By Richard Thomas
American whiskeys are particularly well-suited to sweltering weather thanks to a combination of two elements. One is the sweet flavors drawn from aging in new American oak. Another is their generally higher bottle strength. While whisk(e)y around the world shares an almost universal minimum of 40% ABV, most sit in a range of 40 to 46%. For American whiskeys, that range extends all the way up to 50%, and cask strength expressions are far more common.
Sweet, bold flavors translate into whiskeys that stand up well to cold and dilution, which means you can plop a bottle in the fridge or put in a few cubes of ice, solve the heat problem for your summer drinking, and not lose any quality. Another virtue of summer is that by that time there are plenty of new American whiskey offerings to explore, so this is the season to check out some ballsy new expressions.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 011
Barrell Bourbon surged to the forefront of America’s new crop of independent bottlers, largely on the basis of creating some top notch cask strength expressions. Among their recent 2017 releases, Batch 011 seems to be getting the most praise in bourbon circles. It’s a six year old whiskey from Tennessee, bottled at a whopping 114.8 proof.
Four Roses Al Young Small Batch LE Bourbon
Four Roses is slated to release two summertime small batch limited editions this year. Their regular 2017 Small Batch LE (limited edition) bourbon is rumored to be a blend of three of their signature ten recipes, but that is slated to come out in a few months time. Right now we have the release of a special Small Batch LE commemorating Al Young’s 50 year career, which has seen him serve as both distillery manager and brand ambassador. This one is 5% 23 year old OBSV; 20% 12 year old OBSF; 25% 15 year old OBSK; and 50% 13 year old OESV, one of the most favored of the ten recipes. The resulting blend was bottled at 108.9 proof.
Hochstadter’s 16 Year Old Family Reserve Rye
This isn’t the first time I’ve urged buying this very old rye, and despite the $200 price tag, there are sound reasons for doing so. This whiskey is bottled from the same 100% rye, Alberta Distillers stock that WhistlePig and stablemate Lock, Stock & Barrel. The key difference is that it’s much older than WhistlePig, and stronger than the 16 year old Lock, Stock & Barrel. For rye diehards, the extra money should be worth it.
Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Bourbon
Following on last year’s release of batches of extra-aged Knob Creek Small Batch, this year’s 25th Anniversary bottling gives a similar treatment to Knob Creek Single Barrel. Individual barrel selections are 12 or 13 years old and bottled at cask strength. If you love Knob Creek Single Barrel, and that particular bourbon is a prime choice for drinking on the rocks (or even out of the freezer!), then this is a must-buy item this summer.
Michter’s US*1 Cask Strength Bourbon
The Michter’s Cask Strength US*1 Rye is already a popular number, but this year Michter’s released a cask strength version of their US*1 Bourbon for the first time ever. The new release celebrates the 2017 Bourbon Affair, but unfortunately it’s also a Kentucky-only release.
Old Ripy Bourbon
What makes this so interesting is the idea of a bourbon made from Wild Turkey stock, but by the parent company of Campari and not by Wild Turkey and the Russells. So it’s Turkey non-Turkey, and in departing from the Wild Turkey flavor profile is showcases just how important blending is in turning a mass of whiskey stock into consistent products. Bottled at 104 proof, it’s fruity, nutty and creamy.
Redemption Wheated Bourbon
At 96 proof, this is the weakest bourbon profiled here, but among the most novel. In 2013, MGP Distillery launches a handful of new whiskey products, and one of those was a high wheat bourbon, with a wheat content of 45% and the minimum 51% corn. Since the first batch of the new wheated bourbon is only four years old, this release from Redemption is the first major example of that MGP high wheat bourbon to become available.