrapnel from a barrel explosion. While water helps the nose, it kills the flavor (which may be a good thing).
Finish: Smooth and oak-y with a hint of mint. Water kills the mint.
Comments: Supplying Redneck high school girls with low cost purses for 70 years, Crown Royal is probably as known for it’s purple velvet bag as for the whisky inside. It is a shame really, Crown Royal is actually capable of producing good whiskies. The standard expression is not one of them though. It is not the worst whisky in the Gateway Series, but I cannot recommend it.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Richard Says:
Nose: The nose seems surprisingly alcoholic for an 80 proof whisky. I get fruitiness on the nose reminiscent of fruit brandies. There is also just a hint of nuttiness that I can’t quite place.
Palate: Peppered oak lollypops? Seriously. Sickly candy sweetness on the front of the palate. As the drink settles into the palate it turns to peppery oak. Not in a good way. The longer you hold it on the palate, the worse it gets. Definitely drink it quickly.
Finish: The finish starts out not too bad but the burn kicks in and punches above it’s 40% ABV. The after taste is rough, woody, and unpleasant.
Comments: My early experiences with Crown Royal really turned me off to the drink altogether. That said, I tried to give Crown the benefit of the double. For my trouble I found all the things that originally turned me off of Canadian Whisky. The only way I’ve found that I can tolerate Crown Royal is in a Red Snapper.
Rating: Probably Pass

Overall Rating: Probably Pass

Crown Royal is really our first major departures from one of the whiskey writers we both most identify with, John Hansell. He gives standard Crown an 88/100. I can’t fathom how. It just goes to show you that everyone’s palate is as individual as their fingerprints.