Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood Bourbon

EH Taylor Seasoned Wood Bottle & CanisterIt’s been nearly a year since Buffalo Trace’s last release in the Colonel E.H. Taylor line, and now the eighth of these whiskeys is here, and it’s got quite a story behind it.

First, it’s critical to note that this is a wheated bourbon, while the others are all rye-focused bourbons, except for one straight rye. Discussion is already heated up about how a single line of whiskeys can have so much variety; Chuck Cowdery has an excellent post wondering whether this should have just been an “Experimental Collection” release or whether the higher prices commanded by the E.H. Taylor label had something to do with it. Hey, I don’t judge.

The process behind Taylor’s Seasoned Wood release certainly sounds experimental. Sayeth BT:

The barrels in this release underwent a variety of special seasoning processes, including barrels made from staves that were immersed in an enzyme rich bath with water heated to 100 degrees. After spending time in this proprietary solution, these staves were then placed into kilns and dried until they reached an ideal humidity level for crafting into barrels.  Other staves were seasoned outdoors for six months, and still others were left outdoors for a full 12 months before being made into barrels and sent to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be filled and aged.  All barrel staves were seasoned, dried, and crafted at Independent Stave Company, who consulted on this project with the premiere expert on oak maturation, Dr. James Swan.

The whiskey is aged for “well over a decade,” but carries no formal age statement.

Whether it’s enzymes or whatever, what BT has put into the bottle here is outstanding. The nose is loaded with maple syrup, light cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger, and ample wood-influenced vanilla and caramel notes. On the palate, the initially intense sweetness is backed up by an explosion of flavor: Sweet vanilla backed up by black pepper, salted caramel, some barrel char, and a touch of herbal character on the finish. At 50% abv, it drinks a touch hot, but everything’s fully manageable as it warms the body late in the game. Over time, notes of gentle citrus fold into the maple syrup notes, giving it an orange marmalade character. Highly drinkable yet also unique and complex, it’s a fantastic little whiskey.

Doesn’t remind me at all of other E.H. Taylor releases, but that’s a story for another day.

100 proof.

$70 / A / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Chieftain’s Batch #9 – Linkwood 1997, Mortlach 1997, Braeval 1996, Fettercairn 1996, Glen Grant 1995

chieftains

Don’t look now! It’s our biggest single review of indie bottler Chieftain’s yet — five new releases of well-aged single malts, all distilled in the late 1990s, all but one hailing from Speyside.

Let’s dig in to these morsels and have a taste.

Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Speyside. Exotic and nutty with notes of old sherry on the nose, with a touch of mothball — though not in a bad way. The sherry pushes through to the palate, almost bruisingly so, bringing on notes of baking spices, roasted grains, stewed fruit, and more nuts on the finish. Everything is delightfully well integrated, with a lengthy, warming finish. 92 proof. A / $90

Chieftain’s Mortlach 1997 18 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Finish – Speyside. Mortlach is one of my favorite distilleries, but here things are blown out by the overwhelming PX sherry notes, which kick things off with notes of malted milk, carob, and burnt almonds. The body has a slightly bitter, acrid tone to it, again with notes of burnt — burnt nuts, burnt grain, burnt wood. Touches of classically honeyed Mortlach sweetness offer plenty to enjoy, but the sherry finish is just a bit too far off to make this the knockout it should be. 92 proof. B / $90

Chieftain’s Braeval 1996 19 Years Old Beaune Cask Finish – Speyside, with a red Burgundy wine cask finish. A quaint operation in central Speyside that’s part of Chivas Bros., dating back to only 1973. The red wine finish runs the show here, starting with a nose that mingles toasty grain with raisin and cherry notes. The nougat-laden body is loaded with fruit, more of that raisin-cherry compote with a touch of lingering cinnamon and clove. Fun and unexpected. 92 proof. A- / $110

Chieftain’s Fettercairn 1996 19 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Eastern Highlands. A classic, big, and burly whisky, heady on the nose with florals, fresh cut apple, and caramel sauce. The body is unctuous and creamy, offering hot and nutty marzipan notes plus a vegetal character. The finish layers on the slightest touch of smoke. 114.8 proof. B+ / $121

Chieftain’s Glen Grant 1995 20 Years Old Bourbon Finish – Speyside. I’m unclear if this is finished in a second bourbon cask or if it just spends the full 20 years in one, but this is a bit off the beaten path of your typical Speyside single malt. Zippy and spicy on the nose, it offers notes of gunpowder and matches, plus well-torched caramel and hints of licorice. On the palate, again it showcases red and black pepper, creme brulee notes, and crispy caramel — with a touch of mint. It’s a relatively straightforward whiskey, but one that is well-balanced and enjoyable throughout. 110.2 proof. A- / $143

ianmacleod.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition and Red Chair NWPA (2015)

abyss 2015Two major winter seasonals from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are here, including the new Abyss aged Imperial Stout and Red Chair, Deschutes’ northwestern spin on an IPA.

Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition – For the 10th installment of The Abyss, there are no major recipe changes — although the beer has seen some additional aging. This special release is brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla as always, then 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 6% aged in oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. (Altogether 50% of the beer is aged for 2015, but last year only 28% of the total brew saw barrel time.) Note that to commemorate the 10th anniversary of The Abyss, two additional versions were created — one aged in rye casks, one in Cognac casks — though we did not receive these for review. The “regular” version of Abyss, however, is a real standout. As always, pungent licorice hits the nose first, but the treacle-and-fig-jam notes that often follow close behind are tamped down here, replaced instead with bracingly bitter hops, very bitter chocolate, and wood barrel notes. The Abyss is always a beer that sticks around for ages, but this year that finish is seemingly unending. Fans of this style — and just about anyone else — should seek out a couple of bottles. One for now, one to keep in the cellar for next year. 12.2% abv. A / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2015) – A December-released seasonal, this year’s Red Chair “Northwest” Pale Ale doesn’t seem to have rocked the boat when it comes to its recipe — but nonetheless the beer seems more fully-realized than some of its forebears. Bitter but not aggressively piney, Red Chair uses citrus notes and some late-arriving florals to punctuate its malty base with style and structure. Quite a pleasure. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

deschutesbrewery.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Raymond Vineyards

I’d visited Raymond Vineyards many years ago and thought I knew all about this winery. But that was before the French bon vivant Jean-Charles Boisset purchased the place and turned it into a little slice of Vegas in otherwise sleepy Napa Valley.

If you’ve never been to Raymond, it’s time to take a visit — if only to see what the future of wine country is. And that future involves techno music, glitter paint, and mannequins suspended between fermentation tanks. The days of tasting atop a barrel in a barn with a dog are slowly coming to an end.

The photos below speak louder than anything I could write. I will, however, try to delight you with some tasting notes from my time spent wandering through this surrealistic space.

2012 Raymond District Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford – Lush and drinking beautifully; loaded with rich blackberry notes. A- / $85

2012 Raymond Generations – 97% cabernet sauvignon, 3% petit verdot; gentle herbs and lush fruit are beautiful in tandem; cherries and blueberries galore; wonderful length on the finish. A / $125

1986 Raymond Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Beautiful truffle/mushroom notes, leathery but alive; still showing acidity, bright berries and cherries. A / $250

And some barrel samples for wines that are probably 6 to 12 months away from release. All are 100% cabernet samples from a single appellation. These notes and ratings are tentative.

2014 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford – Super chocolatey, cassis, and vanilla. A sweeter side of new wood is showcased here. A-

2014 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville – Ample tannin masks heavy herbs and a monstrous finish. For blending only, I’m sure. A-

2014 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena – The weak link in the trio, an over-ripened, flabby wine with dried herb notes. B

raymondvineyards.com

Review: The Cally 40 Years Old Single Grain Limited Edition 2015

The Cally 40

Not every release in the 2015 Diageo Special Releases is a single malt — this one’s a single grain whisky.

The Cally was made at the Caledonian Distillery in Edinburgh, which was shuttered in 1988. The nickname stuck around, though, and Diageo kept a few barrels on hand to see how well single grain whisky could age into its fourth decade. Distilled in 1974, this is the oldest expression of The Cally ever released and reportedly only the second time Diageo has included a single grain release in the Special Release collection.

Immediately exotic, the nose mixes camphor with intense butterscotch sweetness and vague floral notes — a curious hint of things to come. The body is as powerful as the build-up hints at. The attack is all butterscotch — super-saturated with Demerara sugar — spiked with cinnamon and cloves. The medicinal and austere camphor notes build as that initial sugar rush fades, the whisky taking on a pungent character as it builds to a fiery finish. Here the fruitier elements of the whisky come to the fore — baked (burnt?) apples and nectarines — along with some gentle rosemary and thyme notes. A scent of nutmeg closes the door as The Cally 40 fades away — undoubtedly the best and most unusual single grain whisky I’ve ever experienced.

106.6 proof. 700 bottles released in the U.S.

A / $1200 / malts.com

Review: Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers – Tonic, Lemon Tonic, and Seville Orange

indi

Made in Puerto de la Santa Maria, Spain, Indi lays claim to being the world’s first line of distilled botanical mixers. Made with 100 percent natural ingredients, with no artificial colorings or preservatives — including real quinine bark and local herbs, lemons, and oranges — Indi’s sodas and tonics are clearly labors of love. To produce the mixers, Indi macerates its raw botanicals separately for four weeks, resulting in dense concentrates. These are blended, then distilled, and finally blended with water, sugar, and/or fruit juice depending on the final product being made.

The company currently makes seven different products, most of which are packaged in single-serving bottles and sold in four-packs. We got three of the company’s offerings to check out. Thoughts follow.

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Tonic Water – Tons of citrus here to balance out the not insignificant quinine bitterness, leaving behind a crisp orange peel to chew on alongside a very lengthy, astringent finish. It’s in-your-face and bitter as hell — but tempered with a touch of fruit — just about a perfect example of what tonic water should taste like. Excellent with both vodka and gin. A

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Lemon Tonic – Ultra-citrusy from the get-go; the aroma is akin to Mountain Dew, with both lemon and juicy lime notes hitting the nose. The body offers again a more indistinct lemon-lime character and it’s significantly sweeter than the straight tonic water. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does put a much different spin on your cocktail. The finish does veer awfully close to a standard lemon-lime soda, though. Considerably better with vodka than gin. A-

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Seville Orange – Classic orange soda, but light years ahead of Orange Crush. The flavor of freshly juiced orange is intense and authentic, lightly sweet and full of classic citrus notes. Easily gulpable with modest carbonation and a nicely sweet, almost floral finish, it’s a top-shelf orange soda in a world where I didn’t think such a thing existed. Best on its own rather than as a mixer, actually. A

each $10 per four-pack of 200ml bottles / indidrinks.com

Review: Wines of Sokol Blosser, 2016 Releases

sokol blosser

Oregon’s Sokol Blosser is out with a panoply of new releases, ranging from sparkling stuff to single-block pinot noir.

Let’s taste the lot.

NV Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling Wine – An everyday brut sparkler made from grapes unknown, but which goes down without a fight. Notes of nuts and brioche on the nose lead to a very fruit-forward body, loaded with fizzy apple, apricot, and white grape notes. Party wine. B+ / $20

2014 Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – Stellar pinot gris, with tropical notes on the nose and melon on the body. They come together with bright acidity, modest sweetness, and a bit of exotic baking spice on the back end. Quaffable by the glassful, but also thought-provoking on its merits. A / $18

2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Dundee Hills – Not my favorite release from Sokol Blosser, a meaty and somewhat astringent expression that offers dusky notes of Vienna sausages, old cloves, spent wood, and brambly thickets. The fruit is stamped down, almost into oblivion, which is not the usual way Sokol Blosser’s pinot behaves. C+ / $30

2012 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Dundee Hills Goosepen Block – A single-block designate of Sokol Blosser’s estate pinot, only 300 cases made. (Note that this is a prior vintage, too.) Here we see Sokol Blosser firing on all cylinders. The nose offers chocolate, raspberry jam, and tea leaf. On the palate, light notes of grilled meats segue into notes of darker fruits, more milk chocolate, and a lightly bittersweet finish. Quite a departure from the previous wine, and a massive upgrade. A- / $65

sokolblosser.com