This quarter’s shipment from the Whiskey Explorers Club offers something old and something new, and at least a few whiskeys you might have heard of, but probably haven’t had the chance to try yet. Get in there, grab a subscription, and give these spirits a try — blind!
Sonoma-based August Sebastiani’s 3 Badge Beverage Corp. (the new name behind Kirk & Sweeney rums, Uncle Val’s gins, and others) has launched its first tequila: Pasote, which is made by Felipe Camerena in the Los Altos region of Jalisco.
Made in part with rainwater instead of just spring water, it’s made using traditional methods and bottled in antique-style glass. The reposado and anejo are aged in former, American oak bourbon barrels. We got all three expressions for review. Thoughts on each of the bottlings follow.
Each expression is 80 proof.
Pasote Blanco Tequila – Unaged, silver tequila. The nose is heavily peppered, with notes of citrus and a serious, agave undertone. A blast of lemon and green agave invade the palate straight away, building across a moderately oily palate to what emerges as a bold and herb-heavy finish. That finish is lasting as it sticks to the palate, offering a lingering expression of crisp, clean agave, unadulterated by any significant secondary character. B / $49
Pasote Reposado Tequila – Aged six months in oak. This is quite a tequila, taking that intense agave core as discussed above and filtering it through a very gentle, almost subtle filter of brown sugar and creme brulee. This reposado doesn’t reinvent tequila, but the balance between these two components is phenomenal, deftly threading the needle between sweet and savory spice with amazing aplomb — offering light pepper notes, cinnamon, lemon, and butterscotch, all in impressive balance. Reposado tequila can often turn into a middling middle ground between blanco and anejo, but Pasote’s shows how well-crafted this style can be. A / $59
Pasote Anejo Tequila – This anejo spends 18 months in oak, but it’s still decidedly light in color. This expression drinks a lot like a reposado, just pushed further along to the sweeter end of the spectrum. It’s still a very well-crafted tequila, its herbal characters tamped down and its sweetness dialed up. Here the overall palate takes on notes of marshmallow, vanilla, light caramel, and some cinnamon-scented Mexican chocolate notes. The agave may be dialed back, but it’s still present, kicking around primarily on the nose as well as a spicy reminder that hits well into the finish. It’s deftly handled and still light as a feather, but a worthwhile counterpart to some of the industry’s more overbearing anejos. A- / $69
It’s a quartet of Glenrothes single malts today… all part of the new Reserve Collection that Glenrothes formally launched in 2015. These all arrive as new Malt Master Gordon Motion takes over from the venerable John Ramsay.
The first three whiskies reviewed here — Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, and Vintage Reserve — are each available separately as regular 750ml bottles, or as part of a “tri-set” of three 100ml bottles ($40). The newcomer, Peated Cask Reserve, is available on its own for now. Details on what’s inside each of these bottlings follow, along with a review, of course.
All four are bottled at 80 proof.
The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve – As the name implies, this whisky is exclusively drawn from bourbon cask-matured spirits from a range of years, though no specific age information is offered. The whisky drinks a lot like you’d expect from a bourbon casked single malt, with fresh grain up front followed by notes of caramel, coconut, chocolate malt balls, and a heavy nut character, both on the nose and the palate. There’s quite a bit of charcoal, tobacco, and scorched hazelnut on the back end, followed by notes of menthol. Again, it’s a classic bourbon-matured spirit, a fine example of the “base” style of single malts — those made without a finishing cask — but nothing that will feel at all unfamiliar to Scotch regulars. B / $50
The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve – The first all first-fill sherry cask expression from The Glenrothes, matured predominantly in European oak instead of American oak. Again, no age statement; this is a blend of sherry casks of different vintages. It’s not a completely iconic example of sherry cask malt, its orange peel aromas overpowered by notes of almonds and a small touch of mint. On the palate, the citrus finds a natural companion in notes of ginger and baking spice — particularly cloves. The finish is warming and considerably longer than the Bourbon Cask Reserve, quite satisfying as lingering caramel and gentle orange notes are the last to fade. A- / $50
The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve – This expression is a mutt of a whisky, representing a vatting of a variety of vintages and cask types that includes whisky from each of the following years: 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The greatest proportion of whisky comes from the 1998 vintage. (How refreshingly transparent, eh?) The malt shows off a range of styles, coming together in a nicely balanced fashion. The nose is classic Speyside, as is the attack. Chewy, malty cereals kick things off on the palate before a wave of flavors driven by gentle citrus notes and some cinnamon bun-heavy baking spice arrive on the back end. The body feels a little thin, the finish a bit rushed, but on the whole it presents a balanced, if unsurprising, vision of Speyside. B+ / $50
The Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve – Like any good Speyside operation, Glenrothes doesn’t peat its whisky, but with this semi-experimental release, the distillery took the Vintage 1992 single malt and gave it a temporary finishing in a used Islay cask. The idea: “to reflect a time in the distillery’s history when it formed an association with the Islay Distillery Co Ltd. in 1887.” The gentle peat on this whisky’s nose is about as innocuous as smoke can get in a peated malt. Here the lick of iodine and coal fire smoke meld quite well with an otherwise lightly sweet body, which offers notes of heather, nougat, and a light lacing of herbs. The finish brings both worlds together with aplomb — it’s got just the right mix of smoky to go with the sweet and smoky — although the whisky’s body is so light on the whole that it ultimately doesn’t leave that much of an impression. See also The Balvenie, which previously released a peated cask expression to high acclaim. B+ / $55
It is either incredibly ballsy or impossibly stupid to package your new moonshine in the same type of stainless steel container that paint thinner comes in, but whatever the case I’m giving Stillhouse Spirits (which recently relocated to Columbia, Tennessee) credit for taking a huge risk and doing something unique.
This 100% unaged corn whiskey (flavored versions, not reviewed here, are also available) is made entirely from estate-grown corn. Otherwise, it’s straight-up moonshine, though brought down to a manageable 40% abv. The nose offers few surprises — big and buttery popcorn notes, petrol, and ethanol. A little rough around the edges, aromatically speaking, but manageable.
On the palate, it presents itself as a milder, gentler expression of unaged corn whiskey, its initial corniness segueing into mild caramel notes — surprising since this spirit has never spent any time in wood. The medicinal aspects of the whiskey are still there, but they’re held in check by a light body that is almost watery at times. The finish isn’t so much reminiscent of gasoline as it is of heavily roasted nuts, dried herbs, and licorice.
As moonshine, goes, Stillhouse isn’t half bad — but those looking for a more serious, high-test white spirit will find its dainty character a bit at odds with its over-the-top presentation.
B / $26 / stillhouse.com
Resonance Vineyard is a sleepy property in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where it’s been selling fruit to various local vintners for decades. That changed in 2013, when the property was sold to famed French wine operation Maison Louis Jadot with the intent of making an estate pinot out of it — the company’s first project outside of France. And now it’s here: the first Oregon pinot noir produced by French winemaker Jacques Lardière, appropriately named Resonance.
The results are quite good, if a bit short of what one would expect from a wine of this pedigree and price. The nose is initially a bit closed off, but time and air help the wine’s aromas evolve. There’s ample herbaceousness here, notes of fresh herbs mingling with fresh licorice and a significant amount of oak, particularly heavy for a pinot.
On the palate, notes of spearmint come immediately to the fore, backed up by gentle cherry and mixed red berry fruits, some orange peel, and more herbal notes, particularly thyme. The finish is tart, heavy with raspberry notes but also fresh, a little sweet, and, again, minty. The modest body and curious structure are both a departure from the typical profile of Oregon pinot noir, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that it showcases what Oregon fruit can do; bad in the sense that it ultimately doesn’t fit in well with the regional style.
That said, this is clearly a wine that will evolve with time in bottle — I’d like to see where it goes in the next 3 to 4 years.
B+ / $65 / kobrandwineandspirits.com
This is Portland-based BridgePort’s first cream ale, a lighter style of beer that’s brewed with ale yeasts plus sees the addition of Nugget, Meridian, and Mosaic hops. Cut with malted wheat and flake oats, it is designed to have a creamy body (hence the name) and quite low, lager-like bitterness. Previously available only at the company’s Portland-located brewpub, the beer now enters year-round availability in bottles.
It’s a delightful summer quencher, creamy and mouth-filling as the name suggests, with lots of tropical fruit character to smooth out the trio of hops. The finish sees some bitterness muscling its way to the fore, a by-product of which is that it takes those fruit notes a bit closer to the overripe side of things.
B+ / $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com
Everyone knows that Japan loves rice so much that they even make their booze out of it. Sake, shochu… and now, whiskey.
Rice whiskey? You read that right. Kikori is distilled from 100% rice grown in the Kumamoto region, which goes through a “two-mash fermentation process, before distilling the mash in a single batch and casking it in [lightly charred] American Oak, repurposed Limousin French Oak and sherry barrels from Spain. For 3 to 10 years, the subtle notes of the barrels are imparted into the whiskey,” per the producer.
Whether or not this is proper “whiskey” is an academic discussion; let’s see what it actually tastes like.
The nose at first comes across like a cross between very young scotch and an immature brandy. A distinct melon aroma, reminiscent of sake, emerges from the fog given some time, combining with a touch of vanilla that pops up to offer a somewhat appealing and very unique entry.
The body follows along these lines, starting off with a light vanilla and caramel character, then kicks out more of that fresh honeydew melon as the finish starts to build. There’s no sense of grain or earth here — making your whiskey from rice instead of barley sure does make a difference — just a very light base of floral notes that, when combined with melon and oak, evokes dry sherry at times. The finish is clean and fresh, but offers a stronger caramel character than the lead-up would telegraph.
If you’re a fan of sake, Kikori in many ways presents that classic beverage in a more refined and higher-proof form. (Just as you can think of whiskey as a distillate of beer, consider Kikori as a distillate of sake — in simplified terms, of course.)
I was skeptical that Kikori would be very good — I mean, whiskey made from rice? Come on… — but after spending many hours poring over several glasses of the stuff, I’m a convert. I can’t wait to see what Team Kikori does with this idea next.
A- / $47 / kikoriwhiskey.com