Every time I go to the liquor store, I feel like I’m faced with a fundamental question: Exploit or explore? Buy the stuff I already like or try something new?
It’s so hard to plunk down thirty, forty, or fifty dollars on a mystery when my tried-and-true favorites are right there, whispering “Buy me. Buy me, Pam. You know you love me. None of these other bottles know you the way I do.”
And the thing is, my whispering favorites are usually right. But once upon a time, those favorites were new to me. What if my new favorite is right there, just waiting for me to get adventurous? And what if it costs less than my current fave?
Plus, you know, I have a whiskey blog. I can’t just write week after week about Balvenie Carribean Cask and Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof, now can I? (Can I?)
So I branch out. I try to do a little research, which helps reduce the number of purchases I wind up regretting. But sometimes you buy a nice whiskey that seems to tick all the boxes, and you try to love it, but it ends up at the back of the liquor cabinet to be brought out when you’ve already had a few glasses and won’t know the difference anyway.
It’s easy to write about whiskeys I love. It’s harder to write about perfectly decent whiskeys that just don’t do it for me. But I have found, when standing in the bourbon aisle, searching on my phone for reviews of some new candidate, that most whiskey reviews are positive. If we don’t like them, we tend not to write about them.
That seems bad.
So I’m going to give you some reviews of these lovely boozes that didn’t hit the mark for me, in hopes of saving you the money you would have spent on them.
This bourbon was a gift from a sweet and extremely thoughtful friend. She doesn’t drink whiskey, but asked for a recommendation at her local store. The clerk went so far as to read a few entries on my blog to see what I liked, and then directed her to the Willett Pot Still Reserve Single Barrel.
It should have been right. Willett makes some great hooch, and once you’re talking single barrel, it’s usually hard to go wrong. And the bottle is really unusual and beautiful. Everything about it was the right choice.
The nose is very delicate. Some mild vanilla and light oak, a bit of a floral and botanical quality, but all extremely light. The nose is nicely balanced and pleasant, but so mild that you need a very good glass to really get anything from it at all.
In the mouth, nothing is knocking me over. There is a floral honeyed sweetness on the tip of the tongue that dissipates quickly, and then a kind of kettle corn quality that emerges somewhere between mid-palate and finish.
The finish is quite short. I’m left with a bit of the floral honey and toasted oak, but again, super mild.
There’s just… nothing to chew on. It needs more… something, anything. There is not enough flavor to it for me.
Drink instead: If you want a botanical whiskey, try Bulleit rye. It also has elements of floral honey and green herbs, but is better balanced with peppery and cinnamon spices and is brimming with flavor and interest.
I bought this “Alabama style” whiskey on a whim. I needed an inexpensive whiskey for a party, and this one was on sale. I couldn’t find many reviews online, so I figured I’d step up and see whether it was any good.
The website mentions “a hint of apples.” Um, that’s like dropping a “hint” that you don’t like someone’s outfit where the hint is setting their clothing on fire. I would describe this whiskey as having “a sledgehammer strike of apples.”
The nose is basically apple cider. There’s grassy rye spice in there, and maybe some caramel buried underneath, but it’s hard to get past the apples.
The taste is dried fruits, including, you guessed it, dried apples as well as dried figs. There is some orange peel and a bit of peppery bite mid-palate that is the best part of an otherwise odd whiskey. The touch of pleasant alcohol burn is not backed up by the rich caramel flavors I would want to accompany a burn that strong.
The finish is short and light. Honey, more apples, and a bit of oak.
There’s nothing awful about this. It doesn’t taste bad, but it’s not what I would choose. It might mix well if one could take advantage of the apple quality, but at $36 or so retail price, it’s a bit steep for a mixing whiskey.
Drink instead: If you want an interesting, relatively inexpensive bourbon, try Johnny Drum. It’s at roughly the same price point, but is much better balanced, with richer, fuller flavors.
I know, I know. Balcones Rumble isn’t even whiskey. It’s true. I guess technically it would be classified as a rum? But when I bought it, I didn’t know that. I had heard of Balcones (primarily a whiskey distillery), but hadn’t tried any of their offerings yet. I saw the words “wildflower honey, turbinado sugar, and mission fig spirit” sitting there amidst all of the bourbons, and imagined some sort of rum/whiskey hybrid with figs.
And my mouth was like, yeah, you’ll be buying that honey fig whiskey thing. Oh yes you will.
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, because it’s not really whiskey. But most of the folks reviewing it are whiskey drinkers, and it tends to be shelved with the bourbon, so it seems appropriate that I tell you what I think.
Let me start by saying I love figs. And I like high quality sipping rums. I should like this. But…
The nose immediately revealed that I was not about to be drinking a rum/whiskey hybrid. There are no whiskey grains here, and that is really clear right away. The nose is quite boozy, sweet, and floral. The wildflower honey takes center stage initially, but the figs are present in the nose as well. It also has a bit of a grassy quality and a pleasant subtle turned earth scent underneath.
The taste is very light. Figs on the tip of the tongue, with more grass, herbs, and flowers as it moves through the mouth. It all tastes good, but it slips through my mouth too easily. I want it to be thicker. It’s light and sort of watery.
The finish is interesting. Plenty of residual honey sweetness with some grass and peppery spices.
I’ll say this. It isn’t bad. It’s tasty, and well-executed. If one were looking for a mead with a big boozy punch, it would be perfect. But I don’t think it will please the average whiskey drinker. It’s pleasant to drink, but it isn’t the first thing I go for, and it isn’t what I wanted it to be. I’ve had this bottle for a pretty long time, and it isn’t empty yet. If you know me, that speaks volumes.
Liquor stores or distributers may be doing the Rumble a disservice by shelving it with the whiskeys. The whiskey drinkers know the Balcones name, but other than that, it has little in common with whiskey. It might do better with the sipping rums, but honestly, I think it would be most appealing to mead drinkers.
Drink instead?? I don’t know. What is good about Balcones Rumble is that it is kind of in a class by itself. But if you’re here looking for whiskey, maybe pick something else by Balcones to try first, like their Texas Single Malt.
When Pam isn’t living some imaginary fabulous whiskey lifestyle, she can be found hanging at home in her PJs with her husband and school-aged twins, or driving her glamorous minivan shuttling the kids to dance and gymnastics. She also writes a blog focusing on self-love, body acceptance, and being a mom at Pam-a-rama ding dong. With the more lucrative half of her brain, she works as a statistician and scientific writer. Follow her on Facebook (facebook.com/whiskeypam) and Twitter (@pamdesmond)!