Let’s start this review by jumping right to the conclusion: Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey has been one of the single greatest American Whiskies to be released in the last 5 years. I see no reason why my opinion will change before I taste this bottle of Batch 3.
People ask me my opinion on which whiskies are the best at certain price points all the time. But when it comes to “what is the best whiskey you’ve ever had?” this is the answer. It’s hard to follow up such a powerful statement with mundane facts and figures about the release, but here it goes anyway.
The third batch of Mister Sam
This is the third release of Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey. If you go to Sazerac’s website and look at the description for it, it will tell you it’s an annual release. That’s not true. It’s released once every two years and this is the third batch.
If you want to read my reviews for Batch 1 and Batch 2, there they are. Batch 2 was rated a perfect 10/10 and Batch 1 missed the mark by three tenths of a point. This isn’t just a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Mister Sam actually runs the whiskey HoF and decides which other whiskeys get admitted.
Mister Sam is the baby of Drew Mayville, Sazerac’s Master Blender. He studied under Seagram’s previous Master Blender, Art Dawe back when Seagram’s was a distilling powerhouse. Then he became one himself.
Master Distiller’s may get the sexy title, but if you want to know who is really responsible for what you’re going to taste in a bottle, it’s the Master Blender. It’s time to give this title it’s due.
You might view the name “Seagram’s” in a negative light because nowadays it’s a cheap, blended whiskey. But Seagram’s back in the day was the gold standard for quality control and consistency.
They made whiskey according to the tastes of the people that would buy it, but that doesn’t mean that before it was blended together and proofed down that the barrels weren’t already top-tier. Their distilleries used state-of-the-art equipment and employed the most professional people.
And if you love MGP and Four Roses whiskies as much as I do, you know that nothing has changed.
Drew came up with the name of the release as a throwback to Seagram’s last owner, Sam Bronfman. The book “Little Acorns” that comes with the decorative box and bottle is 60 pages of tributes and stories about Sam Bronfman’s experiences while heading Seagram’s. It adds a unique touch that I don’t think any other whiskey packaging comes close to.
What is Mister Sam made up of?
Despite all of the wonderful things I have to say about Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey, the mystery behind what exactly goes into each batch is maddening. There are absolutely no hints about what barrels Drew has selected.
All we know is that he has the pick of the litter from any Sazerac warehouse he wanted. That means Buffalo Trace, Barton Distillery and the Quebec Distillery (I don’t think Bowman is an option though). The latter is where he eventually brings them all together to blend.
So just because the side label says it’s a product of Canada doesn’t mean that this is a Canadian Whisky. I assume that over 85% of the blend is comprised of barrels from Kentucky.
Why can’t batch composition be discussed? Drew works for Sazerac, so it’s not like there should be an NDA about it. And for sure, there’s not a bad barrel in the bunch. Even if, let’s say, a 5 year old barrel somehow makes it in the batch, who cares? He’s still made the whole thing taste like he has added magic fairy dust in every bottle.
In previous batches, I have suspected that Mister Sam is actually a blend of ryed bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey and Canadian Whisky. I can’t be wrong about that because it’s never been proven or disproven.
But based on what I’ve tasted in the past versus what I taste in Mister Sam, I’m certain that there were barrels destined for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection within.
The 2023 release comes in at 128.8 proof. This is higher than Batch 2, but lower than Batch 1. Despite the high proofs in the past, I’ve never cried uncle due to the heat. Mister Sam is confoundingly crushable – like it’s a 105 proof whiskey due to the minimal burn.
Don’t mistake that for me saying the flavor is also like a 105 proof whiskey either, because it’s so much more. The selection process for these mature barrels is so thorough, heat was never going to be an issue. Drink this in confidence.
A toast to Sam
I want to point out that at this point in my writing, I have not actually taken a sip of Batch 3 yet. Everything I’ve wrote so far is just foreshadowing with a hint of optimism. To be honest, I’m writing this introduction as I’m staring at my glass of it, ready for the first sip.
I tend to write my reviews in multiple steps where I write the lead-up to the tasting notes sometimes weeks in advance before doing the tasting notes. But I’m so sure that Drew isn’t magically going to lay an egg with this release, that I feel confident not to go back and edit anything I’ve just said. I suppose I should shut up now and get to tasting. As usual, I am sampling this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The scents come at my nose from all directions. Notes of toasted brown sugar, vanilla bean syrup, marshmallow and a hint of roasted chestnuts start off the nose in a big way. Baked goods follow closely behind it with scents of blueberry muffins, coffee cake, Honey Nut Cheerios, white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and Christmas fruitcake.
Fruit aromas like black cherry preserves and Fig Newtons also make their presence felt. Each sniff is wrapped around with impressive wood notes like seasoned wood and antiqued oak. I’m trying to think of a better descriptor of how great the oak scent is, but nobody would ever sniff this and claim it’s a young whiskey.
Palate: A high-rye note comes to the forefront of the palate. This is in stark contrast to the nose. If this doesn’t have a decent portion of rye whiskey in the mix, I’ll eat my hat. Don’t confuse this with me saying it’s bad, it’s actually pretty amazing.
Lush herbal and floral notes combine with so many fruit flavors, I need an Excel spreadsheet to list them all – cherries, peaches, raisins, blueberry jelly and Lifesavers gummies. Wow! More sweets come by way of Halloween candy corn, black tie cheesecake and honey graham crackers. Each sip is thick and syrupy.
The flavor is powerful, never for a moment letting off the accelerator. The weird part is that every flavor works harmoniously together. This is whiskey that needs to be tasted to be believed.
Finish: Andes after-dinner mints combine with cherry cheesecake, apricot jam and orange marmalade for a chocolatey, fruity and minty experience. I can practically taste William Larue Weller mixing with cold-weather aged Canadian Rye Whisky.
Seasoned oak and slightly bitter oak taste linger. And don’t worry about that bitter oak because it actually helps balance out the sweet notes on the finish.
Nothing less than exceptional from start to finish – Drew Mayville has done it again! The layers of complexity each sip reveals doesn’t really have a rival. There’s really nothing like it. I’ve always known Buffalo Trace’s many products to have underlying fruit notes that are the top if its class, but this bottle has cranked them up to 11.
Struggling to find a whiskey that will give you fruit notes other than cherry, apple or banana? Mister Sam has those and so many more. It’s just a shame that the price of entry is so high that most will never get a chance to taste everything this has to offer.
…And that’s what really bums me out about this release. Of course it’s ultra-allocated. The state of Indiana is said to have only received 7 bottles at the time of this writing. The bottles are $250 at retail, which would be an absolute steal if you could walk into a store and get it. But the secondary has caught on to how good they are and has marked them up 10 fold. I really need to stop writing reviews about this whiskey!
What more can I say that hasn’t already been said? Mister Sam must be sipped to be understood. The prices are absolutely worth it whether we’re talking retail or secondary.
As I’ve said in a previous Mister Sam review, the only true rival I see it having is Michter’s Celebration – a bottle which retails for thousands of dollars and is only made of 6 barrels of rye whiskey and bourbon. I haven’t had a chance to ever try Celebration, but I can’t see how that bottle could be significantly better than Mister Sam.
I wish I had a more profound ending to this review, but I’ll leave it at this. If you’re the kind of person who values those rare or unique whiskey experiences, try to get a pour of this. Ask friends, ask store owners, pop into high-end whiskey bars – just do whatever it takes to get a sip.
This is one of the few that you don’t have to have the ideal surrounding set up to taste everything it has to offer. It will take your tastebuds by the reigns and just go. You might spend a decent bit of money to have that experience, but few whiskies in the world can rival what’s inside of this bottle.
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