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Bourbon Review: George T. Stagg (2010)

George T. Stagg 2010
Distiller: Buffalo Trace
Spirit: Cask Strength Bourbon
Price: $78.60
ABV: 71.5%

Nose:
Heavy notes of oak, vanilla, spice, ripe bananas, maple syrup, molasses, dark brown sugar, dried fruits

Taste:
Vanilla, ripe bananas, dried figs, raisin, molasses, spice, oak, and there is a dark cola flavor that lurks in the background

Finish:
About as long as “long” gets. Heavy spice, oak, sweet maple candy

Cocktail:
I feel guilty making a drink with this, but then again, my manhattan makes me want to run down the street, hugging and kissing everyone I see. You might try a cocktail, just to see how good it is (add a little water since this is such an incredibly strong bourbon), but frankly, you really only do it justice when you sip it neat or straight.

Bottle:
As with all the bottles in Buffalo Trace’s “Antique Collection,” George T. Stagg comes in a tall, slender bottle with minimal, white, elegant, old-fashioned-style lettering on the front. The liquid is the focus, as well it should be; the crystal clear bottle shows off the dark, rich mahogany color. There are a set of deer antlers right about the lettering which adds a nice distinction from the others in the series; at the very bottom lies a paper label with that specific batch’s alcohol content. Overall, it’s a simple bottle, that is neither overly beautiful, nor underwhelming.

Conclusion:
Richard:
Where do I start with this one? I guess the first thing that most people notice is that this bourbon packs an enormous kick; at 143% proof, it is the strongest whiskey I’ve ever heard of, but even so, it remains remarkably smooth (considering its proof). I knew I was in for something special when I bought this bottle, but I wasn’t quite sure what was going to be special about it. Was it the incredibly complex nose? Or perhaps roaring flavor that lasts on your tongue? Simply, it is a combination of these two things mixed with the fact that they were able to produce such an incredibly delicious bourbon at such a high proof. I find it hard to compare this to any other bourbon because the experience of drinking it by itself is truly unique, and it shines a light on the many possibilities available in bourbon production. This comes out once a year as a special release, and I am going to make certain that I get at least one bottle next year. This is truly an outstanding spirit.

Reviewed by Richard Borean

Bourbon Review: Elijah Craig 12 Year

Elijah Craig 12 Year:
Distiller: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Spirit: Small Batch Bourbon
Price: $22.95
ABV: 47%

Nose:
Strong vanilla, vanilla, oak, agave nectar, cloves, and spices

Taste:
Again, strong vanilla and caramel up front. It hits your tongue extremely smoothly, and a spice immediately follows. The last flavors to hit your tongue are certainly citrus and agave nectar (like a mild honey).

Finish:
Leaves your mouth with a pleasant reminder of what you have been drinking.  The taste of alcohol velvetly lingers while keeping the wonderful flavors in your mouth: slightly oily, and a bit buttery.

Cocktail:
“Vermont Sunset”  We opted for one of Josh’s current favorite cocktails  — named by Josh, yet adapted from the “Dave” of the  Magnificent Bastard Cocktail Contest:

1.5 parts Elijah Craig
.5 parts lemon juice
.5 parts maple syrup

As the Elijah Craig has remnant tastes of citrus, we thought it would balance nicely against the lemon juice.  And we were right!  The bourbon continues to shine, despite the strong presence displayed by the lemon juice and syrup.  We suspect that Elijah Craig will perform well in any of the classic bourbon cocktails.

Bottle:
Elijah Craig 12 comes in a very conservative and simple bottle.  Josh mentioned that it reminds him of prohibition style bottling: nothing too fancy, raised glass lettering, simple label, etc. I [Richard] certainly agree. While this will not add special aesthetic value to your home bar, it will stand out amongst the other bourbons due to its shape. It is not your archetypal bourbon bottle (tall and round or square); it is more short and plump. We aren’t overly impressed, but this bottle gets the job done.

Conclusion:
Richard:
Elijah Craig is a phenomenal bargain on sale, and a steal at its regular price (around $23) . While there are certainly better bourbons for a few more dollars, EC manages to hold its own with some much more expensive liquors. It is a good bourbon that does well on its own; however, it really shines in cocktails. I enjoy it straight, I really do, but the cocktail Josh made this evening was like pure candy for adults. Whatever mixers you use cover up any alcoholic flavors present in the whiskey, but the strong vanilla, caramel, and spice add a refined complexity to any cocktail  you want to make. If you can get this on sale, or below 20 dollars, make this a staple bourbon in your home bar (you will not find any better), otherwise I would spend the extra few dollars for Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare (reviews coming soon).

Joshua:
Elijah Craig represents an extreme value considering it’s price point (as low as $14, up to a regular price of about $23).  Far outperforming the likes of Mr. Beam and his bastard Tennessee cousin, Elijah Craig is suitable for drinking straight and makes a very good cocktail.  This is safely added as a staple bourbon to your home bar.
Nose: Strong notes of vanilla and caramel followed by an almost equal note of smoke; there is a slight astringent aspect to the nose, but nothing offensive. If you really search for the nose, you will notice some oak and roasted nut notes as well.


Reviewed by Richard and Joshua Borean

Categories: American Spirits, Bourbon

Bourbon Review: Baker’s

Baker’s 7 Year Bourbon:
Distiller: Jim Beam
Spirit: Small Batch Bourbon
Price: $44.95
ABV: 53.5%

Nose:
Up front is a strong, hot and spicy caramel aroma that clears the path for a slight finish of vanilla and musk.

Taste:
Once again strong caramel notes are present and are equally matched by notes of toasted nuts. There is a slight tobacco flavor in the background that add a nice depth to the bourbon. I am drinking this in late December, but this is certainly a bourbon that can be enjoyed year round even though there is something very “cold weather” about the palate.

Finish:
Very well balanced, medium, smooth, sweet finish with a slight spice near the end which hits your throat, opening up the flavor for one last note of spicy caramel.

Cocktail:
This makes a tremendous Old Fashion, Manhattan, and I can only fantasize about using it in my mint juleps on a sweltering Virginia summer afternoon. This is not so expensive that I feel guilty about using it in a cocktail; it’s delicious with a splash of water, and frankly I prefer it that way; but if you want a great cocktail, this mixes very well.

Bottle:
While I love the liquid inside – I do not care for the label. It’s got a good mix of old and new style lettering and style. However, it is either too busy, or not busy enough; it looks like they wanted to do a collage of images, letterings, etc, which would have been fine if they made a real collage with lots of images. Instead, they use about 5 or 6 seemingly random styles mashed together which ultimately produce an incoherent and amateur label.

Conclusion:
Richard:
This is one of my favorite bourbons. It isn’t too strong, but doesn’t take the back seat either. It’s incredibly diverse as a cocktail ingredient, and on it’s own, it is some of the finer bourbon that has ever passed through these lips. Also, this is not a seasonal bourbon. What I mean is that there are some bourbons which I really only enjoy when it’s cold (Booker’s), or when it’s hot (Maker’s Mark); Baker’s maintains its autumn flavors, but I can enjoy this any time of the year. Whether it’s a warm summer night when I get nostalgic about the crisp fall air, or a crisp autumn afternoon with orange and red falling leaves, I will reach for this bottle time and time again.

Reviewed by Richard Borean

Gin Review: Ransom

December 18, 2010 1 comment


Ransom Old Tom Gin:
Distiller: Ransom Spirits
Spirit: Barrel-aged Old Tom Gin
Price:  $37.00
ABV: 44%

Nose:
It’s bold complexity of the malty grains, citrus, juniper, coriander, and cardamom combined to create one of, if not the most interesting gin nose I’ve ever experienced.

Taste:
My first sip yielded an obvious kick of malty deliciousness and a spicy finish accompanied by a large grin. Upon further sipping, I noticed notes of orange, citrus, other fruits, and even tobacco (which, I assume, came from the barrel aging). It is sweeter than a London Dry: that, along with its spiciness, almost make this gin similar to a scotch or bourbon. Many reviews mentioned that this is a whiskey drinker’s gin, and I could not agree more. I am currently sipping it straight, no rocks, no vermouth, no tonic: nothing. It’s delicious.

Cocktail:
Stay tuned for my post about holiday cocktails where I will discuss some classic cocktails for the cold weather holidays.

Bottle:
The folks at Ransom distillery created a handsome bottling for this gin. The lettering and border around the label give it a pre-prohibition era appeal, yet there is also a touch of modern style. As always, if the manufacturer manages to properly mix the old style with the new, they get two thumbs up from me, and Ransom has certainly just that. This bottle looks great on my shelf, and will complement any home bar.

Conclusion:
Several things came to mind while drinking this gin. Firstly, gin is strangely complex, and although it certainly tastes like gin, there is a distinct similarity to bourbon as well; this is vastly different from any other gin I have ever had. The most common gin today is the London Dry, but I sense that American gin companies might prove themselves as game-changers quite soon, and we might see a resurgence of classic style Old Tom Gins as well as new breeds of aromatic gins à la Bluecoat Gin. Finally, this is absolutely, and immediately one of my favorite spirits. It is unlike anything else on my bar, and the quality of this gin sets the standard to which all other Old Tom gins should aspire. Ransom Old Tom Gin will be a permanent member of my home bar; the flavor is incredibly diverse — I can imagine substituting this in a cocktail recipes calling for bourbons, scotches, or even tequilas (Old Tom gin margaritas, anyone?!).


Reviewed by Richard Borean

Categories: American Spirits, Gin, Reviews

Gin Review: Bluecoat


Bluecoat American Dry Gin:

Distiller: Philadelphia Distilling
Spirit: American Dry Gin
Price: $26.95
ABV: 47%

Nose:
Intense notes of juniper and bitter orange. Lighter notes of citrus, coriander, and a slew of other things my palate did not recognize. I have had quite a few gins in my time, but this is something truly different (and refreshingly so).

Taste:
Oh, boy! Does have full force punch, or what?! The intense orange note smacks you in the mouth, but is equally matched my the sublime juniper finish. Behind these two flavors lies an incredibly complex array of notes ranging from cardamom and coriander to citrus. Despite the intense flavor, this gin is remarkably well balanced.

Cocktail:
The Martini.
After a straight sip of this potent potable, I new I had to try it in a martini. I brought out my Martini & Rossi dry vermouth, fresh pimento stuffed olives, and a cocktail glass, and proceeded to prepare for myself a 4-to-1 martini with 2 olives. And what can I say? It was one of the best martinis I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. The vermouth and olives never overpowered the flavor of the gin, and the taste was simply divine.

(Note: does very well with both a lemon twist or an olive)

Bottle:
Classic. This bottle is both elegant and rustic. It’s imperfect symmetry and hand-blown appearance connote images of colonial America. Meanwhile, it’s exotic blue glass politely requests a showcase spot on your bar. The perfect mix of antique and contemporary.

Conclusion:
Richard:
This is now one of my favorite gins. If you are looking for an intense gin that offer something quite different compared to the typical gin flavors, you owe it to yourself to try Bluecoat out. It works incredibly well in cocktails, but would also do well over some ice with a lemon or lime. In short: if you like gin, pick this bottle up for that special occasion when your regular, go-to gin isn’t going to cut it, and you want something a little special and somewhat different with a strong citrus palate.

 

Reviewed by Richard Borean