It’s been a long while since I last reviewed any bourbon here. Most of the time, I just don’t feel the need to do so as Malt’s US-based contributors already do a good job at filling that kind of content. However, I figured that it’s a “two birds with one stone” situation for me to do these reviews.
For one, I either haven’t tried these products in a long time, or I simply haven’t. I can’t even remember what these are like and when I first had them. So, it’s a good chance for me to either get to finally taste these or get reacquainted with them.
The other reason is the difference in geographical locations of the contributors will mean differences in our palates. We did not grow up in the same environments, so we will perceive these whiskeys differently. Enough chatter and let’s get to the booze.
I’m sure that the 1792 brand doesn’t need much introduction since its Full Proof version was awarded best whisk(e)y by a certain person a few years ago. It’s because of that – and the post-awarding craze – that I chose to delay my tasting of this expression.
Even though this Small Batch isn’t the same expression as the Full Proof, we can all agree that we see a lot of trickle down effects in the whisky world. Can’t get Pappy? Let’s get some Wellers. Can’t get Eagle Rare 17? Let’s get the Eagle Rare 10. I didn’t want to get the headache of trying to compete with hype beasts in searching for a bottle and overpaying for it at the same time. Years later, here I finally am about to taste this bourbon for the first time.
1792 Small Batch Bourbon – Review
On the nose: I immediately get a lot of bold rye spice, cinnamon and Japanese adzuki beans. Behind the rye spice are lighter aromas of sweet corn, honey, vanilla, and cereals. Behind these are bits of leather, vomit, and a slap of ethanol heat.
In the mouth: I get a peppery texture that comes with mild to bold tastes of floral rye spice, Japanese adzuki beans, cinnamon and vanilla. Ethanol heat rises shortly after. Behind it, I get sweet corn, raspberries, oak, caramel, and cereals.
My first impression of this is that it’s not great, but also not bad. I like how this is more rye heavy. But after that initial wave of rye spice, I feel like it’s got little else to give. For a moment there, I’m reminded of contemporary peated single malts with more upfront peat, but having little after.
Because this is said to have a higher rye mashbill when compared to Sazerac’s other brands, I think the fans of the company should try this or own a bottle of it, mainly because it’s a different kind of style. But since I’m no longer a big bourbon and rye fan, I’m happy just having tried it. Luckily, a 30ml sample of this was available locally for just under USD $50.
The type of floral rye flavor I get here reminds me of the regular Four Roses Single Barrel, but it lacks complexity. I’m not saying this is trying to be a Four Roses Single Barrel, it just reminds me of it. Which makes me think if this ever reaches $50, it’s not worth it. If you can get at its SRP ($30) then I think it warrants a 6. But if it reaches $50 and above, then the score will get just lower.
The last time Koval’s bourbon was reviewed here was 2014. This tells me that, despite the bourbon craze, the brand isn’t that popular in the US. But we all know that popularity can be a double-edged sword. A brand can be popular just because it gets a lot of good marketing, but the marketing doesn’t match the quality. It can also be the reverse.
I only became aware of Koval because a local importer tried getting in on the bourbon craze years ago. But, because it’s not one of the hyped-up brands, it didn’t really give the locals a bour-boner here. Someone from the distillery was even invited to do a masterclass during a Whisky Live Manila. That was the first and last time I got to try their regular range. With it being Whisky Live, my palate was pretty messed up. So, I can’t properly recall how much I liked their different expressions.
This bourbon’s unique selling point is that the mashbill is 51% corn and 49% millet. All of their bottlings of this are also single barrels. Interesting, as I think this is the only bourbon that uses this much millet in their mashbill.
Koval Bourbon Single Barrel – Review
On the nose: When I first poured the bourbon into the glass, it was initially very hot. After about 10 minutes, the heat subsided. I now get aromas of leather, oak, grain husk, sweet corn, cherries, dried dates, vinegar, and orange zest. There are shades of that heat at the end.
In most bourbons, the different aromas come in different intensities and lengths. I perceive them as layers. But for this Koval, there’s only one layer. Everything came at me in a uniform intensity and length.
In the mouth: I initially get a homogenized slightly sweet grain taste. It’s like dried dates, sweet corn, oak, and cherries were jammed together in a blender. A slight peppery heat rises after. Notes of honey, caramel, and orange zest come after.
I think I see why Koval’s bourbon isn’t more popular. This isn’t a poorly made product; it just has no unique characteristics that will make it memorable to a distinguished drinker. In my opinion, this is something Jack Daniels and Maker’s Mark fans will like. Since there are no complicated and complex flavors to go unnoticed, it’s an easy drink.
Perhaps Koval would do better if they bottled this at a lower ABV and sold it at a lower price? Then again, this is a single barrel. So, other bottles from other barrels could be much more different from this.
Also, notice there’s no mention of millet in the tasting notes? That’s because I don’t know what millet tastes like. Being a grain that’s mainly known as bird feed, I don’t think the regular consumer would go out of their way to try millet by itself.
Here’s an oddity. It looks like none of the Johnny Drums from Willet have been reviewed yet on Malt. Which is odd, as I thought anything from Willet has a huge following. I mean, their single barrel bourbons and ryes to their smaller batch stuff like Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek get raved about. So, this is an outlier? Or does this expression just not have enough reach to get enough people raving about it?
To be honest, this bottle has been with me for at least five years. I bought this bottle from Japan. Then I forgot about it, so I haven’t tried it. Research online says that the provenance of this small batch bourbon is undisclosed, which means the mashbill of this is unknown to the public. I’ve also read that the newer releases of this are all distilled by Willet. So, this may end up being different from the current ones, unless Willet makes a bourbon to taste exactly like this.
Johnny Drum Private Stock Small Batch – Review
50.5% ABV. $49.99 from K&L Wines.
On the nose: Surprisingly tart, fruity, and floral. Upfront, I get aromas of peeled red grapes, apples, pears, honeydew melons, papaya, kumquat, and oranges. Behind these are lighter aromas of honey, leather, corn and Japanese adzuki beans. There are bits of heat rising here and there, but this is 50.5% ABV, So it’s expected.
In the mouth: Still fruity, but not as tart and floral as on the nose. I get the flavors in short bursts: corn, rye, honey, leather, oak, caramel, apples, papayas, cantaloupes, biscuits, and Thompson grapes.
If this were given to me blind, I wouldn’t have guessed that this was a bourbon. It’s just so different from the typical oak and sweet corn-forward profile. Because it’s not the usual bourbon, I can see why this may have flown under the radar. Plus being previously a sourced small batch SKU, the batches may not have been consistent. This will surely have affected the online reviews, thus confidence of consumers to buy this.
I find this to be good, but not that great. Surely, this will be a good bourbon to have when you want something different. Assuming, of course, that what Willet makes is close to this.
1792 and Koval images courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.