Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Second Release

kilchoman 100 percent islay second release 300x284 Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Second ReleaseKilchoman has recently updated its 100% Islay bottling — a whisky made from barley grown, malted, distilled, aged, and bottled all at the distillery on Islay — with a slightly different variation.

The difference with this 2012 Second Release is that the whisky is a blend of 3 year old and 4 year old spirit, all aged completely in Bourbon casks, 50-50 of each. (The 2011 version was all 3 year old Bourbon, finished in sherry wood.)

With no sherry in the mix this time, the whisky plays a lot closer to the expected: A moderate but (surprisingly) not overpowering rush of peat, revealing undertones of fruit. You get banana and pear, particularly on the finish, which offers forest fire-like smokiness, as of burning pine cones and evergreen needles.

100 proof.

A- / $90 /

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

There are a few things you can count on in the whiskey world, and one of them is the annual release of Buffalo Trace’s always-anticipated Antique Collection, a compilation of five very old and very rare American whiskeys that pretty much sell out immediately once they land on store shelves. (I’ve seen bars where these whiskeys are locked up behind iron grates.)

Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2012 Collection stack up.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Big rye on the nose, with some honeysuckle in the mix. The body is sweet, with touches of tobacco. More wood develops with time in the glass, and a splash of water. Lots of tannin on the finish, all that time in wood leaving behind a lot of dusty sawdust character. Water helps. 90 proof (as always). 90 proof. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Very sweet, almost no woodiness for a 17-year-old Bourbon. Quite a bit of citrus under the caramel notes, I don’t get the “dry and delicate” character that the distillery describes in its official notes, but rather a classic whiskey with just a touch of tawny port character on the finish. Scarily drinkable though less complex than I might like. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Chocolate and coffee notes a-plenty in this classic heater — 142.8 proof this year. Plenty of wood on the mid-palate, but it’s not overly hoary like the 2011 edition. A warming, sweet finish brings everything together. Make no mistake, this is hot, old whiskey — 17 years old for the 2012 bottling — but complex, burly, and quite delicious. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon –At “just” 123.4 proof, this year’s Weller is a lower-proof baby compared to previous renditions. Less exciting on the nose, this wheated Bourbon is mild, ultimately exhibiting some licorice and nutty, tree-bark flavors. Tannic and drying on the finish, even with water. 12 years old. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Definitely my least favorite of this year’s collection. The nose is innocuous, hinting at dark cherry character alongside cinnamon and some cocoa notes. The body, however, veers into somewhat overpowering astringency. Though just 6 years old, the woodiness is pungent and overbearing, leaving behind an oily, sawdust-driven finish that hangs around for a long, long time. It opens up with time in glass, but the overall effect just doesn’t come together the way it should. 132.4 proof. B-

about $70 each /

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

Review: Camus Ile de Re Cognacs

Most (myself included) think of Cognac hailing from a small region in France just north of Bordeaux. But did you know that you can make Cognac (legally) on an island off the coast of France? To be fair, Ile de Re isn’t far offshore — it’s connected to the mainland via a bridge — but it’s unique enough to merit more than a little curiosity.

Camus is the first company to bring a Cognac produced from grapes grown on this little island to market, with three Ile de Re Cognac expressions launching now. All are classic Cognac expressions, but you’ll find them infused with a little unique island spirit, giving them a slightly salty spin, much in the way that Islay malt whiskys can only be from one place. Thoughts follow.

None of these expressions include age statements. All are bottled at 80 proof.

Camus Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac – A young and fresh brandy, this spirit is easygoing with a modest fruit core, but with surprisingly little of the funky burn that you get with most “affordable” Cognacs. Very light citrus and persimmon notes on the nose, and these follow through to the palate. A briny finish offers some savory balance. There’s a bit of heat in the otherwise muted body, but not enough to make you race for the water pitcher. While it isn’t going to wow you, on the whole it’s a surprisingly drinkable Cognac, particularly at this price level. B+ / $49

Camus Ile de Re Double Matured Cognac – Aged in two stages, first in a high-humidity cellar, then in “toasted barrels.” Similar in tone to the Fine Island version, but with a distinct orange character that laces the finish. Less heat here than the Fine Island, too, perhaps more an indication of age than the double barreling conceit, but probably worth the price upgrade. A- / $69

Camus Ile de Re Cliffside Cellar Cognac – Aged in part in a special cellar said to be 10 meters away from the Atlantic Ocean, here the orange character is up front rather than hidden away in the finish. Well-rounded, with some saltiness in the finish, which comes together with more of a dessert-like, salted caramel character. A- / $99

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Rye Whiskey

Buffalo Trace’s Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. brand continues rolling along with this fifth expression, a bottled-in-bond rye.

The mashbill is interesting and unusual: Only rye and malted barley, no corn. The proportion of each isn’t disclosed, but it’s definitely heavy on the rye.

At 100 proof (like all bottled-in-bond whiskey is), it’s surprisingly hot. I was generous with the water to help bring out this rye’s character, though it dilutes the pretty amber color.

The nose offers classic rye notes: Lots of spice, with no restraint at all in its brashness. That’s not bad. I like rye to taste like a real rye. It’s sweet, but with lots of power backing it up and a long finish. Taylor has that, and water doesn’t impact that body at all (just tones down the alcohol burn). Lots of character to go around: Orange-infused caramel quickly fades and leaps into flavors of red pepper, rhubarb, strawberries, and cinnamon, then fades into an orange-flower honey finish. Great balance, with many layers.

My sample bottle was emptied well before my experience of this whiskey was, a rarity in a world where so many spirits wear their character on their sleeve.

100 proof.


E.H. Taylor Rye Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Rye Whiskey

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society September 2012 Outturn

Another outturn from SMWS, this one including my first grain whisky sample from SMWS, covering September 2012.

SMWS Cask 2.81 – 15 year old Glenlivet from Speyside – Blazing Glenlivet that’s turned out from first-fill sherry butts. (It’s unclear how long the whisky spends in the sherry casks, but based on the deep Bourbon-brown color, it’s clearly a long while.) Rum raisin is on the SMWS tasting notes and it was the first thing that came to mind, a cinnamon-infused Christmas cake with plenty of orange-fueled sherry to back it up. Gorgeous whisky, though it doesn’t stray far from dessert tones. A few drops of water helps immensely. Distilled 1996, 119.8 proof, 210 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $120

SMWS Cask 23.72 – 9 year old Bruichladdich from Islay – Big, sweet, barbecue character, smoky and sugary all at once. Finished in refill sherry butts, and bottled ultra-hot. Water is a big help, and don’t be shy with it, which helps coax out some coconut, toast, and chewy hay characteristics. Really quite good for such a a young whisky. Distilled 2002, 132.8 proof, 90 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $90

SMWS Cask 125.48 - 12 year old Glenmorangie from the Highlands – Woody, woody, woody. Not in a bad way, more in a Bourbon way. Some citrus, along with malty cereal notes and a finish that offers nutty, almond-heavy character. Warming and well-balanced, even at bottle strength. Distilled 1998, 104.2 proof, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $110

SMWS Cask G1.8 – 21 year old grain whisky from North British Distillery in Edinburgh – A different animal, and clearly not single malt from the get-go. There’s a big butterscotch and lemon mix on the nose, but sipping takes things in a hugely new direction. It starts with brown butter character that delves soon into intensely herbal notes — licorice, with an almost amaro-like character that goes on and on, intensifying as the finish lingers. Tons happening here. Add water to improve the balance a bit, and mellow out the heat. Distilled 1989, 125.8 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $145

SMWS september 2012 Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society September 2012 Outturn

Review: Buffalo Trace Giant French Oak Barrels Experiments Bourbons

With all the hubbub over small whiskey barrels going on, it almost went unnoticed that Buffalo Trace released a whiskey that went the opposite direction: Aged in oversized French oak barrels for a long, long time.

To be sure, the 135-gallon barrel (likely a “puncheon” as terminology goes) is not the largest wooden barrel out there. The biggest I know of is the gorda, which can store a whopping 185 gallons. Still, compared to the standard 53-gallon Bourbon barrel, that’s a big hunk of wood.

The science here should be obvious. Small barrels age whiskey exponentially faster, so large ones should age whiskey much more slowly. What else might happen? According to Buffalo Trace, it saw slower evaporation, too. (Some details follow.)

These barrels had a lighter char — #3 instead of the usual #4 — and the new make spirit put into each employed a rye-heavy Bourbon recipe. Both were aged on the ground floor and chill filtered before bottling at 90 proof. Notes from the distillery are in italics. My notes are in a regular font.

Buffalo Trace 19 Year Old Giant French Oak BarrelThis 135 gallon barrel was filled on January 28, 1993 and was bottled June 28, 2012. It came off the still at 135 proof and was entered into the barrel at 129.8 proof.  The evaporation rate on this barrel was 34.8%, which is considerably lower than a typical 53 gallon barrel, which averages 55-60% evaporation for the same time frame. Very tradition Bourbon character here. One would never guess this was nearly 20 years old. Sweet, with lots of dessert character: Caramel sauce, chocolate-covered cherries, and a woodsy note, particularly evident, almost like lumberyard, on the nose. Really quite pleasing and not overcooked at all. A-

Buffalo Trace 23 Year Old Giant French Oak Barrel – This giant barrel was also 135 gallons, filled on May 17, 1989 and bottled on June 27, 2012. The whiskey entered into the barrel at 130 proof and the evaporation rate was lower at 46.8% than a typical sized 23 year-old barrel. Those extra four years make a difference. This Bourbon offers more citrus notes, with a more wood-forward profile. Racier, but also with a dusty, drying finish. The wood has finally taken hold (evidenced from the much higher evaporation rate) here, giving the whiskey more of a sawdust character. Overdone, but hanging on just barely. B

$46 each (375ml bottles) /

Buffalot Trace Experimental Collection Giant Barrels Review: Buffalo Trace Giant French Oak Barrels Experiments Bourbons

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl

Best whisky name ever now goes The Arran Malt, whose new Devil’s Punch Bowl single malt is seductive and devilish — and comes with packaging to match.

Named for a glacial hollow called Coire na Ciche on the Isle of Arran, the boggy hill sits in the distillery’s backyard. The whisky inside is drawn from 24 different Arran casks, including some sherry butts, some peated and some unpeated. It is released with no age statement.

The whisky is easy on the peat and comes across instead with an immediate and big sherry character. The dark citrus oil notes are backed with lots of almonds and sweet marzipan, adding a bit of chewy dessert character to the spirit, along with a touch of smoke (but not much). The whisky is a bit warm on the tongue at first — perhaps giving the devil his due — but this fades with time exposed to air. But the most curious thing about an otherwise quite tasty sherried malt is the sharp finish, a kind of acidic tang with touches of red chile and black pepper. Fire and brimstone? You got it.

104.6 proof. 6,660 bottles produced. 600 released in the U.S.

A- / $130 /

arran devils punch bowl Review: The Arran Malt Devils Punch Bowl




Review: Ardbeg Galileo 1999

This Ardbeg bottling carries with it a story unique in my years of writing about whisky. I’ll let Ardbeg tell you about it in their own words.

The whisky, named after Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, celebrates the first ever experiment undertaken by Ardbeg Distillery (or any other distillery for that matter) when Ardbeg was invited in late 2011 by US based space research company NanoRacks LLC, based in Houston Texas, to take part in a two year experiment to test micro-organic compounds drawn from the distillery’s production on Islay. This maturation experiment (the inter-action of these compounds with charred oak) between normal gravity on Earth and micro-gravity in space, is currently taking place far up in space on the International Space Station.

The vials that were launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikanor in Kazakhstan in late 2011 contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes,” a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour active. The experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near ‘zero gravity’ environment. It also should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.

The experiment will have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including, one day maybe, future generations of Ardbeg.

Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, NanoRacks will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks’ facility and more familiarly, in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on Islay!

You’re reading that right, folks. Ardbeg is working on space whisky. And while Galileo is really just a “tribute” and “celebration of” space maturation, it’s at least got a fun story behind it — and it’s a pretty good spirit, too.

The provenance of this special bottling dates back to 1999. Two vattings are married: Traditional Ardbeg from first- and second-fill Bourbon casks, plus whisky matured in former Marsala wine casks from Sicily. The vatting is bottled after 12 years at 98 proof, and non chill-filtered.

It’s a unique spirit for Ardbeg, pungent on the nose not just with Ardbeg’s traditional peat and smoke, but also with that racy Marsala character of exotic wood, incense, and bitter orange.

On the palate, peat and those fortified wine characteristics play together nicely, and in a way that works. The smoke and spice come together to create flavors of chocolate, vanilla pudding, and deeply burnt citrus fruits (flambe?). It’s a hot whisky, with a finish that warms for quite a long while. Water doesn’t do much for this one, mainly just bringing out the smoky character (with some of the citrus on the side), while pushing the nuance aside.

Overall, really a fascinating limited release from our friends in Islay.

A- / $95 /

ardbeg galileo Review: Ardbeg Galileo 1999


Review: High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon

The whiskey just keeps pouring out of Utah’s High West. The company’s latest expression: A blend of straight Bourbons, bottled in honor of the American Prairie Reserve Foundation, which, when complete, will be the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states (it’s 5000 square miles sprawling across Montana).

Two bourbons are blended together to make American Prairie Reserve. They are: Whiskey #1: 6 year old Bourbon distilled and aged at the old Seagrams plant in Lawrenceberg, Indiana. Mashbill from 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley malt.  Whiskey #2: 10 year old Bourbon distilled by Four Roses. Mashbill from 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% barley malt.

This is a very citrus-focused Bourbon, with lots of orange, cherry, and lemon on the nose. Easy drinking with a modest sweetness and a very slippery body, it glides on down without much fuss. Surprisingly little wood is evident here, as the citrus notes dominate the whiskey. Candied nut character comes along in the end, which adds a surprising and welcome balance to this otherwise very juicy whiskey in the finish. There’s even a touch of cocoa powder in there. Give it a bit of time in glass before tucking into it.

92 proof. Batch #1 reviewed.


high west american prairie reserve whiskey Review: High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon

Review: Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

This brand new, limited-edition whisky should be easier to find than the new 1974 edition, but with 18,000 bottles made, you’re not going to find it at Safeway. The Malt Master in question is Brian Kinsman, and this unique bottling is offered as an homage to Glenfiddich’s 125th anniversary.

The company’s first double-matured spirit, this non-age-statemented whisky spent 6 to 8 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, then 4 to 6 years in sherry casks. That’s a long time in sherry, which is why you might not really peg this as a roughly 10-year-old Scotch when you crack it open.

The sherry is big on the nose, with smoldering oak wood underneath. There’s not nearly that much citrus-fueled sherry on the palate, though, with distinct gingerbread character, with a chewy nougat, almost granulated sugar texture to it. Candied cherries give this a fruitcake feeling, along with some caramel and banana notes in the finish. The conclusion calls back to the Bourbon barrel. You get a hint of it as the final notes fade.

86 proof.

A- / $90 /

Glenfiddich Malt Masters Edition Review: Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight – Cocoa Mole and La Folie

lof cocoa beer prodshot Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight    Cocoa Mole and La FolieOne would assume that I had learned my lesson regarding chile beers after tasting Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah. One would be wrong.

While Twisted Pine touted GFK as the hottest beer in the world, New Belgium instead takes a more subtle route. Although still spiced up with ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers, Cocoa Mole is balanced with caramel and chocolate malts to help relieve and complement the impending burn.

In terms of appearance, Cocoa Mole actually doesn’t look too out of the ordinary. Its color borders a dark, ruby red and brown, but it’s still translucent. I was expecting a big, thick, stout-like look, but even the sandy head is light and fizzy.

The initial whiff brings a very strong cinnamon note mixed with a little brown sugar, but soon afterward there’s a lot of earthy, gritty pepper. The spicy heat mixes with the vegetal aroma to hit home the message that this is chock full of chiles. As such, the malts are a little subdued here and I only got a pinch of cocoa.

Bold, flavorful ancho and chipotle peppers pace the taste, but the heat doesn’t kick in until a few seconds later, giving the full range of flavors time to settle in. This is where the cinnamon and brown sugar return; their sweet and spiciness serving as a cooling foil to the burning sensation that is now building. This isn’t mouth-ruining hot, but it does have a pretty big kick to it. As in the nose, the cocoa isn’t as big as I was hoping, but I did have my expectations for the chocolate set high. The finish is long with heat and flecks of caramel and bready malts interspersed within.

Overall I like this beer quite a bit as it isn’t afraid to bring the heat, but doesn’t rely on it entirely. There’s a nice composition of flavors here, and my only meaningful gripe against it is that there isn’t as much chocolate as anticipated. I enjoyed the cinnamon, but I felt some more malt could go a long way in making the mouthfeel more full and thick.

B+ / $8.99 per 22oz bottle /

la beer prodshot sm1 Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight    Cocoa Mole and La FolieStanding in stark contrast to the spice-laden Cocoa Mole, La Folie is a wood-aged, sour beer. Brewed in the Flanders style, these types of beers are typically somewhat fruity, acidic, and come with varying degrees of tartness.

In terms of this spectrum, La Folie easily approaches the extreme end. The first sip brings a huge huge amount of lactic sourness that overwhelms the palate. I have had the 2010 release of this beer and don’t remember that vintage being quite so mouth-puckering. After the tartness fades, a ripe fruit note follows to give a pinch of sweetness as condolences for how sour it was at first. Green apples and tart cherries form the bulk of the flavors, with a kiss of grape and oak that almost gives this a wine-like quality. There is some vinegar acidity, but it doesn’t detract from the overall flavor (as some red Flanders are wont to do).

Even when poured into the thick New Belgium goblet, La Folie still has an enchantingly dark mahogany tint to it and is just barely transparent. Both the head formation and lacing are solid and make it easy to fully enjoy the aromas spilling out of it; the soured fruit, wooden barrels, and pinch of vanilla enticed me the most.

A- / $8.99 per 22oz bottle /

Review: Ardbeg Day 2012

Every year the Scots celebrate the summertime at the Festival of Malt and Music, two great things which go great together. In honor of the event, which typically takes place at the beginning of June, Ardbeg released Ardbeg Day, a limited edition bottling that is meant to be the start of a new annual series.

12,000 bottles of Ardbeg Day 2012 were released this summer. (We are admittedly late to this party, but you should still be able to find it floating around.) Two styles of Ardbeg are used to make this vatting, which is then re-casked for 6 months in sherry casks. Bottle proof is a blazing 113.4. There’s no age statement for the whisky itself, nor additional information on the two constituent whiskys in the vatting.

What’s clear is that this is young Ardbeg, a pale and misleading spirit that packs a real wallop when cracked open. The nose is fire and brimstone, a big peat monster that lets no secrets through when sipped. It’s just too hot at cask strength, so don’t be shy with the water.

Once tempered, Ardbeg Day 2012 reveals its mysteries: creamy vanilla notes, butterscotch, and a touch of citrus — lemon more than orange. Sherry cask and peated whisky go together well, and Ardbeg does a real service to this style with Day. The integration is solid, the finish long, lasting, and well balanced between smoke and fruit. Definitely one to drink with water, though. Straight from the bottle it’s simply overwhelming.

A- / $90 /

ardbeg day whisky 2012 Review: Ardbeg Day 2012

Review: Lost Spirits Leviathan I Cask #3 Heavily Peated American Whiskey

Recently we featured Lost Spirits Seascape, a peated American single malt whiskey. Now we’re back with what may be the company’s flagship dram: Leviathan I.

Leviathan is bottled as a single-barrel release of heavily-peated (110ppm phenol, or thereabouts) single malt whiskey, aged for under 4 years in casks formerly used for late-harvest Cabernet Sauvignon. The barrels are normally re-charred with a #3 char before using, but due to a fortuitous mistake, Lost Spirits accidentally over-charred Cask #3 — in addition to some additional happenstance with this release — which gives the whiskey an incredibly dark color. It is, as company owner Bryan Davis puts it, a whiskey with an “extreme profile” and will not necessarily by characteristic of the brand. Peat fans will want to snap up this particular bottling, which won’t be available for long, considering only 125 bottles were made.

Pour a glass and you’ll be stunned. Despite this being a very young spirit, the deep mahogany color makes this one of the darkest whiskeys I’ve ever seen. (Reminder: There is no artificial coloring in this spirit! That dark coffee color is completely the result of the unique barrel aging program.)

Cracking it open, you’ll of course find peat on the nose, but less than you’d think. More of a burning wood embers character than a peat bog. Sipping brings out a downright shocking range of wholly unexpected flavors, the most notable and up-front of which is a rich chocolate character — think drinking cocoa by a campfire — backed up with cinnamon, vanilla, and a little raspberry jam. The finish is long and complex — bringing up more sweetness as it fades — and only mildly hot considering its 106 proof level.

This is really a surprising whiskey and nothing like the peat bomb you might be thinking it will be.  Let it simmer in the glass, and keep sipping. This is one complicated and unexpected whiskey that almost any whiskey drinker — peat lover and peat “tolerater” alike — is going to really want to be a part of.

Want to try this whiskey for yourself? If you’re in the Bay Area, Bryan will be sampling it in person on September 5 in San Francisco and September 12 in Redwood City, both at the K&L Wine Merchants Wednesday tasting events. Drop by and tell them Drinkhacker sent you!

A- / $55 /

lost spirits leviathan I Cask 3 Review: Lost Spirits Leviathan I Cask #3 Heavily Peated American Whiskey

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Late August 2012 Outturn

Keeping up with the SMWS is going to be tough, but we’re up to the task. Here are thoughts on the four newest releases from our “secret whisky” friends. This outturn covers the second half of August 2012.

SMWS Cask 4.153 – 11 year old Highland Park from Orkney – Very hot HP, at a blazing, cask strength 117.2 proof. Needs copious water to bring out its charms, which are plenty: Tangerines, marshmallows, and modest floral notes are balanced with signature mild peat, chimney smoke, and bacon notes. Young, though, and even at lower alcohol levels, the finish is hot. I’d happily tipple on this, but you can get 12 year old Highland Park for 30 bucks, so… Distilled 1999, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $100

SMWS Cask 39.83 - 28 year old Linkwood from Speyside – Nice old stock here, well aged and drinking wonderfully. Chewy with nuts, honeycomb, and and touches of wood, there’s lots of stone fruit character — peaches and apricots — that comes along after. Water brings out some petrol character, not in a bad way. A touch less complex than I was thinking it would be, but still really delicious. Distilled 1982, 107.8 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $180

SMWS Cask 53.157 – 10 year old Caol Ila from Islay – A standard peat shocker, backed up with plenty of sweetness. Big tobacco notes play with fresh bananas, coconut, and whipped cream, leaving you with copious campfire notes to remember. Roasted marshmallows with plenty of char? You’re in the ballpark. Distilled 2000, 116 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $95

SMWS Cask 76.84 – 21 year old Mortlach from Speyside – Restrained on the nose. Immediate rush of smoke on the tongue, which fades into notes of licorice, green grass, and fatty bacon character. Less fruit than I’d imagined from Mortlach, with what’s there, dead-on as SMWS’s tasting notes put it, mainly of the dried variety. I’m not enthralled with the fiery finish. Distilled 1989, 115.6 proof, 239 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $145

Review: 2009 Amapola Creek Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard Vinas Antiguas

Made by old-school Sonoma winemaker Richard Arrowood, Amapola Creek’s Monte Rosso Zin comes from 118-year old vines, where the yield is just 3/4 ton to 1 ton per acre (which is tiny). Just 540 cases of this wine were made, a blend of 91.2% Zinfandel and 8.8% Petite Sirah.

The wine is a standout for Zin, ultra-high in alcohol (16.1%), of course, but rich with all kinds of flavors. After a nose that recalls dry earth and black pepper, cocoa-inflected blackberry and blueberry start you off on the palate, with lightly and well-balanced, spicy notes on the finish. Zin can often be mouth-coating to the point of gumminess, but even at this alcohol level, it comes across is clean and refreshing.

A- / $36 /

amapola creek monte rosso zinfandel Review: 2009 Amapola Creek Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard Vinas Antiguas

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Early August 2012 Outturn

I’ve had immense respect for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for years and have greatly enjoyed their Whisky Extravaganza tastings as well. If you’re not familiar with the SMWS, here’s how it works: The company, founded in 1983, is an independent Scotch bottler (like Duncan Taylor or Gordon & MacPhail) that works with a slightly different approach. Instead of producing whisky in bulk, it releases only single-cask bottlings, each typically netting a few hundred bottles or less of finished product. These whiskys are identified only by a code number — the number before the decimal identifies the distillery, the number after identifies the cask. Whisky 3.182 (reviewed below) is the 182nd cask that SMWS has “outturned” (dumped out and bottled) from Distillery #3.

To make things interesting, the SMWS does not identify the distillery by name, only number, although it does give you clues to help ID the distillery in its tasting notes, and the internet of course offers some handy shortcuts.

Because it works with single casks, SMWS is always putting out new spirits, with thousands of bottlings released to date. It would be impossible to keep tabs on them all, but gosh darnit we’re going to give it the old college try.

Here’s a look at the four whiskys released from SMWS in early August 2012.

SMWS Cask 3.182 – 21 year old Bowmore from Islay – Light gold. Exceptionally peaty on the nose, but the body has been mellowed with age like smoldering embers of a fire. Honey, roasted nuts, and even a touch of licorice play in the fire as you sip. Enjoyable and mellow for a highly peated whisky, with hints of orange oil on the finish. Distilled 1990, 92.8 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $145

SMWS Cask 7.69 – 8 year old Longmorn from Speyside – Very pale yellow. Tons of dessert character on the nose: Vanilla cake, whipped cream, Crepes Suzette. The body doesn’t quite back that promise up. The sweetness isn’t as refined as I’d hope, with more of a tone of processed sugar and marzipan. The whisky is very young, and some of that grainy character seeps through, too. At a whopping 123.2 proof, it’s got a nice burn (but surprisingly isn’t overpowering). Distilled 2003, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $85

SMWS Cask 24.122 – 16 year old Macallan from Speyside – Surprisingly light in color. Perfumed and spicy, with a nose that recalls sweet nougat sitting out in an Indian restaurant. Lots of heat on the body, with its hefty sweetness tempered by incense, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a range of oddities on the finish. (The tasting notes even mention gunpowder.) Atypical for Macallan, but curious. Distilled 1995, 106 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $120

SMWS Cask 30.68 – 10 year old Glenrothes from Speyside – Moderate amber, the darkest of the batch. Aged in a mammoth 700-liter gorda (about 3 times the size of a typical barrel). Pretty orange flower and orange peel notes on the nose. These carry over to the body, but the whisky’s heat gets in the way. Water brings out those citrus notes but also more savory character — mushrooms, wood pulp, and jasmine. Complex and enjoyable but ultimately a touch on the the young side. Distilled 2001, 121.2 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $95

Review: Corsair Triple Smoke Single Barrel American Malt Whiskey

Once in a while, American whiskeymakers do the smoke thing: Corsair (which operates distilleries in both Kentucky and Tennessee) is a small distillery that makes a variety of products. Triple Smoke is created by taking “three fractions of malted barley, each smoked by a different fuel – cherry wood, peat, and beechwood” which is then pot distilled and barreled in new charred oak. For the record (if it matters), Corsair buys the barley pre-smoked. Each bottling is released as a single barrel, so mileage could vary considerably from bottle to bottle.

The nose is deceptive. It’s smoke, but not really peat. Overpowered by the two wood smokes, any sense of Scotch-like brooding is left behind by these much brighter flavors. Beyond that, you’ll need to take a sip…

On the palate, the cherry notes are downright shocking — who knew that the wood of the cherry tree could imbue whiskey with this much cherry flavor? The fruit notes are fresh and strong, backed with lots of sweetness, almost like a Bourbon. But then comes the mid-palate: Honey and graham crackers, perhaps a touch of strawberry jam. The smoke rolls in like fog on the finish, and finally you get that taste of peat. Delightfully, a second finish awaits after the peat fades — a lighter take on that smoky attack, with more of a burnt marshmallow character to it, comes along. Perhaps more layered than any other whiskey I’ve experienced — particularly a young one — Corsair’s Triple Smoke invites discussion and revisiting to a staggering degree.


Corsair Triple Smoke Review: Corsair Triple Smoke Single Barrel American Malt Whiskey

Review: Kilchoman Sherry Cask Release

I’ve been thinking Kilchoman’s young malt whisky releases would benefit from longer sherry finishes for years — and with Sherry Cask Release (yes, “Release” is part of the name), the Scottish (Scots?) distillery finally puts me in my place.

The whisky in this release has been fully matured in Oloroso sherry butts for 5 full years. No time in bourbon casks. All sherry, for 5 years.

This Kilchoman release is just as peaty and smoky as its forebears, but it’s tempered by all that time in sherry (just look at that color). On the nose, the smoke dominates, but the body comes loaded with exotic characteristics: Cream cookies, orange-vanilla frosting, candied orange peel, and oak. The smoke picks back up — I think Kilchoman, on the whole, may be a bit overpeated for its delicacy — in the end, but the combination is quite enchanting. Think sweet and savory, like a good barbeque sauce done in Scottish (Scots? Someone set me straight…) fashion.

6000 bottles made. 600 bottles allocated for the U.S. 92 proof.

A- / $75 /

Kilchoman Sherry Cask Release Review: Kilchoman Sherry Cask Release

Review: Laurenz V. 2010 Charming and 2011 Singing Gruner Veltliner

Recently released: Two new Gruners from our friends at Laurenz V.  Thoughts follow.

2011 Laurenz V. Singing Gruner Veltliner – Bigger body than I was expecting, but underneath that, lots of traditional/typical Gruner character: Big apples, pineapple, touches of melon, and plenty of acidity to leave your mouth clean and fresh after each sip. A- / $16

2010 Laurenz V. Charming Gruner Veltliner – A stronger tropical character on the nose, with a rich body to back it up. Easily mistaken for a Sauvignon Blanc, but with more aromatics and a longer finish. Similar to Singing but with extra depth. A-/ $30

Review: Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy Imperial IPA

Leinenkugel’s may be well-known for its popular Sunset Wheat (which some liken to Fruity Pebbles in ale form) and Berry Weiss beers, but its Big Eddy line is bringing extreme beers to serious craft lovers. The Big Eddy Imperial IPA is the third and newest release in the series, following a Russian Imperial Stout and Scotch Wee Heavy. Sitting at a whopping 9% abv, this imperial IPA strives to look the part of an authentic representation of the style and incorporates five types of hops to further distinguish itself.

Like most “bigger” beers on the market, I would recommend pouring this into a wide-bodied glass with a flared rim to both soak in the appearance and allow the hop aromas to fully develop. Immediately the visual is striking as the IPA pours a burnished copper color with a clear body. A white head slowly starts to billow before finally coming to a rest, but it doesn’t last long and when it’s gone it barely even leaves even a wisp of foam as a cap, which kind of gives this the look of a whiskey. This image is compounded further by the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of lacing either.

Leave it to the hops to steer this back on course faithfully. The nose is potent and immediately delivers a bushel of fruit, from citrus to tropical, with a focus on pineapple, mango, orange, and a bit of grapefruit. There’s a kiss of sweetness near the end, but it is mild and doesn’t draw away from the hops.

Thankfully, the taste continues where the hops left off — with a ton of fruity hoppiness. Despite the brief appearances by the malts that give a subtle brown sugar and toffee flavor, the hops are rightfully at the forefront. I want to clarify that while the hops are the predominant flavor, this isn’t a West Coast hop bomb where the bitterness rips the enamel straight from your teeth, but rather it is a showcase in hop mastery. The Citra and Cascade hops give their distinctive citrus and tropical flavors, while the Simcoe adds to this plus a touch of pine. Finally, the Amarillo adds a dash of spice and earthiness to the finish. A nice combination of sweet and bitter dance on the palate from start to finish and a sticky hop influence burdens the tongue in a pleasant way.

Big Eddy Imperial IPA debuted this June in limited quantities and should hopefully make its way to most markets that Leinenkugel’s currently services. I was pleasantly surprised with this beer and it exceeded my expectations for it. Be on the lookout for this and the next upcoming release in the Big Eddy series, a Baltic Porter, later this year.

A- / $10.99 per 4-pack /

Leinenkugels Big Eddy Imperial IPA Review: Leinenkugels Big Eddy Imperial IPA