Review: Glen Oak Single Malt Whiskies – 10, 17, and 30 Years Old

Glen Oak

Today we’re looking at a collection of single malt Scotch whiskies from our friends at Branded Spirits. This whisky is bottled under the brand of Glen Oak, which isn’t an actual distillery — in fact, the various bottlings of Glen Oak are sourced from two different distilleries, in two different regions of the country, but all of them carry the Glen Oak name.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

Glen Oak 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from an undisclosed Highland distillery. This is a very fresh and lively single malt, offering pretty florals up front, grassy notes, and just a hint of smoke. On the back end, nougat and light honey notes make this incredibly easy to enjoy. The finish is light, fresh, and uncomplicated. 80 proof. A- / $41

Glen Oak 17 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from Bruichladdich, a very lightly peated expression. Wildly different from the 10 year old, with nutty and intense roasted barley notes, the brooding nose leads the way to light notes of iodine and tobacco. Quite bold and chewy. 80 proof. B+ / $95

Glen Oak 30 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from the same still as the 10 year old. The nose offers heavy florals, powerful notes of furniture polish, and a growing barrel influence. Very rich on the palate, it showcases a much different character here, comprising florals, light honey, and sandalwood notes. Complex and thoroughly enjoyable. 80 proof. A- / $290

brandedspiritsusa.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series, The Hook, Daily Grind, and Sublime

starr hill Four Kings

A  whopping seven new releases from Starr Hill, including a series of four IPAs which are variations on the theme, bottled under the “King of Hop” moniker.

Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – The base IPA, dry hopped with a variety of American hops and pumped up to the full, west-coast effect. Ample citrus notes find a pleasant companion in a healthy slug of piney hops, with a light mushroom character underpinning it. A classic IPA from start to finish, it’s a refreshing exemplar of the style. 7.5% abv. A

Starr Hill King of Hop Lemon-Lime Imperial IPA – The lemon/lime notes are understated, just a quick rush of lemon flavor on first sip, then ample hops following, providing the standard piney, earthy, slightly citrusy notes present in the unflavored version. Together the lemon/lime and hops components make for a pretty and refreshing finish — but then again when did a squeeze of lime not make for a natural companion to beer? 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Grapefruit Imperial IPA – You can’t escape grapefruit in beer these days, but in Starr Hill’s grapefruitized IPA you won’t even notice it. Virtually indistinguishable from the unflavored version, maybe it’s like having vitamins in your beer. “Fortified” with grapefruit? I taste nothing different here at all, but nonetheless I’m giving it a half a grade off for being ineffectively flavored… and for the threat of the vitamins. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Habanero Imperial IPA – Exactly what you’re expecting, a hop-heavy IPA with the thrill of heat hitting hard on the finish. The first sip is off-putting. From there you get used to the spicy finish fairly quickly. On its own it’s a bit disjointed, but as a strange mirror to the standard grade King of Hop, it’s worth a peek, particularly if you’re into the spicy stuff. 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Yes, more grapefruit! And here you can taste it a bit more clearly, the strong upfront hops giving way to a burst our sweet-and-sour citrus, before finishing on a lightly earthy, leathery note. Quite a nice flow, and well balanced. 4.9% abv. A-

Starr Hill Daily Grind Peppercorn Farmhouse Ale – I hear “daily grind” and immediately think coffee, but this is a spicy, peppercorn-based beer that folds in bold citrus notes, plus apple cider, sticky toffee, and ample malt. (That said, I get almost nothing in the way of pepper within.) There’s something to like in this beer but it’s a bit all over the map — and the heavy residual sweetness on the finish fatigues the palate. 6.2% abv. B-

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – A bold wheat brew, loaded with malty cereal notes plus ample citrus peel, grapefruit peel, and a touch of nutmeg. Refreshing, and with just a touch more going on than your typical wit bier. 4.7% abv. B+

each about $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiments

buffalo trace infrared

Never one to shy away from wacky experiments, Buffalo Trace’s latest bourbon has gone straight off the reservation. The trick this time? Exposing barrels to infrared light waves before giving them a light char. Eight barrels total were made, four irradiated for 15 minutes, four for 30 minutes.

The full details are wonky and intricate. Here’s the gist direct from BT:

Working with barrel cooper Independent Stave Company in 2009, eight special barrels were constructed. All eight first underwent the same process as standard Buffalo Trace barrels, staves were open air seasoned for six months before being made into barrels.

Then, the barrels were divided into two groups and subjected to two different levels of infrared light waves.  The first group of four barrels underwent 15 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 70% power.  The second group of four barrels was subjected to 30 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 60% power. The barrels were then given a quick #1 (or 15 seconds) char, before finally being filled with Buffalo Trace’s Bourbon Mash #1.

All eight barrels were aged for 6 1/2 years (notably shorter than many of BT’s other experiments) before bottling at 90 proof.

Does “dry heat” improve barrel quality over traditional flame-charring? It’s time to taste these experiments and see if the Trace was on to anything.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 15 Minutes – A quiet whiskey, with a nose of brown sugar, butterscotch, and honeysuckle flowers. The palate is a bit bolder than the nose would indicate, slightly nutty with some nougat-flavored sweetness. The wood influence is mild but not absent, making for a gentle and pleasant, if unremarkable, finish. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 30 Minutes – Theoretically these barrels should have more of a wood influence, and that’s evident from the start. The nose has a stronger presence, with heavier spice notes — cloves, mainly — plus a distinct almond character. The body is bolder, the palate richer with more baking spice, solid nuttiness, and some brown butter notes. Hints of raisin and dried figs emerge with time, with the finish echoing those baking spices. The influence of wood is omnipresent here, but it never comes across with dusty lumberyard notes. Rather, there’s a gentle vanilla component that layers itself over the full experience. This is a better whiskey than the 15 minute version, with a better developed nose and body. B+

Did Buffalo Trace strike gold with this infrared treatment? The process doesn’t seem to hurt, but my rough analysis based on these limited samples is that it’s no replacement for good old flame-charred barrels and didn’t really seem to add anything to the finished product. As gimmicks though, it may not be a new killer treatment for whiskey barrels, but at least its impact seems to have been mostly harmless (which is better than can be said for some experimental processes).

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Frank Family Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay and 2013 Zinfandel

Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel

Frank Family’s spring releases are upon us. Thoughts on two new wines follow.

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A traditional chardonnay but a very well made one, loaded with fresh fruit up front, but tempered with brown butter, vanilla, and a touch of cloves. The body is bold, the finish lengthy, the overall wine fairly well balanced and quite approachable on its own. It shines alongside food, however. A- / $25

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – At first nearly overblown with fruit, eventually this Napa zin settles down into a groove of dark chocolate and pushy currants. It’s still a bit of a blazer, but it’s balanced enough if paired with a hearty meal — on its own the alcohol and powerful sugar level tend to dominate the palate to the point of fatigue. Still, the expressive fruit and punchy body remain reasonably worthwhile. B+ / $30

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M. (2016)

rhum jm.png

When we last left Rhum J.M., Martinique’s celebrated rhum agricole brand, it was 2012. Since that time, J.M. has done a little rebranding, relabeling, and in some cases renaming of its products. In honor of this, we’re giving Rhum J.M. a fresh look — or at least, four of its more widely available products.

Fresh thoughts on these four agricole-style rhums (reminder: made from free-run sugarcane juice, not molasses like regular “no H” rum) follow.

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc White Rum 50% – Note that an 80 proof version also exists, so check the fine print. Intense but unsurprising, this is raw agricole rhum at its purest. The nose has the funky intensity of a white agricole blanc, backed up by tropical banana, coconut, and papaya notes. The finish recalls notes of cherry pits and more ripe banana, with a petrol sheen to it. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois Gold Rum – Aged in oak for 12 months. Lots of exotic character here, with a nose that runs to lemon, ginger, and some floral elements. On the palate, that petrol funk gives way to moderate vanilla notes plus gingerbread, with some camphor and mothball notes adding a medicinal edge to the finish — which detracts a bit from the experience. (This character is far more pronounced in the Gold than in the White Rum, actually, which is quite a surprise.) 100 proof. B / $34

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.O – Not a typo: There is no period after the O here, at least not on the official label. Aged in a combination of new American oak and re-charred bourbon barrels for three years. Notes of cola and Madeira kick things off on the nose, with an undercurrent of vanilla and brown sugar. The palate is particularly winey, offering up red berries after a time, followed by smoldering, ashy molasses, which linger for a time on the raisin-sweet but drying finish. 86 proof. A- / $40

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.S.O.P. – A slight spin on the VO, the VSOP is aged for 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finished for an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak. A shade darker and a bit richer, but otherwise many of the same notes from the VO remain, including a distinct wine character. Here that’s pumped up with clearer notes of cinnamon and gingerbread, particularly on the racier, spicier finish that offers echoes of Cognac. This makes for a different experience that’s more focused on the spice element, though not necessarily a “better” one than the more fruit-centric VO. 86 proof. (Was 90 proof.) A- / $50

rhumjmusa.com

Review: Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

nikka-coffey-malt-whisky

Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky — named because of the Coffey still (a column still, not a pot still) that is used to produce it — has gained almost cult status since its 2013 arrival in the U.S. Now its big brother — a single malt made using the same still — is arriving on our shores. Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky is 100% single malt; as with Coffey Grain, there is no age statement provided.

On the nose, sweetness pervades. Butterscotch and sugary Bit-O-Honey, chocolate and malted milk balls — all told it gives the aromatic impression of walking into a boozy sweet shop. The palate continues the theme. More butterscotch starts things off, infused with notes of coconut, candied flowers, and some orange marmalade. That may make Nikka Coffey Malt sound more complex than it really is. In truth, it’s a rather one-note experience, the overwhelming sweetness tending to dull these more exotic elements. A touch of petrol, perhaps indicative of youth, is the only real departure from a well-traveled course.

The finish is a touch more complex, layering in some chocolate raisin notes and a heavier coconut component. While it doesn’t break from the sweet stuff, it does take things out on a more interesting note than the relatively straightforward flavors of the palate.

90 proof.

B+ / $75 / nikka.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey

swift whiskey

Swift is a new entry into the burgeoning Texas craft distilling industry, a region which is particularly enamored with malted barley rather then the more typically American corn and rye.

The latest single malt to cross our path comes from Swift, a husband and wife team with a distinct and particular goal: To replicate Scotch whisky as closely as possible, just in Texas.

Swift starts with Scottish malted barley, which is shipped to Dripping Springs, Texas, where it is made into a mash and fermented. Two distillations take place in a copper pot still, then the whiskey is aged in bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso sherry barrels. There’s no age statement per se, but Swift does include the date of distillation on each bottle. This one was from a batch distilled just about two years ago (as of the time of this writing).

Let’s give this whiskey a go.

There’s a slight haze to it — Swift doesn’t mention filtering its whiskey — and the color is a very light gold, clearly youthful but not overwhelmingly so. The nose is gentle, with notes of caramel corn, sandalwood, and some dried herbs. On the palate, it’s a youthful experience, with notes comprising gentle caramel, coconut husk, and a lick of smoke. The sherry barrel influence bubbles up in time, with an orange peel character becoming evident for a bit before the finish arrives. The conclusion offers some winey character followed by a return of somewhat malty, grain-forward notes to end the experience.

In attempting to recreate Scotch on Texas soil, Swift has been remarkably successful. I’d say two years in ultrahot Texas are roughly the equivalent of five in chilly Scotland. It’s a terrific start… but oh, what I’d give to see Swift at the age of six.

86 proof. Reviewed: Distillation from 3/14/2014

B+ / $46 / swiftdistillery.com