Review: The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection

Single Cask Range with Box

I scratched my head, too: Why would a major producer of Scotch whisky name a series of high-end releases after a train invented in the United States? We’ve got the full story, courtesy of The Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet has been a standard-setting luxury brand for nearly 200 years, appealing to whisky connoisseurs looking for a rare expression steeped in heritage and history. The brand’s historical ties to the Pullman Company, a pioneer of first-class railroad travel, are due in large part to the business savvy Captain Bill Smith Grant, Founder George Smith’s last distilling descendant. Grant was able to persuade the Pullman Company to offer 2-ounce miniatures of The Glenlivet as one of the only Scotch whiskies available in the dining cars helping to spread the whisky’s fame across the US.

To commemorate this piece of The Glenlivet’s history, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection are three new, special-edition Single Cask whiskies marking the first time ever the brand has released a Single Cask in this market and available exclusively in the US. The name of each bottle is inspired by the Pullman connection: Pullman Club Car, Pullman Twentieth Century Limited, and Pullman Water Level Route.

Founded on the three pillars of rarity, purity, and uniqueness, each Single Cask within the Pullman Train Collection is hand-selected by Master Distiller, Alan Winchester. Chosen for its exceptional quality and intense flavor, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition has been transferred from cask to bottle purely, at their natural cask strength and without chill filtration, therefore locking in the original flavor and character from the cask’s influence. Only a few hundred bottles of whisky were drawn from each cask, making them a highly collectible and unique Single Malt series.

Though it might seem like a natural fit, these are not travel retail releases but will rather be released — obviously in very small amounts — to the general market in the U.S. only. As these are three single-cask releases, each expression is limited to just a few hundred bottles.

With that said, all aboard! Let’s try ’em!

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route – “The original high-speed train” connected Chicago and New York. 14 years old, matured fully in an American oak hogshead. This is a solid example of bourbon-barrel matured single malt. Heavy on the nose with caramel and spice, florals burst forth with time in the glass. On the palate, a warm and lightly grainy attack gives way graciously to a mountain of dense chocolate, chewy nougat, and a touch of candied orange peel. The finish is lengthy and full of warmth, finishing with gentle notes of caramel and vanilla. Again, it’s a textbook example of how glorious unsherried single malt can be. 111.88 proof. 321 bottles produced. A  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition 20th Century Limited – The most famous train in the world at the time, this was the train that took the aforementioned Water Route from NYC to Chicago. This whisky is also 14 years old, but aged in a refill European oak butt that was previously used for another Scotch whisky. Bright on the nose with honey and nutmeg notes, with time it evolves aromas of camphor and mint. On the palate, the unctuous body offers notes of gingerbread, marzipan, and cloves. A light smattering of sherry-like citrus peel notes emerge primarily on the finish, rounding things out with a bit of zip. Not quite as lush as the Water Route, but an easy winner in its own right. 115.46 proof. 588 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Club Car – Finally we get to the Club Car, essentially the bar car, where Glenlivet would have been served on the train. This is an 18 year old whisky drawn from sherry butts. By far the darkest and richest whisky in this lineup, the nose offers notes of first-fill sherry, heavy with sherry and complemented by prominent baking spices, cocoa powder, and butterscotch. The palate plays up the above, adding ample notes of apricots, peaches, toasted marshmallow, and a creeping impression of barrel char. Again this is a fantastically well-structured whisky — all of these barrels were clearly chosen for a reason — that offers complexity and nuance alike. 112.48 proof. 618 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

each $350 / theglenlivet.com

Review: Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” 2016

Booker's Rye Bottle + Box Lifestyle Shot

It is easily the most notorious whiskey release of the year, but Booker Noe — otherwise known exclusively for bourbon — couldn’t have predicted such when he decided to lay down some rye barrels in 2003. (Noe died in 2004, but his name has lived on in his namesake bourbon.) Apparently he took the mashbill information on this whiskey — believed to be about 70% rye — with him.

Now, 13 years (and 1 month and 12 days) later — roughly double the time that Booker’s Bourbon spends in cask — Beam Suntory has turned out those barrels and bottled them at cask strength. It is the first and so far only rye whiskey released under the Booker’s name, a very well-aged, one-off release that is turning heads mainly because of one thing: A $300 price tag.

Rye is red hot right now, but this release now has observers wondering whether we’ve hit “Peak Rye.” Even cult-level rye bottlings like WhistlePig’s rare bottlings don’t command that kind of coin. You have to look at the tiny number of Sazerac 18 Year Old bottles out there if you want to find any competition in the price range.

Ah well, let’s see what’s inside these ritzy bottles, shall we?

The nose is intense, one of the richest and most powerful I’ve encountered in an American whiskey in a long time. Huge aromas of toffee, barrel char, and licorice are backed by notes of orange marmalade, ginger, and torched brown sugar. The nose just goes and goes — it’s one of those rare whiskeys that is intensely enjoyable without ever taking a sip.

And yet, sip we must, and said sip is glorious. At 68% alcohol, Booker’s Rye ought to be a blazer, but it’s surprisingly gentle and easily approachable even at full strength. The body is complex and soaked through with notes of molasses-dark caramel, flambeed banana, tons of cloves, and Port wine. While it isn’t required, water doesn’t hurt, coaxing out more up-front sweetness to endure on the finish. All told, it’s a dramatic, powerful, and beautiful whiskey, perfectly aged and well worth sampling should you manage to encounter one of the few bottles that were produced.

Have we arrived at Peak Rye? You better believe it. Does it matter? As long as the whiskey turns out this amazingly: No.

136.2 proof.

A / $300 / bookersbourbon.com

Review: Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve, Complete Lineup (2016)

milagro single barrel

Milagro is a run-of-the-mill tequila brand that nonetheless produces one of the most expensive product lines in Mexico, the Select Barrel Reserve line, which comes packaged in an elaborate bottle designed to look like an agave plant erupting from the interior of the decanter. It’s a neat trick that earns some premium coin for these three expressions.

We previously reviewed the silver Milagro SBR bottling back in 2010, but have never covered the rest of the lineup. Until now.

Here’s a fresh look at the 2016 silver bottling of the Select Barrel Reserve, plus the reposado and anejo versions.

All expressions are 80 proof.

Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Silver – Mellowed for 30 days in French oak before bottling (presumably after filtering back to clear). Strongly peppery and a bit vegetal on the nose, with no trace of sweetness. The body tells a much different story, offering cotton candy, marshmallows, and bubble gum notes, leading to a lingering vanilla-scented finish. A curious and often engaging sipping tequila, though one that doesn’t drink much like a silver at all. B+ / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Reposado – Aged from three to six months in a combination of French and American oak. Similar aromas to the silver, though some baking spice aromas develop with time in glass. The body offers some wood notes, with notes of chocolate, coconut, and lemongrass. Some peppery agave bite endures on the finish, giving this more complexity than the silver shows off. A- / $56  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo – Aged from 14 to 24 months in a combination of French and American oak. Here we see the SBR really showing its strengths. The nose melds sweet vanilla with peppery and herbal agave notes, all put together with inviting and enticing balance. On the palate, the yin-yang story continues — a more intense version of the reposado presenting itself. The sweetness is relatively restrained, its vanilla and spun sugar notes pulling back into a sort of sugar cookie character. The finish nods at herbaciousness, but this too is minimalistic in tone, adding a slightly savory balance to what is otherwise a sugar-forward spirit. All told it works very well, showing off many of anejo tequila’s more engaging characteristics at their best. A / $100  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

milagrotequila.com [BUY THEM ALL NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin Peat Barreled and Barrel Reserve

big gin

Seattle-based Captive Spirits makes one thing and one thing only: gin, and lots of it. The company recently expanded its Big Gin line from two to a total of four expressions. The line now includes one standard bottling and three barrel aged versions. Just added, a “peat barreled” version, which is rested in peated whiskey casks, and a barrel reserve bottling, which spends three years in cask and is bottled at higher proof.

Today we look at both of these aged expressions. Note that Big Gin uses the same botanical bill for all its gins; only the barrel treatment differs. The standard collection: juniper, coriander, bitter orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, orris, cardamom, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Big Gin Peat Barreled – With this new expression, the straight expression of Big Gin is rested for four months in Westland Distillery’s Peated Single Malt barrels. Before their time at Westland, these barrels held Wild Turkey bourbon, making this round #3 for the casks. The peat is understated but present here, showing the nose notes of light smoke, some menthol, and ginger. The palate is more familiar and in line with traditional, unaged gins, showcasing juniper, coriander, cracked black pepper, and a smattering of earthy spices, though any citrus notes present in the original gin are dulled by the cask treatment — I don’t really get any of that orange peel here at all. The finish finds some caramel and vanilla notes lingering, the strongest hint of the whiskey barrel coming through. All told, this is a hearty gin that offers a rather classic construction with just the right amount of spin on it (plus a touch of color). I wouldn’t have thought peat and gin would make for compelling companions, but Big Gin Peat Barreled proves me distinctly wrong. 94 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #3-5. A- / $35

Big Gin Barrel Reserve – This is the same gin as Big Gin’s Bourbon Barreled Gin (which we haven’t reviewed), except it is aged for three years instead of just six months in once-used Heaven Hill bourbon casks. It is also bottled at higher proof — 103.5 instead of 94. This is an exotic and compelling gin that merits (and requires) some serious thought. On the nose, heavy whiskey notes prevail — vanilla and cloves, plus some barrel char — while notes of juniper and mint take a secondary role. The combination is immediately both mysterious and engaging and drives you into an even more enigmatic body. Here a rush of alcohol gets things started, then a cascade of flavors hit the palate. First fruit and chocolate notes, then a hit of evergreen (cedar, perhaps), more mint/menthol, and black pepper. The chocolate makes a return appearance on the finish, which takes on an engaging and unusual cinnamon-studded Mexican chocolate character. Combined with the higher alcohol level, it makes for a warming and sweet conclusion to an experience that is on point from start to finish. Some may call this a gin for whiskey fans, and they wouldn’t be wrong. I, for one, don’t see a problem there. 103.5 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #01. A / $NA

captivespiritsdistilling.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series, The Hook, Daily Grind, and Sublime

starr hill Four Kings

A  whopping seven new releases from Starr Hill, including a series of four IPAs which are variations on the theme, bottled under the “King of Hop” moniker.

Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – The base IPA, dry hopped with a variety of American hops and pumped up to the full, west-coast effect. Ample citrus notes find a pleasant companion in a healthy slug of piney hops, with a light mushroom character underpinning it. A classic IPA from start to finish, it’s a refreshing exemplar of the style. 7.5% abv. A

Starr Hill King of Hop Lemon-Lime Imperial IPA – The lemon/lime notes are understated, just a quick rush of lemon flavor on first sip, then ample hops following, providing the standard piney, earthy, slightly citrusy notes present in the unflavored version. Together the lemon/lime and hops components make for a pretty and refreshing finish — but then again when did a squeeze of lime not make for a natural companion to beer? 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Grapefruit Imperial IPA – You can’t escape grapefruit in beer these days, but in Starr Hill’s grapefruitized IPA you won’t even notice it. Virtually indistinguishable from the unflavored version, maybe it’s like having vitamins in your beer. “Fortified” with grapefruit? I taste nothing different here at all, but nonetheless I’m giving it a half a grade off for being ineffectively flavored… and for the threat of the vitamins. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Habanero Imperial IPA – Exactly what you’re expecting, a hop-heavy IPA with the thrill of heat hitting hard on the finish. The first sip is off-putting. From there you get used to the spicy finish fairly quickly. On its own it’s a bit disjointed, but as a strange mirror to the standard grade King of Hop, it’s worth a peek, particularly if you’re into the spicy stuff. 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Yes, more grapefruit! And here you can taste it a bit more clearly, the strong upfront hops giving way to a burst our sweet-and-sour citrus, before finishing on a lightly earthy, leathery note. Quite a nice flow, and well balanced. 4.9% abv. A-

Starr Hill Daily Grind Peppercorn Farmhouse Ale – I hear “daily grind” and immediately think coffee, but this is a spicy, peppercorn-based beer that folds in bold citrus notes, plus apple cider, sticky toffee, and ample malt. (That said, I get almost nothing in the way of pepper within.) There’s something to like in this beer but it’s a bit all over the map — and the heavy residual sweetness on the finish fatigues the palate. 6.2% abv. B-

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – A bold wheat brew, loaded with malty cereal notes plus ample citrus peel, grapefruit peel, and a touch of nutmeg. Refreshing, and with just a touch more going on than your typical wit bier. 4.7% abv. B+

each about $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Tasting Report: Hardy Cognac

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I recently had the good fortune to taste Cognac with one of its grande dames, Benedicte Hardy, one of the proprietor’s of the Cognac Hardy house in France.

Benedicte recently visited San Francisco and treated a number of media and trade professionals to a deep dive into Hardy’s “Anniversary Series” lineup at the city’s legendary seafood palace, Scoma’s. Five different spirits were tasted, along with savory bites, cheeses, and chocolates from Michael Recchiuti.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Hardy XO Cognac – Hardy ages its XO for a minimum of 20 years, a long time in this business. This is a blend of grand champagne and petit champagne eaux de vie, which exhibits spicy notes up front, with butterscotch and loads of baking spices on the body. A touch of astringency leads to a nutty finish, with notes of chocolate backing it up. Clean but quite rich. A- / $100  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Hardy Noces de Perle “Pearl” – This cognac carries no age statement but is blended solely from barrels that are 30 years old (“no more, no less”) — very unusual in Cognac. Pure grande champagne eau de vie, from here on out. Feminine and delicate at first, the Cognac presents increasing notes of vanilla and butterscotch as it develops. Floral elements emerge on the finish, making for a very pretty and engaging spirit. (Price may be high.) A / $900

Hardy Noces d’Or – “Gold” for the 50 year anniversary — though it’s the only bottling in this series that doesn’t have a formal English nickname. Much like the Rosebud, this is made entirely from 50 year old spirit. Richer and nuttier, with stronger notes of citrus peel, red berries, and some leather and tobacco notes. A more powerful expression that has a lot in common with the XO. A- / $225

Hardy Noces de Diamant “Diamond” – 60 years old. More fruit here, particularly up front, though the back end is a bit dulled by a significant wood influence, which overpowers some of the sweeter caramel and vanilla notes at the core. Still a lovely expression. A- / $700

Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” – This is a slight departure from the above, a blend of Cognacs aged between 75 and 100 years; an extreme rarity, only 500 bottles have been sold to date worldwide. The nose starts with sultry incense, grapefruit, and golden raisins. The body takes all the sunshine and elevates it with beautiful bursts of citrus, light sandalwood, and some strawberry. The finish holds the brightness, offering a touch of toffee and a hint of pie crust. Perfect spirits are hard to come by, but Rosebud is clearly one of them. I guess Charles Foster Kane knew what he was talking about. A+ / $2250

hardycognac.fr

Review: Stone Enjoy By 05.30.16 Tangerine IPA

stone enjoy by 053016

You’ve got only 18 more days to enjoy this very limited release from Stone, so you best get busy.

Once you crack into Stone’s latest, a “tangerine IPA” made with 12 different hop varieties plus pureed tangerines. it won’t be hard to enjoy what the brewery has cooked up. Ample hoppiness is paired with fresh, sweet tangerine juice, bouncing this brew between bitter and sweet, back and forth, back and forth. It’s the balance, though, that works just about perfectly here, the sweetness tempering the bitterness just enough to make this a thirst-quenching, yet surprisingly complex, experience.

IPA fans need to their mitts on a bottle, pronto.

9.4% abv.

A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / enjoyby.stonebrewing.com