Review: Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Alabama-based Clyde May’s recently added two new straight bourbons to its lineup. Unlike its prior whiskey releases, these are unfinished and unflavored with apple (or other seasonings) and thus represent a more traditional bourbon style. Which is, I suppose, what they really are.

Both of the new whiskeys are sourced from an unknown supplier in Kentucky (not Indiana). The Straight Bourbon is 5 years old. A cask strength offering, not reviewed here, is 8 years old. There’s not a ton of information on its production, except that “this non-chill filtered straight bourbon is a classic 5-year-old, easy drinking spirit. Using simple and traditional ingredients, the bourbon mash is patiently aged in heavily “alligator” charred new American oak barrels.”

And it is indeed a perfectly serviceable rendition of a five year old American bourbon. The nose is lightly spicy (a moderate rye mash, I’d guess) and heavy with barrel char notes, vanilla, and cocoa powder. On the palate, the sweet vanilla notes roll into light touches of orange peel, some nutmeg, and a hint of bitter licorice on the back end. A lingering finish evokes popcorn and more rustic barrel char — perhaps indicative of this being bottled a year too soon? — with a drying, savory fade-out.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #CM-079. (Though it’s hard to tell if this is a legit batch number or just flavor text on every label.)

B+ / $40 / clydemays.com

Review: Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The Jos. A. Magnus Distillery can be found in Washington, DC, and its home in the capital is only fitting, considering the company is making some of the most interesting whiskey in America. Joseph Magnus & Co. was a distillery founded in 1892 — and reestablished by Magnus’s great grandson over 100 years later. Inspired by some dusty old bottles of original Magnus bourbon, the new distilling team — which is full of American whiskey luminaries — attempted to recreate the original spirit. The secret sauce: finishing in a variety of different types of barrels. Nine-year old bourbon distillate (sourced from MGP) goes into three finishing barrels — Pedro Ximinez sherry, Oloroso sherry, and Cognac — before bottling.

On the nose, the ochre-hued Joseph Magnus offers a rich array of aromas, focusing on roasted nuts, coffee, dried fruits, and incense. Subtle notes of furniture polish give it quite a bit of depth and many layers of intrigue. The palate doesn’t let you down, offering a relatively racy attack that speaks first of citrus, chocolate, and cloves. As it develops in the glass, the bourbon takes on more wine-forward notes, which meld interestingly with the darker coffee notes and the sweeter vanilla and caramel characteristics that bubble up after some air time. The finish echoes barrel char from the original time in cask, giving the rich and somewhat oily whiskey a relatively traditional bourbonesque exit.

Really fun stuff. Worth seeking out.

100 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

A- / $80 / josephmagnus.com

Review: Vulson White Rhino Rye

Vulson is a white whiskey. It is also a rye. It is also French. That’s three categories I’ve never ticked off at the same time in our database before, and Vulson, produced by the western Alps-based farm of Domaine des Hautes Glaces, has more in store for us. Vulson uses organic rye that is grown on site and malted there, too. It is then triple distilled in copper pot stills and rested for a year in stainless steel before being bottled.

This is straightforward on the nose, fragrant with toasty grain notes, some rubbery hospital character, and an undercurrent of earthy mushrooms. The palate offers some surprises, though, with ample fruit — apple, mainly — that pairs nicely with florals that grow in intensity over time. The finish offers a melange of spices, with varied notes of nutmeg, rosemary, and touches of butterscotch. Lots of complexity for a white whiskey here; it’s worth giving it a try.

82 proof.

B+ / $47 / vulson.fr

Review: Fort Point Manzanita Smoked Altbier

San Francisco’s Fort Point Beer Company presents this collaboration with Germany’s Freigeist. Manzanita is a heavily smoked ale made from malt that’s been smoked with both beechwood and manzanita (a common evergreen shrub) branches.

The overpowering smokiness on the nose is reminiscent of apple wood smoke, crispy bacon, and mesquite. The palate is quite sweet, heavy apple and orange fruitiness leading quickly to more of the aforementioned smoke flavors, which take on some notes of roasted nuts and chicory coffee. Saphir hops add a very light bitterness to the proceedings, but the smoke is so overpowering that it quickly begins to dominate the experience from start to finish, which otherwise comes through with some stale coffee notes.

6.5% abv.

B / $8 per 22 oz bottle / fortpointbeer.com

Review: Martin Miller’s Gin and Westbourne Strength Gin

Very little about Martin Miller’s Gin is done in an orthodox fashion. First is the where. The company slogan — “Distilled in England, blended in Iceland” — should cue you in to the beginnings of that. Distilled (in a single, ancient pot still) in London, it is shipped via boat to Iceland, where it is proofed down with local water.

Martin Miller’s actually runs two distillations, using real ingredients which are steeped overnight in spirit (akin to steeping tea leaves) rather than using a botanical tray suspended in the vapors of the still.

The first distillation session includes a steeping of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, liquorice root, cassia bark, Florentine iris, and a small portion of lime peel. The second distillation is where the citrus elements are brought more heavily into the picture, including bitter orange peel, lemon peel, and lime peel. Martin Miller’s is also flavored with a small amount of cucumber, the gin’s so-called secret ingredient.

Two versions are made, an 80 proof standard gin, and a Westbourne Strength expression, which is the same gin but bottled at a higher alcohol content. As you’ll see below, that makes quite a difference in the finished product.

Martin Miller’s Gin – Juniper-forward on the nose, but moderately heavy with citrus notes, too — plus a hint of licorice. On the palate, a gentle sweetness hits the tongue first, followed by notes of citrus and ripe banana. Earthy notes bubble up after that, though none are particularly distinct or identifiable — even the juniper is restrained here. The finish is lasting and grassy, with overtones of fresh rubber. Simple, but versatile. 80 proof. B+ / $32

Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin – Clearly stronger on its aromatic nose, it still keeps the juniper front and center as with the original gin, with a somewhat quieter citrus character. On the palate, juniper is considerably stronger than in the above expression, and the citrus takes on a sharper note that stresses the bitter peel more clearly. The finish keeps the focus on orange and lime with juniper on the side, leaving the somewhat flatter earthy notes well behind. A superior bottling. 90.4 proof.  A / $38

martinmillersgin.com

Book Review: Whisky Japan

If you missed the meteoric rise of Japanese whisky over the last 15 years, I hate to tell you this, but it’s too late to catch up. The very best of Japanese whiskies are simply no longer available, replaced by lower-end shadows of their former selves. If you can find a top shelf Japanese bottling, the price will be simply astronomical. And unlike in bourbon country, where capacity is dramatically on the rise, there’s not much end in sight for Japanese whisky shortages.

So, while you drown your sorrows in rotgut, you can at least read about what you missed, courtesy of Dominic Roskrow’s Whisky Japan, wherein he charts the mysterious beginnings and meteoric rise of late of Japanese whisky before delving into the good stuff: detailed reports on every distillery in the country (well, all 13 of them), writeups on dozens of specific bottlings, and listings of essential bars to visit in Japan — and world bars that have solid stocks of Japanese juice. Roskrow’s thin tasting notes and his reliance on unhelpful flavor wheel graphics are the sole weak spot in an otherwise standout tome.

Roskrow’s book works well as a companion to Drinking Japan, which is referenced several times throughout, though the hardcover design of Whisky Japan means you won’t be toting it with you to Tokyo. The larger format though does permit Roskrow to showcase absolutely gorgeous photography — of the places he takes you and the whiskies themselves — turning the book into an aspirational piece that will work well on any fan’s coffee table.

A- / $35 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: The Quiet Man Traditional and Single Malt 8 Years Old Irish Whiskey

 

Ciaran Mulgrew’s new whiskey brand hails from Northern Ireland (think Bushmills), and is named “The Quiet Man” in honor of Mulgrew’s father, a former bartender. He writes:

Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father. As a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories, but like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales. My father, John Mulgrew, “The Quiet Man”, or as they say in Ireland “An Fear Ciuin.”

Imported by Luxco, two expressions are available at present, a relatively standard blend and a single malt with an 8 year old age statement. Thoughts on each follow.

Both are 80 proof.

The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey – Triple-distilled pot still whiskey of an undisclosed mashbill, matured in bourbon barrels. This is a light but fresh and fragrant whiskey, with a brisk nose that’s heavy on lemon and honey. Light heather notes add a hint of earthy aromas. The palate follows largely in lockstep, a lightly sweet and gentle whiskey that keeps its focus on lightly sugared grains, a quick zesting of lemon peel, and a subtle but developing vanilla-chocolate note on the finish. Again, the overall experience is very light and brisk, but totally in line with what we’ve come to expect from Irish whiskey — an easygoing but not entirely complicated drinking experience. B+ / $33

The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old Irish Whiskey – Again, triple distilled pot still whiskey, but here it’s all malted barley. Also aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. This single malt still drinks with the exuberance of youth while avoiding coming across as specifically young. On the nose, heavier notes of honey, some orange peel, and a smattering of flowers give the whiskey immediate appeal. The body showcases considerable depth and power, offering an unctuous, mouth-filling grip that leads to a rich palate of toasty grains, caramel sauce, milk chocolate, and baking spice. The finish plays up the wood and toasted grain notes, which can get a little blunt at times (at 12 years, this whiskey would probably be a knockout), but even though it’s hanging on to its youth, it does manage to take its traditional Irish character and elevate it with a surprising density that many Irish whiskeys seem to lack. A- / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

thequietmanirishwhiskey.com

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