Review: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky

famous grouseThe Famous Grouse — a blended whiskey made by the same folks that produce Highland Park and The Macallan, including a significant sherry cask regimen — is a major player in the blended world. (It is the best-selling whisky in Scotland, so that’s saying something.) Somehow it’s escaped our review (though the more recent Black Grouse did get a writeup in 2010) — until now.

It’s easy to see why the Famous Grouse is so well-liked — it’s a baby Macallan at a fraction of the price.

The sherry doesn’t take long to make its presence known — big, sharp, and juicy, it’s got a powerful punch of citrus peels and a squirt of clementine juice that hits the senses right away. Toasted brioche notes are sizeable underneath all that citrus, but the overall aroma is altogether gentle and inviting.

On the palate, the juicy rush is palpable, offering notes of both grapefruit and satsumas, amply sherried with some winey/oxidized notes. As this fades, a stronger grain character hits; what is restrained on the nose is more palpable on the tongue, and as the sherry washes away, the toasty/bready character dominates the palate in full. Secondary characteristics include touches of heather, honey, and a hint of nutmeg — but none of this is overwhelming or particularly pushy.

The finish is more astringent than I’d like, with a slightly chewy mushroom quality and some more raw alcohol character that is a bit at odds with what’s come before, but given the price of the whisky and the pedigree of its makeup, it’s hard to complain too vociferously.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / thefamousgrouse.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye – 7, 8, and 10 Years Old

redemption 8 years oldIn our recent coverage of Redemption, I mentioned some rare, older, cask strength whiskeys that the company was releasing. We unexpectedly received samples of all three — all of which are 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, aged 7, 8, or 10 years in oak — and all “honey barrel” picks of the best of the best. It’s all MGP stock, but it’s very rare to find the company’s whiskeys at this age on the market any more, much less at cask strength.

Let’s take a dive into all three.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 7 Years Old – Fruit and herbs both dominate the nose, with a juicy apple character tempered by ample baking spice. This continues straight through to the palate, which is warming and quite full of those apple pie notes, plus notes of brown sugar and scorched butter. Water helps, but those apples won’t be ignored. Tempered a bit, the spirit evolves clearer notes of cinnamon along with some savory herbs, with a touch of apple butter-meets-butterscotch on the finish. 122.6 proof. B / $80

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old – It’s just one year older, but what a different profile it cuts. A clearer and stronger wood influence leads the way toward some bold caramel and vanilla notes, both on the nose and on the palate. That savory herbal character appears again on the back end, particularly toward the finish. Water really brings out the best in this whiskey, both its sultry, cinnamon-stick dessert tones and its gossamer-thin savory elements. The complex interplay between the two on that lingering finish really makes the experience wonderfully worthwhile. Definitively, this is the expression to seek out. 121.5 proof. A / $90

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old – This batch was made from only six barrels of whiskey. Again things take a curious turn, as at the age of 10 this whiskey heads to new territory. Reminiscent of older bourbons, this rye pushes both its substantial barrel influence and some notes of menthol and tobacco, characters uncommon in rye whiskeys. Though considerably lower in proof, it comes across just as racily, and water is once again a huge help in coaxing out more flavor. A quite savory whiskey at heart, it presents a huge, mouth-filling body that offers notes of licorice, tree bark, and cloves. The finish isn’t as long or as satisfying as the 8 year old — here it comes across more as a study of age — but it offers some compelling notes in its own right. 110.1 proof. B+ / $130

redemptionrye.com

Review: Serpent’s Bite Apple Cider Flavored Whisky

serpent's bite

With a name like Serpent’s Bite, one expects at least a little drama. Truth is this apple cider flavored Canadian whisky is about as harmless as they come. (Yeah, I get it, Adam and Eve and all that.)

Mystery Alberta, Canada-born spirit is spiked with apple cider flavors, with results that are, well, probably exactly what you are expecting.

It starts with clear apple notes on the nose, though fortunately the aroma is far from overblown, with a hint of vanilla backing it up. On the palate, Serpent’s Bite is sweet and cinnamon-laced, with strong apple notes as expected. Aside from a little hit of vanilla-infused caramel, though, what’s ultimately missing here is the whiskey. The whiskey flavor is so mild that this feels like it could be an apple brandy, an apple rum, or a (colored) apple vodka.

That’s not entirely a slight, as Serpent’s Bite is completely harmless and inoffensive in every way — although I’m sure that angry snake on the label will scare off a drinker or two.

70 proof.

B- / $16 / serpentsbitewhisky.com

Review: Marlee’s Green Tea Whiskey

marleesTea-flavored whiskey is nothing new, but Marlee’s, produced in the Miami area, is rye whiskey flavored with green tea, a unique combination. Also in the bottle: Mexican agave nectar, miscellaneous natural flavors, and caramel color.

Now the south is the home of sweet (black) tea, and the home of whiskey. The two have come together in exciting ways in the past, so it makes sense that an upstart would like to try something new. Using gunpowder green tea immediately sounds odd — why mess with a proven combination? Well, what if green tea is even better with whiskey than the usual stuff?

Let’s give it a shot.

Oddly, most prevalent on the nose are the agave notes from the sweetening nectar — herbal with citrus overtones — plus a bit of a vanilla whiskey kick underneath. On the palate, it’s quite sweet as expected, but the tea hits with surprising power. It’s not just any old tea, but green tea, that nicely herbal, slightly minty, slightly peppery spin on the stuff. Immediately it clashes with the whiskey, as both elements struggle to dominate the blend. Some rye-driven clove notes come along late in the game, but the finish makes a 180 and hangs on to the sweet agave, with vague notes of lemon.

Tea-flavored anything is always sweet, but Marlee’s is just a bit overblown for my palate, and the green tea simply doesn’t meld as I would have liked with the rye. Nothing too offensive, though, and it’s a spirit that works well enough as a diversion.

29.9 proof.

B / $19 / whiskeyt.com

Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 5 and Barrell Whiskey Batch 1

barrell whiskey

Turns out Barrell Bourbon, first released in 2014, wasn’t a one-off. To date the company has released six small batch Bourbon offerings, all  of which are significantly different from one another. As a trend goes, they’re getting older — significantly so, considering Batch 1 was a mere five year old baby. The last two releases have both topped eight years of age (and the labels now include a clear age statement, front and center).

In addition to Barrell Bourbon, the company has also produced its first release of Barrell Whiskey, which is a blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys aged in oak, including corn, rye, and malted barley whiskeys, in unspecified proportions — with no grain whiskey added. Like all Barrell releases, this first batch of Barrell Whiskey arrives at full cask strength.

Below we take a look at two recent barrels of Barrell: Batch 5 of the Bourbon, and Batch 1 of the Whiskey. Thoughts follow.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 005 – Made from a mash of 70% corn, 26% rye, and 4% malted barley. 8 years and 3 months old. Rich and traditional on the nose, it’s a caramel-fueled, wood-heavy, and a bit of a blazer of a whiskey when nosed and sampled at cask strength. Notes of fresh herbs and a smoldering finish redolent with barrel char are prominent. Water is a major aid with this one, really helping to clarify the spicier elements that emerge as the palate takes shape. Fresh rosemary and dried sage both come into focus, making for some interesting interplay with the charred wood elements. Some eucalyptus develops with time in glass, giving it a minty finish, with chocolate overtones. Compared to Batch 1 (again, a mere five years old), it’s a considerably more austere and well-rounded bourbon, with plenty of depth to investigate. 124.7 proof. Bottle #4446. A- / $80

Barrell Whiskey Batch 001 – A blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys, as noted above. Lighter in color than the Bourbon, it has a freshness to it that belies its age — lots of floral elements on an otherwise clean and lithe nose. The palate offers a similarly clean entry, a bit fruity — apples and pears — with more of those white flower notes emerging with just a bit of time. The body is light and airy, almost Canadian in structure at times with just a light smattering of flavors influencing an otherwise gentle, lightly-sweetened core. Though it’s got nearly the same alcohol level, the whiskey isn’t nearly as fiery and off-putting as the Bourbon above. It drinks quite easily at full strength and without water. In the end, the finish (finally) hints at more traditional notes of vanilla and butterscotch, but it’s a fleeting impression as the spirit fades out as rapidly as it comes on. Primarily I see this as something to consider as an alternative to white spirits in cocktailing. 122.5 proof. Bottle #3765. B+ / $62

barrellbourbon.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 20 Years Old 2015

michters 20 years old

Michter’s 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon is an amply enchanting whiskey. What then if we double up and go for 20? Michter’s 20 Year Old is one of those ultra-cult whiskeys right up there with Pappy Van Winkle, with a list price of $600. $1200 is the best you’re likely to do, and $1800 isn’t uncommon.

For a bottle, yes. Not a barrel.

With prices like that, Michter’s 20 better be damn good whiskey, and I’m happy to report that it is.

While Michter’s 10 Year Old is a soft and well-crafted but largely traditional whiskey, Michter’s 20 pushes its flavor profile to some serious extremes. Initially a blazer — this has 10% more alcohol than the 10 Year Old — the nose is fiery with oak and spice, and the body is punchy with Red Hots and a huge punch of barrel char. A small splash of water does wonders here to coax out more nuance, and hey, it’ll make the previous liquid go farther.

Brought down in proof a bit, the bourbon is quite a delight. Bold butterscotch hits first, then more of that previously-mentioned cinnamon takes hold. There’s lots of vanilla and caramel here; the whiskey just oozes from start to finish with dark, dark sugar notes — with only a hint of the fruit that’s a core part of the Michter’s 10 DNA. Over time, some dried and macerated fruit notes emerge, particularly apricot. Finally, some interesting amaro notes bring up the rear, offering a gentle root beer character that takes things out on an exotic, and quite racy, note — the strongest indication that Michter’s is pushing things just a bit too far with the barrel regime and some oddball flavors are at risk of developing.

While Michter’s 10 is a fruity, nutty, confectionary delight, Michter’s 20 is a wholly different animal, and the bourbon enthusiast is well served by sampling them side by side (though, that said, there is no suggestion that these whiskies were sourced from the same still or even the same distillery).

To be sure, Michter’s 20 is no Pappy 23, but finding a bourbon of this age that still has this much going on isn’t an easy feat. With its 20 Year Old Single Barrel, Michter’s is flying awfully close to the sun, but it still hangs on to its wings.

114.2 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15Z738. Bottle 193 of 267.

A- / $1200 / michters.com

Review: Old Pulteney Single Malt Whisky 35 Years Old

OldPultney-1061-flatClients

A rare treat of an old Highland malt, at 35 years old this expression of Old Pulteney is showing just beautifully, with notes of figs and plum pudding, raisiny Port, citrus peel, green banana, and a touch of cinnamon-spiced oatmeal on the back side. Slight salt-sea notes emerge from time to time, but only as hints of its maritime ancestry. The body is perfectly balanced between sweet and savory notes, with ample but well-integrated sherry influence bringing everything into focus.

As the finish fades, the malt tends to fall back to its barley roots, a gentle respite from what has come before. Elegant and refined, it showcases how truly beautiful these sometimes rough-hewn Highland whiskies can be.

85 proof.

A / $700 / oldpulteney.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey – Orange Peel and Spiced Apple

bonnie roseIt hasn’t taken long, but flavored white whiskeys — most visibly in the form of brightly-colored flavored moonshines — are starting to gain in the marketplace as producers look for a way to make these very young spirits palatable to a wider audience.

Bonnie Rose is white Tennessee whiskey (which alone is unusual), and it isn’t even available at all in an unflavored version. We got both flavors — orange peel and spiced apple — to put through the paces. Thoughts follow.

Both are 70 proof.

Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey Orange Peel Flavor – Very strong on the nose with notes of orange candies (not so much “peel”). On the tongue, a similar citrus-forward sweetness emerges — and endures for the long haul. There’s only a modest graininess underpinning the sweet sugar notes up top, effectively wiped away by the flavoring elements. Nothing shocking here. B-

Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey Spiced Apple Flavor – Heavy cinnamon-applesauce notes fill the air as soon as this is uncorked, and it offers dense and largely pleasant apple cider notes on the nose when the glass is poured. Though less immediately sweet than the Orange Peel expression, this whiskey is equally effective at masking the granary notes with flavoring agents, although the finish has moments of astringency and some bursts of popcorn. B

each $17 / bonnierosewhiskey.com

Review: High West Yippee Ki-Yay

High West Yippee Ki-YayHigh West’s latest little blend came out of nowhere, but here it is, for your frontier-style enjoyment.

Yippee Ki-Yay, inspired by Buffalo Bill and his ilk, is a blend of two straight rye whiskeys: One is a two year old MGP whiskey that is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The second is a whiskey (reportedly 16 years old) made at Barton: 53% rye and 37% corn (presumably the remaining 10% is barley). (This is the current composition of High West Double Rye.)

Now for the fun stuff: this whiskey is aged normally, then barrel finished in two different wine casks: an oak barrel that previously held Vya Vermouth and an oak barrel that previously held Qupé Syrah.

As usual, High West offers no information on the proportions of the two whiskeys in the mix, or the length of time the spirit spent in the finishing barrels.

The result is exotic and quite unique. First, check out the color, which is very dark in shade, a chestnut brown with ruby notes driven from the syrah barrel. The nose is where things really start to move. Coffee and cloves give this a wintry, fireside character, almost smoky at times. On the palate, that coffee character really pops right from the start, but then it delves into a cuckoo combination of oxidized wine characteristics and more traditional rye whiskey notes. Look especially for flavors of burnt caramel candies, banana flambe, balsamic vinegar, and particularly some notes of bitter orange peel. The finish hints at bitter amaro, with lingering notes of over-ripe black fruit and an herbal kick of that long-since-oxidized vermouth, which is unexpected but also unmistakeable. (If one flavor stuck with me an hour after I put down my glass, it was vermouth.)

That said, the whiskey is lots of fun, and as I said, unusual and unique stuff — not what I was expecting but interesting enough to sip on for quite a while. Yippee Ki-Yay, indeed!

92 proof.

A- / $65 / highwest.com