Review: Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof

clyde mays 110

The “Alabama Style” whiskey crew at Clyde May’s is back at it, turning out a Special Reserve edition of its original product. This is the first line extension for the brand, a corn/rye/malted barley whiskey that’s aged for up to six years in “mellowed” barrels “and finished non-cold filtered with a slight hint of apple, in the Alabama style.” (Dried apples are actually used in the barreling process to impart a slight fruit flavor. That sounds crazy, but stick with me here.)

Different lots of the Special Reserve will be bottled, each with slight barrel-driven variations; the bottle reviewed here does not contain any lot information, however.

Intensely reddish-ochre in color, the whiskey certainly looks the part of a smooth operator. The nose hits you upside the head with fruit, right from the start. Baked apples, for sure, but also cherries and some floral elements, alongside vanilla and caramel. (For kicks, try this side by side with Baker’s Bourbon.)

On the palate, Clyde May’s Special Reserve is a full-on fruit bomb, shotgunning the tongue with notes of clove-studded oranges, apple brown betty, and a sense at least of chopped almonds scattered atop toffee-covered brownies.

The finish pushes big cinnamon character, more apple fruit, and a lot of warmth. (This is 110 proof whiskey, after all.) I don’t think it particularly needs water, but adding a bit smooths out the rough edges and makes the experience a bit creamier, though less flavorful. Add water literally by the drop, and only one at a time.

Bottom line: Clyde May’s has taken what it learned from its freshman product and elevated it into a true American standout. Just slip a glass into the hand of any bourbon fanatic and see what they have to say. Now how do you like them apples?

A / $70 / clydemays.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenrothes Retrospective: 2001, 1994, 1991, 1985 and 25 Years Old Single Malt

vintage1985After our recent trip to The Glenrothes in Scotland, we were sent home with a collection of bottlings representing the company’s whisky production back to the early 1980s. Let’s take a walk into the past with a look back at five Glenrothes expressions, most of which are no longer in production but which you can still find somewhere on the market these days.

All whiskies are 86 proof. Prices are all based on 2015 sales.

The Glenrothes 2001 Single Malt – A fresh look at a whisky (an exuberant 11 years old, bottled in 2012) we’ve seen before. Nice malt backbone, and very, very gentle. An everyday dram at its heart, it nonetheless offers nuance and complexity in the form of coconut, red fruit, allspice, and light chocolate notes — but by and large it lets the grain-driven malt notes do the talking. A solid, easy-drinker. B+ / $53

The Glenrothes 1994 Single Malt – 11 years old, bottled in 2006. More citrus driven than the typical Glenrothes, here we see sherry having its way with the spirit, imbuing it with notes of orange peel, cloves, and some darker stuff underneath — licorice, burnt coconut, and some dark chocolate. Engaging, if considerably more fruit forward than the typical Glenrothes. B+ / $100

The Glenrothes 1991 Single Malt – 13 years old, bottled in 2005. Nicely sherried, with some more savory notes here — featuring roasted meats, dried herbs, and some charred wood. Solid fruit elements (lots of lemon) emerge alongside just a hint of sea spray. Dried fruits and a touch of incense emerge on the finish, making for a complex and nicely balanced dram. A- / $225

The Glenrothes 1985 Single Malt – 19 years old, bottled in 2005. Medicinal on the nose, which is a real surprise. This fades with time, however, leading to a quite delightful palate.  The body is nutty — again, a departure for Glenrothes — with secondary notes of leather, dried plum, and cloves. At first a bit closed off, this really grew on me over time. Worthwhile. A- / $200

The Glenrothes 25 Years Old Limited Release Single Malt – A rarity for Glenrothes — age statemented rather than vintage dated. That said, this was bottled in 2007, making it the equivalent of a “Glenrothes 1982,” if anyone cares to check my math. Again, a departure: The nose offers notes of almonds, beef jerky, camphor, and orange peel, all in a thick melange. On the tongue, the citrus is tempered by bready notes, more roasted nuts, and a long, slightly smoky, caramel-fueled finish. Once again, give this some time before you judge this dram. It needs more than a few minutes to properly open up and show all its charms. When it does, get ready for the fireworks. A- / $380

theglenrothes.com

Review: Jim Beam Apple

jim beam Apple Bottle_highWe almost missed this release a few months back, but finally turned up a bottle in our to-review queue. Jim Beam Apple probably doesn’t need a whole lot of introduction: It’s Jim Beam whiskey flavored with apple liqueur (specifically green apple liqueur) — though the fine print on the bottle reads the other way around. Technically this is apple liqueur flavored with Jim Beam bourbon.

Either way, it’s essentially a heavily flavored whiskey, and Beam has not been shy with the apple flavor. Intense, fruity, and extremely sweet, it’s tart apple pushed to the breaking point — particularly on the uncomplicated nose. Subtle whiskey notes — vanilla and a touch of baking spice — emerge over time, but those are really understated. By and large this could sub in for Apple Pucker or any other super-sweet apple liqueur, provided you don’t mind sipping on a brown appletini.

70 proof.

C / $15 / jimbeam.com

Review: Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskeys

lovell bros Georgia Sour Mash WhiskeyAs the story goes, this line of “sour mash whiskeys” — basically liquor made from corn that’s cut with a little malted barley — got its start in Mt. Airy, Georgia thanks to Carlos Lovell, the son of a son of a son of a moonshiner who finally decided to take the 150-year-old family business legit. Lovell Bros. was officially launched in 2012 — when Carlos was 84 years old.

What you’re looking at is fancy moonshine, though Carlos would probably bristle at that term. Both of these products — one straight white dog, one lightly aged — are the real deal and incredible bargains alike.

Let’s taste.

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash (White Whiskey) – Rustic on the nose, this unaged whiskey feels like it’s going to be a moon-shiny heat bomb, but those aromas of grain and petrol lead to some surprising places. Namely, there’s lots of fruit on the palate of this white spirit, apples and peaches and coconut — before some gentle notes of roasted grains wash over the lot. The finish is warming and lengthy with hints of chocolate, soothing and coming across as anything but the firewater you might expect. As good a white whiskey as you’re going to find on the market today. 95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $23

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey – Take the above and age it for an unstated amount of time in old Jack Daniel’s barrels and you have this, distinguished by the brown color and the addition of the word “whiskey” to the name. A surprising degree of lumberyard wafts across the nose, washing back much of the inherent grain character present in the white dog. Some baking spice and vanilla notes mingle with the wood, too. But as with the white whiskey, the body again tells a different tale than the nose. Here we find stronger baking spices, more baked apples than fresh ones, and a woodsy, frontier character that arrives almost with a smoky note. Very young, but surprisingly easy to sip on — and with none of the lingering heat of the white dog. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5. B+ / $23

lovellbroswhiskey.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old Experiments

buffalo trace OFSM Experimental Sept 15

The latest round of experiment bourbons from Buffalo Trace are a return to its roots: using an “old fashioned” method to sour the mash.

Wait, isn’t all bourbon made with a “sour mash?” Yes, but as BT explains it, all sour mash is not created equal. I’ll let them take it away:

Distilled in May of 2002, this Old Fashioned Sour Mash experiment used Buffalo Trace’s proprietary mash.  The bourbon was cooked and cooled to standard; however, the similarities stop there. The mash was allowed “to sour” before yeast was added to start the fermentation process, a method long abandoned due to its more laborious process.

This sour mash method differs from the more common process used today by nearly all bourbon manufacturers. The routine method calls for cooking and cooling the mash, and then immediately adding yeast and a small amount of previously distilled mash (or “setback”) as it cools to sour the mash.   The traditional old-fashioned sour mash process fell out of favor many years ago, and it was not until a gathering of distillery “old timers” that Buffalo Trace was inspired to revive it.

The experiment portion of the whiskey concerns entry proof — two versions of the above whiskey were made, one entered the barrel at 105 proof, one at 125 proof. Both were aged for 13 years on the seventh floor of Warehouse I.

How do they stack up with each other? Let’s dig in.

Both are bottled, as usual for the BTEC, at 90 proof.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 105 Entry Proof – This is very uncharacteristic bourbon both for Kentucky and for Buffalo Trace in particular. The nose offers wood and spice, but also notes of camphor and dried flowers. The body takes this and runs — from the fields to the cedar closet and back again — offering drying herbal notes and licorice. A bit of toffee on the back end reminds you this is bourbon and not some weird Scandinavian whiskey. B-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 125 Entry Proof – More going on here. Brown butter, vanilla, butterscotch, and baking spices all find a home in the nose — overall fairly traditional stuff. The body has echoes of the herbal funk of the 105 — particularly up front — but features a sweeter, more candylike character with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. This is easily the more palatable of the two whiskeys, but it’s also the more interesting, as the lightly herbal elements provide some balance and nuance to an otherwise traditional bourbon structure. One to explore if you can grab a bottle. A-

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon, Rye, and American Whiskey

rebel yell

St. Louis-based Luxco (which also makes Ezra Brooks and Admiral Nelson’s Rum) is behind Rebel Yell, a line of value whiskeys which has recently begun to show up more and more in bars and on store shelves. What’s the haps about “The Yell?”

The Rebel Yell line begins with its core product — old-school Kentucky Bourbon, in the form of a brand dating back to 1849. But recently Rebel Yell has been expanding, both into flavored whiskeys (not reviewed here) as well as a rye and a blended whiskey, both of which we taste below.

Let’s put this trio to the test!

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a corn/barley/wheat mashbill. No age statement, but this wheater is clearly quite young. Heavy roasted corn notes dominate the nose, with just a touch of baking spice underneath. On the palate, there’s plenty more of that corn character, plus some sweet chocolate notes that emerge only after the corniness begins to fade. This sustains for much longer than you’d think, taking the initially quite rustic whiskey out on a nicely seductive note. A very basic whiskey, there’s just not much more to report. 80 proof. C+ / $15

Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye, corn, and barley. Distilled in Indiana by MGP, aged two years. Much spicier on the nose than the bourbon, with gentler, grain-fueled notes coming up underneath. The palate is surprisingly full of life, with a rounded body that showcases both the spice and the cereal notes, including a bit of cherry fruit on the back end. All in all, the whiskey features a relatively well-balanced structure that belies its youth but showcases an overall better construction. Rebel Yell Rye is a capable mixer at the least, a surprisingly acceptable sipper at the best. 90 proof. B / $21

Rebel Yell American Whiskey – A 50-50 blend of the bourbon and rye above, all in one bottle, but raised up to 90 proof rather than the expected 85. Aged 2 years. This comes across like, well, a pretty even mix of the two spirits — featuring both the baking spices of the rye plus the ample corn notes of the bourbon. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, but the two whiskeys don’t entirely complement each other in a meaningful way. The playfulness of the rye is ultimately dulled by the more brash corn character of the bourbon, though the flipside — the spicier rye giving the corn a boost — could also be said to be true. In the end, the whiskey lands right where it should — somewhere in between the two spirits that go into it. 90 proof. B- / $21

rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: William Grant New Releases 2015 – Girvan No. 4, 25 Years Old, 30 Years Old, Kininvie 23 Years Old, Annasach 25 Years Old, and Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old

william grant (1)

William Grant is the home of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, two of the biggest name in single malt whisky. But lately the Grants have been pushing some of their lesser-known offerings, including new bottlings from lesser known malt shops like Kininvie, single grain whisky from Girvan, and limited edition blends. Over a recent lunch, the company walked me through an array of these new launches, most of which are already hitting store shelves.

Here’s a look at everything tasted.

Girvan Single Grain No. 4 Apps – The entry-level offering from Girvan is a NAS single grain, named for the still it is produced in. Aged in bourbon casks, this lovely grain whisky offers ample vanilla notes, plus melon and candylike citrus character. 85.2 proof. A- / $50

Girvan Single Grain 25 Years Old – Like No. 4, this is made primarily from a wheat mash. Beautiful in the glass, it is dark and deep whisky that presents a big butterscotch and toffee bomb, turning to cocoa powder on the back end. Gentle grain notes wash over a lovely experience. 85.2 proof. A / $330

Girvan Single Grain 30 Years Old – 30 years ago, Girvan was making whisky mainly from corn, not wheat. The results are staggeringly different from the 25 year old, where sweetness takes a back seat to much stronger grain character from the start. Delicate fruit notes – lemon peel and some melon — collide with popcorn and heavier wood character. A real surprise. 85.2 proof. B+ / $500

william grant (2)Kininvie 23 Years Old – Tucked in next to Balvenie and Glenfiddich is Kininvie, a smaller distillery mainly being used to make blending malt. Now William Grant is realizing what they’ve been sitting on, releasing as a limited edition a 23 year old single malt expression (the second batch of Kininvie ever made) aged in 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks. Very floral on the nose, it offers a mix of flowers and restrained sweetness, with some coconut notes. But the experience is as light as a feather on the palate. The finish is long, engaging, and sultry at times. 85.2 proof. A / $150 (375ml bottles only)

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves The Annasach Reserve 25 Years Old Batch #1 – This is a blended malt (no grain whisky) made from old William Grant stocks. The catch? Some 40 single malts go into this blend, and none are owned by William Grant itself; all are acquisitions from other distilleries. Slightly musty and mushroomy, it offers notes of leather, vegetables, roasted nuts, and breakfast cereal. Deep and complex, it’s one to savor and explore, despite some vaguely odd notes. Exclusive to BevMo. 792 bottles made. 80 proof. B+ / $280

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old – This one-off release is a blend of malt and grain whisky from three defunct distilleries, Ladyburn, Dumbarton, and Inverleven, most of which have been closed for decades. The nose is restrained, ultimately revealing toffee and some nutty elements. The palate plays up grain, citrus, and nougat, with a touch of smokiness. Very Old World in construction. 80 proof. B+ / $TBD 

williamgrantusa.com

Review: Aberlour 10 Years Old

aberlour 10Aberlour’s 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions are commonly available in America, but surprisingly its entry-level bottling, Aberlour 10 Years Old, isn’t sold here.

That’s a shame, because it’s a fine example of the Speyside distillery’s house style and comes at a very reasonable price (the appropriate US dollar conversion has been made below). “Double cask” aged in both bourbon and sherry barrels, it is a youthful but quite exuberant little dram that you should pick up if you ever happen across it.

Malty on the nose, but well sherried, offering a nice balance between savory and spicy by way of an introduction. On the palate, Aberlour 10 fires immediately: Big baking spices, lots of sherry-fueled orange peel, roasted (but well-integrated) grains and cereal notes, and a lengthy, warming finish. The balance is just about perfect, with hints of petrol raising their heads from time to time and a smoldering, coal-dust character on the finish. What sticks with you though is that racy, sides-of-the-mouth sherry punch, though — not overdone, but just enough to wake you up and ask for another. Please, sir.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / aberlour.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTERS OF MALT]

Review: Usquaebach Reserve and 15 Years Old

usquaebach 15 Yr Old USQAs the back label of Usquaebach Reserve tells us, Robert Burns immortalized the name of Usquaebach in his poem “Tam O’Shanter,” when he wrote, “Wi usquabae we’ll face the de’il.”

Usquaebach, pronounced OOS-keh-bah, is a brand of blended whiskies that are made in the Scottish Highlands. The highest end bottling of the three expressions of Usquaebach (sadly not reviewed here) is bottled in an iconic stoneware decanter.

Note that the two whiskies reviewed below are both blends, but offer markedly different compositions: One is a blended Scotch (which includes grain whisky), one is a blended malt (which only includes whisky made from malted barley). Let’s dig in and see how these stack up.

Usquaebach Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky – A solid blend, with none of the acrid rubberiness of so many blended Scotches. Malty and full of cereal notes, but balanced by gentle sugars, mushroom notes, hints of cloves, banana, and sweetened coconut. That sounds like a lot going on, but this is a quiet blend that doesn’t push things too far in any of these directions. Mild but accessible from start to finish, it’s a glorious entry-level dram that doesn’t take itself too seriously (Robert Burns’ stipple photo on the back label be damned), but which is hard not to find a delight writ small. 86 proof. B+ / $44

Usquaebach Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey 15 Years Old – Austere and heavily malty with big overtones of leather oil and aged wood on the nose. Wintry and warming, it offers a heady nuttiness on the palate, with notes of cloves, dark toffee, molasses, tree sap, and dates. Well-roasted cereals round out an oily and dense body that is otherwise fairly straightforward and evocative of many a Highland whisky. Some pruny, almost Port-like notes on the finish add to the winter-weather character. 86 proof. B+ / $86

usquaebach.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

It was another unforgettable year at 2015’s WhiskyFest, with some of whiskydom’s most cherished icons on tap for tasting, and plenty of old friends to mingle and catch up with.

Of course, many of those old friends come in liquid form, and I had ample opportunity to revisit plenty of classic whiskies while spending time with a number of newer drams. Here’s a brief look at everything I tasted at the San Francisco installment of this essential spirits show.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

Scotch

Tullibardine 20 Years Old / A- / showing beautifully, a nice balance of vanilla and cereal notes (bourbon barrel aged)
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / A / a much different experience, with gorgeous nougat and honey notes (sherry barrel aged)
Balvenie 50 Years Old Cask 4567 / A+ / snuck out from behind a curtain, this is Balvenie shining at its brightest; not old and hoary but light on its feet and ready to dance; explosive, with dried berries, dense toffee, baking spices, and florals on the finish; 2 casks produced, the other cask is said to be very different
Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask / A- / very caramel heavy, racy but dense, with lots of brown sugar notes
William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old / A- / blended whiskey from three silent stills; restrained with toffee, nuts, and some kippered notes; comes out next year
Glengoyne 18 Years Old / A- / big body, notes of grain and fruitcake
Glengoyne 21 Years Old / B+ / traditional malt, with cocoa hints
Aberlour Scapa Skiren / B / lots of sweetness, with a malty backbone – plus melon, sweet mandarins
Highland Park Odin / B+ / dense and handsome, sherry with some smoky charcoal notes; not in love with this today
Dewar’s Scratched Cask / B+ / Dewar’s White with a little “scratched cask” aging; not readily distinguishable from the entry level blend, though quite powerful
Aultmore 12 Years Old / B+ / heavy vanilla and chocolate, dense with shortbread notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1964 / A- / heavy wood notes play with raisins and spice; this has seen wood for too long, though
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1984 / A / right where it’s at; vibrant and exotic, with tropical notes, plum pudding, and hints of grain; absolutely gorgeous
Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend / B+ / well-balanced, malty with some smoky notes
Compass Box Hedonism 15 Years Old Anniversary Bottling / A- / a blend of single grains, all 20 years old or more; fun toffee and fruit trifle notes
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A- / rich, smoky, with a gentler fruit core
Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky / B / a blend of single malts and grain whisky, 19 to 40 years of age; Compass Box got into trouble over this one (more on that later); I got a little mustiness and mushroom notes here, with creosote bubbling up; not feeling it tonight

American

McKenzie Pure Potstill Whiskey / B- / American pure pot still? wacky! this one is very young, but that hint of classic Irish sweetness hits hard on the finish
Sonoma County Distilling Company Truffle Whiskey / B+ / 100% rye, with shaved truffles added to the barrel; not what you’re expecting, but with forest floor notes a-plenty
Stranahan’s Snowflake (Dec. 2014) / A- / easily my favorite Snowflake bottling to date, beautiful balance of sweet and spice, very pretty
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak / A- / lush and big with dried fruits, spices, and gentle granary notes; another winner from Colorado
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Old / A- / a classically structured bourbon, dense and stylish, with a spicy finish
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A+ / there’s a reason this whiskey is the most expensive bourbon made in America — it’s the best thing anyone is making in the country; dense raisin, cinnamon, vanilla, toffee… it just goes on and on with layer after layer of goodness
High West A Midwinter’s Night Dram Act 3 / A / my favorite AMND yet; cherry and herbs in balance (not blown out), with a licorice kick
High West Bourye Batch 15B03 / A / still gorgous; syrupy and fruity, unctuous at times
High West Single Malt 1 Month Old / NR / a work in progress, surprisingly gentle for single malt but a fun look at something coming down the pipeline… give it another 5 years at least

Canadian

Forty Creek Confederation Oak / A / beautiful vanilla and maple notes, but dense and balanced
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve / A- / very enjoyable, candy corn and chocolate raisins at play
Forty Creek Evolution / A- / again, quite candylike and very sweet; 9000 bottles made
WhistlePig Straight Rye Old World Sauternes Finish 12 Years Old / A- / a very strong and sweet whisky (just one of the components of the new Old World bottling), with lemon curd notes

Other

Diplomatico Blanco Rum 6 Years Old / B / solid, uninspired as a sipper though
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Vintage 2000 / A / vintage Diplomatico; gorgeous, sherry-finished rum, balanced perfectly