Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old (2016) - A Home Run Hit

Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old (2016) - A Home Run Hit

Booker’s Rye hit the market in 2016 as a one-off. Aged for thirteen years, this was a premium brand extension from Booker’s Bourbon. Jim Beam, the distillery behind Booker’s, is known for intense flavoured bourbons that use a low rye recipe (with some exceptions). Beam plays with oak flavours within their bourbon lines.

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So Which One of Jim Murray's Best Whiskies Of 2017 Can You Actually Buy?

So Which One of Jim Murray's Best Whiskies Of 2017 Can You Actually Buy?

Jim Murray's The Whisky Bible is one of the more influential book releases of the year. Each year a new book names the best whiskies in the world. Not everyone is a fan of Jim Murray's list, but the this list is hugely influential in the whisky world. Let's see what you can actually buy. 

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Booker's Bourbon Review - Wonderfully Proof Obsessed

Booker's Bourbon Review - Wonderfully Proof Obsessed

Does one ever forget their first sip of Booker's? My first taste goes back many years. Booker's was one of a dozen or so whiskies featured during an LCBO media event at their tasting lab. The proof levels of the whiskies kept increasing throughout this self-paced tasting.

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Bourbons for Every Occasion

Bourbons for Every Occasion

Being a bourbon person, I often get asked for recommendations - a task I find very tricky because it can be such a personal thing. The last thing I want to do is send someone in the wrong direction in their bourbon consumption (the horror!). But, there are a few that I find myself coming back to as recommendations in certain scenarios. I’ve chosen bourbons that are relatively easy to find.

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Glassware, Swirling Whisky, and Winning Whisky Competitions

In the San Francisco 2015 Spirit Competition, Knob Creek won best bourbon. Knob Creek is a fine bourbon (I often use it whisky tastings!). But is it the best bourbon? Fred Minnick, one of the judges at the competition, summarized the problem perfectly:

While I’ve always liked Knob Creek, I’ve never put it in the super elite, the Staggs and Pappys of the world. I’ve not even considered Knob Creek the best bourbon in the Jim Beam portfolio; Booker’s has held that crown. Has Knob Creek been hidden under my nose as the best bourbon this whole time?

The competition had judges using the Neat tasting glass. Neat glassware is broad on the bottom and top unlike the traditional tulip-shaped whisky tasting glass. The Neat Glass definitely changes the flavour and structure of the whisky. The fundamental flaw/feature in the design has to do with swirling the broad-bottomed glass. On the Neat Website:

When using NEAT, swirl, swirl, swirl … and when in doubt, swirl some more.  Swirling enhances evaporation.  Swirling the NEAT glass “powers” the evaporation engine that brings up all aromas … Convergent rim glasses (rim smaller than bowl diameter)  produce concentrated alcohol right at the nose when swirling, obscuring other aromas even more.  That is why other glassmakers tell you “Don’t swirl”

With whisky, in a narrow glass, swirling creates an excessive amount of alcohol vapour blowing out the senses. In wide-rimmed glassware (such as Neat glass), you’re better off swirling the whisky to further excite those molecules because of the broader opening. Neat's clever short design helps in this over the traditional rocks glass, as an example, despite the broad top. So far, so good.

Swirling the glass does, however, change the flavour of the whisky on the palate. Don’t believe me? Take two glasses with the same whisky. Swirl one for a few minutes, and don’t swirl the other. The swirled whisky will likely be sweeter, less textured, muted, and more even-flavoured. For me, in my tests, the essential character of the whisky starts to disappear the same way it would if the whisky was left overnight in the glass.

Excessively swirling a whisky accelerates the natural evaporation process, changing the dynamic of the whisky. This could be good for some whiskies, and bad for others. The same is true when you warm the glass, though at least this is a controlled gentler approach.

However, consider this. Most whiskies are nosed and tasted by whisky makers using tulip-shaped glass. Using broad glassware that requires swirling changes the whisky. To put differently, when reviewing whisky, if I swirl a whisky for four minutes, I’m no longer tasting the same whisky the reader is tasting.

Which brings me back to Knob Creek being picked as the winner in the best bourbon category, over better bourbons such as Booker’s and Stagg Jr. Both Booker’s and Stagg Jr have an incredible thick wonderful nose, that is beautifully balanced with flavour and alcohol on the palate. Knob Creek is a very good bourbon, but in a tulip shape glass, it doesn’t have enough on the nose to keep-up with these stars. In wider glassware, all the best features of Booker’s and Stagg Jr are muted. After excessive swirling, Knob Creek might even stand a chance.

Jamie Johnson and I did a blind tasting earlier in the week, and we recorded it for The Whisky Topic Podcast. While we didn’t use Neat Glass, we used the Canadian-style Glencairn glass. The results were fascinating! I won’t spoil the winners and losers, but this was a very small sampling.

The larger sampling happened in San Francisco, though, when a group of experts picked Knock Creek as the best bourbon in a blind tasting. Maybe for its price-point, but not in a category when  Booker’s and Stagg Jr are also included.

Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a cross between a whisky cabinet novelty item and a drink to be taken seriously. The novelty part comes from it being one of the (if not the) highest alcohol content drinks you can buy in US and Canada (63.4%).

On the other hand, it's a bourbon to take seriously because the distillery manages to succeed in bringing flavour to an otherwise overpowering combination of alcohol and barrel aging.

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