I have reviewed 1792 Bottled in Bond, 1792 Full Proof, and Maker’s Mark Private Select before, so I am not going to delve into the histories of these whiskies. Short descriptions are 1792 is the flagship bourbon of Sazerac’s Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown and Maker’s Mark is Jim Beam’s flagship wheated bourbon made in Loretto. These distilleries are very close to each other and I visited them both along with Heaven Hill in a single day.
But I do have to brag on my local liquor store, Hokus Pokus, for first picking up buying single barrels of whiskey probably eight years ago and continuing to expand their offerings across many different brands. I remember the first Hokus picks being Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare; now it feels like Hokus has twelve to fourteen different store picks a year. Store pick single barrels are among the best values in American whiskey out there, but only if the people picking them know what they are doing. I also have to praise Hokus for including me and other customers in picking some of the barrels. Having a few different palates picking a bourbon never hurts to make sure you are getting a great barrel.
I tasted all four picks in store yesterday, and decided to write a brief review of these today, because even though there are cases of these at the stores, they tend to sell out fairly quickly.
1792 Bottled in Bond – Compared to the regular 1792 BiB, which is a big favorite of mine, this one has a lot of sweetness and floral notes one the nose and the palate. Then the wonderful rye notes show up to the party, with a nice lingering finish with perfectly balanced sweet and rye notes. Very nice mouthfeel. Given that Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch is now an allocated (read, hard to get) product, and that a lot of old school Bottled in Bond whiskies are also getting snatched up, 1792 BiB should be a go to for a lot of folks that seems pretty available. The quality of this store pick, however, is exceptional. I had some Henry McKenna BiB in a bar in New Orleans recently, and I would pick this over that any day of the week.
1792 Full Proof – The color on this one is slightly darker than the regular 1792 Full Proof, which is growing in rapid popularity thanks to Jim Murray. Really nice film and legs on the swirl. The nose is typical 1792 but with wonderful oak coming through. On the palate, wonderful caramel and vanilla notes, bitter dark chocolate, and oak, with some solid rye in the background. Viscous mouthfeel. The finish of oak and rye spice just lingers forever. They may have proofed down this bourbon a tad, but not very much. I am going to have to bunker a few bottles of this one.
The 1792 barrels were picked by Gus Olah who is CEO of Hokus Pokus and who manages the Prarieville store. Gus is the consummate wine guy, but as I have noted in my earlier writings on Facebook, the man can pick a great barrel of bourbon.
The Maker’s Mark picks were picked by Matt Antony who manages the Lake Charles location. Most Hokus picks are either Matt, or Matt and Hudson Funk out of the Alexandria store, although we have two barrels of Knob Creek Single Barrel that are Hudson and some of us from Alexandria. Matt has really taken the lead for Hokus Pokus on getting new and interesting barrel picks and landed the first Bulleit pick for the state of Louisiana, right before the New Orleans Bourbon festival pick came out in stores.
Maker’s Mark Private Select The Ghost I – I note there are no Maker’s 46 staves, but rather 1 Baked American, 2 baked French Cuvée, and get this, 7 roasted French Mocha staves added to the barrel. The nose is very standard wheated bourbon but with oak coming to the fore even before hitting the palate. A nice 108.7 proof, which is cask strength. Maker’s is bottled at 110 proof, so this lost a little more alcohol than water while aging. On the palate is a very lovely Pappy 20 flavor, but with heavy dark chocolate notes that give this whiskey tremendous character. The chocolate then mingles with oaky cinnamon on this finish. A lot of people I know try to make Poor Man’s Pappy by mixing Weller 12 and Weller 107, sometimes in miniature barrels to add additional oakiness. To them, I would say, just go buy a bottle of this store pick. This nails chocolate and oak notes on wheated bourbon. It’s no William LaRue Weller (and I just poured a dram of that to compare, which should say a lot), but, wow, the flavor profiles are scarily close.
If I had my choice, I would order a Maker’s Private Select with six French Mocha and four Baked American, and ask them to hold it an additional year. That would be one amazing wheated bourbon finished with oak staves.
Maker’s Mark Private Select The Ghost II – Again, no Maker’s 46 staves, but 2 Baked American, 2 Seared French Cuvée, 1 Roasted Mocha, and 5 Toasted French Spice. 109.3 proof. Comparing this to Ghost I, this too is a lovely whiskey, but the chocolate notes are very muted and replaced with a cinnamon flavor bomb with some nice muted oak. Again, very much like Van Winkle 12 or Pappy 20.
While I much prefer the Ghost I to the Ghost II, I am also a guy who would pass up a bottle of Pappy 23 for a bottle of William LaRue Weller, and did in fact pass up a Van Winkle 12 for a bottle of George T. Stagg. For me, wheated bourbon is at its best when high proof and with a lot of age and oak. At low proof and at younger age, I much prefer rye recipe bourbons. Standard Maker’s Mark is one of my least favorite bourbons, because it is wheated, low age, low proof, and they rotate the barrels in their warehouses to achieve an utterly consistent and truly boring bourbon. However, the Hokus Maker’s Private Selects are very good, and the additional oak staves add to the age of these barrel proof wheated bourbons that makes them both bottles you want on your bar. If you are a Pappy Van Winkle nut, consider this your methadone or subuxone when you can’t drink Pappy.
One thing that really strikes me about these bottles. It’s February. Hokus has four new single barrel picks. Typically the fall is when all the good stuff comes out, including store picks.
Hokus Pokus is really upping its game. 2020 looks very promising.