Sipp’n Corn Tasting Notes – Four Gate Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Ex-Sherry Rum Casks (“The Kelvin Collaboration”)

Amid springtime in Kentucky we have a new whiskey to enjoy.  Four Gate Whiskey Company offers an 11-year old American Whiskey that went decidedly against the boring habit of other sourced brands that proof down their omnipresent MGP bourbon resulting in whiskeys that carry a hefty price tag but aren’t differentiated from other sourced bourbon on the market.

Four Gate also withstood the temptation to make up legends, marketing stories, or family recipe nonsense.  Instead, Four Gate took a substantial risk by sourcing 18% rye-grain Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that easily could have been bottled in its own right, and that could have been proofed down to make it go farther.  Not even close.  Four Gate took a risk by finishing this bourbon in sherry casks that had been used once for rum already, with guidance from the experts at Kelvin Cooperage.  Their risk is your reward.

But before jumping into the tasting notes, I have more than the typical disclaimers when I receive a 50mL sample from brand managers.  Here, I know and respect the guys behind the brand.  It turned out that I am also friends with some of the investors because Louisville is a small town.  During the development of the brand, I was invited to and took part in a tasting that helped guide the owners to the blend used for this inaugural release.  And I attended the Four Gate launch event in mid-April where I tried more free samples of the whiskey and stout aged in the bourbon barrels.  So, in a nutshell, it can be fairly said that I’m rooting for Four Gate to do well.  Take that for what it’s worth but know that I strive for objectivity in all of my tasting notes.

Bourbon:        Four Gate Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in Ex-Sherry Rum Casks

Distillery:        Undisclosed; Sourced by Four Gate Whiskey Company

Age:                11 years before finishing

ABV:              61.7% (123.4 proof)

Cost:               $199.99

Tasting Notes

 Appearance:

Brown with a copper-red undertone.

Nose:

The aromas are some of the best that I’ve had in recent memory.  The interplay of the rye spice and cinnamon with sweet sherry dark fruit notes strikes a perfect, inviting balance.  It somehow combines deep soulful aromas with light sharp aromas, like striking the entire range of piano keys.

Taste:

The flavors didn’t seem as influenced by the sherry and rum compared to the nose.  The sweetness shifted more towards brown sugar and the high rye shone through with oak and black pepper.  Despite the high proof, the first sip neat is creamy and lingers without burning.

I also enjoyed it with a splash of water.  That’s not to say that it should have been proofed down for bottling; I appreciate that it was bottled at barrel strength.  That lets consumers do the proofing for their particular preference and palate.  Adding water brought more creaminess but diluted the sweetness.

Finish:

The finish was medium in length and, at first, I thought it was mostly oaky.  Then the sherry and rum sweetness came back as it then shifted to lingering rye spice.  I think that the sherry and rum sweetness defines the finish, but it still has a vibrant dry oak and spice as it trails off.  It’s a very contemplative finish.

Bottom Line

Four Gate has a big winner here.  The bad news is that Batch 1 is available only in Kentucky and Tennessee (and only 1,732 bottles for this first run), so it’s going to be difficult to find.  But with the talent involved at Four Gate, the future is bright.

The price is going to scare off many consumers, of course, especially when barrel strength Elijah Craig 12-year and Four Roses private selections can be found with some regularity in the $60-$75 range.  I used to complain about prices five years ago and maybe even swore that I wouldn’t buy bourbon for more than $100.  Then things went from crazy to insane.  It’s just where we are today in the bourbon market, and an extremely limited release like Four Gate that is well-crafted in its blending and finishing can fetch its suggested retail price easily.

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Four Roses Small Batch Select

With a release in limited markets beginning today, Four Roses now has its “Fourth Rose,” an additional small batch added to the permanent lineup of Four Roses (which contains all 10 Four Roses recipes), Four Roses Small Batch (which contains OBSK, OESK, OBSO, and OESO, at 90 proof), and Four Roses Single Barrel (the OBSV recipe, except for private barrels, which can be any recipe).

Small Batch Select contains six of the Four Roses recipes—OBSV and OESV, OBSK and OESK, and OBSF and OESF.  Four Roses is bottling its new bourbon non-chill filtered at 104 proof, which is the highest proof for its regular releases, although of course private selections and limited releases weigh in at higher proofs.

I was able to spend some time with Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott last week to taste the new Small Batch Select and to taste all six of its components from actual barrels used in the batch.  Brent explained that the new Small Batch Select is heavier on the high-rye B mash bill, the V yeast, then the K yeast, with both of the F yeast mash bills combining for only about 20%.  As Brent said, a little bit of F goes a long way.  Brent also explained that the F and V combination was inspired by the Al Young 50th Anniversary limited edition.

FRSBS 1

Being able to try each recipe from barrels actually used was extremely telling about the process of mingling with the success that Four Roses has established.  The OESF had strong cinnamon flavors while the OBSF provided a huge backbone.  Combining that with my perennial favorites OBSK and OESK (both of which were spicier than single barrels of those recipes that I’ve had, but still provided the fruitiness that I expect) provide components that are recognizable in the final bourbon.  The OBSV and OESV were probably the best of the six on their own, as single barrels, both with a blast of flavors, fantastic balance, and a hint of mint in the long finish.  The skill necessary for successful mingling cannot be overstated.  Now for the final result:

Bourbon:        Four Roses Small Batch Select

Distillery:       Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

Age:                Mingling of 6 and 7-year old bourbons

ABV:              52%

Cost:               about $55

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample for this review, without any strings attached.  Thank you.

 Tasting Notes

Appearance:

Brown; darker than I expected.

Nose:

Also more oak than I expected, although not exactly “oaky.”  The aromas focus more on warm cocoa and caramel and pleasant spice.

Taste:

The cinnamon (from the OESF) really came through with interplay and balance between all of the components.  In addition to the cinnamon, I found vanilla, light fruit, and black pepper with a creamy mouthfeel.

Finish:

Medium length with lingering cinnamon and a mint kicker.

Bottom Line

Luckily Kentucky is one of the first markets for Small Batch Select—along with New York, California, Texas, and Georgia—and I expect to be able to find it with some regularity.  I really have high hopes for the Fourth Rose on our upcoming hot and humid Kentucky nights; it just might be my bourbon of the summer.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  4.0

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:

1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.

2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.

3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.

4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.

5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof Batch A119

As those who have read my reviews of the various batches of Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof over the years, the original 2013 white-label/red-12 Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof (129.7 proof) has been my standard-bearer for all subsequent editions.  Then Batch B517 (124.2 proof) gave the 2013 original a run for its money.  I’ve reviewed several between those and since, and while they’re all top-level bourbons, none could really challenge the top two.

Let’s see if that changes with the latest Batch A119, the first release of 2019, at a stout 135.2 proof.  My first pour of Batch A119 was live on air on The Mash & Drum, where we also talked about Bourbon Justice (available here on Amazon).  Batch A119 struck me immediately as a home run.  While finishing the sample for this review, I compared it to three 94-proof private selections of Elijah Craig to test flavors of the same brand with such a wide difference in proof.  I finished it alongside of a 2013 12-year old pick from Evergreen Liquors and two 2018 picks from The Bourbon Crusaders, both aged in Deatsville, with one being 10 years old and the other 11 years old.

Bourbon:  Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof Batch A119

Distillery:  Heaven Hill, Bardstown and Louisville, Kentucky

Age:  12 years

ABV:  67.6% (135.2 proof)

Cost:  $65.00-ish

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample for this review, without any strings attached.  Thank you.

 Tasting Notes

 Appearance:

Amber-brown, and darkest of the four, as expected, due to the lack of added water.  The 11-year was the second darkest and the 12-year was by far the lightest, somehow.

Nose:

More intensity on the nose than the 94-proof private selections, but flavor intensity, not in-your-face high ABV intensity.  It has a caramel signature with candy cinnamon for overall sweet aromas.  The aromas of the private barrels showed the variations possible within the same brand with a reputation for being sweet; they were all less sweet and the Evergreen selection was downright earthy.

Taste:

The first sip has noticeable heat until you acclimate to it.  The best and most noticeable feature is its creaminess.  Batch A119 has a creamy, mouth-coating quality that is harder and harder to find among current-day bourbons with high barrel entry proof.  It’s mostly sweet (caramel and vanilla again) but has oak balance and fantastic cinnamon.  It’s phenomenal.

The 11-year Bourbon Crusaders pick was the best of the 94-proofs.  It has an absolute blast of flavors that can be savored precisely because of the more manageable proof, and a lingering finish.  The Evergreen pick had the most oak, as expected, along with earthy flavors as predicted by the nose, but the shortest finish.  The 10-year was more oaky than sweet, with mouthwatering baking spice flavors.

Finish:

The finish for Batch A119 is long with a sustained cinnamon flavor and a fade to oak.  I enjoyed its finish most out of the four, but the 11-year Crusaders pick was nipping at its heals.

Bottom Line

Just as I said on The Mash & Drum livestream, Batch A119 is a home run; buy it if you find it.  Without the benefit of doing a side-by-side of the original, B517, and A119, and instead just based on memory, I think A119 is the third best Elijah Craig Barrel Proof behind those two, but really folks, you can’t go wrong with any Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.

Also be on the lookout for private selections of Elijah Craig, which presently are still limited to bottling at 94 proof.  Even when being proofed down from what is probably an average of 65% ABV to 47% ABV, Elijah Craig private single barrels have a way of holding up.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  4.0

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:

1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.

2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.

3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.

4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.

5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Boone County Eighteen 33

Cheers for Boone County Distilling Company’s transparency in not trying to hide the source of this bourbon and cheers for the 12-year age statement.  I could do without the gimmicky “made by ghosts” and strained ties to heritage, but every brand knows that history sells bourbon.  Beautiful bottles also sell bourbon, and there’s no denying that Boone County hits a home run with its bottle and label design and overall aesthetics.  Those things aside, twelve years piques my interest and I know the quality of MGP, so I have high hopes.

Bourbon:  Boone County Eighteen 33 Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery:  MGP

Age:  12 years

ABV:  45.4% ABV (90.8 proof)

Cost:  $55.00

 

Tasting Notes

Appearance:  Amber brown and oddly cloudy.

Nose:  Subtle, earthiness and leather, with almond, black pepper, and furniture polish.

Taste:  Not much heat, creamy, leather, and faint spice.  It’s not a sweet bourbon by any stretch, instead leaning heavily toward the darker, more earthy flavors.

Finish:  Shorter side of medium; nothing remarkable, but still a nice, friendly hug.

Bottom Line

This batch of Boone County Eighteen 33 was enjoyable enough but something was a little off.  So I did a blind side-by-side against a front-12 Elijah Craig and was astonished at how different they were.  The EC12 beat Boone County at every turn and helped me find what was off—Boone County didn’t have a standard caramel and vanilla backbone.  Alone those can be pretty boring tasting notes, but a bourbon is missing something to not have at least a hint of those family of flavors.  It’s still a 3.0 for my tastes, but barely.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  3.0

IMG_7878

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:

1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.

2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.

3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.

4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.

5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Old Lexington Club – An Early Bourbon Lesson in Protecting Brand Names.

Consumers often wonder why trademark owners seem to sue competitors so often over allegedly-infringing names.  A bourbon lawsuit from 1916 helps provide the answer.

The February 1, 1906 edition of The Wine and Spirits Bulletin reported that the G. & B. Gerdes Company—owners of the “Old Lexington Club” brand—had sued the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company (Kentucky’s Whiskey Trust) because the Whiskey Trust marketed a brand of whiskey called “Lexington Club.”  The court in Old Lexington Club Distillery Co. v. Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Co., 234 F. 464 (D. N.J. 1916) explained the history of these two competing brands.

The Old Lexington Club distillery was located on Hickman Creek in Nicholasville, Kentucky, which is in Jessamine County, just south of Lexington.  J. H. Reed started using the “Old Lexington Club” name in 1874 and he used it extensively in local advertising.  Determining who used a name first is always important in these sorts of trademark fights.

While Reed joined with different partners—Jackson & Reed and later Warner & Reed—through when “Reed became financially embarrassed and the business was taken over by one of its creditors” in 1890, the “Old Lexington Club” name was used continuously.

On the other hand, a Cincinnati whiskey wholesale firm, Freiberg & Workman, started using “Lexington Club” in 1878 for its own whiskey.  The Lexington Club brand became popular and was sold in “practically every state in the Union” while Old Lexington Club was limited to the Lexington area with some sales in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.  In 1899, Freiberg & Workman sold out to the Whiskey Trust, which continued high-volume sales of its Lexington Club brand.

Fast forward to 1905; the new owners of Old Lexington Club tried to register a trademark for the brand, the Whiskey Trust objected, and litigation ensued.  Old Lexington Club won the first two rounds, but the Whiskey Trust won on appeal in 1908.  The court ruled that “Old Lexington Club” was a descriptive name not entitled to trademark protection and that “Old Lexington Club” hadn’t done anything about “Lexington Club” despite knowing about it for at least 15 years.

The final decision issued in 1916 partially rejected the earlier decision by ruling that “Old Lexington Club” was distinctive enough to be registered as a trademark.  But that was a hollow ruling because the court also ruled that by taking no steps to prevent the Whiskey Trust from using a confusingly-similar name for well over a decade, it would be unfair to do so now.  Basically, by failing to object earlier, Freiberg & Workman (and later the Whiskey Trust) spent time and resources building their brand and business to a much larger enterprise than Old Lexington Club.  If Old Lexington Club was awarded the exclusive right to that name, then it would unfairly acquire all of the goodwill and business reputation built up by the Whiskey Trust.

So the lesson learned by distillers and all other brand owners is to be vigilant in monitoring potential infringement, to have cease-and-desist letters at the ready, and to sue seemingly at the drop of a hat to protect trademarks.

Old Lexington Club