Review: Journeyman Kissing Cousins and Three Oaks Single Malt

journeyman kissing cousinsMichigan’s Journeyman Distillery continues to crank out the whiskey, and recently we received two new offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey – This is a selection of Featherbone bourbon that is finished in a Wyncroft Winery 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon barrel. An annual release, this is the third edition of Kissing Cousins. The finished product is a blend of sweet, bourbon-driven vanilla notes, mushroomy earth, and a bit of popcorn on the finish. The wine barrel finishing tempers the rustic character of Featherbone quite a bit, but still leaves behind plenty of chewy grains and coal-dust notes, ensuring you don’t mistake this for the mass produced stuff. 90 proof. B+ / $33 (375ml)

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt – This one’s a real surprise. This is the second batch of Three Oaks (the first was in 2013), a 100% organic malted barley whiskey with an exotic aging regimen. As the distillery writes, “The spirit spends its first year and a half in used Featherbone Bourbon barrels. From there it is moved into used Road’s End Rum barrels for nearly a year and then is finished for two months in used port casks imported from northern Portugal. The whiskey spends a total of 32 months in the barrels.” The resulting spirit is mahogany brown, with an aroma of coffee, dark chocolate, coconut, and cloves. On the palate, it’s intensely rich, with clear port wine notes, a sweet backbone of caramel and Bananas Foster, and some roasted grain notes on the finish. There’s plenty of complexity here, with echoes of toasted coconut, rum raisin, and hints of amari. Hard to put down and engaging through and through, I have no trouble stating that this is one of the best single malts being produced in America today. 90 proof. A / $47

Review: Laphroaig 15 Years Old Scotch Whisky

Laphroaig_15YO_BottleImageThough it was introduced 30 years ago, Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a bottling that has come and gone over the years. For a short while, however, it’s back, with this expression being re-released in honor of the company’s 200th anniversary. That said, nothing has technically changed with the production of the spirit vs. older bottlings, but this one does at least come with bonus sentimental value.

Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a quieter expression of the spirit, where it’s just finding its balance between the peat blast it offers at 10 years old and the more fruity notes that emerge at 18 and 25 years old.

At this point in its maturity, the whisky offers a smoky nose that also showcases gentle honey alongside notes of yellow flowers. The peat however is dialed back significantly, creating the essence of a branch of mesquite that’s been thrown atop a barbecue pit. Citrus notes are present on the palate but they’re understated — a squeeze of lemon and a shaving of grapefruit peel — with some simple syrup adding a layer of sweetness atop the delicate layer of smoke.

At just 86 proof the whisky is remarkably easy-drinking, almost overly so — it sips almost like a mezcal-based Paloma, mixing citrus and smoke into a beautiful, satisfying whole.

Really lovely. Snap it up if you see it.


Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Forged Oak Bourbon 15 Years Old

Orphan Barrel_Forged Oak Bottle Shot

The fifth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series is one of the best in the lineup. “Found by foraging the Stitzel-Weller warehouses,” it was produced at Bernheim in 1997-1998 from a mash of 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye. Barrel age is 15 years.

I’m not sure what “Forged Oak” is supposed to refer to, but the whiskey that bears its name doesn’t really evoke either of the words. On the nose, there’s lots going on: dense vanilla, gingerbread, and then some exotic stuff: namely distinct lemongrass and coconut notes (I start craving Thai food immediately). The body includes that vanilla punch plus some tropical notes, then a sweet butterscotch push as it builds on the palate. The finish takes the bourbon into darker territory — more lumber and a touch of Madeira. That may sound like a bummer after all the ephemeral fun that’s come before, but it’s actually a nice counterbalance to what’s come before — and what follows in the next sip.

90.5 proof.

A / $75 /

Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection from SF Wine Trading

four roses private sf

Wow, another Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection offering in the space of a month and our third to date. This one hails from the San Francisco Wine Trading Company, which I bet you can guess the location of.

SF Wine Trading’s Four Roses bottling is an OESK (20% rye with a lightly spicy yeast component) bottled at the age of 9 years, 10 months. The distillery’s 2012 Single Barrel release was also an OESK release (though a bit older at 12 years in barrel), which I’ll compare to this bottling in a bit.

The SF Wine Trading release is hot and restrained on the nose, but it’s just playing its cards close to the vest. Keep sniffing and notes of cola and coffee emerge, plus the telltale vanilla and lumberyard notes. On the tongue, the whiskey envelops the palate beautifully with lots of sweetness, butterscotch and toffee notes, gentle wood (and a touch of smoke). Layers of red berry fruit, raisin, and a touch of mint. (Juleps, anyone?)

Surprisingly, it’s a considerably different whiskey than the 2012 Single Barrel, which offers more wood, restrained sweetness, and some curious earth tones. A few extra years in a barrel really can change a man, they say. No doubt: The private bottling from SF Wine Trading wins this round!

113 proof.

A / $70 /

Review: Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon 22 Years Old


When we first reviewed the entry-level Blade and Bow a few months ago, we noted that a second expression existed with a whopping 22 year old age statement. It wasn’t available to us at the time, but now we’ve obtained samples and can cover it in full.

As a refresher, it’s a wholly different bourbon than the “base” Blade and Bow, but like the entry-level bottling it also exists primarily as an homage to the original Stitzel-Weller Distillery. The production information reads like this: “Blade and Bow 22-Year-Old Limited Release Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is comprised of whiskeys distilled at both the distillery historically located at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky. and the distillery historically located in at 1001 Wilkinson Blvd. in Frankfort, Ky. The limited release offering was most recently aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller. At 92-proof, you can purchase a 750ml bottle for $149.99.”

At 22 years of age, this expression of Blade and Bow drinks like a well-matured — but not overdone — bourbon. Nosing the spirit, the sawdust and vanilla notes at the start are to be expected — but then things quickly push into citrus and peppermint oil. As it hits the palate, buttery caramel washes over the tongue first, followed by notes of cracked black pepper, crushed red fruit, and a touch of citrus oil — particularly evident on the surprisingly fruity finish. There’s plenty of wood throughout, but it’s kept in check. Plenty of heat, too, but it’s just shy of needing water to temper things. The finish is clean and inviting, and it demands continuous exploration deeper and deeper into the glass

Blade and Bow 22 Years Old is a limited edition expression that won’t be with us for long (and will likely command much higher prices than the one suggested below), but I’m not afraid to recommend that serious bourbon fans get to work seeking out a bottle for their collection.

92 proof.

A / $150 /

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #8 – Speyside 1991, Invergordon 1984, Balmenach 2007, North Highland 1995, Irish 2002, and Laphroaig 2005

exclusive malts

It’s quite a mixed bag in The Exclusive Malts’ latest batch, which includes a single grain release, two unnamed distillery releases and — a first for The Exclusive — an Irish whiskey release. With this batch I’m excited to announce that received the entire lineup to review, 6 whiskeys in total. Quality is all over the map. Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1991 23 Years Old – This mystery Speyside whisky was distilled in 1991, but no other production information is offered. It appears to be bourbon-cask-aged all the way, starting off with almost pungent boozy/grainy notes on the nose. Lightly medicinal on the tongue, the palate ventures into dense wood, a touch of coal dust, and some pastoral notes. Perfectly drinkable, but surprisingly simplistic. 102.6 proof. B / $160

The Exclusive Malts Invergordon 1984 30 Years Old – This is a single grain whisky, distilled in the Highlands near Dornoch Firth and aged in a refill oak hogshead. There’s lots of granary character on the nose with this one, then notes of orange peel, clove, and some occasionally intense lumberyard notes. The key component though, is the grain — racy, chewy, and full of cloves and allspice. It’s a hot whisky that takes some time to settle down, but once it does it reveals some charm. Whether that merits the supports the price tag is another question. 104.6 proof. B+ / $200

The Exclusive Malts Balmenach 2007 8 Years Old – Slightly pink, a clear sign that this is a Port-matured whisky. The Speyside-based Balmenach is primarily used for blending, so this is a real rarity. Unfortunately that doesn’t amount to a particularly special spirit; youth is still having its way with this bottling, which is heavy with granary notes and an almost musty, funky edge. Hospital notes mingle with raw wood notes, coffee grounds, and mushroom… a bit of a mess, ultimately. 105.2 proof. C+ / $79

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1995 20 Years Old – Another mystery malt, sherry matured from somewhere in the north Highlands. (Note that labels may just read “Highland,” not “North Highland.”) Rich with citrusy sherry notes on the nose, the nose here also showcases notes of walnut, coffee, and a not insignificant amount of tar. No slouch in the body department, the palate is pushy with notes of menthol, burnt orange, matchstick heads, and ash. There’s fruit up front — figs, plums, and citrus — but the fade in to this melange of more savory notes is quick and a bit unforgiving. 109.2 proof. B- / $135

The Exclusive Malts Irish Whiskey 2002 13 Years Old – Distilled near the northern border of Ireland at an unnamed distillery (which sounds like Locke’s/Kilbeggan based on the description). It’s quite a lovely expression of Irish, beginning with rich honey and caramel notes before delving headlong into butter toffee, butterscotch, and milk chocolate. There’s just a touch of grain on the back end, a nod toward the rolling hills of Ireland. Supple and sweet, this whiskey isn’t overcomplicated but it offers an intensity and richness that is rare in the typically light-bodied world of Irish. Cask strength certainly helps with that. Gorgeous. 108.4 proof. A / $106

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 10 Years Old – Last but not least, we close with young, peaty, cask strength Laphroaig. No surprises here, with gentle peat smoke and barbecue notes kicking things off on the nose, and a body that blends smoke with citrus, petrol, licorice, and dried herbs. Lots of character from the Laphroaig playbook here, but fans will find the high proof expression worth exploring. 108.4 proof. B+ / $146

Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection from Nasa Liquor

Four Roses private barrel offerings are invariably fun to find and taste, and this selection from Nasa Liquor, a shop in Houston, Texas, is no exception.

This is an OESF Four Roses (20% rye, made with Four Roses’ “herbal” yeast), aged 10 years, 2 months. This is a slightly younger expression of the 2014 Single Barrel, which was an amazing release.

Nasa’s private selection is an amazingly sweet and surprisingly fruity expression of Four Roses. It starts on the nose: Butterscotch candies, candied apples, and vanilla caramels abound. More raw wood character emerges on the nose in time, and left in the glass for a while it will overpower the more dessert-like elements of the whiskey.

On the palate, the vanilla is astonishing at first, intense with notes of fresh creme brulee. Again, sip and reflect and you’ll find juicy raisin notes and some mint chocolate, particularly on the finish. It doesn’t drink especially hot, despite the barrel strength, but a touch of water does help to bring out more of the chocolate elements along with some cracked pepper notes.

There are more than a few similarities between this whiskey and the 2014 Single Barrel linked above, but that general bottling is a bit hotter and coaxes out a bit more wood on the back end. Kissing cousins, for sure, but both are great exemplars of Four Roses single barrel bottlings.

111 proof.

A / $59 /

Review: Don Q 151 Rum

DON_Q_151_750MLWhether you truly need to set a cocktail on fire or just want a little ultra-high-octane in your glass, 151 proof rum is a mixing ingredient without a peer. (Mention Everclear and I’ll barf on you.)

Make no mistake: 151 is dangerous. Don Q knows it and with this new bottling it even includes a flame arrester on the top of the bottle so adventurous mixologists don’t accidentally blow themselves up.

Don Q 151 is Puerto Rican rum aged for up to three years in oak barrels and bottled blazingly hot. Surprisingly, it’s still got a solid rum character — and plenty of it.

On the nose, vanilla, creme brulee, and gentle oak notes dominate. It isn’t at all the firebrand that many overproof spirits are. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume it was a standard-proof product.

The palate is another matter. It scorches to start, but there’s a surprising amount of flavor trapped in between all those ethanol molecules. Even at bottle strength, you’ll find complex notes of banana, dark caramel, coffee, and baking spices. Essentially, it’s got all the character you want in a regular-strength, aged rum — but with double the alcohol.

Now I’m not suggesting you guzzle Don Q 151 for your evening constitutional, but for floats, flames, and other fancy cocktailing effects, this is a tough 151 to beat.

151 proof. Aka DonQ.

A / $22 /

Review: 4 Albarinos from Rias Baixas, 2013 Vintage

Pazo SeñoránsFour new albarinos from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, each showcasing that classic acid-meets-the-tropics character… but each with a unique little spin on the theme. Thoughts follow.

2013 Paco & Lola Abarino Rias Baixas – A perfectly serviceable albarino, creamy with notes of peaches and tropical fruits, and a caramel-dusted finish. A juicy party wine, with a nice balance of fruit and acid, but not entirely nuanced. B+ / $17

2013 Albarino de Fefinanes Rias Baixas – Very dry, with notes of white peach and restrained tropical character, with lots of acidity on the back end. The dryness demands food rather than a beach chair, but the mineral notes are intriguing in their own right. B+ / $26

2013 Namorio Albarino Rias Baixas – Initially quite dry, with some peachy notes. As it opens up, it reveals a nice balance between mineral notes and a growing tropical character that hits fairly hard on the finish. As the bargain bottling in this lineup, it’s worth a strong look as your new everyday white. A- / $15

2013 Pazo Senorans Albarino Rias Baixas – A slight herbal edge sets this apart on the nose immediately, with notes of sweet peaches, apricot, and lemon bubbling up on the palate. A tart, acidic body that oozes with touches of light marshmallow cream seals it as the winner in this lineup. A / $25

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – French Oak Bourbons

French Oak Experiment 2015

In Bourbon country, American oak reigns. It’s long been tradition that America’s greatest whiskey is aged in American wood. Anything else and you’re lookin’ for trouble.

In keeping with its long history of experimentation, Buffalo Trace kicked tradition out of the rickhouse for this latest round of its experimental whiskeys. As the names imply, these Bourbons are aged not in American oak but in French oak. More specifically, one whiskey was aged in a full barrel made entirely of French oak. A second whiskey was aged in a hybrid barrel made with American oak staves and French oak heads.

Both are ten years old, made with BT’s low-rye recipe. Here’s some additional production information:

Ten years ago, Buffalo Trace embarked on another French oak experiment, but this time endeavoring one step further – creating two different barrel types, one made entirely of French oak, and another using French oak heads, but American white oak staves. The barrels were both constructed with Buffalo Trace’s exact specifications as far as size, stave drying, and charring. The barrel staves were air-dried for six months and the barrels were charred for 55 seconds. Both of these experimental barrels were filled with the same bourbon recipe, known as Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1. After 10 years of aging, these two bourbons have been bottled as part of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Experimental Collection, and referred to as 100% French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon and French Oak Barrel Head Aged Bourbon.

Both are 90 proof. Here’s what you can expect if you try them…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 10 Year Old 100% French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon – Soft and very fruity on the nose, with notes of peaches, apricot, and citrus. Rather buttery on the body, with plenty of fruit — namely apple and apricot — to back it up. You’d be hard-pressed to find a gentler bourbon anywhere; this expression is all kid gloves and a quiet stroll through the orchard. Punchy lumberyard is wholly absent; there’s really just a bare hint of oak’s telltale vanilla here to remind you of its wood regimen at all. B+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 10 Year Old French Oak Barrel Head Aged Bourbon – Clearly punchier and more traditional in structure — and actually a quite good whiskey all around. A nice level of baking spice hits the nose, which melds well with its sweet apple pie aromas. On the body, the fruit is still there, but it’s well tempered by more traditional notes of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves, and a little raisin character. This all works wonderfully (and unsurprisingly) well together, making for a bourbon that has grip and presence alongside uniqueness and restraint. A

each $46 (375ml) /