Tag Archives: buffalo trace

Taking The Bait – Git Offa Our Property, Parker!

This morning, K&L’s David Driscoll posted noted wine reviewer/professional Napa douchebag Robert Parker’s authoritative stance on bourbon as he sees it. I’ll give Driscoll the link mojo that he doesn’t need, because I saw it on his site first.

I don’t drink wine, generally speaking. It doesn’t take long before it disagrees with me and I’m in a generally bad state. I have to resort to ultra-bland food for weeks afterwards. Who knows what causes it — I don’t particularly care, because it’s easily avoided by rarely drinking wine. As a result, Robert Parker hasn’t been on my radar for much, other than as an emblem of the whole wine scene that I think is ridiculous. In my wine-drinking life I was a fan of Sonoma and Italy; I always thought Napa was kind of the sell-out alternative.

Last fall I went to Napa and while I did have some truly outstanding wine, I was mainly struck by the sheer douchebag factor of guys in their 60s tooling around in Porsches with chinos and checked oxfords dangerously unbuttoned at the collar, made safe by the addition of a blazer. Perhaps a cable-knit pastel sweater was draped over their shoulders with an artfully-tied knot designed to look careless and casual, while saying all the while “I sweated the hell out of this knot”. On more than one occasion I heard a deferential and reverent mention to what Parker thought – as if his taste is more relevant than your own.

Parker has decided to put his loafer-clad foot in our turf and has deigned to tell the masses what bourbon everyone should be drinking. In an expected quiet condescension, Parker tries to connect with the everyman by explaining how he got interested in bourbon via a TV show. How great! It wasn’t the usual expected avenues of Bourdain/Chang, Treme or Parks & Rec, but Justified. In his words:

… the bourbon drinking antics of the many violent episodes of this sensational series that takes place in Harlan County, Kentucky are a prominent sideshow.

I’d discuss how his writing in that sentence alone offends my sensibilities, but who cares: Parker has made his living writing, I make my living doing other shit in spite of my degree in journalism. The Beat fan in me, however, cringes at the dissociated, cerebral and lifeless sound of what he’s written.

A little research had me on the chase for Pappy Van Winkle, the most difficult alcoholic beverage to find in the United States. If you think I’m joking, try and find a bottle, especially of the 20-year-old and the very rare 23-year-old bourbon. They are much more difficult to find than esoteric and limited production French wines such as Romanée-Conti, Montrachet or Petrus.

The little research that Parker mentions seems to have been typing into Google, “what is the best bourbon”. Result #2? Another Wall Street Journal hack-job telling us that we need to absolutely shit ourselves over Pappy Van Winkle, because, like, it’s hard to find. We see in that article name-checks of Buffalo Trace and its brands, highlighting Pappy prominently; Willett and Black Maple Hill also rate a mention.

Apparently the wine world regards scarcity as a measure of quality. I hope Parker very quickly clues into the rich-asshole-targeted Dalmore Constellation Collection; those are extremely limited and they must be fantastic since they’re so hard to find. (Have you ever seen one in the stores?) Also, Brechin isn’t common. You ought to stock up on that shit post-haste. It closed 30 years ago! BUY NOW.

Parker goes on to discuss how Bourbon, despite what all the Schwab branch office guys are predisposed to think, is actually perhaps worth giving some attention to. Apparently Johnny Reb’s firewater made from mostly corn is worth consideration, as long as it’s rare and priced highly.

Parker’s first set of reviews are a tedious exercise in identifying virtually every hyped whisky of the last half-decade or so, with a few “surprising” and “everyman” picks thrown in to make the list relatable. You can’t get in the good graces making aspirational lists of booze most people will never see unless you stooge for a few readily accessible whiskies, I’m sure.

I recognize that palates are unique and we all have our unique tastes. I’m not going to point fingers in general at his scores; we all have our preferences. However, there are themes that emerge – Parker seems to fall for the common trap that “older is better” and rates Pappy 23 a 100%, tacitly blessing all of the fanboy bullshit that surrounds Pappy, age in general, and the overrated mythos of Stitzel-Weller. Parker also tells us in his notes that “top bourbons” should never be “diluted or served on ice”. Oh, really?

Hey Bob, did you know that Van Winkle 23 is about 47% ABV which is considered “towards the low end of ABV” in our scale? Any clue that people regularly will drop a little ice or water in their blisteringly-high-proof single cask scotches or bourbons and find a massive explosion in flavor? It’s extremely common, and if you’d spent any time whatsoever learning the culture and truly tasting whisky and learning about the spirit, you’d know that it’s not at all taboo in those cases. Instead, you’ve taken what amounts to a five-minute noob-comment-driven crash-course on Reddit and are now spreading it to a bunch of uninterested assholes as gospel truth. Why don’t you hop on the “bourbon can only be made in Kentucky” bandwagon while you’re at it? It’s as tone-deaf and factually ignorant as what you professed. Maybe you saw Paterson saying he’d “kill you” for putting ice or water in your whisky, but that’s because Paterson’s whiskies are already pretty fucking watery unless you’re spending $2000.00 for a cask strength bottle.

Parker’s list includes a ton of random Buffalo Trace including experimental releases that have been off the shelf for two years. For a guy who seems to want to portray himself as Joe Average Guy who just happened to get into this stuff and hunted it down, he’s managed to find some bottles that a lot of bourbon lovers would beat each other up for. There’s an abundance of KBD and Buffalo Trace on his list. Worse still, in his discussion of KBD (or Bulleit), he seems to be utterly ignorant of the concept of independent bottling. He rates various KBDs confidently, giving Noah’s Mill an assertive 96 – a whisky I myself know to have incredible batch variation. Hey, it’s possible, but you need to note which batch that was because they vary so wildly.

Another tiresome thread is a seeming ignorance of what’s on the bottle at times, compared with a slavish devotion to the bottle itself. Frequently he mentions something about the bottle, as if the EH Taylor bottle conveys special taste to the contents, while completely missing big-picture stuff about the whisky contained inside. His Four Roses 2012 Limited Small Batch (highly regarded among those in the know) squeaks by with a borderline score of 92, and he states, “I assume this has been aged in oak a lot longer than the basic Four Roses, and that shows in its softness.” Oh, I don’t know, Bob, what do you think? The recipe is on the back of the bottle calling out years, this information could be Googled in about ten seconds — but fuck Google, that’s not Robert Parker’s style. The inimitable Parkerian palate has detected that it might be older, so we’ll state it as fact. Yeah, it’s older. Notice those tannins? That black tea quality? More than a little bit of wood? Pretty clear sign of age and cask influence. But palate aside, that bit on the bottle that mentions a 17 year old whiskey on the back should have tipped off your older-is-better palate (given your rating for Evan Williams 23).

There’s so much stuff that Parker mentions that could easily be answered with the most perfunctory of google searches, but instead, we’re left to accept his pronouncements as truth handed down from the heavens. Parker’s Heritage 2012 – “Apparently this is no longer being produced”. Yes, that’s right, Bob. Five minutes of searching even by an assistant would have turned this up. Woodford tips its hand to Labrot and Graham as the producer. It’s made by Brown-Forman, Bob, the people who make Jack Daniels. That’s probably far too declasse for the silver Boxster and salmon-sweater crowd, but it’s the truth.

Sure, I’ve taken the bait. The know-it-all wine critic has decided he is the arbiter of taste and quality on the American whisky scene while seemingly managing to not do even the most basic bit of research and self-education on the subject. We all suffer as a result: every halfway decent whiskey will be name-checked by him and the joyless farts who swan about at wine tastings will now be regurgitating Parker’s notes with no insight and nothing to contribute to the discussion.

It’ll be a great day for the distilleries, especially Buffalo Trace. Tons of dumb money coming in, flooding the market with cash, and buying up things we took for granted. Most of these guys will probably store these bottles horizontally, which is perhaps some small consolation – speculators, take note: store your whiskey UPRIGHT. It’s great for guys who run shops, it’s great for distillers who want to wow with a thousand labels sourced from a handful of mashbills or sourced whiskey. For the average consumer, it’s yet another crowding out at the hands of shameless trend-hoppers who saw this on TV, will make no attempt to understand the culture or the spirit, but instead will blindly make pronouncements in the absence of knowledge.

The end result of this for me is to call into question the worth of Parker’s wine ratings, given how spotty his foray into whisky has been. However, again, I don’t care much: I’ll continue to pull against my bunkered stock of whisky and private barrel buys that Parker will never have access to. I only hope he doesn’t wreck the market for American whiskey as well. Surely this will attract the “investment-grade-whisky” speculative douchebag market.

And that’s all I’ve got to say on Parker.

At a glance:

Pappy Van Winkle 23y, Bottle C8752. 47.8% ABV
Nose: 
Strong presence of old wood, light aroma of dark fruits. Strong alcohol initially. Soft sweetness. Alcohol eases in a few minutes and reveals toffee scent with a hint of caramel.
Palate:  Initially dry mouthfeel, warming, strong wood, dark fruits, pleasing sweetness like cotton candy or bubblegum but also vanilla. An evolving trace of caramel and toffee that never become too huge. Wood stays somewhat bitter but does not overpower.
Finish:  Vaguely bubblegummy and toffee sweetness and again wood. Balanced, some traces of grain flavor. Medium finish.
Comment: This is not the equal of the 20y or even the ORVW 23y selection. It’s out of balance and overoaked.
Rating:  B-

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
Nose: 
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-

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
Nose: 
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
Nose: 
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.
Palate: 
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. 
Finish: 
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. 
Comment: 
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. 
Rating:
 C+ 

 

 

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project: The Unceremonious End

Over the last year, I’ve been reviewing the rounds of the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project. While many have been skeptical of this project, I have defended it as I didn’t see it as any more or less crassly commercial than the rest of the industry’s various projects and exclusives. I still think it’s a long way from collections that are as vulgar as the Dalmore Constellation collection, for that matter.

However, over the last few months, my tasting group has had participants drop out. I didn’t think this was a problem at the time – I know tons and ton of whiskey aficionados, surely replacing the drop-outs wouldn’t be a huge effort. And yet it was. For every replacement seat secured, another participant dropped out. While most of it was covered, it ended up being one short on a rolling basis.

Unfortunately, that’s where I have to know when to fold my hand.

Even if I did secure every seat, that’s for one round. The most die-hard whiskey fans I know couldn’t sustain interest past four releases. The prospect of chasing down willing participants seemingly endlessly for three years on a quarterly basis doesn’t sound like a fun time to me.

So, I am forced to revisit the question of the Single Oak Project. Yes, it’s interesting. Yes, it’s audacious. But if it’s not possible to drum up sustained interest among the nerdiest and most passionate of bourbon lovers, how will the project sustain interest for the next three years? As a casual consumer, you’re picking blind. The only guy who seems to be continuing to have coverage is Christopher Null over at Drinkhacker - and that’s just one opinion out there. I know I will not be buying individual bottles blind; it misses the point of the project.

So the project adds one more unaccounted-for variable: inconsistency among palates. Maybe Buffalo Trace thought this through and there will be separate cohorts analyzed, but I doubt it. Maybe Buffalo Trace is happy to roll the dice based on near-random consumer input with very little control data, but a one in 192 shot is utterly awful odds at finding “The Perfect Bourbon”. It’s better than the lottery by a fair shot, but it’s about 6 times worse odds than roulette tables.

For me, this seems to be the end of the project. I would have been interested to follow it through, but the economics are prohibitive – $600 a case every four months? I’m not going to pay close to $2500 a year for bourbon I only need about 60mL of to understand in the context of SIngle Oak, and I don’t have the space to store such a huge amount of whiskey for such an ongoing time. 54 liters of bourbon remaining in 3 years is too tall an order – to say nothing of the $7500 buy-in it would require.

So, unfortunately, this is the end for the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project coverage here, as far as I can see it. Managing a group buy and filling minis, photographing bottles and so on – I’m not going to miss that one bit. I will miss the bit-by-bit experimentation, but $100 a quarter was as high as I would go on it.

Your best bet for future coverage is at Drinkhacker as linked above, and it seems like a few liquor store owners are quietly making their way through the flights.

Good luck, Buffalo Trace. If a release for the aficionados can’t generate and sustain aficionado interest, those three years of remaining inventory have to be looking slightly larger.

Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash

Today I’m turning my sights to a release from last year – E.H. Taylor’s Old Fashioned Sour Mash. The Taylor name – you might remember it as Old Taylor – was bought from Beam a few years back. For a while it looked like this might be a less-experimental series of releases than the Experimental Collection. There have been a few releases to day:

  • Old Fashioned Sour Mash
  • Single Barrel
  • Tornado Surviving (aka Kentucky Phoenix)
  • Barrel Proof
  • COLA nerds know a Straight Rye label exists. (there’s also a label for Small Batch, so who knows what the Taylor line holds)

Today we’re talking about the first release: Old Fashioned Sour Mash. Now, I know 99.999% of the readers here understand the sour mash process. It’s not a unique thing in American whisky – it’s extremely common, if not the overall norm. Without getting too deep into distillation minutia: some of the spent grain used from a prior distillation batch is retained for the next batch. This has the effect of lowering the pH for the next batch, which allows the fermentation to be yeast-driven versus bacterial. (For the real nerds, Scotch whiskies allow for a second bacterial fermentation as they’ve frequently got open-top washbacks – honestly, the best explanation I’ve ever read of the whisky making process is in Charles MacLean’s Malt Whisky which is one of the most lucid explanations I’ve encountered)

So, the difference between the sour mash process as it exists today and the “Old Fashioned” process is one of time. Buffalo Trace allowed the mash to sit for a while before entering the fermenters and the pH slowly dropped into the range that would be expected to be seen in the modern version of the sour mash process. This natural process that resulted in a lower pH is what they’re calling Old Fashioned, versus the modern spent-grain method.

OK, enough nerdosity. Let’s talk about the whisky. This stuff was mocked almost immediately upon release because of its $75 price tag. The scotch guys will pay this without blinking an eye, but $75 puts you within a stone’s throw of Buffalo Trace’s Anniversary Collection or Parker’s Heritage, so the final result better be great.

Unfortunately, if you subtract out the economics of a small run, I’m not sure that it lives up to the $75 price tag, and that seems to be the general consensus on this release.

The nose is warm and spicy, with evidence of rye almost immediately. It’s got strong but not overbearing wood influence; vanilla, corn and general grainy notes. There’s a slight hint of brown sugar and maple syrup.

The palate is lightly sour on first entry – think of a more refined version of the sourness you get off of an Evan Williams sometimes. It warms gently; has a nice woody sweetness and is mildly astringent. There’s rye, toffee, and it’s lightly vegetal. It’s nowhere near as young and green as, say, a Beam.

The finish dries quickly and leaves behind vanilla, some slightly sour new-make notes, more wood and is lightly warming with a moderate length finish.

It’s not the most amazing whisky I’ve had and I think the $75 price tag would be out of line if this were a regular production item. It’s nice with its heat and has some nuance, and the slight presence of sourness isn’t overbearingly “green” nor does it make the whole thing a mess. It serves as a nice balance to the sweetness evident elsewhere.

Honestly, I think this is a good whisky. It’s not going to be common on the shelves at this point; if you find a bottle it’s worth picking up. It’s definitely worth trying in a bar. I’d love to see something like this become a regular offering.

At a glance:

Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash (50% ABV)
Nose:
  Warm and spicy, with rye evident immediately. Strong but not overbearing wood, vanilla. Corn and grainy notes, and a slight hint of brown sugar. Some maple syrup as well.
Palate:  Lightly sour on first entry, warming gently. Woody sweetness with mild astringency. Rye, light toffee, slightly vegetal notes.
Finish:  Drying quickly, leaving behind vanilla, slightly sour new-make notes like the Buffalo Trace White Dog, more wood, lightly warming. Moderate finish.
Comment:  This isn’t a world-beater, but it’s different than most people are making today and a nice change. It’s not overbearingly hot, has some good complexity and is overall enjoyable. This has a slight sourness throughout that works nicely to provide some balance to to the sweetness.
Rating: B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project – Round 4

It’s been about three months since the last visit to Single Oak territory, so it’s time to look at the the latest round of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project. At this point, 48 barrels have been released, leaving 144 barrels to be opened over the next three years.

Round four focuses on three variables. As usual, wheat and rye recipes are being tested. Also as usual, there are three grain patterns – tight, average and coarse. The new variable this time is wood vs concrete warehouse floors. At first glance, that sounds like a ridiculous  variable, but that essentially means modern warehouses versus traditional warehouses, which have different temperature characteristics – which means different interactions with the wood (presumably).

Right off the top, I will say that release four, to my taste, proved to be not only the best overall so far, but the most consistent. There was only one C-grade whisky and it was a C+. Everything else was B-range. That’s quite a respectable showing and it’s come a long way from the first release, which had some harsh and unbalanced whiskeys.

This is the first showing where I had anything resembling a clear preference on grain tightness – the tightest grain patterns scored slightly higher on average than the average and coarse grains. Coarse was second in line. Looking back on previous releases, a slight distaste for average grain tightness is starting to show up. The highest rated bottles to date have also been tight grain bottles.

On the whole, a slight preference for wheaters this round; again, the highest rated bottle was a rye recipe which seems to be the case lately. Finally, as to the main experiment of wood versus concrete, there was a slight preference for wood warehouses – but due to the overall consistency of this round it’s not a major difference.

So let’s get into specifics, as always.

Barrel 14: The best of Round 4

My personal favorite for Round 4 was Barrel 14: a tight-grained rye recipe from a concrete floor (again, the exceptional case). Barrel 14 executes a nice sweet palate with a big, rich mouthfeel – maple syrup, caramel, toffee, oak; cinnamon and powdered sugar on the palate. However, it had a little more to give – the nose had some black cherries and cinnamon and spicy rye in addition to maple, wood, and corn sweetness as well as some caramel. The finish was nice, warm, big and full, sweet but with a faint astringency to balance it. Oranges, caramel and a little maple dominated.

Barrel 14 has the kind of complexity I find lacking in a lot of sweeter bourbons, which made it enjoyable. I generally find syrupy and sweet bourbons a little hard to love because they tend to have a simplified palate and not a lot of nuance. I can enjoy when they’re done well but it’s not a profile that really blows me away. In fact, that profile dominates Round 4, I think owing to the #3 char used throughout. (All bottles in Round 4 also had 12 month stave seasoning, 125 entry proof and were bottom cuts).

The best wheater?

The Best Wheater: Barrel 174

For me this had to be Barrel 174, which edged out 42 by a nose. Barrel 174 has a nice maple syrup nose with some woody balanced astringency. There’s a hint of apple cider, but the whole thing gets a little more creamy with some cherries in the mix after a while. The palate similarly gets a little more dense; it’s got light cinnamon, caramel and toffee, as well as maple syrup, powdered sugar and a bit of a bready quality. However, it picks up on the finish – it starts with cinnamon and drying wood, but it gets a nice tannic kick with some red wine influence, and a bit of dark chocolate. Let 174 breathe for a couple minutes; it helps the nose and the tannins in the finish become a little more developed.

As usual, the other question worth asking: are there any to avoid?

Well, for the first time I don’t think there’s anything that’s really awful. My least favorite was Barrel 74 (Rye recipe, average grain, wood floor) – it had a nice peppery quality to it, with plenty of heat and dark fruit notes. However, it seemed kind of closed off and underdeveloped. It just didn’t come together coherently for me. It wasn’t bad, per se, it just was the one weak link in a remarkably consistent Round 4.

25% Done: What Do The Bourbons Tell Us?

As I noted earlier, some basic trends in my scoring are starting to emerge. I see a clear preference for longer seasoning times; the highest a 6 month seasoning has rated is B-. If this is the case, there will be some unpleasant rounds ahead as there are a lot of 6 month seasonings to get through. I’m seeing that I have a slight distaste for average grain tightness recipes. By strict grades, rye recipes have scored higher but not by much. Bottom cuts still rate higher; entry proof still looks inconclusive. Wood versus concrete on a macro level still seems to be inconclusive as well.

Thoughts On The Project Itself

A year in, Single Oak seems to be a divisive project. Our tasting group lost a participant with Round 4, and it was surprisingly difficult to find a replacement despite knowing a lot of bourbon fans. Some expressed distaste for the idea that they were “paying to do Buffalo Trace’s research”. Others derided the project as a gimmick. It’s possible on both counts.

First, regarding the “gimmick” angle – certainly, 192 bourbons released in flights of 12 every three months for four years with minute variations is a gimmick. It absolutely is. You’d be nuts to claim otherwise. However, I would argue that the majority of bourbon producers have some sort of gimmick to drive sales – be it recipes unchanged for decades; filtration processes for smoothness; new and improved recipes; Stitzel-Weller distillate (how many times is something “…maybe the last chance you’ll ever have to drink anything from Stitzel-Weller”); finished in something exotic; released at a new proof for either uncut glory or smooth, easy drinking; and so on. I think we choose our gimmicks based on our interests and tastes and go with them. I happen to enjoy trying new things on a more or less constant basis, so BTSO scratches an itch.

Regarding “paying to do Buffalo Trace’s research” – I remain unconvinced that the deck might not be slightly stacked and that there’s very little original research being done. I’ve long since abandoned the idea that this project will result in one clear-cut, almighty A-grade whiskey that is universally beloved. It just isn’t realistic. Where I like spicy, dark, fruity whiskies with a floral kick, some will love the caramel, sweet and syrupy flavors you see from releases like Round 4. I think it’s likely a few broad trends will be seen and perhaps the project will result in not one release, but a couple whiskeys that stand as examples of a particular style. It’s hard to believe that this wasn’t anticipated. I also am sure my scoring on the Single Oak Project website has become wildly inconsistent.

I think the worst case of this is that a B-to-B-minus grade whiskey that has kind of been focus-grouped will be the result. If this gets a B+ I’ll be happy; an A- or above is always the dream.

But to the “paying to do the research” point… I can’t help but suspect a lot of this stuff has been fairly well understood at Buffalo Trace for a long time. I don’t think I believe that in years of making bourbon, certain trends in entry proof or warehouse location haven’t come up multiple times. Sure, the grain and cut may be new, but otherwise, this stuff had to have been examined.

In a broader sense, we’re paying to do research with  every purchase. If a competitor’s rye-based bourbon with some exotic finish takes off, you can bet Buffalo Trace will be trying to one-up that release in a relatively short period of time. I feel like that the paid research happens more with the Experimentals than BTSO, which really just seems like the most audacious single barrel project in ages. Yeah, the price is high. I still don’t think you should be buying bottles solo. This project screams for group purchases.

In fact, if my group falls apart it’s entirely likely that I will discontinue coverage of the project on that basis – it’s too expensive and would be a storage burden if I tried to tackle this alone. I also wonder how casual purchases have worked for Buffalo Trace. I’ve seen many disgusted reactions, largely based on some of the many clunkers from the first release. That alone might be enough to permanently put people off the line. I know that there’s a lot more Single Oak on the shelves, which could be a bad sign for the continuation of things. I hope not, and I hope to be able to see the project through to its completion.

My bottom line: Do you like sweet and syrupy bourbons? It’s hard to go wrong with Round 4 if you do.

As usual, a different take is available at Drinkhacker.

Want to see all the scores so far? Check the Single Oak Scorecard.

Full Tasting Notes for Round Four

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 10, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Slightly dry with a gentle white pepper lead on the nose. A good amount of corn, light toffee and caramel. Some light oak as well. Slightly maple. There’s a slight sourness on the nose but it’s a sourness that is integrated and works for me. 
Palate: 
Rich mouthfeel, sweet with corn upfront and a nice dose of caramel behind it. Mildly tannic with reasonable wood presence but it enhances the character of the bourbon. Some light maple notes; a very faint hint of cinnamon; a faint hint of orange. Slight wood presence. A faint hint of cherry. 
Finish: 
Warmer than the palate, a bit more dry and dark fruits emerge for a second. A little black cherry. A touch of marshmallow even. Quite dry though – this doesn’t linger in the mouth; it’s more back of the palate. 
Comment: 
This is not bad. It’s sweet and I don’t think the tannins quite sit with this one just right. This is one of those BTSO barrels that I’d be interested to try at a couple different ages. 
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 14, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Nice, black cherries initially and a good dose of rye spice alongside some cinnamon. Light maple, plenty of wood, a good dose of corn. Slight caramel. Slight dry woodiness. 
Palate: 
Rich mouthfeel. Moderate sweetness; maple syrup, light oak. Caramel and toffee. A faint sprinkle of cinnamon. A little touch of powdered sugar. 
Finish: 
Nice, warm mouthfeel, very big and present finish. Sweet but ever so slightly astringent. Oranges, a little caramel, some maple. 
Comment: 
This is a nice, sweet, caramel bourbon. This sort of profile is hard for me to love, but it’s equally hard not to really like when it’s very well executed like this one. 
Rating:
B+

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 42, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Dark initially with some black cherry, but lightens with corn apparent. Maple syrup in abundance, toffee, light marshmallowy notes. Nice grains, light sweet hints of caramel. Nice oak after a minute giving it a big, strong balanced nose.
Palate: 
Rich mouthfeel; sweet with caramel and toffee and tons of maple syrup. Gentle heat leaning towards pepper. Light orange notes.
Finish: 
Warming more; cinnamon. Lasting. A little black tea, a little orange notes, some wood; slightly tannic. A faint musty melon rind note.
Comment:  
This is pretty good. Sweet but with a little oakiness to balance it. 
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 46, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Light spice on the nose – a mix of cinnamon and pepper with a little undertone of nutmeg. Clay earthiness. Slightly spirity. Light pine, a touch of mint. Faint hint of cherries & oranges. 
Palate: 
Rich mouthfeel but a little dry. A little heat; some light pepper notes as well as a hint of cinnamon. Light cherry. Slight earthiness. Very light sourness in the form of slight corn.
Finish: 
Somewhat short. Oranges and cherries fade into black tea tannins; there’s a faint celery root quality. Dries slightly but not quite to the point of astringency. 
Comment:  
This has some nice nuance to it. The nose is enjoyable. It’s a little more aggressive but not harsh. 
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 74, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Dry and with some pepper and oak. Slightly piney. A little maple develops but it’s somewhat faint. 
Palate: 
Moderately mouth-coating. Heat – white pepper, cinnamon, a very slight dash of cayenne. Some light maple and caramel. A bit of toffee develops. A touch of orange; a little bit of plum for a second. Some cherry. 
Finish: 
Warm with pepper and cinnamon; drying quickly. Oak shows up towards the end. Moderately astringent. 
Comment:   
There’s something about this bourbon that’s a little closed off and it doesn’t quite show its colors. It doesn’t quite hang together for me. 
Rating:
C+

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 78, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Sharp with pepper and spice. Lightly orange and caramel. A little black cherry. Slightly harsh. Light black tea. 
Palate: 
Slightly thin, light oranges, a bit of caramel, some oakiness. Slightly warming – light white pepper. Very slight sourness.
Finish: 
Big and bold. A nice heat – black tea tannins initially, a little cherry. Some light marshmallow notes for a second. Dries slightly but not much – a little light oak but still retains some orange and caramel. Very faint mint aromas.
Comment: 
This benefits from a little time in the glass. It’s an interesting focus – orange, caramel and a little black tea. I don’t think it quite works for me but it’s an unusual profile. 
Rating:
B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 106, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Light hints of dried apple and some orange; a bit of light toffee; maple syrup, light powdering of sugar; sweet woody notes. Slightly bready; makes me think of French toast. Light cinnamon. Slight clay earthiness.
Palate: 
Sweet; big rich mouthfeel with a slight cinnamon tingle. Maple syrup, some medium wood presence that’s slightly dusty and aged. Slight vegetal character. 
Finish: 
Light vegetal notes; slight vibe of boozy fruits (plum, apple, a bit of peach?), a little cinnamon. Some wood but not much. Somewhat drying on the finish. Fruity and sweet still though. 
Comment: 
This is kind of an unusual one for the Single Oaks. I kind of like it because it’s a bit unusual. It’s got aspects that make me think of and older whiskey, which is always great – it’s got that apple skin and wood profile that can be a real treat. Interestingly, despite this and the classic bourbon notes as seen, this also has a certain “scotchiness” to it. I’m not sure it’s a winner but it strikes me different than any Single Oak I can remember. Worth a try.
Rating:
B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 110, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Dark fruits – plums, blackberries, a bit of black cherry. Some light earthiness, a touch of vanilla. Oak, a little pepper. Slight corn sweetness; light grains. Light cinnamon.
Palate: 
Slightly thin mouthfeel; light cinnamon. Faint sourness. Dark fruits again – plums and a bit of cherry. Some maple syrup. Sweetens gradually. A momentary tang of Juicy Fruit gum. 
Finish: 
Warm and a bit more dry. Pepper, drying wood. Slightly sugary in an unrefined but not overbearing way.
Comment: 
This one has a nice nose and is fine enough to drink but doesn’t have much in the way of complexity (beyond the nose) or interest.
Rating:
B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 138, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Moderate corn sweetness. Light orange notes; some light caramel, moderate but not harsh pine and rye notes. Some light overall graininess.
Palate: 
Rich mouthfeel. Corn sweetness leads; a little caramel and some maple syrup behind it. A bit of orange brightness at the top of the palate. Some light oak. Generally sweet.
Finish: 
Light finish – some apple cider, a little light maple and some light oranges. Some cinnamon warmth to it as well as a dash of white pepper. Focused heavily on the fruit.
Comment: 
A nice, sweet and fruity whisky. It’s not particularly remarkable due to the closed off nose but the finish is actually different and pretty nice.
Rating:
B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 142, 45% ABV
Nose: 
A little bit of pepper, some oak; slight earthiness. Some rye spice on the nose; somewhat dry. Light apples and cinnamon. Some light peaches and a hint of apricot.
Palate: 
Rich in the mouth. Fruitiness continues; some apples and light apricots. Very juicy. A bit of vanilla providing some depth but it’s not strong. Very gentle heat. Generally sweet and agreeable. 
Finish: 
Warming substantially from the palate. More light vanilla and lighter fruits – more peach and apricot type notes. Light cinnamon, a distinct black cherry kick initially.
Comment: 
The nose and the finish are nice enough but the palate is somewhat muted and keeps this from a higher score. It’s quite nice though. 
Rating:
B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 170, 45% ABV
Nose:  Sweet corn prominent initially. Some light grain; maple syrup up front; light hint of black cherries. Gentle wood influence.
Palate:  Sweet – dominated again by corn and maple syrup. Full mouthfeel. Light hint of oranges; a touch of cinnamon. Slight pepper, slight dry wood and a faint celery root note.
Finish:  Vanilla, black cherry, slight earthiness. Warms up nicely. A little oak and root vegetable note on the tail end.
Comment:  Not bad. The finish is a touch harsh and it’s a little simplistic on the palate.
Rating: B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 174, 45% ABV
Nose:  Sweet with maple syrup, but with a slightly astringent, woody kind of balance to it. Slight apple cider note. Lightly hit with a dash of black pepper. Evolves to be more creamy with a vanilla note. Gentle cherry.
Palate:  Slightly thin initially; becomes creamier with a bit of time in the glass. Light cinnamon, some caramel and toffee. Maple syrup, a touch of powdered sugar, and slight breadiness.
Finish:  Cinnamon, slightly drying wood; a dusty tone to it. Some light red wine, a touch of dark chocolate.
Comment:  This benefits from a bit in the glass to develop the nose (and the finish seems to be aided by it too). A little more interesting with the sweet nose and slightly tannic finish.
Rating:  B

 

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project – Round 3

My prior post about the bottling of a Single Oak group buy was all you needed to know that a review of Single Oak Round 3 was coming soon.

Without rehashing history too much, the Single Oak Project is Buffalo Trace’s multi-year project to experiment with seven key variables to see how they affect the profile of a bourbon. At times it’s been called the quest for “the perfect bourbon” – a point that many have correctly noted will not be the end result of this project. I haven’t taken it too literally but have chosen to view this as an in-depth education on these things. However, there are some points to consider – we’ll discuss them later.

The seven variables that are being examined are, once again,

  • Warehouse (modern concrete vs. traditional wood)
  • Barrel char (#3 lighter char; #4 heavier char)
  • Grain tightness (tight, average, wide)
  • Entry proof (125, 105)
  • Recipe (wheat, rye)
  • Stave seasoning time (6 months, 12 months)
  • Stave location (top of tree, bottom of tree)

Round 3 one again carries through with the usual wheat and rye and grain coarseness variables. This time the other isolated variable is the entry proof – the proof that the spirit is at when it goes into barrels. All barrels in this round were bottom cut, concrete floor, #4 char, 6 month seasoned bottles. As always, the final product is bottled at 90 proof and is 8 years old.

As to the primary experiment of 125 vs 105 entry proof, results were inconclusive. I had a marked preference for the higher entry proof on the tight grained bourbons. I preferred the lower entry proof rye and wheat was a split on the average grain, and on the coarse grain it was split – preferring the higher proof rye and the lower proof wheat. If anything this may indicate a slight preference for higher proof ryes and lower proof wheaters, but there’s a lot of experiments left that will reinforce that or negate the assumption.

Wheaters were slightly my preference this time by average grade, though I thought the best barrel this time out was a rye recipe. Once again, the grain coarseness is also relatively inconclusive, though average grain fared the best overall this time. As more experiments are tried, perhaps some clear preferences may emerge. For now, though, it’s 36 bourbons into a 192 bourbon project – many, many more to go.

So what are the highlights?

Barrel 136: The best of round 3

I thought Barrel 136 was the best of Round 3. This was a 125-proof entry, coarse grained rye recipe. This had sweetness up front with peaches in the mix, gained heat on the palate and had lots of dimension, but then went surprisingly into tannic territory on the finish with black tea and red wine playing against the caramel and wood. It was complex and interesting.

Barrel 120: The best wheater

The best wheater in my opinion was Barrel 120 – a low-proof entry that is primarily a big, sweet bourbon that gets some balance and character from some black cherry notes which shine in the finish, balancing black cherry and maple syrup in a really nice combination.

Barrel 56: At least it looks nice

What ones should be avoided this time out? I thought Barrel 56 was a disorganized, incoherent mess. Drink enough of Barrel 56 and you probably will be too. Barrel 167 wasn’t bad, but again didn’t hold together coherently – sour, earthy, tannic, a little sweet, a little dry. I couldn’t put my finger on anything I distinctly didn’t like (again, nothing near as awful as Release 1′s barrels 3 & 4) but it was completely forgettable and disorganized.

Now, before going on to the full paste of tasting notes, a word about the project. As I was entering my reviews on the Single Oak Project website, I started to notice what I think might be a problem for the experiment’s dataset. Apparently in past reviews I’d been stingy with my scores on their site – I just don’t score whiskies the way they do and a 10-point scale is hard for me to reconcile on things like “color”. For me the score is the sum of its parts and saying something has a 9-point finish is hard to do since it’s part of the whole experience. Anyway, my scores seemed to come in consistently higher than previously – but I will say that I still think Release 2′s Barrel 61 is the best of the bunch. However, my scores on the Single Oak Project website doubtless put several ahead of 61 at this point.

Given that these are spaced out every quarter over 4 years, I’m not sure how accurate the final result will be, especially if people suffer grade inflation like I did this time around. That’s a long time to remain 100% consistent in your scoring of profiles for people who don’t do this for a living.

Overall, Release 3 was agreeable but didn’t have a lot of stand-outs. That’s good in the case of the standouts of Release 1 (mostly bad) but unfortunate compared to Release 2 which I thought was fairly strong. On average though, most of these were decent enough and at least worth a try.

Once again, Drinkhacker has a different take on things. That’s the only set of full notes I’ve found for Release 3.

And now, the tasting notes and ratings for this set of 12 whiskies.

Want to see all the scores so far? Check the Single Oak Scorecard.

Full Tasting Notes For Round Three

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 8, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Floral. Slight caramel. A little cinnamon, some orange, vanilla. Rather light on the nose. A bit of corn and general grain.
Palate: 
Mouth-coating and rich. Big push of caramel initially, followed by vanilla, cinnamon, light orange and a bit of black cherry. Starts a gentle warming. 
Finish: 
Strong, big black cherry note at first, heat not present on palate and finish is assertive. White pepper, a bit of marshmallow, light hay. Moderately woody. Nice and long-lasting. 
Comment: 
Really enjoyable finish. This one builds and builds. 
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 24, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Caramel and vanilla; maple syrup; thin and lightly solvent in nature. Medium wood. Slightly piney.
Palate: 
Slightly thin. Bitter wood initially, followed by black cherries and a bit of marshmallows. A light orange note, a touch of maple syrup. Gains heat; somewhat dogged by the bitterness though throughout.
Finish: 
Hot and dry. Bitter wood and a hint of vegetables (celery root; romaine), a fair amount of cherry, some black pepper. 
Comment:  This is kind of a strange mix of bitterness and heat. Doesn’t work for me. 
Rating:
C+

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 40, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Moderate corn sweetness and a gentle grainy aroma. Maple syrup, light caramel. Very faint white pepper. A bit of blackberry and pomegranate juice on the nose. 
Palate: 
Moderately light mouthfeel, sweet initially with corn notes and some faint maple syrup, a bit of caramel. Gently warming pepperiness. Very mellow. A bit of bitterness that takes a vegetable and greens character. Moderate wood. 
Finish: 
Pepper from the palate and some wood, with a little of the grain from the nose. Some cherry tartness. 
Comment: 
Uncomplicated but pretty enjoyable.
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 56, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Slightly sharp and spirity. Moderate bananas and a bit of marzipan. Red wine. Light grains, faint marshmallow note. 
Palate: 
Thin. Mildly astringent yet oddly buttery. Somewhat woody. Szechuan pepper. Light maple syrup. Moderately warming. Black cherry undertone. 
Finish: 
Hot and initially dry. Maple syrup continues. Slightly medicinal. More straightforward pepper notes; black cherry. Dry in the mouth. Some dry wood. 
Comment: 
Interesting for the assemblage of flavors, but it doesn’t hang together coherently. It’s kind of all over the place. 
Rating:
C

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 72, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Woody, musty, with a slight pine note. Butterscotch and some caramel. Light vanilla. There’s a slightly roasted, nutty note – peanuts and cashews. 
Palate: 
Moderately thick. Slowly warming. Bitter wood. Some caramel notes. Light cherries. Very very faint dusting of pepper.
Finish: 
Caramel, light vanilla, medium wood. Some pepper. Rye spice with some floral notes. A bit of black tea tannins.
Comment: 
A bit harsh – kind of unpleasant. 
Rating:
C+

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 88, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Lightly piney, with moderate wood. Maple syrup, black pepper. Some faint caramel. 
Palate:   
Initially slightly sour; with wood present. Some maple syrup. Sugary notes present as well. Extremely faint vanilla. Light caramel. Some black cherries.
Finish: 
Warming slightly. Wood carries through, a bit of the sweetness plays counterpoint to the wood. Pepper goes more in the white pepper direction. Vanilla and light marshmallow notes are present. A little black cherry and black tea.
Comment: 
It’s not bad. It’s a little hotter on the palate than I’d normally like but it’s pretty decent. The dark fruit notes are a touch too dark. 
Rating:
B-

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 104, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Caramel and grain, with some wood. A bit of yeasty, fresh-baked bread. A bit sharp on the nose.
Palate:  
Somewhat thick mouthfeel; pleasant grains, gentle caramel and light maple syrup sweetness. A dusting of powdered sugar and a hint of fresh doughnuts. Building heat; marshmallow and cherry notes show up. Medium wood
Finish: 
Black tea tannins initially. Sweet but with some heat. Heavier maple syrup, powdered sugar. Raspberry jam and a bit of wood.
Comment: 
Sweet with some interesting depth. Not bad at all. 
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 120, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Medium wood, caramel, fairly upfront pepper across the nose. Extremely faint black cherry; some dusty grain. 
Palate: 
Sweet caramel, maple syrup in abundance, vanilla and leaning toward marshmallow. Faintly earthy like clay; gentle warmth. 
Finish: 
Caramel and vanilla come through; black cherry starts to build on the finish and has maple syrup as a counterpoint. Nice, gentle grain. Pleasantly lasting. 
Comment: 
Lightly nuanced; primarily a big, sweet bourbon. The finish is really a nice counterpoint on this one, giving some more dark fruit tartness. 
Rating:
B

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 136, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Sweet on the nose – maple syrup; medium wood presence; white pepper with a dash of cinnamon; a faint touch of peach.
Palate: 
Warming but sweet – a slight dab of chili oil with caramel; rich mouthfeel. Plenty of vanilla and a faintly earthy touch. Light grains, rye, and becoming slightly dry with a hint of bitter wood. 
Finish: 
Warmth recedes beyond what’s left on the tongue – black tea tannins and a hint of red wine. Some light caramel, wood notes heavy as well as grain.
Comment: 
Some interesting heat and spice presence here. The nose hides a lot on this one; the palate has heat but not too much, and then the finish goes more tannic. Pretty interesting. 
Rating:
B+

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 152, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Dry on the nose, with an even mix of pepper and wood.Fairly sharp; a bit of prickling. Very dry rye notes with a faint hint of black pepper. A touch of red wine as well.
Palate:  Caramel, sweet but with a slightly sour edge to it. Plenty of heat on the palate. A bit of maple syrup and cinnamon. A slight bit of black cherry that’s just a touch syrupy and sweet too.
Finish: 
Drying off again – rye, pepper, a hint of celery root. A bit of orange and cinnamon as well. Moderately long finish. 
Comment: 
Too dry on the nose and on the finish for me to really like this one much. Not bad; just personal taste. 
Rating:
C+

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 167, 45% ABV
Nose:
Somewhat dry. Cinnamon. some corn providing sweetness, caramel and a little toffee. A hint of vanilla. A bit of soft wheat grain. 
Palate:
Vanilla; caramel and some toffee. A bit of earthiness. A bit of orange underneath everything. Faint grain. Slight sourness.
Finish: 
Drying slightly, with some light grains evident. Vague sourness and some corn notes. A bit of black tea tannins. 
Comment: 
This one is a bit hard to pin down in terms of a distinct identity. It doesn’t really seem to have a coherent identity. It doesn’t taste bad but I’d never remember this one. 
Rating:
C

Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 184, 45% ABV
Nose: 
Sweet notes of caramel and maple syrup balanced by wood and white pepper. Some black cherry provides depth on the nose. Some lightly dusty notes and a bit of corn and some soft grain notes. 
Palate: 
Sweet initially, warm on the palate. Gentle heat. Light presence of black cherries; some caramel. Vanilla present but not a strong note. A bit of wheat, a bit of corn, and moderate wood that’s well integrated. 
Finish: 
Sweetness, with black cherries, white pepper, a touch of chili oil, some moderate wood and some light corn providing a bit of a sour note. The finish eventually goes just a touch more sour with wood and a light young vegetal note. Black cherries eventually emerge after that – a nice, long finish.
Comment: 
This has some good nuance and tastes like a younger Weller. The finish is just a touch off of where I’d like but this could age out into a great whiskey. 
Rating:
B