Plantation Xaymaca

Given my preference for rum, and my enjoyment of Plantation products, I was excited to see the NC ABC started to carry Plantation Xaymaca. This is a very nice Jamaican rum with no added sugars, unlike some other Plantation products. In fact it is labeled as “Special Dry” to indicate it’s lack of added sugar. There is a note that they add caramel color to maintain consistent colors from batch to batch.

I picked up a bottle on sale (there is a trend here). It has a wonderful fruity aroma. To me, it tastes almost exactly like Appleton Rare Blend 12 year. It is younger than the Appleton, as well as being less expensive.

I need to do a side by side tasting and see how much effect the barrel has on the two products.

This rum does just fine as a sipper. I have also enjoyed it in rum-forward cocktails where it would not be lost and wasted.

Age: In the Tropics: 1-3 years in Bourbon casks, On the Continental: 1 year in Ferrand casks

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Price: $22 for 750ml, on sale (North Carolina ABC)

Buy Again: Yes

All ABCs Are Not The Same

Living in an ABC state generally means a lack of selection and variety. Seeing the inside of some of the larger ABC stores in North Carolina may make you think that statement is false. Go to one of the smaller stores or stores in a smaller county and see what the selection is like.

I have recently been taking advantage of my neighbor to the north, Virginia. Yes, it is an ABC state, but they have at least modernized their system. For example, in North Carolina, you can order something not carried in stores (as long as it is in the state’s approved inventory), but only by the case. In Virginia, you can order anything in system, a single bottle at a time! And you can have it delivered to a store of your choice in the state (about an hour from my house). Virginia also has the advantage of online inventory for every store, so you can see what’s there before making the trip.

No one expects North Carolina to do away with the ABC system, but at the very least they could modernize the system to work more like the Virginia model. Quite a few of my recent purchases are thanks to VABC.

Eagle Rare Bourbon

When people ask about bourbons to try for people that aren’t familiar with bourbon, usually people recommend Buffalo Trace. The other bourbon that frequently gets recommended is Eagle Rare.

In my area, as of this writing, Eagle Rare is less, uh, rare, than Buffalo Trace.

I actually did not buy a bottle in my area. I found it in a 375ml sized bottle in my neighboring state, along with 750ml and 1.75l (handles). I had never seen a regular, big-name, middle shelf bourbon in 375ml or a handle before (excluding popular bottom shelf bottles like Evan Williams).

Given the availability of a smaller bottle to satisfy my curiosity about Eagle Rare, I jumped at the chance.

The nice thing about Eagle Rare, is that it comes across as smooth, a word hated by bourbon purists. I think they would prefer balanced to describe it. While there is some mild spiciness, it isn’t aggressive. Some of the heat comes from the alcohol, and some peppery heat from the rye. It is sweet, sort of a caramel, but not sugary sweet. There is a fruitiness, to me, almost a mild cherry. There is good bit of charred oak in the aroma as well as a decent amount in the flavor. Given it’s 10 year age statement, it would be disappointing if it didn’t have an oak flavor and aroma.

I like Eagle Rare far more than I like Buffalo Trace, although I want to revisit and update my post, since I only left an overview of the bottle without much detail.

Age: 10 years!

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Price: $20 for 375ml (Virginia ABC)

Buy Again: Yes, if I can find it, and if the price doesn’t go through the roof

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond

You know, when it comes to trying new bottles and when one is trying to focus on bargains whenever they come along, you’ve got to pay attention to those sales. When NC ABC listed Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond for sale at $3 off, that put it below $30 for a 750ml. As I always do, I started looking for reviews.

HMK10, as it is often listed in discussion groups, is a topic that evokes a lot of discussion. First, it is a single barrel product. This means that you can buy a bottle today that is phenomenal, and buy one from a different barrel tomorrow that isn’t nearly as good. Second, it is a 10-year age stated bourbon for around $30. Age statements seem to be disappearing as bourbon becomes more popular and distillers are trying to get more product out more quickly.

So off to the local state-run liquor purveyor I go. Over the shelf where the HMK10 was just days ago. Not a bottle on the shelf. Turns out, during some spirits competition, HMK10 won best something or other and people were going crazy for it. I wasn’t interested in it because of some award, but just because it was a 10 year old Bottled-in-Bond, ON SALE,  with generally good reviews as long as you got product from a decent barrel. A few days later, I walked into another ABC store and saw a couple of bottles on the shelf, and procured one for the lair.

The aroma is oaky and sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. The taste mirrors the aroma, except sometimes the cinnamon really takes center stage. I have to say that when I first opened the bottle, I didn’t care for it. I would occasionally come back and try it again. By the time I got halfway through the bottle, I started to enjoy it more, but it still isn’t my favorite whiskey to date. It isn’t bad, but I don’t know why so much hype.

Age: 10 years!

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $30 for 750ml (on sale)

Buy Again: Probably not. There are a lot of bourbons out there and maybe single barrel isn’t the best bet for me

Rittenhouse Rye

My curiosity with alcohol led me back to trying whiskey after parting ways with it many, many years ago. Back then, I knew nothing about different types of whiskey. Now, during my recent education, I was trying bourbon, and when learning about bourbon I found out that it is usually produced with with varying amounts of corn, rye, and barley. Bourbon must be at least 51% corn, and varying degrees of other grains. The rye adds a spicy flavor to the finished spirit, often a peppery or a cinnamon flavor.

After trying the Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, which has a spicy kick, I found that I liked the spice. So when looking for other things to try, I ran across rye whiskey, which must be at lease 51% rye! An affordable and popular bottle is Rittenhouse Rye. It isn’t as rye forward as some rye whiskeys, some of which are 95% rye.

In Coke, the spicy flavors really work well. I have yet to try it, but I’ve read that an old fashioned be quite good using rye instead of bourbon!

Age: At least 4 years (a bottled-in-bond requirement)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $26 for 750ml

Buy Again: Yes, but I’ll probably try another brand, or something with an even higher rye content

Virgin Bourbon

Virgin Bourbon is a 101-proof, seven year old bourbon with a limited distribution. Rumor has it that is the same or very similar to Old Ezra 101. While I can’t speak to that, I can tell you that is fine as a mixer, but to me it kind of harsh when consumed neat. And not because of the alcohol. It’s just that it seems rough around the edges. I’m not doing much to explain it properly.

Okay, so Evan Williams BiB is right about the same alcohol level, but Virgin doesn’t seem as, balanced, between the heat from the alcohol, the spice from the rye content, and the sweet from then corn. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t anything I wanted to buy again. And that folks, is my basic criteria for any bottle…

Age: 7 years

Proof: 101 (50.5% ABV)

Price: $14 for 750ml

Buy Again: No. For just a few dollars more, there are some better bourbons

Benchmark Bourbon


Would you believe that you could buy a bottle of bourbon from the same distillery that makes Buffalo Trace that costs less than $10?

You should. Is it a great bourbon? Of course not! Is it a bad bourbon? Depends on what you want to do with it. As a mixer with Coke, it is fine. Will it stand up to more aggressive cocktail flavors? Maybe not, but it tastes like bourbon, and it smells like bourbon. It is supposedly made from the same ingredients (mash bill) as Buffalo Trace. It is labeled as ‘Straight Bourbon‘ which brings with it some legal definitions. So for one thing, it has to be at least two years old. Probably not a day over two years.

The best? No. The worst? No…

Age: At least 2 years

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Price: $10 for 750ml

Buy Again: No. For just a few dollars more, there are some very good bonded bourbons

 

 

Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon

One of the things I find interesting with regards to alcohol are the numerous lists of recommendations. People feel strongly about their favorites. When patterns form and particular bottles show up time and time again, it makes one curious.

Old Grand Dad shows up on LOTS of lists. Particularly the Bottled-in-Bond (I’ll have to add a post about BiB) version. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond was a winner for me, so I figured there was something to this.

And wouldn’t you know it, NC ABC had listed on sale for $20! So it was time to try my first bourbon that was listed as having a higher rye content than bourbons I’d tried before. Rye gives bourbon a spicy flavor in addition to the corn and oak that is usually found in bourbon.

It turns out I like this as much, if not more than, the Evan Williams BiB!

Age: At least 4 years

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $20 for 750ml (on sale), normally $24

Buy Again: Yes (Absolutely)

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Rum

After finding and enjoying the Appleton Estate Signature Blend Rum, I ran across a bottle of Rare Blend 12 Year Old Rum. Unlike some (many) other rums, Appleton lists the actual age of the rum for their products with an age statement. So this is truly a 12 year old rum.

The reviews indicated that this was a fantastic bottle of rum, and while you can use anything for a cocktail, this was described as a rum to drink neat or on ice.

When I first saw it, it was listed as $32. That is a non-trivial price for something I’m not sure of in a spirit. So, reviews, and YouTube videos, and checking my sofa for change. And lo and behold, the ABC store runs it for sale at $28. Well, I had to take a chance on it at less than thirty dollars, right? Not so fast! So I did what most people do. I found a way to justify it. It was a couple of months until my birthday. I’d buy it now as a birthday present for myself! And I did.

The decorative packaging

I actually put it in the cabinet until my birthday. When withdrawn from the cabinet, and the top removed, I was greeted with a bit of oak, a bitter orange, maybe brown sugar, or something similar, and I’d almost swear, pineapple.

The taste sticks around for awhile. The sweetness is there, and the alcohol burn is held in check. There is some spicyness that may come from the barrel. The Appleton Signature Blend has a harshness that isn’t present in the Rare Blend. In descriptions of many rums, there term ‘funk’ is used. I don’t know if I can define it, but I know it when I taste it. There is definitely fun in Appleton rums. And that is a good thing!

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Paid: $28 (on sale) for 750ml (normally $32)

Buy again: Yes (but only on sale, or for my birthday)