One of the reasons I started this blog was to find a way to meet other people in Tallahassee and the surrounding areas who share my love for bourbon and whiskey in general. So far, this blog has been extremely successful in that regard, as it has allowed me to interact with tons of great people who want to experience and discuss our native spirit. I’ve learned that the bourbon community in and around Tallahassee is strong and I am truly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the friendships I’ve made along the way.
On Sunday, I had yet another opportunity to attend a wonderful event with 30 other bourbon aficionados in Tallahassee at the Market Square Liquors bourbon tasting. This event was held at the Lounge next door to Market Square Liquors on Timberlane Road.
This event showcased six different bourbons: three standard release bottles and three MSL single barrel selections. For this tasting, we were given a selection of Elijah Craig Small Batch, MSL’s Elijah Craig barrel selection, Old Forester 86, MSL’s Old Forester Single Barrel, Knob Creek Small Batch, and MSL’s Knob Creek Single Barrel.
As someone who regularly hangs out at the Lounge at Market Square, I am familiar with all of these bourbons. However, this was the first time I had the opportunity sit down with all of them to compare and contrast the different flavor profiles. All of these bourbons have fairly high rye content (10% or greater), but this lineup presented a very nice variety of age, flavor, and proof, all of which made for a very enjoyable tasting. And while I have a lot to say about all of these bottles, I decided to only provide a full review of my pick for the overall winner. But just to be clear, let me say a few things about this lineup in general.
Elijah Craig Small Batch
Elijah Craig Small Batch is one of my go-to bourbons. I think it a great sipping bourbon with a spicy and smoky flavor profile that also works well in cocktails. The MSL Elijah Craig barrel selection is a definite step up from the standard release, with additional layers of complexity on the nose and finish that really showcase the spicy character of this bourbon. I recently wrote a comparison of these bottles for the ABV Network. You can check out that full review at the following link: Store Picks: MSL Elijah Craig Small Batch
Old Forester 86 is not typically a bottle you will find in my bourbon cabinet. It’s not that I don’t like Old Forester. To the contrary, I have worked my way through many of their different product offerings over the years and I have thoroughly enjoyed most of them. I think the 86 proof release has a pleasant flavor profile, with notes of vanilla, rye spice, sweet corn, and citrus, but for me it is a little too sweet and just doesn’t have the bite that I typically look for in a bourbon. As I’ve said many times, I typically gravitate toward high proof bourbons so the 86 proof is a little thin for my taste. The MSL Old Forester selection comes in at 90 proof, so it was no surprise that this bottle came ahead of the 86 proof standard release in my review.
I have always enjoyed the variations in this lineup from Jim Beam (now Beam Suntory). The heavy char creates a robust flavor profile which, along with the higher alcohol content, makes for a bold sipping whiskey. This is especially true for the Knob Creek Single Barrel, which comes in even higher at 120 proof. In my experience, both the Knob Creek Small Batch and Single Barrel usually provide a nice bouquet of maple sweetness, corn, and heavy baking spice, along with some classic Jim Beam nuttiness on the nose and finish. In my opinion these are both complex and well-rounded bourbons, so I may have been a little biased going into this tasting.
After spending more than an hour with these selections, and interacting with some great Tallahassee bourbon lovers, there was a clear winner in my mind….
The Winner – MSL Knob Creek Single Barrel Selection
Appearance – mahogany.
Nose – minimal alcohol comes through on this high proof bourbon, and instead you are greeted by a rich and creamy sweetness of maple syrup along with vanilla, rye spice, and heavy oak char. There are also some very subtle bright fruit notes, reminiscent of crisp green apple. A few drops of water softened the rye spice and brought out more rich notes of salted toffee.
Palate – the rye spice dominates the palate at first and there is a fair amount of alcohol burn, although this does not mute the rich sweet flavors of maple syrup and vanilla that transition from the nose. There are also baking spices and sweet corn cereal that develops throughout the sip.
Finish – the finish is long and somewhat hot. The alcohol burn begins to dissipate but the rye spice remains throughout the sip. There is a subtle sweetness that remains, bringing more of that maple syrup flavor along with some bitter dried fruit. There are also notes of heavy baking spice, like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Overall – As I mentioned previously, I am a big fan of Knob Creek. The heavy char, rye content, and high proof are all consistent with what I generally hope for in a bourbon. This was a tough choice given the five other great competitors on the table, but this single barrel selection really stood out to me in the end. If you are looking for a very easy-drinking, high proof bourbon, you cannot go wrong with the Knob Creek Single Barrel. And why not head over to Market Square Timberlane to pick up a bottle of their single barrel selection and enjoy something even more special!