Paste readers seemed to appreciate our repeated dives back into our liquor collection as we’ve been reevaluating whiskeys during quarantine, so we’re at it again. Here are some more bottles I’ve been digging out from the back of the liquor cabinet to see how they’re faring.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thanking your lucky stars or deity of choice right now for the fact that you were already maintaining a very well-stocked home bar before the world descended into its current, apocalyptic state. Because if there’s one thing you want to make sure you have on hand during the new societal age of social distancing, it’s … toilet paper. But it doesn’t hurt to have some whiskey, either.
With that thought in mind, during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I’ve been returning to the back shelves of my liquor cabinet with more regularity, re-sampling some of the various bottles of whiskey I haven’t necessarily been thinking about recently. It’s been a good opportunity to revisit some old classics and bottles I’d half forgotten about, while possibly finishing off some of those pesky bottles that have been hanging on to their last two ounces for a year or more.
Here, then, are five more interesting bottles of whiskey I’ve been revisiting during quarantine. If your state’s liquor stores are still in operation, consider picking up some quarantine whiskey for yourself!
Baker’s always seemed to be the odd brand out in Jim Beam’s small batch collection, lacking the strength of Booker’s or the age statement/value of Knob Creek, and its position would have become even more ill-defined with the new addition of Knob Creek 12-Year-Old to the year-round lineup. Beam wisely saw there was a need to redefine what Baker’s was all about, however, and re-launched it this year as a single barrel expression, retaining the same mid-strength 107 proof and base of a 7-year age statement, although individual bottles of Baker’s can also now be significantly older. My sample, for instance, is labeled as 8 years and 3 months, a fairly substantial upgrade. Whiskey geeks will also likely notice that it now seems to be sharing the same bottle as Beam’s own Legent whiskey.
Tasting this again, I like it even more than I first did back in June, picking up in particular more of a tobacco savoriness that seems to increase the longer this bourbon is sitting in the glass. It plays nicely with notes of peanut butter and roasted peanut shells, caramel corn, slight char and cinnamon, fennel and anise. The baking spices are particularly nice here, nicely balancing the nuttiness that is a signature of many of Beam’s bourbons, although the oakiness still seems somewhat green in character.
Still, this is a robust and flavorful bourbon that isn’t lacking for assertiveness or interesting flavors. If you’re looking for something that’s more on the sweet, rich, nutty and savory side in this price range, it’s a good fit. If you want more of an oak presence, meanwhile, you can always go for the Knob Creek 12 instead, for the same MSRP. Beam certainly is not hurting for options here.
There are quite a few classic Highland and Speyside scotch distilleries that specialize in heavily sherried malts, but GlenDronach might be my favorite. Each of the entries in their core collection offers an experience all its own, from the approachable and easygoing 12-year, to the massively rich sherry bomb 15-year, to this entry, which might be my overall favorite. The reason why comes down to balance—although this is still quite sherry forward, I usually find it to be less overpoweringly rich and sweet than the well-loved 15-Year Revival, offering a beautifully composed melange of dark fruit and burnt sugar flavors. As I’ve written when previously tasting this 92 proof bottle:
On the nose, I’m getting plenty of biscuit, ginger, nuts and especially dark chocolate, with dried fruit impressions that seem a bit less sweet than the 15 Year Revival. The nuttiness here has more of a cacao nib quality, which is nice. On the palate, this strikes me as simply a more balanced scotch than the 15 Year Old, with considerably more assertive earthy/savory/herbal notes to balance out the raisin, almond candy, apricot and plum. GlenDronach’s single malts are reputed to be unpeated, but I’d liken the earthy character here to a very subtle, but welcome peat presence that contributes the smallest wisp of smoke to complement the combination of fruit, caramelization and old oak notes.
Returning to it again, the dark fruitiness is really beautifully pronounced, with “boysenberry” compote that goes beautifully with rich vanilla bean. The syrupy fruits don’t go on forever, though, and eventually lead to a drier, slightly more earthy finish that I very much appreciate. This is by no means cheap at an MSRP of $160, but it’s one of those malts that I wouldn’t ever want to be without.
This is an oddball product, and one that takes a little bit of explanation. Clyde May’s flagship product styles itself as “Alabama-style” whiskey, which is recognized as the state spirit of Alabama, but doesn’t have an exact state or federal definition. The informal defining factor is the presence of apples or some kind of apple flavoring, but the Clyde May’s bottle is curiously coy about this—nowhere on the bottle does it actually mention apple flavoring or apple juice, merely mentioning apple once in its tasting notes. On the website, on the other hand, the official description is more forthcoming, saying that this is “aged 6 to 7 years in oak barrels and finished with a hint of apple.”
All that is to say, this is sourced bourbon from Indiana (which almost certainly means MGP), which is flavored in some way with apple (apple juice or “apple essence,” it’s unclear) and then bottled by the non-distilling Conecuh Ridge Distillery of Auburndale, Florida. How “Alabama” factors in, beyond the marketing materials, I’m not sure.
One might expect, with that kind of background, that this whiskey would taste distinctly (and artificially) flavored, such as the Bird Dog line of flavored whiskeys, but in actuality the apple is a much smaller player in the overall flavor profile than I would have assumed. Instead, I get a nose of light toffee, slight fennel and licorice, with hints of green apple that seem less like flavoring and more like ethanol. On the palate it’s doughy and fairly sweet, with notes of green oak and cocoa nib nuttiness, and a slightly roasted apple quality like cinnamon applesauce. All in all, this tastes young but largely inoffensive, although the ethanol is perhaps more pronounced than you’d like to see in something that is a mere 85 proof. Still, unless you’re intrigued specifically by the promise of apple-infused whiskey, one has to observe that there’s a whole lot of other quality drams that can be had on the bourbon mid-shelf for $35.
There’s a few things you’re automatically going to mention, whenever you talk about this particular brand. The first thing: It’s a rye sourced from MGP, just one of so many on the market, although this one has more age than some of the others. Secondly: It’s the company endorsed and promoted by Bob Dylan. So if you ever wanted to know that Dylan was in some way tangentially related to your whiskey, this would be your opportunity.
This is a 7-year-old, 92 proof MGP rye, presumably of the classic 95% rye, 5% malted barley recipe, which the company makes more distinctive by finishing for six month in French “toasted oak cigar barrels.” That name erroneously made some whiskey writers report that these are barrels that had been used for literally aging tobacco, but it’s instead a reference to their unusual shape, which is longer and thinner than standard 53 gallon American oak barrels. The confusion becomes easier to see when tasting the whiskey, however, as it does have a particularly earthy, tobacco-like flavor.
When I initially tasted this one at the beginning of 2020, I was sort of stunned to find it was extremely suggestive of dill (or dill pickles), which is something that tasters often observe in MGP-made ryes. The dill note is something I’ve tasted before, but never so strongly as I suddenly perceived it here. Returning to it now, I don’t find the dill nearly so front and center—it may be that oxidation has tamped down that particular note a bit.
The rest of the profile, though, tastes like very high-rye whiskey indeed: Quite dry, savory and herbal, with moderate oakiness and tons of peppery rye. This is very black peppery indeed—maybe a bit too much, with a twist of lemon citrus and a bit of bitterness akin to citrus pith. It’s definitely more hot and peppery than baking spice-oriented, with a uniquely earthy backbone. As I taste it again, I find myself thinking that a bit more richness would probably help tie everything together here. Likewise, the $80 MSRP seems like asking a lot for 7-year MGP rye, when something like 6-year-old Templeton Rye carries an MSRP of $40. It all comes down to how much you value the Dylan tie-in, and those “cigar” barrels.
The George Remus brand is MGP’s way of having their own house brand to extol the virtues of their whiskey, rather than simply providing it to other distillers on a contract basis as they did for so many years. It’s not news to any of the whiskey geeks in the house that MGP makes good product, but it is very interesting to see the kind of barrels they choose to bring forth as the expression of their house style that they’re most proud of.
George Remus Repeal Reserve is the cream of the crop in the George Remus line, released in limited batches, currently on batch #4. This is a 12-year-old bourbon, weighing in at 100 proof, which feels a bit like the high age-statement flagship bourbons of old. In fact, once you get to the tasting, everything about this particular bottle feels both classic and like a throwback of sorts, and we mean that in a good way. As I recently wrote when visiting this one for the first time:
Big caramel and substantial oak give way to waves and waves of citrus and vanilla, with toffee and roasted nuts. Candied oranges are big on the palate—this is a very citrusy bourbon, with clementine/mandarin orange sweetness and additional notes of candied ginger and considerable rye spice and mint on the finish. It’s a classic high-rye cocktail bourbon if I’ve ever seen one.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.