Review: The Balvenie Tun 1509, Batch 2 Single Malt

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 2 Bottle & Tube Diagram side 750ml EMAIL

Balvenie’s roughly annual Tun release is here, with Tun 1509, Batch 2 now arriving on our shores. (For the first in the series, see Tun 1509, Batch 1.)

Similar to Batch 1, Batch 2 is a vatting of 23 traditional American oak casks and nine European oak sherry casks, a somewhat smaller collection of barrels comprising this collection.

Here, the sherry influence is naturally strong on the nose, but that sharp, citrus note is balanced by deeply nutty, malty overtones. Some burnt marshmallow comes along in time. Topping 100 proof (Batch 1 was just 94.2 proof), it’s got more heat on it than you’d expect, and a drop or two of water does the whisky justice.

The body is initially quite warm and loaded with nutty notes, lots of malt and cereal. This drinks like a younger whisky and, judging from the alcohol level, it probably is, offering a palate that is dominated by wood and heavy, well-roasted grains. Sherry makes an encore appearance on the back end, fading out with a mix of sharp orange, cloves, and more granary notes. Again, the overall impact is one of youth — and though there’s nothing wrong with younger stock, I’m not sure it’s the right direction for the Tun series.

Let me put it another way: It’s not the right direction for a $350 whisky.

100.6 proof.

B / $350 /

Review: Highspire Pure Rye Whiskey

Highspire_NB_With_Shadow100% heirloom rye. Double pot distilled. Aged for 130 days in used Paso Robles wine barrels. Chill filtered. Finished with oak staves. Made in Kentucky.

Winemaker Austin Hope has turned to whiskeymaking with this foray into distilling with Highspire, a very young rye (not legally able to be called one due to its odd production process) that certainly needs more barrel time under its legs before hitting your gullet — but which has some charms to show off.

The nose of this bright amber spirit starts with somewhat smoky wood notes and intense, roasted grain character. There’s lots of vegetation here on the palate, from dried rye to some wild-tasting weedy notes. The wine makes a bit of an appearance later in the game, with some gentle raisin notes adding nuance along some vanilla that finally makes an appearance. The finish features ample grain, well-roasted and leading to some chocolate and coffee character. Give it time, and these disparate notes eventually start to gel into a more cohesive whole.

In the end, this is extremely young whiskey but it isn’t without some charms. Fans of nicely-aged rye won’t find this compelling, but it does present an interesting profile in a crowded field of often dull craft spirits.

80 proof.

B / $35 /

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey 8 Years Old (2015)

maltWhat a terrifying sight to unwrap a box featuring Heaven Hill’s latest and always highly-anticipated annual release of the Parker’s Heritage Collection… only to see in big, gold, italic type, the word Malt.

Yeah, now it’s Heaven Hill that is taking a stab at making a Kentucky Straight Malt with this non-bourbon release, the second non-bourbon expression to come out of HH in a row. (Last year’s release was a wheat whiskey.)

Kentucky doesn’t have the greatest track record working with malt whiskey, namely because it typically doesn’t sit well with the U.S. government-mandated new oak barrels that must be used to age it. (Scotch is commonly aged in used barrels, but in the U.S. if you don’t use new barrels you can’t call it “straight malt.” Thanks, Obama!) Want to see how badly this can go? Check out how Woodford fared with the same type of project in 2013.

Heaven Hill’s new release is made from a mash of 65% malted barley and 35% corn. Aged for 8 years in new oak, it comes out of the barrel at cask strength and pours a deep, dark brown in color. The nose showcases a well-rounded and powerful whiskey with prominent wood notes, some dried fruit, and a touch of citrus. There’s not much essence of roasted grain on the nose — which is a promising thing to see in a Kentucky malt.

The palate shows off a fairly bold and brash spirit, punchy and pushy with notes of toffee and butterscotch, dark brown sugar, and plenty of smoky, dusty lumberyard notes. There’s just a hint of fermented bean paste and a whiff of malt, the only real indications of the spirit’s barley base. But a whiskey doesn’t get this dark without wood having its way with the spirit, and here Heaven Hill is really pushing it to the limit. One gets the feeling that a single additional day in barrel would have turned this into a sawdusty mess, but as it stands it’s right on the edge of acceptability. (With that said, it’s the least impressive Parker’s Heritage release to date — although that bar is quite high.)

Don’t get me wrong, this is a whiskey with some good qualities and it’s definitely worth sampling just to see how Heaven Hill figured out how to make a drinkable malt in Kentucky. The answer seems simple enough: Kill it with oak!

108 proof. Continuing to honor and support Parker Beam, $5 from the sale of each bottle will go toward ALS research. 141 barrels produced.

B / $100 /

Review: Wines of Argentina’s Alamos, 2015 Releases

Alamos Seleccion 2013 Mendoza Argentina Malbec 750mlAn affordable Argentinian icon, Catena’s Alamos brand is out with three new releases. Let’s try ’em all!

2014 Alamos Torrontes Origin Salta – Extremely aromatic and perfumed, a field of white flowers in a summer rainstorm. Big apple and white peach notes and honeysuckle dominate the palate, with a very fragrant finish quickly following (and lasting for quite a while). B / $8

2014 Alamos Malbec Mendoza – Nice, dense fruit here, chewy and rounded on the palate. Notes of cloves and licorice play well with a plum and currant core, with touches of tobacco showing on the finish. Drinks well above pedigree. A- / $9

2013 Alamos Malbec Seleccion Mendoza – The reserve bottling of the Malbec above is a more herbal and aromatic wine, initially a bit closed but over time opening up to reveal elegant fruit, a layer of fresh herbs, and some light wood notes — sandalwood? — and a bit of incense. Quite lovely. A- / $17

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2015 Releases

crossbarnWe’ve covered the wines of Paul Hobbs in the past, but this year we look at a larger collection of five offerings. Thoughts? Here they come!

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Fresh and easygoing, blending tropical notes with gingerbread cookies up front. The finish is creamy and caramel-focused, but it’s not overwhelming with this sweetness. Some light herbal notes add nuance on the back end. A letdown. B / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Coast – Big and bright, punctuated with citrus and some fresh herbs — thyme and a touch of fresh cinnamon. The finish fades to a less distinctly acidic character, offering some chewiness and a bit of brown sugar — but all of that actually makes CrossBarn’s sauvignon blanc quite food-friendly, compared to most of the enamel-stripping examples of California sauvignon blanc out there. B+ / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Quite dry, perfumed with notes of both roses and white flowers. Gentle raspberry and strawberry notes dust the palate, but it’s far from overly fruited. Pretty and food-friendly but a bit underwhelming. B / $19

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Excellent representation of Anderson Valley pinot, including bright cherry fruit, a dusting of spice, and gentle vanilla notes. A moderate, balanced body makes this approachable from all sides — summer sipping or enjoying alongside a steak — a real versatile player in any cellar. Stock up. A- / $35

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Nice and spice up front, with black pepper at play with blackberry notes. Some dusky baking spice emerges, offering cloves and some slight, bitter root notes. A dusting of sweetness on the back end complements what has come before, a little vanilla and citrus add layers of complexity atop a solid pinot noir. A- / $35

Review: Mezcal Alipus, 4 Expressions

alipus San Juan_alta

Del Maguey isn’t the only game in town if you want to explore single-village mezcals. Craft Distillers has put together a line of six different mezcals (including one special bottling of only 600 bottles) showcasing different terroirs in the pueblos of Oaxaca — all of which are a bit south of the capital. Each of these is 100% agave espadin, of course.

Let’s try four of them!

Mezcal Alipus San Andres – Fragrant on the nose, quite floral. The body features big orange and grapefruit notes, some cinnamon and black pepper, and gentle smokiness lacing throughout it all. Sweet and spicy, with a quiet demeanor to it. 94.6 proof. B+

Mezcal Alipus San Juan – These agaves are harvested from 1100 meters, the lowest elevation in this group (the rest all hover at around 1600 meters). Quite smoky, with some fruit underneath it. This is a more brash mezcal, though notes of banana and coconut bubble up on the finish to add some nuance. Overall, though, this is the most heavy-handed mezcal of the bunch — which is a good and a bad thing, depending on your POV. 95.4 proof. B

Mezcal Alipus San Luis – Milder, and instantly sweeter on the nose, with more of a barbecue character. Applewood bacon, some citrus, particularly lime, are heavy on the palate. A touch of red pepper on the tongue gives this mezcal a little more heat than the others, while some sweeter elements give the finish a gentle way out. There’s lots going on with this mezcal, which has a complexity that some of the other Alipus expressions lack. 95.6 proof. A-

Mezcal Alipus Santa Ana del Rio – Sweet, with piney notes. The least smoky of the bunch — definitely a starter mezcal for those afraid of it. A quiet spirit, it offers distinctly floral perfume notes on the nose, then some fruit on the palate — pomelos and peaches, perhaps? A bit rocky on the finish, as some medicinal notes emerge. Curious stuff. 93.8 proof. B

each $48 /

Maraschino Head to Head: Bols vs. Luxardo vs. Maraska

bols maraschinoMaraschino is an essential liqueur in many a classic cocktail — especially the Casino and the Hemingway Daiquiri — but it’s one of the few categories where only a small number of producers, typically wicker-clad European brands, hold sway. The biggest of these is Italy’s Luxardo. Croatia’s Maraska is another commonly-seen version of the liqueur.

Now comes a new entry in the form of mass-producer Bols, the Dutch liqueurists with a panoply of fruit-flavored concoctions on the market.

Can Bols Maraschino stand up to the icons of the category? I’d never formally reviewed Luxardo Maraschino or Maraska, so what better time than the present? I tasted these blind so as not to sway my opinion with fancy branding. The identifying — and surprising — details were added later.

Thoughts follow.

Bols Maraschino – There’s not so much cherry on the nose here as there are tropical lychee and flowery perfume notes, with a sort of medicinal cherry flavor on the back end. Quite sweet and syrupy, it’s got a gummy finish that smacks of added gelatin. 48 proof. C+ / $15

Luxardo Maraschino – This is a wildly different experience. It’s sharp and astringent on the nose, not sweet at all. Oddly, it offers primarily granary aromas — cereal and fresh hay — rather than the intense cherry character one expects. Fruit comes along, but it’s almost an afterthought, relegated to the background. Frankly, the combination is slightly off-putting. The palate brings more balance, but it’s still got that heavy grain maraskafocus that surprisingly reminds me of animal feed. The fruit is indistinct, but it finally comes around as an echo on the finish. The ultimate character is something closer to a fruit brandy than a liqueur — which is either a good thing or a bad, depending on what you want out of your maraschino. 64 proof. B / $29

Maraska Original Maraschino – A nice balance between the two styles above, with brandy-like aromatics and lots of floral notes on the nose, backed up by sweet cherries. On the palate, the cherries are clear and sweet, but not overpowering. Those floral elements play on the palate as well, adding a spicy distinctness and complexity to the mix. This is the only one of these three I’d consider drinking neat (and the only one in which I polished off the sample glass), but it seems tailor-made for adding round cherry notes plus exotic floral elements to a cocktail. 64 proof. A / $27

The winner? Maraska makes a surprising upset over the better-known Luxardo, by quite a wide margin.

Review: High West Bourye (2015) and American Prairie Whiskey (2015)


Utah-based High West is a fun distillery to try to keep up with. Blink and they’ve got a new product. Blink again and it’s gone, replaced with something else.

It’s been a year since we last visited with High West and already things are evolving. Bourye — the bourbon and rye blend — was off the market and now is back, with an older collection of whiskeys comprising it. American Prairie Reserve — a blend of bourbons — is gone, replaced by American Prairie, which has some younger MGP bourbon in it.

Today we look at both of these newer releases. Thoughts follow.

High West Whiskey Bourye (2015) – Sourced from multiple distilleries, all whiskeys are at least 9 years old. These include a 9 year old bourbon (21% rye, 4% barley) from Indiana; a 10 year old rye (5% barley) from MGP; a 16 year old rye (5% barley) from MGP; and another 16 year old rye (10% corn, 10% barley) from Barton Distillery. Proportions are not disclosed. It’s got a gorgeous nose right out of the gate as the bottle is opened — almost like a heavily spiced apple pie is baking in the next room. Nosing the glass brings out notes of scorched caramel, cloves, and some toasted cereal — though alcohol is a bit heavy on the nostrils. The body is gorgeous and so easy to fall in love with. Nice notes of cinnamon toast, mixed dried fruits, some orange peel, and lots of added baking spice (especially cloves) come rushing at you all at once. The balance between spice and sweetness is just perfect here, with just a touch of wood on the back end to provide a nod at the not unsubstantial age this whiskey has seen. While hot on the nose, the body drinks just perfectly — silky with just the right amount of power to back things up. Reviewed: Batch 15B04. 92 proof. A / $63

High West Whiskey American Prairie (2015) – A blend of bourbons: 2 year old MGP (20% rye, 5% barley), 6 year old Kentucky mystery bourbon, and 13 year old Kentucky mystery bourbon. Again, the proportions are not disclosed. Significant barrel char, lumberyard, and granary notes on the nose. Butterscotch builds on the body, with some astringency quickly taking over. The finish is rustic and pushy, echoing a strong cereal (though not quite corny) character. That 2 year old bourbon makes an impact here, one which the older stock can’t quite undo. Tough to follow up the amazing Bourye with this one. Reviewed: Batch 9. 92 proof. B / $33

Review: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, and Appleton Rare Blend 12 Years Old Rum (2015)


It’s been six years since we last reviewed Appleton‘s Jamaican-born rums, and the company has recently done some label and nomenclature updates across the line. The distillery tells us that the recipes and the juice inside (nor the Rubenesque bottle design) haven’t changed, so let’s take a fresh look at one of the icons of the rum business and see how things are shaping up in 2015.

appleton1Appleton Estate Signature Blend – Formerly Appleton V/X. A blend of 15 rums, average age 4 years old. No age statement. The entry level Appleton is a bit rustic and punchy, with some sharp medicinal character to it. Clearly designed as a mixer, this nicely golden rum offers big molasses backed by barrel char notes and some burnt marshmallow. A touch of banana on the back end. It’s got more than a bit of a weedy finish due to its significant youth, but it does give this rum some funky character that’s fun to play with in a cocktail. 80 proof. B / $18

appleton3Appleton Estate Reserve Blend – Formerly Appleton Estate Reserve. A blend of 20 rums, average age 6 years old. No age statement. Quite a bit more refined than the Signature, with its rough edges filed down a bit. The Estate Reserve Blend offers a sherried note up front, full of citrus and cloves, that winds its way slowly into bold vanilla and Christmas spice character. Deftly balanced between the sharp attack and the festive finish, it manages to keep a foot in both the rustic and refined worlds. Great on its own or in cocktails. 80 proof. A- / $26

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old – Replaces Appleton Extra 12 Years Old. The youngest of Appleton’s age statement rums, this one (obviously) 12 years old. No blending information offered. This is top notch rum here, and easily the best of the bunch. Refined tropical notes — banana, coconut, brown sugar, vanilla-fueled barrel char — it’s all there, right on the nose. The body takes on a fruitier character, with chocolate lacing and more of a flame-kissed/charred fruit note, giving the rum a distinctly sweet, dessert-friendly character, yet it offers a little extra oomph thanks to the slightly higher proof. This one’s hard to put down — and so beautiful it’s a perfect candidate for straight sipping. 86 proof. A / $32

Review: Scales Sweet & Sour Mix and Margarita Mix


We reviewed the Bloody Mary mix from Scales a few months ago. Today we are taking a belated look at its no carb/no sugar sweet cocktail mixers, including a Sweet & Sour and a Margarita mix.

Both are minimalist products flavored with sucralose. At 5 calories, it’s hard to come up with a less fattening way to sip a tall cocktail.

Some thoughts follow.

Scales Sweet & Sour Mix – Appropriately yellow-green, lemon-lime on the nose. The body’s quite tart, not overly sweetened, with a clear bite of raw citric acid (which is the second ingredient on the list). This actually helps to tame that sucralose aftertaste a bit, making this a surprisingly palatable mixer in the ultra-low-cal space. B

Scales Margarita Mix – Paler in color, slightly sweeter smelling. There’s more of a chalky texture here and the whole thing is quite a bit sweeter on the palate. It doesn’t offer clear lime notes like you’d want in a margarita mix, but it doesn’t overly offend. B-

both $5 per 32 oz. bottle /