Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Syndicate 58/6 Blended Scotch Whisky

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If nothing else, Syndicate 58/6 is the most uniquely named whisky you’ll drink all year. What’s it all about? Syndicate, so the story goes, began as a blend of malt and grain whiskies discovered in 1958. Six guys got together to make a whisky out of these barrels, and they named it after themselves (the “syndicate” and the 6) and the year of discovery.

OK, so let’s jump ahead to 2014. The Syndicate 58/6 that’s just now hitting the market obviously has little to do with that 1958 discovery… or has it? This blend of 18 single malt whiskies and 4 single grain whiskies has been being kept up over the years in a solera system (it’s unclear how long things were dormant, but they’re back up and running now), with new whiskies added in and blended with the older stock. Today’s Syndicate 58/6, so they say, actually still contains small quantities of the original 1958 blend! The final blend is matured for up to 2 years in 4 year old Oloroso sherry casks before bottling.

Whew!

OK, so let’s attack this animal.

The nose is instantly burly and rich. I’d peg it as a single malt over a blend — you just don’t see this much complexity and punch in a typical blend. Here you get roasted grains, cinnamon oatmeal, orange peel, and light smokiness — just enough intrigue to lead you into the spirit proper. The body is instantly engaging. Just the right combination of malty cereal, apple pie, sweet nougat, honey, rich sherry, butterscotch, and just a wisp of smoke on the back end. Gentle but full of depth and intrigue, this is one little whisky that’s tough to put down.

Never mind the kooky backstory and nutty name. Give the Syndicate a spin.

86 proof.

A / $150 / syndicate58-6.com

Review: Hudson Baby Bourbon and Four Grain Bourbon

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Tuthilltown Spirits, based in Gardiner, New York, has been on the forefront of craft distilling since its launch in 2005. Its Hudson line of craft whiskeys remains one of the most iconic exemplars of what can be done with a careful hand and a lot of ambition, and I’ve interviewed distiller and all-around nice guy Gable Erenzo on several occasions over the years  to talk about his approach to production and, particularly, aging. (Erenzo is a pioneer in the use of small barrels in craft whiskey aging; Hudson whiskeys are aged in a variety of casks ranging from 2 to 14 gallons in size — and Erenzo will often play loud music in the warehouse to get the bass shaking the whiskey in and out of the pores of the wood.)

Today, Tuthilltown markets four whiskeys in its permanent lineup, plus a variety of seasonal releases. Here we look at two of them, including Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and Hudson Baby Bourbon, the first bourbon distilled in New York.

Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey – 100% New York corn, double distilled and aged less than four years in small oak barrels. Unfiltered. This is a whiskey that has always worn its grain on its sleeve, and this bottling is no different. Pure popcorn up front — particularly on the bristly, rustic nose — finally gives way to something sweet after you give this whiskey some air, and some time. With ample patience, you’ll find notes of sweet cherry juice, butterscotch, menthol, and some baking spices. The back end is tough and astringent, bringing back that gritty popcorn character and proving it’s made in a frontier style in every sense of the word. All in all it is not without its charms, but it does require a certain mindset to really get into. Reviewed Year 14, Batch 4. 92 proof. B / $40 (375ml)

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, double distilled and aged under four years. This is a gentler whiskey than the Baby Bourbon — as it should be, due to the addition of those other grains beyond straight corn. The nose is lightly minty, and adds notes of chocolate to a slightly corny base. The body is quite pretty, with a buttery and mouth-filling richness to it, offering notes of creme brulee, intense vanilla, some dried tobacco, and fresh-cut timber. On the finish, touches of popcorn re-emerge to remind you that, four grains or no, you’re still drinking bourbon, and a good one at that. Reviewed Year 11, Batch 24. 92 proof. A- / $42 (375ml)

tuthilltown.com

Review: Craigellachie 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old, 19 Years Old, and 23 Years Old

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These expressions from Speyside’s Craigellachie (pronounced CRAY-guh-lackey) Distillery have the same provenance as the three Aultmore whiskies we recently reviewed. Now part of the Dewar’s portfolio — which makes heavy use of Craigellachie in its blends — single malts from these stills are finally coming, and in quite a range of ages. Today we look at a quartet of whiskies: 13, 17, 19, and 23 years old. All are bottled at 92 proof.

Craigellachie 13 Years Old – Youthful on the nose, with strong granary notes backed by a bit of spice. The body pushes past the cereal character and offers lively citrus and vanilla, cloves, pungent honeysuckle, and melon notes. It may be loaded with flavor, but the overall presentation is still quite rustic, particularly on the somewhat astringent finish. B / $45

Craigellachie 17 Years Old – Settling down nicely, and at 17 years old, Craigellachie takes on a huge nutty character, both on the grain-scented nose and particularly on the deep and rounded palate. There’s more of that honeysuckle, plus well-oiled leather, maple syrup, and wisps of salty sea spray. A definitive fireside dram. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 19 Years Old – Here we see Craigellachie building some austerity, with a nose that recalls Madeira. The body still holds on to its malty cereal core before delving into butterscotch and honey, and just a touch of the seaweed/iodine you find in the 17. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 23 Years Old – For its final performance, this 23 year old bottling sees those seaside notes, just hinted at in the 17 and 19, taking more of a starring role. Big iodine notes hit the palate right from the start, giving this whisky a bit of an Islay feel. Ultimately, the fruit elements — gentle citrus and pear — are hidden behind this seawall, making for some interesting, but somewhat frustrating, exploration. B+ / $300

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Review: Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon

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Ginger and bourbon go together so well that bourbon and ginger ale is a classic, standard, two-ingredient cocktail. Why not put them together in one bottle, then? Named after a supposed bootlegger from South Carolina, where this spirit also hails form, Virgil Kaine is made from a (sourced) “young” bourbon composed from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. It is infused with Yellow Hawaiian ginger, then bottled without chill-filtering.

Both bourbon-driven vanilla/oak character and fresh ginger character are evident on the nose, right from the start. Don’t go expecting either a flood of spicy ginger or a big bourbon character. Mild all around, it’s almost inconsequentially simple from an aromatic standpoint. The body follows suit. Very clean and pleasant, it’s a refreshing and easygoing whiskey that’s touched with a light smacking of ginger root and some chocolate notes that develop later in the game. Nothing fancy — the bourbon is light bodied and mildly sweet. The ginger is restrained and pleasant, not pungent or sharp. The finish is more akin to a good ginger ale than anything else.

If the idea of ginger and bourbon (sans a watery mixer) sounds appealing to you, you can pull off this trick by putting a few drops of Barrow’s Ginger Liqueur into a glass of Jim Beam. But if that sounds like too much work for you, this handy shortcut is just fine.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / virgilkaine.com

Review: Glenfiddich “The Original” Single Malt Whisky

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In 1963 Glenfiddich launched a single malt whisky and sold it outside of Scotland, a highly unusual move considering that the whisky world at the time really only knew of blended Scotch, not single malts. While many may very well debate the claim (considering single malt whisky dates back to at least the 1400s), the distillery has put a stake in the ground as the inventor of the modern single malt category as we now know it.

So, what Glenfiddich has done is recreate the 1963 “Original,” as it was called back then, for a modern audience. Assuming this is an accurate representation of the past, they were drinking pretty impressively back in ’63. Much like the Shackleton recreations, Glenfiddich Original — created in keeping with an authentic recipe from the era and aged in sherry butts — offers a gentler experience with the focus more squarely on the grain.

The Original starts with aromas of nicely roasted malt, rounded out by modest, restrained sherry notes. The nose goes on to offer almond and dried apple plus gentle coal fire notes driven by the wood.  The body is rounded but relaxed and easy, offering notes of coconut, dried banana, light citrus, and fresh hay on the finish. It’s not overwhelmingly complex, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead it’s a lightly sweet, delightfully drinkable whisky that is just as welcome today as it must have been 50 years ago.

80 proof.

A- / $100 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Update: Clyde May’s Whiskey Makes Some Changes

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It hasn’t quite been two years since we reviewed Clyde May’s Conecuh Ridge Whiskey, but big things are afoot at this operation, which is rapidly picking up steam and notoriety.

A rebranding and radically updated design is the major news. “Conecuh Ridge” has been shrunken down on the label and in fact is no longer part of the official name (probably because the region could be anywhere in the minds of most drinkers). The label has also been completely redesigned, wisely jettisoning the black-and-gold silhouette landscape motif which was straight out of the 1970s for a more post-modern typographic design that etches tasting notes (legible, this time) right on the glass.

The recipe hasn’t changed — the company new notes that it is a blend of 5 and 6 year old bourbon mash finished in the Alabama Style, which is the natural infusion of apple and spice such as cinnamon (which is why it isn’t called a “Bourbon”) — and a side by side tasting of old and new bottles confirms that nothing is different. Lots of apples and butterscotch, with toasted coconut on the finish — but a much cleaner look.

Still 85 proof.

B+ / $30 / clydemays.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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This latest expression from Islay’s Bowmore is simply called Small Batch, a No Age Statement expression matured in first fill and second fill bourbon casks. No finishing barrel. It now joins the Bowmore family as a full-time member of the lineup.

It’s at first a classically styled, if not entirely remarkable, Islay bottling, offering smoky peat on the nose, plus a sweeter-than-usual edge that takes it to the realm of barbecued meats. That sweetness carries over to the body, where a sugary rush of vanilla pudding hits the palate first. I get touches of sweetened coconut and some orange juice as the finish builds, at which point a quite modest smoky peat character starts to take hold again. That smoke-meets-salt air character is just barely evident as the finish fades, the Islay core bookending the experience as gently as possible.

Bowmore Small Batch is a nice beginner’s introduction to Islay and a capable budget dram, but it’s nothing that fans of the island’s particular style are likely to feel the need to seek out.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / bowmore.com

Review: Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1870 Original Batch Bourbon

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Rest assured, Old Forester 1870 Original Batch Bourbon was not made in 1870. Rather, this is a whiskey that is the first release in what Old Forester is calling its new Whiskey Row Series. “This unique series highlights our bourbon’s significant milestones and production innovations with each release.  From the first batched bourbon to a post-prohibition era style bourbon, the series will allow consumers to sip Old Forester as it was enjoyed in the late 1800s through the mid-1920s,” says the company.

And so we start here, an attempt to recreate the tone of 1870, when OldFo became, they say, the first “batched bourbon” — made at three different distilleries and blended together later. Attempts have been made to keep things legit:

To emulate Brown’s pioneering 1870 batching process, the 1870 Original Batch bourbon is comprised of barrels selected from three different warehouses with a different day of production as well as a different entry proof and maturation period. The expressions will be batched together to create this 90-proof product which represents the innovative technique developed by Brown which has become an integral part of the bourbon industry.

And so, let’s see how this first batch pans out…

Big notes of caramel apple attack the nose right from the start. Fruity notes carry well into the body, until some leathery, tobacco notes finally emerge as the palate starts to round out. The finish offers tons of grip and tannin, but it’s complemented by a slug of baking spices — cinnamon and ginger, mainly — giving it an almost candylike character on the back end. It’s an almost simple whiskey, though it’s so loaded with that candy apple character that it’s hard not to like.

90 proof.

A- / $45 / oldforester.com

Review: McMenamins Billy Whiskey and Aval Pota Apple Whiskey

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In the Portland area (and elsewhere in Oregon and Washington), McMenamins is a bit of an institution. Operating dozens of restaurants and some two dozen breweries, the bar/pub/dining destination is also home to two different microdistilleries, which have been running since 1998: Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery in Hillsboro and Edgefield Distillery in Troutdale.

At these locations, the company uses copper pot and column stills to manufacture spirits for sale exclusively at a handful of McMenamins locations. (These include numerous whiskeys, two gins, two rums, three herbal liqueurs (coffee, hazelnut and herbal), and several brandies.) Thoughts on two of the company’s whiskeys follow.

McMenamins Billy Whiskey – Made primarily from a wheat-based mash (malt barley makes up the rest), Billy Whiskey is pot distilled then aged for two years in new oak barrels before bottling. The nose is youthful but not brash, with ample cereal notes touched with popcorn, vanilla, and the heavy, young wood elements that are wholly characteristic of young whiskeys like this. The palate has more to chew on, if you will. Notes of caramel apple, mixed nuts, Cracker Jack, and banana bread come on strong here. While the finish is lightly cerealed and a bit racy, it’s just mature enough for easy sipping, and just complex enough for lasting enjoyment. 87 proof. B / $35 / mcmenamins.com

aval potaMcMenamins Edgefield Distillery Aval Pota – Made in a column still, this is apple flavored whiskey inspired by Irish poitin. Made from malted barley then infused with fresh apples and a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon, it is bottled with no aging information. The nose is very heavy on the apples, though its closer to applesauce than apple pie. Appealing, it invites exploration on the palate, but here things start to break down. The initial apple rush is sweeter than expected, but that doesn’t last long, as a sizable alcoholic burn quickly takes over. A bit raw and punchy, it quickly washes away the apple and leaves behind an indistinct medicinal character. 66 proof. C / $26 / mcmenamins.com

Review: Aultmore 12 Years Old, 21 Years Old, and 25 Years Old

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Aultmore, a Speyside distillery, has changed hands many times, but again became part of the Dewar’s portfolio in 1998. Normally used in the company’s blends — including Dewar’s — only now is Dewar’s releasing these three expressions of Aultmore as a single malt — known locally as “a nip of the Buckie Road.”

Since the bulk of Aultmore ends up in blends,  you might presume these whiskies are dull and boring. You would be wrong. These are indeed simple whiskies, but they are also incredibly well-crafted, flavorful, and amazingly approachable. I greatly enjoyed this lineup from the 12 year to the 25 — and would be hard-pressed to select a favorite. Thoughts follow on all three: 12, 21, and 25.

All expressions are bottled at 92 proof.

Aultmore 12 Years Old – Wonderfully alive. Lovely and just plain ready-to-go right out of the gate. Notes of fresh apple, pear, and banana attack the nose alongside gentle grains and notes of heather. That fruit is quite powerful on the palate, brisk applesauce, vanilla caramels, a touch of citrus and a clean, gently sweet finish that recalls once again the grain at its core. This is a simple, young whisky, but one which proves that age is far from everything. Snap it up. Now in general release. A / $53

Aultmore 21 Years Old – That gentle, fruity DNA from Aultmore 12 follows over to the 21, where it takes on a more austere, rounder, more full-bodied character. Malty and chewy, it takes the apple/banana fruit core of the 12 and bakes it in the oven for an hour, giving it a crusty, warm, and almost doughy character that dulls the bright, acidic fruit notes and replaces them with oomph. There’s a touch of citrus edge here, but just barely. All told, it’s a really interesting study in contrasts compared to the 12. Try them side by side if you can. Travel retail only. A / $NA

Aultmore 25 Years Old – This slightly older expression cuts a similar character as the 21, with just a touch more chocolate and a bit more malt — something like a chocolate milkshake. Subtle floral notes emerge over time, alongside notes of butterscotch, persimmon, and a growing smokiness on the back end. Not at all the departure from the 21 that those notes might seem to indicate, but rather a fitting finale to an amazing trilogy of malt whiskies. In limited release. A / $NA

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