Kentucky Bourbon Review – February 2015

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IMG_0337I don’t necessarily have to be in the mood for Kentucky Bourbon, I drink it all the time.  But this past weekend, I was watching my cooking shows, as I always do, and several of them were showing dishes to cook for the Kentucky Derby.  What?  It sure feels like spring since moving back from Northern Michigan to Clearwater, Fl, but this is still February.  I just finished Valentine’s Day, so you can understand my bewilderment! Nonetheless, I was actually “in the mood” for Kentucky Bourbon.  Watch out!

I have been meaning to write this post for several months now, but my family has been incredibly busy since the move south and what with getting our college bound twins settled into their rooms at Alabama & Florida State, unpacking the boxes and seeing our youngest daughter enter high school, there just wasn’t time.  Then came the holidays! 

I am sure there are many of you out there that would rather see reviews of wine, and they will come, but since the food channels got me in the mood, here it is.  This month I have reviewed Rowan’s Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon, Russel’s Reserve 10 Year Old Straight Kentucky Bourbon & Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Straight Kentucky Bourbon.

Rowan’s Creek Straight Bourbon
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After the American Revolutionary War, John Rowan’s folks moved from Pennsylvania to Kentucky County. At the time, Kentucky was still considered to be part of Virginia, and was overseen by a military governor named John J. Bowman.  Rowan studied law and was also elected to the state’s constitutional convention, served in the Kentucky State Legislature and eventually the US Senate. In his honor, a small limestone-rich creek that eventually feeds into the Kentucky River was named Rowan’s Creek. 

Rowan’s Creek is made by marrying together small batches of bourbon that are maturing in charred, American oak casks. The bourbons each contain unique mash bills, which provides Rowan’s Creek with a distinctly layered flavor profile. After the bourbons have matured for approximately twelve years, they are brought to just over 100 proof with water from Rowan’s Creek, and bottled by hand (each bottle is adorned with a label that includes a handwritten batch number).

Rowan’s Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a spicy aroma that is balanced by hints of caramel, vanilla and dried pears. The aroma opens up to notes of cinnamon and oak on the palate, along with touches of charred wood, chili peppers, baking spices and dates. The finish, which is smooth and layered, ends with a warming touch of vanilla.

Price Point – $32-38

Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey
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After President Jefferson retired from public office in 1815, he often tended to the garden that he had cultivated at his Monticello estate. At the time, it was customary for wealthy farmers, including Jefferson, to make their own garden spirits. Each farmer’s spirits were unique and reflected their personal tastes and the local terrain of their farm. Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey is crafted by Chet and Trey Zoeller in honor of Jefferson and his experimental nature. While the Zoellers were inspired by Jefferson, their own roots can be traced back for generations deep into Kentucky’s bourbon history.

If you drink bourbon, you have heard the term “small batch” .  Jefferson’s calls theirs “very small batch”, which is to say they only use 8-12 barrels of various aged bourbons to create their bottled bourbons, in contrast to 200-300 for the others.  This is very unusual, and offers a thoroughly distinctive flavor profile, thanks to its 6 to 10 year aging in very lightly charred barrels. Jefferson’s bourbon is made with 60% corn, 30% rye and 10% malted barley.

The Reserve is very crisp and fresh on the nose, with lots of creamy vanilla and warm, spicy flavor. It has hints of oak, toffee, and smoke.  The first sip is soft, warming and supple. You can taste sweet vanilla, spices, toffee, berry fruits, a touch of orange zest, spices and honey.  Going down it is soft and easy-going, and it fades out on notes of vanilla sweetness, custard and corn.

It is not as big and bold as Rowan’s Creek so, if you’re looking for depth of flavor and complexity, Jefferson’s reserve is not for you.  The Reserve has more subtle flavors and sophistication and I love it as a change-up to the others. 

Price Point $28-35

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
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At the end of the American Civil War, the Ripy Brothers returned to their native state of Kentucky and opened a distillery on the slopes of a hill in Lawrenceburg. Following the repeal of Prohibition, distillery executive Thomas McCarthy took some samples of maturing bourbon from the distillery’s brick house on a hunting trip with a group of friends. The following year, his friends asked him to bring “some of that wild turkey whiskey,” and the distillery was renamed Wild Turkey.

Russell’s Reserve is made in Kentucky using a generations-old mash recipe. After the grains are mashed and fermented, they are distilled to a lower proof than at other distilleries in Kentucky, meaning that less water is used in diluting the bourbon before it is matured and bottled. Following distillation, the bourbon is aged for at least 10 years in virgin American oak casks and the heavy char contributes bold notes of vanilla, cinnamon and oak to Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon, and compliments its notes of honey and cloves.

Russell’s Reserve has an aroma of cinnamon raisin bread, sweet vanilla and honey. The aroma gives way to notes of orange, cloves and oak, which are complemented by subtle undertones of maple and caramel. The finish is slightly warming, with a well-balanced complexity.

Price Point $32-38

You may have noticed that I haven’t given a ranking or my preference of the three.  I have been asked several times, which bourbon I like best or, which of these is better.  There is no right or wrong answer and I believe it is the same with wine or single malt scotch.  It really is about what tastes good to you.  And don’t let the prices guide you.  I like all three of these bourbons and they are in the mid $30 range.  I can recall a gift someone gave to me when they realized I loved Kentucky Bourbons.  It was around $59, and I couldn’t drink it.  I believe that with bourbon, it depends on what mood you are in.  When I am looking for something big and bold, I’ll grab the Rowan’s, especially if it’s cold out!  If I want something lighter it’ll be the Jefferson Reserve.  The Russel’s Reserve is a good middle of the road between these two and in my opinion, more of a mainstay in the cabinet.  But that’s just my taste.

If you’ve had the pleasure of sampling any one or all of these, please leave me a comment!  I’d love to know what you think.


Michael Musto

Just following my passion for cooking & helping Retailers, Restaurants, & Food Industry companies with Marketing Strategies. Along the way sharing recipes from amazing food bloggers, The love of great wines, artisan spirits, craft brews and of course Bourbon.

I grew up in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother and it's where I love to be every day cooking for my wonderful family. I hope you enjoy!

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