EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Small Batch

Review: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Owned by Kirin Company based in Japan, Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $28-$45

Four Roses Small Batch is made from vatting four different bourbons made at the distillery. Two of the bourbons are made from mash bill "E" which consists of 75% corn, 20% rye, add 5% malted barley, one of which is fermented with a yeast strain "K" which is meant to emphasise light spice and caramel flavors; and, the second is fermented with yeast strain "O" which is meant to emphasise rich fruitiness as well as light caramel and vanilla notes. The second set of bourbons are made from mash bill "B" which consists of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. And, once again each is fermented with yeast strains "K" and "O." Each of these mash bill/yeast strain combinations are distilled and aged separately. For the Small Batch bourbon, these four whiskeys are aged less than 7 years, vatted together and then proofed down before bottling. While many distilleries credit their yeast for making their spirits unique, Four Roses is one of the only major bourbon distillery that goes through the added work of propagating five different yeast strains to further control the flavor profiles of their bourbons.

Lastly, Four Roses Small Batch was one of nine bourbons I selected in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50. You can read how it did here.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately on the nose are fruity notes and acetone. Underneath these initial aromas are notes of burnt oak and a strong presence of vanilla.

Palate: On the palate the first flavor is a sightly astringent green note that is then followed by light heat on the tongue. After the heat dissipates, you notice both a sweetness and a big wallop of spice.

Finish: After swallowing the bourbon lingers for a long time with clear notes of oak and vanilla.

Conclusion: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a nice bourbon, though not my favorite. That said, Four Roses Small Batch is well balanced and easy to drink bourbon well worth its price tag.

Review: Larceny Bourbon

Owned and Distilled by Heaven Hill Distilleries and bottled at 46% ABV.

Price: $19-$30

Larceny Bourbon is a small batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon made by Heaven Hill. According to HH, each batch of Larceny come from less than 200 barrels that have aged between 6 and 12 years. Larceny is a wheated bourbon in the line of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon and according to Bill Straub of Modern Thirst it has a mash bill of 68% Corn, 20% Wheat and 12% Malted Barley. 

Thanks to  Sally Van Winkle Campbell and Sam Thomas we now know that John E. Fitzgerald whom the bourbon is named after was a U.S. Treasury Agent who had a knack for picking good barrels of whiskey. Pre-Prohibition whiskey man, Charles Herbst created the Old Fitzgerald brand, which was a bourbon made at the now defunct Old Judge distillery outside Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1999, Heaven Hill acquired the Old Fitzgerald brand and began bottling it from wheated bourbon made at their Bernheim distillery. Heaven Hill introduced Larceny around 2013.

Lastly, Larceny was one of nine bourbons I selected for a blind tasting of bourbons under $50.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Larceny has a strong woody aroma of oak and cedar, with notes of tobacco, leather and sweet cherries carried up on the alcohol.

Palate: The flavor has lots of spicy nutmeg and cove notes, with hints of candy orange and milk chocolate. This is a very woody bourbon with strong bitter tannins and a warmth starts in the mouth and travels down your chest.

Finish: The finish is long and dominated by wood and spice notes with a slight tinge of heat from the alcohol.

Conclusion: Larceny is not what I would call a soft or sweet bourbon. However, it does work well in a Manhattan that emphasizes the baking spice and wood notes over sweet cherry. While this is not my favorite bourbon, I think someone who likes their whiskeys more on the woody side of the spectrum this would be a solid purchase.

Blind Tasting Bourbon Less Than $50

A while ago I organized a blind tasting of bourbons that cost less than $50. I was inspired to put this together after a small group of friends and I did a blind tasting of whiskeys under $20. That tasting was both a lot of fun and introduced me to a couple of bourbons that I really love. Wanting to repeat this process I put together a game plan. First, I wanted to focus the tasting only on bourbons between $20 and $50. I picked this price point for two reasons: one, my expectation was the overall quality would be a little higher than the under $20 bracket; and two, because it falls in the range that I and many of my friends would feel comfortable spending on a bottle to drink at home from time to time without feeling like its so expensive or exceptional we'd have to save it for some sort of special occasion. Second,  I only wanted bourbons that I knew were sold by the distillery i.e. no Non-Distiller Producer bourbons like Bulleit or Black Maple Hill. Third, I didn't want any single barrel products because by nature their flavor profile can change from barrel to barrel and I wanted to help people find a bourbon that they would like and be able to return to and have it taste the same as it was at the party.  With these criteria in mind I went about finding bourbons that fit.

I found over dozen bourbons that matched my criteria however, 12 samples of bourbons even at 1/4 oz each starts to add up. I wanted to be sure that people could get home safely so I limited the field to nine. As I spread the word among my friends I was able to find about 25 people who committed to coming and who were willing to chip in to cover the costs of the whiskey.

Now, because I also wanted to participate in the tasting, the trick was figuring out how to set things up so the tasting was blind for me as well. The solution I settled on was I would mark nine brown paper lunch bags with the planetary symbols, Mars ♂, Venus ♀ etc. and then my wife bagged the bottles. For a couple of the bottles that were more easy to identify we decanted the bourbon into clean wine bottles.

The tasting was hosted at a friend's house and I placed three bottles of bourbon in the kitchen, the living room and a spare bedroom. The reason for this was that it forced people to move around and not just all congregate in one room of the house. I wasn't concerned about the order in which people tasted the bourbons so it worked fine. In a more formal tasting, flight order is important but for our purposes it was an easy sacrifice.

After a few hours or tasting and eating snacks, I collected the score sheets that I handed out the to tasters. They rated each bourbon from 1-10 based on what they liked. When I tallied the results, one of the first things that stood out was there were no bad bourbons in the batch.  While people liked some bourbons more than others there were no clear winners or losers. In the tasting under $20 it was very obvious that there were a couple of whiskeys that everyone liked and a couple that everyone didn't like, but not this time. This was an encouraging result because what it said to me was if you are going to buy a bourbon in the $20-$50 price range, you can be sure that it is a quality product though you can't guarantee the it will be your favorite.

After tallying the scores here were the results from our group of tasters:

  1. Russel's Reserve 10 Year Old 90 Proof (45% ABV) Distilled by the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY.

  2. Henry DuYore's Straight Bourbon 91.3 Proof (45.65% ABV) Distilled by Ransom Spirits in Sheridan, OR. (This was the only craft bourbon and the only bourbon not from Kentucky in the tasting.)

  3. John E. Fitzgerald Larceny 92 Proof (46% ABV) Distilled at the Bernheim distillery in Louisville, KY and owned by Heaven Hill.

  4. Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bottled in Bond 100 Proof (50% ABV) Distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY.

  5. Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select, 90.4 Proof (45.2% ABV) Distilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, KY and owned by Brown-Forman.

  6. Elijah Craig 12 Year Old 94 Proof (47% ABV) Distilled at the Bernheim distillery in Louisville, KY and owned by Heaven Hill.

  7. Four Roses Small Batch 90 Proof (45% ABV) Distilled at Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, KY.

  8. Basil Hayden 80 Proof (40% ABV) Distilled at Jim Beam's Clermont and Frankfort distilleries in KY.

  9. Maker's 46 94 Proof (47% ABV) Distilled at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY.

From my personal score sheet my highest rating went to Colonel Taylor which was something I had never tried before and I was happy to find a new bourbon  that I really enjoyed. The other interesting thing was I gave my lowest rating to Maker's 46 which didn't surprise me since I'm not a huge fan of Makers Mark. It was reassuring to see that my taste buds are pretty reliable both when I know what I'm drinking and when I tasting things blind. In the end, this was a really fun event to organize and it was a blast getting a house full of people drinking and discovering some really good bourbon.

Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Bourbon

Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon, distilled by Heaven Hill Distilleries and bottled at 47% ABV. 

Price Range: $25-$35

Heaven Hill first introduced Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon in 1986, six years before Jim Beam introduced their line of small batch bourbon collection. Small batch is an unregulated term that usually means the producer uses a smaller number of barrels (anywhere from 50 to 200) which are blended together before bottling. Whereas larger brand like Evan Williams or Jim Beam might use thousands of barrels for one bottling run. In large part, the term small batch is just a marketing ploy to justify a higher price point but as with most things, if you like the product in the bottle and you are willing to pay for it then marketing like small batch doesn't really matter.

Up until the beginning of 2016, Elijah Craig Small Batch was essentially a 12 year old version of Evan Williams. Because of this some friends and I ran a little taste test. We poured ourselves three glasses: Evan Williams Black Label, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, and Elijah Craig. This is a fun way to see how aging time can affect the bourbon. Now obviously this wasn't an exact 1 to 1 comparison since they are each bottled at different proofs and the Vintage comes from just one barrel. However, you get a general idea of what Heaven Hill bourbon is like at about 6ish years for E-Dub, 10 years for the Vintage and 12 years for Elijah. This was a great experiment because it confirmed for me that I'm not a big fan of extra aged bourbons. With each jump in age there is a noticeable increase in the amount of oak flavor in the bourbon. While I think Elijah Craig is a high quality bourbon, it wasn't my favorite because for my tastes there was too much oak. However, for one of my friends, Elijah Craig was his favorite because he liked the more intense oak flavor. There are a number of brands that you can use to run this experiment, but if you happen to still have a bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year old it is worth trying with some friends.

At the beginning of 2016, Heaven Hill announced that, Elijah Craig Small Batch, which now sells 70,000 9-liter cases per year, has dropped it 12 year old age statement. This change is apparently  due in part to its own success and Heaven Hill's desire to see the brand continue to grow. Heaven Hill said that they could not continue to grow Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old without increasing the price or negatively impacting supply of Elijah Craig 18. From here out Elijah Craig Small Batch will be a mix of 8 to 12 year old bourbon. So if you like Elijah Craig and you happen to find a bottle with the 12 year old age statement, you should snatch it up because it probably isn't coming back.

Elijah Craig Small Batch was one of nine whiskeys I included in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50.

TASTING NOTES

Nose: There is a strong aroma of caramel and vanilla with notes of fresh oak and green apples.

Palate: The palate is intense, full of sweet caramel, oak and baking spices. At 47%ABV there is some heat but very little astringency and the flavors round out with a pleasant note of honey water.

Finish: The finish starts with a lingering sweetness that is balanced with dry tannins from the oak. Spice flavors and cornbread slowly fade as a warm sensation fills your chest.

Conclusion: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old is a very bold bourbon that should please drinkers who like stronger wood and oak notes in their whiskey. Its power if awe inspiring and it is definitely a bourbon worth contemplating slowly over a long quiet evening. For its price it is a fantastic value which probably explains why Heaven Hill decided to drop its age statement.