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: 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: Jim Beam Apple

jim beam Apple Bottle_highWe almost missed this release a few months back, but finally turned up a bottle in our to-review queue. Jim Beam Apple probably doesn’t need a whole lot of introduction: It’s Jim Beam whiskey flavored with apple liqueur (specifically green apple liqueur) — though the fine print on the bottle reads the other way around. Technically this is apple liqueur flavored with Jim Beam bourbon.

Either way, it’s essentially a heavily flavored whiskey, and Beam has not been shy with the apple flavor. Intense, fruity, and extremely sweet, it’s tart apple pushed to the breaking point — particularly on the uncomplicated nose. Subtle whiskey notes — vanilla and a touch of baking spice — emerge over time, but those are really understated. By and large this could sub in for Apple Pucker or any other super-sweet apple liqueur, provided you don’t mind sipping on a brown appletini.

70 proof.

C / $15 / jimbeam.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

It was another unforgettable year at 2015’s WhiskyFest, with some of whiskydom’s most cherished icons on tap for tasting, and plenty of old friends to mingle and catch up with.

Of course, many of those old friends come in liquid form, and I had ample opportunity to revisit plenty of classic whiskies while spending time with a number of newer drams. Here’s a brief look at everything I tasted at the San Francisco installment of this essential spirits show.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

Scotch

Tullibardine 20 Years Old / A- / showing beautifully, a nice balance of vanilla and cereal notes (bourbon barrel aged)
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / A / a much different experience, with gorgeous nougat and honey notes (sherry barrel aged)
Balvenie 50 Years Old Cask 4567 / A+ / snuck out from behind a curtain, this is Balvenie shining at its brightest; not old and hoary but light on its feet and ready to dance; explosive, with dried berries, dense toffee, baking spices, and florals on the finish; 2 casks produced, the other cask is said to be very different
Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask / A- / very caramel heavy, racy but dense, with lots of brown sugar notes
William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old / A- / blended whiskey from three silent stills; restrained with toffee, nuts, and some kippered notes; comes out next year
Glengoyne 18 Years Old / A- / big body, notes of grain and fruitcake
Glengoyne 21 Years Old / B+ / traditional malt, with cocoa hints
Aberlour Scapa Skiren / B / lots of sweetness, with a malty backbone – plus melon, sweet mandarins
Highland Park Odin / B+ / dense and handsome, sherry with some smoky charcoal notes; not in love with this today
Dewar’s Scratched Cask / B+ / Dewar’s White with a little “scratched cask” aging; not readily distinguishable from the entry level blend, though quite powerful
Aultmore 12 Years Old / B+ / heavy vanilla and chocolate, dense with shortbread notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1964 / A- / heavy wood notes play with raisins and spice; this has seen wood for too long, though
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1984 / A / right where it’s at; vibrant and exotic, with tropical notes, plum pudding, and hints of grain; absolutely gorgeous
Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend / B+ / well-balanced, malty with some smoky notes
Compass Box Hedonism 15 Years Old Anniversary Bottling / A- / a blend of single grains, all 20 years old or more; fun toffee and fruit trifle notes
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A- / rich, smoky, with a gentler fruit core
Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky / B / a blend of single malts and grain whisky, 19 to 40 years of age; Compass Box got into trouble over this one (more on that later); I got a little mustiness and mushroom notes here, with creosote bubbling up; not feeling it tonight

American

McKenzie Pure Potstill Whiskey / B- / American pure pot still? wacky! this one is very young, but that hint of classic Irish sweetness hits hard on the finish
Sonoma County Distilling Company Truffle Whiskey / B+ / 100% rye, with shaved truffles added to the barrel; not what you’re expecting, but with forest floor notes a-plenty
Stranahan’s Snowflake (Dec. 2014) / A- / easily my favorite Snowflake bottling to date, beautiful balance of sweet and spice, very pretty
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak / A- / lush and big with dried fruits, spices, and gentle granary notes; another winner from Colorado
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Old / A- / a classically structured bourbon, dense and stylish, with a spicy finish
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A+ / there’s a reason this whiskey is the most expensive bourbon made in America — it’s the best thing anyone is making in the country; dense raisin, cinnamon, vanilla, toffee… it just goes on and on with layer after layer of goodness
High West A Midwinter’s Night Dram Act 3 / A / my favorite AMND yet; cherry and herbs in balance (not blown out), with a licorice kick
High West Bourye Batch 15B03 / A / still gorgous; syrupy and fruity, unctuous at times
High West Single Malt 1 Month Old / NR / a work in progress, surprisingly gentle for single malt but a fun look at something coming down the pipeline… give it another 5 years at least

Canadian

Forty Creek Confederation Oak / A / beautiful vanilla and maple notes, but dense and balanced
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve / A- / very enjoyable, candy corn and chocolate raisins at play
Forty Creek Evolution / A- / again, quite candylike and very sweet; 9000 bottles made
WhistlePig Straight Rye Old World Sauternes Finish 12 Years Old / A- / a very strong and sweet whisky (just one of the components of the new Old World bottling), with lemon curd notes

Other

Diplomatico Blanco Rum 6 Years Old / B / solid, uninspired as a sipper though
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Vintage 2000 / A / vintage Diplomatico; gorgeous, sherry-finished rum, balanced perfectly

Review: Sons of Liberty True Born Gin “The Belgian Wheat Act” and Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2015)

sons of liberty 2015 Pumpkin Whiskey_8

Sons of Liberty distillery is doing some exciting work in the tiny state of Rhode Island. Today we look at two new offerings — an innovative gin and an update to its pumpkin-flavored whiskey. Thoughts follow.

Sons of Liberty True Born Genever Style Gin “The Belgian Wheat Act” – How’s this for obsessive. With this genever-style gin, Sons of Liberty started by taking the botanicals that are traditional in gin — coriander, lemongrass, orange peel, and vanilla (well, some of those are traditional in gin, but anyway) — and using them to brew their own beer. SoL then distilled the Belgian Wheat beer (hence the name) and turned it into gin. Instead of taking neutral spirit and flavoring it, they’re flavoring the liquid that goes into the distillate to begin with.

Now, that’s been done before, but the end product has always been whiskey, not gin. SoL actually sent us the beer they started with — it’s not being sold, so it’s just for reference — and it’s really intriguing to put this side by side with the gin that was made out of it. While it’s got a malty backbone — enough to make you think much more of white whiskey than of gin — the spices that are so readily apparent in the beer are definitively present in the gin. Orange peel is the strongest, with vanilla a close second. The gin also has a nutty/almond character which adds some creaminess, plus a racy finish that brings out cinnamon and black pepper notes. The hops on the beer are just about the only element that doesn’t shine through clearly — though they likely contribute to what is a sort of muddy character on the finish. That said, all in all, it’s a really fun experiment. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. B / $33

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2015) – I first encountered this whiskey last year with its inaugural release. Now Sons of Liberty is back with its second annual pumpkin-flavored whiskey, single malt flavored with 32,000 pounds of roasted pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, sweet orange peel, and vanilla. Unlike last year’s version, the 2015 rendition is markedly sweeter, with good reason — pumpkin for pumpkin’s sake is never a winning game. Pumpkin with sugar and spice? Well, there’s an idea. In this whiskey — still young and heavy with malty notes — those spices are really punched up to the right level. Beautiful allspice notes make for a welcome entree to lightly-sweetened pumpkin, definitively roasted and slightly smoky on the back end. Unlike my experience with last year’s version, the 2014 SoL Pumpkin Spice Whiskey is not just a novelty but a smooth operator in its own regard, smoothing out the harshly bitter notes that stuck with me in last year’s release. Give it a go. 80 proof. B+ / $48

solspirits.com

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 / nydistilling.com

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 / solspirits.com