Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Anchor Distilling White Christmas White Whiskey

Anchor White Christmas 497x1200 Review: Anchor Distilling White Christmas White Whiskey

Here’s a first: A limited edition white whiskey, created by San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling exclusively for the 2013 holiday season.

It’s a neat idea. Every year Anchor’s brewing arm cooks up a special — and always unique — Christmas Ale. 2013′s White Christmas whiskey is distilled from the 2012 Christmas Ale, hence the whiskey’s subtitle, “The Spirit of Christmas Past.”

Twice distilled and unaged, the beer’s spicier elements come through clearly — so much so that you might do a double take and think you’re drinking gin. Orange peel, juniper berries, cloves, and cardamom notes are all present, but they’re atop an earthy, mushroomy core. The nose is light, the body rich but not overwhelming — and without the overwhelmingly hoary funkiness that’s so common with white dog. Sure, white whiskeys don’t often dazzle with nuance or depth, but as the category goes, this is one of the more unique, worthwhile, and drinkable white whiskeys I’ve encountered in recent months.

90 proof. Available in California only.

B+ / $50 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select

sinatra bottle and giftbox 003 525x787 Review: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select

 

Many contemporary drinkers are surprised to hear that Frank Sinatra was a Jack Daniel’s man — through and through, that’s really all the legendary singer drank. But in the revised Sinatra mythos, many now think of Ol’ Blue Eyes as holding a martini, with Jack Daniel’s seen as a commoners’ drink. Back then, that wasn’t the case, of course. Sinatra even kept a stash of JD on his plane and was buried with a bottle when he died.

If you’re forgotten about the Sinatra-JD connection, this special release will remind you of how it all went down. In honor of the legendary crooner, Jack has released a special bottling of Old No. 7. Previously for sale only at travel retail, Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select is now hitting eight major U.S. metro areas in general release. (They are: Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, New Jersey and Tennessee.)

The whiskey is different from standard Jack Daniel’s in a key way: A portion of the spirit is aged in special “Sinatra barrels,” which feature staves that are cut with a sort of “speed bump” pattern of peaks and valleys on the inside. This exposes more of the whiskey to wood than a standard stave, ostensibly giving it a richer, woodier profile. These Sinatra-barreled whiskeys are mingled with standard JD to produce the final blend.

So, how is it? JD Sinatra Select offers a honey/butterscotch nose that’s immediately appealing, just touched with popcorn notes. The body is classic Jack, dense with vanilla caramel character, light orange zest, and malted milk. That corny character rolls along after a while, building on the finish. All in all, an excellent example of Jack at its finest, rich without being overly wooded, young without tasting brash.

The price is a bit hard to swallow, mind you. At $165 for a liter bottle, it’s a good 6 times the price of a regular liter bottle of JD. You do get a fancier label and box, an orange stopper with a fedora on it, and a neat little booklet about Sinatra (and it’s 90 proof instead of the usual 80 proof of Old No. 7). Does that add up to $165? Even Sinatra may have balked at that one.

90 proof.

A- / $165 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parkers ALS Promise of Hope Bottle Shot 103x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) - Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013′s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream gin 135x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka - Pau Maui Vodka ($30) - An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Bottle and Packaging 2012 port finish 300x200 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) - Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

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!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH206 VODKA BOTTLE 114x300 Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and MoonshineSeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206′s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

Firefly Moonshine Rocks 525x349 Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

I’m a big fan of Firefly’s tea-flavored vodka, probably the best on the market. Recently the distillery, based in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, branched out into moonshine — unaged “raw corn whiskey,” available unflavored or in one of five different flavored versions. We got both the pure stuff and one of the flavors. Thoughts — surprising thoughts — follow. 

Firefly White Lightning Moonshine – Popcorn nose, almost buttery. From the sharp nose you might think you’re in for a rough and rustic body, but that’s not the case. This White Lightning is surprisingly silky, presumably sweetened but not overdone, this is spicy (over 100 proof) but flavorful, driven by its corn origins but mellowed out with a glazing of sugar. That’s not a slight. This may be moonshine, but it tempers its frontier heritage with a sweetness that’s wholly appropriate. 100.7 proof. B+

Firefly Apple Pie Moonshine – I’ve had apple pie-flavored spirits before, but this is the first time I’ve had one that gets all the components of the dessert in one little shot. It’s all here: apples, cinnamon, caramel, and pie crust. As with Firefly’s masterful tea-flavored vodka, this proves how flavored spirits can be crafted with intelligence, and without being crammed full of as much sugar as possible. This is sweet, but an apple pie is also sweet. Like a well-made pie, Firefly has figured out the balance of the equation (low alcohol doesn’t hurt here), and I have to give them props on that count. 60.3 proof. A

each $20 / fireflymoonshine.com

Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Limited Edition 525x787 Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Earlier this fall I wrote (and spoke on video at length) about the end of Johnnie Walker Gold Label and the rise of its replacement, Platinum Label. What was a bit murky at the time was where Gold Label Reserve might fit in with all of this. Formerly a non-U.S., limited release product, Gold Label Reserve has been an oddity for years, particularly while the (non-Reserve) Gold Label was also available.

And now we have the answer: Gold Label Reserve is coming to America, at least for a limited time. Also, you’ll want to dig the bottle: It’s opaque, not transparent, giving the impression of a gold ingot stood on its side.

Gold Label Reserve is, like (nearly) all Johnnie Walker, a blended whisky, though the company offers few details about its components. The company does reveal it includes “casks of Clynelish,” but that’s about it.

I still have the original Gold Label on hand, so as I did with Platinum Label, I put the two spirits side by side. Some thoughts follow.

On the nose, there’s lots of fresh fruit and sherry to spare, a sharp aroma with immediate appeal and a light nuttiness on the back end. The body follows through with more of that sherry, some nougat notes, plus a touch of graham cracker. I get hints of fresh cherry fruit, cinnamon, and honey-spiked sweet tea, all coming together in a remarkably well-balanced and easy to enjoy dram.

It’s not as malty and rich as the original Gold Label — and is overall a bit of a departure from the chewy, almost bready Johnnie Walker house style — and that’s perhaps a good thing. Gold Label Reserve is sophisticated and more refined, with both balance and an inviting finish. My only real complaint is the alcohol level: At 80 proof it doesn’t pack in quite enough of body, and the initial sharpness ultimately becomes a bit flabby in the middle. Knock this up to 92 proof and you’ve got perhaps the best blended Scotch on the market.

At $87, it’s expensive for a blend, but is priced about in line with the old Gold Label. Of course, you’re getting a brick of gold in the bargain, so what are you moaning about?

A / $87 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye Canadian Whisky

Collingwood Rye 21 Year Old high res 525x787 Review: Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye Canadian Whisky

Who, who, whoooo is putting out 21 year old rye? At a price of 70 bucks (or less)? Collingwood, that’s who.

Collingwood is best known for bottling its spirits in what look like oversized perfume bottles, but it should be known for the quality of the spirits inside. Standard Collingwood, a young Canadian blend, offers a huge amount of flavor for a whisky that’s just three years or so old. At 27 bucks it’s a steal.

Now comes Collingwood 21, a 100% malted rye with a full 21 years of age on it, aged primarily in new oak barrels and finished in toasted maplewood barrels. There’s plenty going on here. The nose offers rich wood character, butterscotch, and hints of maple syrup. It’s quite enticing and invites you into sipping away, revealing more syrup and butterscotch notes, plus intriguing notes of orange peel, evergreen, and some light lumberyard. The finish is woody but far from overdone, an engaging rush that brings along hints of that rye spiciness, something akin to a clove-spiked orange. Dangerously drinkable.

This is a one-time-only limited release. Grab it while you can. 

80 proof.

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

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 25 Year Single Malt Whisky

yamazaki 25 525x786 Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 25 Year Single Malt Whisky

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time… 25 years old. Yamazaki is the top-selling single malt in Japan and has made huge inroads Stateside in recent years, with no small thanks to Lost in Translation, which did for the whisky what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.

Lately, Yamazaki (and pretty much all Japanese whisky) has been expanding its portfolio as it creeps toward the higher end. The latest offering: this 25 year old single malt.

Yamazaki 25 is an extremely dark spirit — a color that would be surprising for any malt, really, almost a weak-coffee brown. The nose is immediately huge, with raisin and Port wine notes and a coffee character that makes me think of Spanish brandy. This follows into the palate, where dried figs, raisins, and Spanish brandy’s more savory coffee notes are prominent. There’s also sherry at work here, but the character is more of orange peel than sherry’s more traditional, juicy wine notes. The finish is dark and brooding, slightly perfumed but quickly veering into overly wooded astringency that sticks with you for a while.

This is a very intriguing spirit from Yamazaki, but it’s one which is is wholly unlike the other whiskies in the series. If you color yourself a fan of the 12 or 18 year old expressions, best to give the 25 a sample before you shell out for a full bottle. I’m of the mind that this is one whisky that’s a bit past its prime.

86 proof.

B / $1600 / suntory.com

Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon Lineup

With Pappymania 2013 reaching a fever pitch, we figured we would review some wheated bourbon alternatives to satisfy those not fortunate enough to get their hands on a bottle so they could re-sell it for simply ludicrous prices.

WSR 145x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller Special Reserve - Formerly carrying a 7 year old age statement (Buffalo Trace has since removed the age statement on the label, though claim it’s still aged around the same span of time), this is the value edition of the trio, clocking in at about $12. However, unlike most lower shelf bourbons, the quality isn’t really sacrificed here. A very honey and vanilla infused nose turns into a mellow palate, with traces of caramel and cinnamon. There’s a sharp, almost peppery burn at the end, which punches and fades away quickly. 90 proof. B / $12

107 141x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupOld Weller Antique 107 – The middle child often gets unfairly overlooked, and Weller is no exception. Weller Antique has been a mainstay on the shelf for an every-day bourbon for quite some time, with really good quality at an affordable price point. The nose has a bit more cinnamon and molasses than Special Reserve, and less vanilla than the 12-year edition. The taste brings the heat without too much emphasis on the alcohol. Get on the train before the fare increases and goes the way of its older sibling, the 12 year. 107 proof. A- / $22

weller 12yr 142x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller 12 Years Old – The one that many folks in the know have lovingly christened “baby Pappy” (close in age, same mash bill) has garnered quite a following itself, with supply so low it’s only being offered semi-annually if you’re lucky. There’s a heavy dose of vanilla from start to end, which is accentuated by oak and cinnamon in the palate. The finish is sharper and lingers a bit more than its siblings, with more smoke and char for a finale. A raised proof could make it a serious contender and increase its fan base. Definitely worth picking up should one spot a bottle in their local store. 90 proof. A- / $26

buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye Whiskey Single Barrel 12 Years Old

whistlepig the boss hog rye 525x875 Review: WhistlePig The Boss Hog Rye Whiskey Single Barrel 12 Years Old

WhistlePig is widely regarded (by myself included) as one of the best ryes on the market, a straight, 100% rye bottled at 100 proof and a full 10 years old. Last year’s TripleOne brought the age up to 11 years and proof to 111 proof. Now comes The Boss Hog, a 12 year old rye bottled at cask strength — over 130 proof. Whoa.

24 casks are being bottled (each bottle is from a single barrel, they aren’t being vatted), so quantities will be definitively limited (1000 cases, give or take), and the product will vary from one bottle to the next.

The Boss Hog (technically “series 1,” indicating this may become an annual thing) is presumably, like TripleOne, the WhistlePig base stock with a couple of extra years on it and less water in the bottle. What’s remarkable is what those couple of tweaks can do to this already classy and refined spirit.

To start with, the nose is a monster: Richly sweet, without too much wood on it (surprisingly). Aromatics include fresh hay, cinnamon toast, and quite a bit of alcoholic heat. The body is amazingly not nearly as heated as you’d expect, despite having an alcohol level that puts this year’s George T. Stagg to shame. While it’s certainly racy, it’s easily drinkable without water, and you’ll also find flavor to spare. There’s an instant rush of Bit-O-Honey, with deft touches of cinnamon and cloves. The body grows, offering sultry vanilla notes while building up the wood components, until the finish hits, adding some red pepper, dark chocolate, and a rush of heat at the back of the throat. The end result of all of this is quite enchanting, a cask strength, extra-old rye which is already unheard of, but is also almost completely balanced from start to finish.

~134 proof (proof will vary by bottle). Sample barrel # unknown.

A / $150 / whistlepigwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

corsair quinoa whiskey 525x525 Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

Corsair is probably the country’s most curious and experimental craft distillery (it makes one whiskey that has elderflowers in it), and the two whiskeys reviewed below should be proof enough of its oddball inspirations. Both of these whiskeys are part of Corsair’s standard releases, though that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.

Corsair Ryemageddon –  An aged version (no statement) of Corsair’s Wry Moon white whiskey, made from malted rye and chocolate rye. This is a fun and — suffice it to say — wholly unique product on the market. The nose is heavy with grain, savory yet spicy and clearly on the hot side. The body starts things off with a traditional, relatively young grain profile, and then the jams get kicked out. A racy sweetness comes on strong — nougat and marshmallows, with a little punch of candied grapefruit — and then it starts to mellow. Here the rye starts to really show its face, with a finish that is long and spicy, full of red and black pepper, with a touch of nutmeg and cloves. This is youthful and brash stuff, yet full of life and punchy with flavor. Worth exploring. 92 proof. B+ / $52

Corsair Quinoa Whiskey – Made with red and white quinoa — the It Grain of the healthy eating craze today. I sampled this before almost in passing and found it somewhat off-putting. Today I’m digging the Quinoa Whiskey quite a bit more. I get immediate chocolate on the nose, with modest spice and indistinct grainary notes. The body is amped up with a mild sweetness, more of that milk chocolate character, and a finish that takes things not so much into young grain notes but rather into an earthy, mushroomy quality that is unique in the whiskey world. This is intense and exotic stuff, definitely worth checking out… but seriously, Corsair, where’s the clever name? Quiskey, anyone? 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #109/160. A- / $56

corsairartisan.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Beam’s Eight Star Whiskey

Beams Eight Star Review: Beams Eight Star WhiskeyIn nearly every family there’s a black sheep or dirty little secret. Such is the case with Beam’s Eight Star. It’s so low shelf, it’s not even on the shelf. In fact, it’s not even listed on the Beam website as a purchasable brand. It’s not bourbon, but rather a blended whiskey and certainly holds true to the label’s claim. There is some familiarity here to the rest of the brands bearing the Beam banner, but very little. It’s akin to a distant cousin you see every few years at a family reunion.

There are scant traces of caramel and sweetness on the front end and strictly oak on the back, accompanied with a generous portion of heat all around. This is all one really gets out of the deal. And at a price point of around $10, I suppose there’s not much more to hope for in the great game of expectations.

In tech-nerd terms (after all, this is Drinkhacker): if big brother Baker’s is a finely tuned browser with minimal service interruption and amazing extensions, Eight Star is Netscape without frames support and still using the *[blink]* tag.

I kept searching for the silver lining, and to my surprise I actually found one. In a last ditch effort to find some semblance of a positive angle, I mixed Eight Star with Coke. The results were not as bad as anticipated, and I didn’t cry. That’s pretty much the only way I’d take this budget buddy for a spin again.

C / $10

Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask 19 Years Old

glenfiddich age of discovery bourbon cask 525x955 Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask 19 Years Old

Glenfiddich always puts out a special edition malt whisky around this time, and this year’s bottling is a curiosity indeed. Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask (not to be confused with a prior bottling from 2011, Age of Discovery Madeira Cask) is a 19 year old whisky that’s spent its entire life in ex-Bourbon barrels.

On the surface this may not sound so unusual. The vast majority of Scotch is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels. But like many distilleries, Glenfiddich normally finishes its whisky in sherry casks. This is one of few whiskys the company has released that has spent its entire life in Bourbon barrels without a stint in a finishing cask.

Moving on to the tasting: The nose is mild but rich with well-aged wood and leather, and a few spicy notes. The body follows suit: It is big and rich and lets a moderate touch of the grain come through. As it develops in the glass, I get buttery shortbread cookies, along with just a few hints of toffee and caramel. The finish has touches of charred wood and incense, leaving you with motes of popcorn, a nod to that Bourbon barrel heritage. Overall there is lots to like here, but I think that’s mainly a testament to smart barrel selection.

A third Age of Discovery, Red Wine Cask, is on the way. Note: All Age of Discovery bottlings are travel retailer exclusives, but 15,000 additional bottles of this Bourbon Cask bottling are making their way to general availability in (standard) retail outlets in the U.S. as we speak.

80 proof.

A- / $150 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

2bar moonshine 525x525 Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits is a craft distillery named after a ranch that was part of the owners’ family for generations… before they decided to trade South Texas for Washington and hooves for hooch. The company makes two spirits, both unaged. We got ‘em both. Thoughts follow.

Both spirits are 80 proof.

2bar Spirits Vodka – Distilled from local Washington wheat, this vodka has a strong white dog character to it, full of grainy cereal notes on the nose. But the body is balanced by a silky body and some sweetness — think of a very lightly sweetened breakfast cereal — giving it a touch of marshmallow character. The finish brings on some of the lighter medicinal notes that vodka fans will find familiar… while fading out with a return to light notes of grain. The overall impression is closer to a white whiskey than a vodka, and maybe that’s OK. White lightning is often too harsh and overpowering for easy consumption. Here things are dialed back enough to make it easier to sip on, while still residing in the vodkaverse. 80 proof. B+ / $33

2bar Spirits Moonshine – Distilled from local corn instead of wheat. Very easygoing nose, slightly sweet. The body is downright shocking: It’s milder and sweeter than the Vodka, a little flabby in its construction, the palate offering an easy mix of Corn Pops cereal and the lightest dusting of honey. This is a much more easy-to-sip spirit, and while it isn’t the most complex of things, its light notes of licorice and milk chocolate add nuance to what is often a straightforward and unsatisfying category. With its moonshine, 2bar proves that white whiskey can be engaging and fun, leaving the drinker with nary a grimace to be made. A- / $30

2barspirits.com

Review: Cabin Still Bourbon Whiskey

CabinStill 200x300 Review: Cabin Still Bourbon WhiskeyAfter my initial voyages to the bottom of the shelf with JW Dant and Kentucky Gentleman, I reasoned my exploratory adventure should further continue with another value bourbon.

Cabin Still was originally part of a line at the now legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery, along with W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, and Rebel Yell. The brand name was purchased in 1993 by the Heaven Hill distillery at the same time as JW Dant and has remained in the company’s portfolio for the past two decades. It doesn’t really get the respect it deserves — not even a mention of it on Heaven Hill’s brands page.  That’s a shame because at 36 months in age, this is not a bad bottle, especially when considering it has a purchase point of around $10.

The initial nose has faint hints of oak and butterscotch, and the taste keeps the oak resonating throughout with a wee bit of alcohol burn at the end. There isn’t much of a finish to it, and the whole experience is restrained at best. There’s little to no lingering to be had on the finish whatsoever, whether tried neat or on the rocks.

Unlike the beautifully detailed artwork on the outside, Cabin Still isn’t elaborate or complex but serves its purpose well when mixed with cola, and I’m sure it could serve as a fine mixer for any other drink in which bourbon is required. I’m told by elder sages of the Kentucky Bourbonati that pre-Heaven Hill versions of this brand taste far superior to today’s edition, almost akin to a 12 year old WL Weller.

$9 / B / no website (c’mon Heaven Hill, where is the love?)

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter II – “Angels & Devils”

DevilsPunchBowl II Bottle Box 525x729 Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter II   Angels & Devils

Last year’s limited edition Devil’s Punch Bowl from Arran was one of my favorite whiskys of the year, and it all but vanished from the market in months. Now Arran is back with a sequel — Chapter II, “Angels & Devils.”

This is crafted from a collection of whiskys put into cask in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2004. A combination of peated whiskys and sherried whiskys are used to create the finished product.

As with the original, what a product it is. The nose offers an initial rush of malt, then fruit — banana and citrus — followed by a mild slug of peat. On the body, it’s warming but soothing, offering notes of peated grain, sherry, and toasty cereal. Compared to my notes (I’ve none of Chapter I remaining), the whisky isn’t as spicy and peppery as the original bottling, coming across as a rather more straightforward, moderately-well-aged malt whisky. That’s not such a bad thing. Chapter II has a wonderful balance to it that drinks just as easily, even if the story it tells isn’t quite as nefarious.

106.2 proof. Another 6,600 bottles produced.

A- / $130 / arranwhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee Cider

jack daniels winter jack 137x300 Review: Jack Daniels Winter Jack Tennessee CiderI first encountered Winter Jack several years ago on a trip to Germany. There it was, this curious bottle set on the back bar in an outdoor Christmas market, where it was subtitled an “Apple Whiskey Punch.” Turns out the holiday-themed spirit has been popular in that country for a few years, and now, Winter Jack is finally making its way from Deutschland to America, rebranded as a “Tennessee Cider.” Same difference, I suppose, and in fact it’s the same product, just rebranded for its American release.

Winter Jack is a mix of apple cider liqueur and classic Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Emphasis, as you’ll see below, is on the cider liqueur.

The spirit pours a very pale, Chardonnay-like color. The nose offers cinnamon, applesauce, and honey, but it isn’t overpowering… a lot like sticking your nose into a glass of your kids’ juice. On the body, initially it’s quite mild as the nose would indicate, offering a simple apple juice/cider character that slowly builds to a more tart, fresh apple-driven finish. The spirit leaves you with quite a bit of sweetness, which is where the barest touches of caramel and vanilla show up, the thumbprint of JD turning out to be quite a latent one on this spirit. The overall effect is appealing, though it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. In the end, Winter Jack clearly prefers to let the cider liqueur do more of the talking, which is fine, I guess. You can always add more whiskey to suit your tastes, after all.

Intended to be served warm.

30 proof. Check the website below for availability in your state.

B / $18 / jackdaniels.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2013

WhiskyFest 2013 is now in the books, and my what an embarrassment of riches this show was. While I heard grousing about the show not having as many hits as usual (most of the independent Scotch bottlers like Samaroli were absent), I managed to find a ton of them. Driven this year perhaps by a ruthless attempt to avoid lesser products (one industry bigwig, with all seriousness, suggested I give Johnnie Walker Red Label a try), it didn’t take much doing to suss out some really great whiskeys being poured. Who can complain when Julian Van Winkle is pouring his best stuff, after all?

It was quite the global event this year, with numerous whiskeys from Japan, Canada, and Ireland on tap that you don’t normally see at shows. And more and more craft distillers, like Masterson’s and Smooth Ambler, are taking to shows to give people a taste of something new.

Anyway, as usual it was a great evening with old friends and new ones – both of the whiskey and the human variety. Thoughts follow.

American Whiskey / Bourbon
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Ten / A- / some menthol, caramel with a dusty finish
Masterson’s 12 Year Wheat / A- / big wood, cherries, a fun whisky
Masterson’s 10 Year Barley / C- / funky mint and rubber notes, unripe banana, not at all to my liking tonight
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit / A- / lovely sweetness without being saccharine, tried just to say hi to Jimmy and Eddie Russell, both pouring
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / a new limited edition from JD, the same spirit but aged in barrels that have been “grooved” with extra cuts to expose more wood surface; as expected, this is like JD, but woodier; not bad at all
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Years Old / A / still maturing, with a little burn
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Years Old / A+ / Pappy at its best, raisins, wood, big body… just perfect
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A / you can finally see the age on this spirit at 23, where the balance is just starting to turn toward too much wood

Scotch Whisky
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / B / chewy barley and rubber bands
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 Years Old / A- / cake, nuts, smoke, malt
Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice / A+ / best spirit at the show, aged in American oak for 21 years, then finished in Chateau Yquem barrels; liquid gold, sweet and savory in perfect balance
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 22 Years Old / B+ / always a funky expression, bristly and huge this year, with a smoky, old-world character
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 / A- / is Octomore losing its ability to shock me? This struck me as plenty peaty but not overdone, with evergreen and charcoal notes
Buchanan’s Red Seal / A- / Buchanan’s first WhiskyFest; a peaty blend with some citrus and sweetness, good balance
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition / B+ / a new release from Cutty; very mild, surprisingly malty, with fresh grain and wood notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1973 / A / hearty sherry character, drinking beautifully
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1983 / B / dusty with lots of wood; couldn’t be more different than the ‘73
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend / B / overcooked, unthrilling
Compass Box Delilah’s 20th Anniversary Limited Edition / B+ / bottled as a tribute to a famed Chicago area bar, matured partly in new oak barrels (rare for Scotch); bourbon-like character, peppery with lots of wood, caramel notes

Irish Whiskey
Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve / A / always a standout, this beautiful bottling (~26 years old) features lovely spicy notes beneath a sweet core
Midleton Barry Crockett Edition / A- / a vatting of 7 to 22 year old spirits; more rustic than the Jameson, chewy grain notes, still fun

Canadian Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Years Old / A- / mellow, well developed, sultry finish
Lot No. 40 / B- / a 100% rye bottling, a powerhouse of rubber, pungent basil and cherry notes

Japanese Whiskey
Hakushu Heavily Peated / B+ / not at all “heavy” in my mind, good balance with citrus notes
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years Old / B+ / ample cereal notes
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / great balance of grain and honey, a standout

Brandy
Gran Duque De Alba XO 18 Years Old / A- / Spanish brandy; big coffee and licorice notes; intriguing and powerful
Gran Duque De Alba Oro 25 Years Old / B+ / a little overblown, same character as the XO, but just too much, too hoary

Review: Mellow Corn Straight Corn Whiskey

Mellow Corn 225x300 Review: Mellow Corn Straight Corn WhiskeyWith the craze of flavored spirits reaching a fever pitch, I’ve been patiently waiting for the corn whiskey renaissance to take on full steam. There have been promises via Hudson, Balcones and other distillers, but it doesn’t seem to be taking on momentum the way the “white dog moonshine” trend of 2012 did.

The folks at Heaven Hill make Mellow Corn from a minimum 81% corn with a bit of rye in the mix to spice things up a bit. The bottle which I sampled upon is bottled in bond at 4 years, which I’m told by the elderly gentleman sitting three stools away at the bar makes a difference vs. the 3-year-old edition.

As you’d expect, the nose is pretty much straight up corn. The taste provides an oily, buttery popcorn experience and the finish is a lingering… you guessed it…. corn feel, with a wee bit of heat courtesy of the rye, serving as a gentle reminder you’re not drinking corn oil from the bottom of a movie theater popcorn machine, but rather are drinking corn whiskey. It’s sweet with a little bit of bitterness, and it offers absolutely no complexity whatsoever.

Drinkers searching for something similar to bourbon may be taken aback, even disappointed, by the taste and experience of a corn whiskey. However taking Mellow Corn on its own terms, it’s quite unique and worthy of experimentation. Give in to it the next time you’re craving something different, especially at $10 for a 750ml bottle.

100 proof.

B / $10 / heavenhill.com

Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 9 Single Malt

balvenie tun 1401 batch 9 525x700 Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 9 Single Malt

The 9th outturn of The Balvenie’s Tun 1401 bottling (and the 3rd I’ve experienced) is one of its best. Like Batch 3 and Batch 6 before it, Batch 9 is another U.S. exclusive, but will still be available in minuscule quantities, with just 14 casks married to create this batch. The spirit is drawn from 11 traditional casks and three sherry butts which span “a number of decades,” though detailed age information is not available.

The nose offers exotic spices and incense atop a core of figs and raisins. The sherry is strong with this one, too, exhibiting an almost candylike whiff of orange jellies. The body backs all this up, in spades. In addition to all of the above — with sherry the most notable component — you get notes of leather, glazed walnuts, and a hint of tobacco. The dried fruit components complement these more austere notes just perfectly… call it sugar and spice and everything nice.

98.6 proof.

A / $250 / thebalvenie.com