Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiments

buffalo trace Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiment

Last summer, Buffalo Trace released a series of three experimental whiskeys, each aged on a separate floor of its wooden-floored Warehouse K. These rye-heavy bourbons were as different as night and day — and now BT is back to do the same experiment again, this time with wheated bourbons.

The experiment is otherwise the same as with the rye bourbons: 15 barrels placed in Warehouse K, five each on floors 1, 5, and 9, for 12 years. The point, as I mentioned last time, is that heat rises: Lower level warehouse floors are cooler than the ones at the top, and heat (more specifically variations between hot and cold throughout the day) is a significant factor in the way Bourbon ages.

All are bottled at 90 proof. Here’s how they stack up.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #1 - Lots of wood on this, but some butterscotch and brown butter notes help to temper the essence of the lumberyard which otherwise dominates. The body is both a bit astringent and a little watery, all of which combines to give this whiskey a slug of sweetness that settles uneasily atop a somewhat racy but lightly bitter backbone. The finish is tough, with an enduring vegetal character. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #5 - What an incredibly different experience this is, those butterscotch notes dominating some light cereal character underneath. Over time, more wood character comes to the forefront, with the finish offering a blend of both sweet and savory notes. Look for some dried mango, some cloves, and a little red berry fruit on the back end. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #9 – As with the rye, this wheated collection shows that up top is where it’s at. The core character remains the same — butterscotch plus melted, lightly burnt butter notes — but they’re elevated here by notes of baking spice, red pepper, and the essence of campfire smoke. Silky caramel and marshmallow (roasted?) are big on the finish, along with notes of brewed tea and some baking spice. Lots to enjoy, but it’s also got a punchiness that turns it into an interesting conversation piece. A-

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fifteen

The penultimate release of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project is here, which means only a dozen bottles of the series of 192 bourbons remain to be released. For those keeping score, this makes 180 bourbons sampled to date over nearly four years of staggered releases.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen
Round Fourteen

Round 14 is a mixed bag of bourbons focusing mainly on the barrel, the variables being tested including the wood grain of the barrel, tree cut, and, as always, rye vs. wheat in the recipe. All whiskeys in this batch went in at 105 proof, used barrels with 6 months of wood seasoning and a #3 char, and were aged in a concrete floor warehouse.

By and large it’s a very good batch, including one of the best whiskies in the collection, barrel #149. Barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #21 – Sherried notes on the nose lead to a rather racy body. Lots of wood up front, but this works its way, eventually, into touches of licorice, brown butter, cloves, and more. Let this whiskey open up in the glass. I spent more time with this bourbon than anything else in this edition of the SOP, and though it wasn’t my absolute favorite, it does seem to have the most depth and intrigue in it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #22 – Another butterscotch bomb with some evergreen hints to it, maybe touches of sage. This is a solid, but mostly straightforward bourbon that wears its vanilla on its sleeve. Balanced with hints of cinnamon creeping in on the back end. An all-around winner, with some slightly unusual elements to it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #53 – Burly and woody, with a big slug of licorice and (very) dark chocolate on the back end. The finish speaks of coffee bean and burnt almonds. Almost feels scorched, even overcooked. C+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #54 – Big wood up front, big wood in the middle, big wood at the end. The sweeter core emerges with time, in contrast with the largely shut-down #53, but the overall experience is a bit astringent, with just touches of dried fruit and some spice on the finish. B- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #85 – A straightforward, woodsy expression of bourbon, offering notes of clove, spearmint, and flamed orange peel. The lumberyard notes are the main focus, however, lending a certain austerity to this bottling. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #86 – Nicely balanced, firing on all cylinders. Vanilla, baking spices, some orange notes, and delicate wood oil all come together in a cohesive, harmonious whole. This drinks how I’d like my “everyday bourbon” to taste — not exactly complex, but refreshing and full of flavor. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #117 – Cinnamon-sugar hits up front, leading to a buttery body that offers some toasty oak notes. The sweet-meets-wood combo is appealing, but a little undercooked. Could use another year in barrel. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #118 – Interesting, dark cocoa powder on the nose. The body adds in some vanilla and wood notes, but also a fair amount of heat. The lumberyard notes grow  and break out a bit of Middle Eastern spice on the back end. A little odd, but worthwhile. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #149 – Beautiful caramel sauce up front, just touched with the slightest hint of orange peel. The finish is strong but balanced between sweeter chocolate/vanilla/caramel notes and the density of toasty oak on the back end. Easily the best bourbon in this edition, and one of the best in the whole series. A (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #150 – Creme brulee notes up front, then modest orange fruit and some nuttiness — peanut butter, even — on the back end. There’s a nice combination of flavors going on here, but it could use a bit more body to prop up the sweetness. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #181 – Baking spices and pretty butterscotch up front leads to a silky sweet body with a lightly drying finish. Notes of red pepper emerge if you give it a little time in glass, giving this whiskey a surprising complexity. Nearly as enjoyable as #149, but with its own sense of style. A (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #182 – Butterscotch notes are clear here, much like #181, but in this expression the sweetness grabs hold and sticks with the whiskey to the end. The finish is almost candylike, without the spicy nuance. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Glendalough Poitin

glendalough poitin

Poitin (po-cheen) pushers are trying their darnedest to bring this ancient Irish spirit back to the masses. A distillation of malt barley and sugar beets, the finished product is aged in virgin oak (but generally filtered back to white). Ireland’s Glendalough sent us a trilogy of poitins for us to sample. Our thoughts follow.

Glendalough Poitin – The curious marshmallow notes on the nose are no preparation for what comes next on the body — rubber at play with gasoline notes that immediately recalls both American moonshine and Brazilian cachaca. Unfortunately, there’s no fruit, no real interest on the palate to make this investment worthwhile, just a cacophony of raw flavors straight off the still that never quite makes it. All poitin tends to be something of an acquired taste, but this expression may require more acquiring than others. 80 proof. D+/ $31

Glendalough Mountain Strength – I guess they like it strong up there in the mountains. The extra alcohol of this high-proof expression actually helps to soften things up a bit, but the palate is still possessed by a moonshiny monster. A longer finish is simultaneously both a good and a bad thing, bringing out some hints of tart berry fruit, but also pumping up the petrol character. 120 proof. C- / $37

Glendalough Sherry Cask Finish – This is the only non-clear expression of Glendalough, which undergoes a secondary finishing in sherry casks. The citrusy wood influence sure doesn’t hurt, tempering that rubbery character a bit with some orange peel and incense, particularly on the nose. The finish doesn’t go nearly far enough, however. While there’s a little savory lumberyard character in the mix, that raw, almost saccharine character still manages to shine through. 80 proof. C- / $37

glendaloughdistillery.com

Review: Bowen’s Whiskey

BowensWhiskey-BottleHere’s a craft spirit out of Bakersfield, California, a Bourbon-like whiskey that’s not quite Bourbon, a spirit that wears its smoky character on its muscular sleeves.

The company describes how it is produced thusly:

Bowen’s Whiskey, a true artisan whiskey, is made from 100% corn, cut to proof with a proprietary, structured micro-clustered water to bring out the grain’s complex nuance. Natural, forest fire charred red oak, hand-selected during expeditions into the Piute Mountains of central California, provides the whiskey its unique smoky, campfire flavor.

No age statement is offered, but one would probably not be overly useful anyway with this curiosity.

Smoked grain starts things off on the nose, with ample wood influence. The picture of the campfire on the label isn’t just for show — the body features smoky wood fire notes, some dark clove and cinnamon notes, and the essence of burnt toast. Imagine the charred remnants of a campfire over which you’ve cooked the best steak of your life, and you’ve got Bowen’s in a glass. What it’s lacking is much in the way of sweetness — but that’s more of a stylistic choice than a specific fault. You’ll find some vanilla if you give it some time to open up in the glass and have plenty of patience. It’s there, waiting for you as the burly finish starts to fade.

90 proof.

B+ / $39 / bowenswhiskey.com

Review: C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon Whiskey

cw irwin whiskeyThis isn’t another sourced whiskey, sorry to disappoint you! Oregon Spirit Distillers makes this little number in Bend, Oregon. The whiskey is made from is 51% corn, plus equal parts of rye, wheat, and malted barley. Aged 3 years in a new American oak barrel. Thoughts follow.

What a surprising and fun little craft bourbon. The nose offers restrained notes of wood and leather, with just hints of vanilla and maple syrup. The aroma doesn’t have you expecting much, it’s so pulled back. But on the tongue, there’s a lovely combination of flavors that bubble up. There’s butterscotch, ripe banana, more of that maple syrup, and a healthy slug of lumberyard that hits you (hard) on the back end. The wood works well with the fruit and dessert-like notes that come before, fading out with a hint of Bananas Foster — including that whiff of propane wafting out from the little cart where the man in the tuxedo is whipping them up tableside.

Happy New Year, everyone!

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / oregonspiritdistillers.com

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Celebratory Phoenix Irish Whiskey

tullamore dew celebratory phoenix_bottle___box_01_no_shadow_s

You’ll have to look very closely to distinguish this special edition bottling from Tullamore D.E.W.’s other limited edition release, Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix.

Tullamore D.E.W. Celebratory Phoenix comes from a single production batch of the Phoenix release and is being launched in honor of Tullamore’s new distillery opening. Just 2,014 bottles are available, and they are available only in select Irish retail outlets.

This isn’t an identical whiskey to Phoenix — far from it, in fact. It is still a blend of pot still, single malt, and grain whiskey, but it is matured in Oloroso sherry cases and finished in virgin oak casks. (Standard Phoenix is matured in Bourbon barrels then finished in Oloroso sherry casks.)

For sure, it’s similar: Instant honey and banana hit the nose, with plenty of almond and hazelnut character on the palate. But then Celebratory Phoenix takes another turn. Quite malty and pungent, it starts off really pushing the malt whiskey component the heaviest, then segueing into a handful mixed nuts before finishing on rich notes of clove, sawdust, and mushroom.

Compared to the standard bottling of Phoenix (which I re-tasted fresh just for this writeup), it’s overwhelmingly different. Phoenix is brighter with fruit and offers more sweetness and more tangy acid to it — and, frankly, it has a better balance among its component flavors. Celebratory Phoenix is distinctly burlier, with a distinct forest floor edge to it. Frankly, I find myself drawn to the sherry-finished standard edition bottling more strongly… which is good, because it’s half the price — and you can actually buy it in this country.

110 proof.

A- / $112 / tullamoredew.com

Review: Jeremiah Weed Spiced, Cinnamon, and Sarsapirilla Whiskey

jeremiah weed

 

Has flavored whiskey jumped the shark? Jeremiah Weed, which got its start with a sweet tea flavored vodka and then a credible sweet tea flavored whiskey, has now extended itself further into the whiskey world — with spiced, cinnamon, and sarsaparilla expressions.

As with any flavored whiskey, whiskey purists need not apply. These are garden variety blended whiskeys with no real pedigree. The flavoring, on the plus side, does seem to be reasonably effective and, for the most part, harmless.

Some thoughts on the latest volley of old-timey inspired flavors follow.

Jeremiah Weed Spiced Whiskey – Extremely gentle, with mild cinnamon notes atop an innocuous, vanilla-heavy whiskey. There’s nothing specifically woody here; rather it’s replaced with an apple cider character that feels designed for holiday tippling, mixing with Coke, or both. 70.6 proof. B-

Jeremiah Weed Cinnamon Whiskey – A fair enough Fireball competitor, this cinnamon spirit offers big red hots notes on the nose, and a modestly spicy bite on the palate. A lengthy, authentically cinnamon-flavored finish and at least a nod toward the whiskey that serves as a base spirit makes this a winner — at least as far as cinnamon whiskeys go. 70.2 proof. B+

Jeremiah Weed Sarsaparilla Whiskey – Root beer whiskey, eh? Tastes like a can of A&W, again without much concern for whiskey. Some curious touches of licorice and just a hint of vanilla on the back end make you remember this isn’t rum of vodka, but it just doesn’t really venture far enough into the whiskey world. 70.4 proof. B-

jeremiahweed.com

Review: Hillrock Solera Bourbon, Single Malt, Double Cask Rye, and White Rye

HED Family Slate

When famous distiller Dave Pickerell (ex of Maker’s Mark) opened Hillrock Estate Distillery in upstate New York, he had but one product, a high-rye Bourbon aged in the solera style and finished in oloroso sherry casks. Since then, Hillrock has added three more craft distilled products, all super-local and carefully handmade, to its stable: a single malt, a rye, and a white rye (made in limited quantities). We tasted all three new products and took a fresh look at the originl Bourbon to see if things were holding up.

Thoughts follow.

Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon – This is an update on Hillrock’s crazy solera-aged, oloroso sherry-finished Bourbon. Today I’m finding the sweetness almost overpowering up front: Bit-o-Honey, ripe banana, mandarin oranges, and chewy nougat comprise a complex nose. The body pumps that up further, with notes of pungent coconut, cherry juice, and orange oil. There’s so much going on in this whiskey — and so many flavors outside the norm of Bourbon, sometimes bordering on rum-like — that it can sometimes come across as overwhelming. It’s a mighty curious experience, though, and one that still bears repeating. 92.6 proof. A- / $80

Hillrock Single Malt Whiskey – A New York single malt whiskey, no age statement. Very malty/cereal-focused on the nose, with hints of smoke. There seems to be some fruit in there, but it’s buried under an avalanche of toasted Cheerios. The body offers racy and savory spices, pepper and some cloves, with a growing wood influence racing up behind it. The grain character remains the strongest, however, with lots of well-fired barley rounding out a very youthful but expressive spirit. 86 proof. B / $100

Hillrock Double Cask Rye – Made from estate-grown organic rye, which is aged in traditional oak casks and then finished in secondary casks composed of American oak with a #4 char and 24 months of seasoning. (No actual age statement, though.) The huge level of wood on the nose makes me wonder about the point of that secondary cask finishing. It’s all sawdust and furniture store, dulling the fruit and spice considerably. The palate opens things up a bit, with some butterscotch, caramel apple, and banana bread. It’s actually quite charming in the end, and after the wood wears away a bit (time in glass is good for this, as is water) a more typical essence of rye is revealed. You’ll need to fight for it, though. 90 proof. A- / $90

Hillrock George Washington Rye Whiskey (not pictured) – This is  a white rye, and it’s something pretty unique: “Pot distilled at Hillrock Estate following the General’s original recipe by Mount Vernon Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, each bottle contains an aliquot of whiskey made at the Washingtons’ reconstructed distillery at historic Mount Vernon. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this whiskey supports the educational programs at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.” So, in other words, pot-distilled Hillrock rye mixed with a little bit of Mount Vernon rye, bottled unaged. It’s a classic white whiskey, with the focus squarely on the grain, lightly musty, with overtones of new leather, birch bark, tobacco leaf, and freshly turned earth. Sweetness is elusive on this one, but the punchy, roasted grain character — and the touch of history here — make it worth a brief encounter. 86 proof. B / $50 (375ml)

hillrockdistillery.com

Review: Freedom Moonshine

freedom moonshine

This new unaged whiskey (a moonshine as they call it) — available in a straight version and four (heavily watered down) flavors — is distilled in Indiana from 95% rye and 5% malted barley and flavored and bottled in Tennessee. What, no corn? No neutral grain spirits? It’s true, believe it or not!

We tried all five expressions of this Skittles-colored spirit. Thoughts follow. (Some proceeds go to support military-focused charities.)

Freedom Moonshine White Rye – On the nose: mostly harmless. Slightly sweet-smelling, with some hints of grain and Band-Aid notes. The body is mild and punchy with fresh grain character and a very simple structure that pushes notes of twine and hay. Surprisingly, there’s almost no sweetness at all here — which is not at all in keeping with expectations, considering the candy-colored rainbow of flavors that lies ahead. 80 proof. C+

Freedom Moonshine Apple Pie Rye – OK, on to the flavors. Apple pie flavor tends to go hand in hand with moonshine, and while this expression is on the mild side, it’s still credible and quite drinkable. A bit more sugar (I hate to admit) would help the apple and cinnamon notes here taste a bit more authentic, but that might also rob it of some of its more savory, pie-crust-like character. 40 proof. B+

Freedom Moonshine Red Cherry Rye – Impossibly red, like maraschino cherry juice. Not quite cough syrup on the nose, but getting there. The body is sweeter and less focused, something akin to melted Jolly Ranchers. After a few sips, things take a turn toward a syrupy character, artificial and only vaguely tasting of cherry. 40 proof. C-

Freedom Moonshine Blueberry Rye – Certainly patriotic in color, but nothing like any blueberry I’ve ever seen. The overall impact is somewhere between blueberry schnapps and blueberry Pop-Tarts. 40 proof. C-

Freedom Moonshine Firecracker Rye – A cinnamon moonshine, naturally. Slightly less crimson than the cherry expression — more of a fuchsia. Quite watery on the whole — it must be tough to pull off a cinnamon spirit at 20% alcohol — with more sweetness than cinnamon to it. The color is off-putting, but the impact is mostly innocuous and far from anything describable as “firecracker.” 40 proof. C

each $20 / letfreedomshine.com

Review: Kilchoman Single Cask Releases – Sherry Matured and PX Finish

kilchoman px finish

Lookee here: Two new single-cask, barrel-strength Kilchoman releases (literally, these are both made from one cask), exclusive to U.S. importer ImpEx. We got to try them both.

Kilchoman Single Cask Release Sherry Matured – Distilled in 2009, this Islay whisky then spent 5 years in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. This is a powerful and searing expression of Kilchoman, blazing with peat smoke up front before segueing into notes of burnt orange peel, Madeira, black pepper, and iodine. Not exactly a subtle whisky, but rather a pure essence of Islay, filtered through a sherry haze. The 2012 lower-proof, non-single-cask sherry release of Kilchoman was a bit more manageable. 115.8 proof. Cask #85/09. B / $130

Kilchoman Single Cask Release PX Finish – Distilled in 2009, aged in first-fill Bourbon casks, and finished in a Pedro Ximinez sherry cask. A much more balanced and engaging dram than the above. It’s just as full of seaside peatiness as the Sherry Matured expression, but it finds a foil in sweeter orange and light tropical character, brown sugar, and a gentler expression of smokiness that approaches beautifully barbecued beef. Despite an even higher alcohol level that approaches 60% abv, it’s also an overall gentler whisky — something to savor by the fireside for this surly winter. 118.4 proof. Cask #394/09. A- / $130

kilchomandistillery.com