Review: Balblair Vintage 2003, 1999, 1990, and 1983 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

BB 1983 Pack Shot

I encounter Balblair regularly at whiskey events, but I was surprised to see that in all these years we’ve only ever done a formal review of Balblair one time — of the Vintage 2000 release.

Today we’re fixing that with reviews of four more expressions from this Highland distillery. On with the show!

Balblair Vintage 2003 – 10 years old, aged in bourbon barrels. Pale in color, and a bit fiery on the nose. Roasted grains, with a touch of honey, are aromatically intense — with some coal fire and a bit of industrial character. The body offers a bit of almond, some citrus, and a touch of cloves. The whisky hasn’t quite settled down yet, though, to bring out this whisky’s true charms. 92 proof. B / $70

Balblair Vintage 1999 – 15 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. (My sample doesn’t indicate, but I’m presuming this is the Second Edition bottling.) Surprisingly racy, there’s red pepper and turmeric on the nose, with a backing of dried barley notes. The body is malty at its core, with winey-citrus sherry notes to add some complexity. Vanilla milkshake notes on the finish are nice, but they can’t temper this whisky’s ample heat, which lingers on the modestly scorching finish. 92 proof. B / $90

Balblair Vintage 1990 – 21 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. (Again, I presume this is Second Edition.) Much different nose here, with notes of toffee and caramel, along with walnuts and cloves. The body is dense, slightly smoky and heavy on the wood component, giving this malt a bit of a fireside character — with some lumberyard, more nuts, and slight vegetal notes on the back end. The finish is a bit short, with some late-arriving notes of raisins and spice. 92 proof. B / $140

Balblair Vintage 1983 – 30 years old, aged in bourbon barrels. The best Balblair I’ve ever had is the 1975 edition. ’75 is no longer on the market, and this just happens to be the whisky that is replacing it. It’s also a knockout. The nose is rich with butterscotch, menthol, spiced nuts, and fudge. The palate kicks things off with well-aged malt, chocolate sauce, and nougat before fading into notes of rich honey, chocolate malt balls, and almond candies. The finish is long and lasting, making this a delight from start to finish. 92 proof. A / $330

balblair.com

Review: 21st Amendment Down to Earth Session IPA

21st am down to earth21A’s session IPA clocks in at a mere 4.4% abv, with 42 IBUs noted on the can. Made with Cascade, Mosaic, and Warrior hops, it’s a fine enough example of the sessionable IPA trend, though it doesn’t entirely lift itself above the crowd. On the nose, tons of grapefruit and piney undertones offer promise, and on first blush the body is filled with classic IPA notes.

But as the body develops, a wateriness comes along, dulling and diluting the promising opening act. Ultimately those fruity/piney notes turn a little muddy and a little sour, lending Down to Earth a dull and somewhat less satisfying finish.

B / $9 per 6-pack of cans / 21st-amendment.com

Review: Wines of CrossHatch, 2015 Releases

10586853Santa Barbara’s Carr Winery recently launched this second label, CrossHatch, named in honor of antique winemaking equipment — and inspired by the “co-fermenting” system Carr uses in “harvesting multiple varietals on the same day then crushing and fermenting them together.” All of the CrossHatch wines are blends — though the wines have no individual names, so check the fine print on the label to see which one you’re getting.

All are very small production wines (under 300 cases). Thoughts follow.

2012 CrossHatch 60% Merlot 40% Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley – The Cabernet Franc is having its way with this one, with some dense licorice, plums, and bittersweet chocolate dominating the blend. Some floral notes, with Merlot’s characteristic violets, bring up the rear, which is moderately sweet with raisins, milk chocolate notes, and some vanilla. A bit clumsy, but plenty drinkable. B- / $28

2012 CrossHatch 60% Grenache 40% Syrah Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely fruity, with chocolate notes on the nose. The body’s a mishmash of styles, offering jammy plums and cherries, more chocolate, red pepper, mint, and some raisiny, Port-like notes on the back end. A bit wide-ranging, but surprisingly drinkable (and food friendly). B / $25

2014 CrossHatch 70% Viognier 30% Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely astringent and medicinal, with a skunkiness underneath. Some of the viognier’s peachy elements muscle through the muddiness, but the finish is all dirt and funk. Not entirely tenable. C- / $17

carrwinery.com

Review: American Star Vodka

AmericanStarVodkaCroppedLook closely at the label — “Star Vodka” is a totally different product — and you’ll see a small “American” in the etching above the “Star” on this exceptionally hard-to-read vodka bottle from Ascendant Spirits (makers of Breaker Bourbon).

American Star is distilled (at least) five times from corn (the bottle just reads “grain”) in Santa Barbara County. A straight expression and three flavors are available. All are 80 proof, and all are reviewed below.

American Star Vodka – Pungent on the nose, with notes melding medicinal notes with some marshmallow character. The body’s a bit muddy, its distinct vanilla character enhancing the vodka’s creaminess on the palate. The finish isn’t sharp or cleansing but rather fades away with a lengthy (but not unpleasant) fade away. Best as a mixer. B

American Star Caviar Lime Vodka – At first I thought this was some kind of terrible typo for Kaffir Lime, but it turns out caviar lime is its own wacky thing. This vodka uses these finger-shaped limes for flavoring, resulting in a quite successful spirit. The nose is distinctively lime — very fresh and not at all artificial smelling, with some floral undertones. On the palate, the citrus sustains, with a touch of vanilla — driven perhaps by the base spirit — to add some nuance. Much cleaner than the straight version. A-

American Star Strawberry Vodka – Tinted pink, flavored only with organic strawberries. Along with fresh berries, the nose offers floral notes and hints of whipped cream. It’s an enchanting lead-up, but the body is less successful. Here we find the vibrant fruit overwhelmed by astringency, sour elements, and a finish that comes across as artificial and unpleasant. Unfortunate. C-

American Star Ghost Chili Vodka – The infamous ghost pepper (hardwood smoked here) finds a home in this lightly yellow-colored vodka. The nose doesn’t offer many hints, but the body is hot as all get-out. Searing red pepper attacks the palate almost immediately, but later on the smokier elements, and just a touch of sweetness, offer some relief from the heat. Not much, though. Tread with caution. B

each about $33 / ascendantspirits.com

Review: anCnoc Cutter, 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old, 24 Years Old, and 1975 Vintage

Ancnoc1975-

Knockdhu’s anCnoc recently flooded our mailbox with a collection of single malts, including three members of the age-statemented line, one new one from the NAS “Peaty Range,” and a very special offering from anCnoc’s vintage-dated collection of whiskies. We gathered them all up and put them through the Drinkhacker gauntlet. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Cutter Highland Single Malt – Part of the anCnoc Peaty Range, Cutter is peated to 20.8 ppm, which gives it a hefty smokiness that you don’t find much in the anCnoc lineup. The nose is well peated and gentle with cereal notes. The body wears its smoke up front, folding in iodine notes, some saltiness, and a biscuit character. The finish is more purely smoky — more wood fire than smoldering peat — which leaves things in relatively uncomplicated territory. 92 proof. B / $85

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 12 Years OldRevisiting this young malt reveals many similar notes — though it feels like an evolution of the expression I reviewed a few years ago. As before, there are plenty of cereal notes here, to be sure, but things soon evolve with notes of sweet breakfast cereal, citrus syrup, and some maple notes. It drinks young — and comes across a bit hot on the finish — but it’s charming in its own way. I’d give this slightly different spirit a bit better rating than I did back in 2011. 86 proof. B / $40

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – This whisky is a bit medicinal on the nose, but the body is all malty grains. The cereal lingers for ages alongside modest honeycomb, nougat, and some gentle citrus character, driven by the sherry cask aging that some of anCnoc 18 undergoes. (The 18 year a blend of whiskies aged in either sherry or bourbon casks.) The finish takes things into slightly vegetal territory, folding almond nougat into some mushroom character. Yeah, that sounds weird and it is, a little. 6000 bottles made. 92 proof. B- / $105

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 24 Years Old – Sherry-forward, with some smoky elements, particularly on the nose. The body offers tons of orange and grapefruit, balanced out with fresh cut grains, hay, popcorn, and a bit of petrol. I get hints of fresh, fried fish — perhaps this expression’s nod to the sea — before it returns to notes of golden syrup, honey, and a bit of lumberyard. Lots going on here, but it all comes together in the end with a sunny, pastoral disposition. Very limited production. 92 proof. B+ / $170

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 1975 Vintage – 39 years old (and not to be confused with the former 1975 release, a 30 year old expression). A single-vintage vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry-casked whiskies. Gentle cereal notes backed by classic sherry sweetness lead the way on the nose, along with a touch of coal smoke. The body is well developed and features nicely integrated layers of fresh citrus, orange marmalade, ginger cake, and dried fruits. Hints of graham cracker, almonds, and milk chocolate emerge on a somewhat racy (and winey) finish. Very hard to find. About 1500 bottles made. 92 proof. A- / $530

ancnoc.com

Review: Redd’s Green Apple Ale and Wicked Mango

Redd's Wicked Mango CanDon’t call it cider.

Redd’s is beer flavored with apples (and other fruits), not fermented from apples directly.

The company (part of MillerCoors now) just put out two new versions: Green Apple and Wicked Mango

Redd’s Green Apple Ale – It tastes just like sparkling apple juice with the tiniest of kicks, a clear nod toward the ladies (and guys, OK) who want to tipple on something but don’t like the taste of beer. I get a slight hint of orange and pineapple… but mostly it’s straightforward — and authentic — fresh apple notes (though not distinctly green apple). Keep it away from your kids, though. They’ll just think it’s their afternoon juice. After your first one, so will you. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Redd’s Wicked Mango – Apple and mango-flavored beer — or technically, malt liquor. It’s called “Wicked” because it’s higher in alcohol content. Aromas are hard to peg on the nose but come across more akin to guava than mango. The body is both tropical and a bit earthy, with a distinct alcoholic aftertaste. Not as purely refreshing as the Green Apple Ale, but some drinkers may prefer its significant kick. 8% abv. C+ / $11 per 12-pack of 10 oz. cans

reddswickedapple.com

Review: Diep9 Genever (Young and Old)

diep 9

We’ve reviewed so little genever here at Drinkhacker that we didn’t even have a separate category for it until I made one just now. A traditional spirit in The Netherlands and Belgium, it’s traditionally made from a distillation of malt wine (a roughly 100 proof distillate from barley), not neutral spirits, then flavored with botanicals similar to gin, including juniper. It’s sort of a hybrid of a white whiskey and gin, which means it ends up in a wide range of cocktail styles today.

Genever is an ancient spirit with at least 500 years of history that predates just about every other spirit category. Some tastemakers have heralded its return to the scene as another notch in the revival of pre-Prohibition cocktails (which were extremely heavy on genever), but most drinkers have yet to warm up to the spirit.

Diep9 (sometimes written as Diep 9) is a Belgian genever that got its start in 1910, where it’s been made in small batches in a 52-gallon column still, using 100% local, East-Flemish rye, wheat, and barley, and flavored with juniper, orange peel, blessed thistle, carob, nutmeg, grains of paradise, angelica root, cinnamon, and coriander. Diep9 makes two expressions: “Young Genever” and “Old Genever,” the former being unaged and the latter being barrel-aged in French oak for two years. As well, the Young Genever is made with 15% barley in the mash; Old Genever has 40% malt.

Here’s how they acquit themselves.

Diep9 Young Genever – Very vodka-like, and quite mild. The nose is slightly sweet, and a bit astringent and medicinal. At first blush this seems like it could very well be a vodka, and even tiptoeing into the body doesn’t let on that there’s more to encounter here (being only 70 proof helps on that front). Some almost random-seeming notes of cucumber, brown sugar, florals, and a little baking spice make this a strange little spirit, but one that isn’t without some charms. It’s light as a feather, and hard not to like because of it. But maybe it’s best not to think of it as a genever — which is traditionally quite heavy in flavor — but as a very light member of the gin family. Starter genever? Starter gin, even. 70 proof. B / $35

Diep9 Old Genever – After two years in the barrel (plus a tweak to the mash, as noted above), Diep9 takes on a much different, funkier character. The nose is big and malty — and a little swampy. Intense notes of Madeira, old wood, root beer, and raw twine build on the palate. This is a lot closer to what I’ve come to expect of genever, but on the palate Diep9 is a bit muddy — almost to the point of having a wet cardboard character to it. Some of the botanicals — coriander and angelica — manage to push through, but there’s so much leathery earthiness and astringency here that it’s tough to really get close to. 70 proof. C / $35

diep9genever.com

Review: Sapporo Premium Beer and Light Beer

sapporoSapporo is a venerable beer brand that’s been in production in Japan since 1876 — which has earned it a hallowed place in Asian restaurants around the world. While it seems like half the Sapporo consumed in these parts is done only with a shot of sake in it, let’s take a look at a few bottles of this classic Japanese lager.

Sapporo Premium Beer – Tastes just like your favorite sushi bar. Malty and bready on the nose. Lightly sweet on the tongue, with plenty of bread-driven notes on the palate. The finish is rounded and mouth-filling — again, with more bread — which makes it work better with food than it does on its own. Nothing special or particularly complicated here, but it does get the job done that it’s built for. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Sapporo Premium Light Beer – Slightly sweet, but largely devoid of character. Here, the bready, malty character is dialed back in favor of more gentle, almost innocuous, basic “lite beer” flavors. 3.9% abv. C+ / $8 per six-pack

sapporobeer.com

Review: Bully Boy Distillers Hub Punch

Bully Boy Hub Punch Bottle

Bully Boy is a Boston-based craft distiller that makes vodka, rum, and white whiskey… and which also makes this oddity: The Hub Punch. What’s Hub Punch? Bully Boy explains:

Inspired by the original Hub Punch recipe popular in the late 1800’s, Bully Boy Hub Punch, our barrel aged rum infused with fruits and botanicals, revives a historic Boston tradition that was a casualty of Prohibition. Originally concocted at the now defunct Hub Hotel, Bostonians typically enjoyed Hub Punch mixed with soda water, ginger ale, or lemonade. Bully Boy consulted a variety of historical accounts of Hub Punch to craft a spirit that pays homage to the traditional recipe and spirit of the pre-prohibition era Boston. Bully Boy Hub Punch is fruit forward with the botanicals providing tea-like undertones ideal for mixing with both dry and sweet mixing agents.

So, it’s essentially a high-proof cocktail in a bottle, rum flavored with citrus, fruit, and botanicals. Think of it as a rum-based sangria and you’re pretty close.

The Hub Punch is a deep garnet spirit, and taken neat it’s pretty overwhelming. Intense fruit overtones push it into the realm of cough syrup, extremely cloying and medicinal, with intense licorice overtones. Ice alone helps temper the spirit, as does some plain water (other mixer ideas are outlined above). Cooling things down helps to bring out The Hub Punch’s more interesting nuances, including chocolate notes, cinnamon, raisin, and plenty of that licorice note. There’s still a whole lot of sweetness here, with the fruit and root beer notes ultimately growing on you the way a bottomless pitcher of sangria does.

Funky.

70 proof.

B / $30 / bullyboydistillers.com

Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye, 2 Year Old Blended, and 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskeys

LG_100ProofThe mad microdistillers at Craft Distillers keep rolling with the Low Gap line. These whiskeys began as white dog releases in 2011, and the company has been putting out progressively older and more interesting expressions in the years since. Today we got to sample a trio of two year old whiskeys, including a rye, a blend, and an overproof (wheat) rarity. As with all of the Low Gap line (six bottlings are currently on the market), all of these spirits are made in Craft’s 16 hectoliter cognac still, fermented on site from scratch, and brought to proof using filtered rainwater(!).

Thoughts follow.

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye Whiskey – Malted rye with some corn and barley, aged in new and used bourbon and cognac barrels. The nose is quite grainy, but mellowing out as it settles down, with some smoky notes along with some interesting almond and graham cracker characteristics. The body is initially sweet with just a touch of cognac-driven raisin character that adds a lot more nuance than you might expect. The finish gets a bit hoary though, a clear showcase of this whiskey’s youth, with dried herbs and some baking spice finishing things off. 88.2 proof. B / $65 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Blended Whiskey – Malted corn and barley, aged in used Van Winkle bourbon barrels and new Missouri oak bourbon barrels. The nose exudes some notes of classic — but very young — bourbon. Corny and woody, but also racy with spices and sharp vanilla extract. The body is somewhat brash and still showing itself as a young gun, but one with lots of charm. Think caramel corn, vanilla cream soda, and some maple syrup. Still plenty of lumberyard notes here, but there’s enough character to get me excited, not just for today, but to see where this goes in the next couple of years. 92 proof. A- / $65  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey – This is Low Gap’s Bavarian wheat whiskey, aged two-plus years, bottled from a selection of just three barrels (comprising new and used oak) at 100 proof, of course. This whiskey starts off demure and restrained, but give it a little time and a wealth of fruit notes emerge on the nose: Apples and orange flowers, some banana, backed up with a bit of cereal. On the palate some coconut notes mingle with cinnamon, cloves, nougat, and milk chocolate. Wood makes a belated appearance on the back end, but in a gentle and approving way. The evolution on the palate is both fun and intriguing as an exploration. Arguably the best Low Gap expression Craft Distillers has put out to date. A / $75

craftdistillers.com