Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

It’s round five for Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm (somehow a fourth release seems to have snuck in between the 2015 and 2016 releases), which continues to show itself as a hit and miss whiskey. This year’s edition has spend six years in Oloroso sherry butts.

2016’s release is not my favorite of the bunch, by a long shot. This year’s Loch Gorm is pure peat on the nose, with a rather sickly sweet underbelly. The body exudes a somewhat cacophonous character, with notes of seaweed, camphor, and pickle juice atop the heavily smoked palate. The sherry element is all but lost in the shuffle, though some orange peel notes finally manage to break through with some air exposure and, especially, as the finish starts to develop. Said finish keeps things closer to the shore on the whole though, with an umami-laden seaweed note to finish things off.

92 proof.

B- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Five Malt

woodford reserve Five Malt Bottle Shot

Woodford’s latest Distillery Series bourbon — a limited edition experimental series that doesn’t quite merit Master’s Collection status — is here. “Five Malt” connotes what it is, though the company doesn’t exactly tell you everything:

Inspired by the popularity of micro-breweries to explore malted grains typically used for beers when crafting whiskey, Five Malt’s distinctive flavor profile is established within the grain recipe and aging process. To obtain the desired sensory elements, minimum wood exposure is required. Five Malt is a whiskey distilled from malt mash then aged in recycled Double Oaked barrels for a span of six months resulting in warming malt notes with a coffee flavored finish.

That doesn’t quite tell you the whole story, as it is mute on the identity of the five malts, which it turns out are these:

  1. Two row barley
  2. Wheat
  3. Pale Chocolate barley
  4. Kiln Coffee barley
  5. Carafa barley

All five are malted renditions of the grain, of course.

Again, this concoction is cooked up and distilled and aged for all of six months before bottling. In other words, while it’s got a touch of wheat in there, this is effectively a very young single malt, American style.

It fits the part. Master distiller Chris Morris wants us to experience the grain in all its glory here, and damn but you’re gonna get it. Anyone with familiarity with young American malt whiskey will know exactly what they’re getting into before the bottle is ever opened. Intense cereal notes meet a heavy wood influence on the nose — think hard pretzels, heavily charred toast, and coal. The palate offers notes of rye bread, fresh malt, and more of that intensely charred wood influence, with hints of licorice and cloves on the back end.

In other words — there’s not a whole lot to see here, as the finished product is largely indistinguishable from any number of other immature malts aged in new oak. I know Woodford likes to experiment with young whiskeys from time to time, but I also know that this would have been a lot more interesting in roughly 2022.

90.4 proof.

B- / $50 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: The Arran Malt 18 Years Old

arran 18

The Arran distillery on the Isle of Arran turns 21 this year. To mark the occasion, the bottler is adding an 18 year old single malt to the permanent lineup. Aged in a mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, it is bottled at 46% abv. (Note that this is a different whisky than the previous Arran 18, which was a limited edition release aged exclusively in sherry casks.)

This is a powerful whisky with a considerable sherry influence. The nose is loaded with fruit — apricots and peaches, punched up with sharp Indian spices — heady and quite aromatic. On the palate, the fruity sweetness upfront is tempered by a wild variety of interesting flavors, including marzipan, black pepper, orange blossoms, and red berries. There’s a lot going on, but it finds a balance somewhere in the madness. The finish is a bit sharp but nonetheless quite engaging as it invites continued exploration. This is one to really dig into.

92 proof.

A- / $140 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Egan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old

Egans-Irish-Whiskey

An old brand from the 1800s, Egan’s Irish Whiskey was revived in 2013 and is now making its way into the U.S. Its first product is this, a 10 year old single malt (sourced) “from the heart of Ireland.”

Let’s see how it fares.

The nose is initially a bit undistinguished. A bit heavy on ethanol notes, it shows influences of heather, green vegetables, and gentle cereal notes. The body brings the whiskey, and its Irishness, more to the fore. Malty cereal notes lead the way before a soothing, lightly earthy honey character take hold, with secondary notes of red pepper flakes, milk chocolate, and graham crackers. The finish echoes cereal, with some bright applesauce sweetness to close down the show. On the whole, it’s a classic Irish malt, through and through — though perhaps a bit too familiar.

94 proof.

B+ / $46 / eganswhiskey.com

Review: Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

Bains bottles white US

We’ve seen a number of products from South Africa lately — lots of wine, and even liqueurs and brandy — but this is our first South African whisky review.

The bottle won’t tell you much, but Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is single grain whisky made from 100% South African yellow maize (we call it corn!). It is column distilled and matured in first-fill, ex-bourbon casks for three years, then transferred to a second set of casks for 18 to 30 months, making this roughly a 4 to 6 year old spirit.

The nose is fairly harmless, restrained but showing some early notes of butterscotch, salted caramel, and ample but not overwhelming popcorn character. The body tends to mash these all together into a hearty caramel corn element — you would be easily forgiven for assuming this was a young American bourbon. That’s a statement that comes with a lot of baggage, but Bain’s doesn’t come across as overly grainy or vegetal. Give it a little time at least and the palate settles into a groove that offers notes of vanilla custard and caramel sauce, layered atop that heavier popcorn base. Initially a bit disjointed, things get quite integrated and soothing as the whisky opens up with time exposed to air, the way things can often happen with younger, but well-made, bourbon.

If you love bourbon, you’ll at least like Bain’s Cape Mountain — and you might even find a real soft spot for its charms.

86 proof.

B / $30 / bainswhisky.com

Review: Jim Beam Bourbon (White Label) and Black Extra-Aged Bourbon (2016)

JBW_OLD_NEW

It’s hard to believe but we’ve never formally reviewed good old “White Label,” the bottom shelf of Jim Beam but, to be sure, one of the great values in the world of Kentucky whiskeymaking.

Beam recently revamped its bottle and label design — and in some cases the names of its products have been tweaked — which makes 2016 the perfect opportunity to give Beam a fresh review. Also on tap in this review is another look at Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged. Only last year Beam tweaked this bottling, which had previously been an age-stated 8 year old known as “Double Aged,” changing it up to call it XA Extra Aged. With the new bottle refresh, the name has been tweaked again — now it’s just Extra-Aged, losing the “XA” but gaining a hyphen. Let’s call that an even trade. Normally I wouldn’t re-review something we covered so recently, but given the pace of change in the bourbon business, a fresh taste couldn’t hurt. Who knows where it stands now.

Oddly enough, you’ll notice that different bottlings in the line have somewhat different designs. The squared-off shoulders of the Extra-Aged evoke the new Jack Daniel’s bottle (though there’s no risk of confusing the two), while White Label’s bottle sticks much more closely to the original Beam design (the new bottle is on the right in the above photo). Why not consolidate the design across the line? Eh, just drink your bourbon and ponder it quietly.

Thoughts for 2016 follow, as always.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (White Label) – No sleight of hand here; the fine print still has the same age statement as ever: 4 years old. Made with a low-rye mashbill — the standard Beam mash. It’s distinctly corny on the nose, its youth worn on its sleeve, but that’s not an altogether bad thing. That caramel corn nose heads into a body that isn’t exactly rich, but which shows off modest vanilla and moderate barrel char. The finish finds some minor secondary tones — nuts and even a hint of coffee — nothing outrageously complex, but enough to give the whiskey a bit of nuance until the corn chip notes make their inevitable return. To be sure, this is a bourbon that’s all about the price point, but, hey, what a price point. 80 proof. B / $13

Jim_Beam_CorePlus_Dynamic_Black_int_F39_0Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged Bourbon – Same mashbill as White Label but, you know, “extra aged.” Extra-aged, got it. This is a clear step up from White Label, with a woody nose that’s intense with vanilla, gingerbread, and cocoa powder. The slightly higher-proof body is rounder and more intense, less complex than the nose might suggest due to a surfeit of popcorn notes, but balanced by caramel, charcoal, and some apple notes. The finish is clean and longer than White Label’s, with more of a warming influence. All told my notes are much in line with last year’s review. While spirits are always evolving in production, I don’t believe anything has changed significantly here in the last year. 86 proof. B+ / $21

jimbeam.com