First, check out the most recent update to The Whiskey Hotline. This one's our Spring Edition, and it's totally packed full of neat stuff: a rundown of recent microdistillery releases, more new items, special Spring Cleaning sale pricing (while stock lasts), a sneak peak of our upcoming World of Whiskies event, and an update on our 2011 Hand Picked Selections program.

   About the Hand Picked Selections: the tasting panel met twice in the last two weeks, and we have another meeting scheduled next week. We've been focusing on bourbon, since last year's choices sold a lot better than we were expecting, and now our stocks are running low. So here's a little extra insider info on upcoming single-barrel releases, presented in quick-notes form.

 

Old Weller

   This one's interesting. We haven't had a Hand-Picked Weller for a while, and we totally need one. We tasted across a current Old Weller Special Reserve bottling and then ten barrel samples, looking for examples that fit the profile while offering a little more oomph than the standard bottling. What we ended up fits that traditional Old Weller style round with lots of brown sugar, butterscotch and cloves and a light peachy fruit note.

   The problem is that our vatting is just too drinkable at full strength. We fell in love with it at barrel strength, but the Weller Special Reserve is bottled at a lighter 90 proof. We're also considering the Old Weller Antique Original 107 Brand, bottled at 107 proof, which would be more faithful to what we were tasting. Plus, it looks like our four barrel choices meet the minimum age requirement for the Antique bottling. The tradeoff is it's an extra couple bucks per bottle, and because of the higher proof there will be less to go around. Tough choice, right? What do you think we should do?

 

Blanton's

   Blanton's is a perennial favorite and a Hand-Picked Selections staple. Tasting for Binny's exclusive casks is a blast for our panel. We shoot for a ballsy bourbon overloaded with intense baking spices and caramel.

   After comparing this round of five choices, we found two that we really liked, both showing the familiar Blanton's profile, but both are intricate and complex, each in unique ways. So it looks like we're getting two barrels, which I guess is great because we're seeing the demand for more than one barrel at once. We won't know which bottlings will go to which stores, so if you find a favorite, be sure to stock up. Or better yet, try to find a bottle of each different barrel.

 

Elmer T. Lee

   For our Elmer T. Lee bottling, we chose from nine samples, eventually narrowing it down to just two barrels to be bottled separately (or maybe three, depending on a couple things). This one has a more complex, intricate style. Along with the caramel and nutmeg notes you might find in the Blanton's, I think of bright honey, salinic qualities, vegetal and herbal notes (dry straw, pepper), slight char, and even hints of smoke. There's not much more to say; the choice was tough because the samples were consistently delicious and complex. This one's a killer value.

 

Four Roses Single Barrel

   Here's the short version of the story: Four Roses uses ten unique whiskey recipes that involve different mash bills and different yeast strains, resulting in ten different styles that are blended into their Yellow Label bottling. We were really excited last year when we were able to offer single barrel bottlings of all ten.

   Then in January, we held an event at our Lincoln Park store called The DNA of Four Roses, where we sampled out all the recipes (and other surprises; it was way cool). There were two interesting results. First, the unexpected crowd favorite was the oddball recipe known as OBSF, odd for its combination of high-rye mash bill and herbal yeast, resulting in lots of minty/herbal/savory/eucalyptus notes. Second, we sold through a lot more bourbon than we expected, and need to refill our stocks once again.

   We had to pick four new barrels for bottling: OBSO, OBSK, OBSQ and OBSF (you can decode that here). I won't bore you with all the details of each bottling (each one could fill an entire blog post the whiskey is just that complex), but here are a few quick points of interest.

   Several of the new choices were distilled on the same date as our previous bottlings, and were found in the same areas of the warehouse. This means that there's a good chance that what we have in these bottles for this upcoming release is the same thing as what is in the bottle from last year, only with that extra time in wood. It's interesting to see what that extra time in wood does, and if you still have some of the last batch, you can try them side-by-side.

   My personal favorite this time around is the OBSK, a high-rye blend with yeast that imparts more spice. And by spice, I mean tons of baking spice: nutmeg, clove, molasses, butterscotch. But then my preference is for big whiskey.

 

Knob Creek Single Barrel

   The new Knob Creek Single Barrel release has gotten a lot of attention lately; it's one of our most-requested items. As mentioned in the Whiskey Hotline, the new Binny's picks won't arrive for a few more weeks. We tried the sample from the distillery, but we just couldn't commit to a big purchase without the chance to Hand Pick the best barrels for our customers (we're selfish like that). So a few weeks later, the tasting panel met to try fifteen barrel samples aged in three different warehouses, along with an official retail bottle.

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