Tag Archives: collaborative review

Collabo-Review #3: Noah’s Mill

A while back, Sku, Jason and I did our second collaborative review. When we picked Wild Turkey Rye, we did so not knowing what was going to happen to it in the marketplace. It was a bit of dumb luck that made it a timely review. Unfortunately, by the time the review ran, stocks of the rye were quite low and it was hard to find. Even at this point, the new lower proof rye has not shown up with any regularity on the west coast.

Fortunately, today’s group-reviewed whiskey is much more easily available: Noah’s Mill. Virtually any store with a halfway decent selection will have a bottle of Noah’s Mill on hand. If you’ve been wondering about this one, wonder no more. (Or keep wondering, as I am…)

Noah’s Mill is a Kentucky Bourbon Distillers bottling, meaning that it’s sourced from an unknown distillery and bottled by KBD. There’s no indication that it’s distilled elsewhere than Kentucky, but beyond that, the origin distillery is unknown.

This is not actually my first brush with Noah’s Mill, and I held a previous encounter as a pivotal moment for me. In all honesty, I was not a big fan of bourbon prior to an encounter with Noah’s Mill; I tended to view it as a bottom shelf offering and saw Scotch whisky as the real, genuine deal. Noah’s Mill turned all that on its head. It had a ton of oak and a very strong note of black cherry and a certain candied sweetness. It was unlike anything I’d ever had, and it opened the door to American whiskeys for me. Since then it’s been an obsession, but you never forget the one that changed you.

However, Noah’s Mill has been a batched release, so those batches are subject to some variance. I was hoping this had a very consistent profile batch to batch, even in spite of the fact that Noah’s Mill lost its 15 year old age statement a while back. It’s always hard to tell, but I was optimistic that perhaps this batch would live up to the past memory.

The bottle we’re reviewing today is from batch 11-121, and weighs in at a respectable 57.15% ABV.

The nose is woody up front, in a very strong and prominent way. There’s light toffee and a strong black cherry presence. Some earthy clay and vanilla are there, and there’s also a light hint of a more raw sugar sweetness.

The whisky is mouth-coating and almost immediately brings considerable heat. Cinnamon and a dash of cayenne drive the heat. There’s some maple syrup as a base note and lots and lots of wood. Honestly, I think it moves in the direction of being over-oaked. Black cherry and vanilla give some dimension and there’s a raw sugar note that starts to develop and seems somewhat out of place against the oak.

The finish is very hot initially, but quickly cools and leaves tons of oak and goes slightly bitter. There’s a bit of orange zest but the finish is mostly heat, pepper and wood.

Even adding water didn’t do a lot for this – the nose became more musty; the palate’s heat was tamed but it felt over-oaked still, and the finish was not measurably changed.

I have to say I was really disappointed by my return to the bourbon that lit my fire for the stuff. It’s either a change in my palate or this batch, but in either case, I don’t know that I’ll be coming back for more. It’s a shame – I used to love the stuff.

I hope the other guys liked this one more than I did.

Read the review of Noah’s Mill at Sour Mash Manifesto.

Read the review of Noah’s Mill at Sku’s Recent Eats.

At a glance: 

Noah’s Mill (Batch 11-121) 57.15% ABV
Nose: Woody up front, quite prominently so. Light notes of toffee lie under stronger notes of black cherry. A little bit of earthy clay and some vanilla. Water doesn’t do this much favor and it’s sort of malty and musty. There’s a light hint of sugary sweetness in the back. 
Palate: 
Quite mouth-coating, it’s almost immediately off to the races and starts heating up. Cinnamon, cayenne pepper in a small dose. Behind that there’s some maple syrup and plenty of wood and it’s pushing into over-oaked. A little black cherry, a little vanilla. Light sugary note on the palate as well. Water tames the heat considerably but it’s still all about the wood. 
Finish: 
Very hot initially on the finish, recedes leaving tons of oak and leaning slightly bitter. A little whisper of orange zest but it’s mostly heat, pepper and wood. Again, water does this no favors. 
Comment: 
This is either a measure of the change in my palate or this batch (I have no concept of how consistent Noah’s Mill may be or the overall batching approach – go for something unique or maintain a profile). I remember Noah’s Mill being much sweeter, with and verging on being almost candied. This one feels overoaked to me and off kilter.
Rating:
B-

Bonus notes: Last tasting of Noah’s Mill, circa late 2010

Noah’s Mill, Batch 10-57, 57.15% ABV
Nose: 
Vanilla, caramel, cherries, wood and a bit of cotton candy. Diluted to 40% the vanilla, wood and cherry merge a little more cleanly.
Palate: 
Moderate spice, sweet, dark fruit – plum and black cherry, wood on the back of the palate, heating continously. Diluted subdues the heat, the wood takes on kind of a varnished quality and the cherry intensifies but stays dark.
Finish:  
Warming, remains with the dark fruit notes and some sweetness but not cloying. Some light toffee.
Rating:
A-

Collabo-Review #2: Wild Turkey Rye 101

After our horrendous run-in with Rebel Yell, which was memorably bad, Jason, Sku and I decided we’d do another group review. At the time, we kicked around a few options and Wild Turkey Rye was one on the list. Little did we know what would come to pass in just a few weeks.

As of the time of this review, the status of Wild Turkey Rye, 101 proof, is somewhat murky. A few weeks ago, rumors circulated that it was being discontinued in favor of an 81 proof version. At the time, Campari (the owners of Wild Turkey) said point blank that 101 was discontinued and 81 was the way forward. That was all that was needed for rye whiskey fans to take note and start stocking up like crazy. Unfortunately, the 101 was already somewhat scarce on shelves. Chuck Cowdery then posted an article saying the reality was that stocks of 101 would be scarce through 2012 but in 2013 and 2014, you’d see 81 and 101 coexisting on shelves much like the bourbons are at this point.

Others have speculated that this is a sign the 101 will return with a new price point or as a special edition. Whatever the case, this is look at a whiskey that is currently hard to find and of questionable availability going forward for the next few years. I’m sure Jason and Sku have much more in-depth knowledge of the subject from the business standpoint.

Unlike the “what the hell” approach we took with the first collaborative review, choosing Rebel Yell as a half-dare, half-joke, Wild Turkey Rye is a much more serious choice. No one’s seriously eyeing that Rebel Yell when they’ve got a jones for a good bourbon… but Wild Turkey has released some good whiskeys in the past. However, making good bourbon is one thing… what about a good rye? By all accounts it’s a much harder grain to work with. Not everyone gets a rye whiskey right – the Woodford releases were far off the mark. (As I keep saying, more on Woodford soon…) Beyond that, if you’re not producing your own rye, you’re likely to be bottling LDI rye – which is great, but who needs yet another LDI product when the market has some stellar examples of LDI rye already? It seems like a tough category to work in – and yet demand is increasing ahead of supply.

The nose on Wild Turkey’s rye is nice – it’s clean up front and has a big floral rye presence. However, it’s got some body to it. When you dig in, you get some pepper and a slightly piney note. The body is anchored and weighty – it’s a mix of cinnamon and a bready grain presence. Honestly, it seemed a lot like cinnamon toast to me. There’s cherry and butterscotch hanging around the edges of the nose as well. Left to develop, it will lose the more sharp rye notes and settles in on wood, pepper and a little leathery presence as well. Water focuses the nose even tighter on the pepper notes and it’s massive black pepper with a little bit of wood.

The body is not unsurprisingly light at first entrance. It’s slightly bitter and thin initially but really quickly opens up, becoming sweet with maple syrup, honey, and nutty toffee notes. The body gains a bit of sweet, syrupy weight pretty quickly. It’s got some real heat to it but isn’t overbearing – cinnamon, black pepper and a hint of cayenne. The fruit from the nose is there as well; cherries sort of frame the top notes and there’s a bit of orange zest too. There’s some woody bitterness and some black tea tannins that start to develop though. Adding a splash of water unfortunately causes it to lose some of the dimension and it is kind of a poor mix of rye sharpness and muddled sweetness.

The finish is led by those tannins; they’re very up-front and dominant with the black tea note giving way to a more straightforward woody cask note. Things dry pretty constantly and you get a celery root note. It also has some bready body to it – really, this is a substantial finish – but it’s not as tied to the cinnamon as before. That’s not to say there’s no heat… it’s got plenty, but it’s not overpowering. There’s a surprisingly strong straight rye note in the finish. Overall, this finish lasts and lasts…

For a mass market rye, this one is pretty surprising. I don’t think it holds up to Rittenhouse 100, but it’s pretty well balanced and fairly reasonably priced. It’s a bit more bitter than I’d like, but it’s got a lot working for it. The nose and body have a lot more weight and presence than I’d expected. It’s got nuance and some interesting notes that work well together. Really, this is a pretty good deal for the money.

Unfortunately, as I said earlier, this good deal is in increasingly short supply. If you see a bottle on the shelves, you should definitely give it a try. If you’re new to rye whiskey it’s a good starting point and will be about as difficult to find currently as Baby Saz or Rittenhouse (at least in Southern California). You can find Masterson’s and Whistle Pig reasonably easy on the shelves but that’s a serious cash outlay. IF you find the Wild Turkey 101, I think it’s worth it. I can’t say what the 81 proof version has in store or how it will stack up. My dilutions didn’t leave me hopeful, but it’s possible Wild Turkey has some tricks up their sleeve.

Read the review at Sku’s Recent Eats

Read the review at Sour Mash Manifesto

At a glance:

Wild Turkey Rye 101 – 50.5% ABV
Nose: 
Clean nose with plenty of floral rye up front – a little pepper when you dig in and some slightly piney notes. Very faint cherry note with a little butterscotch far off in the distance. A little grainy, bready presence and some cinnamon – definitely has a cinnamon toast body. The nose settles down and reveals a little more wood and peppery presence after a while, with some leathery tones to it as well.  
Palate: 
Light body. Slightly bitter initially and a thin palate but it opens up quite fast – a little more sweetness present with some light maple syrup, some honey, some nutty toffee notes. Cherries hang out at the far edges of the palate and there’s a definite hint of orange zest; heat is there and fairly notable – cinnamon, maybe a bit of cayenne, and some regular black pepper. Slight bitterness to the wood; a bit of black tea tannins. With water it softens the bitterness a bit and gets sweeter, but loses what makes it interesting. 
Finish: 
Warm but not overbearing. The tannins from the body hang around in a  big way; there’s wood from the cask and a slightly dry celery root note. It again has a bit of that bready body but not as intensely tied with the cinnamon as before. Rye is quite present on the finish as well. 
Comment: 
For a mass-market rye, this is not a bad one at all – and available at a pretty reasonable price. It leans just a bit more bitter than I like but that said it’s still a solid whiskey. 
Rating:
B-

Rebel Yell (40% ABV)

A couple weeks back, Jason of Sour Mash Manifesto, Sku of Recent Eats and I had a discussion on Twitter about Rebel Yell – one we’d all considered buying strictly for the purposes of blogging about. (That surely an placed us all in undocumented subtype of Sku’s Field Guide to Whiskey Collectors) This shared realization led us to one simple conclusion: we should all buy some Rebel Yell and then blog about it. Yep, pretty outrageous and edgy stuff. In fact, this is a coordinated Rebel Yell blog post – you can read Jason’s review of Rebel Yell and Sku’s review as well on their sites.

So, what of Rebel Yell? I’m sure you’ve seen it on the shelf and it’s one of those also-ran whiskies you always pass on, like Ten High and Kessler. Is Rebel Yell the great undiscovered value whiskey gem? Is it the spirit of a Confederate battle cry somehow embodied in a whiskey (warning: loud and weird)? It’s not a nod to Billy Idol, however: Idol credits the name of his song to a meeting with the Rolling Stones where they drank this bourbon, according to Wikipedia.

Rebel Yell is a wheated bourbon and the Rebel Yell site makes efforts to attach itself to the  Weller name, though it’s not part of the Buffalo Trace stable. The label says it’s a straight bourbon but provides no age statement, so we know it’s at least four years old and meets the requirements to be called a bourbon (new charred oak casks; has had at least one bar patron speak about it and then go on to claim that “all bourbons must be distilled in Bourbon county”; has caused no less than ten college freshman to swear off the stuff, etc).

So what’s it like? To be completely honest, not much. And that’s not in the way that Levon Helm is not like many others. The nose is unremarkable with some light alcoholic, solventy and spirity notes. There’s a slightly dry and faint grainy note, paired with a little white pepper. There’s also a strange fruity note that shows up as a little bit of pear. Beyond that, it’s a little bit musty. From the nose, I’d almost expect this to be a young Glenfiddich aged in a tired, fifteenth-refill bourbon cask.

The palate has the light sugary notes – somewhere between raw sugar and table sugar. It’s not quite like the really aggressive sugar notes you get off of some Beam products or the Buffalo Trace white dogs, but it again suggests that Rebel Yell doesn’t have a lot of cask influence. There’s a little slight sourness, and a bit of dry wood – but it also has hints of napkins and popsicle sticks, kind of a raw, papery, fibrous wood influence. There’s also a hint of pepper. This really doesn’t seem to show a lot of cask influence. I can only assume that they have a crack team that stands ready to drain a cask the very nanosecond it turns four years old, with a warehouse foreman screaming at the top of his lungs, “WE’RE LOSING MONEY EVERY SECOND THAT WHISKEY IS IN A CASK! GET IT OUT!”

The finish, as is utterly unsurprising with something so new-makey, is relatively quick and sweet. The sugar from the palate is there, but it leans toward canned fruit as well – a touch of peaches and pears.

All things considered, it’s pretty bizarre in my opinion when you consider this is a bourbon. Even Beam, which I clearly don’t have a lot of love for, has more wood influence (it’s just unable to overcome the sweetness of the spirit). This is just light, light, light, with strangely fruity notes that almost take it in a light Scotch direction. Despite the uniqueness – which I can’t lie, unique is a selling point for me – there’s just nothing at all here for me to really care about. There’s nothing to hate, there’s nothing to love. In the end, Rebel Yell, unlike its Confederate battle cry namesake or the undeniably catchy Billy Idol tune, is just forgettable and boring. That’s about the worst thing I can think of to say of about any whiskey.

Read the review at Sour Mash Manifesto

Read the review at Sku’s Recent Eats

At a glance:

Rebel Yell 40% ABV
Nose:
Mostly alcoholic and with hints of solvent or spirit. Slightly dry notes of faint grain. A bit of white pepper, a bit of white wine – very faint. Somewhat musty. Faint fruit notes, primarily pear, emerge after a bit of time. 
Palate:
Slightly sugary like raw sugar, but not overt like Beam. A bit of table sugar. Slight sourness, a bit of dry wood. Slight papery, fibrous notes – unbleached napkins or popsicle sticks. A bit of pepper but not much. 
Finish:
Quick, a bit of sweetness. The slight raw sugar notes persist, but also go slightly fruity – a bit of canned peach and a bit of pear.
Comment: 
This is one of those whiskeys that shows a reasonably strong new make character. It’s quite light and doesn’t have a lot of presence on the palate or a lot of character overall. It’s odd to get these light fruity notes that I’d almost associate with a Glenfiddich. Not much to really care about here. 
Rating: 
C