Even though I seem to write a lot of these blog posts and do a lot of tastings here at Kensington Wine Market, the tastings themselves usually only fall into three categories.
- Scotch Malt Whisky Society Outturns each month
- Canadian Whisky Tastings
- Bourbon and American Whiskey Tastings
We do plenty of other tastings at the shop when it comes to whisky. Especially, you know – Scotch Whisky tastings specifically. But when you work with the likes of Curt Robinson and Andrew Ferguson – they tend to have the Scotch Whisky region covered. That is just fine by me. Along with the SMWS, Canadian and American Whisk(e)y are playgrounds that I am happy to make my own.
The SMWS Outturn tasting helm was passed over to me from Andrew mostly due to time constraints on his part. My love for single casks and cask strength Scotch was already long in the tooth before I started running the tastings, but has become even more galvanized because of it. Canadian Whisky kind of became mine by default when it comes to tastings and my love for the new craft distilleries popping up and the old guard big distilleries here in the Great White North developed organically over a short period. Bourbon and American Whiskey? I have to thank KWM Alumnus Hunter Sullivan for that. He is often missed by staff and customers alike for his incredible tasting notes and singular personality, and he was a font of knowledge when it came to Bourbon. I fell in love with Scotch first, but thanks to Hunter and also a trip to Kentucky with Andrew a few years back, this love has extended itself into Bourbon and American Whisky along the way.
So that is why I enjoy running these Bourbon tastings so much. Luckily Curt and Andrew don’t fight me for these tastings. They can stick on their side of the sandbox and I will stick on mine with you guys!
A quick rundown on what makes Bourbon… Bourbon:
- Bourbon has to be made in the United States. It can not be produced in other countries.
- Bourbon can be and is made in other states besides Kentucky. Kentucky just happens to be the largest producer of Bourbon by a vast margin.
- Bourbon must be made from at least 51% Corn. Straight Rye must be at least 51% Rye. Straight Wheat Whisky must be at least 51% Wheat.
- It must be initially aged in charred Virgin Oak containers. There is no minimum age requirement for Bourbon.
- Straight Bourbon must be at least four years old unless specified on the label.
- Straight Bourbon cannot contain any added flavouring or colouring.
- Distilled to a maximum of 80% ABV.
- Put in Barrel at a maximum of 62.5% ABV.
- Bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV.
Being left alone to do these Bourbon tastings allows me to pick what I want to pour. Typically this means I create a lineup that is composed of whatever I have thought tastes remarkably good recently and bottles that are relatively new that I am excited to try. Those in attendance either get to be benefactors of my amazing selections or stuck tasting through a lineup that could only be interesting to me. It is all a matter of perspective, and I prefer to keep mine in the first person.
To make things even more self-centred and all about me, I decided to run through the lineup I selected blind, only revealing what the bottles and pricing was after having people vote on their favourites for the night. Here is the lineup of foisted upon everyone in the tasting:
Jefferson’s Ocean KWM Single Barrel $123
We have received not 1, but 2 Jefferson’s Bourbons. This is a barrel, from Batch No. 746, of Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea Bourbon, voyage 17. ! Bottled at 45% this is a single barrel that we selected to have bottled exclusively for Kensington Wine Market! Our other Jefferson’s KWM Cask is a Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon.
About the Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea from the producers:
“This bourbon started as an experiment with just three bourbon barrels on Trey’s friend, Chris Fischer of OCEARCH’s ship, in a curious effort to discover what would happen if bourbon was left to weather the extreme elements: temperature fluctuations, salt air and the gentle rocking of the ship. The result was a thick, dark bourbon that showcases complex flavours reminiscent of other spirits; the almost black colour and caramel flavours resemble a dark rum as the sugars within the barrels caramelized; the briny, savoury taste from the barrels breathing the sea air is reminiscent of Islay Scotch; and at its core, it’s a true bourbon. Due to a massive demand from consumers, Trey has now commercialized this experiment and sent hundreds of barrels around the world. Each voyage of Jefferson’s Ocean typically crosses the equator four times, visits five continents and over 30 ports on an average sailing.”
Boutique-y Heaven Hill Corn 9 Year Old $98
This is a straight corn whiskey from the Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky. The Batch 1 release was bottled 49.5% and 9 years of age. It features a label with a sketch of the inside of one of the rickhouses. Only 60 bottles have come to Alberta, exclusively to KWM. 500ml
Boutique-y Heaven Hill Whisky 9 Year $92
Not strictly Bourbon, this Heaven Hill 9 Year “American Whiskey” is the first such batch from That Boutique-y Whisky Company. The label is inspired by American things… 48.4%. Exclusive to KWM In Alberta, only 60 bottles! 500ml
Bull Run Carlton Straight Rye Whiskey $92
Bottled by Bull Run Distillery of Portland, Oregon, the Carlton Straight Rye was bottled to celebrate the first anniversary of their tasting room in Carlton, Oregon called the Bull Run Distillery Carlton Post. The distillery source is not specified on the bottle itself, but it is quite possibly MGP of Indian, which is known for its wonderful Rye recipes.
Breuckelen Bonded Rye $100
One of three bonded whiskey releases from Breuckelen Distilling which resides right in Brooklyn, New York. The Whiskies in the 77 series from the distillery, such as this Bonded Rye, are all distilled using a column still. The Bonded Rye is made from a Mash Bill of 100% Rye and aged for at least four years in virgin oak barrels before being bottled at 50% ABV, or 100 proof.
About the Distillery:
Breuckelen Distillery was founded in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York. Like many of the newer and smaller craft distilleries, they have a focus on using mostly local ingredients – which in this case means using mostly organic grains grown their home state of New York whenever possible.
Breuckelen Project No.1 Wheated Bourbon Bonded $115
One of three bonded whiskey releases from Breuckelen Distilling which resides right in Brooklyn, New York. This is the first release of the distilleries Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Batch/Project No.1 is a Wheater; using Wheat instead of Rye in the Mash Bill. It was harvested distilled, and put into barrel all within the same season of 2013, as it needs to be under Bottled in Bond regulations.
The exact Mash Bill for Project No. 1 was 60% Corn, 20% Red Wheat, and 20% Malted Barley. It was twice distilled before going into virgin oak barrels at about 75% ABV. At four years of age, it was bottled at 50% ABV.
The term “Bonded” or “Bottled in Bond” means that this whiskey had to adhere to the following standards as originally written into law by the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897:
- All whiskey in the bottle must be produced by one distillery and by one distiller over the course of one distillation season.
- The whiskey must be at least four years old.
- It must be bottled at at least 100 proof / 50% ABV
- The whiskey must be aged in bonded warehouses under United States federal supervision.
- The label on the bottle has to state which distillery it comes from and also where it was bottled.
Jefferson’s Reserve KWM Single Barrel $81
We have just received our first KWM single barrel of Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon, technically we have two, we also bottled a KWM Jefferson Ocean Aged at Sea barrel too! Only 216 total bottles filled at 45.1% ABV, from a barrel from Batch No. J-259, selected by and had bottled exclusively for Kensington Wine Market! Jefferson’s Reserve is made from a blend of up to 7 different Bourbon recipes to create a whiskey with enormous complexity.
Westland Garryana 2019 Edition $190
Release 4|1. Bottled at 50%, this special edition from Westland Distillery of Seattle, Washington is between 3 and 6 years old. This Single Malt American Whisky was aged in a combination of ex-Rye, ex-Bourbon, Virgin Garryana Oak, PX Hoggies, and refill Garryana Oak.
Receiving its name from the Quercus garryana Oak trees native to the Pacific Northwest, Garryana or Garry Oak plays a major role in each Westland Garryana release.
Westland Distillery was founded in Seattle, Washington in 2011. The distillery produces only single malt whisky, which is unique for American craft distilleries. The distillery primarily uses Virgin or new American oak but has also been maturing in Ex-Bourbon, Ex-Sherry and Port casks. The first whisky was released in 2013, and the distillery has quickly risen to the top amongst the crowded field of American craft distillers. In 2016, the distillery was sold to Remy Cointreau, who are also the owners of Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay in Scotland.
That was the lineup, in the order that we tasted through it, though since it was a blind tasting I didn’t reveal the bottles and pricing until after we had taken votes. So, which were the favourites of the night as voted on by those in attendance?
One of those pesky Ryes came in a solid third place in the blind vote. The Breukelen Bonded Rye impressed us all with it’s rich and complex rye character.
Surprisingly it was a tie for first place for the night. Even more shocking was that it was the first whiskey in the lineup and the last whiskey in the lineup that were picked the winners, and they could hardly be more different in style. Our Jefferson’s Ocean KWM Single Barrel is softer, a touch salty and quite complex in style whereas the Westland Garryana 2019 Edition is more on the rich and round side of things. It is also not a Bourbon at all, instead, it is an American Single Malt Whiskey.
There you have it, folks. When tasting blind, two of the top three bottles picked in this Bourbon tasting were not even Bourbon. What is going on, America? Whatever the reason, I blame Trump.
Just kidding. Kind of.
The reason we call these tastings “Bourbon” tastings is that it is what people think of when it comes to American Whiskey first and foremost. But throwing some Rye and American Single Malt Whiskey into the mix is always fun and a good way to remind ourselves that while Bourbon may be king in the USA, it isn’t the only kind of whiskey that the country excels at making. That would be like saying Crown Royal is the only important type of Canadian Whisky there is. Crown Royal can be great, just like a lot of Bourbons can be. But let’s not pretend that it is the only thing going on when it comes to whisky!
Thank you to Peasant Cheese for providing the small bites of cheese and charcuterie for the tasting, and thank you for all of those that indulged my love four American Whiskey and blind tastings!