Review: Writers Tears Irish Whiskey

writers-tears-pot-still-blend-whiskeyAmerican visitors to Ireland often ask “what whiskey should I try that I can’t get in the U.S.” That’s been a fairly short list of late, and the top of it always includes one name: Writers Tears.

Writers Tears is a product introduced only in 2009 by Walsh Whiskey, the company that’s best known stateside for The Irishman brand of whiskeys. Writers Tears was designed — this is all sourced whiskey, a blend of single malt and pure pot still — to be an upscale alternative to that more mainstream brand, a “boutique” offering that was “a little more edgy,” as the company puts it.

Fast forward to today, when Writers Tears is finally available for the first time in the United States. At last, Americans can see what all the fuss is about. This is the first time I’ve tried Writers Tears outside of Dublin — so let’s dig in to a fresh sample.

Writers Tears is, as the name suggests, a softer and gentler whiskey. The nose speaks of honey syrup, cinnamon, and a touch of lemon. If you think about a cup of nicely sweetened tea, that’s the kind of tone Writers Tears sets at the start. On the palate, it’s as quiet as a mouse — the honey fading into citrus, a touch of ginger, some lightly nutty notes, and a lightly herbal malt character that builds toward the finish. That conclusion folds in lightly bitter licorice notes, but echoes its initial sweetness, inviting some rather eager sipping. The whiskey goes down so easily it’s hard to stop with just one glass — and while its initial softness might make the spirit feel simple, underneath that veneer is the essence, well, of Ireland.

80 proof.

A-  / $40 / walshwhiskey.com

Review: Old Hickory Blended Bourbon and Straight Bourbon Whiskey

old hickory bourbonNashville-based R.S. Lipman revived this very old brand recently, but the spirit inside has nothing to do with whatever came before. Within you will find MGP-sourced whiskey which is bottled in Ohio.

Old Hickory — not just named after Andrew Jackson but featuring his picture on the label — is offered in two varieties, a blended whiskey and a straight bourbon. Both are reviewed here.

Old Hickory Great American Whiskey Blended Bourbon Whiskey – “Black label Old Hickory.” This is a blend of bourbon and other, unspecified whiskey. The label says it’s 89% four year old whiskey and 11% two year old whiskey, but offers no other direction beyond that. The nose offers ample caramel and vanilla notes, but also tons of almonds and a bit of baking spice. There’s unusual depth of aroma here for a whiskey with such an uninspired provenance, but the body doesn’t go far enough in backing it up. On the tongue it’s a relatively simple whiskey, with notes of caramel sauce and sweet tea, plus lots of that almond character. There’s a touch of chemical character on the finish, something driven more by youth, I suspect, than anything funky in the production. Its disappearance arrives quickly, though — just like that, Old Hickory Blended is all but gone. 80 proof. B- / $30

Old Hickory Great American Whiskey Straight Bourbon Whiskey – “White label Old Hickory” is a real bourbon, but it carries no age information on the bottle, but research shows its components to be a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 7 years old. Slightly higher abv than the black label, the nose combines the sweetness of the forebear alongside a not-insignificant lumberyard-plus-barrel char influence. The almond notes are muted here, replaced by more of a butterscotch character. On the palate the moderate sweetness is backed by a slightly bittersweet note, a bit herbal with some anise notes. All told, it’s a relatively straightforward but well-crafted bourbon with plenty of elements to enjoy. 86 proof. B+ / $35

oldhickorywhiskey.com

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Single Malt Whisky

yamazaki 2016

In 2014 Jim Murray pronounced The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 the best whisky of the year, and the world promptly exploded. Everybody likes Japanese whisky — why wouldn’t you? — but giving this small bottling a “best in the world” award led to the expected chaos.

All of Japanese whisky has been impacted by the surge in sales — even common bottlings are now regularly allocated — but nothing was hit harder than this specific edition, which was immediately snapped up, with prices on remaining bottles shooting through the roof.

And now there is another.

The Yamazaki is finally back with a new edition of this hot product, Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 vintage. Sherry of course is not a new thing at Yamazaki, but using it exclusively in released expressions isn’t common. Japanese whisky can be quite delicate, and sherry casks provide an effect in the diametric opposite direction. The final blend in this release bears no age statement but starts with the same lot of whiskies (over 100 sherry-aged casks) used to make the Sherry Cask 2013 release. These spent two extra years in cask, to which Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo then added some additional, older sherry-casked stock, some of which were more than 25 years old. So basically, if you liked Sherry Cask 2013, the idea is that you’ll love 2016.

Without further ado, let’s dig into this rarity.

The color is exceptionally dark, a deep amber that verges on mahogany, clearly showcasing both some significant age and the pure impact of the sherry cask. The nose is enchanting — lush caramel malts and bright sherry notes, cocoa-dusted nuts with some oxidized notes, leather, and cigar tobacco — all told, the picture of a very old and well-sherried Highland single malt.

The palate sticks with the theme, offering intense nuttiness, quite bitter, with notes of wet leather, tobacco leaf, incense, and spicy cloves. The finish goes on and on with notes of Madeira wine, prunes, well-steeped black tea, and bittersweet cocoa powder. After one sip my mind immediately raced back to my experience with Highland Park 50 Years Old, which remains seared into my brain. Many of the same notes are there, a licorice kick nagging at the back of the throat.

As with HP50, Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is a hoary old beast that presents itself as brash and punchy, unashamed of its majesty. Give it the respect it deserves.

92 proof. 5000 bottles produced. The MSRP is $300, but $2000 is about the best you’ll find at retail. I’ve seen up to $3000 so far. Good luck, gents.

A- / $2000 / suntory.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

JD Single Barrel Rye BottleIt’s no secret that Jack Daniel’s has been working on its rye for the better half of the decade. The company has been putting out works in progress since the beginning. “Unaged Rye” came in 2012; a brash “Rested Rye” hit in 2014. Now, in 2016, the finished product is finally here.

My math pegs this about 3 1/2 years old. The mash hasn’t changed — 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley — and the rye undergoes the same charcoal filtration as all expressions of JD (and other Tennessee-based whiskies). It is worth noting that this final release has a significantly higher abv than either of the preview bottlings — and it is, curiously, a single barrel product.

On the nose, the new rye offers nutty, roasted grains at first, backed up with sweet caramel, some chocolate, menthol, and a little red pepper. Over time, a bit of that characteristic JD charcoal emerges. The big baking spice aromas of a typical rye aren’t immediately evident, but the nose isn’t atypical, at least, of a younger, rye-heavy bourbon.

The palate paints a somewhat different picture, offering a nutty character at first, fading into more grain with a fairly heavy toast. Dark caramel, licorice, some barrel char — elements of a fairly young but relatively indistinct whiskey — are all strong on the somewhat racy body. But the whiskey, at this age, remains a bit shapeless, offering a variety of muddled, barrel-driven flavor components but little to distinguish it from a young bourbon or blended whiskey.

That said, I found the spirit enjoyable and worth a look, though it adds little to the growing universe of rye. It’s clearly a young product — and probably still quite a bit ahead of its time — that will fare best as a mixer in a more intense cocktail.

Fans of Old No. 7 will wonder what the fuss is about.

94 proof.

B / $50 / jackdaniels.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Spirit of America Handcrafted Bourbon Whiskey

spirit of americaThe flag-emblazoned eagle and red-white-and-blue color scheme aside, Spirit of America doesn’t come across like a pioneering bourbon. Even the promise that it is “handcrafted” obscures the fact that this is MGP-produced juice.

Turns out though that there’s something unique under the hood here: Spirit of America isn’t just a wheated bourbon, it’s the first to be commercially released based on a new MGP recipe.

That recipe is 51% corn, 45% wheat, and 4% malted barley, and this bottling is aged for two years (per the fine print). The finished product is blended and bottled by the Hobson & Roberts Distilling Company in Indianapolis.

Let’s give it a taste.

On the nose, the whiskey is surprisingly muted, particularly for a two year old. Perhaps it’s all that wheat talking, but the expected overtones of popcorn and toasted bread don’t manifest here. While light a grain character appears in time, it takes a back seat to gentle vanilla and caramel, though some light acetone notes later in the game belie its youth.

The body is, again, much more gentle than a two year old whiskey has any right to be. Very light on the tongue, indistinct caramel notes kick things off, followed by notes of cinnamon apples, and just a hint of vanilla cream soda. The experience is short and quick, with the cinnamon leading fast into the finish, which is (ultimately) on the hot side.

While early expectations might be low, just about everything about the actual spirit of Spirit of America is surprising. This young wheated bourbon doesn’t have a whole lot of nuance to it, but it’s much more drinkable (and mixable) than you may expect.

$1 from every bottle purchased is donated to the Hope for the Warriors charity.

86 proof.

B / $38 / soaspirits.com

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood Bourbon

EH Taylor Seasoned Wood Bottle & CanisterIt’s been nearly a year since Buffalo Trace’s last release in the Colonel E.H. Taylor line, and now the eighth of these whiskeys is here, and it’s got quite a story behind it.

First, it’s critical to note that this is a wheated bourbon, while the others are all rye-focused bourbons, except for one straight rye. Discussion is already heated up about how a single line of whiskeys can have so much variety; Chuck Cowdery has an excellent post wondering whether this should have just been an “Experimental Collection” release or whether the higher prices commanded by the E.H. Taylor label had something to do with it. Hey, I don’t judge.

The process behind Taylor’s Seasoned Wood release certainly sounds experimental. Sayeth BT:

The barrels in this release underwent a variety of special seasoning processes, including barrels made from staves that were immersed in an enzyme rich bath with water heated to 100 degrees. After spending time in this proprietary solution, these staves were then placed into kilns and dried until they reached an ideal humidity level for crafting into barrels.  Other staves were seasoned outdoors for six months, and still others were left outdoors for a full 12 months before being made into barrels and sent to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be filled and aged.  All barrel staves were seasoned, dried, and crafted at Independent Stave Company, who consulted on this project with the premiere expert on oak maturation, Dr. James Swan.

The whiskey is aged for “well over a decade,” but carries no formal age statement.

Whether it’s enzymes or whatever, what BT has put into the bottle here is outstanding. The nose is loaded with maple syrup, light cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger, and ample wood-influenced vanilla and caramel notes. On the palate, the initially intense sweetness is backed up by an explosion of flavor: Sweet vanilla backed up by black pepper, salted caramel, some barrel char, and a touch of herbal character on the finish. At 50% abv, it drinks a touch hot, but everything’s fully manageable as it warms the body late in the game. Over time, notes of gentle citrus fold into the maple syrup notes, giving it an orange marmalade character. Highly drinkable yet also unique and complex, it’s a fantastic little whiskey.

Doesn’t remind me at all of other E.H. Taylor releases, but that’s a story for another day.

100 proof.

$70 / A / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Coppersea New York Corn Whisky, Green Malt Rye, and Excelsior Bourbon

coppersea

Coppersea, based in upstate New York, has been on a real tear lately with a flood of new (and very young) whiskey releases, running the gamut of American styles. Today we’re looking at three of them.

Thoughts follow.

Coppersea New York Corn Whisky – 80% corn, 20% malted barley, aged at least six months in a variety of second-fill bourbon, brandy, rye, and wine barrels. Powerful with grain and popcorn notes, with overtones of coal fire and sawdust. Green and weedy on the finish, with intense maltiness. Meant to be a throwback to ye olde days, but it has very little charm. 96 proof. C- / $70

Coppersea New York Green Malt Rye – 100% Hudson Valley rye malt (malted on Coppersea’s own malt floor), aged 7 months in new oak barrels. The nose is loaded with exotic incense, anise, and Asian spices, some menthol, and a slight rubber character. On the palate things settle down fairly nicely into a quite spicy groove. The base grain doesn’t stray far from the tongue, but it’s tempered by notes of cloves and rose petals. On the finish another flick of anise finds a companion in more toasty grain notes. 90 proof. B / $94 (375ml)

Coppersea New York Excelsior Bourbon – 55% corn, 35% rye, 10% malted barley, aged under one year in new American white oak barrels. Very grainy (though not terribly corny) on the nose, the whiskey offers lengthy barrel char aromas as well. On the palate, there’s surprisingly little going on, including some emerging sweetness that comes across on a slightly chalky texture with hints of graham crackers and sugar cookies. Again there’s the wood influence and youthful grains on the finish, with some gentle sweetness to temper the experience. 96 proof. B- / $110

Update 4/22/2016: Several errors regarding Coppersea’s production methods have been corrected in this post.

coppersea.com