Rowan’s Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

To celebrate America’s independence from British rule, we are reviewing Rowan’s Creek.  I mean, what better way to celebrate than with a dram of America’s native hooch?

Rowan’s Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
(Batch QBC No o9-21)
50.05% ABV, 100.1 Proof
Around $35

What the Distillery Says:
Rowan’s Creek is stored in charred oak barrels. It is hand bottled at 50.05% alc./vol. (100.1 proof).

Rowan’s Creek is made and bottled by hand, in small lots, one batch at a time.

This Bourbon takes its namesake from the creek that still runs through our distillery. Back in the late 1700’s when John Rowan first settled around Bardstown , whiskey makin’ was the order of the day. John went on and made a name for himself as a well respected judge and statesmen. The judge is long since gone, but the creek that still bears his name is still carrying the best limestone spring water there ever was for making good Bourbon, so you know the whiskey makin’ is still going on. Try a sip of it, straight up in a snifter, or add a dab of branch water if you like. Either way, it’s the very best there is. (Rowan’s Creek is distilled and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.)

-This is a small batch bourbon therefore your bottle of Rowan’s Creek may taste slightly different depending on bottling year. – Matt

What Richard Says:
Nose: This nose is sweetly floral but hard to get at due to the alcohol strength.  With water fruity notes come out.  Citrus and apricot I believe.  It’s kind of odd but I get absolutely no wood or grain on the nose.
Palate: Not nearly as sweet on the palate as the nose.  Pepper and spice and oh so nice.  This isn’t really a smooth bourbon. Not one for the Basil Hayden fans.  But what is does have is mountains of flavor.  A very robust experience.  It’s like candied Mexican chilies.  With water the pepper is tamed and a lovely honeysuckle flavor develops.
Finish: For such a fiery palate it doesn’t go down to rough…as long as you take it slow.  Lot’s of pepper left on the palate.  The sides of the tongue are almost left numb.  This finish with water is smooth, mellow, but not bland.
Comments: A real man’s bourbon!  I’m not trying to sound sexist or imply that women shouldn’t drink it. I just mean that Rowan’s Creek is one fierce hombre.  It has the classic bourbon character but it wears it better than most.
Rating: Stands Out

What Matt Says:
Nose: Burnt sugar (like dark rum), caramel, vanilla, cereal notes (corn).  With water, it opens up to bold floral and honey suckle notes that remind me of my childhood.
Palate: Oak, char, smoke, caramel, karo syrup, cereal notes (this time malted barley and rye).  Enough body to withstand copious amounts of water.  Sweet but not cloying, spicy but not overly so, Rowan’s Creek is vaguely reminiscent of tamarind candy.
Finish: The finish goes on for a bit.  The malt and rye notes hang around with a little spice.  Just when I think it’s over and I’m ready for another sip, I get hit with flavors of evergreen and mint.
Comments: This is one of my new favorites.  It’s full-bodied and complex at a reasonable price point.  It also makes the best Mint Julep ever.  Knocking down the proof with some cool spring water makes this a perfect summer dram while drinking it straight will warm you to your toes in the dead of winter.  Rowan’s Creek is great anytime of the year.  Between my personal love for this whiskey and the price, I’m going to have to go with a “Must Buy” rating.  However, Richard makes an excellent point.  This whiskey is not for everyone.  If you are a beginner or looking for something simple to enjoy casually, this is probably not the dram for you.  The high proof alone makes it less approachable to a novice.
Rating:  Must Buy

Overall Rating:  Must Try.

Stands out among other bourbons (especially at this price), but may not be the best dram to start your whiskey education.  Not for the faint of heart.

Summer Whiskey?

As June draws to an end we find ourselves in the midst of summer.  At least in Atlanta anyway.   I don’t think there’s been a high below 90 in the last two to three weeks.  With the change in climate has your whiskey drink of choice changed?  Now if you’re like me you have more than one bottle or favorite in the local bar so it’s not like you have to be exclusive to just one.  What I’m really asking is, does your desired beverage profile change in the warmer months?  Do you gravitate away from peaty Islay malts in favor of  whiskey sours? 

Personally, I tend to be a mood drinker.  I drink whatever strikes my fancy at the particular moment.  That said, I’ve noticed lately that I do tend to gravitate toward or away from certain whiskeys depending on the time of year.  Peaty scotches just seem to go with cold weather for me.  Maybe I secretly picture myself blasted by cold scottish winds on the coast of Islay.  Who knows?  Fiery bourbons also seem to fit well.  I guess I’m keeping out the cold from the inside out.

When it’s warmer I’m still not much of a cocktail drinker but my tastes do change.  Sweeter bourbons, Irish whiskeys,  and lighter Scotch tend to be the drams I reach for more often than not.  But again, all this is more of a general trend.  There are plenty of whiskeys of all types that I’d be more than happy to drink anytime of the year.  What about you?

– Richard

Bourbon: America’s Sweetheart

Organized proselytizing efforts took a sophomore voyage this weekend.  This time, the topic of discussion was bourbon.  If rye whiskey puts a fire in a man’s belly, it is bourbon whiskey that sets his heart and soul ablaze.

This time, everyone had at least a little experience with the style of whiskey at hand.  Whether it was Jim Beam or something on our panel, everyone had sampled Kentucky’s native spirit.  Once again, I chose six whiskeys based on heritage, current producer, availability, and mash bill as well as more subjective criteria revolving around my concept of “good” whiskey.  I provided a short history of bourbon and some information on each whiskey/distillery on the menu.  The tasting menu included:  Four Roses Yellow Label, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Elijah Craig 12yo (distilled at Heaven Hill), Pritchard’s Double Barreled Bourbon (distilled at Heaven Hill, partially aged at Pritchard’s Distillery in Tennessee), and Old Weller Antique 107 (distilled at Buffalo Trace).

Each whiskey sampled had unique character that extended beyond the mash bill.  Four Roses boasts multiple yeast strains.  Buffalo Trace is twice distilled using a traditional continuous still and a small doubler for the second distillation.  Woodford Reserve is the only distillery in Kentucky to make bourbon in copper pot stills.  The Elijah Craig 12yo is made in small batches and was the oldest whiskey on the menu.  Pritchard’s takes 6yo whiskey distilled at Heaven Hill, cuts it, re-barrels it and ages it for 3 more years in a Tennessee warehouse to “restore and enhance” the character of the whiskey that may have been lost with the addition of water.  Lastly, the Old Weller Antique 107, other than being our highest proof dram, was also the only wheated bourbon of the bunch (wheat is used instead of rye in the mash bill).

Unlike the rye tasting, there was no clear favorite.  If you recall, Sazerac Rye (another bottle from Buffalo Trace Distillery) was unanimously the favorite among the available rye whiskeys.  Maybe it was the greater number of attendees or perhaps a greater diversity among them, but it seemed that each whiskey had it’s supporters and each had it’s detractors (spread pretty evenly across the field).  The only exception was the Four Roses, which placed second on many lists but was no one’s number one.  I’m pretty confident that would have changed if we had tasted the Small Batch or the Single Barrel instead of the Yellow Label.

Each whiskey sampled had unique character that extended beyond the mash bill.  Four Roses boasts multiple yeast strains.  Buffalo Trace is twice distilled using a traditional continuous still and a small doubler for the second distillation.  Woodford Reserve is the only distillery in Kentucky to make bourbon in copper pot stills.  The Elijah Craig 12yo is made in small batches and was the oldest whiskey on the menu.  Pritchard’s takes 6yo whiskey distilled at Heaven Hill, cuts it, re-barrels it and ages it for 3 more years in a Tennessee warehouse to “restore and enhance” the character of the whiskey that may have been lost with the addition of water.  Lastly, the Old Weller Antique 107, other than being our highest proof dram, was also the only wheated bourbon of the bunch (wheat is used instead of rye in the mash bill).

We had some interesting tasting notes.  One attendee said that the Woodford smelled of the sea, while another swore that it tasted of peat.  Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but I could see where they were coming from.  My favorite quote of the night came from Carly, who commented that the Elijah Craig was “the first whiskey we’ve tried that didn’t make me want to start a fight.”  I guess that means it’s a “gentleman’s whiskey.”  There was even contention over the addition of water.  One drinker even preferred the 107 proof Weller neat (without water).  There were a few folks who loved the Pritchard’s until they found out how much it costs (around $50).  Still a dram they enjoyed, but they might forego buying a bottle.  The other drams we tasted were much more reasonably priced and offered just as much.

If I had to pick a favorite, I’m not sure I could.  For flat out good bourbon, I really enjoyed the Elijah Craig (thanks to Sam Simmons for turning me on to this one at a Balvenie tasting).  I always keep a bottle of Buffalo Trace in my cupboard and I might start stocking the Weller.

Thanks to everyone who attended and a very special thanks to Jim and Katie who opened their home to us and provided a nice nosh of delicious cheeses and meats.  And thanks to my lovely wife for providing two-bite bourbon pecan pies for dessert.

If you would like my notes from our tasting (which include a short history of bourbon and of each dram along with tasting notes), just drop me a line.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

-Matt

Gateway Series #8: Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Red Label Old Scotch Whisky (Blended)
40% ABV, 80 Proof
$20-25, Available Everywhere

What The Distillery (Blender) Says:

Johnnie Walker Red Label is a rich, full-bodied blend of up to 35 of the finest aged single malt and grain whiskies.  Bursting with character and flavor, it’s the favorite of millions of people all over the world.

Its vibrancy makes it perfect for mixing – something few other spirits can do without losing their true character.

Red Label was first unveiled in 1906 by Alexander Walker as a powerful combination of spicy, smoky malts and lingering, lighter grains.  He called it “Special Old Highland Whisky.”  In 1909, Alexander renamed it “Johnnie Walker Red Label” in deference to his consumers who were already using “Red Label” as shorthand when ordering the brand.

What Richard Says:
Nose:  Apples and caramel.  Kind of like the candied apples you get at the county fair but not quite.  With water the nose opens up a slightly woodier character.
Palate:  Wow, this stuff is really boring.  It’s nearly flavorless.  There are hints of tobacco and wood but they are the faintest hints and then they’re gone.  JW Red doesn’t really taste bad, it just doesn’t have much of a taste at all.
Finish:  Relatively smooth (I would hope so with a palate that dull).  There is a little burn on the sides of the tongue and it leaves the mouth tasting medicinal.
Comments:  Scotch for the young’uns who just want to get drunk.  A mixer to add alcohol content to something else.  Not really worth your time.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Matt Says:
Nose: Smoke, leather, nail polish remover, caramel and vanilla.  Turns sour with water (smells like hangover vomit).
Palate: Less burn than Dewar’s White Label, but there is not much here.  Smokey (charred oak as opposed to the tobacco in Dewar’s) and a little sour.  With water, the texture firms up and some burnt toffee notes open up.
Finish: Nothing on the center of the tongue, but the burn lingers around the edges along with the sourness.  Water brings out the toffee notes in the finish as well.
Comments: I enjoy much of Johnnie Walker’s line, but something about the Red Label turns my stomach.  Dewar’s White Label is nothing special, but there is nothing stomach churning about it either.  If it’s a choice between this and Dewar’s, go with the Dewar’s every time.  If this is the only whisky in the house, drink beer or volunteer to be the designated driver.  
Rating:  Probably Pass

Overall Rating:  Probably Pass

Lordy, lordy, look who’s 40

I am a firm believer in giving and receiving whisk(e)y as a gift for a momentous occasion. On birthdays, it’s nice to have a dram that shares your age (although, at 30 already, I know that is not going to be happening a lot anymore). In my circle of friends, Johnnie Walker Blue seems to be the dram of choice for weddings and law school graduations (thanks to Diageo’s relentless advertising no doubt). Gifts don’t have to be overly expensive, but rare and/or unique are a plus. For something rare, unique, and undoubtedly expensive, Ian Macleod Distillers and Glengoyne have come out with two new drams for your special occassion. Here’s the sitch:

Independent bottlers and distillers, Ian Macleod Distillers, is to launch an extremely rare, limited edition Springbank 40 Years Old from its award-winning Chieftain’s Single Malt Whisky collection.  

And, for the first time in its 175 year history, the award-winning Glengoyne Distillery is to release its oldest, most valuable, and very best, Highland Single Malt: the Glengoyne 40 Years Old.  (from a press release provided by Whisky  Magazine)