Tag Archives: Eagle Rare

Give Thanks! Caol Ila and Dusty Bourbons

This is a quick update – I’m busy getting ready for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast. However, a quick pause is in order to give a little more color to a whisky I recommended in the Haphazard Whiskey Holiday Gift Guide. I’ve gotten a bunch of questions about the $130 sherried Caol Ila I mentioned in the import section.

It’s true, this is a really fun whisky and I’m kind of stunned it’s still available. I perhaps overstated the sherry influence; it’s there but it just adds dimension that might otherwise be lacking. The nose on it has a light smoke influence, nice orchard aromas with ripe Fuji apples, some denser red fruity notes, a little prune, some waxiness and some buttery richness.

The palate is light initially but gets that familiar oily, weighty Caol Ila presence. Some light, dry smokiness is balanced with waxy apples and gentle wood. Light, gentle peppery spice is there as is some pleasing lightly tart apple flavor.

The finish is the best part of this one. A little smokiness, slightly drying, and some nice rich fruitiness. Apple cider and some pepper zip give this heat and it’s got a lightly medicinal presence too.

It’s an immensely drinkable Caol Ila, a great show of age and a decent price.

Now, for the Dusty Bourbons. LAWS recently had a great bourbon meeting featuring all kinds of mostly dusty (really) old bourbons. Sku is covering this periodically for Dusty Thursdays and providing some more color on them. I don’t have a lot of insight to add to this one but thought I’d give general impressions. Full tasting notes on this are up at LAWS and you can compare the different opinions, which is what makes meetings like that fun.

Old Grand Dad reminded me of modern Four Roses – spicy, nicely woody but with a hint of that vanilla creaminess. Fairfax County seemed a bit marred by green woody notes. Very Old Fitzgerald – I’ve detailed a VVOF from the ’70s here. This was the weirdest SW I’ve had. A good deal darker in flavor, a little more nuance. Very interesting. As Adam says, I think Stitzel Weller dusties are a touch overrated but it was a lot of fun.

For me, the highlight was the President’s Choice, the first Brown Forman I’ve loved. I’m coming to peace with my love for easy-drinking 90 proof bourbons and this was right up that alley. Eagle Rare 101 from ’79 followed, and it was modern in profile by comparison, but just a bit dry.

Kentucky Vintage was an oddball wreck and I thought it was overoaked. It had so much wood on it that it started to almost seem peated at times – exceedingly weird. I’ve discussed Jefferson’s Ocean Aged earlier here.

There’s not much more to add; it was a fun night and worth sharing.

Update: Apparently there is something to add. David OG from K&L posted his recap of the night at the K&L Spirits Journal today. 

At a glance:

Caol Ila 1984 27y (Distilled 1-1984, Bottled 6-2011) 52.4% ABV
TheWhiskyBarrel.com Exclusive (Bottled by Douglas Laing)
Nose: 
Light influence of smoke, a nice orchard aroma with ripe Fuji apples, a little bit of denser red fruity notes, a touch of prune, lightly waxy and a touch buttery. 
Palate: 
Light initially but gaining some oily weight. Light dry smokiness balances with some waxy apple notes, a gentle wood influence. Light gentle peppery spice. Some pleasing light apple tartness as well. 
Finish:
Comment: 
Immensely drinkable, a great aged Caol Ila. The finish is really enjoyable. I wasn’t initially blown away by it, but the lighter cider notes just killed me and made me keep wanting more. That said, just a touch short of my personal A-range.  
Rating:
B+

Eagle Rare 17y (Fall 2010) – 45%

Nose:  Vanilla, wood, light caramel, a definite solvent edge to the alcohol, a little light apple and faint apricot. Some molasses and dust.
Palate:  Wood intially, mildly bitter and astringent, medium-heavy mouthfeel, virtually no burn, a vaguely salty sweetness, some later vanilla and fruit. Light rye spice.
Finish:  Light, somewhat spirity, medium finish, bringing the fruit up. A little rye.
Comment:  It doesn’t stack up nor really rate against the rest of 2010′s BTAC. It’s a fine whiskey, doesn’t really merit the price . Unfocused and lacking real complexity. Thin and a bit of a mess.
Rating: C+

Rather than integrating this into the 2011 post, I wanted to provide these notes for reference on the 2010 whiskey which was markedly inferior.

Eagle Rare 17y (Fall 2011) – The Rebuttal

In previous posts on this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, I haven’t hesitated to poke fun at Eagle Rare as not deserving to be part of the collection. After last year’s collection I felt rather confident in my assertion that the Antique Collection consisted of four great whiskies and Eagle Rare 17.

When the opportunity presented itself to try this year’s Eagle Rare, I figured it was only fair to give it a taste. If it was underwhelming again, I’d feel confident in all future write-offs of Eagle Rare.

I poured the Eagle Rare into my glass this evening ready to be underwhelmed – what’s to like? – and prepared to nose it in all of its 45% ABV glory. After a summer of high-proof bourbons, a bourbon under 100 proof seemed like a painfully unfunny punchline.

Immediately I was surprised by this year’s nose. There are sweet notes of corn in abundance and a slightly floral rye note. That is a promising start for me. Wood was certainly present as you’d expect with a 17 year old whiskey, but not out of balance or overoaked. A slight hint of white pepper provided a faint prickle. Black cherries gave some depth and darkness to the flavor, and there was a faint marshmallow hint. This was starting to hit all of my buttons. A little maple syrup could be detected at the edges, as well as some fresh cedar and pine on the nose.

To my personal taste, this had a nose that was dangerously close to being in line with my preferred profile. `Maybe not turned up to eleven and rocking out, but balanced nicely.

The palate entry was very light. Extremely light – my first impression was that it was almost watery. I thought this was where it would all fall apart. Much to my surprise the white pepper notes were the underpinning for some faint and agreeable warming. The corn sweetness was at the center, balanced by a moderate note of oak. For a fleeting second, a faint vegetal corn note could be perceived, reminding me of the youth and fire this once had. The floral bloom of rye was again evident as well.

It wasn’t the most impressive palate, but far from the worst. Drinkable in the extreme. My personal preferences run towards a weightier and bolder palate, but it was hard to deny the overall balance and well-constructed nature of this whiskey. My only quibble really was the mouthfeel which struck me as thin.

Unsurprisingly, this carried into the finish. Being a lighter whiskey, it didn’t have a long-lasting finish, nor was it particularly bold. The sweetness was again the center of attention. Wood was present as was the pepper note. After a moment or two, there were some black tea-like tannins. For the most part, this finish was OK.

As I continued to sip I was forced to really examine this whiskey. Was my negative impression of Eagle Rare a sign of my own biases? Was I perhaps more strongly prejudiced towards bruising, 65%+ cask-strength whiskies despite my protestations to the contrary? Honestly, I concluded, I was (and I am).

The fact is that I would pour this Eagle Rare for virtually any bourbon aficionado and it would do well. It’s not going to knock over the most die-hard, extreme taste adventurer (which I’m forced to admit includes my personal preference). However, it is utterly agreeable and easy-drinking.

What would I change? Well, I think it would benefit somewhat from a slightly thicker mouthfeel. The sweetness feels somewhat detached – for some reason, sweetness works better for me when it’s a full, mouth-coating bourbon. I also think a slight tweak of the ABV – perhaps to 100 proof – would help bring things into clearer focus.

All this is a long way of saying that I’m forced to admit that I’ve been unfair to Eagle Rare and that it doesn’t necessarily deserve to be a whipping boy. I do think it has a tenuous claim to being part of the BTAC – it’s less dynamic than powerhouses like the Weller or the Handy. But perhaps it’s there because it’s a very well executed, easy-drinking bourbon for the average joe. I can’t really see what would be objectionable to the average palate on this one, unless you simply didn’t like whiskey.

At a glance:

Eagle Rare 17y (Fall 2011) 45% ABV
Nose:
A rather pleasant nose – sweet notes of corn and a slightly floral note of rye. Reasonable wood balance, certainly not overoaked. Slight hint of white pepper; slight hint of black cherries and the faintest whisper of marshmallow. Maple syrup is lightly present. A bit of cedar and pine.
Palate: Light on the palate. Gradually warming. Nice corn sweetness. A moderate oak note; the faintest hint of a vegetal corn note. A bit of floral rye. Faint dusting of white pepper.
Finish: Short-ish. Not very bold, not very lasting. The sweetness takes the forefront. Wood present; the pepper is there. A little bit of black tea tannins.
Comment: The nose is great. The palate and finish are a little lightweight for me with this profile. I honestly wonder if this might sing at 100 proof. This is better than last year’s for sure.
Rating:  B