Review: Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection Mortlach 1998 16 Years Old

signatoryThis beautiful indie bottling of Mortlach spent 33 months of its 16 years in an Oloroso Sherry butt, then was outturned and bottled at cask strength.

Gorgeous color here, with deep aromas of sherry, walnuts, oily leather, and some madeira character. At full strength, it’s quite a blazer. Though it’s barely over 110 proof, this bottling is positively scorching — and that’s coming from someone quite accustomed to high-test bourbons sans water.

A healthy splash of water brings out this whisky at its absolute finest. Malty and nougat-laden at the core, it offers notes of ripe banana and more of that walnut before segueing into the sherry finish. It’s a big one, showcasing the citrus-focused wine in all its glory, almost chocolatey at times as it offers flamed orange oil and spicy aromatics.

An amazing whisky. Don’t miss it.

111.6 proof. Reviewed: Cask #1, bottle 629 of 669, from K&L Wine Merchants. (Binny’s has cask #2, by the way.)

A / $100 /

Maker’s Mark Launches Avant Garde Single Barrel Program

Big news for Maker’s Mark fans today: A new Private Barrel program will let you create bespoke Maker’s — but it goes beyond letting you pick a barrel. Maker’s is going to let you choose the exact type(s) of wood to be used as extra staves in a finishing barrel where your chosen whiskey will rest for an extra 9 weeks before bottling. (Basically it’s the same process used for Maker’s 46, only with a variety of wood selections beyond basic charred oak.) With over 1000 wood finish combinations possible, who’s ready to start collecting Single Barrel Maker’s Mark bottlings by the dozens?

Here’s the full announcement.

Loretto, KY (October 6, 2015) – Maker’s Mark is bringing real innovation to the bourbon industry with a first-of-its-kind barrel program, Maker’s Mark Private Select. The new experience will allow retail customers to “make their own Maker’s” by finishing fully-matured cask strength Maker’s Mark Bourbon in a single barrel made up of their custom selection of oak staves. The program will kick off in limited release in November 2015, with bottled product available for sale by retail participants beginning March 2016.

Through the Maker’s Mark Private Select Experience, participants will have the opportunity to spend an immersive and educational day at the historic Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY, where they will roll up their sleeves and mirror the process used by Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. when he created Maker’s 46 in 2010.

“This innovative process of creating a personal expression of Maker’s Mark allows the customer to create a bourbon that wanders in some intriguing ways from our traditional taste profile, while still being distinctively Maker’s Mark,” stated COO Maker’s Mark Distillery, Rob Samuels. “We’ve never before given anyone this kind of access or opportunity to create their favorite version of Maker’s, but we’re excited to see what folks come up with and how they like to make their Maker’s when given the chance.”

As with Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Private Select will start with fully-matured Maker’s Mark straight out of the barrel. Participants will receive an in-depth immersion that illustrates the essential role that wood plays in the taste of bourbon, and will select their preferred combination of five types of wood staves with which to finish their custom Maker’s expression. This collection of oak staves – each accentuating different flavors found in fully-matured Maker’s Mark – includes Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice. With 1,001 possible stave combinations, participants can create a customized finish and taste profile that is uniquely their own.

After aging for nine additional weeks in a single barrel with the participants’ custom stave combination, the Maker’s Mark Private Select bourbon will be bottled, corked and dipped at cask strength with details such as proof and stave combinations handwritten on the label. Maker’s Mark Private Select Program will be available to Kentucky and Illinois based retailers in its first year and will be expanded to additional markets in 2016.

Review: Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon 6 Years Old

Bib-and-Tucker-BottleshotA newer part of the 35 Maple Street collection, Bib & Tucker is sourced bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky (sorry, Indiana!), in barrel for 6 years. No mashbill information is available.

The whiskey cuts a frontier style on the nose, hot and loaded with lumber notes, cut with vanilla and some rye-driven spice. The body follows suit, kicking off with intense wood, then wandering into notes of burnt citrus peel, leather, toffee, some green hay, and toasted baking spices. The finish is lasting, hot, slightly astringent, and not overwhelmingly satisfying as it pinballs from one flavor to another.

Those who like their whiskey with a lot of push and punch may find B&T quite a delight, but I expect most bourbon aficionados will be put off by the lack of nuance and the over-exuberant youthfulness that Bib & Tucker exemplifies. While it has its moments and some charm, I think 50 bucks can go further elsewhere.

92 proof.

B- / $50 /

Review: Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye

mister katzNew York Distilling produces a number of craft spirits, including this Rock & Rye, which takes the company’s own young rye whiskey and blends it with rock candy sugar, sour cherries, cinnamon, and citrus.

It’s both a balanced and flavorful spirit, with those cherries and cinnamon notes both strong on the nose and the palate. The body is slightly sweetened but far from overpowering, and it offers gentle whiskey notes up front — simple grains, vanilla, and some barrel char. It’s a fun combination of flavors, as the baking spice notes in the rye are pumped up by the added sugar and the cinnamon in the blend. As the initial rush of whiskey-fueled notes fade, the cherries hit hard, then retreat into the background as the cinnamon makes a surprisingly strong return appearance. The spice lingers for quite awhile, pleasant and soothing as the finish fades away.

Rock & Rye is a classic flavored whiskey that’s on the rise — and Mister Katz’s is probably the best you’re going to find on the market today.

65 proof.

B+ / $28 /

Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2015

ardbeg supernova 2015By now you have probably had your fill of news about how Ardbeg sent some whisky into space and how it became a magical superspirit after three years in microgravity. 2015’s Supernova bottling — Ardbeg’s mega-peated expression — is being released in honor of these findings. (Remember: There is no actual space whisky in the bottle.) What you might have missed amongst the hubbub is that SN2015 is the final release of Supernova. I don’t know if that really means there will never be another Supernova release (distilleries are awful about that whole “never say never” thing), but for now, it’s your last chance to get your mitts on this heavily peated and highly coveted spirit.

There’s no real production information provided for this year’s whisky, so let’s just dive in.

On the nose, peat smoke starts things off as expected, but with an undercurrent of maple syrup and orange marmalade. As with most Supernova releases, the body is composed of a mix of pungent smoke, iodine and sea spray, and preserved fruits. The finish evokes bacon and some chocolate notes.

For 2015 the overall level of sweetness is in regimented, pacing the smokiness of the whisky step for step. Despite the 100ppm of phenols, it’s not a peaty blowout, nor is it sherried into oblivion. All told, it comes across not unlike any number of highly peated whiskies on the market  — well crafted and full of flavor, but ultimately short on uniqueness to the point of vague anonymity.

Can it be that after all these years, Supernova will not go out with an interstellar bang as promised — but will rather simply fade away?

108.6 proof.

B / $200 /

Review: Oppidan American Botanical Gin and Malted Rye Whiskey


Oppidan is a Chicago area-based microdistillery that is starting off with two products — a gin and an aged, malted rye. We tried them both. Thoughts follow.

Oppidan American Botanical Gin – A spin on London Dry, with grapefruit peel, hibiscus, cinnamon, elderflower, ginger, cardamom, and chamomile among the named botanicals. The nose is gentle and studded with mixed florals, moderate earth tones, and clear elderflower notes. On the palate, a wealth of flavors come forward — more floral notes, some chocolate, shaved licorice, some fennel, all with a seductive and lightly sweet finish. This is a feminine gin with a restrained and quiet body, a beautiful and delicate number that could pair well with just about anything. In a world where gin is an increasingly interesting category, it’s one of the best new bottlings you’ll find and I recommend it wholesale. 86 proof. A / $30

Oppidan Malted Rye Whiskey – A whiskey made from 100% malted rye, no age indicated. Clearly a young spirit, the whiskey is loaded with notes of grainy malt, smoke, and raw wood. The body offers some sweetness — vanilla, some baking spice, chewy wood, and beef jerky notes — but that youthful granary character is tough to shake. It’s hardly offensive, but you can find this same earthy and woody character in any number of young craft whiskeys on the market today. 92 proof. B / $45

Review: Sons of Liberty Hop Flavored Whiskey

sons of liberty hop flavored

Remember last year’s Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey from Rhode Island’s Sons of Liberty? Well, here’s another seasonal, the more straightforward Hop Flavored Whiskey.

Here’s how it’s produced:

This whiskey started its life as an IPA. After retaining the IPA flavors through distillation we aged the whiskey in American oak barrels. Once the aging process was complete, we finished the whiskey by dry hopping with Citra and Sorachi Ace hops for bright and complementary floral notes.

That all comes through quite clearly in the finished product, and this Sons of Liberty release cuts a profile similar to many other hop-flavored craft whiskeys I’ve had, pushy with hops up front and roasted cereal and a touch of popcorn notes emerging after. There’s a bit of hospital character and furniture polish up front on the nose, but the body sticks with the hops and cereal combo pretty closely. As the finish emerges, some orange peel and some tobacco notes emerge. Curious stuff, but its youth speaks even louder than the hop flavoring. Beer nuts should particularly seek it out.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3 (2015 release).

B / $48 /

Review: Blanton’s Single Barrel Select Private Selection from Quality Liquor Store

blantonsFour Roses and Jack Daniel’s aren’t the only single barrel private selection bottlings out there. Check out this bad boy from Quality Liquor Store, which is based in San Diego but which has a nice online selection of spirits.

Today we’re looking at QLS’s private bottling of Buffalo Trace’s highly regarded Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. This bottling was dumped on April 7, 2015 from Barrel #36, warehouse H, rick #10.

What an amazingly soft and incredibly drinkable bourbon this is. The nose is a bit restrained, showing pencil shavings, barrel char, brown sugar, and a touch of eucalyptus. That may sound like the intro to a huge whiskey, but the body turns out to be remarkably soft and seductive. The palate is filled with luscious vanilla ice cream, butterscotch, banana pudding, creme brulee… if you’re not picking up that this is a dessert-like confection in a glass by now, there’s something wrong with you. The finish is moderate, beautifully sweet with just a hint of lumber influence but also some lingering milk chocolate notes.

Entirely engaging but light as a feather, it’s one of the best bourbons I’ve encountered all year.

93 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #200/264.

Want a discount at QLS? Use code DRINKHACKER10% for 10 percent off!

A / $70 /

Review: Wicked Spirits Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey, Wicked 84 1/2 Whiskey, and Wicked Lightning Moonshine

wicked tangoOh, how I’ve procrastinated on these reviews, a collection of light whiskeys and moonshines bottled by a Kansas company called Wicked Spirits, aka Wicked Tango. With their mascot, Dirty Darcy (ahem), Wicked wants to rule the college shot market with this collection of minimally aged spirits made from 100% corn. Before I lose my nerve, let’s dive in.

Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey – Light whiskey isn’t like light beer. Rather, it’s a type of whiskey that is distilled at higher proofs and aged in used barrels, rather than new ones. The impossibly dark in color Wicked 87 is an off-putting experience, starting things off with a gumball and cotton candy scented nose. On the tongue, an enormous butterscotch candy character overwhelms, lingering until it fades into something closer to a pink bubblegum character. Vanilla lingers on the finish — but it’s more like vanilla ice cream… melted, with lots of sprinkles. Clearly packaged as an alternative to Fireball and other “party whiskeys,” this one just goes too far into sugar land for more than a few sips. A shot would probably kill you from the sugar shock. 87 proof. C / $NA

Wicked 84 1/2 Premium Reserve American Light Whiskey – This tastes almost exactly the same as Wicked 87 though, surprisingly, the slight downtick in proof is noticeable. That slightly lower alcohol translates to slightly more sugar, though, so any “premium reserve” translates into “extra sweetness.” It’s hard to tell much of a difference vs. the 87 though, and this bottling doesn’t appear on the Wicked website, so it’s unclear if it’s even on the market any more. 84.5 proof. C / $NA

Wicked Lightning Moonshine – Slight popcorn on the nose. Buttered. Classic, lightly corny on the body, but quite mild thanks to it being watered down considerably. Who’s looking for underproof moonshine today? I’m unclear. Harmless, but a bit pointless. 60 proof. 60 proof. C+ / $24

Wicked Lightning Peach Pie Moonshine – Strong chemical flavoring notes on the nose, unlike any peach pie I’ve ever had. Imagine melted peach-flavored Jolly Ranchers, muddled with that popcorn character outlined above and you’ve got this oddity. 60 proof. C- / $24

Wicked Lightning Pumpkin Spice Moonshine – Pungent with cloves on the nose, and even more on the body. Earthy and spicy, it eventually evokes a character more akin to a a cinnamon roll than a pumpkin pie, but it’s close enough to merit at least some attention. 60 proof. C / $24

Review: The Exceptional Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

exceptional blend

The Exceptional Blended Malt is a line extension of The Exceptional Grain Whisky, which came out earlier this year.

The Exceptional Malt is a blend of single malts, with no grain whisky added, including: a 16-year-old Ben Nevis, a first-fill sherry butt of Glenburgie, a vatted barrel of Balvenie, Kininvie, & Glenfiddich, a 13-year-old Speyside, a 25-year-old Speyburn, and a 30-year-old Macallan. The conflagration is then blended for further aging in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks.

There’s not much to dislike in that lineup, at least on paper, and The Exceptional is a mighty and quite engaging whisky. The nose starts things off with a ton of malt and big, roasted cereal grains. No sugary breakfast cereal here, this is a hearty bowl of toasted barley, straight off the stalk. Sherry makes a moderate appearance after that, along with some lighter astringent/hospital notes.

The palate runs straight to the sherry, with grainy notes folding in atop that. Initially it’s a bit simplistic — a friendly duo of citrus and cereal — but over time notes of green banana, pound cake, and a slight vegetal character emerge. This adds a bit of depth, but the finished product isn’t 100 percent cohesive. I wonder if the collection of barrels that went into this blend were ultimately a bit random? Stuff that wouldn’t cut it as a single malt so, what the hell, let’s blend them all together.

As the finish emerges, nice caramel notes soothe the palate and smooth out the whisky — which has the tendency of making you forget many of your complaints. What was I saying, then?

86 proof.