Review: Flight of the Earl’s Blended Irish Whiskey

Damn I love a whiskey with a grammatical error in its name.

The Flight of the Earls was an event in Irish history, when the Earl of Tyrone and the Earl of Tyrconnell were exiled from Ireland to mainland Europe, an event which ushered in centuries of migrations out of Ireland.

Flight of the Earl’s is an Irish whiskey. So, grammatically: “Flight of the Earl Is?” Or a flight that belonged to the Earl? It’s the best eye-roller I’ve experienced in the world of booze since Coors released Artic Ice beer in the ’80s. (Coors later said they misspelled “Arctic” on purpose for trademark and branding reasons… true or not, I’m not so sure about the motivation of the “Earl’s.”)

For better or worse, we’re here to review drinks, not label grammar, and the question of whether you can trust a distiller to pay attention to what he’s putting inside the bottle if he doesn’t know what he’s putting on the label, well, that is left to the reader and the comments section.

Flight of the Earl’s is a relatively standard and straightforward blend, lightly astringent on a nose that offers notes of roasted grains — think hard crackers — and rubber in equal measure. A bit of green banana and a hint of bubble gum give it a distinct Irishness. On the palate, the whiskey is more mellow than the nose would indicate, offering surprising notes of milk chocolate and caramel at first, its sweetness fading into a more cereal-driven character later on, showcasing the underlying grains with greater clarity.

Flight of the Earl’s gets off to a somewhat dull and rocky start, but it’s redeemed in the end by some interesting flavor combinations. Or, should I say “combination’s?”

80 proof.

B / $NA / visionwineandspirits.com

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Japanese whisky has not been spared from the trend among distilleries of coping with high demand by transitioning to No Age Statement (NAS) offerings. Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt now joins the likes of Miyagikyo, also in the Nikka portfolio, as well as Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu (from rival Suntory) to transition formerly 12-year-old offerings to NAS for those buying at the entry level.

Taketsuru Pure Malt is named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, and like the former age-stated version, it is made from a combination of whisky from both of Nikka’s distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The whisky is matured in a combination of sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak. It is considered a blended malt, but unlike classic Scottish blends which mix different types of whisky, Taketsuru Pure Malt is technically a vatting of exclusively malted whisky. But enough about all of that.

The color on the Taketsuru Pure Malt is very light amber, bordering on gold. On the nose, initially bland cereal notes quickly give way to stronger aromas of green grape, freshly cut grass, and lemon peel. Although it’s not wholly apparent on the nose, the palate immediately shows evidence of the sherry cask maturation with a gentle spice and subtle, ripe plum, followed by layers of toffee and butterscotch imparted by the used bourbon and new American oak casks. Overall, the palate is light but the mouthfeel is surprisingly syrupy, with a medium-to-long finish that fades into notes of pear and orange blossom honey.

The NAS version of Taketsuru Pure Malt lacks some of the balance and complexity of the 12-year-old Pure Malt; particularly its subtle smokiness. Still, if this is the price the drinking public must pay to see more of this Japanese whisky on the shelves, we’re not giving up much.

86 proof.

B+ / $60 / nikka.com 

Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Stocking Stuffer Whiskey

Seven Stills of San Francisco has recently embarked on a series of collaborative productions, whiskey made from beer produced by other notable breweries. For Stocking Stuffer, 7 Stills takes San Luis Obispo-based Libertine’s Wild Sour Stout, distills it, then ages the distillate in New American Oak and finishes the whiskey in Libertine’s own sour beer barrels.

Whiskey distilled from a sour beer, then finished in sour stout barrels? Now that’s a concept! Here we have a wholly unique spirit that kicks off with beery aromas — not particularly sour, but sharp with hops and notes of roasted vegetables and pipe tobacco. On the palate, more of a sour note comes to the fore, very sharp with notes of fruit vinegar and sour cherries emerging right away. But as the whiskey evolves in glass, the flavors don’t really take it very far — the initial experience endures for the long haul, at least until the finish, where a few grates of slightly bitter citrus peel await the drinker. That’s a strange bit of a letdown at the very end — but what surprises the most is how well this drinks despite an abv that’s just shy of 58%.

Sour beer fans, snap this up while you can. (It’s in extremely limited release now.)

115.9 proof.

B+ / $40 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

How to Make a Flawless Manhattan Cocktail

Prohibition-era cocktails are absolutely booming in popularity right now, so it should come as no surprise that curious drinkers are looking for easy-to-craft period-style cocktails to try and learn. The manhattan has a lot going for it to the novice mixologist: it’s delicious, it looks lovely, and it’s very easy to make. If you’ve ever had a manhattan in a bar or a restaurant and want to try your hand at making your own, follow along!

To start, let’s gather our equipment together. A typical manhattan is served in a cocktail glass (same thing as a martini glass), though there are plenty of establishments that serve theirs in a more simple highball or even rocks glass. The stem of the cocktail glass will keep your fingers from warming your drink; this is important because the best manhattan is served ice-cold. Other than the glass you’re going to serve your drink in, you need a mixing glass and a strainer.

In the glass, a manhattan is a mix of bourbon or rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a maraschino cherry. This is the real meat of the manhattan experience; with so many different styles of whiskey and vermouth, you can suit the drink to your own taste, or the taste of whoever you’re serving to. Let’s go through each of these in turn.

First up, you have to answer the age-old mixologist question: bourbon or rye? With the popularity of the ‘authentic’ manhattan, there are those who would scoff at anything other than rye whiskey, which was how the drink was made in the 1870s when it was first invented. Bourbon will make your drink sweeter, since the corn used to make bourbon is sweeter than the rye used to make rye whiskey. Considering you’re adding sweet vermouth and a cherry, the addition of a sweeter bourbon like Maker’s Mark might be overkill, but on the other hand if you’re just getting into mixology, you might be looking for a sweeter drink. If you decide to go with bourbon, the vanilla candy of the aforementioned Maker’s is a popular choice, as are the more balanced tastes of Four Roses or Eagle Rare. If you want a more rugged, traditional rye manhattan, Bulleit is a popular, inexpensive choice, and if High West has made a bad whiskey, we haven’t yet tried it. Of course, if you want a truly flawless manhattan, WhistlePig is a pricey but excellent choice: 100% rye, dry and spicy, which will imbue your drink with pepper and subtle cinnamon.

So you have your whiskey, now what about vermouth? Vermouth is Italian wine, fortified and imbued with all manner of bitter herbs and roots, like a cross between a port and an aperitif liqueur. You use dry vermouth in martinis, and sweet vermouth in manhattans (with the exception of variants like the dry manhattan and perfect manhattan, which we won’t delve into in this post). If you’ve already picked up the WhistlePig, do yourself a favor and complement it with a bottle of Carpano Antica vermouth, which is complex, cola- and chocolate-sweet while at the same time herbal and bitter. It’s perfect for a manhattan, and not bad on its own before a meal. Other choices, depending on the whiskey used, could be Punt e Mes, which is darker and richer and bolder than most other sweet vermouths, and the lightly sweet, anise-tinged Maurin Red. And when you’re done with mixing for the night, don’t forget that vermouth is a wine and can spoil, so keep it refrigerated to make it last longer.

What about bitters and a cherry? For bitters, the traditional Angostura bitters work perfectly, just a couple dashes to bring out the bitterness of the whiskey and the vermouth and give your drink a few more layers to contemplate. Woodford Reserve has made a series of bitters designed just for manhattans, as well. Its cherry bitters could be perfect for a bourbon-based cocktail. For a cherry, Luxardo’s claim as one of the innovators of the maraschino cherry is something to consider; if you don’t mind spending a lot on a bottle of cherries they really are delicious. Otherwise, simple Bing cherries aren’t so overwhelmingly sweet as others, and of course Woodford has you covered for specialty cocktail cherries, as well.

So you have all of your ingredients? Then let’s put everything together! The typical manhattan uses a 2:1 ratio for whiskey and vermouth, though your mileage may vary if you want a little more of a kick from the whiskey, or a little more sweetness from the vermouth. In addition to the vermouth and whiskey, add 2 or 3 dashes of bitters, to taste. Before you start mixing, chill your cocktail glass and your mixing glass in the freezer for 15 minutes or so, then put the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters, along with plenty of ice, into the mixing glass. Stir, don’t shake, to mix; like gin, whiskey can bruise easily, which will leave your cocktail muddled and rough. Chilling your glassware should make sure that your drink stays cold without the need to shake. Strain the concoction from the mixing glass to the cocktail glass, garnish with a cherry, and you’re done! It’s a couple of brief minutes of work to create one of the tastiest, easiest cocktails there is.

Review: Hooker’s House Whiskey Experiments – Cohabitation 7/21, Epicenter, Wheat Whiskey, and Rye (2016)

Prohibition Spirits in Sonoma, California is the producer of Hooker’s House whiskey, a line which began with a bourbon and has exploded since then. Today we look at three new bottlings, plus take a fresh look at the company’s rye.

As always, Hooker’s House sources its product from MGP, but all expressions are finished in California, sometimes aggressively and for many years. Let’s dig in.

Hooker’s House Bourbon Cohabitation 7/21 – A solera-style blend of straight bourbon aged in American and French oak, with barrels ranging from 7 to 21 years old. Surprisingly, there’s lots of fruit here, both cherries and orange peel strong on a nose that otherwise offers a fair amount of toasty wood influence. Some mint emerges with a bit of time, as well. On the palate, things follow along as expected. The fruit remains impressive, particularly the cherry character that melds enticingly with notes of eucalyptus, more orange peel, and some cloves. The finish is fairly wood-heavy, a bit ashy at times, but nothing to get worked up about. Rather, it’s a reasonably gentle reminder of the hefty amount of time this bourbon (at least some of it) has spent in barrel, and a badge proving it has come through that ordeal for the better. 94 proof. A / $95

Hooker’s House Epicenter Magnitude 6.0 – This is bottled from high-rye bourbon barrels that were aging in Hooker’s House warehouses during a 6.0 earthquake that Sonoma experienced in 2014. The epicenter of the quake was just three miles away. “Micro-vibrated,” per the label, the whiskey experience 500 aftershocks in the months that followed. No age statement is offered, but the nose indicates mid-range maturity with lingering cereal notes and a significant wood profile. The palate surprises with a sugar bomb of a profile, taking your mind off of the lumberyard for a bit to showcase some tropical pineapple, peach, and brown sugar notes, though the finish is punchy with a resurgence of wood (which is enhanced by the whiskey’s racy 56% abv). I’m not sure what impact the earthquake and aftershocks truly had on this spirit, but I do know it could have stood a bit more time in barrel, tremors or no. 112 proof. B / $47

Hooker’s House Wheat Whiskey – A single barrel, 100% wheat whiskey, quite unusual in the market, but fitting for an avant garde producer like Prohibition. This bottling is youthful, offering loads of fresh cereal notes with a significant sweetness. There’s lumberyard here too, but it’s kept in check by a ton of grassy character, which comes across with the essence of fresh hay, with a touch of rosemary. The finish, much like the bulk of what’s come before it, is quite grainy and simplistic, but pleasant enough. 90 proof. / $33

Hooker’s House Rye (2016) – We’ve seen Hooker’s Rye before, on original release in 2013. As it was then, it remains a 95% rye that is finished in Zinfandel barrels, just like the older version. (The HH website mentions a 100% rye, but the bottle says otherwise.) As it did in 2013, this sounds like it’ll be a masterful mix of spice and sweet, but the balance between the two still isn’t quite right. The nose is lightly astringent and features heavy lumberyard notes with a strongly herbal, at times anise-like, influence. The body features a quick rush of raisiny sweetness before diving headlong back into heavy wood and dusky, earthy, herbal notes — think cloves, anise, and scorched grains. The back end offers a distant echo of raisiny sweetness, but it’s a long time coming. 94 proof. B / $45

prohibition-spirits.com

Review: Old Camp Peach Pecan Whiskey

Sweet and lowdown, you got it: Old Camp is a whiskey from a country duo called Florida Georgia Line. I’ve never heard of ’em, but once you set foot in the spirits world, eventually we were bound to cross paths.

Essentially a novelty spirit, Old Camp is mystery whiskey that’s heavily doctored with peach and pecan flavors.

How heavy? Peach candy and candied nuts are really all you can catch on the nose, overpowering like sticking your face in a tub of some kind of super-Southern ice cream. On the palate, an overwhelming sweetness hits you right in the face, all peaches in syrup, maple, brown sugar, and flamed bananas. It takes quite awhile for the initial rush of sugar to fade, and after a minute or so the more savory pecan character finally shows its face. This is actually the most engaging part of the spirit, a comforting and authentic hint of roasted nuts that goes a long way toward redeeming the sugar bomb that’s come before.

Think of Old Camp as an upscale Southern Comfort, and consider using it the same way: Very sparingly.

70 proof.

C+ / $22 / oldcampwhiskey.com

Review: Paul John Indian Single Malts – Brilliance and Edited

In America, Amrut is probably the best known whisky from India. Edit: It’s probably the only whisky from India even serious whisky drinkers have encountered. Paul John is a new introduction to the American market — single malt, made in the traditional Scotch style. Some additional details:

Distilled by the warm and tropical beaches of Goa, India, Paul John Indian Single Malt Whisky is a premium spirit crafted from six-row barley grains that grow at the foothills of the Himalayas. Harvested in the summer, the mature six-row barley is responsible for the distinct smokiness and flavor of Paul John Whisky.

In Goa’s tropical and humid climate, whisky matures faster than it does in Europe or the United States. Paul John Whiskies are aged for a minimum of five years and due to the accelerated maturation, whisky that has been matured in India for five years is comparable to Scotch that has been aged for over 10 years. The warm weather in Goa also increases the Angel’s Share, or annual evaporation rate, to 8%.

Today we look at Paul John’s two entry-tier bottlings, Brilliance and Edited, both straight outta Goa!

Paul John Brilliance Indian Single Malt Whisky – Paul John’s entry level bottling, matured in bourbon casks. No age statement. This initially comes across as a workmanlike whisky, with a nose of simple granary notes, gentle wood, caramel, and some raw ethanol notes. The palate does manage to kick things up with notes of incense, red pepper, hefty baking spices, and toasty, chewy wood notes. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of character here, and a deft balance that showcases wood and spice. The finish surfaces light fruit notes, giving it a pleasing (yet simple) finale. 92 proof. B+ / $60

Paul John Edited Indian Single Malt Whisky – Production details are again unclear — as is how it is “edited” — though this expression contains some peated whisky. From the nose, it’s definitely more than “some,” as the clear notes of smoky peat immediately make an impression. Beneath that lie some fruity notes, aromas you don’t really see in the Brilliance bottling. On the palate, sweet and peat get together harmoniously, taking supple apple and citrus notes and folding in notes of sweet pastry dough and sugar cookies. The peat is laced throughout, well-integrated and far from overwhelming. A nice twist on the base of Brilliance. 92 proof. B+ / $65

pauljohnwhisky.com

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