9 Blinds Walk Into A Bar
I bet on any other screen you’d have assumed that was a typo and should have read ‘9 Blondes Walk Into A Bar’. Welp, you’re wrong. This is a fun exercise on putting my palate on the line to see what fun blind reviews can be. Spoiler: we already know they’re fun. So, why slow that fun down? I thought so. Join me as I lay out my thoughts on all of these blind experiences, and let’s see how it turns out in the end.
The Schtick: This entire series is comprised of 9 bottles tasted blind and the reveal was supplied after all of the bottles were tasted. For more blind shenanigans, hop on over to the official Whiskey Network Discord server.
The format will be a little different for this series, so as to make for more efficient posting, so please excuse my departure from my standard layout. This isn’t permanent, but for everyone’s sanity, and in the pursuit of elegant display, I chose this longer style layout to make the best display of the information I have to share.
My approach for this series was sort of unusual, I reviewed 0,1,2 in an evening since they were all ounce pours, then 3,4,5 followed by 6,7,8. I considered doing each individually each night, but ultimately elected for some SBS action to compare and contrast.
Nose: Light, fruity, light malty grains, some oak. Faint musty sweetness.
Taste: Thin, but no heat. Young, faint mustiness, some caramel. Little pinprick of heat as time wanes on. Artificial apple candies. No real oak body.
Finish: Short, growing heat, faint oak presence, light caramel, artificial splenda sugar substitute.
Overall + Guess: I’m guessing this a younger whiskey, 3-6 years, 45% – 50% ABV. It’s not terrible, but youth is evident and ethanol is a bit more overbearing than I would like.
Reveal: Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond. Whew. Pretty much nailed this one but missed out on the Beam funk. Not too upset about this, since the OGD BIB is an expression I find very little of it in normally. Liking it a little less these days score wise, but I’m not surprised.
Nose: Muted, caramel, more apples, light vanilla. Musty cereal.
Taste: Sweet, thin mouth feel. Really sweet. Honey, caramel, pepper, vanilla, light oak presence. Orchard fruits. Green Jolly Rancher candy. Some heat sneaking in.
Finish: Short, hot, but a little more flavor here. Musty cardboard, artificial apple candies, some oak and a little bit of pepper.
Overall + Guess: This had a nice palate but the finish felt a bit more artificial and musty. I’m guessing the proof is generally the same, but maybe 1 or 2 percent higher. Again, guessing a younger (<6years) bourbon / american whiskey around the 47% – 52% ABV mark.
Reveal: New Riff Bottled in Bond. Interesting. Got the age close enough, proof as well though this did feel hotter than the OGB. Not terrible, but a bit unique in ways I didn’t love. Will be keeping my eye on this as it gets older, though.
Nose: Vanilla, creme brulee, cocoa, faint oak. Toasted marshmallow. All sweet, no ethanol, no oak or spice.
Taste: Medium mouth feel. Honey, toffee, faint cocoa. Artificial chocolate, some pepper. Faintly fudgy. Much less orchard fruit, leaning more towards sweet. No real oak component, very light pepper.
Finish: Short, but less hot. Oak is present but mild, artificial mustiness returns but balances better with toffee / fudge notes.
Overall + Guess: Guessing this is a bourbon around the 5 year mark bottled near the same as sample #0. I’d be surprised if this was over the 45% – 48% mark.
Reveal: Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond. Another solid bourbon. I’ve really enjoyed several bottles of this in the past so I’m surprised it didn’t jump out at me, although it’s not super notable in many ways. Drank a little below the proof, but I’m ok with that.
Nose: Corn, sour fruits, vitamins, chalk, minerals, sweet confectioners sugar. Really fruity, lots of melon, passion fruit – similar to the fruits I get in Buffalo Trace Mashbill 1 but younger and more syrupy.
Taste: Thin, no real heat. Bubblegum (think bajooka joe, sugar, faint oak. Really sweet and gummy. Mild pepper.
Finish: Short, hot, artificial. Copper, almost. Faintly woody. Sweet jam, artificial woodiness, more bubble gum. Some minerality.
Overall + Guess: This is really strange. This has to be craft something, but it’s very young. Has that tropical gum flavor notes that point me to weird cuts in distillation (think Bazooka and Juicy Fruit). This felt lower proof, closer to 43% or 40% and I’m guessing under 4 years.
Reveal: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 11 Year Single Barrel, Gallenstein Selection. 47.7% ABV. This drank way below the proof and I really wasn’t a fan. Some of these lower ABV single barrels are just phenomenal, but unfortunately neither Letter10 or myself thought this was one of them. My guess was way in left field, which sorta smarts, but oh well.
Nose: Oak, vanilla, cream. Faint cocoa. Nice caramel. Very much back to a standard bourbon-y profile. It’s young, but not super malty or young or musty.
Taste: Medium mouth feel. Sweet caramel, light cream. Lots of vanilla. Faint cherry. Well rounded, nice proof. No real heat. Good oak component.
Finish: Medium length, proof is evident here but not punishing. Much oakier, lots of cherry syrup, faint caramel.
Overall + Guess: This was nice. Not musty or artificial, had a lot of solid bourbon notes and a very respectable oak component. Good body overall. If I had to guess, I’d put this closer to the decade mark in terms of age, and around 50% ABV – 53% ABV
Reveal: Belle Meade 11 Year Single Barrel, Gallenstein Selection. 51.5% ABV. This really was pretty nice. I’ve enjoyed the majority of Belle Meade’s sourced releases in the past, so this doesn’t shock me a ton. I think they got a lot of nice barrels at the tail end before what I believe was the great decline in MGP sourcing.
Nose: Brown sugar, honey, corn flakes. Faint oak, some tobacco, light oak presence.
Taste: Thin to medium mouth feel. No real heat at first, grows with time. Oak, pepper, some honey. Faint waffle cone. Nice pepper component.
Finish: Medium length, lots of heat up front but fades quickly. Oak, waffle cone, cocoa, pepper, light tobacco. Grows a hair bitter.
Overall + Guess: This was nice, but there was some drying bitterness in the finish that felt out of place. 10+ years for sure. Overall, nice though. The waffle cone on the palate was really enjoyable.
Reveal: Boone County 13yr Single Barrel, Gallenstein Selection. 57.31% ABV. This was nice, but a bit dry. 13yr bourbon is on that cusp, so I’m not surprised about that here. Could have been overoaked but hung on. Some bourbons have this waffle note and that’s just yum.
Nose: Corn, honey, waffle cone, peanut brittle, toffee and nougat. All sweet, nutty and dessert like. Light tobacco, some cream.
Taste: Sweet, medium mouth feel. Some heat. A bit of heat, actually. Nutty and sweet, lots of vanilla cream, peanut butter, cocoa, light red fruits, some apple and pear. Light oak, if any. Some tobacco. Hot.
Finish: Medium length, but hot. Waffles, apples, pears, peanut butter. lots of heat.
Overall + Guess: Guessing this is north of 50% ABV. Lots of apples, nuts and cream. Light oak. Could use just a hair more, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Reveal: New Riff OKI 12 year Single barrel #303 “Basement Select”, 59.3% ABV. This was really nice, and as we’ll come to find, my favorite of the OKI’s. I enjoyed the nutty, fruity character in the palate a ton, even if it was a little hotter than it should have been. For flirting with 60% ABV, it definitely was nowhere near punishing.
Nose: Musty nougat. Wet cardboard. Lactic, sour. Rich bread-y and yeast-y. Like a damp cellar. Lots of weird sweetness, though.
Taste: Caramel, brine, salted caramel. Oak, pepper. Really funky and musty. Salty, in a not great way. Pepper, tobacco, musty earth. It’s super salty despite the sweetness.
Finish: Short, a bit of heat. Salty, earthy, musty. Some salted caramel, coffee grounds. Yeast-y, bread-y.
Overall + Guess: I did not like this. This is super salty, super earthy, super yeast-y. Gag. I’d be shocked if this wasn’t an ocean something or another.
Reveal: New Riff OKI 12yr Single Barrel #241 Gift Shop Release. 119.8 proof. Woof. This hurts to see. I could have sworn that this was a Jefferson’s Ocean Cask Strength or something similar. Earthy, funky, musty, sweet, brine. All over the place and not in a good way. I think New Riff could do a lot better selection, and unfortunately this sort of backs that up.
Nose: Super sweet. Bread-y, yeast-y. Almost like corn bread. Creme brulee. Musty paper, rich tobacco. Sweet nougat. Really interesting.
Taste: Also super salty. Briney, salted caramel. Tobacco, earthy, peppery. Lots of wood, lots of earth. Lots of tobacco. Most importantly of all, like licking a salt lick. Pretty hot.
Finish: Long, but hot and funky. Mild melon, lots of brine. Musty fruits, and tobacco. Brine, pepper, rotting bread.
Overall + Guess: This has got to be another ocean thing or another, or some weird Frankenwhiskey. It’s sweet, musty and bready but the brine character just kills it for me.
Reveal: New Riff OKI 10yr Single Barrel, #211 Gallenstein Selection. 110.8 proof. Man, what is going on here. Not good. Also sort of disturbing since I put this guy in the same ballpark as the previous sample. Either I’m crazy, or New Riff needs better sourcing until their product is double digits old. Probably a mix of both.
Overall, this was a scream. It’s not often I get to blindly walk into a big pool of drams and just sorta go nuts. In the past, I’ve sort of championed the merits of blind tastings, and this only reinforces my love of the concept. There is value there that is unparalleled.
I won’t drone on, but I have a couple thoughts on how I performed, and how the whiskey performed. I was pretty pleased to see that I was generally close on the BIB stuff. I’ve had Heaven Hill and Old Grand Dad’s offerings in the Bottled in Bond realm before, but not New Riff’s. I think they did ok, but their stuff needs more time. It was noticeably younger than the other two. That’s not a huge deal since Bottled in Bond releases are usually super cheap, but New Riff is charging a bit more than I think makes sense for something outperformed by $10 and $20 bottles. Not a huge deal, though, they have costs and need to prop up more distilling. I look forward to seeing their products in the next couple years. There’s potential, even if they’re not living up to it now.
The rest of the samples were all MGP bourbons, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve had a variety of Belle Meade’s in the past and generally enjoyed them. I’ve had a couple OKI’s in the past and generally didn’t enjoy them. I’ve not had a Boone County before, but it was cool to try one. This trial sort of reinforces what I’ve come to realize in the past – I generally find MGP to be bad, up to, above average, but rarely exceptional.
MGP has long been a staple for sourcing to NDP’s or new distilleries. Unfortunately, I think we’re seeing a decline in the barrels leaving MGP for bottlers like Boone and New Riff. I think Nelson’s (bottler of Belle Meade) lucked out and got some of the last good barrels and some of the meh barrels. I’m sorry to say I think OKI either has troubles picking, or just had subpar barrels to pick from in general. That Basement Select was really nice, but I was pretty let down on #241 and #211.
Long and short, I think New Riff is performing better on their own stills than they are in the MGP warehouse, which I think is overall a good message for them. If they can keep it up and age their distillate well, I think they can leave behind these OKI barrel picks and head to greener pastures with relative ease.
All in all, it was an immensely fun exercise, and I look forward to trials like these all of the time. Now let’s open it up to comments. Any thoughts, people? It’s always daunting to put your palate on the line, but it’s kind of fun, in an reckless abandon sort of way.
Below are some of my experiences with each distillery, to compare.
Other Smooth Ambler Expressions I Have Reviewed:
- Review #777 — Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11yr Bourbon #717, Astor Selection
- Review #698 — Mystery Bourbon Blend
- Review #692 — Smooth Ambler Old Scout 12yr Single Barrel Bourbon, #5950
- Review #689 — Smooth Ambler Revelation Rum Rye Cask Finish
- Review #687 — Smooth Ambler Old Scout 11yr Single Barrel Bourbon, Barrel #5972
- Review #663 — Smooth Ambler Old Scout 11yr #711, Jawbreaker Selection
- Review #427. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Limited Edition Single Barrel Gift Shop 9yr Rye
- Review #312. Smooth Ambler Old Scout 11yr Single Barrel Bourbon #3064
- Review #265. Smooth Ambler American Whiskey
- Review #246. Smooth Ambler Old Scout AWS Long Nine
- Review #245. Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 Single Barrel AWS Slandys Select
- Review #111. Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7yr Rye
- Review #89. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 8yr Davidsons Pick 1076
- Review #92. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 10yr
- Review #87. Smooth Ambler Yearling
- Review #66. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Cask Strength Single Barrel Bourbon 8yr
- Review #65. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Cask Strength 8yr Single Barrel Rye
- Review #2 — Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 Year
Other New Riff Expressions I Have Reviewed:
- Review #792 — O.K.I Single Barrel 10yr Bourbon, Barrel #71 Gift Shop Release
- Review #790 — O.K.I 10yr Small Batch Sherry Brandy Finish
- Review #788 — O.K.I Antique Barrel 9yr
- Review #786 — O.K.I Small Batch 10yr Bourbon, Batch #15
Other Belle Meade (Nelson’ Green Brier) Expressions I Have Reviewed:
- Review #560. Belle Meade Single Barrel 9yr 2051 Virginia ABC
- Review #535. Belle Meade Hardpour Corn V2 2905
- Review #514. Belle Meade 10yr Single Barrel Bourbon Craft Brewed Pick
- Review #259. Belle Meade XO Cognac Finished