Kilchoman’s 2016 version of its annual 100% Islay release is here, and this time it’s a vatting of fresh and refill ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels that were filled in 2010 and bottled in 2016 — the most mature expression of 100% Islay to be released to date. As always, the 100% Islay line is more lightly peated than the rest of the Kilchoman range.
While Kilchoman tends to shine the brightest in its sherried expressions, this bourbon-only rendition is quite a delight. The bourbon barrel time imbues the whiskey with aromas of chocolate and vanilla, its light grain notes fragrant with peaty smoke. The body follows suit for the most part, though some citrus notes are a bit of a surprise. The lingering smoke on the finish is mild and fragrant, with notes of maple syrup, cinnamon, and green banana.
Brooding but very refreshing, it’s one of the most drinkable Kilchoman releases in recent memory.
A- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com
I can’t remember the last time I had Louis Jadot’s iconic French wines — clearly I’m long overdue to take a quick trip through the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions with good old Louis. Here’s a look at two new low-cost releases, both easy summer sippers.
2014 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay – This is classic, unoaked French Chardonnay, lush with fruit and unfiltered through the lens of woody vanilla notes. Gently floral, the wine offers solid notes of fresh apple, lemon, and honeysuckle on the back end. Fine on its own, but it shines more brightly when those floral notes can find a companion with food. B+ / $13
2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages – Beaujolais Nouveau gives this region a bad name, but bottlings like this prove there’s plenty of nuance in the gamay grape. This wine offers lots of young fruit, but tempers that with notes of fresh rosemary and hints of black pepper. The finish has some earthiness to it, along with clear vanilla notes, but the conclusion ends on straight-up fresh red berries that any Beaujolais drinker will instantly find familiar. Drink slightly chilled. B / $14
The goal of Kin White Whiskey, “born in the South” but made in Los Angeles, is to offer a moonshine without the burn, without the traditional solvent character so common in unaged whiskey. As far as that job goes, it’s mission accomplished: Kin is indeed “smooth” and decidedly unfiery, as innocuous a white spirit can be this side of vodka.
On the nose, Kin offers, well, very little: a touch of lemon and some chamomile tea. There’s a touch of rubbing alcohol — it’s impossible to get rid of completely — but nothing that any drinker will have a problem with. On the palate, there’s ample sugar — Kin is clearly doctored and sugared up more than a bit — with little more than a few citrus undertones. The finish is clean and sweet and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a fair enough example of a new world vodka.
B+ / $42 / kinwhitewhiskey.com
Some of the best American brandy you can buy is coming from Ukiah, California-based Craft Distillers, but said brandy can often cost a pretty penny, if you can find it.
A few years ago, the company decided to see if it could produce a more affordable product that still offered high quality, and 3 1/2 years later, it’s here: Millard Fillmore U.S. Brandy.
Naming a brandy after our 13th president — one of the least effective in the country’s history — is auspicious, to say the least, but let’s try not to judge a book by its cover. This brandy takes column-distilled grape spirit from the San Joaquin Valley and blends it with pot-distilled brandy from Germain-Robain’s old timey Cognac stills. The result is a hybrid of styles, but unfortunately it’s not a wholly effective one.
There’s lots of youth on Millard’s nose, both in the form of raw wood and raw alcohol. Gentle fruit notes line its pockets, but this brandy wears its inexperience on its sleeve. On the palate, it’s more of the same: dusty lumberyard character tempered by oily petrol notes, then finally some juicy red berries and plum notes to offer a counterpoint. Notes of licorice, tobacco, and oily leather bring up the rear, though it’s that immature wood character that makes the most lasting impression.
C+ / $35 / craftdistillers.com
So a funny story about Purity Vodka. I was all set to review Purity in 2010, and then the sample bottle disappeared. My housekeeper stole it, a testament to how pretty the bottle is. I ended up firing her, and forgot all about the Purity review… until now, when at last a new bottle of Purity has appeared on my doorstep, at last ready to review. My current housekeeper doesn’t drink, so this bottle survived unscathed.
Purity hails from Sweden, where its claim to fame is being column distilled 34 times. Those numbers don’t mean a lot in column stills, which tend to be continuous, but you get the idea. Purity, made from a mash of organic winter wheat and malted barley, is supposed to be pure — as neutral as vodka can get. Bottles are numbered and identified by batch.
Purity certainly lives up to its promises. The nose is very slight, with gentle hospital notes touched lightly with sugar, marzipan, and a touch of herbs. The palate is very clean, sweeter by a hair than the nose would indicate, with notes of lemon peel and some macadamia nut notes. The finish stays on the ultralight track, adding some vanilla to the mix.
Final analysis: As vodka goes, it couldn’t be an easier sipper and works easily as a versatile mixing ingredient.
80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #87.
A- / $28 / purityvodka.com
Massachusetts-based South Hollow Spirits focuses on rum, but it also makes gin, particularly this bottling, which is, like its rum, made from 100% sugar cane. More specifically, here’s the full process:
Dry Line Cape Cod Gin is a small batch, twice-distilled spirit made from organic sugar cane juice. The sugar cane juice is fermented for three weeks and distilled for the first time before the botanicals are added. After the first distillation, the gin moves to 55 gallon steel drums to spend 48 hours steeping with large hemp bags containing a carefully curated local selection of botanicals, including Eastern Red Cedar juniper berries, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, allspice, coriander, orris root, grains of paradise, angelica root, anise, and dried cranberry. This infusion method enables the spirit to absorb essential oils from the botanicals before it is redistilled and brought to its final proof of 94.
That’s a pretty traditional botanical bill (cranberry aside); in fact the use of sugar cane as the fermentation base is the biggest twist. It comes through on the finished product, which offers a nose of light juniper, rosemary, and lots of vanilla-citrus sugar layered underneath the herbs. The palate is extremely soft for a gin of this alcohol level, juniper-restrained and silky with light notes of hazelnuts, cloves, and even some milk chocolate. The finish is sweet and lengthy, folding light herbal notes into some lingering sweetness. All told it’s quite unorthodox for a gin, but surprisingly worthwhile in the unique story it has to tell.
Think of it, perhaps, as a juniper-infused white rum.
94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #22.
A- / $45 / southhollowspirits.com
Take a four year old Jim Beam and put it into a newly charred barrel (for indeterminate time) and what do you get? Jim Beam Double Oak, a twice-barreled bourbon that attempts to up the ante on the aging process through another spin through the rinse cycle. This of course isn’t a new idea. Maker’s 46 hit in 2010, and Woodford Reserve launched its Double Oaked Bourbon in 2012. Those of course are positioned as ultra-premium whiskeys, while Beam is, well, Beam is Beam — a fine spirit in its price band but not something you’re going to give to your dad for Christmas.
Jim Beam Double Oak is joining Beam’s permanent lineup in September, and we got a preview of the new juice to give it a full review, so let’s get started.
First a bit of surprise: The nose is relatively restrained but eventually gives up notes of dense wood, baking spice, and some licorice. With air, some leathery notes evolve, ultimately giving it a fairly straightforward, but generally wood-centric focus. The palate offers some added surprises, mainly how low-key it tends to be. I was expecting a big blast of wood but instead got notes of sweet tea, gingerbread, and a quite restrained and gentle wash of lumber on the back end. The finish does have a bit of gritty sawdust character to it, but even that is dialed back and in line with pretty much any mainstream bourbon.
Compared to both Maker’s 46 and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, it’s a night and day experience. Maker’s blends up a complex melange of chocolate, toffee, fruit, and bananas, while Woodford presents a burly frontier style bourbon with winey notes, and a lengthy cocoa-and-coconut finish. Neither of these are particularly overbearing when it comes to wood, but neither are they anything I’d describe as a understated… which is really the first thing that comes to mind with Beam’s Double Oak expression.
B / $22 / jimbeam.com