Review: Wyoming Whiskey Barrel Strength Bourbon

Wyoming’s first legal distillery, Wyoming Whiskey, only began production in 2009, but despite its youth the distillery already has an impressive portfolio of its own aged whiskeys. These include a Small Batch, Single Barrel, and Bonded Straight American Whiskey. Of course the rarest of them all has received the most excitement in the whiskey world of late. Released in the fall of 2015, the extremely limited Barrel Strength Bourbon was a run of only 111 bottles from two leaking “honey” barrels filled in the distillery’s first year. Only 96 of those bottles actually made it to retail, with slightly more than half bottled at 120 proof (the rest at 116 proof).

The distillery says that Sam Mead, Wyoming Whiskey’s head distiller, identified the two barrels as being of high quality even before they started to leak significantly. The accelerated oxidation elevated the whiskey into another class entirely, and a new addition to the Wyoming Whiskey lineup was born. So how good is it?

The first thing to jump out on this whiskey is its deep copper color. On the nose, the unusual oxidation comes through immediately with wet oak and mustiness at first, but that quickly fades to freshly baked oatmeal cookies, buttery cinnamon, and a little mint. On the palate, there’s a gentle heat up front and big flavors of molasses and oily, Madagascar vanilla that give way to black tea, cardamom, and spearmint. The finish has fading notes of allspice and anise. It seems a tad short, but maybe only because I really want that next sip.

Even though it’s on the younger side (under six years), Wyoming Whiskey’s Barrel Strength Bourbon drinks with the balance and refinement of a whiskey twice its age. If not for the initial “rickhouse quality” in this whiskey, it would rival some of the best barrel strength bourbons of the last few years. Unfortunately, this bottle is beyond rare and not exactly cheap, but if you find it, by all means buy a pour. And take the whole bottle home if you can.

120 proof.

A / $199 / wyomingwhiskey.com

Review: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old

Over the last few years, the craft whiskey world has seen several distilleries criticized for a lack of transparency about the exact origin of the liquid in their bottles. Some of these producers have perhaps been unfairly judged while others deserved their fate (ahem, Templeton), but Smooth Ambler Spirits in Maxwelton, West Virginia has never had to worry about any of that. They’ve proudly worn the label of “artisan merchant bottler” and gladly advertised their careful selection of sourced whiskeys (mostly from MGP of Indiana) instead of treating it like a dirty little secret. These whiskeys carry the label Old Scout, as in “scouted” whiskey, and they complement a diverse portfolio that also includes Yearling Bourbon Whiskey and a forthcoming mature, wheated bourbon, both distilled in-house.

Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a 7 year bourbon bottled at 99 proof, has been a staple of Smooth Ambler’s whiskey offerings since they opened their doors in 2009. Only recently has the distillery made available a single barrel version, bottled at various ages (none younger than 7 years) and cask strength (typically between 109 and 118 proof). Like the standard offerings, these single barrels are all high rye bourbons with a mashbill of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. According to Smooth Ambler’s Master Distiller, John Little, the sourced barrels are aged for some period of time in the West Virginia climate and minimally filtered (without chill filtration) to retain the original, “straight-from-the-barrel” quality of the whiskey.

The bourbon has a great caramel sauce color. The nose is big, with cinnamon, cocoa powder, and ripe peach. On the palate, a minty spice and gentle tannins accompany flavors of toasted vanilla bean and Werther’s Original candies. The body is a little thin, but that’s not entirely disappointing as it makes this bourbon that much more drinkable. The finish is medium in length with more vanilla and a little orange zest.

John Little and his team at Smooth Ambler are right to be proud. They sure do pick em’ good in West Virginia.

109.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #2064.

A / $60 / smoothambler.com

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Japanese whisky has not been spared from the trend among distilleries of coping with high demand by transitioning to No Age Statement (NAS) offerings. Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt now joins the likes of Miyagikyo, also in the Nikka portfolio, as well as Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu (from rival Suntory) to transition formerly 12-year-old offerings to NAS for those buying at the entry level.

Taketsuru Pure Malt is named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, and like the former age-stated version, it is made from a combination of whisky from both of Nikka’s distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The whisky is matured in a combination of sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak. It is considered a blended malt, but unlike classic Scottish blends which mix different types of whisky, Taketsuru Pure Malt is technically a vatting of exclusively malted whisky. But enough about all of that.

The color on the Taketsuru Pure Malt is very light amber, bordering on gold. On the nose, initially bland cereal notes quickly give way to stronger aromas of green grape, freshly cut grass, and lemon peel. Although it’s not wholly apparent on the nose, the palate immediately shows evidence of the sherry cask maturation with a gentle spice and subtle, ripe plum, followed by layers of toffee and butterscotch imparted by the used bourbon and new American oak casks. Overall, the palate is light but the mouthfeel is surprisingly syrupy, with a medium-to-long finish that fades into notes of pear and orange blossom honey.

The NAS version of Taketsuru Pure Malt lacks some of the balance and complexity of the 12-year-old Pure Malt; particularly its subtle smokiness. Still, if this is the price the drinking public must pay to see more of this Japanese whisky on the shelves, we’re not giving up much.

86 proof.

B+ / $60 / nikka.com