Review: The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old

macallan-12-double-oak

Macallan fans, as a rule, love its sherry-casked expressions but bemoan the existence of its bourbon-casked ones, namely the Fine Oak line (although the latter sees a bit of sherry finishing). At last Macallan has come up with a way to bridge the gap between the all-sherry Sherry Oak line and the sherry-minimal Fine Oak. The new line: Macallan Double Cask, a new style of whisky from the company. And it’s even got an age statement, folks.

Some notes on its production, per the distillery, “This is the first time The Macallan has used American Oak Sherry-seasoned casks as the most prominent flavor style in one of its expressions. To create Double Cask, The Macallan brings new oak from America thousands of miles to Spain, where the oak casks are crafted and Sherry-seasoned before traveling to the Macallan’s distillery on Speyside to mature for at least twelve years. These whiskies are then harmoniously united with those aged in the very best sherry seasoned European oak casks.”

So, to clarify, it’s a blend of whisky held in two types of casks: new American oak that’s been sherry seasoned, and standard European oak sherry casks. Note that there are no bourbon casks used in any of this; it is, in one sense, a 100% sherry-aged whisky, albeit an unconventional one.

As of now, there’s only one whisky in the Double Cask collection: this 12 year old bottling. Macallan hasn’t said anything about a line extension yet, but all signs seem to point to this as merely a starting point, presuming it does well in the market.

Let’s taste!

This is a well-rounded, even delightful expression of Macallan, showing off a nice balance between traditional American wood and sherry cask aging. On the nose, the sherry influence clearly dominates, though sharp orange peel and winey notes find balance in some caramel underpinnings. On the palate, a complex array of flavors await, beginning with fresh cereal before moving into more citrus, plus notes of coconut, caramelized banana, and even a curious touch of mint. The finish is lengthy but soothing and gentle, surfacing more of those new wood-fueled vanilla notes, a bit of leather, and some black pepper, which adds some grip to the otherwise lithe and supple body. Great balance from start to finish, and though it drinks a touch on the young side, it’s quite enchanting as a whole.

All told, it does “taste like Macallan,” the malt and sherry components combining for a surprisingly familiar (and somewhat simple) experience, double casking be damned. Die-hard Macallan fans won’t have any complaints here. The rest of you ought to give it a try, too.

86 proof.

A- / $65 / themacallan.com

Review: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and 105 Cask Strength (2016)

glenfarclas-105

Recently I looked back at my early reviews of Glenfarclas 10 and 12 year old single malts and was a bit appalled at their naivete. An upgrade was required, and I got my hands on a trio of expressions: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and the coveted 105 Cask Strength expression.

For those unfamiliar with this Speyside classic, Glenfarclas is all single malt, 100% sherry cask matured (using both oloroso and fino sherry barrels). Consistently underrated, it’s a distillery that’s always worth a look no matter what age you see on the bottle.

Glenfarclas 12 Years Old – Classic Speyside. On the nose, there’s lots of honey and maple notes, with a biscuity character that offers lightly buttery, grainy notes. The sherry influence is slight, offering some punch on the nose but also just a hint of orange peel on the finish, following a body that offers tastes of chocolate malt balls, lightly roasted peanuts, and some dried ginger. This is a perfect “everyday” dram — not overwhelming, but with enough nuance to merit continued exploration — and affordable. 86 proof. A- / $47

Glenfarclas 17 Years Old – There’s an immediately stronger sherry influence on the nose with this older expression, ripe with aromas of orange peel and oil which complement the underlying grain character. On the palate, the bold body kicks off with classic Glenfarclas biscuits and honey, moving from there into notes of lemon peel, gingerbread, and walnuts. Stronger sherry notes build with time in glass; the finish finds this in relative balance with the barley character. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength – This is a 10 year old expression of Glenfarclas bottled at 120 proof (not 105, which refers to its original proof under the old British system). The bottle and label have changed in recent years, but what’s inside seems to have stayed the same. This is a richly sherried whisky, complex with notes of Christmas spices, marzipan, honeycomb, brown butter, and ample orange peel — both on the nose and the palate. Boldly malty at its core, the whisky finds intrigue in the way it builds upon that, folding in nuts, spice, fruit, and more. Cask strength gives the whisky the level of heat and the complexity that you’d expect, which you can either embrace with both arms or, perhaps more sensibly, temper it with a healthy splash of water. (It can handle plenty.) Either way — or perhaps both ways — it’s well worth exploring. 120 proof. A- / $92

glenfarclas.co.uk

Review: Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Whiskey

Redbreast Lustau

What a fun idea from Redbreast. For the tasting experience of Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition, the distillery sent out three bottles: A bottle of classic Redbreast 12 Years Old, a bottle of the new sherry-finished Redbreast Lustau, and a bottle of actual Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno sherry. In this way one can follow the creation of Redbreast Lustau pretty much from start to finish.

Redbreast Lustau is a permanent addition to the Redbreast line. Though it is officially a NAS release, it includes single pot still whiskey that is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks for 9 to 12 years. It is then finished in an Oloroso sherry butt from Bodegas Lustau which was crafted from Spanish oak, where it sits for an additional 12 months.

Now Redbreast has a long history with sherry casks; the 12 year old is aged in a variety of cask types (including both bourbon and multiple types of sherry casks). The finishing is a new spin — as is, of course, the loss of an age statement.

Tasting reveals a dramatic departure from the 12 year old expression, as Redbreast Lustau takes that classic, malty pot still character and gives it a serious spin. The nose is only slightly off from the expected, showing a stronger and more pungent orange peel note plus a nose-tickling pepper note to back up the malt, nougat, and toasty grains. On the palate is where things really start to diverge, the sherry giving the whiskey an intense nuttiness, along with notes of raisins and figs, again backing up that bold, malty body. The finish is lengthy, creamy, and spicy — all at once — everything building to a cohesive whole that is well worth exploring, age statement or no.

As for the actual sherry sample included here, well, I have no idea how people drink this stuff.

92 proof.

A- / $69 / irishdistillers.ie  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

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WhiskyFest is always a great opportunity to get a look at new releases — and pre-sampling products I won’t be able to formally review for a few weeks or month is my favorite part of the show. WhiskyFest 2016 was shaping up to be a windfall for these kinds of releases, including Ardbeg Dark Cove, Redbreast Lustau, Glenmorangie Tarlogan, and Writers Tears Cask Strength, among others. Alas, none of these whiskies (and more) ever made it to the show floor. The Writers Tears broke in transit, I was told. The Lustau was sitting on the back bar, unopened and would only be served at the masterclass session. As for Dark Cove and Tarlogan, well, no one seemed to know a thing. They just weren’t there. Making matters worse, more than once attendees complained to me that vendors had long ago run out of certain whiskies, only to have me tell them I’d just sampled the very same spirit minutes earlier.

I can’t and don’t fault the festival for these issues — and I hope it was just bad luck this year — but I also can’t help but feel disappointed to have left without trying all of these spirits.

Anyway, I did manage to suss out a few new and unusual bottlings, including some all-stars, though I opted not to stand in the 150-person strong line for a sip of Pappy Van Winkle this year. Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

Scotch

Glenfiddich 26 Years Old / A- / a classic expression of old Glenfiddich; malty and biscuity, with a sugar cookie finish
031Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength Flagon / B+ / a 57.1% abv release of this vatted malt; bold and herbal, with lemon peel notes
The Deveron 12 Years Old / B- / Dewar’s-owned; restrained to the point of being muted on the palate
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B / quite malty, rough around the edges
Old Pulteney 21 Years Old / A- / a classic, but surprisingly sweet, its maritime note dialed down; just a touch of smoke on the back
Wolfburn Aurora / B / chewy with woody overtones; a bit youthful
The Macallan Reflexion / B+ / a $1200 monster from Macallan, aromatic with dried fruits, but a bit hoary on the back end; I’d have trouble mustering up this kind of coin
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / always worthwhile, rich and malty with plenty of dark fruit notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask / B- / not getting much wine character; restrained and thin at times
Auchentoshan 21 Years Old / B- / heavy with grain, much more youthful than expected
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old / A- / notes of burnt bread and biscuits; lots of malt and wood influence
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old / A / highlight of the show; remarkably gentle but studded with golden raisins and a lovely simple sweetness
Alexander Murray & Co. Dalmore 15 Years Old / B- / oddly smoky, dull on the finish
Alexander Murray & Co. Benrinnes 19 Years Old / B / malty, with big nougat notes and some savory spices
Alexander Murray & Co. Monumental Blend 30 Years Old / B / rounded with ample grain character; somewhat grassy

American

Westland Garryana / B / a bruising whiskey, smoky with meaty, pork rind notes; full review in the works
Wild Turkey Decades / B+ / ancient Wild Turkey, and it tastes like it – wood on top of wood
Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch 16 / A- / Port notes shine here; very sweet but drinking beautifully now
Parker’s Heritage Collection 24 Years Old Bottled-in-Bond / A / another highlight of the show that I’m looking forward to reviewing in full; initially surprisingly fruit, which fades to a drying finish with notes of camphor
Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon / B+ / finally a chance to see what the fuss was about, which turns out to be tons of wood and some toffee notes; not even a hint of the sea

033Japanese

Hakushu 18 Years Old / A- / smoldering with burnt sugar and lingering sweetness; sultry

Irish

Redbreast 21 Years Old / A- / lovely pot still character, punchy yet balanced

Other

Dos Maderas Luxus / A- / a very high-end rum aged 10 years in the Caribbean, then 5 years in Spain in sherry casks; the results are extremely powerful with fruit and sweetness, notes of figs, raisins, and cherries

Review: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Barrel #3402 NHLC Collection

knob-creek-nh-single-barrel

Remember that time that the New Hampshire Liquor Commission bought 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s, the largest single purchase of JD single barrels ever? Well, they did it again, this time with Knob Creek, purchasing 8 barrels and bottling them as New Hampshire exclusives, all 120 proof, 9 years old.

We got a sample from Barrel #3402, complete with an embossed metal plaque on the bottle.

Let’s give this special edition, available only in New Hampshire, naturally, a spin.

The nose is classic Knob Creek, maple syrup-sweet with moderate to heavy wood overtones, backed up by burnt caramel notes. On the tongue, it’s sweeter and more rounded than the 60% abv would make you expect, but the brown sugar and syrup notes quickly burn off, replaced by notes of cinnamon red hots and cloves. The finish brings out the wood again, here more clearly oak than the spicy cedar you can get in standard Knob Creek, with simpler vanilla and caramel notes rounding out the finish. Don’t be afraid of a little water to smooth out the edges.

The Granite State has done a bang-up job with its single barrel selections of late, and this Knob Creek special bottling stands at perhaps the top of that list.

120 proof.

A / $47 / liquorandwineoutlets.com

Review: Painted Stave Distilling Double TroubleD

doubletroubled

Painted Stave Distilling (see reviews of their gins here) in Smyrna, Delaware, is part of a growing group of craft distilleries making whiskey out of (actual) beer. In the case of Double TroubleD, the beer is Double D Imperial IPA from Dominion Brewing Company in Dover, Delaware.

Double D is distilled to under 160 proof, then put into new charred oak barrels at 115 proof. Batch #1, reviewed here, used 10 gallon barrels with #4 char. Aging time was 10 months. (Future batches will be aged longer, in larger barrels.) According to Painted Stave, they can’t put the word whiskey on the label due to TTB rules.

On the nose, the whiskey is immediately familiar as a spirit distilled from beer. Initially hoppy and piney, it develops earthy aromas, some notes of dried fruit, and a bit of solvent late in the game. If the combination of aromas makes you think vaguely of Pine-Sol, you can probably be forgiven.

You might think the palate will knock you down but it turns out to be surprisingly balanced. A rush of fruit is a nice companion to the body’s ample bitterness, with distinct licorice and root beer notes following. Youthful woodiness is evident, but this too segues into more traditional vanilla and dark chocolate. It’s the distinct hop character though that hangs around the longest, though even this feels restrained, perhaps refined at times. The herbal notes on the finish make me think at least in passing of a nice amaro.

Definitely worth a look, particularly so for IPA fans.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #44.

A- / $35 (375ml) / paintedstave.com

Review: Trail’s End Bourbon

TrailsEnd_Batch002_bottle_final

In my daily life, Trail’s End refers to the popcorn that my son’s Cub Scout pack has to sell every year. Turns out it is also the name, completely unaffiliated of course, of a bourbon brand, produced by Hood River Distillers (which makes Pendleton) in Oregon.

Trail’s End is sourced bourbon from Kentucky, where it is aged for eight years. The barrels then go to Oregon, where they are “steeped with Oregon oak” for a few months before being brought down to proof and bottled. This is a new wood infusion, designed to give the whiskey a stronger wood profile.

The whiskey starts things off with a nose of classic bourbon — woody, lightly corny, studded with vanilla and, here, some almond character. The palate takes a slightly different direction, however. It starts off surprisingly hot — considerably racier than its 45% abv would indicate — then after a bit of time settles into a curious and somewhat exotic groove. I get (in time) notes of fresh mint, eucalyptus, coconut brown butter, and ample (but not overwhelming) wood. The finish is somewhat Port-like, infused with a distinct and initially jarring coffee character. This coffee note is a real rarity in the bourbon world that you don’t see much, and which has little explanation in this whisky. But that finish — both fruity and distinctly mocha-like — isn’t just a rare combination, it’s one that works surprisingly well.

Thumbs up from me.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch No. 0002.

A- / $50 / hrdspirits.com

Review: Lagavulin 25 Years Old 200th Anniversary (2016)

lagavulin-25-yo

Islay is rife with 200th anniversaries this year. Up next is Lagavulin, which is putting out a special 25 year old anniversary bottling to commemorate the occasion. Some details from the distillery:

Lagavulin 25 Year Old, matured exclusively in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength, pays homage to the contribution Lagavulin’s distillery managers have made in crafting Lagavulin over the years. This limited-release offering honors the many craftsmen and great skill behind producing Lagavulin’s renowned whisky. Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Head of Whisky outreach states, “To continue this special birthday we wanted to release a brand new bottling to Lagavulin enthusiasts worldwide. The 25 Year Old is a sublime expression of Lagavulin, I couldn’t think of a better way to pay homage to the distillery managers.”

No surprises are in store for the reader on this one. This is classic, well-worn Lagavulin, which kicks off on the nose with both heavy peat and more luxurious notes of brown butter, fresh herbs, tobacco, and lanolin. On the palate, it’s quite sweet up front, offering notes of spiced nuts, clove-studded oranges, and cinnamon toast. The peat slowly rolls in like waves hitting the shore, bringing with it iodine, meaty barbecue smoke, all dusted with a salt-and-pepper sprinkling. The biting peat notes haven’t been dulled out of this one despite its time in barrel, the experience ending on a toasty, fireside character that really lingers.

All told: It’s nearly textbook Lagavulin, exactly as it should be.

101.8 proof. 1200 bottles available in the U.S.

A- / $1200 / malts.com

Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon (2016)

elijah-craig-new-bottle

Earlier this year, Elijah Craig became the latest Kentucky bourbon to lose its age statement. Formerly a 12 year old release, it is now NAS, though Heaven Hill says the product will be composed of stock aged from 8 to 12 years old (200 barrels at a time) and, of course, assures us that quality will remain exactly the same. A new bottle design was recently released, which is taller, sleeker, and more modern than the old — some might say dated — design.

To prove its claims, the distillery sent out bottles of the new Elijah Craig Small Batch to see how it fares. Sadly, I haven’t any of the old 12 year old stock to compare to, but I did put this 2016 release side by side with a recent Barrel Proof release (brought down to an equivalent proof with water) to at least give some semblance of comparison to the past.

First, let’s look at the new release. It’s a sugar bomb from the get-go, simple-sugar syrup heavy on the nose with some citrus undertones plus a baking spice kick. The palate pushes that agenda pretty hard; it’s loaded to the top with sweet butterscotch, light caramel, and vanilla ice cream notes before a more sultry note of orange peel and gentler baking spice character comes to the fore. Heaven Hill reportedly uses a 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley mashbill, and the spice level here comes across about as expected with that amount of rye in the mash. It isn’t until late in the game that gentle wood notes come around, making for a duskier finish to what initially seems like a fairly straight (and sweet) shooter.

While it’s an imperfect comparison, the watered-down Barrel Proof cuts a bit of a different profile, offering more wood, more spice, and a bolder body right from the start. There’s more nuance along the way in the form of cocoa, coffee, and raisiny Port wine, but this kind of enhanced depth isn’t uncommon with a cask strength release, even if you water it down in the glass. The new standard-grade Elijah Craig doesn’t have that kind of power, but it’s also a less expensive and more accessible bourbon. Taking all that into account, it’s definitely still worth a look. The grade is on the borderline with an A-.

94 proof.

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

Review: Slow Hand Six Woods Malt Whiskey

slow hand

The Greenbar Collective in Los Angeles is home to Slow Hand, a white whiskey and this, an aged whiskey made of 100% malted barley. The company calls it “a new kind of whiskey that… has never been tasted before,” and the production description doesn’t falter on that front. Says Greenbar: “After fermenting and distilling a 100% malt mash, we age this whiskey to taste in 1,000 and 2,000 gallon French oak vats with house-toasted cubes of hickory, mulberry, red oak, hard maple, and grape woods.”

For how long? “Between 10 minutes and when it tastes good,” per the label. Oh, and it’s organic.

So, hickory cube whiskey, anyone?

It is, to be sure, an unusual spirit. The nose is heavily smoky, intense not just with traditional young oak notes but also notes of forest floor, charcoal, menthol, dark chocolate, and balsamic. It’s quite overwhelming at first, but as the initially overbearing wood aromas start to settle down, some of the more unusual secondary notes really start to gain steam — and add intrigue.

The palate is also very wood-forward at first, but this too can be tempered by time and air to showcase notes of butterscotch, Madeira wine, and coconut. Sure, it’s all filtered through the lens of intense wood influence, but these curiosities — plus a coffee-dusted finish — add some nuance. I’m considerably less thrilled about the appearance of the whiskey over time, which turns cloudy in the glass and leaves significant deposits — much more than a typical brown spirit. So… drink up fast before it settles out.

84 proof.

B- / $45 / greenbar.biz

Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label (2016)

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Bottle

It’s been a solid six years since we spent any serious time with Johnnie Walker’s flagship bottling, Blue Label. The House of Walker doesn’t talk much about whether or how the recipe for Blue Label has evolved over the years, but in 2010 it was said that there were nine single malts in the blend, while today reports peg the total number at roughly 16 — so it’s likely some things have changed.

Tasting 2010 and 2016 vintage Blue Label side by side reveals some evolutionary changes, though nothing overwhelmingly dramatic. Today, the 2010 offers well-rounded notes of heavy sherry, almonds, some mint, and a dense, malty core. In comparison, the 2016 release shows itself as more aromatic, with a younger overall vibe and some clear aromas of petrol and rubber right off the bat.

The body however plays to many of the same elements as the older bottling — lots of nuts and roasted malts, a more restrained sherry component, and mixed herbal notes. As with the nose, the finish diverges from the 2010 more considerably. While the older bottling is lightly sweet and lingering, the 2016 comes off as a bit ashy and charcoal-smoked. It’s still respectable, austere, and complex — thanks largely to its bold and burly body, the whisky’s most consistent element throughout the years.

Blue Label has always presented itself as a mixed bag, but its current direction feels misguided to me. (For the record, I’d give the 2010 an upgrade to an A- from my earlier review.)

80 proof.

B / $225 / johnniewalker.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Jameson The Cooper’s Croze Irish Whiskey

Coopers Croze Bottle Image 750ml

Wood is important in whiskey, and that’s why with this new expression, Jameson is highlighting the power of wood by turning its Head Cooper, Ger Buckley, loose in the warehouse. The goal, “to showcase the diversity of barrels at our Midleton distillery and the profound influence that wood yields. With knowledge passed down through 5 generations of his family, Ger selects, repairs, and maintains our treasured casks.” The croze (rhymes with rose), by the way, is the tool used to make the groove where the head of the barrel is positioned in order to seal it.

For this release, Buckley has collected a variety of whiskies aged in virgin American oak, seasoned bourbon, and Iberian (Spanish) sherry barrels. There’s no age statement or any other production information, but that wood treatment is wild enough on its own.

This is a drier expression of Irish, one of the least fruit- and sweetness-forward that I’ve encountered in recent memory. The nose gives up just a little — hazelnuts, dried thyme, and barrel char. A touch of sherry after some air gets to it. On the palate, there’s more of that roasted nut character, scorching notes of toasted wood staves, and some emerging vanilla at last as the woodier notes begin to fade. The sweetness remains elusive, and even the finish is drying, with notes of red pepper and cloves, and more dried savory herbal notes that tend to linger for far too long.

Even though the wood program is, to say the least, unique with this whiskey, I was expecting at least lip-service to traditional Irish in The Cooper’s Croze. What I got was something entirely different. The character is more like a young American whiskey, malt-heavy, with a heavy, heavy kick of new oak, rather unlike anything from the Emerald Isle. That wild departure may be a good thing, depending on your point of view, but for me, the heavy influence of barrel char was a real turnoff, and my suspicion is that the rest of you out there will have a similar experience.

86 proof.

B- / $60 / jamesonwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]