Hand-Selected American Whiskey Gems
Our spirits department continues to track down some of the most thrilling finds in American whiskey. Today’s set highlight finds from three of our favorite labels: Wathen’s, Old Forester, and Knob Creek (which snagged #2 “Best Whisky of 2018″ from Whisky Advocate). These carefully curated finds represent, dollar for dollar, some of the sharpest buys in the market. Craftsmanship, rarity, and unparalleled quality are the key drivers behind these must-have bottlings.
First off, we have two incredible and very limited casks of Wathen’s Bourbon. Wathen’s has allocated only 75 barrels for the entire country to be bottled at full cask strength. Because we’ve long been a supporter of the Medley family we were lucky enough to have access to not one, but two casks! It doesn’t hurt that we swim in two different ponds across the Golden State! Thus, we have a San Francisco barrel and a Los Angeles barrel. While the whiskey comes from an undisclosed distillery, Charles does all of the distillation himself, so despite the juice not being from its “own distillery” it is actually made by the producer. These two barrels give you a chance to taste some truly old-school style whiskey. If you’ve ever tried any of the old National Distillers’ stuff out of Owensboro, these barrel proofs are the closest modern parallel. We feel truly honored to be selected as one of the very few stores in the country that will be selling these wonderful casks.
Adding to our old-school bourbon lineup is a modern classic from Old Forester. Aged in Warehouse H on the seventh floor, this bourbon is pure hedonistic indulgence. It’s rich, round, spicy, and sweet. Nothing but love here in a full bodied, woody, and candy corn package. Brown Forman continues to produce some of the best and most affordable whisky in America. As long as they keep making whiskey of this quality and letting us purchase casks, we will have gems like this on the shelf.
If you weren’t quick on the draw in December, you may have missed out on some of 2018’s Top 20 Whiskies as rated by Whisky Advocate. While the #1 whisky has become damn near impossible to get a hold of, we have managed to secure a healthy allocation of the #2 spot. Knob Creek’s Cask Strength Rye is a limited whiskey of limitless power. It’s massive, chewy, and intense, clocking in at 59.8% ABV. The real feat here is that it is also one of the most approachable ryes of the year and laden with spice, sweet citrus, and caramel. It’s a glorious start to 2019 to be able to sink your teeth into such a lineup of American spirits.
Wathen’s Barrel Proof “Barrel #69 San Francisco” KL Exclusive Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon (750ml) ($79.99)
The exceptional Wathen’s Barrel Proof is finally back, this time in a slightly stronger form. The 2017 offering was drawn from a small batch of just 25 barrels that had been filled at lower-than-normal proof. This year’s is filled at the Wathen’s traditional entry proof of 117 proof and was offered to just a handful of accounts across the country. We’re great fans and friends with the wonderful Medley family and we’re grateful to receive a barrel in each of the NorCal and SoCal markets. Last year’s barrels sold out instantly and the flavor profile on those was pretty darn wacky. The lower entry proof offers a completely different maturation experience. These two casks will provide a much more classic bourbon experience than last year’s offering, but still exhibits some very unique and exceptionally complexity. The Medley’s have one of the most interesting and unusual whisky productions in Kentucky. They’re contractually obligated to obfuscate the source of this bourbon, but since Charles takes over completely for their distillation period it doesn’t matter as much as most non-distiller producers. He’s had decades of experience distilling and has very strong opinions about what makes great bourbon. If you’ve ever tried any of the old National Distillers’ stuff out of Owensboro, these barrel proofs are the closest modern parallel. We feel truly honored to be selected as one of the very few stores in the country who will be selling these wonderful casks.
David Othenin-Girard | KL Staff Member | Review Date: December 29, 2018
Barrel 69 is much more traditional than Barrel #40. The nose has powerful aromas of roasted coffee, sweet tea, toffee, and crème brûlée. The dense sweet aromatics on the nose are completely translated to the palate, but with the addition of a powerful oak spice and strong grassy note. Gorgeous tannin structure and a richer texture than the other barrel—it doesn’t have the same linear earthy forest note, but the allusion to old-school whisky component is still there. I actually like this with the tiniest drop of water (not something I often prefer do with cask strength bourbon). This cleans the earthy note up and softens the tannin adding a great sweetness to the spicy palate. Of the two barrels, I’d definitely give this to people looking for a more bold and challenging experience..
Jeffrey Jones | KL Staff Member | Review Date: January 06, 2019
This is a wonderful single barrel selection because it is both delicious and it has some unique qualities. What is so unique about this bourbon is the mouthfeel that, after a splash of water, is round with a creamy or velvet feel to it. The nose is a sweet caramel invitation and the mouth is sweet with some spice undertones. There is a nice, long finish.
Jackson Lee | KL Staff Member | Review Date: January 05, 2019
After much anticipation, we have finally received a private cask from Wathen’s at barrel strength! As a fan of their other whiskies and lover of high-octane spirits, my excitement when this landed was almost fanatical. With that being said, I was a little disappointed with the nose after pouring it into the glass. It was hot but not too bad; it was the tightness that made it tough; I could faintly detect notes underneath the alcohol. Initially notes of wet wood and ume plum were pretty distinguishable, but there was another sweeter note hanging out underneath, something that reminded me of brown butter sugar cookies being baked in a neighbor’s kitchen. As time passed in the glass, the sweeter notes seemed to take more of a step forward.
The palate was an entirely different story. Soft, full, and lush were just some of the words that peppered my brain as I sipped the bourbon. Despite the high proof, it did not drink hot, on the contrary, it felt warm and soothing and I noticed that it got sweeter the longer I held it. Some of those grassy/wet wood notes came back, almost playing tug of war with the sweetness that was developing. The finish felt like the feelings I get in a nice relationship, it was long and warm and tingly.
I did add water for a second go-round and found that it did loosen up the nose a bit, but not much; but more than that, it killed the silky texture that I found so nice on the palate. Taking this home, I’d say to let the glass sit and give the dram a bit of time before you drink, but be careful because once settled, it’s very easy to drink.
Wathen’s Barrel Proof “Barrel #40 Los Angeles” KL Exclusive Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon (750ml) ($79.99)
The exceptional Wathen’s Barrel Proof is finally back, this time in a slightly stronger form. The 2017 offering was drawn from a small batch of just 25 barrels that had been filled at lower-than-normal proof. This year’s is filled at the Wathen’s traditional entry proof of 117 proof and was offered to just a handful of accounts across the country. We’re great fans and friends with the wonderful Medley family and we’re grateful to receive a barrel in each of the NorCal and SoCal markets. Last year’s barrels sold out instantly and the flavor profile on those was pretty darn wacky. The lower entry proof offers a completely different maturation experience. These two casks will provide a much more classic bourbon experience than last year’s offering, but still exhibits some very unique and exceptionally complexity. The Medleys have one of the most interesting and unusual whisky productions in Kentucky. They’re contractually obligated to obfuscate the source of this bourbon, but since Charles takes over completely for their distillation period it doesn’t matter as much as most non-distiller producers. He’s had decades of experience distilling and has very strong opinions about what makes great bourbon.
David Othenin-Girard | KL Staff Member | Review Date: December 29, 2018
This absolutely stupendous cask strength bourbon offers so much complexity in such a small package. There’s something inherently old school about the Wathen’s products and these barrel proof offerings allude to an old style of whisky that might have existed 30 years ago. The nose is a powerful mixture of big sweet toasty oak, ultra ripe nectarines, Tahitian vanilla and old polished wood. The palate has this wonderful gravelly dark forest quality that balances the sweet caramel and ripe fruit in the perfect way. Medium bodied, but a long spicy nutty quality on the finish. These whiskies are so delicious and yet completely idiosyncratic. Not for lovers of super sweet sappy whiskies, but also not completely austere by any means. Overall a feeling of old schoolness that is almost non-existent in cask strength single barrels from any other producer. Easily one of the most exciting and interesting bourbons of 2018…and just in time.
Old Forester KL Exclusive Single Barrel #0755 (Warehouse H, Floor 7) Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whisky (750ml) ($39.99)
Brown-Forman’s Old Forester brand has seen a tremendous increase in popularity over the last few years, and it’s casks like this that explain why. Aged in Warehouse H on the seventh floor, this barrel is one of the richest and most intense of any Old Forester we have bottled. It is sweet, full of barrel spice, and a perfect winter time bourbon. The soft and approachable style that has made bourbon one of the most popular drinks in the world is on full display.
Andrew Whiteley | KL Staff Member | Review Date: December 11, 2018
This is one of the richest barrels of Old Forester we have had the pleasure of selling. It’s sweet and full bodied and deeply spicy all at the same time. The brown sugar notes are off the charts. The nose and palate are both full of sweet wood spices, tobacco leaf, crème brûlée, and toffee. The tannins are super fine and bring in an earthy and savory component that keeps everything lined up. Vanilla and cream abound on the finish. All in all, this is a perfect classic bourbon. Rich and smooth, a delight to sip.
David Othenin-Girard | KL Staff Member | Review Date: December 12, 2018
Even after all we’ve done to open people up to the Old Forester brand, it still remains a bit of a second-tier offering. Their distillery bottlings offer excellent value and the new whisky row series has been well received, but its status as a stalwart value has not lit the bourbon world on fire. Where the distillery really shines is in these excellent single casks. This one is no exception. An impeccable nose of sweet candied corn, subtle spice, and tangy vanilla. The palate is so soft and smooth you don’t expect the exceptional length that it brings. Lower on the spice than many of our previous OFs and one of the cleanest we’ve ever had, no varnish, no funky, just sweet oak and caramel. Pure pleasure distilled and bottled at 90 proof.
Jeffrey Jones | KL Staff Member | Review Date: January 07, 2019
This single barrel should please many bourbon drinkers. It is pretty and easy to drink. The nose is a sweet vanilla invitation. In the mouth it is on the light side with burnt sugar flavors and a hint of vanilla. Pure and clean, it is made to sit back and enjoy.
Jackson Lee | KL Staff Member | Review Date: December 29, 2018
After coating the walls of my glass, I watched—mesmerized by the long, evenly spaced, oily legs slowly meandering down the glass. The aromatics began their run with heavy oak notes at first and then hurdled into cherry Italian syrup with just a hint of vanilla waiting at the finish. Sipping this was way too easy. A sweet note sprinted forward first, quickly passing the baton to a cherry cough drop (in a good way), and a hint of brown sugar balanced the slightly medicinal quality of the cherry. The finish left nothing to hide as I got a distinct lidocaine sensation and slowly came to my senses about where that faint medicinal quality was coming from. The red fruit note lingered a bit, as if I had a Gushers gummy stuck in the recesses of my molars, giving a bit more dimension at the end.
Shaun Green | KL Staff Member | Review Date: December 11, 2018
Fantastic old-school bourbon, the kind we remember drinking in the past! Dry and creamy with wonderful smoky wood, notes of spice, a nice smooth mid palate, and a fine finish. This is how bourbon used to be and I love it!
William Beare | KL Staff Member | Review Date: November 30, 2018
Aromatic, spicy, with an awesome dry finish lacquered with delicious cedar richness and piney freshness. I want to put shoes on this whiskey and take it for a mountain hike. It drinks like a dream—winter spice (clove and anise) on the nose, excellent texture on the palate, and a third act that cuts the sweetness in half and replaces it with dusty, earthy tones that bring this well-priced bourbon firmly into the big leagues.
Neal Fischer | KL Staff Member | Review Date: November 30, 2018
This is a solid, wood-centric whiskey, with notes of oak spice, cedar, and good char melting into dark caramel and cinnamon. Banana, cherry, and coconut come in for support, but the wood does the talking here. The coconut shows itself more on the palate before moving back towards toasted barrel flavors and a bit of spice on a dry finish.
Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Whiskey (750ml) ($59.99)
93 points Whisky Advocate: “Dripping with caramel and tingling with spice, this is a blockbuster whiskey that delivers across a spectrum of flavors. Maple syrup, sugar in the raw, and caramel-drizzled flan highlight the aroma, while the palate turns fruity and tropical with the sweet drive of peach nectar, grilled fruits, and pineapple upside-down cake. At the same time, its lemony bright, warmly spiced, tremendously rich, and oh-so-good! Pour on the water and enjoy the ride! (JL, fall 2018)”
KL Notes: Coming in at #2 on Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 whiskies of 2018, Knob Creek’s cask strength rye is an incredible array of pepper and spice. It’s massive, intense, jaw dropping and just generally over the top. It’s 9 years old, uncut, unfiltered, and unapologetically powerful. The most incredible part about it is though is not all of the acolades and superlatives, it’s that with all of that power and spice, there is substantial fruit and sweetness to make it a complete whisky. It is indeed most worthy of the #2 spot for best whiskies of 2018, and because it’s actually available to purchase, it’s #1 in our book!
Jackson Lee | KL Staff Member | Review Date: January 05, 2019
Smelling this rye brought me back to the days of working in a bakery and smelling the rye dough as the bakers were kneading it. The grain on the nose is unmistakable, but past that you get wonderful baking spices like nutmeg and mild clove mixing with stewed cherries and a green banana note at the end. The palate reminded me of the opening to the Power Puff Girls, Sugar, spice, and everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect whiskey dram. Ok, maybe not perfect, and in this case, I would liken Chemical X (the extra ingredient Professor Ultonium added) to a cherry jolly rancher. The finish was mighty powerful too, long and daring me to take another sip, the rye grain made sure to say goodbye as it slowly sauntered away.
Article source: http://www.whiskyintelligence.com/2019/02/hand-selected-american-whiskey-gems-at-kl-california-american-whiskey-news/