Review: Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Straight Rye 2016

Michter's Barrel Strength Rye

Michter’s is back with its second barrel strength rye, which is a higher-proof rendition of its US-1 Single Barrel Rye. The interesting thing about this rye: It goes into barrel at just 103 proof. 125 entry proof is standard; 105 proof is used sometimes, but 103 is quite on the low side.

Hot on the nose, the whiskey kicks off with a bold grain profile and layers and layers of spice — both the sweet baked goods variety as well as some cayenne. Some nutty and honeycomb notes emerge given time in the glass, along with some oxidized wine aromas.

On the palate, the whiskey pushes its grain base heavily, again backing a heavy cereal character with ample spice. Rather oily, it layers on notes of rhubarb, currants, and some sour cherry, finishing on a surprisingly tart note.

Altogether it’s quite a different whiskey than Michter’s standard-issue US-1 Rye (and a somewhat better one), it doesn’t quite find the balance it needs to really raise the bar. That can be a challenge with rye, particularly relatively young expressions, as this one appears to be, but it’s at least a solid effort through and through that grows on you the more time you spend with it.

Note: These are single barrel releases and proof will reportedly vary between about 110.2 proof and 114.8 proof. As reviewed: Barrel #16D432, 111.8 proof.

B+ / $75 / michters.com

Review: Glen Oak Single Malt Whiskies – 10, 17, and 30 Years Old

Glen Oak

Today we’re looking at a collection of single malt Scotch whiskies from our friends at Branded Spirits. This whisky is bottled under the brand of Glen Oak, which isn’t an actual distillery — in fact, the various bottlings of Glen Oak are sourced from two different distilleries, in two different regions of the country, but all of them carry the Glen Oak name.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

Glen Oak 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from an undisclosed Highland distillery. This is a very fresh and lively single malt, offering pretty florals up front, grassy notes, and just a hint of smoke. On the back end, nougat and light honey notes make this incredibly easy to enjoy. The finish is light, fresh, and uncomplicated. 80 proof. A- / $50

Glen Oak 17 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from Bruichladdich, a very lightly peated expression. Wildly different from the 10 year old, with nutty and intense roasted barley notes, the brooding nose leads the way to light notes of iodine and tobacco. Quite bold and chewy. 80 proof. B+ / $99

Glen Oak 30 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from the same still as the 10 year old. The nose offers heavy florals, powerful notes of furniture polish, and a growing barrel influence. Very rich on the palate, it showcases a much different character here, comprising florals, light honey, and sandalwood notes. Complex and thoroughly enjoyable. 80 proof. A- / $500

brandedspiritsusa.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiments

buffalo trace infrared

Never one to shy away from wacky experiments, Buffalo Trace’s latest bourbon has gone straight off the reservation. The trick this time? Exposing barrels to infrared light waves before giving them a light char. Eight barrels total were made, four irradiated for 15 minutes, four for 30 minutes.

The full details are wonky and intricate. Here’s the gist direct from BT:

Working with barrel cooper Independent Stave Company in 2009, eight special barrels were constructed. All eight first underwent the same process as standard Buffalo Trace barrels, staves were open air seasoned for six months before being made into barrels.

Then, the barrels were divided into two groups and subjected to two different levels of infrared light waves.  The first group of four barrels underwent 15 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 70% power.  The second group of four barrels was subjected to 30 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 60% power. The barrels were then given a quick #1 (or 15 seconds) char, before finally being filled with Buffalo Trace’s Bourbon Mash #1.

All eight barrels were aged for 6 1/2 years (notably shorter than many of BT’s other experiments) before bottling at 90 proof.

Does “dry heat” improve barrel quality over traditional flame-charring? It’s time to taste these experiments and see if the Trace was on to anything.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 15 Minutes – A quiet whiskey, with a nose of brown sugar, butterscotch, and honeysuckle flowers. The palate is a bit bolder than the nose would indicate, slightly nutty with some nougat-flavored sweetness. The wood influence is mild but not absent, making for a gentle and pleasant, if unremarkable, finish. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 30 Minutes – Theoretically these barrels should have more of a wood influence, and that’s evident from the start. The nose has a stronger presence, with heavier spice notes — cloves, mainly — plus a distinct almond character. The body is bolder, the palate richer with more baking spice, solid nuttiness, and some brown butter notes. Hints of raisin and dried figs emerge with time, with the finish echoing those baking spices. The influence of wood is omnipresent here, but it never comes across with dusty lumberyard notes. Rather, there’s a gentle vanilla component that layers itself over the full experience. This is a better whiskey than the 15 minute version, with a better developed nose and body. B+

Did Buffalo Trace strike gold with this infrared treatment? The process doesn’t seem to hurt, but my rough analysis based on these limited samples is that it’s no replacement for good old flame-charred barrels and didn’t really seem to add anything to the finished product. As gimmicks though, it may not be a new killer treatment for whiskey barrels, but at least its impact seems to have been mostly harmless (which is better than can be said for some experimental processes).

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

nikka-coffey-malt-whisky

Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky — named because of the Coffey still (a column still, not a pot still) that is used to produce it — has gained almost cult status since its 2013 arrival in the U.S. Now its big brother — a single malt made using the same still — is arriving on our shores. Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky is 100% single malt; as with Coffey Grain, there is no age statement provided.

On the nose, sweetness pervades. Butterscotch and sugary Bit-O-Honey, chocolate and malted milk balls — all told it gives the aromatic impression of walking into a boozy sweet shop. The palate continues the theme. More butterscotch starts things off, infused with notes of coconut, candied flowers, and some orange marmalade. That may make Nikka Coffey Malt sound more complex than it really is. In truth, it’s a rather one-note experience, the overwhelming sweetness tending to dull these more exotic elements. A touch of petrol, perhaps indicative of youth, is the only real departure from a well-traveled course.

The finish is a touch more complex, layering in some chocolate raisin notes and a heavier coconut component. While it doesn’t break from the sweet stuff, it does take things out on a more interesting note than the relatively straightforward flavors of the palate.

90 proof.

B+ / $75 / nikka.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey

swift whiskey

Swift is a new entry into the burgeoning Texas craft distilling industry, a region which is particularly enamored with malted barley rather then the more typically American corn and rye.

The latest single malt to cross our path comes from Swift, a husband and wife team with a distinct and particular goal: To replicate Scotch whisky as closely as possible, just in Texas.

Swift starts with Scottish malted barley, which is shipped to Dripping Springs, Texas, where it is made into a mash and fermented. Two distillations take place in a copper pot still, then the whiskey is aged in bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso sherry barrels. There’s no age statement per se, but Swift does include the date of distillation on each bottle. This one was from a batch distilled just about two years ago (as of the time of this writing).

Let’s give this whiskey a go.

There’s a slight haze to it — Swift doesn’t mention filtering its whiskey — and the color is a very light gold, clearly youthful but not overwhelmingly so. The nose is gentle, with notes of caramel corn, sandalwood, and some dried herbs. On the palate, it’s a youthful experience, with notes comprising gentle caramel, coconut husk, and a lick of smoke. The sherry barrel influence bubbles up in time, with an orange peel character becoming evident for a bit before the finish arrives. The conclusion offers some winey character followed by a return of somewhat malty, grain-forward notes to end the experience.

In attempting to recreate Scotch on Texas soil, Swift has been remarkably successful. I’d say two years in ultrahot Texas are roughly the equivalent of five in chilly Scotland. It’s a terrific start… but oh, what I’d give to see Swift at the age of six.

86 proof. Reviewed: Distillation from 3/14/2014

B+ / $46 / swiftdistillery.com

Review: Alexander Walker & Co. Polly’s Casks Double Barrel Aged Single Malt Scotch Whisky

pollys casks

Who is Polly and what is so special about her casks? Allow me to explain.

Alexander Murray is a major private Scotch bottler — in the U.S. it’s best known for making the Kirkland brand of whiskies that show up in Costco (and which we often write about).

With Polly’s Casks, Alexander Murray has something far more complex in mind. It starts with 60 barrels of Tullibardine single malt whisky, aged normally in used bourbon barrels. AM shipped this whisky to Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in California, which then aged for an additional 12 months that already-maturing Tullibardine in oak barrels used for Firestone’s Proprietor’s Vintage beers. (Those barrels in turn were also used bourbon barrels… circle of life, circle of whisky.) The whiskies, released with no primary aging information, have been named after the matriarch of the Walker clan, Polly Firestone Walker.

That’s a big build-up. How does it all acquit itself?

The whisky is clearly very young, a pale shade of yellow I mainly associate with aged gins or reposado tequila. The nose offers simple and sweet cereal notes, gentle fruit, and just a touch of smoke. Some green, vegetal hints emerge here as well, once the whiskey opens up with air.

On the palate the spirit is a bit brighter, but it still drinks quite young. Sweet and grainy, the body offers caramel corn and a hint of baking spice… and little else. Only on the finish does the brewery’s influence start to show itself, with a slightly tannic, bittersweet edge that offers echoes of roasted nuts, charcoal, and iodine.

This isn’t an immediately successful spirit, but the main problem lies in its youth. A beer barrel might take a mature single malt in a new direction, but this whisky just doesn’t seem to have much to work with from the start. It’s not a bad product by any means, but there’s just not enough to get excited about, particularly at this price.

80 proof.

B- / $86 / alexandermurray.com

Review: Buchanan’s Blended Scotch Lineup – 12 DeLuxe, Master, 18 Special Reserve, and Red Seal

Buchanan's Special Reserve

Buchanan’s isn’t a blended Scotch brand that gets a whole lot of play, or respect, stateside, and my experiences with it in the past have not been particularly memorable.

Today I put aside my preconceptions and sat down with the full hierarchy of four expressions, tasting them in order from bottom to top, to see how they really stack up against the big blend brands. Note that two of the products are just “Buchanan’s.” The higher-echelon bottlings add “James” to the front of that to give them more gravitas.

All four are bottled at 80 proof.

Buchanan’s DeLuxe 12 Years Old – Malty and fresh, this is a young but lively blend  that showcases ample honey and sugared cereal notes, plus a light dusting of citrus. The finish is surprisingly lengthy and warming, its honey and lemon notes hanging on for quite awhile. Overall, it’s exactly what you’re expecting in a light-bodied blended Scotch, uncomplicated and built for blending — or budget sipping, if that’s your bag. B+ / $26

Buchanan’s Master – A NAS blend that is the “personal creation” of master blender Keith Law. It’s a burlier, more savory blend that more clearly showcases the grain, heather, and some light mushroom notes. A bolder, more oily body leads to a slightly vegetal finish, lengthy with notes of roasted nuts, rhubarb, and a bit of motor oil. An interesting adjunct to the 12, but less balanced or clear in its approach. B / $38

James Buchanan’s Special Reserve 18 Years Old – Drinking with austerity, this blend amps up notes of almond, nougat, and chocolate, all atop a dense honey syrup backbone that gives it some weight. Some orange notes arrive on the otherwise nutty finish, touched with a slight dusting of herbs — and a healthy, palate-coating grip. Surprisingly engaging. A- / $60

James Buchanan’s Red Seal – The top of the Buchanan’s line, here we find the blend pumping up the sherry considerably, while backing that up with a weighty, oily body that offers plenty of malt, nougat, and a smattering of fresh herbs, particularly a clipping of rosemary. The finish is enduring and strongly focused on the sherry component, an unmistakably earthy, woody, slightly sweet orange peel character that really endures, leaving behind echoes of toasted marshmallow and slivered almonds. As blends go, you’ll have trouble finding one with more nuance and grace. A- / $140

buchananswhisky.com