American Whiskey 2018 Year in Review

Like 2017, this past year has been a good year for American whiskey.    And like 2017, we decided to bring you a “2018 Year in Review” discussing some of the hits and misses for 2018 American whiskey producers.   Luckily, we have been fortunate to get to sample some (and by no means all) of the most notable of this year’s releases. Below are some objective observations from some these, listed in the order in which we posted reviews.  Inter-disbursed are this year’s Top 10 Lists from Scott HillStephen Netherton, Jamie Baalmann, Stephen Benson, Eric Schroeder and Jay Cary.

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye This past spring, Jim Beam released one of the the many special release Knob Creek rye’s for 2018.  While some of the single barrel rye’s are arguably a better buy, Jim Beam and the Knob Creek Brand did well with the 9 year, 119.6 Proof Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye.   It finished No. 2 on this year’s Whiskey Advocate list.  Flight Club didn’t rank it quite as high, but it was an enjoyable release nonetheless.

Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond 11 Year 2018 marked the start of a purported bi-annual, multi-year planned release of the Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond.  It began in the spring of 2018 with the 11 Year release, which saw early excitement that waned as people actually started drinking the whiskey.  We found the 11 Year to be enjoyable, but when compared to the value of the Rebel Yell 10 Year Single Barrel, we found the Old Fitz could not keep up.  Luckily, although we have not yet formally reviewed it, the fall 2018 9 Year release was a much more enjoyable pour.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival – This summer, Wild Turkey released the third domestic (fourth when counting an Australia only release) whiskey in the Master’s Keep line.  This release, however, is different, not only in terms of the previous Master’s Keep releases, but also from Wild Turkey’s historic approach.  Revival is a sherry finished whiskey.  That’s right, Wild Turkey took 13 to 15 year old whiskey, and finished (i.e., aged them longer) in 20 year old Oloroso Sherry casks.   When we first reviewed it, we were impressed buy not wowed.  However, this one grew on us since its review, and made a few of our Top 10 lists.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A perennial favorite here at Flight Club, as we have reviewed multiple batches over the years.  For the first release in 2018 (A118), we believed Heaven Hill once again hit the mark.  It may not be perceived by some to be quite as great at the B517 that we reviewed last year, but it is very good release nonetheless.  The remaining releases were also solid, although we haven’t been able to post formal reviews on each batch.

Parker’s Heritage Barrel Finished This year’s Parker’s Heritage is the 12th in the series of releases, but it has been one that has been met with some of the most mixed reviews.  This year’s release takes a 7-8 year Heaven Hill bourbon, and then finishes in curacao liqueur barrels for 4 months.  The result is what many describe as a cocktail in a glass.  For us, with the barrel finish this didn’t make many of our top 10 lists, but the underlying whiskey isn’t half bad.  

Little Book Chapter 2 “Noe Simple Task” Jim Beam’s Freddie Noe (grandson of Booker Noe, and son of current Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe) entered the world of special releases in 2017 with the first release of Little Book.  Batch 2 was released in 2018.  This year’s batch (or “chapter,” as Beam calls it) is an unusual blend of Kentucky Straight Rye (8-year at 119.8 proof), Canadian Rye (13-year at 111.9 proof) and Canadian whiskey (40-year corn whiskey at 137.8 proof).  We were intrigued by the flavor combinations found on the palate and finish.  We found that Chapter 2 was an overall more than satisfying experience, and a batch that we preferred over Chapter 1, “The Easy.”

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon – This year, Old Forester/Brown-Foreman hit the “special releases” hard with the re-introduction of King of Kentucky bourbon and the President’s Choice (which original version was one of Flight Club’s favorite bourbon’s ever).  We haven’t been able to sample either (but would welcome a sample from a loyal reader), but were able to get our hands on a pour of the 2018 Birthday Bourbon release.  Truth be told, like most of the prior releases of Birthday Bourbon we have tried, this release is good but not great.

George T. Stagg George T. Stagg is a perennial favorite here at Flight Club.  While from year to year we may sometimes prefer the William Larue Weller from the BTAC line, Stagg always ranks highly with its incredible balance of age, proof and refinement.  This year was one of the most approachable Stagg’s in recent memory.  Worth mentioning is this year’s Stagg Jr. releases seem to more closely bridge the gap between Stagg and Stagg Jr. than previous batches, giving those of us who can’t normally get our hands on Stagg (and I think that may be everyone) a bit of hope.

Four Roses 2018 Limited Edition 130th Anniversary Small Batch Could Four Roses live up to the magic of the 2017 Al Young release?  No.  While we hate to be blunt, that may be an impossible task.  Nonetheless, this release was pretty incredible in its own right. The pour provided a great balance of sweetness, oak, spice and leather.

Weller C.Y.P.B. The bourbon world got trolled this year with the latest release in the Weller lineup with the “Craft Your Perfect Bourbon.”   The whiskey itself is quite enjoyable, using the Weller wheated mashbill, at 8 year and 95 proof.  Nothing wrong there.  But CYPB?  Did Buffalo Trace really expect us to buy in to this consumer designed experience?   It did, and we did.  This release demanded a premium at most retailers and secondary markets alike.  Shame on us.  But please pass me another glass of it.

Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Do we really need to elaborate?  This whiskey is iconic.  Many will tell you that this is the best bourbon in the world, yet less have probably actually tried it.  We have had a chance to try it on a few separate occasions.  In all instances, setting aside all the noise surrounding the brand, this particular bottle delivers a quality experience. Aged for two decades, it has an undeniable complexity without being barraged by oak. It’s not earth shattering, but there’s a LOT to like.

Booker’s 30th Anniversary In late 2018, Jim Beam released Booker’s 30th Anniversary Bourbon to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1988 release of Booker’s bourbon. For this 30th Anniversary, Jim Beam originally announced that the release would be a 16 year bourbon.  But after Fred Noe found that the oak notes on this 16 year product to be overpowering, he elected to blend in younger product, to more closely match the vanilla character of traditional Booker’s.  Beam doesn’t disclose in their packaging the particular ages of each component, but indicates that it is a blend of 9 year barrels and 16 year barrels. Booker’s can be pretty brash.  But this Booker’s 30th feels toned down and refined.  A solid release.

Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky Old Forester released in 2018 its fourth and final bourbon in its Whiskey Row Series, the Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky. For this bottle, Old Forester applied a finishing technique. Barrels containing at least 4-year old bourbon were dumped into barrels with a higher char level. Old Forester typically chars its barrels for about 20 seconds. For the second barreling, the char was applied for 55 seconds. Old Forester claims the barrel was charred nearly to the point of incineration.  The resulting product is one that caught many by surprise.  It’s terrific.   Given that its flavors harken back to bourbons of old, it is for some one of the most notable releases of 2018.

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