Review: The Feathery Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Feathery_btSpencerfield Spirit Co. makes some relatively well-known blended whiskies (at least in whisky nerd circles), Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip. Now it’s back with a new blended malt (no grain whisky added, only various single malts): The Feathery.

The name is a reference to the first golf ball (golfing being sacred in Scotland), which were made of leather and stuffed with bird feathers. That doesn’t have a lot to do with what’s in the bottle as far as I can tell — The Feathery is a collection of Highland malts, all first-fill sherry cask matured. It’s got as much to do with feathers as it does with octopi.

Let’s try it all the same.

The nose is much bigger than I expected, with intense notes of walnut, almond, leather oil, and dark caramel. A touch of salt air is a nod toward this whisky’s Highland origins.

The body backs up the nose fairly closely, its heavily nutty character the most prominent element. Brooding sherry notes back up the core, offering a natural companion to all those almonds and walnuts. Notes of chocolate, burnt caramel, vanilla, and a bit of candied ginger add nuance and interesting counterpoints to the nutty core. The finish is modest, fading before it has outstayed its welcome.

All told, this is one of the best blended malts I’ve encountered all year, and any fan of malt whisky will do himself a service by tracking down a bottle.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / spencerfieldspirit.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Metze’s Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Metze's Select

It’s not the end of an era, it’s the beginning of one. MGP Ingredients, the Indiana distillery where oh so much bourbon is produced and sold to other companies for bottling under their own label, is finally — for the first time — releasing its own whiskey.

Metze’s Select “2015 Medley” is a limited release of 6,000 numbered bottles. The company is being quite straightforward about what’s inside — which includes three different bourbons made over the years at MGP. Those bourbons are all rye-based and include 38% 2006 bourbon (21% rye), 3% 2006 bourbon (36% rye), and 59% 2008 bourbon (21% rye). For the math disinclined, that about half 7 year old bourbon, half 9 year old bourbon, all relatively high rye in composition.

Metze’s tastes familiar, probably because you’ve had it before in some form or another. Super sweet from the start, the nose is loaded with butterscotch notes, chocolate, and a touch of menthol. The palate takes that sweetness and runs with it, offering a big creme brulee character with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, brown butter, and some cherry on the finish. Slightly overproof, it’s got bite, but it’s wholly manageable without water — and the alcohol really just serves to boost the spicy component.

This is a fun bourbon, but its nearly singular focus on sweetness (with a minor in rye-driven baking spices) comes at the expense of nuance. Hard to complain too loudly, though. I can’t wait to see what MGP decides to pull out of its archives next.

93 proof.

A- / $75 / mgpingredients.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: The Macallan Highland Single Malt Edition No. 1

Macallan No. 1

Never shy about innovating, The Macallan Edition No. 1 is the first bottling in a new limited edition series from one of Scotland’s titans, with new expressions to be released annually.

Per the company: The inaugural bottle’s theme is co-creation, while showcasing our mastery of wood. Each year, a special selection of oak casks will be handpicked to create a new Edition, inspired by Macallan lovers from around the world and co-created with different partners. The proportions of various cask types were hand-selected by master whisky maker Bob Dalgarno. Edition No. 1 is matured in 8 unique European and American oak cask styles and sizes, each contributing their own distinct character.

Of those eight casks, seven are sherry and only one is American oak. No. 1 is a clear callback to the distillery’s heavily-sherried history, downright biting from the get-go with big citrus and spice notes. Punchy and lightly medicinal on the nose, those rich sherry notes kick things off in classic Macallan style. On the tongue, the whisky offers a big slug of orange oil and marmalade that winds its way into notes of toasted marshmallow, cloves, incense, and oily leather. The lengthy finish echoes more citrus, plus notes of sweet dates, raisins, and a touch of lumberyard.

All told, this is a knockout expression from Macallan, offered at a much lower price than I would think the company could fetch for such a flavorful monster that has such a storied history. Hell, I’d buy it.

96 proof.

A- / $90 / themacallan.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Wines of Lodi Native, 2013 Vintage

002

Lodi is an area that most California wine fans are familiar with, especially if they enjoy a glass of Zin once in a while. 40 percent of all Zinfandel grown in California comes from this region, and it has the highest proportion of old vine Zin in the state – with some active, still-producing vines dating back to the 1880s.

But Lodi isn’t often thought of when it comes to high-end or natural winemaking. Many of the wines here are unabashedly manipulated and doctored, attempts to make them palatable while keeping prices low.

Lodi Native is an altogether different idea. The project got its start in 2012, when a half-dozen winemakers got it in their head to try natural winemaking in Lodi. This wasn’t a terribly popular idea, but these folks charged ahead nonetheless, putting together a series of six single-vineyard Zinfandels from all around Lodi with the intent of showcasing Lodi’s terroir. These wines are all natural, with only sulfur dioxide added – the wines have all native yeasts, no inoculation, no acidification, no oak chips or similar, no water, and so on. These are predominantly Old Vine Zins meant to showcase exactly what that means.

2012’s wines were a hit – though this is not really designed as a commercial project; rather it’s primarily an educational opportunity – and the group is back with a second round. Recently I had the opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage of Lodi Native wines — complete with discussion with all of the winemakers — and here are my thoughts on the lot.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Fields Family Wines – Smells a bit corky (as do all of these wines, actually… all a little funky on the nose), with lots of earth and vegetal notes. Give the body time and fruit finally emerges. B

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Maley Brothers – Lots of dense berry fruit here, massive in body, with classic chocolate notes. Quite sweet, very much in line with Lodi Zin. B+

2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard McCay Cellars – An earthier expression, with herbal notes and a sultry body. Restrained and balanced. B+

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard St. Amant – The big winner of the group, with amazingly ripe and juicy blueberry notes. Balanced with wood character on the long finish, a real delight. A

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Macchia – Lots of red fruit, tea leaf, and some baking spices. Long and lightly sweet finish. A-

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard m2 Wines – Classically dense, extracted Zinfandel, almost loke a dessert wine. Intense, but quite enjoyable with loads of flavor. A-

$180 for the case of six wines / lodinative.com

Review: 2013 Starmont Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Starmont-2013-Carneros-PinotTwo new releases from our friends at Starmont, Merryvale’s sister winery and an all-around great value label.

2013 Starmont Chardonnay Carneros – A mere $23 will get you this masterfully made Chardonnay, which balances buttery oak with fresh pears and a dusting of cinnamon sugar. A touch of acid on the finish brightens things up. A- / $23

2013 Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros – Light body, with simple fruit elements all up front — cherries and a touch of strawberry — with backing notes of brewed tea, some baking spice, and a gentle finish. A- / $27

starmontwinery.com

Tasting the Wines of Gil Family Estates – 2015 Releases

Juan Gil SilverEstablished in 1916 in the Jumilla region of Spain by Juan Gil Jiménez, the Gil Family Estates empire now spans four generations of winemakers. Today, Gil Family Estates operates nine bodegas in eight different appelations, with a continued goal of producing high-end wines at a good value.

We recently tasted five different bottlings from Gil Family Estates, representing its holdings from across the country. Thoughts follow.

2013 Juan Gil Jumilla – 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) from the home vineyard in Jumilla, in the southeast of Spain. A very chocolate-driven wine, the lush berry fruit goes on and on, layering in an almost chocolate syrup character with a seductive, lengthy finish. A really beautiful wine, and one that makes me wonder why more people aren’t toying with 100% Mourvedre wines. A- / $17

2013 Can Blau Monsant – 40% Mazuelo, 40% Syrah, 25% Garnacha. The Monstant region surrounds Priorat in the northeast of Spain, near Barcelona, and this wine is made in a similar style, though it’s not nearly as dense and rooty. A touch of balsamic gives the fruit — blackberry and some blueberry — an edge, along with chocolate notes that come along on the finish. Nice density, and quite food friendly. B+ / $17

2013 Tridente Tempranillo – 100% Tempranillo from western Spain, near the Portuguese border. A dark and dense wine, it features leathery and peppery notes atop a darkly fruity, almost raisiny core. Heavy tannin and dusty coal notes pervade. B+ / $17

2013 Atteca Old Vines – 100% Garnacha from Calatayud in northeast Spain. Intense fruit here drives the show, bright strawberry and cherry, with light touches of cola and root beer on the finish. One of the most fruit-forward wines in this collection, with a bright, New World structure. B+ / $17

2014 Laya Almansa – 70% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Monastrell. From Almansa in the southeast of Spain. A bit of a bummer after some high-quality wines preceding it, with this dense wine loaded with cassis and ultimately prune character, before settling into a chocolate candy-meets-raisin routine. Saccharine and simplistic, it’s easy enough at first, but over time it becomes off-putting. C+ / $9

gilfamily.es

The Glenrothes Retrospective: 2001, 1994, 1991, 1985 and 25 Years Old Single Malt

vintage1985After our recent trip to The Glenrothes in Scotland, we were sent home with a collection of bottlings representing the company’s whisky production back to the early 1980s. Let’s take a walk into the past with a look back at five Glenrothes expressions, most of which are no longer in production but which you can still find somewhere on the market these days.

All whiskies are 86 proof. Prices are all based on 2015 sales.

The Glenrothes 2001 Single Malt – A fresh look at a whisky (an exuberant 11 years old, bottled in 2012) we’ve seen before. Nice malt backbone, and very, very gentle. An everyday dram at its heart, it nonetheless offers nuance and complexity in the form of coconut, red fruit, allspice, and light chocolate notes — but by and large it lets the grain-driven malt notes do the talking. A solid, easy-drinker. B+ / $53

The Glenrothes 1994 Single Malt – 11 years old, bottled in 2006. More citrus driven than the typical Glenrothes, here we see sherry having its way with the spirit, imbuing it with notes of orange peel, cloves, and some darker stuff underneath — licorice, burnt coconut, and some dark chocolate. Engaging, if considerably more fruit forward than the typical Glenrothes. B+ / $100

The Glenrothes 1991 Single Malt – 13 years old, bottled in 2005. Nicely sherried, with some more savory notes here — featuring roasted meats, dried herbs, and some charred wood. Solid fruit elements (lots of lemon) emerge alongside just a hint of sea spray. Dried fruits and a touch of incense emerge on the finish, making for a complex and nicely balanced dram. A- / $225

The Glenrothes 1985 Single Malt – 19 years old, bottled in 2005. Medicinal on the nose, which is a real surprise. This fades with time, however, leading to a quite delightful palate.  The body is nutty — again, a departure for Glenrothes — with secondary notes of leather, dried plum, and cloves. At first a bit closed off, this really grew on me over time. Worthwhile. A- / $200

The Glenrothes 25 Years Old Limited Release Single Malt – A rarity for Glenrothes — age statemented rather than vintage dated. That said, this was bottled in 2007, making it the equivalent of a “Glenrothes 1982,” if anyone cares to check my math. Again, a departure: The nose offers notes of almonds, beef jerky, camphor, and orange peel, all in a thick melange. On the tongue, the citrus is tempered by bready notes, more roasted nuts, and a long, slightly smoky, caramel-fueled finish. Once again, give this some time before you judge this dram. It needs more than a few minutes to properly open up and show all its charms. When it does, get ready for the fireworks. A- / $380

theglenrothes.com

Review: Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskeys

lovell bros Georgia Sour Mash WhiskeyAs the story goes, this line of “sour mash whiskeys” — basically liquor made from corn that’s cut with a little malted barley — got its start in Mt. Airy, Georgia thanks to Carlos Lovell, the son of a son of a son of a moonshiner who finally decided to take the 150-year-old family business legit. Lovell Bros. was officially launched in 2012 — when Carlos was 84 years old.

What you’re looking at is fancy moonshine, though Carlos would probably bristle at that term. Both of these products — one straight white dog, one lightly aged — are the real deal and incredible bargains alike.

Let’s taste.

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash (White Whiskey) – Rustic on the nose, this unaged whiskey feels like it’s going to be a moon-shiny heat bomb, but those aromas of grain and petrol lead to some surprising places. Namely, there’s lots of fruit on the palate of this white spirit, apples and peaches and coconut — before some gentle notes of roasted grains wash over the lot. The finish is warming and lengthy with hints of chocolate, soothing and coming across as anything but the firewater you might expect. As good a white whiskey as you’re going to find on the market today. 95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $23

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey – Take the above and age it for an unstated amount of time in old Jack Daniel’s barrels and you have this, distinguished by the brown color and the addition of the word “whiskey” to the name. A surprising degree of lumberyard wafts across the nose, washing back much of the inherent grain character present in the white dog. Some baking spice and vanilla notes mingle with the wood, too. But as with the white whiskey, the body again tells a different tale than the nose. Here we find stronger baking spices, more baked apples than fresh ones, and a woodsy, frontier character that arrives almost with a smoky note. Very young, but surprisingly easy to sip on — and with none of the lingering heat of the white dog. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5. B+ / $23

lovellbroswhiskey.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old Experiments

buffalo trace OFSM Experimental Sept 15

The latest round of experiment bourbons from Buffalo Trace are a return to its roots: using an “old fashioned” method to sour the mash.

Wait, isn’t all bourbon made with a “sour mash?” Yes, but as BT explains it, all sour mash is not created equal. I’ll let them take it away:

Distilled in May of 2002, this Old Fashioned Sour Mash experiment used Buffalo Trace’s proprietary mash.  The bourbon was cooked and cooled to standard; however, the similarities stop there. The mash was allowed “to sour” before yeast was added to start the fermentation process, a method long abandoned due to its more laborious process.

This sour mash method differs from the more common process used today by nearly all bourbon manufacturers. The routine method calls for cooking and cooling the mash, and then immediately adding yeast and a small amount of previously distilled mash (or “setback”) as it cools to sour the mash.   The traditional old-fashioned sour mash process fell out of favor many years ago, and it was not until a gathering of distillery “old timers” that Buffalo Trace was inspired to revive it.

The experiment portion of the whiskey concerns entry proof — two versions of the above whiskey were made, one entered the barrel at 105 proof, one at 125 proof. Both were aged for 13 years on the seventh floor of Warehouse I.

How do they stack up with each other? Let’s dig in.

Both are bottled, as usual for the BTEC, at 90 proof.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 105 Entry Proof – This is very uncharacteristic bourbon both for Kentucky and for Buffalo Trace in particular. The nose offers wood and spice, but also notes of camphor and dried flowers. The body takes this and runs — from the fields to the cedar closet and back again — offering drying herbal notes and licorice. A bit of toffee on the back end reminds you this is bourbon and not some weird Scandinavian whiskey. B-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 125 Entry Proof – More going on here. Brown butter, vanilla, butterscotch, and baking spices all find a home in the nose — overall fairly traditional stuff. The body has echoes of the herbal funk of the 105 — particularly up front — but features a sweeter, more candylike character with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. This is easily the more palatable of the two whiskeys, but it’s also the more interesting, as the lightly herbal elements provide some balance and nuance to an otherwise traditional bourbon structure. One to explore if you can grab a bottle. A-

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Goral Vodka

Goral Vodka MASTERWith its bottle design seemingly inspired by Sputnik, all chrome and curves and black and red lettering, you may be forgiven for assuming Goral Vodka hails from Russia. Not so, it’s Slovakian, where distiller Jan Krak says he has “dedicated his entire life” to mastering the creation of vodka.

Goral is farily traditional in construct: made from winter wheat, column distilled 7 times, then filtered 7 times through a variety of materials.

The nose is pure, astringent with medicinal notes, and tinged with lemon — and the slightest hint of sweetness. On the tongue, the spirit strikes hot and hard, a layer of antiseptic, then one of gentle herbs. The finish recalls some ephemeral notes of vanilla, not so much sweet as it is wintry, an aftertaste of hot chocolate residue left in a cold mug on a snowy day. Good stuff.

80 proof.

A- / $24 / goralvodka.sk