Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Laphroaig 10 Years Old Original Cask Strength

laphroaig 10 year cask strength 525x969 Review: Laphroaig 10 Years Old Original Cask Strength

The only member of the Laphroaig core lineup that we haven’t reviewed — but stay tuned for two new expressions dropping in the next couple of weeks — Laphroaig 10 Years Old Original Cask Strength is exactly what it says on the label: A cask strength version of the classic Laphroaig 10 Years Old expression.

Now anything from the Islay-based Laphroaig is always hot stuff, but Laphroaig Cask Strength is a true blazer. Packed with peat smoke and the essence of red pepper, it takes some doing to get it to settle down in the glass. Lots of air works if you’re patient, or you can start adding drops of water to speed up the process. Actually, I recommend the latter no matter what. While you can catch the whiffs of citrus and grapefruit uncut, these are far stronger when you add a splash of water. Try adding more and more as you drain the glass (which will have the side effect of making the glass appear to never empty) and out come more tropical notes of banana, lychee, and pineapple, even a touch of coconut.

Think of it as a more complicated, layered, and — yeah — expensive version of the standard bearer, one that doesn’t let go of its secrets without a fight.

114.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #005, bottled February 2013.

A- / $67 / laphroaig.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Berentzen Bushel & Barrel Apple Whiskey and Icemint Schnapps

 Review: Berentzen Bushel & Barrel Apple Whiskey and Icemint Schnapps

Founded in 1758 in Haselünne, Germany, Berentzen is known for its eponymous apple liqueur, as well as some other fruit liqueurs. The company is expanding — hey, 250 years is long enough to wait — recently adding two new products to its lineup. We got ‘em both, and put them to the Drinkhacker test.

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel is “straight bourbon whiskey, neutral spirits, caramel coloring, and natural flavors.” Made with the apple juice-based Berentzen liqueur, this is a credible apple-pie-in-a-glass beverage, featuring silky-sweet apple juice notes balanced by a healthy slug of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and with just hints of those “neutral spirits” that provide a bit of a chemical character by way of aftertaste. Perfectly serviceable for those in love with apple cocktails, but you can approximate the same thing by splashing some standard bourbon into a glass of Berentzen if you don’t need a short cut. 60 proof. B / $22

Berentzen Icemint Schnapps is a “supermint” schnapps according to the company, and I’d say that’s fairly on point. I’m hardly an aficionado of peppermint schnapps, but Berentzen’s offering is surprisingly intriguing. The nose offers a light eucalyptus menthol note, and it’s surprisingly gentle. I couldn’t detect any real alcohol burn in it at all. On the palate it’s equally easygoing. The body is icy cool and appropriately minty, with wispy hints of chocolate, altogether coming across much like an after-dinner mint. It doesn’t drink at all like it’s overproof, which makes it a bit dangerous. Try sipping on a half-shot as a digestif. No more. No shooters. 100 proof. A / $25

berentzenusa.com

Review: Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniv Blend Hi Res Bottle Shot e1404796063243 525x491 Review: Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary BlendCrown Royal is one of the most popular whiskeys on the planet, and for deserved reason. It’s a straightforward, balanced, and dare-I-say-smooth spirit. It mixes well, and it’s an easy straight sipper. Who doesn’t like Crown?

Crown Royal’s history dates back to 1939, when a Canadian entrepreneur crafted a local whisky for the then-royal couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who were the first British monarchs to visit North America. Crown Royal was born (and named) and the world has followed its lead. Now, the brand is celebrating its 75th anniversary, with Crown Royal Monarch making its limited-edition debut.

Crown enthusiasts will likely enjoy this spirit the most, but for the rest of us it’s hit and miss. It’s delicate and straightforward, and it does offer just enough uniqueness to spark at least some level of interest, but it doesn’t raise the bar completely. The nose isn’t the highlight here: Basic, grain-forward, and a little bit plasticky. The body is a bit of a different animal, where you’ll find the classic silky body of Crown Royal imbued with notes that start with liquid caramel and head to mild blackberry, a touch of cigar, and a bit of green pepper. It’s not at all bad, simplistic and for the most part well-balanced, at least until the finish, which has a touch of astringency to it and a return to that bit-o-plastic character. (Air helps to burn this unfortunate character off.)

Crown Royal’s various special editions are well regarded, but Monarch’s presentation is a bit more interesting than once it’s the bottle.

80 proof.

B / $75 / crownroyal.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat

jim beam harvest 525x308 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection   Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat

Discontent to let Buffalo Trace have all the fun with experimental whiskeys, Jim Beam has been hard at work with its annual Signature Craft releases to show how little changes can have a big impact on a finished spirit.

Now it’s pushing boundaries even further, with a series of six Bourbons called the Harvest Bourbon Collection (technically a sub-group of Signature Craft). The spin on this project is that these six whiskeys each incorporate one unusual grain into the mashbill. They’re all still Bourbon — made with at least 51% corn and some amount of malted barley — but in each whiskey that extra grain is used in a significant amount in the mash (though in undisclosed and variable proportions). All six expressions were aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

The six expressions include: Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice, Rolled Oat, Triticale, High Rye, and Six Row Barley. The first two on that list arrive in September 2014. The other four will ship through 2015.

Some of these are more unusual than others on that list, of course. Wheat, rye, and barley are all common whiskey components, though here Beam is using different strains or proportions. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye, which leaves two big oddities on the list: Rolled Oat and, especially, Brown Rice. Both are common supermarket grains that are nonetheless bizarre to find in a whiskey. Color me curious on how these things turn out.

For now, we’ve got our hands on two of the six: Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat. Without further ado, here’s how they turned out.

JB SC Harvest Wheat 134x300 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection   Soft Red Wheat and Rolled OatJim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Soft Red Wheat – Made with Kentucky and Indiana wheat, a common ingredient in Bourbons like Maker’s Mark. This initially struck me with a slightly funky, sweaty nose, but I let it settle down and things started to clarify, revealing a more straightforward wood character, with hints of earthiness. This is well-aged whiskey and it shows from the start. On the palate, hints of cherry (not unusual for Beam products) and ample, almost overpowering oak character. Even with a healthy amount of water you can’t push that wood character down, a fact which I chalk up more to the aging regimen than to wheat being in the mashbill. Surprisingly tough to muddle through. B-

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Rolled Oat – I’ve had a few whiskeys that incorporate oats and I always find them fascinating, at least for a diversion. Here Beam has produced a whiskey with a distinct sweetness on the nose, almost like baking spices with cinnamon and cloves, with rich wood notes underneath. On the palate, again it is quite hot on the tongue, and water helps to bring out the unique charms of the spirit. This is a far different whiskey than the Red Wheat expression, a much softer, gentler, and more engaging spirit on the whole. Cinnamon sugar notes play well with a caramel/dulce de leche base, with that woody nose melting into a pulpier, piney character on the palate. All of this plays well together, giving the Rolled Oat expression a balance that the Red Wheat doesn’t have. Perhaps it was simply better able to stand up to the aging regimen? Either way, it’s a winner. A-

This is a fun start to an interesting lineup. Hopefully we’ll have reviews of the other four expressions for you in the Harvest Collection soon!

each $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask Finished Small Batch Bourbon 2014

JB SC Quarter Cask e1404621828786 525x830 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask Finished Small Batch Bourbon 2014

For the third installment (and second annual release) of Jim Beam’s Signature Craft series (find reviews of the first limited annual release and the permanent member of the series here), the company is offering a curious concoction. While it’s called “Quarter Cask Finished,” that’s a little misleading. The whiskey is actually a blend of standard five-to-six year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon that is married with a separate Bourbon that has spent from four-to-six years in quarter casks. (Craft whiskey and Laphroaig fans know that quarter casks are exactly what they sound like: Barrels that are 1/4 the size of regular ones, and which tend to mature much more quickly.)

Semantics aside, this is an intriguing new, limited edition whiskey from Beam, and the use of small barrels (at least in part) makes it a considerable departure from the norm. Thoughts follow.

Jim Beam Quarter Cask Finished Bourbon starts off sweet and doesn’t let up. The nose offers notes of caramelized fruit — Bananas Foster, I would argue — along with sugared orange peel and vanilla-scented sugar cookies. The body brings that home, with heavy doses of vanilla caramels, milk chocolate, and hints of cherry. Wood notes start to develop, particularly on the finish, as the whiskey settles down in the glass. It’s not particularly hot, at 86 proof, but it does benefit from a little air time, which allows the various flavor and aroma components to meld.

I like this whiskey a lot, though it’s not at all what I was expecting (a bruiser heavy on wood and tannin) and ultimately doesn’t venture all that far from the winning Beam formula. Bottom line: With ample fruit and sweeter elements in abundance, there’s a little something here for Bourbon fans of every stripe.

86 proof. Available beginning in September 2014.

A- / $40 / jimbeam.com

Review: Talisker 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Talisker1985 bottlebox High Res 525x742 Review: Talisker 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

The final whisky in the 2013 Diageo Special Releases series comes from venerable Talisker on the Isle of Skye. It’s a 1985-distilled spirit aged exclusively in American refill casks, so this whisky’s considerable age should be the main focus here rather than any finishing it encounters.

Sure enough: This is classic Talisker, a peaty, green-tinted malt loaded with aromas of wood smoke and seaweed, with just hints of citrus fruit. The body’s got ample peat, but it’s not overwhelming, with just a bit of vegetable character to it — green bean and green tomatoes, perhaps. Lots of salt splashes you on the finish, showing off this maritime spirit’s true colors.

Final analysis: Very enjoyable, but it never ventures far from its roots.

112.2 proof. 3,000 bottles produced.

B+ / $815 / malts.com

Review: The Singleton of Dufftown 28 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Singleton 28 bottlebox High Res 525x773 Review: The Singleton of Dufftown 28 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Whisky #8 in the Diageo Special Releases series is an installment from The Singleton line, this one from Dufftown. (There have been many whiskies in “The Singleton” line, but only Dufftown is current.)

This old fogey is from an actually operational still in Speyside, aged completely in American oak for its 28 years. (It was distilled in 1985.)

This is a big, malty whisky. The nose is rich with wood notes and hints of oatmeal, and there’s a little acetone character in there as well. As noted, bit malt notes are the key element here. It’s a big bowl of cereal (good cereal, mind you) with raisins, maple syrup, and a squirt of honey. It sweetens up as air gets to it, and it also brings out more of its well-aged wood notes.

The Singleton of Dufftown 28 may start off simple, but its complexity grows as the whisky matures in the glass. I was ready to dismiss it as almost boring at the start, but eventually it won me over as a warm and inviting new friend.

104.6 proof. 3,816 bottles produced.

A- / $400 / malts.com

Review: Port Ellen 34 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Port Ellen 34yo 2013 High Res 525x742 Review: Port Ellen 34 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Whisky #7/9 from the Diageo 2013 Special Release series comes from Port Ellen, Islay’s cult distillery which was shuttered way back in 1983. This spirit was produced in 1978, just five years before the stills were mothballed. Aged in American and European oak, it’s one of the oldest whiskies ever to be bottled from this distillery.

Port Ellen is always heavily peated, and this expression is no exception. The nose is rich with barbecue smoke, salty, with citrus overtones. The body’s a big burner, rich with barbecue sauce, both sweet and peppery. Water is of considerable benefit here, but that serves mainly to tame the beastly body rather than coaxing out additional character. In Port Ellen 34 the smoke never lets up, but it does find a few companions in notes of orange pulp, rosemary, and honeycomb. Surprisingly restrained, this is a decidedly simple example of Port Ellen — plenty tasty, but not a powerhouse of complexity.

110 proof. 2,958 bottles produced.

B+ / $2,570 / malts.com

Review: Oban 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Oban21 bottlebox High Res 525x935 Review: Oban 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

#6 of 9 in the 2013 Diageo Special Release series comes from the classic Oban Distillery, located on the west coast of the Highlands where it’s a bit of an honorary, lesser member of the Islay group. Aged in rejuvenated American oak and second fill sherry casks, it’s the first Oban to come out of this series in a decade.

Unlike most of the whiskies that precede this spirit in the lineup, the Oban immediately strikes you as hot. The nose is fiery — with salt air and coal smoke peeking through, along with touches of buttery biscuits. The body cries for water, but after the heat dies down a bit it reveals notes of syrup-coated pancakes and some citrus. The smoke fades away almost completely here. Water coaxes out some herbal character along with lots of nuts — walnuts and almonds — before falling back on its core of malty grains with a twist of orange peel.

With the appropriate splash of water, this emerges as one of the best Obans I’ve ever had, balanced and pretty and full of complexities that invite exploration.

117 proof. 2,860 bottles produced.

A / $385 / malts.com

Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old and Lagavulin 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

These two Lagavulin single malts are our #4 and #5 entries into the 2013 Diageo Special Release series. For the uninitiated, Lagavulin’s standard bottling is a 16 year old, but Diageo puts out a younger 12 year bottling pretty much every year as part of the annual Special Release program. This year it’s backing that up with an extremely rare and ungodly expensive 37 year old. Let’s take them both in turn.

Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2013 is everything you’ve come to expect from this Islay distillery. Vatted from refill American oak casks, it’s a pale yellow in color, offering a gentle, sweet, smoked meat style of smokiness on the nose along with touches of citrus. Though bottled at cask strength, the body is surprisingly easygoing. The smoke and fruit are well integrated here, that light peat — more earth than seaside — quickly giving way to notes of fresh orange, banana, and surprising tropical notes of mango and pineapple. It’s nicely balanced but the experience fades away all too quickly due to a relatively short finish. 110.2 proof. “Limited quantities.” A- / $136

Lagavulin 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2013 – Now here’s a real rarity (distilled in 1976), bottled after 37 years in American and European oak refill casks. It’s the oldest Lagavulin that Diageo has ever released (and undoubtedly the most expensive, too). Deep amber in color, the nose offers notes of old Madeira, iodine, sea spray, and balsamic vinegar. There’s lots going on here, maybe too much. With complex and layered notes of fading coal fires, wood polish, menthol, pine needles, and ancient, oxidized bottles of sherry, it’s a whisky that invites exploration but never really reaches Nirvana. The finish is rustic and more than a bit rough — a long way from the gentle simplicity of the 12 year old and further evidence that this Lagavulin has, tragically, probably spent a few years too long in the barrel. 102 proof. 1,868 bottles produced. B / $3,320

malts.com

Gelateria Naia Puts Frozen Whiskey on a Stick

photo 300x225 Gelateria Naia Puts Frozen Whiskey on a StickNow here’s a fun item I never thought I’d see in my local supermarket: A gelato popsicle flavored with St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey. Both companies are local to NorCal: Gelateria Naia is based in Hercules, St. George in Alameda, both in the East Bay.

This popsicle is quite a little delight, flavored with sugar, a touch of caramel, and real St. George Single Malt poured right into the pop. The texture is a bit icier than a non-alcohol-based pop from the company I tried, but still easy to munch on. The flavor is slightly nutty, and sweeter than I’d expected. The closest analogue I can suggest is a dulce de leche ice cream, swirled with caramel. The flavors linger with you, though, for quite a while after it’s all gone, and its there where some of the more whiskeylike notes — cereal and oak staves — start to emerge.

Fun. Would eat again. About $2.50 a pop.

gelaterianaia.com

Review: Convalmore 36 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Conva 36 bb 2013 High Res 525x736 Review: Convalmore 36 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Diageo 2013 Special Release #3 of 9 is a very rare offering from Convalmore, a Speyside distillery closed in 1985. Distilled in 1977, this is only the third release to come from Convalmore in the Special Release series.

The beautiful amber color is instantly mouth-wetting, but the nose is elusive. After the alcohol vapors fade, you get notes of sherry, well-aged wood, and old furniture leather. There are hints of menthol and a touch of iodine, too.

The body is hefty on those wood characteristics. The fruit has faded considerably here, leaving behind a rather dusty spirit that offers notes of coconut husk, cedar closet, and well-oxidized sherry. The finish returns us to the lumberyard, with just a few touches of that previously encountered iodine character. Sadly, it all ends too soon.

While Convalmore 36 is far from a whisky that’s faded away completely, it is one that is on its way. My advice to Diageo is to get whatever’s left and lingering around out of barrels and into bottles, posthaste.

116 proof. 2,980 bottles produced.

B+ / $1,020 / malts.com

Review: Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Unpeated Style Limited Edition 2013

Caol Ila 2013 High Res 525x742 Review: Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Unpeated Style Limited Edition 2013

Diageo 2013 Special Release #2 of 9 is this whisky, from Islay-based Caol Ila, which is a well-known bastion of the peated style of malt whisky. This however is a very rare unpeated malt from the distillery, made just once a year by the company. Made from a mix of casks using refill American Oak, rejuvenated American Oak, and ex-bodega (sherry casks, I presume) European Oak, it is bottled without an age statement.

Made in a “Highland style,” this whisky is big and hot, and a dash of water is a huge help from the start. With some tempering the Stitchell Reserve offers a savory nose of coal dust, roasted grains, and sandalwood. The body follows suit, keeping any sweetness at bay while playing up those notes of oatmeal, almonds, and gentle wood. Honey notes — a bit denser and a bit more herbal than you’d expect — start to build as the whisky settles down, adding just the right amount of sugar to a very well-balanced spirit. Not your father’s Caol Ila by any stretch, and a fun diversion from the usual fare from Islay.

119.2 proof.

A- / $119 / malts.com

Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Brora 35yo 2013 High Res 525x742 Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

This is the beginning of a special week here at Drinkhacker, as we’re finally about to launch into one of the most anticipated and exciting annual events in the whiskey world. No, it’s not a new Pappy Van Winkle release, it’s the arrival of Diageo’s annual limited edition Special Release single malts.

These whiskies are sourced from very rare, very old casks — often from long-since closed distilleries — and are produced in fleetingly limited numbers. While they all bear a 2013 release date, most are still in the process of hitting our shores.

2013 Special Releases Group Shots High Res1 525x193 Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

This series encompasses nine spirits, and we’ll be tackling them in turn, one each day.

First out the gate is this 35 year old expression from Brora (distilled in 1977), a Highlands-based distillery that was shuttered in 1983. Aged in refill American and European casks, it’s a bright yellow in color, a deception that masks its true age.

The scent of the sea pours out of the glass — iodine and seaweed, peat fires and smoked fish — along with hints at a sweeter underpinning. The body, as with most old Brora releases, is just gorgeous. Liquified honey gets things going, followed by notes of citrus peel, heather, brandy-soaked raisins, coconut, and ripe banana. Here, the smokiness so evident on the nose is almost completely lost, these big fruits and some dessert-like cookie notes running all the way to the finish line. Oily and mouth-filling on the body, the long and lasting finish brings out tropical fruit and some burnt sugar notes… a sweet dessert that counters that perfectly tricky, savory nose.

99.8 proof. 2,944 bottles produced.

A / $1,278 / malts.com

Tasting Mystery Whisk(e)ys with the Revamped Whiskey Explorers Club

We’ve been fans of For Whiskey Lovers’ Whiskey Explorers Club for years — since the beginning, really — and when founder Douglas Stone announced he’d revamped his Whisk(e)y IQ Game, I was excited. The Whisk(e)y IQ Game is one of the only places you can taste whiskey completely blind, offer your opinions on it, then see whether you were drinking ritzy shizz or rotgut.

I haven’t played the game since February 2013, and the latest version (officially March 2014) offers a whole lot of changes to the mix.

To wit: The whole game — which, for the uninitiated, involves describing the color, nose, taste, body, and finish of four or five unlabeled spirits — has been redesigned. The mechanics are the same (you earn points for “correct” guesses and lose them for “wrong” ones), with color coding for every category — this being particularly helpful when determining a whiskey’s color. There’s a brand new section that has you taste the whiskey with water, and some other changes that make it much harder to cheat when it comes time to pick which actual spirit you’re drinking.

The game, on the whole, is now more fun — though it does take longer to work through, as there’s a lot more clicking around — but I still see room for improvement. Some comments on the new game:

My biggest complaint from day one of this game remains intact: So much of this is so subjective that it’s absurd to grade players on how “correct” they are. Things like a description of body — is it soft? creamy? austere? — are vague to the point of meaninglessness. If I say “luscious” and you say “oily,” what the hell does that really mean? I’d love to see some partial credit here. If you say a whiskey’s color is “old gold” and the “correct” answer is one shade lighter, that should give you partial points, not zero.

Similarly, I still have problems with the “right” answers here; these are apparently drawn from the distillery’s tasting notes, and in some cases I disagree completely with their choices. What on earth does “fragrant” mean when describing the taste of a whiskey? Every whiskey is “fragrant,” and everyone’s palate is different, after all. What’s the difference between “dry hay” and “mown hay”? “Mown hay” and “grass cuttings”? “Soothing” and “lingering”? Some of these terms involve way too much guesswork to the point where the thing gets frustrating…

For Whiskey Lovers has finally taken my long-running advice, putting your selections next to the “correct” choices when you complete a round, so you can compare your tasting notes with what the “correct” choices are in the database. This is a huge win. The formatting needs work (it’s still very hard to read the way it’s laid out), but it’s a massive improvement to the game.

Certain elements of the game just don’t seem to work. The price information doesn’t show up in the end, for example. And there are some technical problems with the design, where items jump from one line to the next after they’re selected.

I’d love to see pop-ups for certain descriptive terms, like aldehydes and esters, explaining what the terms mean for those who aren’t in the know.

Finally, once I accidentally hit “back” and hard to start all over. Argh.

That said, I still recommend this program to just about anyone. You get to try new whiskeys blind — in this round there were two whiskeys I’d never had before — and put your senses to the test in a way that you just can’t do when you know exactly what it is you’re drinking. Good times, good times.

Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014

kavalan 300x300 Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014Kavalan is the best-known Taiwanese whisky distiller (at least in the U.S.), rapidly increasing its footprint from a single bottling just a few years ago (which we reviewed) to a total of nine on the market now. At least five of these whiskies, all single malts, are available in the U.S., and today we take a fresh look at this five-bottle lineup, which includes two standard-proof bottlings and three from the cask-strength Solist line.

Kavalan doesn’t bottle its spirits with age statements, but it does rely on some exotic barrel treatments to create some truly unique spirits.

Thoughts on the five-whisky lineup follow.

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky – I get strong apple notes up front this time around, followed by healthy citrus character. Otherwise my notes mimic those I had in 2011. The palate drips with honey, balanced with modest toast-and-cereal notes, vanilla, and and touches of nougat. The finish brings a pleasant bit of fruit to the forefront before fading away. Straightforward, a bit rustic, and quite simple, it drinks like a young single malt Scotch, modest yet full of life. 80 proof. B+ / $73  (prior rating: A-)

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Concertmaster Port Cask Finish – Look for the unmistakeable jade-green bottle. Finished in a variety of Port casks, this whisky has a bolder, fruitier nose that hints at raisins and Christmas spice. The body brings it all home, with lush fruit notes — plum and plump raisins, hints of fresh cherries, all lightly touched with cinnamon and morsels of cereal. The finish keeps it going for the long haul — lasting with ample spice notes. It’s drinking well in the summer but would be perfect for Christmastime. 80 proof. A- / $89

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask - A rather muted nose, hard to parse out from the aroma, though eventually it reveals notes of apple and red berries, with a slight iodine kick to it. The body is something else entirely, punchy with raw alcohol that masks a citrus kick alongside notes of vanilla and peaches — maybe even a touch of coconut. The finish is on the short side — mostly fire, a touch of sawdust, and a vanilla-soaked marshmallow that fades away just a bit too fast. Try water. 114 proof. B+ / $170

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Sherry Cask – Matured fully in oloroso sherry casks; a dark tea-brown in color. What an unusual spirit… the nose offers notes of dried figs and prunes, with a well-aged sherry character to it. The body is intense, a bruising collection of Madeira notes, rum-soaked raisins, burnt orange peel, and cocoa bean. Slightly bittersweet on the finish in the way that old sherry can be, it’s a digestif style whisky with plenty of depth and originality. 114 proof. A- / $180

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Vinho Barrique – Matured fully in ex-American red wine barrels that have been re-charred. Deep amber, about the same as the prior whisky, this spirit offers a dense and deep nose, offering exotic notes of ginger, chocolate cake, and salted caramel. The body brings out those chocolate notes, touched with a surprising licorice note and some extra spices — lemon pepper, cloves, and a healthy slug of wood. Wild and, again, exotic stuff. 114 proof. A- / $157

kavalanwhisky.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Floor Experiment 525x385 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

More tinkering in the form of experimental whiskeys from the mad scientists at Buffalo Trace. This is one of the company’s most interesting and telling ones to date: Three 12-year-old, rye-heavy bourbons each aged on a different floor of Buffalo Trace’s massive Warehouse K (floors 1, 5, and 9). Warehouse K is built of brick, with wooden floors (because that seems to matter, too).

The same Bourbon, in the same building, just aged on a different floor. Why on earth would the aging floor matter? Simple, as any middle school science student can tell you: Heat rises. The lower floors are relatively cool. The top floors are scorching hot. This impacts aging in a direct and profound way — in part, because water and alcohol evaporate at different temperatures. (That said, all three of these whiskeys are bottled at 90 proof to make comparisons considerably easier.)

And so, how do these compare side by side by side? Let’s take a look…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #1 – Aged on the bottom floor. Some funky notes of olives and green pepper hit the nose at first, with plenty of sweet stuff riding on its coattails. The palate is sharp and fiery, with elements of burnt butter, cayenne, and ample sawdust in contrast to its toffee notes. Balance is a mess, flavors hitting you from every which way. C

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #5 – Aged right in the middle, but is it the Goldilocks of the group? It’s not as different as you might expect, those olive notes still hanging on, but to a much less powerful degree. Floor #5 settles down much more fully and quickly, revealing more of a rounded butter toffee note that’s fused with a melange of cloves, candied pineapple, and lumberyard notes. It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but overall more palatable and approachable than Floor #1. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #9 – From the hot top floor, where some of BT’s blue chip Bourbons, like George T. Stagg, are sourced. This is clearly the best of the bunch, featuring toasted marshmallows and more gentle wood notes on the nose, followed by a body that is lush with brown sugar sweetness, cinnamon and cloves, vanilla caramels, and cake frosting. Gorgeous in structure, and radically different than the other two installments in this series. Grab it if you find it! A

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky 100 Proof Bottled-in-Bond

Rittenhouse 100 Review: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky 100 Proof Bottled in Bond

One of the classic examples of this spirit, Rittenhouse is a 4-plus-year-old, 100 proof bottled-in-bond rye. The winner of all sorts of accolades and awards, the Heaven Hill-produced Rittenhouse Rye Whisky (the company’s spelling) recently updated its packaging with a “1930s inspired” label. (Fun fact: the brand was known as Rittenhouse Square Rye at the time.)

But inside the bottle, nothing seems to have changed. But here are some fresh thoughts on Rittenhouse based on a fresh tasting.

The nose is racy — iconically “rye” — filled with baking spices but also crushed red pepper notes that hint at heat. The palate is initially a bit hot — a drop of water or a few minutes are all it takes to let the vapors dissipate — but it quickly settles down to reveal layers of fun stuff. Gingerbread, orange peel, creme brulee, dark chocolate, light wood oils… all of these elements combine to create a really lush, pretty whole with just the right amount of wood. With a near-perfect flavor profile and just the right mix of bite and sweetness on the finish, Rittenhouse continues to hit it out of the park, and at these prices, it’s no wonder that many stores limit how many bottles you can buy.

100 proof.

A / $26 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Town Branch Bourbon

Town Branch Bourbon  65405 zoom 300x300 Review: Town Branch BourbonFull confession: the first batch of this stuff was so bereft of quality, it was not uncommon to passive-aggressively serve generous pours to irritating house guests in hopes of expediting its stay on the shelf to the recycling bin. A few years since its initial release, reconsideration is warranted; with the hopes of quality control finally living up to its purpose.

As usual, a bit of context: Town Branch is made by AllTech, not a small family operation as you might expect by that folksy company name but rather a large conglomerate specializing in animal feed and nutrition. The company also makes a reasonably tasty bourbon-barreled stout and ale. Town Branch takes it namesake from the body of water on which the city of Lexington was founded, and boasts to be the first (legally) produced bourbon within the city limits in quite some time. It also has a rather limited distribution chain, so availability no doubt plays into its cachet. The mashbill is also somewhat peculiar in that it meets the 51% corn standard, but it uses only malted barley as the secondary ingredient, eschewing the traditional wheat or rye.

The color is a wonderful amber hue behind rather pleasant packaging: the bottle is gorgeous, the label not so much (typography and text is a bit tough to translate at points). But as the saying tells us not to judge books by their cover, let’s go deeper. The nose offers up much sweetness: traces of fruit and butterscotch immediately followed by mild oak and sawdust. The sweetness stays throughout and really doesn’t let up through the entire experience, and the finish is like a 4th of July firecracker: short and… sweet. A bit of a bang mixed with caramel, bananas, bread, and a mild burn. Those liking drinking matters smooth and easy may find the experience enjoyable, but for those who want to know they’re drinking bourbon and not a bourbon-inspired liqueur, this may not be the best bottle to bring to the table.

At 40% abv, it’s pretty tame when compared to other bourbons at the $30 price point. There’s also talk of a rye expression arriving on shelves in short order, which shall hopefully add the much-needed punch and unveil greater potential than what’s showcased here. I’ll most likely revisit this again in another two years, when this trial is far from fresh in my memory.

80 proof.

C / $27 / kentuckyale.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel-Rested Ginever

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Wigle (aka Pittsburgh Distilling Company) is an up-and-coming craft distiller that makes loads of products including, in a page taken from the Tuthilltown/Hudson Distillery playbook, a wide range of different whiskeys — seven of them at current count.

Today we look at two of the company’s products, a rye and an aged “ginever,” both curiosities that you’ll only find from a true craft operation.

Thoughts follow.

Organic Rye Deep Cut 375 5 300x300 Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel Rested GineverWigle Organic Rye Whiskey Deep Cut – Called “Deep Cut,” per the company, because of the “bold cuts taken on this Whiskey to create our most assertively Rye-forward, spiciest Whiskey.” I presume that means they leave more heads and tails in the still with this than the do with other products. Whatever the case, the description is apt. A small-batch product, it’s made from local, organic grains. Aging time varies from bottle to bottle, but is set at about a year in 10- to 15-gallon casks.

Deep orange in color, it looks like an intense Bourbon. At full cask strength — nearly 60% abv — it’s a fireball in the glass. The nose is intense with roasted grains, wood smoke, and tar. Sipping it at full proof doesn’t reveal a lot — I don’t often balk at cask strength whiskey, but this one’s just too much to parse without water. Adding a healthy slug of H2O is a huge help, revealing a gentler smokiness that’s balanced by deep cereal notes, lush allspice and cinnamon. There’s a brutish core to this whiskey that is somehow balanced by its celebration of the underlying grain. It is fire and earth, both at once. Though when push comes to shove, fire is winning. 117.5 proof. Reviewed: Batch DCK#3, aged 14 months. B+ / $61

Aged Ginever 750 300x300 Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel Rested GineverWigle Organic Barrel-Rested Ginever – This aged gin (nothing really to do with genever) is made from a pot-distilled mash of local and organic wheat, rye, and malted barley (don’t call it ginwhiskey!), the white spirit is infused with a collection of botanicals, including juniper berries, cardamom, cubeb, and lavender (among other undisclosed agents). The resulting spirit is aged for an unstated length of time. Racy nose, offering a complex collection of aromas in the world of dried herbs, licorice, modest juniper, dried apricots, and raw wood notes. It’s muddy, but vaguely enticing, too.

The body is equally weird. It starts out almost bitter, with a quinine and licorice/root beer character to it. Sweetness emerges quickly to wash this away, and here the vanilla notes driven by the barrel aging start to take hold. The finish is both fruity and floral, offering a fresh apricot note flicked with honeysuckle, brown sugar crystals, and cardamom spice. Some cinnamon and nutmeg come across on the finish.

Weirdly lovable, it’s like a gin and whiskey mix, maybe with a dash of amaro in it. Endless cocktail possibilities. 94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. A- / $50

wiglewhiskey.com