Whoever Makes The Juice, I Like It: Pappy Van Winkle 15

I’ve had a bottle of Pappy 15 that I’ve been nursing for ages. As it recently passed the halfway mark, it’s on the list to go finish sooner than later. I can’t lie: I definitely love Pappy. I just don’t love the hype and hysteria around it.

I’d been on the fence writing about this one for ages. I loathe the idea of contributing to any more hype around it, especially since the fall release is drawing ever nearer. Given that we’re near the point where the Stitzel-Weller distillate is going to be depleted, there’s also an unending amount of tiresome speculation and parsing of what Buffalo Trace and the Van Winkles have to say about what’s in the bottle. I’ve heard so many different versions at this point that I really assume it’s all bullshit and am not concerned particularly.

After all, I have been known to enjoy the occasional KBD product, and they play it pretty close to the vest about what goes into a given bottle. If it’s good, it doesn’t matter too much to me.

It should be said, this is not a review of the current releases that have been flagged as being the Buffalo Trace Pappy. This bottle was from a 2010 release, but has a 2009 bottling date on it. I will leave it to those who parse the words of the Van Winkles, Harlan Wheatley, and bottling codes to say definitively what is in this one. The last I’d checked, an ’09 bottling code was generally an indicator of Stitzel-Weller juice, but for all I know, it’s Evan Williams, a dash of Kool-Aid and a splash of V8.

As we all know by now, Pappy has a reputation of being the creme de la creme of bourbons. Surprisingly, it remains reasonably priced – no $200, aged at sea, stored in warehouses damaged by extreme climate, sprinkled with moon dust backstory on this one. It’s a 15 year old wheated bourbon made by the people whose name is synonymous with long-aged wheated bourbon.

There’s tons of wheated bourbon out there. There’s tons of old bourbon out there. Why should you try and get a pour of Pappy at some point?

Regardless of what its provenance is, Pappy is a bottle that has a phenomenally well-executed bourbon in it.  While I prefer the 20, which to me may be the best wheater ever produced, the 15 is ridiculously good. If you’re not familiar with wheaters, you’ll note a lack of the more peppery spice. That doesn’t mean it’s just flabby caramel notes; the wood can impart spice of its own (as Scotch & Ice Cream’s sadly now-defunct Single Oak Project coverage discovered with the #3/#4 char experiment). Rye has a distinct spice to it, and wheat has been described as not being uniquely spiced on its own, but rather being notable for its absence of spice.

The extra age ensures that everything the wood has to offer is on display. Past this point and it becomes distinctly woody. The 20 is not to everyone’s taste; as a fan of tannic flavors and its unique spice, I prefer it. However, after 15 years you definitely move into a distinct style regardless of the mashbill.

The nose on this Pappy is delightfully sweet, revealing maple syrup and a light oakiness, with a hint of warm brown sugar (think of brown sugar on oatmeal). There’s a light hint of nutmeg and some cinnamon, as well as some pleasing black tea tannins.

The palate is great. A rich, almost syrupy mouthfeel; sweet from the start and with a nice wood influence. I tasted a little corn, but that was against the major notes of maple syrup and brown sugar, again with some cinnamon heat in the background.

The finish is initially warm with black tea tannins, but it cools to leave a more flavorful cinnamon note, gentle oak influence, more maple and brown sugar. There’s some light black cherry on the finish, but it’s fairly tucked away.

There really is nothing not to like about Pappy 15, unless you recoil in horror at woody notes in your whiskey or you’re not a fan of tannic wines or black tea. Fortunately, if that’s your preference, the pressure on stocks is towards ever younger releases currently and you might not have a problem.

For those who covet a taste of Pappy Van Winkle, my best advice is to try and get to a solid club or restaurant that isn’t necessarily known as a “whisky spot” (I wouldn’t even waste the time asking at The Daily Pint in LA). I’ve had more regular encounters with Pappy at places like Son of a Gun near the Beverly Center, the Soho House in West Hollywood, and (of all places) Crossroads BBQ/Bubba Diego’s on Sepulveda. Basically, look for newer restaurants where there’s a definite desire to get the right credibility with a spirits list, or money’s-no-object gathering places.

You can get this if you cultivate a relationship with your local spirits buyer; even then, there is likely a waiting list that’s got dozens of names ahead. You might get lucky and find it on a shelf (but that’s incredibly unlikely) – if you do, don’t debate yourself, just buy a bottle. $70 may be more than you spend, but it’s only on shelves for a short while at this point.

There’s not a lot like this particular wheater. Buffalo Trace’s offerings are a little more overtly woody and have a more prominent black cherry note to them. Maker’s is much younger; Jefferson’s 17/18 taste more woody to me, and Rebel Yell is garbage.

It’s worth a try, but as I say and continue to believe: A-level whiskies are always coming. Don’t fret if you can’t find this.

At a glance:

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, 15y, 53.5% ABV
Delightfully sweet – maple syrup, light oakiness, a hint of warm brown sugar. Light hint of nutmeg and some cinnamon. Pleasing black tea tannins.
Palate:  Rich, syrupy mouthfeel. Sweet at entry with some nice wood; a little gentle corn, tons of maple syrup, brown sugar, and a little cinnamon heat in the background.
Finish:  Warm initially with some black tea tannins, cooling leaving cinnamon, nice gentle oak influence, and more maple syrup and brown sugar. A hint of black cherry on the finish but tucked away.
Comment:  There’s nothing not to like here.
Rating: A-

Summer Celebration #1: Glenfarclas 21

This last weekend, amidst the unrelenting heat that smothered the Los Angeles region, our family marked a major milestone. Our son celebrated his first birthday.

It’s been said the first birthday is more for the parents. It’s true: there’s a huge element of “THANK GOD WE KEPT HIM ALIVE FOR A WHOLE YEAR!” at play. It’s also a natural time to reflect and be amazed at how this little guy went from being a tiny 5-pound guy to knocking on the door of 30 lbs, with an infectious laugh and smile and on the verge of walking.

The whole first year has been a moment of personal growth and one of seeing time in a very different way. I think I used to imagine that days would be long and rough, with endless crying and crankiness. There have been those days (oh man, there have been those days), but for the most part the days are over before they’ve started. And all of the other personal interests – music, drumming, cleaning house, whisky, writing and community with friends – necessarily take a backseat. For those who have been through it, you understand. For those who have not yet, I’ll just let you know in advance that it won’t really matter, because suddenly you’ve got the most interesting person in the world living with you. Well, behind the Dos Equis guy.

I’ve talked in the past about enjoying those moments and marking special occasions, and not living in a mindset where you feel something is “too good” or “too special” – I felt that sting with the Bruichladdich Legacy 5 and had an interesting conversation with Mark Reynier, recently of Bruichladdich (prior to their sale) on the subject. That, along with many other things, led me to embrace enjoying bottles to the fullest when open. I may space them out consciously, but once a top-flight bottle is open, its lifespan is very limited. (Heck, both of my Balvenie 1401s are now undergoing whatever metamorphosis my other bottles go through when they’re empty, and I regret nothing).

That’s not to say I don’t earmark certain bottles for certain occasions – I have one of my December bottles picked already for this year, I have a special bottle picked for next month, and on a broader horizon, I have a pretty special bottle picked for my 10th wedding anniversary in a few more years.

One such earmarked bottle was one gifted to me by my friend Adam. Adam was one of my coworkers and an early, hardcore, true brother from the early days of the music startup I worked for from 2007-2011. (He was part of the crazy, minimal-process, wild-west days of our informal and awesome warehouse days). Adam had his daughter a few months before my wife and I had our son, and he sent me a bottle of Glenfarclas 21. I wanted to open it almost immediately, but I was so exhausted and delirious that I figured augmenting it with whisky at the time was not the best idea.

So I set that bottle aside as the one-year birthday bottle. (I’m accepting submissions for future birthdays. ;) ) At the time I was enjoying some Bourye and Macallan 30 – itself a long-awaited treat. But here we are, one year later, and it’s time to open the Glenfarclas 21.

When I first started drinking whisky, the age statements of some Scotch whiskies blew my mind. 21 years? That’s an eternity! Now, I see how those things fade into the background a little more easily, especially when there are other things along. I’ve had a few recently north of 40 years; those still give some pause, being older than me. However, I have to respect that 21 years is still a substantial fraction of my time on this planet.

Lest I seem jaded at times on Twitter by the various ridiculous samples that generous friends offer to me, I still love a good whisky and Glenfarclas easily occupies that territory. I’m a huge fan of the 17, but had never tried the 21. I’ve had plenty of older samples as well, so I was excited to try this one. Beyond that though, it was an opportunity to reflect and savor the experiences of the last year.

The 21′s nose is gently malty, with tons of oak influence and a little white pepper. There’s some dried fruit that comes through after a while, and a touch of orange as well. It’s a very easygoing and very enjoyable one to nose.

The palate stars woody at first, and has a moment of being almost bitter. The sweetness of the malt comes through shortly thereafter and saves it, and also brings some white pepper along. Wood and light dried fruit round out the palate nicely. It’s got a nice, weighty mouthfeel, like you’d hope for in a Glenfarclas.

Finally, the finish is white pepper and wood, with some dried fruit and a touch of waxy apple skin. Malt also has a distinct presence.

The Glenfarclas 21 is a very enjoyable older whisky. The 21, in most cases, is still less expensive than the highly-regarded Macallan 18, and provides a slightly different style – a little more malt and roundness, with a little more softness on the fruit – than you see on the sharper Macallan. If you haven’t had a Glenfarclas, this is a great one to try. I will say the extra-extra old stuff gets a little more intense, but for the moment, this is a similar whisky to Macallan 18 for me: a really nice balance of age and intensity, with good flavor but a profile that can only be achieved through significant time in the oak.

At the end of the day, this is one of those whiskies for me that is not about technical details and scores and ranking – this will forever be the whisky that I associate with this major milestone in my son’s life. It will not be the last bottle of it that I have.

At a glance:

Glenfarclas 21 43% ABV
Gently malty, tons of oak influence and a little white pepper. Some light notes of dried fruit and a touch of orange.
Palate:  Woody at first and almost bitter. Maltiness begins to come through, and a bit of white pepper. Some light dried fruit.
Finish:  White pepper and wood, some more dried fruit, a touch of apple skin. Malt.
Comment:  A really enjoyable whisky. This one is right on the cusp of B+. 
Rating:  B


Canadian Rye, Three Ways

There are a number of whiskies out there that sit in the “American”/”Bourbon” section of your local liquor store that should more appropriately be sitting in the Canadian section. Three highly-regarded ryes – WhistlePig, Masterson’s, and Jefferson’s, despite hanging out next to Rittenhouse, Jim Beam Rye, Sazerac and others, are actually produced in Canada. You’ll see this usually acknowledged in teeny type on the label somewhere.

My interest in looking at these a while back was spurred by seeing a bottle of WhistlePig in one of my local haunts that had a store-made shelf talker which loudly announced WhistlePig as being made in Vermont.

That seemed odd to me – rye is in short supply these days and it’s not one of those things that a lot of people are producing. It’s a ridiculously tough grain to work with when compared to the other options out there, and has a tendency to get really sticky. (Don’t believe me? Try making some rye bread – even if rye is only 30-40% of the total flour weight, you will quickly see how much stickier rye is than wheat).

I looked on the back and saw the “Produced in Canada” label. Ah yes. It’s as American as William Shatner, poutine and ice hockey. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I love Star Trek as much as the next guy.

Digging some more, I saw two other ryes were noted as sharing some similarities with WhistlePig: Masterson’s and Jefferson’s. All three are 10 year old straight ryes, just at differing proofs. Clearly the best thing to do is have a shootout.

Starting at the top is the most expensive and probably most well known rye, WhistlePig. It’s garnered some awards and has developed a pretty good reputation. Its following is maybe not the most fervent out there, but that’s because it’s pricing itself into the premium end of North American whiskies.

WhistlePig’s nose is initially dry and slightly spicy, with a fairly hefty dose of wood. There’s a trace of black pepper, some oranges providing some zesty top-end to the nose, and a gentle caramel influence. Confectioner’s sugar, gentle cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and faint clove rounded out the nose.

The palate started woody initially, with a slightly dry and light mouthfeel, but that opened up. It started to get more sweet, and cinnamon also added some heat to the palate. It was lightly floral as I commonly find ryes to be, and there was a slight caramel tone to the sweetness.

The finish was initially warm, but the heat faded, and left a slightly caramel sweetness with a good dose of rye and gentle spices. White pepper heat contrasted with nutmeg, and it all resolved to a wood finish.

Does WhistlePig live up to the hype? It’s a pretty good nose for a rye, with tons of baking spices competing for your attention. A little sweetness helps round out the palate and provides nice contrast with the spice and wood. It’s got tons of character and at 10 years, the really piney notes you get from a lot of ryes have been tamed.

That’s a promising start for this whiskey. The next up was Masterson’s, which came in at 45% ABV (compared to WhistlePig’s 50%).

Masterson’s nose was spicy and initially sharp, with white and black pepper abundant. It opened up to the familiar note of confectioner’s sugar and some sweet toffee. There was definitely wood again on the nose, but overall the nose was predominantly sweet with spice as a shading. I couldn’t help but shake the image of a fresh beignet when nosing this.

The palate entered with a light to moderate weight, with wood and a slow, spicy heat initially – again in the form of cinnamon. There was a very agreeable mellow sweetness permeating everything, with confectioner’s sugar giving some direct sweetness. It was gently sweet and had some faint piney notes, and again reminded me of a pastry.

The finish was sweet and agreeable with gentle toffee, but a more pronounced caramel character and a touch of maple syrup. There’s a light wood influence that was obvious, and it even had a slightly vanilla character to me.

Masterson’s had an undeniable similarity to WhistlePig, though at the lower proof, the sweetness shone through. It lacked some of the complexity on the nose, but had a more easygoing sweetness not found in the WhistlePig. Overall, I thought it was really nice.

Finally, the last option was Jefferson’s Rye, also 10 years old, and splitting the proof difference at 47%.

The nose on Jefferson’s was lightly woody and had traces of pine. Sweetness with the expected confectioner’s sugar, as well as some caramel led on the nose, with gentle cinnamon and a touch of anise to add a little more dimension.

The whisky had a medium mouthfeel, fairly rich and again led with wood and built heat slowly with cinnamon. The woody character lightened but remained present. Toffee and maple syrup developed in the background. Overall, the palate seemed to have a nice gentle heat and an agreeable balance between wood and sweetness. Again, like the Masterson’s, I thought the palate was slightly bready like a fresh doughnut. (Actually, it reminded me most of a malasada).

The finish was sweet and slightly minty at first, but then was dominated by wood with a little cinnamon and rye. It was slightly bitter, and a little nutmeg went along with the wood.

Again, I found Jefferson’s a pretty good whisky. Given that it runs a little cheaper it might be the best buy of the bunch. Tasting in this sequence though, I thought it lacked a clear identity when compared to the spice cabinet of WhistlePig or the decadent pastry sweetness of Masterson’s.

So that leads us to the obvious conclusion: Which of these straight ryes is worth buying?

Well, truthfully, I wouldn’t be ashamed to have any of these on my bar. They’re all good, but they do something slightly different.

If you’re a spice fan and don’t mind a little heat and slight dryness, you should check out WhistlePig. I really enjoyed the nose on this one, and every aroma was distinct and clear.

If you’re a sweet tooth, head straight for Masterson’s. In retrospect I think I might prefer Masterson’s to the WhistlePig; a little extra water seemed to get this one sorted in the right direction for me. Don’t expect this to be as totally creamy sweet as an E yeast Four Roses, we’re still talking about a 100% rye mashbill.

If you can’t decide, are a newcomer to 100% rye whiskies, or your budget is tighter? Jefferson’s. If you want something a little sweeter, you should go with Masterson’s, and if you want a little spicier, WhistlePig is your ticket. While I’d say this was my least favorite of the three, it’s only because the other two had clearer identities in a 3-way tasting. I still have this as my bottle on the bar and will enjoy every drop that I don’t share out as a sample.

Honestly, of these three, I don’t think there’s a bad choice. And that’s great for all of us.

At a glance:

WhistlePig 10y Straight Rye 50% ABV
A dry, slightly spicy nose with a solid wood influence, light black pepper, light oranges, a gentle caramel body, light powdered sugar, gentle cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and a faint touch of clove.
Palate:  Initially dry and light and slightly woody; sweetness starts to show as the cinnamon heats up the palate. Lightly floral and again a slight caramel body to the sweetness.
Finish:  Warm initially, but the heat fades and leaves a lightly caramel sweetness with a good dose of rye and gentle spices on top. White pepper provides the heat with a shade of nutmeg. Resolves to wood.
Comment:  A nicely aged rye with balance, spice, and character. Tons of interest and the age does a lot to tame any overly piney characteristics that you get in too many ryes these days.
Rating: B+

Masterson’s Rye 45% ABV
Spicy and sharp initially, white and black pepper in abundance. Opens up with some confectioner’s sugar and a sweet toffee note. Wood is evident but the nose is predominantly sweet with spice. Smells slightly like a fresh beignet. 
Light-to-moderate body, enters a little woody and a slow spicy heat – gentle cinnamon. Mellow sweetness all around. Confectioner’s sugar again. Gentle spice, very faintly piney. Faint pastry sweetness.
Sweet and agreeable; gentle toffee but more light caramel and a touch of maple syrup. Light wood influence is obvious on this, even a touch of vanilla. 
Quite similar to WhistlePig, but a little sweeter. 

Jefferson’s Rye 10y 47% ABV
Lightly woody and with traces of pine. Sweet with caramel, a light touch of confectioner’s sugar, some gentle cinnamon and a touch of anise. 
Medium richness, wood at the entry and a gentle cinnamon build. Wood lightens but remains present, more toffee and a touch of maple syrup in the background. Gentle heat, and a reasonable balance between wood and sweetness. Slightly bready, like a fresh doughnut. 
Sweet with a slightly minty note for a second, but then predominantly on wood with a little cinnamon and rye. Ever so slightly bitter; a little nutmeg goes along with the wood. 
Pretty good. Not a bad rye for the price, in fact. 



Going To The Wrong Side Of The Tracks

For some reason unknown to me in the last few months, I’ve been browsing reddit’s various whisky subreddits. It’s not quite the pace or depth of discussion I like to browse at (lots of repeats, too much Aberlour), but for a quick fix of some sort of banter, it’s not an awful spot to check on.

However, one thing that always makes me laugh is the level of derision heaped upon Johnnie Walker Red (I haven’t reviewed it yet but it will certainly get its time in the hot seat). If reddit is your only source of information, you’d probably come away thinking not only is no whisky worse than Red, it’s virtually impossible to imagine anything worse than Red (as I saw one redditor comment recently).

That’s one of the craziest things I’ve read. I can think of a dozen whiskies almost immediately that are so much worse than Red it’d make your face melt off like the guy in the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

French Corpse Bowmore 21? NOOOO

In terms of whisky, I’ve been a believer that it’s worth searching out experiences good and bad. I think it’s really easy to get attached to the good side of things – hey, it tastes good! – and ignore everything that’s less than, say, a C+ by my reckoning. After all, why spend your money on crap?

However, as the more experienced drinkers know, sometimes your curiosity about a bottle that’s not being talked about is punished with the most vile and horrific stuff imaginable. After all, you might reason, how bad can a Sonoma Cutrer casked bourbon REALLY be (see above illustration for answer)? I saw a Macallan 19y bottling from Rattray at one point and picked it up. It turned out to be pretty bad. At the time, I said I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. It was, at worst, a C- by my reckoning these days. So what do you do with these godawful bottles?

Well, in my circle of friends, you publicize the awfulness and curiosity tends to get the better of people. So you arrange a bad-sample-swap. (Or, as I did last summer, you timidly ask your host if you might try that one whisky he gave a super-low grade to).

This all easily avoids the point: WHY subject yourself to the unpleasantness of something that tastes like burning garbage and pleather?

The answer lies in palate and nose development for me. One whisky I’d inquired about was later characterized as having the most clear-cut case of a butyric acid contamination that person had ever encountered. Butyric acid, you might know, is one of the more foul off-notes whisky can develop. Its presence as a dominant note in this particular whisky helped me spot it a little more readily.

Similarly, I’ve had ones attune me to feinty notes of leather, plastic, and so on. Having whiskies that are flawed in some way tend to help develop my palate or help me better understand what a certain note is. I’ve been able to pin down more concretely some notes that were defying description previously. It also provides a nice contrast to the great whiskies so those are savored.

One of the red flags this year that was waved in front of me was John Hansell’s review of the most recent Buffalo Trace Experimental collection releases. John’s reviews are generally pretty positive and friendly, and any sort of negative aspect or flaw is generally addressed in a pretty even-handed manner.

However, John led with “Don’t buy this whiskey!” in his review of the Oat & Rice bourbons. One of the choice lines from the review was that the whiskies were “borderline unpleasant!” This, coming from John, seemed to me to be the rough equivalent of “This tasted like a dead cat that had been left in the sun for six weeks” from anyone else I knew. I was on the hook almost immediately for these.

The two whiskies are the Buffalo Trace “Bourbon Made With Rice” and “Bourbon Made With Oats” experimental releases. The name gives the details of the experiment away: these trade the traditional flavor grains of wheat and rye for rice and oats. Both sounded like worthwhile experiments.

The rice bourbon was more immediately interesting to me – rice is a pretty benign thing, flavor-wise, and I couldn’t see how that would result in a whiskey that got such negative notes from John.

The nose was lightly sweet, and had some grain and definite corn upfront; maple syrup and butterscotch also were present. There was a very little bit of black pepper, and some very faint cherry and clay notes. Pleasant so far.

The palate was extremely light, and almost watery. It didn’t make a huge statement at all. The flavors developed gradually, with sweetness leading in the form of maple syrup, with a little clay and cherry to balance it. White pepper showed up with a faint hint of cinnamon. There was a moderate wood note which did almost go towards being too bitter. The corn from the nose picked up at the end but it wasn’t very bold.

The finish was hot and dry, with cinnamon, black cherry, a dry and odd grain note which was hard to describe – I guess that’s the rice – overall a bit funky but still clean. It was more textural than taste. The finish was reasonably lasting, and sits on the cusp of bitter and sweet.

That grain note in the finish was distinctive and unlike anything I’d had in a whisky. It seemed to me to be slightly reminiscent of the aftertaste you get on a slightly warm Sapporo. It’s an interesting whisky with a light nose, but it’s more a curiosity than something to keep on the shelf. Ultimately, not really that bad – I’d even say it’s worth a try.

If the rice was OK, that must mean the oat bourbon was the real mess. I put off tasting it for a couple days and came to it with a clean palate.

The nose on the oat bourbon was sharply woody and had a heavily “toasted” character. There was some vegetal sourness peeking out, and some black cherries which initially seem to temper the bitterness, but ultimately started to reinforce it. A little corn and toffee made themselves known, and there was a definite oaty presence after a moment (more Cheerios than oatmeal). The nose stayed dry though it softened a bit and got the caramel sweetness and a light marshmallow note.

The palate was medium-bodied, though woody initially. That toasted aroma from the nose came through on the palate, and it was intensely woody. Dark fruits from the nose were all over the palate – black cherries, plums, and slightly overripe berries. It had a light fruit-derived sweetness that was also syrupy. Faint vanilla sat beside a moderately earthy taste, but it was all blunted by the wood.

The finish was very woody and got dry, and had the toasted flavor. It was slightly bitter, with some corn, vegetal sourness, and pepper. As it goes on it went more vegetal and bitter.

There’s no question the rice was the better experiment; the oat bourbon was closed off on the nose and everything seemed blunted by the wood. The only thing that was at a similar intensity was the dark fruit, but those tastes seemed to reinforce the woodiness, and it was left wanting for something brighter. Even with substantial time in the glass, it opens up a bit but never goes towards balance.

I’m not sure that it was the oats in the mashbill that made this one what it was. It’s entirely possible; High West’s Silver Oat whiskey is a white whiskey but unusually flavorful (in my opinion) for a white whiskey. Maybe it’s a grain that intensifies too much in wood? I’m not sure, but between the wood and the vegetal hints, it seemed more like a questionable cask to me.

In any case, it was an interesting experiment and I’d love to see any future experiments like these from other distillers. The rice has definite potential in a lighter style.

I can’t say I agreed with John’s strongly negative take on these, but as usual with the strong negative reaction, they tend to be quite informative – sometimes even if it’s just about the original source’s personal preferences.

At a glance:

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection: Bourbon Made With Rice 45% ABV
Lightly sweet – grainy notes and some definite corn upfront; butterscotch and maple syrup. A very little bit of pepper to it, extremely faint cherry and clay notes.
Palate:  Light mouthfeel; almost watery initially. Doesn’t make a huge statement. Sweetness slowly comes in; maple syrup with a little clay and cherry to balance it. White pepper on the palate; a faint hint of cinnamon. Moderate wood which is right on the edge of becoming a bit too bitter. Corn perks up near the end but the palate isn’t very bold.
Finish:   Heat and dryness initially, with a bit of cinnamon, some black cherry, a slightly dry and kind of odd grain note (which must be the rice but is hard to describe) – a little bit funky but still clean. It is almost more of a mouthfeel and texture than a taste. Finish is reasonably lasting and sits on the cusp of sweet and bitter.
Comment:  The finish grain note is really unlike anything else I’ve had. I’m fairly sure it’s the rice making itself known; the only thing that I’ve had that reminds me of that note is Sapporo. This is a pretty interesting whiskey but I think it’s more interesting as a curiosity than something you’d really want to settle down with.
Rating: B-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection: Bourbon Made With Oats 45% ABV
Sharply woody initially with a heavily toasted character. There’s a bit of vegetal sourness peeking out against it. Some black cherries temper the wood a bit, but still feed into it. A little bit of corn. Some light toffee and a definite light oat presence – more cheerios than oatmeal. Somewhat dry. Eventually softens and gains some light caramel and some marshmallow as well.
Medium thickness, woody entrance on the palate. Toasted flavor again, intensely woody. Dark fruits in abundance – black cherries, plums, slightly overripe berries. Very light fruit-derived sweetness that’s a bit syrupy. Faint vanilla, moderate earthiness that is blunted a bit by the wood. 
Very woody, drying, toasted. Slight bitterness on the finish. A little corn, a little vegetal sourness, a dash of pepper. A slightly more bitter vegetal note as it lasts. 
Interesting experiment. Rice is the better of the two. The nose is just a little too closed off and everything gets blunted by the wood. The only thing that can really hang with that – the fruit notes – are very dark and it all cries out for something brighter to balance it. Even letting it sit, it opens up a bit but not enough to pull it into balance.