Review: High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey

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Don’t look now, but you can actually get an (aged) whiskey that is really made at High West’s Utah location instead of brought in on a truck from someone else. Is that a good thing? While High West makes some lovely unaged whiskeys, its biggest home-grown barrel-aged product, Valley Tan, is clearly still a work in progress. The spirit is made from a mash of wheat, oat, and malted barley, and is blended from barrels aged from 1 to 6 years.

Heavily malted, granary notes kick things off. The nose is loaded with fresh, grassy cereal and lightly-smoky notes of dried hay, plus a significant amount of barnyard character. On the palate, it’s more of the same, though a touch of sweet breakfast cereal and hints of dried apple cut some of the harsher notes. That said, the finish is a bit pungent and offers some diesel notes — neither of which is entirely in line with what I’m looking for in a “sippin'” whiskey.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

C / $59 / highwest.com

Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old

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Once a largely ignored bottom-shelf bottling, Rebel Yell continues its march up-market with this latest release, a 10 year old single barrel bottling crafted from its wheated bourbon recipe. 2000 cases will be made available this year. In 2017, production will expand to 4000 cases.

The nose offers oak first, then layers of anise and tobacco leaf. The iconic vanilla caramel character is here, but it is burnt and crispy, with mild eucalyptus notes — though all in all, fairly steady hallmarks of well-aged bourbon. The palate is where things start to get more interesting. The anise character is distinct and heavy, before notes of peppermint, cloves, and cinnamon red hots come along. The finish is burly with wood, but not overpowering — more barrel char than sawdust — though there’s a bit of lingering gumminess that mars things a bit.

All told, this is a bourbon for fans who like things on the distinctly — even heavily — savory side, and even though it’s not exactly an everyday sipper, it marks a nice change of pace from some of the sugar bombs that tend to be more popular.

Reviewed: Barrel #4744359, distilled September 2005.

100 proof.

A- / $50 / rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: Ohishi Brandy Cask and Sherry Single Cask Whisky

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The southern Japanese island of Kyushu is home to the Kuma River, and it’s here that the Ohishi distillery, founded in 1872, turns rice into whiskey. Much like Kikori, Ohishi eschews the traditional barley for something that Japan knows well: rice, which is partially malted before fermentation. This ain’t Uncle Ben’s, mind you: Says GRC Imports, which is now bringing Ohishi into the country, “In addition to mochi rice from Kumamoto, they also use gohyakumanishi which is grown with an organic farming method that involves koi carp to control weeds in paddy fields.”

Sounds fancy!

Today we look at two of the company’s newly imported expressions, both NAS offerings.

Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky – This is a vatting of a small number of casks that were formerly used for brandy (unknown which or from where) for an indeterminate amount of time — though based on the pale color, not for long at all. This is a light and fragrant spirit, with a nose reminscent of very dry sherry, filtered through a bit of sugar and anise. The palate features marzipan notes, the lightest touch of sweet caramel, and another wispy hint of licorice on the back end. This expression has a much lighter touch than Kikori, with a milder body, less sweetness, and less of a distinct fruit character. While some of the aromatics invite a comparison to sake, it isn’t nearly as direct a connection as it is with Kikori. 83.2 proof. B / $75

Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky Cask #1257 (pictured) – This is a single cask release from a first-fill sherry butt, a brilliant copper in color and a dramatic departure from the light gold of the Brandy Cask release. Nutty and a bit chocolatey on the nose, it offers a big oloroso sherry aroma — lighter on the citrus and heavier on the baking spice. The body pushes forward with the motif, striking the palate immediately with notes of spiced and roasted nuts, coffee, and dates. After a time, it moves on as the finish develops, showing a somewhat more exotic, eastern characters of incense and spice bazaars. All told, it’s really engaging stuff that takes what we’ve come to expect from a heavily sherried profile and totally makes it its own. 86.6 proof. 506 bottles made. A- / $75

grcimports.com

Review: 1792 High Rye Bourbon

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Sazerac/Buffalo Trace’s 1792 Distillery is on a tear, now hitting the market with its 5th special edition in a little over a year, High Rye Bourbon. Some details:

Barton 1792 Distillery releases another expression in its line-up of 1792 whiskeys, 1792 High Rye Bourbon. The flagship product of the collection, 1792 Small Batch, is well known for using a higher percentage of rye than most bourbons, but this special edition High Rye Bourbon brings an even more intense amount of rye to the mash bill. Although very limited, expect to see annual releases of this robust bourbon after its initial release this fall. 1792 High Rye Bourbon was distilled in May of 2008, and aged for a little more than eight years on the second floor of Warehouse K at the historic Barton 1792 Distillery before it was bottled at 94.3 proof.

You can smell the rye influence foremost here, which hits the nostrils with a racy punch of cloves, allspice, and red pepper. The impression of spice is a bit misleading, though, for the palate balances this out with a gentler body that pumps up the vanilla- and caramel-led sweetness, at least on the initial attack. With a bit of time, the rye spices make a triumphant return, muscling their way back to the fore and layering on a bit of heat. The finish is lengthy and offers some drying licorice notes, plus ginger and tea leaf. All told, it comes together with remarkable balance and finds a unique place in bourbondom, riding the line between a traditional bourbon and a straight rye.

A lovely addition to the 1792 lineup. Get it while you can!

94.3 proof.

A / $36 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt and Nikka Yoichi Single Malt

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Japanese single malt whisky fans, the end is here. Age statements are vanishing faster than polar ice, and in their stead are arriving a series of NAS releases to replace them. Nikka is the latest distillery to do the deed, replacing a variety of the age-stated whiskies from its Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries, which are long since sold out, with these no-age versions, the new reality for Japanese whisky for the foreseeable future.

Both are 90 proof and aged in a variety of cask types, including bourbon and sherry barrels.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt – Miyagikyo is based in Sendai, fairly north on the main island of Japan. This lightly peated malt is simple but pleasant and easygoing. The nose offers some wispy smoke plus gentle grain, along with hints of fruity apricot (plus some more pungent dried apricot). The palate largely follows suit, adding on more citrus, torched banana, and nougat, all laced throughout with salty, smoky seaweed notes. There is a great balance here between sweet and savory, but the whisky lacks much in the way of depth to back that up, giving way to a relatively short, though perfectly pleasant, finish. B+ / $80

yoichi_750ml_exportNikka Yoichi Single Malt – From Hokkaido, a distillery on an island to the north of the Japanese mainland. This is a somewhat more heavily peated whisky, its smoky character rather more blatant and hamfisted from start to finish. Wood smoke dominates the nose, some black pepper character hidden in there somewhere. On the palate, again the muddy smoke notes tend to dominate, dominating some light bubblegum character, hints of citrus and green apple, plus less fleshed-out granary notes. A little Madeira on the finish. Overall, this is a straightforward, peated whisky that just doesn’t seem to have had enough time to develop, both to temper its more raw smoke elements and to build up the fruit to create a more nuanced core. Fair enough, but it’s just too immature to command this kind of price. B / $80

nikka.com

Review: Kilchoman ImpEx Cask Evolution 2/2016 Bourbon Barrel

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This is a single cask release of Kilchoman exclusively for the U.S. This barrel was distilled on August 11, 2011 and bottled on May 16, 2016, making it just shy of five years old, entirely aged in a bourbon barrel, cask #470/2011. (This series is meant to showcase the impact of different types of wood on Kilchoman.)

Kilchoman’s last ImpEx Exclusive was a sherry bomb, which makes this a fun counterpart and point of comparison. On the nose, gentle smoke gives way to notes of coconut, cloves, and bacon fat. It’s quite inviting, and the body keeps things going from there. The palate offers notes of almonds, more coconut, and a surprising amount of fruit considering that this is a young, bourbon-barreled whisky. The finish sees more of that gentle smoke returning, along with some sweet cola and clove notes that add nuance and intrigue. Everything comes together surprisingly well in this one; it’s easy to see why ImpEx picked this particular cask at this particular time.

120.2 proof.

A- / $135 / impexbev.com

Review Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Straight Bourbon

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Officially it’s called: Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey Selected Expressly for Connoisseurs of Small Batch Fine Spirits. There are other honorifics on the bottle, but too much for me to type.

That’s a lot of verbiage for an MGP-sourced whiskey, though it is bottled at at least seven years old, per the back label. It’s a blend of two bourbon mashes, one with 21% rye, one with 35% rye, averaging out at about 26% rye.

For the uninitiated, first a history lesson on the Hirsch name. Adolph Hirsch started distilling small batch whiskey in Pennsylvania in the 1970s under the eye of Dick Stoll, a well known master distiller who came up through the Beam system. By 1989, Hirsch was bankrupt, probably because he never sold any of the whiskey he was making. Eventually it was bottled by the van Winkles (yes, those van Winkles) and sold as A.H. Hirsch Reserve. Several editions were released until it was all gone. Today, some of those dusty old Hirsch 16 year old bottles now sell for up to $3,000.

Somewhere along the way, Anchor Distilling acquired the name and started sourcing whiskey from Indiana to bottle anew as “Hirsch.” Nothing wrong with that, but drinkers should know that the Hirsch of today has literally nothing to do with the Hirsch of yesteryear, though it is “inspired by the quality of A.H. Hirsch.” OK!

So anyway, let’s get to tasting this entry-level expression.

On the nose there’s ample vanilla, caramel sauce, and some hints of pepper. A bit strong with eucalyptus notes and a bit of lumberyard character, eventually it settles down, opening up to reveal some butterscotch and red cherry notes. The palate largely follows suit with the nose, though with time in glass it really starts to exude heavy salted caramel notes, plus notes of peanut brittle, cinnamon, and spicy gingerbread. Again, this is a whiskey that really benefits from some settle-down time, and it drinks with more complexity and depth than I had initially given it credit for.

Definitely worth a look.

92 proof.

A- / $40 / anchordistilling.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Seattle Distilling Idle Hour Whiskey

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Home-grown Washington barley finds its way into Seattle Distilling’s Idle Hour single malt whiskey, which adds local wildflower honey into the fermentation to sweeten things up a bit (Seattle Distilling calls this “its Irish character”). The distillate is aged in re-charred, used French oak cabernet sauvignon wine casks, though no age statement is offered.

This is oaky American malt whiskey, and like most American single malts, it’s youthful and brash and overloaded with new wood — but at least Idle Hour shows a bit of restraint in comparison to other whiskeys in this category.

Perhaps its the old wine barrels that temper Idle Hour, which kicks off on the nose with plenty of fresh cut lumber, yes, but also offers notes of menthol, honeysuckle, and jasmine. The palate is a surprise, milder than expected, again tempering its evident and drying toasty oak character with gentle florals, some almond notes, and a bit of lime zest. The finish sees some canned, green vegetables and offers some odd, lingering notes of ripe banana and tobacco leaf.

All in all it’s better than I expected, and despite some odd departures and U-turns, it reveals itself to be a unique and often worthwhile spirit in many ways.

88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #7.

B / $25 (375ml) / seattledistilling.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish

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The 11th installment in Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release is here. For 2016, standard, “fully mature” Woodford is finished in American brandy casks for nearly two years. Which brandy isn’t stated (but since Woodford’s parent company Brown-Forman owns Korbel, I have a strong hunch where the casks came from).

Woodford notes, “Brandy, a spirit distilled from wine or fruit, is often aged in oak barrels. Unlike bourbon, brandy does not have the new, charred barrel requirement allowing their barrels to be used multiple times. Therefore, this release is technically not a bourbon but rather a finished whiskey.” That’s really splitting hairs, though. Finishing barrels have become quite popular in bourbon country in recent years (see also Angel’s Envy), and the use of one does not, in my mind, disqualify this from being called a bourbon.

And in fact, there is nothing at all not to like in the 2016 Master’s Collection bourbon. Fresh from the start, the nose is moderately woody, tempered by light chocolate, cinnamon (a Morris classic), and plenty of lightly scorched caramel. Some raisin and dried fig notes come forward with time. On the tongue, the whiskey quickly settles into a beautifully balanced groove. Notes of raisin, ripe banana, and gingerbread wash over a spicy, vanilla- and caramel-heavy core. As a reprise, some gentle wood notes bring up the rear, a nice callback to the way things started.

The two years in old brandy casks have worked nicely at mellowing out a bourbon that can sometimes be overblown with wood. The brandy cask adds something in the form of those gently sweet raisin notes, but more importantly is what it takes away, which is some of the heavier tannin and lumberyard notes that standard Woodford can express. As with the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir release, this expression is a whiskey that takes a solid spirit and elevates it even further.

Morris has stumbled upon a really magical combination here. It may be the best Master’s Collection release to date.

90.4 proof.

A / $100 / woodfordreserve.com

Review: The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old

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Macallan fans, as a rule, love its sherry-casked expressions but bemoan the existence of its bourbon-casked ones, namely the Fine Oak line (although the latter sees a bit of sherry finishing). At last Macallan has come up with a way to bridge the gap between the all-sherry Sherry Oak line and the sherry-minimal Fine Oak. The new line: Macallan Double Cask, a new style of whisky from the company. And it’s even got an age statement, folks.

Some notes on its production, per the distillery, “This is the first time The Macallan has used American Oak Sherry-seasoned casks as the most prominent flavor style in one of its expressions. To create Double Cask, The Macallan brings new oak from America thousands of miles to Spain, where the oak casks are crafted and Sherry-seasoned before traveling to the Macallan’s distillery on Speyside to mature for at least twelve years. These whiskies are then harmoniously united with those aged in the very best sherry seasoned European oak casks.”

So, to clarify, it’s a blend of whisky held in two types of casks: new American oak that’s been sherry seasoned, and standard European oak sherry casks. Note that there are no bourbon casks used in any of this; it is, in one sense, a 100% sherry-aged whisky, albeit an unconventional one.

As of now, there’s only one whisky in the Double Cask collection: this 12 year old bottling. Macallan hasn’t said anything about a line extension yet, but all signs seem to point to this as merely a starting point, presuming it does well in the market.

Let’s taste!

This is a well-rounded, even delightful expression of Macallan, showing off a nice balance between traditional American wood and sherry cask aging. On the nose, the sherry influence clearly dominates, though sharp orange peel and winey notes find balance in some caramel underpinnings. On the palate, a complex array of flavors await, beginning with fresh cereal before moving into more citrus, plus notes of coconut, caramelized banana, and even a curious touch of mint. The finish is lengthy but soothing and gentle, surfacing more of those new wood-fueled vanilla notes, a bit of leather, and some black pepper, which adds some grip to the otherwise lithe and supple body. Great balance from start to finish, and though it drinks a touch on the young side, it’s quite enchanting as a whole.

All told, it does “taste like Macallan,” the malt and sherry components combining for a surprisingly familiar (and somewhat simple) experience, double casking be damned. Die-hard Macallan fans won’t have any complaints here. The rest of you ought to give it a try, too.

86 proof.

A- / $65 / themacallan.com

Review: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and 105 Cask Strength (2016)

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Recently I looked back at my early reviews of Glenfarclas 10 and 12 year old single malts and was a bit appalled at their naivete. An upgrade was required, and I got my hands on a trio of expressions: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and the coveted 105 Cask Strength expression.

For those unfamiliar with this Speyside classic, Glenfarclas is all single malt, 100% sherry cask matured (using both oloroso and fino sherry barrels). Consistently underrated, it’s a distillery that’s always worth a look no matter what age you see on the bottle.

Glenfarclas 12 Years Old – Classic Speyside. On the nose, there’s lots of honey and maple notes, with a biscuity character that offers lightly buttery, grainy notes. The sherry influence is slight, offering some punch on the nose but also just a hint of orange peel on the finish, following a body that offers tastes of chocolate malt balls, lightly roasted peanuts, and some dried ginger. This is a perfect “everyday” dram — not overwhelming, but with enough nuance to merit continued exploration — and affordable. 86 proof. A- / $47

Glenfarclas 17 Years Old – There’s an immediately stronger sherry influence on the nose with this older expression, ripe with aromas of orange peel and oil which complement the underlying grain character. On the palate, the bold body kicks off with classic Glenfarclas biscuits and honey, moving from there into notes of lemon peel, gingerbread, and walnuts. Stronger sherry notes build with time in glass; the finish finds this in relative balance with the barley character. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength – This is a 10 year old expression of Glenfarclas bottled at 120 proof (not 105, which refers to its original proof under the old British system). The bottle and label have changed in recent years, but what’s inside seems to have stayed the same. This is a richly sherried whisky, complex with notes of Christmas spices, marzipan, honeycomb, brown butter, and ample orange peel — both on the nose and the palate. Boldly malty at its core, the whisky finds intrigue in the way it builds upon that, folding in nuts, spice, fruit, and more. Cask strength gives the whisky the level of heat and the complexity that you’d expect, which you can either embrace with both arms or, perhaps more sensibly, temper it with a healthy splash of water. (It can handle plenty.) Either way — or perhaps both ways — it’s well worth exploring. 120 proof. A- / $92

glenfarclas.co.uk

Review: Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Whiskey

Redbreast Lustau

What a fun idea from Redbreast. For the tasting experience of Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition, the distillery sent out three bottles: A bottle of classic Redbreast 12 Years Old, a bottle of the new sherry-finished Redbreast Lustau, and a bottle of actual Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno sherry. In this way one can follow the creation of Redbreast Lustau pretty much from start to finish.

Redbreast Lustau is a permanent addition to the Redbreast line. Though it is officially a NAS release, it includes single pot still whiskey that is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks for 9 to 12 years. It is then finished in an Oloroso sherry butt from Bodegas Lustau which was crafted from Spanish oak, where it sits for an additional 12 months.

Now Redbreast has a long history with sherry casks; the 12 year old is aged in a variety of cask types (including both bourbon and multiple types of sherry casks). The finishing is a new spin — as is, of course, the loss of an age statement.

Tasting reveals a dramatic departure from the 12 year old expression, as Redbreast Lustau takes that classic, malty pot still character and gives it a serious spin. The nose is only slightly off from the expected, showing a stronger and more pungent orange peel note plus a nose-tickling pepper note to back up the malt, nougat, and toasty grains. On the palate is where things really start to diverge, the sherry giving the whiskey an intense nuttiness, along with notes of raisins and figs, again backing up that bold, malty body. The finish is lengthy, creamy, and spicy — all at once — everything building to a cohesive whole that is well worth exploring, age statement or no.

As for the actual sherry sample included here, well, I have no idea how people drink this stuff.

92 proof.

A- / $69 / irishdistillers.ie  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]