Review: Mad March Hare Irish Poitin

march hare

Mad March Hare is authentic Irish poitin, pot distilled from locally sourced malted barley and bottled without aging — a classic “white” Irish whiskey, albeit one that is festooned with imagery (and a name) drawn from the seminal work of an English writer.

Never you mind that contradiction; let’s taste what’s inside.

The nose is classic poitin — rubbery, with notes of diesel fuel, ultra-ripe fruit, and weedy vegetation. That sounds a lot worse than it is — poitin is always a monster of a spirit, a white whiskey with nothing held back, and as such it’s a bit of an acquired taste. The palate is gentler than that lead-up would indicate, with notes of fresh, sweet cereal — almost like kettle corn — plus a smattering of much more gentle fruit notes that lead to a slightly leathery finish. It’s a sweet relief from a somewhat off-putting nose, but again, such is the world of poitin.

80 proof.

B / $25 /

Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate Whiskey


Seven Stills of San Francisco‘s next act in its distilled-from-beer whiskey line is Fluxuate, which is distilled from a coffee porter. To pump up the coffee flavor, the finished product is proofed down not just with water but also with a small amount of cold brewed coffee from a company called Flux (hence the name).

The nose is, surprisingly, not overwhelming with coffee but rather offers a dense Port wine note, enhanced with vanilla, dark chocolate, and spice. The coffee is far more intense on the palate, where it meets notes of licorice, dusty wood shavings, gingerbread, and fireplace ash. Additionally there is an ample grain character here, particularly on the finish, where it successfully challenges the coffee notes for dominance. That said, the balance of flavors here is really quite impressive, the coffee and more traditional whiskey elements coming together quite beautifully. Think a denser version of an Irish coffee and you’re on the right track.

94 proof.

A- / $36 (375ml) /  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2016 Edition


The first Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses’ new master distiller Brent Elliott has arrived. This year’s selection is a blend of three whiskies: a 12-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OESO recipe, a 12-year-old OBSV, and a 16-year-old OESK. Per the company, it is the first time in more than seven years that the OESO recipe has appeared in a Limited Edition Small Batch. (I’ve seen it only in this private bottling.)

This is a fruity whiskey, offering a malty character at times that tempers the notes of over-ripe apple and peach with notes of sweet breakfast cereal. On the palate, the whiskey is a touch gummy, an issue that is compounded by the heavy fruit character. Here it comes across with notes of candied apricot, canned pineapple, apple-scented bubble gum, and cotton candy. The finish is long and sweet and more than a little cloying, coating the palate before ending on somewhat bitter oak notes.

As those notes should indicate, this is not my favorite Four Roses Small Batch expression, and in fact may be my least favorite of them all from the last six-plus releases. While its unique fruitiness is not something I can complain about, the whiskey itself is out of balance and just comes across as weird on the palate, with a finish I can’t really get behind.

Compare to the 2016 Four Roses Single Barrel release.

111.2 proof. 9,258 bottles on sale in the U.S.

B- / $90 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Limited Edition Whiskey


Tennessee’s iconic Jack Daniel’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion it’s releasing a special edition of Old No. 7. Production on this release is the same, but JD offers some variations on how (or rather where) it was aged, and it’s bottled at 50% abv instead of 40%. No age statement is provided.

Some additional minutiae from the distillery:

True to the process established by its founder, the grain bill for the anniversary whiskey is the same as the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, consisting of 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye. Each drop was then mellowed through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal, before going into specially-crafted new American oak barrels, adhering to the guidelines required of a Tennessee whiskey.

Once filled, the barrels were placed in the “angel’s roost” of one of the oldest barrelhouses at the Distillery where whiskey has matured for generations at an elevation and with the exposure to sunlight that creates the perfect climate for the greatest interaction between the whiskey and barrel.

The nose is an iconic example of (high proof) Tennessee whiskey, offering ample alcoholic heat, plus aromas of maple syrup, toasted marshmallow, and some barrel char notes. There might be a bit too much heat on the nose, so give it a a drop of water or, at least, some time in glass to help it showcase its wares.

The palate isn’t nearly as racy as the nose would indicate, showing off a fruitier side of Jack, with notes of cinnamon-spiced apples, orange peel, and peaches. There’s ample vanilla, some chocolate-caramel notes, and a moderately dry finish that echoes the charred wood found on the nose. It doesn’t all come together quite perfectly, its tannic notes lingering a bit, but it’s an altogether impressive bottling from one of the biggest names in American whiskey.

100 proof.

A- / $100 (one liter) /

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 2 2016

blood oath pact 2

Luxco’s Blood Oath series is officially turning into an annual affair, and Pact No. 2 is here. As promised last year, Pact No. 2 is a different whiskey, but it’s less different than than you might think. This year’s expression is, like Pact No. 1, a blend of three Kentucky bourbons: First, a 7-year old rye-heavy bourbon finished in Port barrels, second, an 11-year old wheated bourbon, and third, an 11-year old rye bourbon. While the overall structure is similar to Pact No. 1, none of those appears to be a repeat of last year’s release, though it did include an (unfinished) 7-year old high rye bourbon.

I really enjoyed Pact No. 2 right from the start. It’s a powerhouse of a bourbon, leading on the nose with somewhat heavy wood overtones, plus notes of lightly scorched sugar and cocoa powder. There’s plenty of spice here to go around, offering notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger, all atop notes of toasty grains.

The palate builds on this with a number of fun elements, starting with a nicely fruity attack that offers notes of red berries, applesauce, and brown butter. As the palate evolves it finds even more of a voice, layering in gingerbread, Christmas-like spiced apple cider, golden raisins, and some notes of citrus peel. The baking spice is deep and penetrating, with that sultry wood reappearing on the back end to make for a somewhat austere and mature finish. All of this put together, this is serious whiskey, blended by someone who really knew what they were doing. Frankly, I find it a tough bourbon to put down.

Yes, Luxco is the company that makes Everclear, but it’s also proving itself to be an impressive force when it comes to sourcing high-end bourbon barrels and blending up an enticing whiskey. This is definitely one to buy.

98.6 proof. 22,500 bottles produced.

A / $100 /

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016 Edition


It’s the 15th edition of Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, and I’m happy to report this year’s installment is one of the best in recent memory.

But first, a little detail from OldFo on this, a 12 year old bourbon, which is fully in keeping with the distillery’s history:

Each barrel in the Birthday Bourbon selections annually are drawn from the same day of production, this year’s on June 4, 2004, leading to the ‘vintage-dated’ reference. The 2016 release of 93 barrels uniquely matured together on the 5th floor of Warehouse K at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville, KY. The lot was positioned near a window facing west allowing them to be sun kissed, yielding a deeper oak mouthfeel. This warm location provides this year’s release with a deep, rich, oak forward personality.

That “official” description seems awfully backwards to me, and critically it misses what’s best about this whiskey. The 2016 Birthday Bourbon is fresh and fruity, definitively not woody, particularly on the nose, which exudes notes of cloves, spiced gingerbread, and muddled cherries. These engaging aromas come alongside a more gentle, encompassing lacing of barrel notes, which feels a bit winey at times. The palate is quite luscious, offering bright cherry fruit (I was immediately reminded of Baker’s Bourbon), dark chocolate, more cloves, and a hint of licorice. The finish is drying and bittersweet, but not especially influenced by traditional, classic barrel flavors.

All told this is a gem of a whiskey — getting more expensive every year, to be sure, but worth it at least for 2016. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon releases are rarely my favorites, but Chris Morris and Co. have come up with a surprising delight that goes against the distillery’s often hoary style and manages to really engage with a fresh and enlightened style.

97 proof. 14,400 bottles produced.

A / $80 /

Review: Lagavulin 8 Years Old 200th Anniversary Edition

Lagavulin 8 Year Old (with box)

To celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2016, one of Islay’s most beloved distillery’s has released a special bottling. No, it’s not a gorgeous 50 year old in a Baccarat decanter. It’s an 8 year old, just half the age of its signature release, Lagavulin 16.

Why 8 years old? Lagavulin tells us there’s a reason:

Lagavulin is kicking off the bi-centennial celebrations with the release of a special limited edition bottling of Lagavulin 8 Year Old, inspired by Britain’s most famous Victorian whisky writer, Alfred Barnard. During the late 1880s, Alfred Barnard sampled an 8 year old Lagavulin during a visit to Islay, describing it as “exceptionally fine” and “held in high repute.” This anniversary release is an honorary nod to the whisky that helped lead to the emergence of Lagavulin as one of the most highly sought after Scotch whiskies today.

Other than the age statement, there’s no particular production information available.

The whisky is a surprise at the start. First there’s the color — a pale, light gold that seems like eight years might be a stretch. On the nose: Pure Islay, intense and pungent smoke, filtered through iodine and layered with citrus, a bit of cereal, and a touch of mint. The palate finds a surprising level of sweetness, offering sweet hickory barbecue smoke, brown sugar, and some elusive floral elements that keep the experience on the light and lively side.

By the time the finish rolls around, things sadly start to fall apart a bit. The initially rounded and somewhat oily body starts to degenerate into a gummy character that’s overloaded with asphalt notes and a flavor that comes across with the essence of a long-disused vial of dried spices. It’s a bit of a letdown from what is initially a fun and quite lively whisky — though it is one that I can still cautiously recommend that Lagavulin fans at least sample once or twice.

96 proof.

B+ / $60 /