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

A Visit to Moonlight Brewery’s Tap Room, Santa Rosa, California

Moonlight Brewery is located in Santa Rosa, California. While it is a small brewer, the brewery is best known for its beer Death and Taxes. We recently visited its tap room, which is on the brewery site.

Unfortunately the brewers were not available to interview. However, the hosts of the tap room were very gracious and friendly, and they offered a look at the boiling tank workroom and the massive, covered brewing kettles. Moonlight may be small, but the size of these boys is impressive.

On tap, six beers were offered, so a sample slat of those was in order. From left to right in the above photo, we tasted:

Toast Burnt Lager – This beer, typically brewed for New Year’s celebrations,  is a light amber body color with a creamy head. At first sip, a nice maltiness is noticeable. The burnt flavor comes through on the back end without being harsh. It is dry and not sweet at all. 6% abv A

Tipple Winter Ale – This dark brown ale is a type of “winter warmer,” brewed for fall and winter. It has a nice, rich, tan head. The first pass under the nose has a citrusy hop note which carries through the first sip. The hoppy overtones are more subtle with the second taste. 6% abv. A

Reality Czeck – A pale yellow pilsner, Reality Czeck is a light and refreshing Czech style beer. It does have the traditional floral hops flavors which are stronger after the first taste, but it reminded me a bit of a Budweiser. 4.8% abv. B

Twist of Fate Bitter Ale – Moonlight calls this English style ale ESB-ish, which means it as a touch of the extra special bittering hops that are noticeable in the taste and scent. I agree this is true to its name. Its hoppiness comes through, but it’s not overpowering. 5.6% abv. A

Lunatic Lager – This lager has a bright yellow body (slightly darker than the Reality Czeck) with a light scent revealing a touch of yeast. It is refreshing with a slight lingering aftertaste which was ever so slightly soapy in texture. 5% abv. B

Death and Taxes – It is a San Francisco style black lager–a common style of lager. The dark, chocolate brown body and thick, creamy, tan head are very welcoming. There are chocolaty notes but more of a dark roast coffee taste than anything. This one remains a favorite. 5% abv. A+

All of these are approximately $7 per 16 oz. draft, depending upon where you buy them.

moonlightbrewing.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: 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

Review: Adler Fels 2015 Chardonnay and 2014 Pinot Noir

Adler Fels is an old California wine brand that, 35 years after its original launch, has rebranded and relaunched with a “renewed commitment to innovative and world-class winemaking and premium sourcing.” From its home in the Mayacamas Mountains, the winery has dropped two releases for the new year, a chardonnay and a pinot noir, both sourced from dual locations. Details — and thoughts — follow.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – A 50-50 blend of Sonoma and Monterey County fruit. Light vanilla notes meld well with notes of apples and pears. While the palate continues to develop more brown butter notes, the wine manages to stay light on its feet thanks to a slight acidity that tempers the back end, ensuring it finishes on the crisp and clean side. A- / $20

2014 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir – 76% Santa Barbara County fruit, 26% Sonoma fruit. A soft and lightly aromatic pinot, gentle with cherries and laced just so with tobacco, vanilla, and dried blueberries. Fresh and lively, it offers plenty of flavor without getting bogged down in a gummy mess. The lightly bittersweet finish gives it depth without blowing out what is otherwise an elegant, lightly herbal denouement. A / $28

adlerfels.com

Review: Hooker’s House Whiskey Experiments – Cohabitation 7/21, Epicenter, Wheat Whiskey, and Rye (2016)

Prohibition Spirits in Sonoma, California is the producer of Hooker’s House whiskey, a line which began with a bourbon and has exploded since then. Today we look at three new bottlings, plus take a fresh look at the company’s rye.

As always, Hooker’s House sources its product from MGP, but all expressions are finished in California, sometimes aggressively and for many years. Let’s dig in.

Hooker’s House Bourbon Cohabitation 7/21 – A solera-style blend of straight bourbon aged in American and French oak, with barrels ranging from 7 to 21 years old. Surprisingly, there’s lots of fruit here, both cherries and orange peel strong on a nose that otherwise offers a fair amount of toasty wood influence. Some mint emerges with a bit of time, as well. On the palate, things follow along as expected. The fruit remains impressive, particularly the cherry character that melds enticingly with notes of eucalyptus, more orange peel, and some cloves. The finish is fairly wood-heavy, a bit ashy at times, but nothing to get worked up about. Rather, it’s a reasonably gentle reminder of the hefty amount of time this bourbon (at least some of it) has spent in barrel, and a badge proving it has come through that ordeal for the better. 94 proof. A / $95

Hooker’s House Epicenter Magnitude 6.0 – This is bottled from high-rye bourbon barrels that were aging in Hooker’s House warehouses during a 6.0 earthquake that Sonoma experienced in 2014. The epicenter of the quake was just three miles away. “Micro-vibrated,” per the label, the whiskey experience 500 aftershocks in the months that followed. No age statement is offered, but the nose indicates mid-range maturity with lingering cereal notes and a significant wood profile. The palate surprises with a sugar bomb of a profile, taking your mind off of the lumberyard for a bit to showcase some tropical pineapple, peach, and brown sugar notes, though the finish is punchy with a resurgence of wood (which is enhanced by the whiskey’s racy 56% abv). I’m not sure what impact the earthquake and aftershocks truly had on this spirit, but I do know it could have stood a bit more time in barrel, tremors or no. 112 proof. B / $47

Hooker’s House Wheat Whiskey – A single barrel, 100% wheat whiskey, quite unusual in the market, but fitting for an avant garde producer like Prohibition. This bottling is youthful, offering loads of fresh cereal notes with a significant sweetness. There’s lumberyard here too, but it’s kept in check by a ton of grassy character, which comes across with the essence of fresh hay, with a touch of rosemary. The finish, much like the bulk of what’s come before it, is quite grainy and simplistic, but pleasant enough. 90 proof. / $33

Hooker’s House Rye (2016) – We’ve seen Hooker’s Rye before, on original release in 2013. As it was then, it remains a 95% rye that is finished in Zinfandel barrels, just like the older version. (The HH website mentions a 100% rye, but the bottle says otherwise.) As it did in 2013, this sounds like it’ll be a masterful mix of spice and sweet, but the balance between the two still isn’t quite right. The nose is lightly astringent and features heavy lumberyard notes with a strongly herbal, at times anise-like, influence. The body features a quick rush of raisiny sweetness before diving headlong back into heavy wood and dusky, earthy, herbal notes — think cloves, anise, and scorched grains. The back end offers a distant echo of raisiny sweetness, but it’s a long time coming. 94 proof. B / $45

prohibition-spirits.com

Review: Three Holiday Ales for 2016 – Bear Republic, The Bruery, St. Bernardus

Holidays always bring out the specialty brews to the delight of many beer and ale aficionados, including me. Most of these beers and ales are good for any fall holiday and work well into New Year’s Eve. Here are three ales are sure to please you as much as they did me. I recommend them all as nice sipping beverages.

First up is ‘Twas the Beer Before Christmas, a December 2016 release from Bear Republic. It is extremely rare, with only 384 bottles produced, and it is only available through Bear’s Wild Club. Its description: “Peanut butter roast malt character, dried apricot dustiness, clean tartness, cognac from Old Baba Yaga.”

This ale is barrel aged up to eighteen months. It consists of a combination of Bear Republic’s Old Baba Yaga, Tartare Noir, Tartare Apricot, and Epic. It is a light sour, though it has a thick, chocolaty head and dark brown body. When held up to light, a nice red sheen shines through.

The sour comes over lightly on the nose, bringing tart cherries to mind. However, it is not an overpowering sour but does make the mouth water with each sip. As the beer warms to room temperature, the sourness lightens to a nice tartness. The peanut is not immediately prevalent, but there are also hints of oak throughout. 8.7 % abv. B / $30 per 750ml bottle

Next we have 9 Ladies Dancing from The Bruery. It is a Belgian strong dark ale. Its description: “Inspired by flavors and ingredients found in tiramisu, including lady fingers, 9 Ladies Dancing mimics the Italian dessert by whipping together flavor combinations and layers of its own. This includes notes of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee.”

This ale has a dark, nutty brown body with a nice, creamy, ivory head. The scent has a light chocolate overtone. The taste is smooth with the cocoa nibs and vanilla flavors coming through, followed by soft spices. I left a glass in the refrigerator, exposed to air, for a half hour which brought out the chocolate and coffee notes with stronger clarity. This is a beverage to sip, with friends, in front of a warm fire on a cold night. 11.3% abv. A / $11 per 25.4 oz. bottle

My personal favorite is a Belgian Abbey from St. Bernardus: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. Its description: “St. Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice, and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars.”

This ale is bottle conditioned. It has a rich brown body with a red overtones. The sparkling ivory head is velvety and large.

Initially the sweet scent of malt come forth and warms as the ale gets to room temperature. Overtones of crisp apple intensify with the warming as well. There are no notes of wood or citrus. I noticed a light zing on the tip of my tongue at the back end of each sip. However, there are no lingering aftertastes.

This ale brings to mind pleasant images of watching holiday carolers. 10% abv. A / $11 per 25.4 oz. bottle

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