Our Kensington Wine Market Bourbon tastings have been very popular over the past year, selling out quickly every time we host one. The upside of this beyond getting to open up new bottles of Bourbon and American Whiskey, is that each tasting gives us a new opportunity to poke fun at Trump. When we heard him saying that he did about preventing forest fires in California by raking the forest floor of all of that incredibly flammable material – something he apparently learned from those crafty Fins, the name of this Bourbon tasting pretty much wrote itself.
Enough about everybody’s favourite horrendous leader of the free world though – let’s talk about the good things in life – such as whiskey!
It was an opportune time to have a Bourbon tasting, as quite a few new bottles of American Whiskey have come into the market in the past month. I wanted to try them all, so I stacked the lineup with these mysterious treasures. This was purely selfish on my part: I was looking forward to the tasting so that I could try them myself just as much as it gave me a reason to share them with everyone else. In this eight bottle lineup, I had only tried one of them before – The Four Roses Bourbon. It had been a few years since I had tasted it. In that time the distillery had undergone a change in Master Distiller, so I was excited to give it a revisit as well.
Here is the lineup we tasted our way through:
Four Roses Bourbon
Four Roses Bourbon is finally back in Alberta – at least in its most basic form. This Kentucky Straight Bourbon utilizes all ten Bourbon recipes used at Four Roses Distillery from a combination of two different mash bills and five different yeast strains, it is bottled at 40% ABV.
This used be known as the Four Roses Yellow Label. The label is no longer yellow, and another recent change is the signature on the front. For years every bottle had legendary Master Distiller Jim Rutledge’s name on the front, but he left the distillery in 2015 and his protege Brent Elliott took over. Brent’s signature graces every bottle produced since then. $40
Wild Turkey Longbranch
Longbranch is a Bourbon made by Wild Turkey Distillery of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. It is aged for eight years in virgin oak barrels
before being filtered through White Oak charcoal, then again through Texas Mesquite charcoal before being finished in barrels with extra charred White Oak staves and then Texas Mesquite staves added (edit: found out I the charcoal part wrong). It is then cut to 43% ABV and bottled.
Famed Oscar-winning actor and naked bongo drummer Matthew McConaughey joined the Wild Turkey brand as Creative director in 2016. In the two years since he has been the center of much of their advertising and commercials. In 2018 he left even more of a mark on the distillery and brand by getting his signature on a new bottle in the Wild Turkey line called Longbranch. McConaughey is the only person to have his signature on a Wild Turkey other than the father and son Master Distiller Duo of Jimmy and Eddie Russell. $62
Douglas & Todd Bourbon
This Minnesota Bourbon is put together by Phillips Distilling company in collaboration with Panther Distillery. Produced from a mash bill that includes the requisite Corn as well as Red Winter Wheat, it is aged for at least four years before being bottled at 46.5% ABV.
From the Producer: “Douglas & Todd is a small batch, handcrafted, straight bourbon born and raised on the unforgiving plains of Minnesota. Our bourbon is aged a minimum of four hard years in handmade oak barrels that provide D&T its distinctive character. Distilled and rested in two historic counties at the first craft distillery in Minnesota. Douglas & Todd was built to be a bourbon drinker’s bourbon.” $68
Rock Town Hickory Smoked Whiskey
Made from a mash bill of 91% Red Winter Wheat and 9% Malted Barley, this interesting take on whiskey is made by cold smoking wheat in smokers before milling and mashing. The Whiskey is aged in a combination of 15 and 25-gallon ex-bourbon barrels (about 57 and 95 litres respectively). Rock Town Distillery resides in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was founded in 2010 and produces quite a few different spirits including American Whiskey, Rye and Bourbon. $75
Stranahan’s Sherry Cask
Made from 100% malted barley, this Single Malt Whiskey hails from Colorado. Well before the Craft Whiskey boom kicked off in the USA, Stranahan’s started distilling in 2004. It was Colorado’s first legal distillery founded since prohibition. In 2010 it was sold to Proximo Spirits of New Jersey.
Stranahan’s Sherry Cask starts its life as 4-year-old single malt whiskey aged in newly charred virgin oak barrels – the same as what is bottled as Stranahan’s Diamond Peak. What makes it different is that it is then finished in a combination of first fill and refill ex-Oloroso Sherry Casks before being bottled at 47% ABV. We tasted batch #004. $104
Created by eighth generation Beam distiller Freddie Noe, Chapter 2 of Little Book is an off-the-wall blend of American and Canadian Whiskies. This is the first of the Little Book line of limited edition bottles to come to Alberta. The blend consists of:
- 13-year-old Canadian Rye at 111.9 Proof (likely from Alberta Distillers of Calgary, Alberta)
- 8-year-old Kentucky Straight Rye at 119.8 proof (possibly what would be used for Knob Creek Rye?
- 40-year-old, 100% Corn Canadian Whisky at 137.8 proof (Canadian Club 40?)
This combination is a result of a Canada trip Freddie Noe made to visit Beam Suntory’s Canadian labels and properties (Alberta Distillers right here in Calgary as well as the Canadian Club headquarters in Windsor, Ontario) All of this is blended together and bottled at 118.8 proof, or 59.9% ABV. $120
Rock Town Single Barrel Bourbon
The Rock Town Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon is made from a Mash Bill of 82% Arkansas Corn, 9% Arkansas soft red winter wheat and 9% malted barley. Along with using state-grown wheat and corn, Rock Town also ages the whiskey in smaller 25 gallon (97 litres approximately) barrels coopered in Arkansas as well. It is bottled at a cask strength of 55.8% ABV and non-chill-filtered. $110
Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye 2018 Limited Edition
This is the first Knob Creek limited edition bottling to hit Alberta. It was put into barrel in 2009 and bottled in 2018 at 119.6 proof, or 58.8% ABV.
Like Knob Creek Bourbon, the Knob Creek Rye is distilled at Jim Beam distillery which is located in Clermont, Kentucky. As a Kentucky Straight Rye, the mash bill has to consist of at least 51% Rye grain and be primarily aged in Virgin Oak barrels for at least four years, unless a lesser age is stated on the bottle. $108
So, there you have our eight bottle lineup. It had a rollercoaster of aromas and flavours and styles to explore, partially due to not being limited to just Bourbon for the range. After we had tasted them all, I took votes from the crowd on which bottles were their favourites of the night. We had a very close race for first place of the evening, and a tie for third place. Here is all it all shook out:
The two traditional Bourbons from more established Kentucky heavyweights fared well in our lineup, with many people being happily surprised that a production featuring Matthew McConaughey could turn out so endearing and approachable.
The Four Roses was also pleasant, but for what you pay for it I personally would pass it over and pick up a different bottle in a similar price bracket from Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace or Evan Williams to get a bit more character and style. Now, if we could just get back the always great Four Roses Small Batch and Single Barrel, that would definitely be something…
My personal favourite of the night was also a hit with the crowd. It is not every day that you get to taste a bottle containing both 40-year-old Canadian whisky and excellent Alberta Distiller’s Rye. This is so well put-together that what would have been oak-heavy Kentucky Straight Rye doesn’t dominate – it is just is another facet in the mix.
While I was surprised that this managed to upset the Little Book by one vote, I can understand why. This is a wonderfully sherried American Whiskey, full of bold and approachable sweet red fruit and even candy notes of red and black Twizzlers. The sweetness is not over the top and cloying though. It is a fun diversion and quite well-done.
The favourites as voted for by those in attendance ran the gamut price-wise and included both the most expensive and least expensive bottle of the night.
Thank you to all who attended the tasting and a special thanks to Peasant Cheese for providing their always excellent cheese and charcuterie boards!