Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Ol’ Major Bacon Flavored Bourbon

Ol' Major with Bacon

Another whiskey from Branded Spirits… this one with a major (and obvious) spin.

To start with the basics: This is real whiskey flavored with real bacon. The bourbon is an 88% corn mash made by Terressentia, the bacon if from an Oklahoma pork producer. The flavoring and bottling operation takes place in Nashville; this involves taking nitrous aerosolized bacon, injecting it into the bourbon, and then filtering it heavily to remove the solids.

Hands down this is the best bacon-flavored spirit I’ve encountered to date. Slightly meaty, slightly salty, the pure bacon essence grows stronger as it evolves in the glass. On the palate a maple syrup character is prominent, with those classic bacon notes building on the lingering, slightly smoky finish.

Consider me pleasantly surprised. While it sips surprisingly well, it’s definitely made for mixing — try it in an Old Fashioned or a Bloody Mary.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / brandedspiritsusa.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2016

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The 17th annual Whiskies of the World event wrapped this March in San Francisco, and it was as fun and chaotic as ever to wander three stories of the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, moored in the San Francisco Bay.

This year I focused my attention primarily on independent bottlers of Scotch whiskies, with Alexander Murray and Gordon & MacPhail both in attendance, along with veterans like the Exclusive Malts and Chieftain’s collections. Also highly worthwhile: A new distillery, Mosswood, which ages light whiskey in a variety of oddball barrels to produce the most exotic and interesting “flavored” whiskey you’ve ever tried. As for my favorite spirit of the night? Arran’s delightful “Smugglers’ Illicit Stills” offering, which comes complete in a fake book (see photo).

Thoughts on everything sampled follow.

Scotch

Alexander Murray Bladnoch 25 Years Old – Notes of roasted nuts, grains, a touch of lychee / B
Alexander Murray Monumental Blended Scotch 30 Years Old – Very grainy — a surprise — notes of hay / B
Alexander Murray Speyside 40 Years Old – Quite gentle, malty, quiet citrus; surprising that this is 40 years old / A
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso – A bit overblown, with big toffee notes / B+
Aberlour Scapa Skiren – Simple; easygoing, with gentle grain structure / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old – Big molasses notes, scorched caramel, nice stuff / A-
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old – Ginger is fun, but granary notes surprise / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Old Pulteney 21 Years Old – Quite maritime, gentle peat and salt spray / A-
Lagavulin 12 Years Old – The classic; nothing new to report / B+
Lagavulin Distillers Edition Double Matured – Gorgeous, big mouthfeel and better balanced than the standard Lag 12 / A-
Glenmorangie Signet – Sweet chocolate notes, coffee, almost overblown with dessert notes / A-
The Balvenie 17 Years Old DoubleWood – Classic; light sherry, nougat, well balanced / A-
Macallan Rare Cask / Rounded and well sherried; still drinking lovely / A-
Chieftain’s Glen Grant 20 Years Old – Slightly racy, with heavy cereal notes / B
Chieftain’s Linkwood 17 Years Old – Chewy, with cherry notes, gentle finish / A-
Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 2002 – A big crowd pleaser, but it didn’t resonate with me; big cereal notes, yeasty, slightly astringent / B
Exclusive Malts Girvan 1988 Single Grain – Butterfinger candies, buttery body, surprising for a single grain / B+
Arran Amarone Finish – Starts off hot; leads to raisin and chocolate notes, a bit scattered / B+
Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills – Quietly spicy, with tons of malt, honey, and a touch of smoke; really compelling / A

022Bourbon

PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Eagle Rare – The first of five single barrel releases on tap from SF’s PlumpJack; big butterscotch notes, but quite woody / B
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSV 8 years, 8 months – Lovely, with some pepper to it / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSO 10 years, 6 months – Lots of heat; a bit astringent; peppermint notes / B+
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSF 11 years, 7 months – Honeyed with baking spices and cinnamon / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OESQ 10 years, 5 months – Popcorn and malt, rather plain / B
Healthy Spirits Old Scout 9 Years Old – Another private bottling; big caramel, chocolate, cinnamon… but a touch grainy / B+

Other

Brenne 10 Years Old – The 10 year old expression of this French malt; enduring grain, notes of gingersnaps / B+
J. Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey – Unpalatable, incredible bite / C-
Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof – Lovely apple and caramel, with a drying finish / A-
Mosswood Apple Brandy Barrel Aged – Mosswood makes light whiskey and ages it in different barrels, giving it a really unique structure; this one has beautiful fruit, with gentle, cider-like character / A-
Mosswood Espresso Barrel Aged – Slightly smoky, earthy, and nutty – not the heavy coffee bomb you might expect / A-
Mosswood Umeshu Single Barrel Aged – An Asian plum wine barrel gives this a curious notes; on the palate the fruit really emerges alongside spice and a sweet backbone; quite a revelation in “flavored” whiskey / A
Germain-Robin Old Havana Brandy – A touch of tobacco, lingering raisin, very soft / A-
Germain-Robin Single Barrel Brandy – Bigger body, heavy raisin and spice elements / B+
Low Gap Wheat Whiskey 4 Years Old – Heavy pear notes, very fruity / B+
Roundstone Rye – 100% rye; youthful, earthy, mouth-filling / B-
Roundstone Rye 92 Proof – More rounded; heavy cloves / B+
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof – Aged in maple syrup casks and it shows; a bit cloying / B
Seven Stills of San Francisco Whipnose – 7 Stills makes whiskey from different styles of beer; this one’s an IPA base. Classic IPA notes add density and ample hops / B+
Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate – Coffee porter base with a touch of espresso added on the back end; clear coffee notes, slight caramel; lingering coffee finish / A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Dogpatch – Sour beer based, finished in a sour beer barrel. Some funk, a little cherry and raisin character; a bit crazy as whiskey goes. Need to spend more time with this one / B+

Review: McMenamins Edgefield Hogshead and Monkey Puzzle Whiskey

McMenamins Whiskey_MonkeyPuzzle - McMenamins and Kathleen NybergTwo new whiskeys from McMenamins’ Edgefield Distillery in Troutdale, Oregon. Let’s take a spin through this pair of limited edition spirits available directly from the distillery and its various gift shops.

McMenamins Edgefield Hogshead Whiskey – “Pure pot distilled from 100% malted barley,” per the label. Since “pure pot still” — in the Irish sense — is made from a blend of malted and unmalted barley, this is probably more accurately termed a single malt. Aged for an indeterminate time in used barrels of unstated origin. The whiskey is young but fruity, with a backing of gentle granary notes. Notes of cloves and almond emerge on the nose as it takes on air, along with a touch of chocolate — even a bit of horchata. The palate’s a bit racier than it should be, but a splash of water really helps even things out, coaxing out gentle caramel notes, some citrus, and more nuts. The body is basic and the finish is on the short side, the grain notes lingering more than anything else. Not a bad single malt, but I’d love to see what would happen if this went back into barrel for another 3 or 4 years. 92 proof. B / $40 (750ml)

McMenamins Edgefield Monkey Puzzle – Take Hogshead Whiskey and infuse it with Teamaker hops (which are not bitter) and honey and you’ve got Monkey Puzzle. (Great name, by the way.) The nose immediately showcases heavy hops notes along with black tea, tobacco, and dusky Asian spices. As promised, it’s not bitter but rather offers a significant herbal character along with a bit of a rolled cigar note. The hops linger on the finish, leaving behind a slightly smoky, slightly menthol character that hangs around for quite awhile. Curious stuff. 92 proof. B / $20 (375ml)

mcmenamins.com

Review: Coldcock American Herbal Flavored Whiskey

COLDCOCK Herbal Whiskey bottle_whitebackground

Coldcock is the first product from Rick and Sarah Zeiler, marketing veterans of Sidney Frank, the company that made Jagermeister a hit. For their first trick, the Zeilers have gone with a tried-and-true formula: The twentysomething shooter, a category they know a little something about. Alas, many have tried and only one has succeeded at dethroning Jager from its perch in the last couple of decades. Can Coldcock, a 3 year old Kentucky bourbon flavored with herbs and bottled at 35% abv in a black bottle with a fist emblazoned on it, succeed where so many have failed?

Let’s see.

The nose is initially hard to place — brandied cherries come to mind, along with anise and some bitter roots. Over time, the nose becomes a bit salty and sweaty, which I don’t mean in a good way (if there was any confusion). On the palate, the spirit is both sweet and savory in fits and starts, offering an initial rush that runs through the gamut of sweet stuff: simple sugar, Maraschino cherry notes, cinnamon rolls, and gingerbread. It takes a moment, then the “herbal” part of this whiskey comes into focus. Unfortunately that part of the experience is rather flat, with the character of an old canister of dried herbs, dull anise, cooked vegetables, and vague root beer notes.

Coldcock ultimately feels awfully confused about what it wants to be. The most successful aspect is when it tries to be a lightly sweetened, fruit-flavored whiskey with baking spice overtones. But when things extend into the truly “herbal” world, the whiskey loses its footing. I get that Coldcock doesn’t exactly want to emulate Jagermeister (or Fireball) but by landing right in the middle of these two, it may have trouble pleasing either side.

Also it has “cock” in the name.

70 proof.

B- / $20 / coldcockwhiskey.com

Review: Beach Whiskey Original and Island Coconut

beach whiskey

I say coconut-flavored spirit. You say… whiskey?

It’s hard to believe, particularly with a name like “Beach” and pastel-colored bottles, but this really is a corn-based product. A pure corn, white whiskey is the one in white. Red is a cinnamon spirit (not reviewed here) and blue is the coconut whiskey. Coconut whiskey. Still can’t get used to saying that.

Anyway, let’s give this Florida-born product a shot, if we can stop thinking about pina coladas for a minute.

Beach Whiskey Original – An unflavored moonshine. Fairly restrained on the nose, with a touch of kettle corn character — it’s both corny and lightly sweet. On the palate, the whiskey is surprisingly watery, with little more flavor than your typical shot of vodka. A slightly medicinal astringency only compounds that impression, though those corn chip notes come along more powerfully on the finish. A surprisingly harmless moonshine, this is a definitive white whiskey for anyone who’s been afraid to dip a toe in the category. 80 proof. B / $NA

Beach Whiskey Island Coconut – Coconut-flavored and watered down, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is Malibu based on the nose. Hints of pineapple add a touch of something different on the tongue, but it isn’t until the finish that a touch of that popcorn and brown butter character comes along to remind you that there’s whiskey at the core of this. At 26% abv, maybe not much whiskey, but enough to keep things from sliding into the rum world completely. 52 proof. B- / $NA

beachwhiskey.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