Review: The Macallan Highland Single Malt Edition No. 2

Macallan continues its numerical series that began last winter with The Macallan No. 1, with this natural, numerical follow-up. No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan’s Bob Dalgarno and the co-founders of Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca, Joan, Josep, and Jordi Roca, which is considered one of the world’s top restaurants. “The Macallan Edition No. 2 brings together seven handpicked cask types from four different Spanish bodegas and cooperages to showcase the strength of co-creation and mastery,” says the company.

Continuing the diverse story of The Macallan’s oak casks and their obsession with wood, the focus remains on the commitment introduced with The Macallan Edition No. 1, to unlock the workings of the intricate whisky making process. From the provenance of the oak to the expert crafting of the cask, the seasoning and the size, it is these diverse components and, in this instance, the distinct personas of the collaborators, which have ultimately shaped Edition No.2.

Some casking details:

  • The European oak Tevasa casks selected by Bob Dalgarno define and carry the shape of Edition No. 2 with characteristic notes of rich, dried fruit.  This speaks of his ever curious, patient and empathetic character.

  • Closely following are notes of green wood and toffee from the American and European oak Diego Martin casks selected by Joan Roca. These casks bring to life the generous, reflective and passionate nature of this co-creator.

  • The notes of allspice and ginger are derived from the Jose Miguel Martin European oak casks selected by Josep Roca which denote of his complexity, warmth and maturity.

  • Finally, notes of citrus and light vanilla combine from the American oak Vasyma butts and puncheons chosen by pastry chef Jordi Roca which reflect the lively and vivacious aspects of his larger than life personality.

Despite all the talk of exotic wood, this rendition of Macallan nonetheless cuts a familiar, but quite delicious, profile. The nose is a showcase for wood, though it is gentle and rounded and integrates well with both dark caramel and fresh fruit notes, particularly green apple and some citrus. As you breathe deeper it offers some darker baking spice notes, particularly allspice and cardamom.

On the palate, chewy caramel and gentle citrus give way a cornucopia of spiced nuts, toffee, and a touch of Mexican coffee. As the finish builds, the malt remains the focus, a chewy cereal character that is well-tempered by brown sugar and baking spice. At a bit under 100 proof, it’s got the perfect alcohol level for easy sipping, exposing all its charms with just the right amount of backbone.

96.4 proof.

A / $90 / themacallan.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Understanding Different Types of Whiskey

Overwhelmed by the complex world of wines, beers, and spirits? You’re not alone. Today let’s look at one of the most common questions that we receive day in and day out: What the heck is the difference between all these different types of whiskeys? Today’s the day to find out. Join me in a brief tour of the whiskeys of the world, a primer of all things whisk(e)y.

The most noteworthy style of whiskey, or in this case spelled whisky, is Scotch. Scotch whisky comes from Scotland, and we could (and probably will) write another whole article on the complexities of the terroir of the country. Scotch is divided into two main styles: Single malt Scotch (like Macallan) is made entirely from malted barley and is produced at a single distillery, whereas blended Scotch (like Johnnie Walker) is made from a blend of malted barley and various others grains, which are distilled separately, sourced from all over the country. The taste of single malt Scotch can vary widely depending on the region in which it is made: Scotch from the briny Islay region can take on a smoky, iodine quality, akin to a campfire by the ocean, while Scotch from Speyside can be more sweet and sumptuous, with notes of vanilla, apricot, and honeysuckle.

Bourbon is American whiskey that is frequently produced in Kentucky, but which can legally be made anywhere in the U.S. The name bourbon has a strict legal definition, which dictates, among other rules, a base grain mixture of at least 51% corn and the use of unused, charred-oak barrels for aging. These requirements give bourbon a characteristic sweetness compared to Scotch, with notes of vanilla-covered cherry, woody oak, and butterscotch. Of course, just like Scotch, the taste of bourbon can vary quite a lot; compare sweet, vanilla-laden Maker’s Mark with burly, brambly Hudson Baby Bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a bourbon as well, though it doesn’t say so on the bottle, preferring the term Tennessee Whiskey to give it a local identity.

The names of most other whiskeys aren’t as opaque as Scotch and bourbon. Canadian Whiskies like Pendleton are blends that usually contain more rye than bourbon does, giving them in general a spicier taste; think cloves, toffee, and chocolate. Irish Whiskey is, typically, distilled more times than a Scotch is, which removes more impurities and giving the whiskey its characteristic lightness and fruitiness: Green Spot is warming with a taste of honey and chocolate. Most Irish whiskeys are blends, though there are quite a few single malt Irish whiskeys out there. Japanese Whiskies can be as varied as Scotch; Toki is light and delicate, with notes of white flowers and melon, while Hakushu is bolder and smoky, like a good Islay Scotch. Some Japanese distillers also use unusual grains in their blends: Kikori uses rice to make its whisky.

At least one category of whiskey is known based not on the region in which it is made but the primary grain used to make it: Rye. This booming category of whiskey is made from 51% rye but can be wildly different from a stylistic perspective. A Kentucky-made rye like Rittenhouse will be pungent with baking spices, which a Canadian rye like Crown Royal Northern Harvest might find a more apple-heavy fruit note. Note that a whiskey, like the above Crown Royal example, can be both a Canadian Whisky and a rye, simultaneously.

Hopefully this brief overview of whiskey gives you a better idea of the various styles of spirits out there. There are plenty of other whiskey manufacturers in the world of course, in Australia, Germany, India, and elsewhere, but this should give you a solid base from which to build, and to start exploring the wonderful world of whiskey.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

Review: NJoy Spirits Wild Buck Whiskey and Mermaid Rum

NJoy Spirits, not to be confused with N’Joy coffee creamer, is the brainchild of Natalie Goff, nee Joy, and Kevin Goff, who make two products, a whiskey and a rum, in Weeki Wachee, Florida, which they promise is a real place. The whiskey is a true craft spirit, no sourcing here, made from local grains and purified rainwater and without artificial coloring or flavorings, and it is made in small batches, aged in variously sized, new, charred oak barrels. The rum is sourced, but it is aged in the company’s own whiskey barrels. “We use no automation at our distillery except for a grain grinder. We fill our bottles by eye and hand label, cork, and sanitize all bottles,” says Natalie.

We tasted both of NJoy’s products. Thoughts (and more production details) follow.

Wild Buck Whiskey – This is a 100% rye made from local Florida grain (30% grown by NJoy itself); the second distillation (of two) is in a pot still. Again, aging is in new oak barrels of various smaller sizes (5, 15, and 25 gallons), but no age statement is offered (the company says barrels are generally 10 to 24 months old). Distinctly youthful on the nose, the whiskey offers aromas of lumberyard along with eucalyptus, mushroom, and a touch of dried fruit. The essence of rye comes further to the fore on the palate, where hefty baking spices interplay with the whiskey’s significant charred wood influence to create a mixed bag of flavors. In time notes of black cherry, significant mint, and cloves push through the hefty wood notes, but the overall impact is still one of a whiskey that will benefit substantially of a few more years of aging; a 5 year old reserve is planned down the road. 100 proof. B / $60

Mermaid Rum – This is 75% 3 year old Florida sugar cane rum blended with 25% Caribbean pot still rum which is then aged in once-used Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days. The nose alone could knock you over. It hits with the power of a pure pot still rum, full of intense phenolic solvent notes alongside heady alcohol. Brown sugar and molasses notes bubble through this, but the focus remains squarely on the funky hogo and raw alcohol character. On the palate, the rum explodes with sweetness, showcasing myriad flavors that you just can’t suss out in the overpowering nose. Brown sugar leads the way to gingerbread, ripe banana, coconut, cocoa nibs, orange peel, and, on the finish, more of those cloves. The conclusion has those petrol notes lingering on the palate, but it’s the explosion of flavor beforehand that lingers on the mind. A masterful blend. 100 proof. A- / $40

wildbuckwhiskey.com

Review: Highland Park Einar

einar

If you’ve spent much time in travel retail shops, you’ve encountered Highland Park’s “Warrior” series, which comprises eight whiskies, each with the name of a Viking warrior. (Some of these are very small releases, so you may legitimately only encounter two or three of them.)

The theme of the Warrior series is wood, with Svein barreled exclusively in bourbon casks and Thorfinn aged completely in sherry. Various whiskies live in between, varying the percentages of bourbon vs. sherry casking. Einar is just one step up from Svein, comprising primarily bourbon casks but adding in a small portion of European oak sherry casked spirit, too.

Einar doesn’t get a ton of love in the market (which is probably why I got it on deep discount), but I have considerable affection for the finished product. The nose offers an interesting mix of citrusy sherry notes, plus unusual notes of smoldering hay, molasses, and cooked vegetables (admittedly weird at first, but it’s so unique it grows on you). On the palate, a bold and rounded body ventures toward butterscotch, salted caramel, and a very light touch of peat. As the finish develops, that vegetable note develops into a sort of mushroom character, lightly earthy and smoky all at once, before a gently sweet, sherry-flecked finish comes to the fore once again.

Ultimately I like how Einar takes you on a little journey. It’s admittedly brief but it’s nonetheless wholly worthwhile — a whisky day trip, if you will.

80 proof.

B+ / $60 (1 liter) / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon

abraham-bowman-gingerbread-cocoa-finish-large

Nearly three years ago our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman released a unique finished version of their whiskey, which included 12 months of finishing in gingerbread stout barrels sourced from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Now Bowman is adding a new version that complicates things much further. Allow them to explain directly:

Marrying two Virginia gems, this limited edition bourbon was aged in a special batch of barrels used by A. Smith Bowman Distillery and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Virginia.  The barrels originated at A. Smith Bowman in 2010, where they aged bourbon for four and a half years.  The barrels were emptied and sent to Hardywood Park Brewery to be filled with two special beers: six barrels aged Gingerbread Stout and four barrels aged Foolery Imperial Milk Stout.

Both of the beers aged inside these barrels for eight months before being emptied again and sent back to A. Smith Bowman in December 2015. They were then finally filled for the last time with bourbon that had aged for nine years inside of new charred white oak barrels. This bourbon was distilled in December of 2006 and was allowed to finish for 17 months inside these special barrels. Master Distiller Brian Prewitt determined through periodic tasting evaluations that the rich caramel and oak flavors of the bourbon had intermingled with the spice notes of gingerbread and hints of cocoa in an extraordinary way.

He’s not wrong. This bourbon has a powerful cocoa experience that really can’t be missed (and yeah, some gingerbread too). The nose is redolent with dark chocolate and spice — ginger, but also cinnamon and cloves and perhaps some cardamom in the mix, too. All of this is laid atop a classic bourbon profile of vanilla and heavy lumberyard notes, making for quite a complex aroma.

On the palate, the bourbon plays with the same set of flavors, but in a somewhat different configuration. Those vanilla and caramel notes are up-front and unavoidable on the tongue, and only after this initial straight-bourbon rush do the chocolate and gingerbread notes emerge. But emerge they do, hitting the palate with force and lingering for quite some time. As the finish arrives, it’s bitter dark chocolate notes that hang around the longest, making for a truly unique but also quite compelling experience. Snap up a bottle if you happen to encounter one. It’s a novelty, yes, but a truly worthwhile one.

90 proof.

A- / $46 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery – Jericho, Lossit, and Towiemore

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The Lost Distillery Company is an endeavour which aims to recreate the long-gone whiskies of the dozens of “silent stills” that dot the Scottish countryside. For better or for worse, the group aims to blend up various single malts in an effort to mimic what these lost spirits might have tasted like. How? By researching still types, barley strains, wood sources, and more.

The Lost Distillery hit the scene a few years back, and it’s been diligently making historical drams ever since. The latest trio, which bring the “Classic Selection” line up to six whiskies in total, are reviewed below. All are bottled at 86 proof. (Compare to the 92 proof expressions that dropped a few years ago.) No batch information is provided.

Lost Distillery Jericho – Also known as Benachie in the U.S. (and apparently on some labels of this recreation), this eastern Highlands distillery closed in 1913. The recreation is quite a gentle expression, loaded with cereal notes, a bit of bitter orange, and some mushroom on the nose. The body moves into sweeter territory, offering a more straightforward caramel note, a bit of coconut, and some milk chocolate. Short on the finish but nonetheless enjoyable, it drinks much like many a reasonably young but otherwise standard Highlands or Speyside whisky produced today. B

Lost Distillery Lossit – A long-dead distillery, Islay-based Lossit went south in 1867. Here we have a rather classic, young Islay — this may very well be Laphroaig — though it’s quite mild on the peat. Backing up the mild smokiness are notes of fresh orange, banana, and some cotton candy, leaving the whisky with a finish that is considerably sweeter than you’d expect. What lingers on the back end isn’t smoky peat but rather a chewy, lingering experience that integrates some cooling fireplace embers into a core of butterscotch and ginger candies. There’s no way they had it this good in 1867. B+

Lost Distillery Towiemore – Born in the heart of Speyside, near Dufftown, died in 1931. The deep amber color immediately connotes sherry cask aging, and a nose full of bitter orange, old wine, and lightly musty wood notes only drives the point home. Bold on the palate, the whisky starts with a slight medicinality and moves into notes of fresh cereal, nougat, tobacco leaf, and barrel char. Though the nose says fruit, this one turns out to be all about the grain and the wood, though the finish offers just enough of a hint of tantalizing lemon and orange peel — plus a touch of mint — to send on your way with a smile. B

each $50 to $60 / lost-distillery.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

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