Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 21 Years Old

Redbreast 21 Bottle 525x668 Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 21 Years Old

Redbreast is one of the most beloved of high-end Irish whiskeys there is, a triple-pot distilled whiskey made of malted and unmalted barley that wins pretty much every “Best Irish Whiskey” award that comes around. That said, the 12 year old expression has always been a bit too chewy and pungent for my taste, a malty monster in a category prized for being gentle and easygoing.

On the other hand, I respect Redbreast. Different strokes and all. And now a sure-to-be much desired 21 Year Old version is about to hit the market. What can an extra 9 years do to a whiskey that’s already a beast?

Let’s put it this way: If you like Redbreast 12, you’ll love Redbreast 21. All of Redbreast’s classic notes are intact: ultra-ripe banana, coconut husks, and butterscotch, to name but a few. But there’s also burnt honey, coal fires, and a powerful caramel note on the finish. The citrus notes — driven by partial aging in first-fill sherry casks — are particularly present here. No matter what you think about Redbreast, there’s always something new to discover lurking somewhere in a dram of this whiskey.

Rest assured: Redbreast’s DNA runs through this expression like a river, but I’m honestly hard-pressed to find a lot of difference here vs. the 12 year old version. It’s a bit more pungent and funky, but it’s just not overwhelmingly different than the 12. The 12 is just such a massive whiskey already that the extra age simply doesn’t change things as much as it otherwise might. Either way, Redbreast fanatics should give it a try before deciding whether the extra age merits more than twice the price.

92 proof.

A- / $180 / irishdistillers.ie

Review: Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon

Bookers 25th 525x1187 Review: Bookers 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon

If Colonel Blanton is the Louis Armstrong of the bourbon world, there is no question that that bellowing, boisterous Booker Noe is its John Coltrane. His larger-than-life presence dominated the bourbon world during a time when personalities were less idolized than today. So it is most appropriate that on the silver anniversary of creating the small batch bearing his name, an amplified version of the original Booker’s arrives for consideration.

(Before we begin, it should be mentioned that in 2012 our editor in chief recently placed kindred bourbon Baker’s above Booker’s in a blind taste test. That would not have happened with your faithful author. Booker’s is easily my favorite thing to originate from Team Beam, and one of my top go-to bourbons went introducing new folks to the spirit. Chris’s comments on Booker 25 are at the bottom of the review.)

What’s different? Whereas most Booker’s hovers around the 6-7 year mark at about 125-127 proof, this 25th anniversary edition clocks in at 10 years, 3 months and 130.8.  These were the last of the barrels Booker personally oversaw, and Beam master distiller/son-of-a-Booker Fred Noe wished for something special: an uncut, unfiltered no frills beast of bourbon with a deluxe upgrade in packaging and presentation. The dark colors, gold ornamentation, and wooden box are equally enjoyable to stare at while taking everything in. The presentation does the product justice.

However, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and this certainly delivers. The extra years of aging certainly make a difference, with a nose heavier on the oak and a bit of pepper to make its presence felt. The taste is straightforward and demanding, very hot with resonant notes of cinnamon, cayenne, leather and tobacco all mixed in leading up to a smoky finish which holds for quite some time. Actually, it really doesn’t hold. Much like a good Coltrane solo, it keeps the listener braced and gripped attentively, while waiting patiently for the eventual rest in the hope of starting the experience all over again.

The only real drawback is the cost of admission. I found my bottle at a local store for a whopping $100 plus tax. The price point is questionable. Four Roses 125th Anniversary edition and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection are priced lower. That bit of trivia aside, it stands head and shoulders above any new product Beam has introduced in recent years. Making a separate annual release at this age and proof would be another welcome addition to an already growing, soon-to-be Suntory stable. However, at an edition of around 1000 cases, this will be here, gone and on black market auction sites before too long, so if you’re hesitating: Don’t.

This is Booker’s masterpiece.  It’s a beautiful sun-setting encore — a time-released final farewell from one of the greatest titans to ever run a distillery, and a heartfelt love letter from a son to a father.

Chris says: As Rob alludes, this is remarkably different stuff than standard-grade Booker’s. While Booker’s pours on the heat and never lets up — even with water — Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition is full of nuance — even without water. In lieu of the brash chocolate-covered-plum character (how I’m describing it today) of standard Booker’s, Booker’s 25 comes across as nuanced and layered. At proof I get notes of rich caramel, cinnamon toast, cafe au lait, and Fred Noe’s flop sweat (just kidding!). A little water amplifies the wood notes, particularly on the finish. I’m with Rob on his rating, and might even kick it up to a full A, even at $100. (GOOD LUCK!) And I still love Baker’s. -Ed.

130.8 proof. Edition of 1000 cases.

A- / $100 / smallbatch.com

Review: Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

cutty sark prohibition edition 525x787 Review: Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

Cutty Sark, from Scotland, brings us this upscale bottling in celebration of… Prohibition? An American phenomenon? Bear with us. “Cutty Pro” as it’s being taglined, “salutes the notorious Captain William McCoy, who courageously smuggled Cutty Sark into American speakeasies. McCoy possessed an infamous reputation as a distributor of the highest quality products, always genuine and never adulterated, giving rise to Cutty Sark’s affectionate nickname, ‘The Real McCoy.’ The black opaque bottle design and cork seal are a respectful hat tip to the type of whisky bottles prevalent during the Prohibition era.”

You see: It’s what Scotch tasted like during Prohibition.

To be honest, this is not my favorite blend, or even my favorite expression of Cutty. The nose is thick, offering fuel oil notes, dense cereal, and some hospital character. The body is on the burly side — Prohibition-era drinkers had it rough, I suppose — though it speaks more of the bathtub than the frontier. A bit swampy and smoky, it’s got a cacophony of flavors that run the gamut from iodine to rock salt to wilted grains to tree moss. Where this takes me is not to a Prohibition-era speakeasy but rather an industrial town in Scotland where some wacky whisky blender is trying to figure out something to do with a bunch of random casks.

100 proof.

C+ / $30 / cutty-sark.com

Review: The BenRiach Horizons, Septendecim, Solstice 2ed, and Authenticus

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It’s been over 5 years since our last serious look at BenRiach’s distillery bottlings, and things have been afoot. This Speyside distillery has recently launched four new expressions, retiring a few and updating a couple with older versions.

Let’s not delay. Thoughts follow.

The BenRiach Horizons 12 Years Old Triple Distilled – Most Scotch whisky is distilled twice, but Horizons was born in the ’90s of an experimental run that toyed with triple distilling. Afterward, the finished product was aged in standard ex-bourbon barrels for 12 years. The results are delightful. Though the overproof entry is racy, offering notes of honey, brown sugar, fresh-baked bread, and modest vanilla. All in all, the nose of a classic Scotch whisky. The body offers more of the same, with an orange peel note on the finish. It’s hard to tell if that third distillation has done any magic here, but the finished product is crisp, clean, and satisfying beyond its 12 years of age. 100 proof. A- / $80

The BenRiach Septendecim Peated 17 Years Old – A new addition to BenRiach’s peated range, 17 years old and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Heavy peat and barbecue smoke on the nose, with modest apple notes. The body is unique, starting with that smoky peat before quickly building distinct cantaloupe notes, something that’s quite rare for malt whisky. Spiced nuts and a melange of raisins, cloves, and Madeira wine notes bring up the rear. 92 proof. B+ / $80

The BenRiach Solstice 2nd Edition 17 Years Old – This 17 year old bottling is heavily peated, then aged in bourbon barrels before finishing in Tawny Port casks. It succeeds a 15 year version of the spirit that used the same overall technique. The nose brings peat at first, though less pungent than in Septendecim. On the tongue, things are considerably different: Smoked meats play with plums, ripe raisins, applesauce, and touches of caramel and toffee. This whisky is a true delight, and it improves as you sip it, opening up to reveal more and more fruit, while leaving the smoke to play in the background like a roaring fire in the living room on Christmas Eve. A winner. 100 proof. A / $100

The BenRiach Authenticus Peated 25 Years Old – Formerly available as a 21 year old, Authenticus is back at a full 25 years of age. Peated and bourbon barrel aged. Unique nose, with more fruit and less peat than all of the above (including Horizons) — with a chocolate-covered apple slice, orange peel, and currant character to it. On the palate the spirit builds to offer distinct raisin and chocolate notes, burnt caramel, and a touch of mint. The finish is a bit woodier than expected, which leaves a bit of tannin on the back of the throat. Hardly a deal-killer, though. This is amazing stuff on the whole. 92 proof. A / $250

benriachdistillery.co.uk

Recipe: Booker’s Bourbon Cocktails

Bookers 450x1200 Recipe: Bookers Bourbon CocktailsWhen we approached Beam for a few ideas for mixing Booker’s Bourbon in a cocktail, they were caught off guard. Apparently, no one’s really requested them before. So Beam got together with resident mixologist Bobby G, who hit up a few friends to contribute some ideas. All of these recipes aside, we’re going to side with Fred Noe, who believes the best way to drink Booker’s is “any damn way you please.”

Clermont Smash
Courtesy of Tony Abou-Ganim
1.50 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
.75 oz. falernum syrup
10-12 spearmint leaves
3 dashes Fee Brother’s Peach Bitters
1.50 oz. fresh lemon sour

In a mixing glass muddle the spearmint leaves with falernum syrup, add remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice and stir. Rub a wedge of pineapple around the rim of glass and garnish with pineapple wedge and a sprig of mint.

Dalton Cocktail
In honor of Jerry Dalton, Former Master Distiller Jim Beam
1.25 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
.50 oz. Laird’s Applejack
.25 oz Grand Marnier
1.50 oz. fresh sour
.25 oz. falernum syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice until well blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a burnt orange peel and drop a cherry into cocktail. Cut a small half dollar size piece of orange peel with as little pith as possible. Hold peel between thumb and forefinger about 4” above cocktail. Hold match between peel and cocktail squeeze peel sharply to release oils into flame.

The River Styx
1.50 oz Booker’s Bourbon
.50 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
4 1″ pieces of fresh pineapple
3” sprig of fresh rosemary (stripped of the bottom 2”)
.50 oz blood orange or pomegranate syrup

In a mixing glass muddle the pineapple and the rosemary. Add all remaining ingredients except the syrup and shake vigorously with ice. Double strain the cocktail over the ice in a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a half moon slice of orange and the remaining 1” of the rosemary sprig.

Tangerine Julep
1.50 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
½ fresh tangerine cut and muddled with peel
6-10 fresh mint leaves
.50 oz simple syrup

Muddle the mint and tangerine with the simple syrup in a double Old Fashioned glass. Fill glass with cracked ice and add Booker’s Bourbon. Stir to combine, garnish with a mint sprig.

Kentucky Lemon Drop
1.25 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
.50 oz. limoncello
2.0 oz. fresh lemon sour
5-6 fresh spearmint leaves

Shake all ingredients with ice until well blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with an optional sugared rim. Garnish with a lemon wheel. The little pieces of mint that should be floating around in the cocktail are little bursts of flavor that is considered good luck if you get one.

Booker’s Apple
1.5 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
2.0 oz. fresh pressed apple juice
1.0 oz. fresh lemon sour

Build over ice in a tall glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Review: 5 Whiskies from Japan’s Nikka Distillery

Nikka Coffey Grain 750ml 300 389x1200 Review: 5 Whiskies from Japans Nikka Distillery

An old part of the Asahi empire, Nikka (est. 1934) suddenly finds itself part of the new guard of Japanese whiskys positively flooding into the U.S. Nikka makes a massive number of whiskys in a wide variety of styles and ages. What we present here is but a small selection of Nikka’s world, reflecting the most common Nikka expressions you’ll find in our shores today.

Thoughts follow.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt 12 Years Old – A classic single malt (100% malted barley from Nikka’s newer distillery) with tons to love. The nose is pretty and modern, offering well-integrated grain, oak, and nougat elements. The subtle smokiness starts to develop primarily on the palate, which offers crisp citrus notes, butterscotch, and some floral notes. Beautiful integration here, on a creamy, sexy body. Vanilla custard sticks with you for ages after a few sips. Feels far more accomplished than its 12 years of age would dictate. 90 proof. A / $120

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15 Years Old – Single malt, older distillery than Miyagikyo, which explains how this 15 year old whisky can be priced the same as its little brother. Quite a different spirit, the Yoichi brings a bit more smokiness, and a more rustic composition, with a racier nose and a considerably bigger smoke profile. The body offers big citrus notes, applesauce, cloves, and a chewiness driven by the barbecue-like smokiness. A fun and flavorful whisky, but it pales next to the refinement of the Miyagikyo. 90 proof. B+ / $130

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old – I’m an avowed fan of the Taketsuru 12 Years Old, a pure malt (a blend of single malts from multiple distilleries), so this 17 year old expression sounds delightful right off the bat. The smoke-and-sweetness of this malt’s nose remind me of the Yoichi 15, but the body is a different animal. Here, that rusticness has faded away to reveal a satin body, mouth-filling with thick caramel, vanilla custard, and just wisps of smoke. There’s an almost lemon candy-like character around the edges that’s hard to pin down… but is quite delicious. 86 proof. A- / $150

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Years Old – Lots of grain on this older expression of Taketsuru, which is surprising. The nose initially feels hot, heavy with old wood character. The body is equally laden with heavy woodiness, a tannic and tough spirit that just feels “too old” — almost sour at times with past-its-prime cherry, burnt cocoa beans, and charcoal notes. Not at all my favorite of this lineup. 86 proof. B- / $180

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – This is a huge departure from the above, a grain whisky (corn, barley, wheat) made in a continuous still instead of a pot still. It’s what blended whisky is blended with, but this is a 100% grain whisky, with no single malt added. Sharp on the nose, with lemon notes, vanilla, and strong menthol character. The body is surprisingly easygoing, a fruity whiskey with notes of hazelnuts, coffee bean, sea salt, and modest smokiness. There’s a lot going on here, that menthol character bringing it all into (for the most part) balance. Worth exploring, and it’s a bargain compared to the rest of the Nikka stable. 90 proof. B+ / $70

nikka.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #3

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ImpEx Beverages imports The Exclusive Malts, a series of independently-bottled Scotch whiskys that are, well, pretty darn exclusive. Primarily cask strength bottlings produced in very limited editions (most have just a few hundred bottles drawn from a single cask available), these are rarities that single malt fans will definitely want to try and seek out.

Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 8 Years Old - Everything you’re expecting from a cask-strength Laphroaig indie, all salty seaweed, cloves, orange oil, and iodine. The peat is restrained and kicks in mainly on the finish. This expression doesn’t reinvent Laphroaig’s well-worn wheel, but brings it home in style. 111.8 proof. A- / $85

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 2003 10 Years Old – Sourced from an unnamed distillery in Speyside. Who could it be, given this description? The nose is restrained, barely hinting at what’s inside. Crack things open and get ready for a punch to the throat: Shockingly sweet syrup, candied apples and pears, fresh honeycomb, and just hints of its underlying grain. A drop of water helps to tame the sugary finish, bringing out some malty notes. 112.6 proof. B+ / $90

The Exclusive Malts Craigellachie 2000 12 Years Old – Craigellachie is a small distillery that’s in the same village as Macallan in the north of Speyside. It makes very few official bottlings, so your best chance to try it is in independent bottlings like this. Hints of smoke on the nose, with menthol and some orange notes. The body is big and round, full of well-oaked grains, light citrus, even some tropical notes. Not overly complex, but a solid sipper at just 12 years old. Well balanced even at cask strength. 111.6 proof. A- /  $105

The Exclusive Malts Mortlach 18 Years Old - Classic Mortlach, sharp, well-oaked, and fruity with spiced pear notes on the nose. The body is austere and refined, with light mint notes, orange flower honey, and a grainy, malty back end. Relatively simple in composition, but engaging and easy to enjoy as is. 108.6 proof. B+ / $130

The Exclusive Malts Longmorn 1985 28 Years Old – Beautiful stuff. Almost bourbon-like on the nose, with heavy vanilla and caramel, toasted coconut, and some banana. The body ups the ante with sweet-and-silky honey, nougat, butterscotch, and dried fruits. Wonderful balance of sweet stuff, malty notes, and gentle spices, with a lush body and a long finish. 103.2 proof. A / $250

The Exclusive Malts The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Years Old – A blend of single malts and single grain whiskys, all distilled in 1991 and matured in ex-sherry casks. What an oddity. Some funky, leathery, tobacco-laden, Band-Aid notes on the nose lead you into a body that hits you with sweet smoke, big malt character, heather, and tar. Kind of a mess, and sorely lacking in some much-needed fruitiness to give this odd blend some charm. 92 proof. B / $100

impexbev.com

Review: The Arran Malt 12 Years Old Cask Strength Batch #2

Arran 12 cask strength 140x300 Review: The Arran Malt 12 Years Old Cask Strength Batch #2Batch #2 of  this rarity, a cask strength bottling of Arran 12 Years Old, was crafted from 17 first-fill sherry butts and 4 second-fill sherry hogsheads. There can’t be much of this to go around. In fact, as I type this, Arran is already on Batch #3 according to its website.

The nose is hot, but pretty. Nougat, malty — almost bread-like — with dense orange and spiced apple notes after. On the palate, the orange character takes on some raisin, marshmallow, and marzipan. Though it’s only 107.2 proof — many cask strength bottlings are far higher in alcohol — it really benefits from a few drops of water, soothing the heat and bringing out the more enchanting, dessert-like components of the malt — with even a touch of chocolate that you don’t find when sipping it sans water.

Fun stuff from the only distillery on the Isle of Arran.

107.2 proof.

A- / $68 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Tamdhu Single Malt Whisky 10 Years Old

Tamdhu 10 Year Old 525x663 Review: Tamdhu Single Malt Whisky 10 Years Old

Shuttered from 2010 to 2013, Tamdhu, one of Speyside’s founding distilleries, is back in operation. Primarily known for its contributions to blended Scotch, the distillery is now producing more single malts, and this 10 year old expression (obviously made from stock that predates the distillery’s current ownership) would be released is the first volley of Tamdhu’s relaunch.

Tamdhu is matured  fully in sherry casks. (A limited edition expression of Tamdhu 10 that’s matured only in first-fill sherry casks is also available; check the label closely to see which one you’re buying.)

It’s easy to see why Tamdhu works well in blends like The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark: In Tamdhu 10 you get a little bit of everything that makes Scotch great. The nose is lightly woody and lightly peated, with undertones of nuts. A general, rustic alcohol-vapor vibe tends to linger, however.

Through its moderate body, Tamdhu again shines as an easier malt, offering hazelnuts, dates, raisins, and a deeper orange character, infused with spicy, mulled wine notes. Sedate and malty, it ultimately offers a finish that is at once pleasant, drinkable, and decidedly modest.

86 proof.

B+ / $58 / tamdhu.com

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Limited Edition 525x525 Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. (nee Tullamore Dew) continues its march upmarket with the release of Phoenix, one of its fanciest bottlings released to date.

This expression is launched in commemoration of the first-ever air disaster, a hot-air balloon fire in 1785 that took place in the town of Tullamore and subsequently burned down most of the town (the recovery is the phoenix in question). This is a classic blended Irish whiskey bottled with no age statement. A blend of pure pot still, malt whiskey, and grain whiskey, it is non-chill filtered and is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. This first edition of what is planned to be an annual release comprises 30,000 bottles.

Quite a delight, Phoenix is a creamy, nutty whiskey that takes the easy nature of Irish and gives it more body and more gravitas. Almonds are the prominent note here, wrapped up in a nougat character that closely resembles a Mars Almond bar. (Sadly not on the market any more.) The sherry is really just hinted at here. While many a sherry-finished whiskey will wallop you over the head with juicy orange character, here it’s appropriately understated, racy with baking spices, spiced nuts, and orange notes on the finish. The higher proof adds body and complexity. Easily the best thing from Tullamore to date, and actually a great value considering the quality on display here.

110 proof.

A / $55 / tullamoredew.com

Review: Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

glen garioch virgin oak 242x300 Review: Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt WhiskyLike its sister distillery Auchentoshan, Highlands-based Glen Garioch is releasing a “Virgin Oak” expression aged not in ex-bourbon casks but in fresh, newly charred white oak barrels that haven’t seen a drop of whiskey before — a first-ever for Glen Garioch, which has been operating since 1797. As with the Auchie, this expression is bottled without an age statement and is non-chill filtered.

An interesting nose offers lots of fruit: ripe apples, orange zest, alongside some hospital notes. Hints of grainy cereal pervade the back-end, and raw wood character develops with time in the glass. On the palate, it’s a moderately intense spirit, with deep notes of cedar wood, baking spice (particularly cloves), and roasted grains. The finish is especially redolent with slightly smoky, dried grains, a toasty blend of tree bark and oatmeal that is surprisingly enticing (and much better than the Auchentoshan rendition of this same spirit).

96 proof. 1038 bottles allocated to U.S.

B+ / $110 / glengarioch.com

Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey 525x1200 Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

If you’re unfamiliar with “single grain” whiskey, you’re not alone. While in fact the majority of Irish whiskey sold is grain whiskey, single grain whiskey is not typically seen on the shelf. (The single doesn’t refer to the type of grain but rather the fact that it’s made at a single distillery.) All grain whiskey is made not from barley (as in the case of single malt whiskey) but rather from a blend of grains, primarily corn.

Teeling Single Grain Whiskey is column-distilled and, unusually, aged fully in ex-California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. No age statement (or other details on the specifics of the mashbill) are offered, but the spirit is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof.

The nose is exotic, offering thick menthol vapors along with some vanilla, butterscotch, and cake frosting notes. The body is even harder to pin down. At first the whiskey is mild and easygoing, then it develops some of the more traditional character of Irish whiskeys — touches of banana and coconut, salted caramel, buttered toffee, and honey. The grain base becomes more evident on the finish, a toasty, malty conclusion that is both a little unexpected but also surprisingly satisfying.

B+ / $71 / teelingwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon Whiskey

whistling andy 198x300 Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon WhiskeyUp next, craft distilling comes to… Montana. The curiously-named Whistling Andy offers this new, all-local bourbon (the state’s first) made from 100% Montana-grown grains. A unique blend of corn, barley, wheat, and rye is used for the mashbill, which is triple-distilled in pot stills, then aged for three years in medium-char new oak barrels.

The nose is instantly exotic and more than a little weird, a combination of big cereal grains, burnt marshmallow, campfire ashes, and Listerine. The body features the hallmarks of young whiskey, lots of fresh-cut grain character, popcorn, and toasty — but not creamy — caramel notes. The finish hints at fresh-cut apples and hazelnuts, but these are just wisps of flavor that quickly get away from you. All told, Whistling Andy is a whiskey that’s still trying hard to integrate its grain and wood components but hasn’t yet found its sweet vanilla core. It sure does wear its promise on its sleeve, though. Look me up in 2017.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. Fun fact: The company’s mash tanks was formerly used in an Eskimo Pie factory.

B- / $42 / whistlingandy.com

Review: Bowmore Devil’s Casks 10 Years Old

bowmore devils casks 525x864 Review: Bowmore Devils Casks 10 Years Old

A new limited edition expression from Islay’s Bowmore, the Devil’s Casks bottling is inspired by a local legend involving the devil being chased by the churchgoing folk of the area into Bowmore’s vaults, where he is said to have escaped by hiding inside a cask of hooch.

I can’t vouch for whether there is any otherworldy presence in Bowmore Devil’s Casks, but I do know that the whisky inside has spent its full 10 years in first-fill sherry casks rather than ex-bourbon barrels. That’s a lot of time to pick up sherry influence; Scotch nuts know that the typical sherry-finished whisky usually spends only a couple of months at the end of its aging time in sherry casks before it’s bottled.

A dark amber in color, this cask strength whisky offers hefty peat notes up front on the nose, backed up with some curious hints of allspice, pine forest, and tar. The body is where that sherry character comes to the forefront, a punchy clove-studded orange backed with cinnamon, grapefruit, black pepper, and a hint of chewy, roasted grains. Smoky peat comes back for an encore on the finish, lasting in the throat for minutes, if not hours, after a sip.

Peat fans will likely rejoice here, but it’s hard not to think that 10 years of sherry might be a bit much for this whisky, as finding balance between the sweet and savory here proves difficult. It’s quite a unique spirit, though, and one at least worth sampling should you encounter it at your local watering hole.

103.8 proof. 1302 bottles allocated for the U.S.

B+ / $90 / bowmore.com

Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

Powers Gold Label Bottle Image 2014 420x1200 Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

The good folks at Ireland’s Powers don’t know when to quit. First they rebrand and relabel their classic Gold Label Irish whiskey in 2009, now they’re back at it again, redoing the bottle a second time while boosting the proof a bit. (And that doesn’t even include the launch of the masterful John’s Lane special edition bottling.)

Nothing has changed about the recipe to Gold Label — it’s still triple distilled at Midleton, aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and non-chill filtered. The only change (aside from bottle cosmetics that now include a metallic neck hanger) is the increase in alcohol up to 43.2% — the product’s original export strength — from the standard 40%.

The change is a good one, giving a little more power (ahem) to the whiskey while maintaining the easy charm and gentle flavor profile that attracts so many people to Irish whiskey.

There’s lots of traditional Irish character here to explore, with a nose that’s full of ripe banana, butterscotch, cereal, and gentle honey notes. On the body, all of the above are met by orange notes, along with both coconut and pineapple on the back end. The finish is both fruity and malty, reminiscent of a frozen custard spiked with toppings. The slight bump in alcohol works well at boosting the body just a smidge, adding just a bit more creaminess to an already well-balanced spirit.

86.4 proof.

A- / $25 / powerswhiskey.com

Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan virgin oak 525x717 Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

Lowlands-based Auchentoshan, the only fully triple-distilled single malt in Scotland, has launched this “virgin oak” expression, aged in new oak barrels instead of ex-Bourbon barrels (or ex-sherry casks), which is the norm. No age statement is provided.

Huge wood on the nose here, oily, somewhat smoky, and punchy with lots of tar and tannin. The approach is quite off-putting, taking some real effort to delve into the spirit itself. Fortunately, the body is more forgiving, offering burnt caramel and butterscotch notes, backed with lots of dried herbs, licorice, and roasted grains. Balance is elusive, and the finish is dusty dry, and not all that compelling in the end.

92 proof. About 2100 bottles made.

C+ / $130 / auchentoshan.com

Review: Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon

belle meade bourbon 200x300 Review: Nelsons Green Brier Belle Meade BourbonA craft distillery is reborn in Nashville, Tennessee… and they’re putting “the B word” on the label!

Belle Meade is, as the story goes, a relaunch of a pre-Prohibition bourbon brand that was owned by one Charles Nelson. Today, two of his great-great-great grandsons are bringing the brand back, with the goal of producing small batch whiskey that approximates their ancestor’s recipe.

That’s the idea, anyway. At present, this is high-rye, slightly overproof bourbon (no age statement) sourced from Indiana’s MGP, in advance of the Nelsons finishing up their own on-site distillery, hopefully sometime this year. Instead, Belle Meade is something of a first volley to get investors’ — and drinkers’ — palates wet.

As for the juice, it’s got a quite mild nose, offering notes of applesauce, cinnamon, and grapefruit skins alongside straightforward wood barrel character. On the palate, the body is moderate with that rye giving off a lot of baking spice, mint chocolate, and cedar wood planks. On the whole it’s pleasant and balanced but a little on the thin side, coming up just a little short in the power department.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $39 / greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Sinfire Cinnamon Whisky

SinFire  New Bottle 122x300 Review: Sinfire Cinnamon WhiskyOregon-based Hood River Distillers has recently rebranded Sinfire, a cinnamon whisky (no “e” on this one) that was launched only two years ago in February 2012. The highlight of the relaunch: “Best served as a 32-degree shot, Sinfire now features a thermochromic temperature-triggered color-changing label to help consumers know exactly when it reaches optimum temperature. The label also incorporates photochromic ink, which brightens the logo when exposed to UV lights.”

Well, then!

We’ve never sampled Sinfire (tagline: “an evil spirit”), so what better time than the present to give it a go?

Cinnamon-flavored whiskey doesn’t typically involve a ton of nuance, and Sinfire is pretty straightforward from the start. The nose is quite mild, more cinnamon toast than cinnamon straight from the jar. On the palate, it’s remarkably easygoing, with one of the lowest overall levels of spice I’ve encountered in this type of spirit. Oddly, it’s not as overwhelmingly sweet as you might expect but rather uses its buttery, creamy body to smooth out the roughness that’s typical of cinnamon whiskeys. The sweetness hits you mid-palate, more of a brown sugar, and the cinnamon pops up most presently on the moderately racy endgame.

Surprisingly well-made, Sinfire proves that you don’t have to blast out your customers’ sinuses with spices in order to craft a rich and soothing spirit. Hardly evil.

70 proof.

A- / $18 / hrdspirits.com

Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

john walker odyssey 525x699 Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

I guess when you climb past the $1000-a-bottle level for your whisky, you lose the “Johnnie” and just become “John.”

“John” Walker’s Odyssey is a very rare, limited-edition bottling from the Scotch juggernaut, a blend that has previously been sold in Asian and other global markets, but which is now coming to the United States.

There’s a story behind this one, of course. Per Johnnie Walker: “Inspired by Sir Alexander Walker’s passion for epic journeys, John Walker & Sons Odyssey is crafted from three rare, handpicked single malts to create the first triple malt Scotch whisky from the House of Walker.” After selection, the whisky has been married and blended in European oak casks. The rare whisky is packed into “an ultra-modern interpretation of Sir Alexander Walker’s legendary 1932 ‘nautical’ decanter bottle created for Johnnie Walker Swing Blended Scotch Whisky.” That includes a wild kind of gyroscopic chassis.

While no information about the trio of whiskeys — provenance or age — that make up this blend is offered, it’s clearly old stock. The nose offers classic Johnnie notes of malt and cereal, with mild sherry notes and a bit of coal fires. The palate is chewy with malt balls, oatmeal, toasted marshmallow, and ripe banana. Balanced, yes, but everything is shockingly dialed back — austere, modest, and surprisingly sedate. The whisky drinks easily, but this body comes at the price of not really saying a lot when it comes to character. I found myself wondering if this was a whisky that was simply too old, drawn from barrels a bit too far past their prime.

When sampling Odyssey, I was initially reminded of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label, but even that relatively restrained whisky (which I freshly tasted in comparison) has more going on than this one. Platinum’s bigger citrus notes are simply more engaging than Odyssey’s big bowl of grains. What is this, health whisky?

80 proof.

B / $1100 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2004 Vintage

evan williams single barrel 2004 446x1200 Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2004 Vintage

Evan Williams’ annual Single Barrel release is always a cause for celebration. It’s invariably a great whiskey, and it’s also incredibly affordable. While your typical vintage-dated single barrel bourbon will run you $75 or more, Evan Williams Single Barrel is currently priced at $27 a bottle. (Last year’s price: $26.) If you see this whiskey for sale — no matter what vintage it is — buy it.

Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam says he was taking a cue from the evolving national palate this year and was bottling a spirit that was “maybe a bit more assertive and bold than in years past,” choosing barrels aged high in the warehouse (where temperature fluctuates the most) for about 9 1/2 years.

Frankly, I don’t get assertive from this bourbon, though it is certainly a knockout. The nose offers plenty of wood, but it’s balanced and pretty, lightly perfumed with vanilla and cinnamon notes — a serious aroma, but a lively one. On the palate, plenty of spice — more cinnamon and cloves — is met by some orange oil, touches of licorice, ample vanilla caramel, and plenty of lumberyard on the back end.

All in all, the 2004 vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel fits in with this long-running series’ house style, and it perhaps offers a ever-so-slightly burlier-than-usual character on the finish. Either way, it’s incredibly easy to enjoy, and well worth its embarrassingly reasonable investment.

86.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1.

A- / $27 / evanwilliams.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]