Review: Armorik Breton Single Malt French Whisky – Classic, Double Matured, Sherry Finish (2016)

armorik

It’s been five years since we last checked in with Armorik, a single malt whisky producer in Brittany, France. Its lineup has been radically revamped and updated, with numerous new expressions hitting the market in the intervening years. The 80 proof expression we reviewed in 2011 is no longer produced under that name, but you can still get it as “Armorik Original Edition” if you are interested.

Among the changes: a stronger use of sherry, locally-sourced wood, and, most notably, increasing the alcohol level to the current 92 proof (which is the abv at which all of the below are bottled). Today we look at three of the company’s expressions that are now available in the U.S. Thoughts follow.

Armorik Breton Single Malt Classic – A marriage of spirits aged in sherry and bourbon casks, representing a variety of ages. Herbal and slightly floral on the nose, with notes of flamed orange peel. On the palate, it offers a classic single malt composition — ample malt, honey and vanilla sweetness, roasted nuts, and a bit of cocoa. The finish is a touch astringent and youthful with some green notes, but approachable enough for an everyday dram. B / $50

Armorik Breton Single Malt Sherry Finish – While Armorik Classic is a blend of whiskies matured in either bourbon or sherry casks, all the whisky in Sherry Finish spends time in both — first bourbon casks, then sherry casks for a few months of finishing. This whisky doesn’t come across like your typical sherry finished spirit, offering caramel, barrel char, and coffee notes on the nose. The palate is a bit mushroomy, with overtones of charred bread, more barrel char, and a heavily malty finish. The sherry just doesn’t make much of an impact at all here, either because it doesn’t spend enough time in those barrels, or because they’re spent from too much reuse. B- / $60

Armorik Breton Single Malt Double Matured – A somewhat unique whisky, Double Matured starts not with bourbon casks but with casks made from wood cut from Brittany’s forests. After “many years” in these casks (used or new is not stated), the whisky is then transferred to sherry casks for finishing. Though there’s still no age statement, the whisky inside on average is likely a little older. Age comes across on the nose, which provides a more complex and intricate experience right away, with notes of cloves, menthol, and sherried fruit. The body is nuttier and richer than the Classic, with a heavier (but surprisingly balanced) wood component. The whisky finishes strong but doesn’t overpower, the ultimate impact being something of a hybrid of a single malt and an American whiskey. Interesting stuff, worth exploring. B+ / $60

heavenlyspirits.com

Review: Trinchero 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Mario’s

trinchero

New wines from Trinchero Napa Valley, which just opened a brand new state-of-the-art visitor center. Let’s give the duo a try.

2014 Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard Calistoga Napa Valley – A rather dry style of sauvignon blanc, offering gentle grapefruit notes mixed with lemon peel and fruit custard. All’s well and good until the finish, which is quite herbal and almost oppressively bitter. It may be built for summertime sipping, but it needs a meal to back it up in order to show off its strengths. B / $24

2012 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon “Mario’s” Napa Valley – A lively estate cabernet, this rich and balanced wine offers a dense plum and currant core, notes of licorice, tobacco, chocolate-covered raisins, and a gently bittersweet but lengthy finish. Again, the beautiful balance, which evokes light floral notes right alongside its dense fruit backbone, makes this wine so compelling that it’s tough to put down. A truly beautiful example of what Napa cabernet can be. A / $50

trincheronapavalley.com

Review: High West Light Whiskey 14 Years Old

high west light whiskey

Contrary to (and in fact the exact opposite of) what certain ill-informed websites will tell you, light whiskey is not distilled to a lower proof than regular whiskey. In fact, it is whiskey (made of unspecified grain) that is distilled to a higher proof — generally 80 to 95 percent alcohol. That puts it somewhere between “real” whiskey and neutral spirits like vodka, which are distilled to 95% alcohol or higher. Typically light whiskey is used like grain whiskey is for blending, and it finds a home in various whiskey products, including Canadian whiskey. Rarely do you find it released on its own.

For this limited release, High West sourced 100 barrels of light whiskey from Indiana’s MGP, distilled from corn between 1999 and 2001, which spent 14 years in second-fill barrels, and it’s releasing it all uncut and unblended.

The nose is slight, with notes of caramel corn, butterscotch, and some astringency. The body is surprisingly sweet — corn syrup, caramelized banana, and whipped cream. Very light on the tongue — the moniker of “light whiskey” isn’t a bad one — it gets to the finish quite quickly, which is fairly clean, quiet, and uncomplicated, but which offers notes of tobacco and gentle grains.

92 proof.

B / $100 / highwest.com

Review: Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 12 Years Old and 18 Years Old

Port Dundas 12

While the history of the distillery is complex, Diageo-owned Port Dundas has been producing single grain spirit since the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest grain distilleries in Scotland. At least until 2010, when it was shuttered. The whisky that flowed from these Glasgow-based stills was used far and wide in blends like Johnnie Walker, J&B, and more. To honor this storied but now silent still, Diageo is releasing two single grain expressions that bear the Port Dundas name, drawn from now restricted stock.

Let’s look at these two limited release expressions, a 12 year old and an 18 year old bottling.

Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 12 Years Old – No surprises on the nose, which offers heavy cereal notes and some astringent hospital character, alongside some root vegetable character. On the palate, things brighten up, the grains offering up some notes of lemongrass and dark brown sugar — but counterbalanced by notes of mushroom and wet earth. On the whole it drinks like a very light style of blended Scotch, which isn’t a slight, but which isn’t the biggest compliment I have in my pocket, either. 80 proof. B / $50

Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 18 Years Old – A clear step up from the 12, this is single grain firing on all cylinders. The nose is much more dense, with aromas of nuts, toffee, flamed orange oil, and a wisp of smoke. On the palate, the slightly higher alcohol level makes all the difference, rounding out the mouthfeel with some welcome oiliness and punching up the body with notes of spiced nuts, more toffee, vanilla custard, cinnamon toast, and some menthol, particularly on the finish. Unlike the simplistic 12, this expression drinks closer to a quality single malt, offering both complexity and boldness, elegance and power. Definitely worth seeking out. 86 proof. A- / $100

malts.com

Review: Moosehead Lager and Radler

Moosehead bottle

Moosehead is Canada’s oldest independent distillery and the only remaining major distillery owned by Canadians. And it’s still turning out the same beer you remember from college. Or your dad remembers from college.

The New Brunswick-based operation recently launched a new product, which we’ll get to in a second. First, let’s consider the original Moosehead…

Moosehead Lager – The classic Canadian lager still tastes just like it did in college — malty, slightly sweet, a big vegetal, with a heavy corny/grainy character on both the nose and the palate, with overtones of yeast. Plenty of fizz helps this all go down relatively easy, leaving behind a finish that recalls freshly baked bread. Harmless. 5% abv. C+ / $7 per six-pack

Moosehead Radler – This new style was introduced to Canada in 2014, and it is now finding its way to the U.S. Radlers are a combination of beer and juice, and moosehead uses three juices: grapefruit, grape, and lemon. The results are heavy on the grapefruit and lemon — particularly on the citrus-heavy nose — while the body bounces between the sweet-and-sour citrus notes and the maltier, rather grainy beer element. The finish washes most of the fruit away altogether. It’s not a style I often gravitate to, but it’s a reasonably refreshing and a zippy change of pace. 4% abv. B / $9 per six-pack7

moosehead.ca

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 6 and 7

barrell 6

Two new releases from our friends at Kentucky’s Barrell Bourbon, which take a variety of sourced whiskeys and release them at cask strength, one (often wildly different) batch at a time.

Batch 6 and 7 are here, as are our thoughts.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 006 – A close sibling to Batch 5, this is 70% corn, 26% rye, 4% malted barley, distilled in Tennessee, aged 8 years, 6 months — “low in the rickhouse.” Big and blazing up front, it’s got an overload of baking spices, and plenty of barrel char influence. Big rye notes attack the body, which is heavily herbal but also showcases scorched caramel notes. As with its predecessor, water helps a lot, which helps to coax out fruit while taking all that wood in the direction of buttered popcorn. Racy and spicy through and through, it’s a classic rye-forward bourbon that fans of big whiskeys will enjoy, though it never quite cuts all the way through the hefty wood character. Compare to the more well-rounded Batch 5 if you can. Reviewed: Bottle #1864. 122.9 proof. B+ / $80

Barrell Bourbon Batch 007 – This bourbon is made in Tennessee from 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, and is aged just 5 years in #4 char oak barrels — putting this batch alongside the almost identical Bourbon Batch 1. I was promised ahead of time that this bourbon was “wise beyond its years,” and the nose comes across as a bold, relatively well-aged expression, with notes of butterscotch and heavy wood char. The body is more youthful than that would indicate, fairly heavy with popcorn and mushroom notes on the body. Water offers some improvements by coaxing out ample sweetness and balancing the affair, but it’s ultimately a bit short on nuance. Reviewed: Bottle #5446. 122.4 proof. B / $80  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

barrellbourbon.com

Classic Book Reviews: The Home Bartender’s Guide and Song Book, American Bar, and Louis’ Mixed Drinks

song book

Old timey cocktails are back, and so are old timey cocktail books. While cheap paperback reprints have been rampant in recent years, now these out of print tomes (originals can run up to $700 on Amazon) are being remade with fancy hardcovers and all the original detailing intact.

Here’s a look at three, all recently republished by Cocktail Kingdom.

Originally published in 1930 (in the thick of Prohibition, it should be noted), The Home Bartender’s Guide and Song Book is a true classic of the home bar, one which melds cocktail recipes with, yes, drinking songs. As a look back in time, it’s fun to marvel at both the archaic recipes (martinis are made with bitters!) and the impressive drinking shanties, which presumably you were meant to sing when at a cocktail party:

Host, please do your duty,
Give us each a drink,
Just a little drink,
Just a little drink,
Just a little drink or two.

What tune you were supposed to sing these songs to is not revealed, but it probably doesn’t matter when you’ve had a Shameless Hussy, White Satin Cocktail, or Shaluta! cocktail or three. (To make a Shaluta!: One part “Dago Red,” one part gin, one part lemon juice, “handle any way you like.”) Mmmm.

It’s doubtful anyone will actually make cocktails using this book, but it’s a fun trip to the past nonetheless, complete with period typefaces, line drawings, and, of course, ample — yet subtle — racism. B+ / $28

Louis’ Mixed Drinks, originally published in 1906, was ahead of its time in offering recipes for bottled cocktails (pre-mix and keep ’em on hand!). Other cocktails included are era-appropriate, including 12-layer Pousse Cafes and plenty of fizzes, flips, and cobblers. Author Louis Muckensturm also was a bit of a wine fan, and if you need overviews of vintages from 1880 to 1905, he’s got you covered. This book is a bit less enchanting than The Home Bartender’s Guide (and harder to read owing to the elongated, narrow format) but, as with all of these tomes, a fun glance backwards at, you know, simpler times. B / $28

American Bar, from 1904,  is entirely in French, so you’ll need to bring your translator to bear on this one. No rating / $28

cocktailkingdom.com