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

Review: Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon

Wyoming Whiskey Bottle Hi-resNo, it’s not from Indiana!

Wyoming Whiskey is a craft spirit made in Kirby, Wyoming, from a mash of locally-produced corn, wheat, and barley. There’s no aging information available, but it’s on the youthful side. To wit:

Fresh on the nose, it’s hanging on to its youth through some lighter cereal notes that become more evident as you tuck into your first sips. The grain — more shredded wheat, less popcorn — is tempered with ample vanilla and caramel notes, but then jumps into a back end that evokes cracked black pepper, barrel char, some licorice, and cocoa nibs. The finish is surprisingly bitter and drying.

All told, it’s young and a bit brash at times, but not without some significant level of charm. Definitely worth a shot if only to see how craft distillers are working hard at keeping up with the Joneses.

88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #22.

B / $40 / wyomingwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask and 1816 Reserve American Whiskey

chatanooga 1816

Chattanooga Whiskey may be the only distillery operating in the town of Chattanooga, Tennessee (though the label says the company is based in Nashville), but like many upstart distilleries, the whiskey, at present, isn’t actually made here yet. While it seems white dog started flowing here in early 2015 (when it finally became legal to do so), none of that stuff is ready for bottling, of course. What’s actually in the bottles reviewed below instead comes from our friends in Indiana at MGP.

Two versions of Chattanooga Whiskey are presently on offer, and the whiskeys are currently available in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. We tried them both. Should you choo-choose them? Read on!

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Reserve Handcrafted Whiskey – Made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, then aged 6 1/2 years in oak. Note that, paradoxically, the “1816 Reserve” is the entry level bottling. This is solid stuff — technically bourbon, I would think, as it is not processed after it hits the barrel, though the label just calls it “whiskey.” Altogether things are showing beautifully. It features a nice collection of rye spices — namely cinnamon and sultry butterscotch, plus some mint — atop a nicely crafted and balanced caramel- and vanilla-heavy core. Some barrel char makes an appearance and offers a very slightly smoky edge late in the game, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and sweet operator from start to finish. Well done. 90 proof. A- / $33

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask Tennessee Stillhouse American Whiskey – This is a barrel selection of whiskeys that are bottled at cask strength, but it’s unclear if this is simply a small batching of the above 1816 Reserve or if different mashes and/or ages are used. Fruity, with prominent baking spices on the nose. On the tongue, it’s much softer than the over-110 proof alcohol level would indicate, with chewy apple notes, cinnamon, butterscotch, and a little barrel char. As the finish develops, notes of warming cayenne and stronger cinnamon and clove notes start to emerge, fading out on a somewhat racy, peppery note. All in all, it’s an enjoyable and fruit-forward whiskey that makes for a fun solo sipper, but it also mixes quite well. That said, the 1816 Reserve is the more fulfilling experience. 113.6 proof. B+ / $43

chattanoogawhiskey.com

Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve Cask Finish Bourbon

jefferson grothJefferson’s latest release is this limited edition — a standard bourbon that is finished in wine barrels from the Groth winery, which makes a high-end Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s no age statement on this one, only the promise on the label that it is “very old” Kentucky straight bourbon. (Update: Jefferson’s Reserve says the base whiskey is at least eight years old before finishing.) It must be, right? After all, it does have the word “Reserve” twice in the name of the product!

Kidding aside, Jefferson’s Groth whiskey is surprisingly fruity, with a nose of cherries, peaches, and apricots, plus a vanilla sugar cookie character. Slightly corny, it evokes a significantly younger spirit from the start. The palate continues the fruit-forward theme, pushing more of those peachy notes alongside red fruit. Baking spices including cinnamon and powdered ginger overtake the restrained, barrel-driven vanilla notes, ending things on a note that offers the essence of hard, fruit-flavored candy.

A bit of an odd duck for a bourbon — and one that possibly could have withstood some extra time in barrel before it hit the finishing cask — but one that is not without a few unique pleasures.

90.2 proof.

B / $100 / jeffersonsbourbon.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine

popcorn suttonDon’t know Popcorn Sutton? Pshaw! The man wrote the book — literally, and he self-published it — on how to make moonshine. Sutton passed away in 2009, but you can still get a copy of Me and My Likker for, oh, $500.

If you’ve never seen a picture of Sutton, stop and click this link. The better to understand the kind of man we’re talking about, and the kind of product we’re dealing with. By all accounts, Sutton was a fanatic — about one thing: Making moonshine. Out in the hills of Tennessee, he’d work grain and sugar into sparkling sugar shine and, again by all accounts, that was it. The man had no use for the trappings of modern society (though he did manage to get married). He kept his future casket in his living room and the footstone of his own design, reading “Popcorn Said Fuck You,” be placed on his grave when he died. The family ignored the request — Sutton committed suicide to avoid going to prison for, of course, making moonshine.

And so we get to his namesake, Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine. With Sutton dead and buried, enterprising types have taken to commercializing his work. In 2010, Hank Williams Jr. and Sutton’s widow Pam joined forces to produce a commercial moonshine called Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The product was a big hit, but after a suit with Jack Daniel’s (since settled), namely over the bottle design, the spirit was relaunched as Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe in late 2015. (The production and spirit inside have not changed, however, and it is still reportedly made according to his recipe, just a few miles from Sutton’s old home.)

Things are moving for the brand. Last year, George Dickel master distiller John Lunn took over as Popcorn Sutton’s head distiller. If you’ve ever met or seen Lunn, you know he’s about as far from Sutton as you can get, but one has to assume he’s keeping the fires lit the way Popcorn wanted them.

So, on to the tasting…

The heavy grain and milder petrol notes on the nose of Popcorn Sutton are indistinct and could be tasting notes for just about any white whiskey. While the aroma is nothing special, the body is about as good as white lightning gets. Initially quite sweet — Sutton likely uses a lot of sugar in the recipe — it ping-pongs from notes of popcorn and rolled oats to fresh simple syrup. A touch grassy, it finishes on a note of bitter tree bark, which I can only imagine Sutton chawing on while he stokes the fires of his stills. Otherwise it leaves things fairly fresh and clean, which may come as a surprise to drinkers expecting a firebomb on their tongue. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘shine. Guess the man knew what he was doing.

88 proof.

B+ / $25 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Macallan Amber and Gold

amberThe Macallan has never been a distillery to do things in a straightforward way. Case in point: the 1824 collection. There’s not just one. There are many.

There’s an 1824 Master Series (which Rare Cask is part of). And there’s an 1824 Collection Travel Retail (which these whiskies are part of).

Amber and Gold are part of neither of those. They are from the 1824 Series, which is a European-only line of NAS expressions delineated by color alone. (In the UK, all the Master Series whiskies are dumped into the 1824 Series as a big group.)

OK, so what’s the deal with the color names? The 1824 Series is, per Macallan, the only malt whisky line ever produced with barrels selected by the color of the spirit. Four versions are in release: Gold, Amber, Sienna, and Ruby, from least expensive to most. Again, there are no age statements in this line, but as color is generally tied to time spent in cask — all of these are drawn from sherry casks to keep the playing field at least somewhat level — you can at least get a sense of the age of the whisky just by looking at it. Or at least that’s the idea.

On my recent trip to Scotland I picked up samples of both Gold and Amber — and will have to leave the luxe other two for my next trip. Should you find yourself across the pond, well, here’s what you can expect from these drams.

Both are 80 proof.

The Macallan Gold – The whisky is immediately youthful, with ample cereal notes, but also quite charming. The nose balances cereal with spice and gentle brown sugar notes. Lots of cinnamon here along with flamed orange peel. On the palate, ginger emerges along with more citrus — orange and lemon — though again it is backed by some sweetened breakfast cereal character folding in both sugar and grain. The finish is modest and very easygoing, a gentle conclusion to a relatively straightforward — but never unenjoyable — little whisky. B / $47 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

The Macallan Amber – Stepping up on the color wheel brings you to this whisky, which is just barely a shade darker than the Gold expression. Similar color or not, Amber really does kick things up in the flavor department. Much stronger sherry notes emerge right from the start, with a nose of spiced nuts and more citrus — plus lots of vanilla and some menthol. On the palate, it’s surprisingly bold — well sherried grains, candied ginger, more nuts (hazelnut?), and a fruity finish. All in all, there’s simply more going on here — and that’s generally a good thing. B+ / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

themacallan.com

Review: Kilchoman 2008 Vintage and PX Finish 2010

kilcohman 2008 Vintage 2015 (2)

Kilchoman may be just a kid on the distilling scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s taking its time. Here’s a look at two new expressions from this up-and-coming Islay distiller.

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage – This is a vatting of exclusively bourbon-cask-aged barrels of Kilchoman distilled in July 2008 and bottled in August 2015, making this, at 7 years old, the longest-aged expression to date to come from this now 10-year-old distillery. The nose is quite a surprise, loaded with apple and pear notes, with smoke taking a secondary (though plenty strong) role. The body is smokier, though far from overwhelming, but here more of an orange character comes into focus alongside the apple notes. On the finish, it’s quite gentle, with stronger vanilla custard notes, some almond and walnut notes, and an echo of smoke on the back end. A very strong showing for this vintage, and something that even a peat novice might be able to enjoy. 92 proof. A- / $100

Kilchoman Single Cask Release PX Finish (2010) – This is an ImpEx exclusive, a single-cask of Kilchoman aged for four years in bourbon barrels, then finished for four months in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. (Last year Kilchoman released a 2009 vintage version of basically the same expression, so feel free to compare.) The very light smoke on the nose is almost surprising — this is perhaps the most gentle of any Kilchoman expression I’ve tried to date. Sea spray, some coal fire, and standard peat fill out the aroma profile. On the palate the whisky is lightly sweet and touched with burnt citrus, darker baking spices, and again a modest smoke profile. The finish is moderately drying and short. Good effort, but it’s surpassed by the 2009 release. 114.4 proof. Cask #680/2010. B+ / $140

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2015

michters 10-Year-Bourbon 2015

Michter’s latest whiskeys have arrived — single-barrel bottlings of 10 year old and 20 year old bourbons. There’s no production or sourcing information on these limited edition whiskeys (which are not part of the US-1 line), only that they are aged in new oak for 10 (or 20) years, which is, of course, the law for bourbon.

These are actually the first single barrel bourbon releases for 2015, though they were supposed to ship in January. Says Michter’s Master Distiller Willie Pratt, “These two bourbons were set for release at the beginning of this year, but I held them back for a bit more aging. I wanted them to be just right.”

So there we have it. We received the 10 year old expression for review. The $600 20 year, alas, remains elusive.

As for the 10, this is just good, solid, well-made bourbon from front to back. The nose carries a solid caramel punch, with touches of banana and coconut. On the palate, rich and well-integrated notes of vanilla and more caramel take center stage, with some smoky char emerging underneath. The finish is fruity — offering more banana, more coconut, and some chocolate notes, the ultimate effect being something like a nice little ice cream sundae. Altogether it may not be incredibly complex, but it’s so delicious on its own merits that it hardly matters. Definitely worth seeking out.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15J829.

A / $100 / michters.com