Review: The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, Vintage Reserve, and Peated Cask Reserve

glenrothes peated

It’s a quartet of Glenrothes single malts today… all part of the new Reserve Collection that Glenrothes formally launched in 2015. These all arrive as new Malt Master Gordon Motion takes over from the venerable John Ramsay.

The first three whiskies reviewed here — Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, and Vintage Reserve — are each available separately as regular 750ml bottles, or as part of a “tri-set” of three 100ml bottles ($40). The newcomer, Peated Cask Reserve, is available on its own for now. Details on what’s inside each of these bottlings follow, along with a review, of course.

All four are bottled at 80 proof.

The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve – As the name implies, this whisky is exclusively drawn from bourbon cask-matured spirits from a range of years, though no specific age information is offered. The whisky drinks a lot like you’d expect from a bourbon casked single malt, with fresh grain up front followed by notes of caramel, coconut, chocolate malt balls, and a heavy nut character, both on the nose and the palate. There’s quite a bit of charcoal, tobacco, and scorched hazelnut on the back end, followed by notes of menthol. Again, it’s a classic bourbon-matured spirit, a fine example of the “base” style of single malts — those made without a finishing cask — but nothing that will feel at all unfamiliar to Scotch regulars. B / $50

The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve – The first all first-fill sherry cask expression from The Glenrothes, matured predominantly in European oak instead of American oak. Again, no age statement; this is a blend of sherry casks of different vintages. It’s not a completely iconic example of sherry cask malt, its orange peel aromas overpowered by notes of almonds and a small touch of mint. On the palate, the citrus finds a natural companion in notes of ginger and baking spice — particularly cloves. The finish is warming and considerably longer than the Bourbon Cask Reserve, quite satisfying as lingering caramel and gentle orange notes are the last to fade. A- / $50

The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve – This expression is a mutt of a whisky, representing a vatting of a variety of vintages and cask types that includes whisky from each of the following years: 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The greatest proportion of whisky comes from the 1998 vintage. (How refreshingly transparent, eh?) The malt shows off a range of styles, coming together in a nicely balanced fashion. The nose is classic Speyside, as is the attack. Chewy, malty cereals kick things off on the palate before a wave of flavors driven by gentle citrus notes and some cinnamon bun-heavy baking spice arrive on the back end. The body feels a little thin, the finish a bit rushed, but on the whole it presents a balanced, if unsurprising, vision of Speyside. B+ / $50

The Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve – Like any good Speyside operation, Glenrothes doesn’t peat its whisky, but with this semi-experimental release, the distillery took the Vintage 1992 single malt and gave it a temporary finishing in a used Islay cask. The idea: “to reflect a time in the distillery’s history when it formed an association with the Islay Distillery Co Ltd. in 1887.” The gentle peat on this whisky’s nose is about as innocuous as smoke can get in a peated malt. Here the lick of iodine and coal fire smoke meld quite well with an otherwise lightly sweet body, which offers notes of heather, nougat, and a light lacing of herbs. The finish brings both worlds together with aplomb — it’s got just the right mix of smoky to go with the sweet and smoky — although the whisky’s body is so light on the whole that it ultimately doesn’t leave that much of an impression. See also The Balvenie, which previously released a peated cask expression to high acclaim. B+ / $55

theglenrothes.com

Review: Stillhouse Moonshine

stillhouse

It is either incredibly ballsy or impossibly stupid to package your new moonshine in the same type of stainless steel container that paint thinner comes in, but whatever the case I’m giving Stillhouse Spirits (which recently relocated to Columbia, Tennessee) credit for taking a huge risk and doing something unique.

This 100% unaged corn whiskey (flavored versions, not reviewed here, are also available) is made entirely from estate-grown corn. Otherwise, it’s straight-up moonshine, though brought down to a manageable 40% abv. The nose offers few surprises — big and buttery popcorn notes, petrol, and ethanol. A little rough around the edges, aromatically speaking, but manageable.

On the palate, it presents itself as a milder, gentler expression of unaged corn whiskey, its initial corniness segueing into mild caramel notes — surprising since this spirit has never spent any time in wood. The medicinal aspects of the whiskey are still there, but they’re held in check by a light body that is almost watery at times. The finish isn’t so much reminiscent of gasoline as it is of heavily roasted nuts, dried herbs, and licorice.

As moonshine, goes, Stillhouse isn’t half bad — but those looking for a more serious, high-test white spirit will find its dainty character a bit at odds with its over-the-top presentation.

80 proof.

B / $26 / stillhouse.com

Review: Kikori Whiskey

kikori

Everyone knows that Japan loves rice so much that they even make their booze out of it. Sake, shochu… and now, whiskey.

Rice whiskey? You read that right. Kikori is distilled from 100% rice grown in the Kumamoto region, which goes through a “two-mash fermentation process, before distilling the mash in a single batch and casking it in [lightly charred] American Oak, repurposed Limousin French Oak and sherry barrels from Spain. For 3 to 10 years, the subtle notes of the barrels are imparted into the whiskey,” per the producer.

Whether or not this is proper “whiskey” is an academic discussion; let’s see what it actually tastes like.

The nose at first comes across like a cross between very young scotch and an immature brandy. A distinct melon aroma, reminiscent of sake, emerges from the fog given some time, combining with a touch of vanilla that pops up to offer a somewhat appealing and very unique entry.

The body follows along these lines, starting off with a light vanilla and caramel character, then kicks out more of that fresh honeydew melon as the finish starts to build. There’s no sense of grain or earth here — making your whiskey from rice instead of barley sure does make a difference — just a very light base of floral notes that, when combined with melon and oak, evokes dry sherry at times. The finish is clean and fresh, but offers a stronger caramel character than the lead-up would telegraph.

If you’re a fan of sake, Kikori in many ways presents that classic beverage in a more refined and higher-proof form. (Just as you can think of whiskey as a distillate of beer, consider Kikori as a distillate of sake — in simplified terms, of course.)

I was skeptical that Kikori would be very good — I mean, whiskey made from rice? Come on… — but after spending many hours poring over several glasses of the stuff, I’m a convert. I can’t wait to see what Team Kikori does with this idea next.

82 proof.

A- / $47 / kikoriwhiskey.com

Review: Mortlach Special Strength

mortlach

The conventional wisdom holds that since the distillery’s relaunch, three Mortlach expressions are available — Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old.

Not quite. There is a fourth expression: Special Strength, which is available only at travel retail. (Where I bought this.)

Special Strength is a surprisingly appropriate and non-obfuscating name for this whisky. It is the same spirit as Rare Old (no age statement but a knockout of a single malt), but bottled at higher proof: 98 proof, to be specific. (All of the other Mortlach bottlings hit 86.8 proof.)

As for Special Strength, it takes everything that’s great about Rare Old and only makes it better. The nose offers classic Speyside heather and grains, but with some little twists — grapefruit peel, red pepper, pickles, and notes of smoked salt. The palate is lush without being overpowering, The barley still comes through, but it is tempered delightfully by notes of caramel sauce, orange oil, dried herbs, and sesame oil. It’s well balanced on the whole, its flavor profile running more toward the savory than the sweet — and even though it’s a solid 49% alcohol, it drinks as easily as iced tea. The finish evokes very light floral elements and a touch of pepper, a nice way to end the dram.

As with the rest of the Mortlach lineup, it’s a smashing whisky that commands significant attention.

98 proof.

A / $105 (500ml) / mortlach.com

Review: Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey

Yellow Rose Distilling - Straight Rye Whiskey

We last encountered Houston, Texas-based Yellow Rose Distillery in 2013. Today we pick up the thread with Yellow Rose’s straight rye, an Indiana-sourced product made from 95% rye grain (in keeping with a number of other MGP ryes on the market). Yellow Rose says this product was recently reformulated, but I don’t have any information on how this version differs from what was available in the past other than that the current version is at least four years old.

I’ve encountered plenty of MGP 95% rye over the years, but this expression isn’t my favorite by far. The nose comes across as hot, youthful, and over-wooded, folding in notes of eucalyptus with a significant amount of petrol and furniture polish character. The palate is initially a little thin, at first offering fresh grain notes tempered by vanilla, brown sugar, and notes of orange blossoms. Some walnut character emerges in time, but it is sadly overshadowed by those heavy, rough-hewn notes of raw wood and, again, oily furniture polish notes. The finish is pungent and lasting, again echoing a heavy lumberyard character before a reprise of sweetness makes a brief reappearance.

All told, it’s passable rye at best, but it remains significantly flawed.

90 proof.

B- / $38 / yellowrosedistilling.com

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Toogie’s Invitation” 2016-03

 

bookers 2016-03 toogies invitationBooker’s special editions keep rolling out — this one the third limited edition to hit in 2016.

Here’s some production information to chew on.

This batch is named in honor of Marilyn “Toogie” Dick, a lifelong friend of founding distiller Booker Noe. Toogie was part of the “original roundtable,” gathering at Booker’s kitchen table with family and friends to help select some of the first Booker’s batches. She had a standing invitation from the Noe family and even traveled around the world with Booker and his wife, Annis, on behalf of Booker’s Bourbon. Aged 6 years, 4 months and 4 days, “Toogie’s Invitation” is culled from barrels located in six different rack houses.

This is a rather young expression of Booker’s, and it’s evident from the start. The nose is hot — hotter than usual — showcasing notes of popcorn, cracked grains, and burnt hazelnuts — at least if you can muddle through the heavy alcohol aromas.

On the palate, the bourbon feels slightly thin and a bit underdone. Notes of caramel and butterscotch are easy to pick up, as is more of that (thankfully unscorched) hazelnut character. But this is all folded into a body that is redolent of rubber and motor oil and wood that’s been left out in the rain. Booker’s has always been a brash whiskey, but here it never gets beyond its most basic characteristics. Where’s the chocolate and fruit? The baking spice? The finish instead offers has its focus on rougher notes of gravel and tar, with just a light sprinkle of brown sugar crystals to give it some life.

This clearly isn’t my favorite expression of Booker’s, but at least it’s instructive in showcasing how wildly different these different batches of this bourbon can be. (Compare to three other recent Booker’s releases, 2016-01, 2015-06, and 2015-04.)

129 proof.

B / $60 / bookersbourbon.com

Review: Dark Corner Distillery World’s Best Moonshine and Whiskey Girl Flavored Whiskeys

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Dark Corner Distillery in Greenville, South Carolina is the home of a number of youthful whiskey products, including an unaged moonshine and a series of flavored whiskeys bottled under the Whiskey Girl (aka Whiskeygirl) brand. All of this is distilled and bottled at Dark Corner’s Greenville operation.

Four reviews — the aforementioned moonshine and three flavored whiskeys — follow.

Dark Corner Distillery The World’s Best Moonshine – The “corn whiskey” moniker on the label doesn’t tell the whole story; this clear spirit is made from a mash of corn, red wheat, and barley. The nose is both rubbery and corny, classically moonshine — which is to say, not all that compelling. The body is lightly sweet but with plenty of popcorn, with a racy but not fiery finish that is shaded with black pepper, cinnamon, and ample hospital character. “World’s best” may be pushing it. 100 proof. B- / $32

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Peach Flavored Whiskey – This (along with the following two reviews) is naturally flavored corn whiskey; I presume the whiskey is unaged (though this is not specified by the company) and that the color is derived from caramel or other flavoring agents. It’s oozing with peach candy notes, both fruity and sweet on the nose in equal proportions — plus a little milk chocolate, too. The body however is downright overloaded with sweetness, punchy with candy notes melting onto the tongue. It’s a peach-heavy spirit as promised (with no whiskey notes to be found), and it’s pleasant enough at first, but the finish is rubbery and lingers for far too long. 70 proof. C- / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Apple & Maple Flavored Whiskey – The nose is indistinct, neither particularly apple nor maple but rather just vaguely fruit-syrupy. The maple syrup notes break through first, hitting the palate like Sunday morning. On the tongue, apple is more elusive, but there if you hunt for it in the form of baked apple crisp, complete with cinnamon and crumbly crust. It’s hardly a nuanced product, but I can see this being a big hit at dollar shot night. The lower abv helps. 60 proof. B / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Butterscotch Flavored Whiskey – I saved the most brazenly candylike product for last, and for good reason — it’s a sugar-coated monster from start to finish. I’m unclear how butterscotch is created with “all natural ingredients,” but I’m not sure the answer really matters. The end product here is overpowered with weird chemical flavors, hospital notes, and an intensely sweet, syrupy, funky finish. The furthest thing from “whiskey” I can imagine. 70 proof. D / $28

darkcornerdistillery.com