Note: my sense of smell is whacked. Really, really whacked. And thus my sense of taste, especially for the "minor" flavors in booze. So you'll see weird descriptors here, which may or may not map to other people's.
Old Overholt Rye: (dirt-cheap in the standings of alcohol I buy; not hard to find)
Neat: Light color, smell is mild, thin, alcohol. Like pine without the pine -- that sort of sharp and thin. Not as thin as some bourbons, though -- and no leather. A little bit of actual rye herbal. Taste: spice. Hot without a huge alcohol burn, and the spice lingers. Still no leather, some of the licorice-like but not really of the actual rye itself. A little bit of a good-sour hit -- not enough to call it citrus flavors, but something there. Not especially sweet, though I'm a bad judge of that sometimes.
Splash of water: Doesn't need it. Just made it watery, though as I started with a really little glass, I may have just added too much tonight. But it's 80 proof as bottled, so it really shouldn't need it.
Mixed: Fantastic, fantastic Old-Fashioned, though tonight this is from memory because I'm not drinking that much tonight. Better this way than neat. It's not a complex alcohol to begin with; the bitters add complexity, and since it isn't especially sweet to start with, the splash of sugar water doesn't go candy-sweet. Manhattan: the only one I've made where the price of the vermouth and the whiskey are on the same order, and I still don't like vermouth. Really need to try a Red Hook sometime, after seeing a mention of that cocktail.
Russell's Reserve Rye (6 years): ($30 at Downtown in Davis Square)
This came on recommendation from the staff guy, who took pity on me looking at the rack of rye and bourbon. I said I wanted to try something in the $25-40 range, and I like spicy-hot. He tried to recommend something else, which I'm sure I could ID if I saw it, but I've forgotten, with the recommendation that it was very, very smooth. I mentioned Basil Hayden Bourbon, and he agreed it was like that. So I asked him to recommend something else, as my take on Basil Hayden's is that it would be my first choice if my life went so badly I wanted to give myself alcohol poisoning, but that otherwise it tasted like water, and not in the way good vodka does.
Neat: Color is about twice as dark as the Old Overholt, and the smell is all caramel. Well, a little alcohol. Taste matches the smell -- caramel, honey, a fair bit of sweetness. Something that might be oak, but without the astringency I associate with oak. Spice: enough to know this is rye, but it fades instantly. In fact, the whole thing fades ASAP.
Splash of water: tones down the caramel, lets some oak and something a little bitter-sour come out. I like the scaling back of the caramel -- if I wanted a Werther's, I'd have one of those. But I don't like the bitter note.
Mixed: I wasn't that fond of the water-added option, so I turned that glass into an Old Fashioned, though as I just threw the sugar in there, it ended up a little uneven. Meh. Too sweet, even the first sips where the sugar was mostly lying on the bottom, and the bitters dominated, even though I was gentle with them. (Angostura, for the record. No lemon/orange peel, as I don't keep that around. Sometimes (not today) I put literally a drop or two of limoncello in to get a little citrus in there.) Wasn't *bad*, but it was better neat, and the Old Overholt makes a better Old Fashioned for half the price.
And now for something completely different:
Ramazzotti Amaro: ($18, bought at whatever-its-name-is in West Meffa)
I saw Amaro mentioned somewhere and bought a cheap bottle to try. Have only tried it neat, as am out of soda water. Sweeter than I expected, and very little bitter, which, as it's an Italian sippable bitters, is kind of odd. Herbal, in a way that I like -- not licorice-y/anise-y, though I can't ID much of anything in there. The thing it reminds me most of -- the homeopathic cough syrup I swore by in high school -- though I did realize that the homeopathic thing was crap. That stuff was sweet and 20% alcohol, and the doses it had you take were pretty big for acute coughs -- like two tablespoons every 20 minutes for two hours, then 2 TBSP every two hours. Which, for a non-drinking high school student, was pretty significant in the alcohol department. I usually replace it with hot toddies when home sick -- whiskey and lemon and honey and hot water (or sometimes herbal medicinal tea for the hot water, which is kind of foul but effective). This might actually do better, though it might spoil my enjoyment of the stuff neat.
I like Campari better, but this stuff fills a different niche -- I used to make Black Russians occasionally for something sweet-but-punchy. This, neat, is similar but a little less alcohol and a little more interest.
I was going to do the bourbon I have around), but I don't really want more alcohol tonight.