Review: West Cork Irish Whiskey Classic Blend and Single Malt 10 Years Old

WestCork_10Yr_Whiskey_bt

West Cork is an Irish whiskey brand that’s now making its way to the U.S.. It’s actually made in West Cork (by West Cork Distillers), where Kennedy and a variety of other products are also produced. Unlike Kennedy, these are legit whiskeys, one blended and one a single malt. We tried them both. Thoughts follow.

West Cork Original Irish Whiskey Classic Blend – A standard blend of grain and malt whiskeys, aged in Bourbon barrels. It’s a light and breezy blend, largely in keeping with the gentle “house style” of Irish whiskey. There’s a citrus edge on the nose, but the body features plenty of malt, with solid nougat, vanilla, and a mild echo of citrus — lemon meringue, perhaps — as the finish takes hold. It’s a whiskey that initially comes across as simple but which grows on you quite a bit as you work through that first glass. Irish fans, give it a spin. 80 proof. B+ / $27

West Cork Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old – Big (and surprising) green apple notes on the nose, drowning out everything else. The body is very malty, rich with notes of sweetened breakfast cereal, with lingering notes of toffee and molasses — and perhaps some coconut on the back end. The palate cuts a traditional Irish malt character, but it’s ultimately hard to reconcile with the fruity nose — those apple characteristics growing in strength as the whiskey gets some air in the glass. 80 proof. B / $40

westcorkdistillers.com

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Editions Six and Seven

ECBPThe barrel proof expressions of Elijah Craig have certainly cultivated a cult following in its own rite over the past few years. With proofs varying in all sorts of dimensions throughout the series, we figured it was time to take the most recent pair for a test drive.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Edition Six – Each release in the series is 12 years of age, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by the heat of this monster. At 140.2 proof, we’re entering Stagg territories of alcohol content, and boy does it show. Mike Tyson-like punches of wood on the nose with a bit of mint, and the body is all oak, toffee, and pepper. Perfect winter snowstorm drinking, even taking it down a notch with a splash of water. A- / $65

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Edition Seven – A sharp contrast to round six, this weighs in at 128 proof and is by far the runt of the proof litter (most have been firmly in the middle 130s). However, this cut in proof shows just how beautiful and versatile ECBP can get when the heat gets turned down a bit. Lots of vanilla sweetness balanced with some dark fruit and oak on the taste. A little bit of burnt char on the body and it finishes with a fruit and spice after taste and a nice lingering burn. Definitely not the best of the bunch, but far from the worst either. B+ / $65

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Review: Chivas Regal Extra

Chivas Extra

Chivas? Yes, Chivas! And the brand is back with its first new blend in the U.S. in eight years: Chivas Extra.

Extra is made from Chivas’s collection of traditional malts and grain whiskies — including Strathisla single malt — that is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. The resulting spirit, positioned as a step up from the $25 Chivas 12 Year Old, is a surprisingly fun expression of Chivas Regal, distancing itself from the brand’s austere image through the use of the wine barrel finishing. (That said, Extra is bottled with no age statement.)

On the nose, it’s a bit hard to parse at first: It’s woody, with notes of brown butter, baked apples, tangerines, graham crackers, a little Mexican chocolate, and ample malt. The nose ultimately congeals all of this into a bit more cohesive experience, starting with huge cereal notes then layering on notes of sugary tinned fruit, (very) ripe banana, sandalwood, and a bit of cinnamon. The body isn’t heavy or oily, but it does have a chewiness that gives it an interesting grip on the palate. All told, it’s a solid blend, and something worth sipping on at least once if for no other reason than to remind yourself that Chivas is still hard at work.

Available now in major U.S. metros. Expanding to the rest of the U.S. later this year.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / chivas.com

Review: Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

old overholtOld Overholt’s been making rye since well before rye was cool. Part of the Beam Suntory empire, the brand claims heritage back to 1810 and was reputedly the whiskey of choice of Doc Holliday himself.

Old Overholt is commonly used as a mixer — and is a frequent denizen of the Sazerac cocktail — but let’s take a look at how well it stands on its own two feet. While there is no official production information available (including the mashbill), some say Overholt’s trimmed its barrel time down to 4 years while simultaneously raising prices.

True or not, as of 2015 Old Overholt drinks a lot like a young, rye-heavy, mainstream bourbon. On the nose, menthol notes and some hints of leather and cloves. The body is lightly sweet, heavy on notes of cinnamon and clove, bitter roots, and some simple, sawdusty wood character. Sampled neat, Old Overholt drinks as a simple spirit, light on the tongue, a bit bitter, and with a touch of red pepper on the finish. Pleasant and cordial enough, but best as a mixer, where, true to form, it proves quite versatile.

80 proof.

B / $17 / beamsuntory.com

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Batch #121

Stranahan's Bottle ShotIt has been many years since we visited Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey in a formal capacity. Batch #33, in fact, back in 2009.

Since then, Stranahan’s has become a bona-fide phenomenon, one of the stalwarts of craft whiskeymaking and the recipient of a cult following. Today we look at the 121st batch of Stranahan’s — still 100% Rocky Mountain barley and local water, aged two-plus years in new barrels, and bottled in batches made from 10 to 20 barrels a pop, which makes it more different with each bottling than the typical whiskey.

Stranahan’s has always had a certain soul and its own raison d’etre, and that is one that resonates with intense oak, old prunes, lumberyard notes, and an almost funky, mushroomy cereal character. Stranahan’s is a gut punch, and depending on your mood that day it can be a welcome friend or an angry enemy. Re-tasting Batch #33 reveals a brooding spirit that still rests on its grainy base but which is tempered by some citrus notes, a little baking spice, and some gingerbread.

In contrast, Batch #121 comes across as more youthful in the selected barrels — the grain overpowering the secondary elements singlehandedly. Here the whiskey is enveloped in that mushroom funk, featuring some austere, winey elements ultimately giving it some astringency. The notes of fermented bean curd are weird, but not out of bounds for a whiskey as generally as strange as Stranahan’s, but the lack of any real fruit or spice element in this batch makes it a tougher slog than it ought to be. I’ll say one thing: Stranahan’s is such a unique whiskey that none of this should come as a surprise. Batch #122 probably tastes nothing like it.

B / $60 / stranahans.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – High Rye

JB_SC_Harvest_High_RyeHey, remember last September when Jim Beam rolled out two oddball whiskeys in its 6-whiskey series called the Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection — Soft Red Wheat and Brown Rice? Well now two more are coming out — Rolled Oat and High Rye. We actually reviewed Rolled Oat in the above link (and tragically have yet to get our lips on the Brown Rice expression), but today we’re going to look at High Rye.

As a reminder, these are all bourbons, each made with one unusual grain in the mashbill. As with the others, High Rye is at least 51% corn and includes some amount of malted barley — but in this case there’s ample rye in the mash (the total amount isn’t disclosed). As with the other six expressions, High Rye is aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

This whiskey was of course dreamed up well before the current RyeMania hit, so back in 2004, Fred Noe probably had no idea that “high rye” bourbons were going to be insanely popular (and even less of an idea that straight rye whiskey would be a big deal). That makes the Harvest Bourbon Collection High Rye a little less special than, say, the one made with oats, but it’s still a compelling spirit and a welcome friend to the Harvest Collection.

This is textbook “high rye” whiskey, a chewy and racy bourbon that is dripping with baking spices. Cinnamon, mint, tree sap, and baked apples all make an appearance on the nose. Big and pushy, it’s downright heady with the aromas of the bakery. On the palate, more of that classic rye character quickly comes to the fore. Amidst the apple pie and gingerbread notes emerge some traditional wood barrel notes, vanilla and lumberyard intertwined. The finish is long and punchy, a spicy fade-out that’s hard not to keep sipping on. Drink it neat, no water.

90 proof.

A / $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: I.W. Harper Bourbon and 15 Year Old Bourbon

I.W._HARPER_15_YEAR

Diageo recently announced another spiritual resurrection: I.W. Harper. I.W. Harper was a Kentucky bourbon brand started by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim (another familiar whiskey name) in 1879. It changed hands a few times over the years, ultimately winding up with Diageo, which turned it into a super-premium product … in Japan. Discontinued in the U.S. in the 1990s, now Diageo is bringing Harper back to the States.

Two expressions are launching, a lower-cost NAS expression and a 15-year-old version. Chuck Cowdery has a lot of info on the likely origins of the distillate in these bottles, but these are different spirits with different origins; the full mashbills were recently revealed (see below for details). The 15 year is the bigger mystery here, and it’s likely a blend of lots of “orphan” barrels that didn’t become Orphan Barrels.

Harper hits U.S. shelves this month. Here’s what to expect.

I.W._HARPER_I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – There’s no age statement on the “base” expression, but it’s made from a mash of 73% corn, 18% rye, and 9% barley. It “was most recently aged at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., and contains whiskeys distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The nose is quiet, and a little sweaty at times with notes of walnut and some lumberyard. Vanilla emerges over time, with more salty shortbread character building on the palate. The finish offers almonds, with a touch of astringency. Capable, but it doesn’t add a lot to the world of bourbon at this price range. 82 proof. B / $35  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – This “was distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Ky. and aged most recently at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The mash is 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley. This is a much different spirit than the above; it really bears little resemblance to it at all. On the nose: lots of mint, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and some lumber. The body features ample citrus notes, more baking spice, and emerging chocolate and caramel on the backside. There’s heat at first, but this settles down into supple sweetness and a finish that’s surprisingly gentle for a 15 year old bourbon. Ultimately it’s quite balanced and delightful — and well worth sampling. Delightfully retro decanter, too. 86 proof. A- / $75

iwharper.com

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 36.67 and 93.61

smws Cask No. 93.61Surprise, it’s two new outturns from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Thoughts follow on two current releases.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 36.67 – 9 year old Benrinnes from Speyside. Burly, with notes of wet earth and the essence of a pre-lit campfire. There’s fruit here, but it comes across a bit like a canned tropical medley, loaded with syrupy guava and pineapple notes. Water brings out all of the above, both an intense and oily oak character alongside that unctuous fruitiness. With time, things coalesce into something akin to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, but with a curious, evergreen finish. 119.8 proof. B+ / $100

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 93.61 – 14 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. An exotic mix of fire and spice, this iodine-laden whisky kicks off with supple notes of nougat and marshmallow, with hints of citrus and banana. The fire and smoke kick up then, starting with simple peat and pushing into some fishy, kippery notes. Iodine blends with some syrupy notes on the back end, leading to a dry and dusty finish. Some balance issues on the whole, but it’s not without some charms. Much more approachable with water. Compare to 93.47, which we reviewed last year. 116.6 proof. B / $135

smwsa.com

Tasting 2015 Bruichladdich Releases with Distiller Jim McEwan

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Since Bruichladdich was reopened in 2001, just one man has been running the stills: Jim McEwan. A veteran from Bowmore (where he began working as a cooper at age 15), McEwan has overseen some 300 different bottlings of Bruichladdich during its wild first decade (and change) of production. When Remy Cointreau famously bought Bruichladdich in 2012, the distillery’s notoriously scattershot inventory was reined in, with the company focusing on a more targeted and more closely curated range of expressions.

I sat down with McEwan in San Francisco to taste through eight current and upcoming releases, and one thing was made clear. You might be able to tame the number of SKUs that Bruichladdich is churning out, but you’ll never get rid of the distiller’s sense of adventure and experimentation. Case in point: His next trick involves 100 tons of barley given to farms in eight regions within Scotland, which has now been turned into whiskey and is aging in identical barrels on Islay. The results, when these spirits are matured and released in 2018, will demonstrate exactly how terroir impacts malt whiskey.

Until then, here are some brief thoughts on a guided (but unfortunately short) tour through eight of Bruichladdich’s finest current-release spirits follow.

The Botanist Gin – McEwan’s baby. A traditional, classic dry gin with a twist. Distilled from neutral alcohol and studded with 22 botanicals. Still a gorgeous, supple spirit. Recently repackaged. A [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie – This is a 7 year old version of the beloved Laddie Ten (which you’ll see again in, well, 3 years). Made from barley grown all over Scotland. 25% aged in sherry casks. Rich and honeyed, with a significant sherry influence. Big mouthfeel, big bite on the finish. A-

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 – Made exclusively from Islay-grown barley, the first such barley grown on the island since World War I. Not peated, but it offers salt and maritime notes, a lot of malt character, and a touch of iodine. A great dram. A

Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 4.1 23 Years Old – McEwan is a bit smug about Black Art, which is a well-aged whisky made from mysterious sources — involving a huge variety of barrel types of which McEwan will say nothing. It’s intended to “intrigue the consumer” and is a bottling McEwan says was made as “a protest” to the bullshit stories that distilleries are so fond of peppering their back labels with. Black Art hasn’t always been a favorite of mine, but 4.1 is drinking with a better balance, with nice chewiness and plenty of wine barrel influence to it. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley – The first of two PC releases tasted today, this peaty dram sees some wine cask aging, which gives it so much fruit it almost goes toe to toe with the peat. Same deal as above; this is made from Scotland-only barley, from all over the country. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley – Made only from the Islay barley mentioned above. This is a brand new release that also sees some wine casks for aging. It’s a searing whisky with lots of peat and seaweed in the mix. Nice balance. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Classic Octomore, ultrapeated to 157ppm, which gives it a dense smokiness and a barbecue-like sweetness out back. I’ve grown used to Octomore, but compared to 6.3 (see below) it’s a bit of a bore… 14 proof. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 – In the nomenclature of Bruichladdich, .1 bottlings are global releases, .2 are for travel retail, and .3 denotes whisky made from Islay barley. This is the first .3 Octomore, and it’s easily the best rendition of this spirit ever. Peated to an absurd 245ppm — the most heavily peated whisky ever released by a mile — this 5 year old spirit (bottled in a frosted bottle instead of the usual black) is remarkably gentle on its own despite bottling at 128 proof. Some floral elements emerge along with vanilla, and it isn’t until you add a substantial amount of water that the peat really starts to kick up. Even then, it’s well integrated, balanced, and just lovely to sip on. Available April 2015 for about $225 (good luck). A+  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

bruichladdich.com

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Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak Bourbon

E.H.Taylor Cured Oak Small

After a flood of Col. E.H. Taylor whiskeys hit the market in 2011-12, the release schedule suddenly went quiet. I’d thought brand owners Buffalo Trace had forgotten about it, but at last here we go with a new expression: Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak.

Cured oak? Allow BT to explain:

This 100 proof, Bottled-In-Bond, small batch bourbon was aged in Taylor’s warehouse “C” at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The barrel staves used for this special release were allowed to dry outside in the open air for 13 months, more than twice as long as standard barrel staves. Most white oak barrel staves used for Buffalo Trace’s bourbons are placed outside for 6 months before being fashioned into whiskey barrels.  Collaborating with barrel manufacturer Independent Stave Company back in 1998, this extra aging curing process allowed the wood to dry even longer, eventually allowing the whiskey to extract more rich and complex flavors deep within the oak. After crafting and filling these unique barrels, they were then aged inside of Taylor’s iconic brick and limestone warehouse “C,” built in 1881 … for seventeen years.

Now, Buffalo Trace does regular experiments with longer wood curing for its staves — half the whiskeys in the Single Oak Project use wood that is cured for 12 months instead of the typical 6 — but, fair enough, this isn’t the norm.

The E.H. Taylor Cured Oak bottling offers lots of fruit on the nose, surprising for a whiskey that, remember, is 17 years in barrel — making it, by far, the oldest E.H. Taylor ever released. Red apple, some cherry, and mint hit the nostrils… all preludes for an engaging and impressively complex body. Lighter than you’d think given the 100 proof alcohol level, it pushes more of that fruit on the palate, laced with vanilla and a bit of lumberyard, before settling into a sultry, dark cocoa note. Beautiful balance, moderate but lush finish.

Taylor Cured Oak goes down much too quickly, and my sample vanished well before I was finished exploring its charms. That said, this is likely a whiskey that is likely defined more by its advanced age than the extra few months the lumber spent in the sun before they turned it into barrels.

But that’s just my analysis.

No matter. My advice: If you see it, buy it without hesitation.

100 proof.

A / $70 / buffalotrace.com