Review: Deanston Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old Bourbon Cask Finish


New to the distillery’s permanent lineup in 2015, Deanston’s 18 year old expression has more going on than the relatively light and straightforward 12 year old. Note that this is the bourbon cask finished expression — which is finished in first-fill bourbon barrels — and not the more expensive/exotic Cognac cask finished expression.

Here, we find a nose a nose that loads up light smoke elements, a bit of burnt rubber, and ample charred wood influence. Underneath, a bit of mothball and some honey notes don’t give away too many secrets, but stick with it for a few sips… On the palate, Deanston 18 nearly explodes with a melange of flavors, a veritable shotgun blow across the tongue. First, simple grains and some gentle honey notes, then fruit — banana at first, then some citrus. Nutty notes come along to provide a tertiary smattering of flavors, along with a touch of tar as the finish builds.

Deanston doesn’t have a reputation for offering a nuanced drinking experience — if you’ve heard of Deanston at all — but here’s proof of what a difference a few years can make to an otherwise standard and unchallenging malt, eh?

92.6 proof.


Review: The Glenlivet Nadurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish

glenlivet Nadurra Peated High ResGlenlivet’s third Nadurra (Gaelic for “natural”) expression is here (released yesterday) — and it’s Glenlivet’s first peated whisky in over 100 years.

For those unfamiliar with this line — which now includes three Nadurra bottlings, all permanent extensions to the Glenlivet stable — the goal is to bring whisky back to its roots, through cask strength releases with no additives or chill filtration.

Note that Nadurra #3 is not peated whisky but rather standard Glenlivet whisky that is aged in bourbon casks (no age is stated), then finished in casks that formerly held heavily peated whisky (again, no time is stated). So, bourbon barrel-aged malt, finished in used, peated malt casks. If you recall, Balvenie did this same thing a few years ago, to much acclaim.

Intense peat on the nose, with ample salt water and iodine character. Some fruit up front — banana and apples — plays nicely with nougat and almond notes. The body pumps up banana and apple, more nuts — walnut and almond — with a finish that plays to light chocolate character, coconut, some spearmint, and nuts. What’s not overdone here is the peat — which is incredibly present on the nose, but which doesn’t come across as strenuously on the body.

With some water — this is cask strength remember —  the fruitier elements come more to the forefront, giving the smoke a sweeter character to it. There’s more chocolate and more citrus here — two flavors that work well together — while the peat takes a nice position in the back seat. The finish is quite drying, though, leaving behind notes of ash rather than fruit.

Overall, it’s a nice extension for Glenlivet, taking it squarely out of its comfort zone and into some new and interesting territory.

123 proof. Reviewed: First production run, Batch PW0715.

B+ / $85 /

Tasting Lost Spirits Whiskey Experiments


Lost Spirits — the company that’s knee deep in ultra-accelerated spirits aging technology — has largely devoted its early experiments to one liquor category: Rum.

Why rum? It’s easier to age, with simpler ingredients and a more straightforward line from white spirit to old brown stuff.

Whiskey is a bit of a holy grail for Lost Spirits, as it’s a more lucrative market with larger appeal at the high end. (As you’ll recall, Lost Spirits’ reactor can age a product to the equivalent of 20 years of age — no more, and no less.) But it’s also been difficult to make, says CEO Bryan Davis, due to some incredibly geeky complications with the way certain bacteria interplay with the wood that makes up the barrel.

Well, Davis says that he’s on the path to figuring this out, and he sent me some whiskey samples from the reactor to see how things are progressing. On tap: Two bourbons (one 100 proof, one 118 proof) and a 100 proof rye. (To reiterate: These are not commercial products but just works-in-progress submitted for some early thoughts. All of them started off with new make spirit from a major Kentucky distillery, though Davis can’t say which.)

In short, Lost Spirits is well on the path, but there’s still work to be done. The overwhelming flavor of both of the bourbon experiments is smoke. Not barrel char, but campfire smoke, something that lands the experience closer to a peated Scotch than to any bourbon I’ve ever had. The body offers some floral elements and fruit underneath, with cherry notes enduring for a time — before the dense smoke elements take hold again. It still doesn’t quite compare to even very old bourbon — the near complete lack of sweetness is a key concern — indicating there’s still work to be done on the aging process.

Conversely, the rye is a much bigger success, showcasing classic rye baking spice notes, plenty of fruit, and a more restrained and gentle smoke character. Marshmallows, baked bread, and baked apples are blended together with just a bit of petrol and some of that forest fire smokiness to create a complex but balanced whole. Now 20 year old rye is hard to come by — I don’t know if I’ve ever had any at all — so comparisons with currently available products aren’t easy to make. But either way, this is a whiskey that I could drink right now, its various elements really firing together beautifully.

Review: Ledaig 18 Years Old

ledaig 18Ledaig — pronounced, seemingly impossibly, as “letch-igg” — is produced at Tobermory, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull, which is a bit north of Islay on the western Scottish coast.

Ledaig has a lot in common with Islay, namely the use of peated malt, but it cuts a much different figure than your typical Islay peat bombs. Primarily that is because this 18 year old malt is finished with sherry casks, a practice that is not unknown in Islay but which isn’t all that common.

From the color of Ledaig 18 alone, it appears the finish is much deeper and longer than most sherry-finished Islay whiskies, as well, and here we really see the best of both worlds — smoky peat meeting sweet sherry.

The nose starts off a bit rocky and rustic — smoky, but almost brutish at times with rubbery notes. The sherry influence is much more present on the palate, which hits hard with an intense bittersweet orange flavor before diving into anise, cloves, gravel, and forest floor notes. The smokiness returns with a vengeance for the lengthy, hot, and smoldering finish — with more of that rubbery character, plus notes of iodine and kippers.

Peat freaks will get a kick out of this whisky, though it really tires you out as it runs you from smoke to sweet and back again.

92.6 proof.

B / $98 /

Review: Johnnie Walker Select Casks – Rye Cask Finish 10 Years Old

johnnie-walker-rye-cask-finishThe venerable house of Johnnie Walker is always good for something different once in a while. This year we see the launch of the new Select Casks limited release series which will run for the next few years and showcase different woods used as finishing barrels.

First out of the gate is Rye Cask Finish. This blend starts with Cardhu malt plus a variety of grain whiskies which are aged for 10 years in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. It is then finished in ex-rye whiskey casks for one month before bottling.

I compared Rye Cask to Black Label, the closest analogue in the Walker stable, though it’s a bit older at 12 years of age. It’s a quite a different spirit, so clear your expectations before you dive in.

The nose is big with burnt marshmallow, dark caramel, toasted grains, and some medicinal, iodine-laden, kippered fish notes coming along in time. The seaside elements are mild, though, as the more woody/spicy/grainy character takes center stage. On the palate, it’s got heavy toasted notes, almost coming across as burnt bread at times, and ample barrel char. Again, light smoke comes across more as wood fire than peat smoke, but a gentle sweetness driven by raisins, cinnamon bread, and molasses notes more than compensates.

This whisky is bold and a little brutish, and it tends to be all over the place from start to finish. It’s initially a bit off-putting, but you’ll find it’s got quite a number of charms, provided you stick with it and give it a chance to breathe.

92 proof.

B / $45 /

Review: Speyburn Arranta Casks

speyburn arrantaOne of the biggest bargains in single malts is out with a new, limited edition, U.S.-only release: Speyburn Arranta Casks. This is a no-age-statement single malt that is aged entirely in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. I don’t know what kind of barrels standard Speyburn 10 uses for aging, but presumably some refill casks are in the mix. Upshot: Arranta (meaning ‘bold’, ‘daring,’ and ‘intrepid’ in Gaelic) should have a stronger barrel influence and a bolder wood profile.

The results are nice and in keeping with the Speyburn style. On the nose, ample malt up front, plus some citrus peel character and a little nutmeg. The palate adds to the above, folding in ample vanilla plus walnut and almond notes, a touch of milk chocolate, and some surprising tobacco touches that give it a spicy/herbal kick on the finish. There’s lots going on here, and Arranta is fun to kick around on a lazy evening as you explore its charms.

It could stand a bit more cohesion on the finish but I’d have no trouble tippling on this as an everyday dram — and it’s different enough to merit sustained exploration.

92 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Review: 1792 Port Finish Bourbon

1792 Port Finish Bottle

1792 Sweet Wheat was the first in a line of limited editions of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon, and now #2 is here: A Port cask-finished expression.

1792 Port Finish Bourbon spends 6 years in new oak, then 2 years in former Port casks for a total of 8 years of aging.

Regular readers know I’m a sucker for Port-finished spirits, and this is a fine example of how well bourbon and Port can pair. A nose of dense caramel and milk chocolate gets things going. On the tongue, the classic vanilla bourbon notes come forward first, then the dark fruit notes from the Port casks take over. Chewy raisin and dried cherry lead to baking spice notes that include gingerbread and cinnamon toast. The finish is lengthy, quite sweet, and just a bit gummy, echoing the chocolate notes up front.

Really fun stuff. I’d pick up multiple bottles — this isn’t going to be made again — at this price.

88.9 proof.

A / $40 /

Review: The Antiquary 21 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky

antiquary-21_0Made by Tomatin, Antiquary is “the rare old blend,” a hodgepodge of whiskies from all over Scotland (including a touch of Islay in it) that seems to want to out-walk Johnnie Walker.

The 21 year old expression (gold label bottling; there are others) is a malty whisky that’s mellow with notes of fresh barley and thick oatmeal, a touch of cinnamon, a bit of apple fruit, and a solid vanilla caramel character. A very slight touch of peat smoke is evident, more on the palate than the nose. Nothing shocking here; if you’re at all familiar with blended scotch you’ll find The Antiquary a fine example of the style, taking minimal chances while providing an easy-drinking, well-rounded whisky with just the slightest amount of edge on it – a real tour of the region.

86 proof.


Review: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century


Jack Daniel’s is making a second stab at Sinatra’s legendary love of JD with another ultra high-end bottling of its signature Tennessee Whiskey. If you thought Sinatra Select was ostentatious, wait’ll you get a load of Sinatra Century, which arrives at more than twice the price.

Sinatra Century — bottled in honor of Frank’s 100th birthday — is made from the same type of alligator-charred barrels as Sinatra Select but otherwise offers no particular production information (including, as usual, any age statement). What JD has done, however, is work with the Sinatra family to taste and select the barrels that went into this bottling.

Bottles are individually numbered and come in elaborate gift packaging. They are bottled at 100 proof, perhaps another nod to the Ol’ Blue Eyes’ centennial.

You have time to consider this purchase — Frank’s birthday will be December 12, 2015 — but in the meantime, let’s give it a thorough tasting and review.

Sinatra Century is immediately appealing from the moment the bottle is cracked open. The nose is heady, with heavy baking spice notes — highly unusual for JD — loads of cinnamon and nutmeg, plus brown butter, some barrel char influence, and ample vanilla. There’s a fair amount of alcoholic burn given the proof, but it’s manageable and actually quite engaging, working well with the grandiose nose.

On the palate, Sinatra Century keeps it going. Big butterscotch, cinnamon, and a healthy slug of Mexican chocolate lead the way. Some charcoal notes make an entry later on, but the finish runs to bittersweet cocoa, a slight cherry influence, and smoldering molasses left on the fire overnight.

The balance of flavors here is nearly perfect, bouncing from spice to chocolate to char and back again. The higher proof helps keep it alive on the tongue for ages, but it never feels particularly hot and doesn’t need water. Engaging from start to finish, I’m not afraid to say this is the best product JD has ever put into a bottle.

That said, it’s a $400 product (or more) — so it better be good. Damn good.

A / $400 (one liter) /

Review: Maker’s 46 Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark last year put out a widely acclaimed cask strength bottling of its standard Maker’s Mark bourbon. Naturally, a follow-up was in order: A cask strength rendition of Maker’s 46.

Same story as last time: This is a barrel proof version of Maker’s 46, which is takes standard Maker’s and puts extra charred-wood staves inside the barrel to give it a stronger wood influence. While Maker’s 46 is 94 proof, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength hits 108.9 proof. (It’s unclear whether this will change over time.)

The results offer some marked differences vs. standard 46. The nose starts off with charred wood notes, then leads into surprising sweetness: butterscotch, vanilla, and some cotton candy notes. Over time, some forest-like notes  The body also plays up the sweet stuff, integrating burnt caramel, more butterscotch, and loads of fruit that linger on the tongue for quite a while. It’s not as overtly woody as you’d expect — nor is it altogether racy despite the high alcohol content. I didn’t have trouble sipping it without water, though some agua does bring out an almost Christmassy element to the whiskey.

All told: It’s a solid offering from Maker’s that gives you one more way to enjoy this wheated classic.

Available only at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

Bottle photo to come.

B+ / $40 (375ml) /