Review: Crown Royal Regal Apple Canadian Whisky

CR_REGAL_APPLE_BOTTLE_CMYK

Apple is the cinnamon of 2015, showing up in all kinds of spirits but, particularly, whiskey. This familiar, nostalgic flavor seems to be a big crowd-pleaser, offering tartness, sweetness, and Americana all in a single package.

Now it’s Crown Royal’s turn, with its latest expression: Regal Apple. Regal on account of the crown, I guess. The spirit is specifically flavored with natural Gala apple flavor.

The good news is that this is a better product than Crown’s prior flavored whisky, Maple Finished. The bad news is that Maple Finished was so lackluster that that isn’t saying very much.

Here, the nose is distinctly apple-fueled, but almost bitter to the nostrils to the point of astringency. Some vague vanilla and baking spice character picks up the slack, but the apple notes are more central to what’s going on here. On the tongue, it’s fruity as expected. Not just tart apple notes — more authentic here than the nose would indicate — but also hints of pineapple, some lemon, and ample vanilla notes. For a bright, shining moment, Crown Royal Regal Apple is apple pie in a glass… but it doesn’t last. The finish takes a sour, mouth-puckering turn that has some unfortunate hospital character to it, marring what is actually a fairly decent start.

The world is probably not expecting much from Crown Royal Regal Apple, but in a world soon to be overrun by apple-flavored hooch, it’s probably as good as can be expected.

70 proof.

B / $25 / crownroyal.com

Review: The Macallan Masters of Photography: Mario Testino Edition

macallan testino edition

The Macallan isn’t exactly known for doing things half-assed and on the cheap. The distillery is known for megabucks, megaold bottlings of some of the most renowned whiskies in Scotland. One of its pet projects is called Masters of Photography, in which it partners with a series of megafamous photographers and releases a limited-edition, one-off, megaexpensive whisky with each of them. Prior shutterbug partners have included Annie Leibovitz and Albert Rankin.

This is Edition #5, a partnership with Mario Testino, who’s probably best known for this picture of Princess Diana (and perhaps, now, Miley Cyrus). Testino is from Peru, so I figure he knows diddlysquat about Scotch whisky, but that’s no matter. The Macallan’s whisky pros have done the hard work for him: Selecting six casks from the archives to be bottled as the Mario Testino Edition.

There’s a big cover story here about Macallan’s “six pillars” of whiskymaking, and how the six casks chosen for this release represent each of those pillars, but I wouldn’t let any of that distract you too much. This is an amazing spirit — easily the best Macallan I’ve ever tasted, though it strays considerably from the sweeter, more syrupy house style.

There’s no age statement on this, but the deep color and powerful nose indicate this is a spirit with considerable age. While it’s drawn from a variety of styles of sherry casks, the nose pushes past the citrus to reach into a world of leather, cloves, and toasted almonds — just a bit of the essence of that glorious, well-aged sherry character. The nose is so delightful it’s hard to pull your head out of the glass.

That’d be a big mistake, because Macallan’s Mario Testino Edition is even better on the palate. Chewy raisin and fig, chocolate pudding, fresh gingerbread, and loads of baking spices get things going, as the sweet-but-spicy body builds. Here the more raisin-laden notes battle with gentle wood, some walnut, and touches of exotic incense. It just goes and goes, bursting with intensity and popping in the mouth. The finish is long, lasting, and seductive, the ultimate expression of a whisky that was plucked from the cask at just the right moment and released into the world at last… and soon, alas, never to be seen again.

But wait, there’s more! Per the distillery:

This limited edition whisky – only 1,000 have been created – is presented, along with one of the four iconic shots captured by Mario, in a beautiful, glossy black case, designed in collaboration with Mario himself.  The pièce de résistance is a secret compartment, released by pressing a button hidden under the bottle.  It contains six miniatures from the six single casks that make up the limited edition whisky.  Never before has a whisky maker released the individual casks that make up his craft.

Hell, I’d drink it even without the minis and the fancy picture.

92 proof.

A+ / $3500 / themacallan.com

Review: Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine

Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine1Hush is a new brand that now encompasses a half dozen flavors of moonshine, hailing from the realm of North Charleston, South Carolina. These are corn-based products (grain neutral spirits) that undergo a secret, “patented refining process called TerraPURE” before bottling. (Technically it can’t be both secret and patented, but this is flavored moonshine, so who’s counting?)

Anyhoo, Hush sent us one of its many flavors — spiced apple — for us to put to the test. Which we did.

Pure apple cider attacks the nose. That unmistakable cinnamon/clove/baked apple mix permeates the room and, soon enough, your palate as it takes hold once you begin sipping. Well-sugared but not quite over the top, Hush rumbles along, content to hold forth its autumnal agenda until, eventually, some of the more bitter elements start to hit more squarely on the finish. Things start to gum up at the back of the palate at this point, but that isn’t much of a surprise. This is a simple spirit with modest goals, and by and large it achieves them.

80 proof.

B / $19 / hushmoonshine.com

Review: Lonach Tomatin 43 Years Old

tomatin lonach 43

Lonach is a rarely seen independent bottler that, of late, has specialized in bottling some very old spirits at very affordable prices. This bottling of Speyside’s Tomatin was distilled in 1965 and bottled in 2009 at 43 years of age.

It’s a cask strength release, but just 41.1% abv given all the alcohol evaporation it’s seen. I had the pleasure of tasting this well-aged monster.

Light cereal on the nose, with notes of incense and some walnuts. On the palate, the whisky reveals some citrus notes, well-roasted grains, a bit of lumberyard, and just a handful of chewy, dried fruits. While it’s fairly obvious that this whisky has spent a few too many years in barrel, robbing it of its sweetness and its fruity essence, it hasn’t totally beaten up the Tomatin. What remains, as is often the case with very old spirits, is an austere and restrained dram, lightly oxidized but still welcoming you with open arms, as frail as they might be becoming.

82.2 proof.

A- / $165 / lonachwhisky.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiments

buffalo trace Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiment

Last summer, Buffalo Trace released a series of three experimental whiskeys, each aged on a separate floor of its wooden-floored Warehouse K. These rye-heavy bourbons were as different as night and day — and now BT is back to do the same experiment again, this time with wheated bourbons.

The experiment is otherwise the same as with the rye bourbons: 15 barrels placed in Warehouse K, five each on floors 1, 5, and 9, for 12 years. The point, as I mentioned last time, is that heat rises: Lower level warehouse floors are cooler than the ones at the top, and heat (more specifically variations between hot and cold throughout the day) is a significant factor in the way Bourbon ages.

All are bottled at 90 proof. Here’s how they stack up.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #1 - Lots of wood on this, but some butterscotch and brown butter notes help to temper the essence of the lumberyard which otherwise dominates. The body is both a bit astringent and a little watery, all of which combines to give this whiskey a slug of sweetness that settles uneasily atop a somewhat racy but lightly bitter backbone. The finish is tough, with an enduring vegetal character. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #5 - What an incredibly different experience this is, those butterscotch notes dominating some light cereal character underneath. Over time, more wood character comes to the forefront, with the finish offering a blend of both sweet and savory notes. Look for some dried mango, some cloves, and a little red berry fruit on the back end. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #9 – As with the rye, this wheated collection shows that up top is where it’s at. The core character remains the same — butterscotch plus melted, lightly burnt butter notes — but they’re elevated here by notes of baking spice, red pepper, and the essence of campfire smoke. Silky caramel and marshmallow (roasted?) are big on the finish, along with notes of brewed tea and some baking spice. Lots to enjoy, but it’s also got a punchiness that turns it into an interesting conversation piece. A-

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fifteen

The penultimate release of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project is here, which means only a dozen bottles of the series of 192 bourbons remain to be released. For those keeping score, this makes 180 bourbons sampled to date over nearly four years of staggered releases.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen
Round Fourteen

Round 15 is a mixed bag of bourbons focusing mainly on the barrel, the variables being tested including the wood grain of the barrel, tree cut, and, as always, rye vs. wheat in the recipe. All whiskeys in this batch went in at 105 proof, used barrels with 6 months of wood seasoning and a #3 char, and were aged in a concrete floor warehouse. All are 90 proof, as always.

By and large it’s a very good batch, including one of the best whiskies in the collection, barrel #149. Barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #21 – Sherried notes on the nose lead to a rather racy body. Lots of wood up front, but this works its way, eventually, into touches of licorice, brown butter, cloves, and more. Let this whiskey open up in the glass. I spent more time with this bourbon than anything else in this edition of the SOP, and though it wasn’t my absolute favorite, it does seem to have the most depth and intrigue in it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #22 – Another butterscotch bomb with some evergreen hints to it, maybe touches of sage. This is a solid, but mostly straightforward bourbon that wears its vanilla on its sleeve. Balanced with hints of cinnamon creeping in on the back end. An all-around winner, with some slightly unusual elements to it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #53 – Burly and woody, with a big slug of licorice and (very) dark chocolate on the back end. The finish speaks of coffee bean and burnt almonds. Almost feels scorched, even overcooked. C+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #54 – Big wood up front, big wood in the middle, big wood at the end. The sweeter core emerges with time, in contrast with the largely shut-down #53, but the overall experience is a bit astringent, with just touches of dried fruit and some spice on the finish. B- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #85 – A straightforward, woodsy expression of bourbon, offering notes of clove, spearmint, and flamed orange peel. The lumberyard notes are the main focus, however, lending a certain austerity to this bottling. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #86 – Nicely balanced, firing on all cylinders. Vanilla, baking spices, some orange notes, and delicate wood oil all come together in a cohesive, harmonious whole. This drinks how I’d like my “everyday bourbon” to taste — not exactly complex, but refreshing and full of flavor. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #117 – Cinnamon-sugar hits up front, leading to a buttery body that offers some toasty oak notes. The sweet-meets-wood combo is appealing, but a little undercooked. Could use another year in barrel. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #118 – Interesting, dark cocoa powder on the nose. The body adds in some vanilla and wood notes, but also a fair amount of heat. The lumberyard notes grow  and break out a bit of Middle Eastern spice on the back end. A little odd, but worthwhile. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #149 – Beautiful caramel sauce up front, just touched with the slightest hint of orange peel. The finish is strong but balanced between sweeter chocolate/vanilla/caramel notes and the density of toasty oak on the back end. Easily the best bourbon in this edition, and one of the best in the whole series. A (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #150 – Creme brulee notes up front, then modest orange fruit and some nuttiness — peanut butter, even — on the back end. There’s a nice combination of flavors going on here, but it could use a bit more body to prop up the sweetness. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #181 – Baking spices and pretty butterscotch up front leads to a silky sweet body with a lightly drying finish. Notes of red pepper emerge if you give it a little time in glass, giving this whiskey a surprising complexity. Nearly as enjoyable as #149, but with its own sense of style. A (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #182 – Butterscotch notes are clear here, much like #181, but in this expression the sweetness grabs hold and sticks with the whiskey to the end. The finish is almost candylike, without the spicy nuance. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Glendalough Poitin

glendalough poitin

Poitin (po-cheen) pushers are trying their darnedest to bring this ancient Irish spirit back to the masses. A distillation of malt barley and sugar beets, the finished product is aged in virgin oak (but generally filtered back to white). Ireland’s Glendalough sent us a trilogy of poitins for us to sample. Our thoughts follow.

Glendalough Poitin – The curious marshmallow notes on the nose are no preparation for what comes next on the body — rubber at play with gasoline notes that immediately recalls both American moonshine and Brazilian cachaca. Unfortunately, there’s no fruit, no real interest on the palate to make this investment worthwhile, just a cacophony of raw flavors straight off the still that never quite makes it. All poitin tends to be something of an acquired taste, but this expression may require more acquiring than others. 80 proof. D+/ $31

Glendalough Mountain Strength – I guess they like it strong up there in the mountains. The extra alcohol of this high-proof expression actually helps to soften things up a bit, but the palate is still possessed by a moonshiny monster. A longer finish is simultaneously both a good and a bad thing, bringing out some hints of tart berry fruit, but also pumping up the petrol character. 120 proof. C- / $37

Glendalough Sherry Cask Finish – This is the only non-clear expression of Glendalough, which undergoes a secondary finishing in sherry casks. The citrusy wood influence sure doesn’t hurt, tempering that rubbery character a bit with some orange peel and incense, particularly on the nose. The finish doesn’t go nearly far enough, however. While there’s a little savory lumberyard character in the mix, that raw, almost saccharine character still manages to shine through. 80 proof. C- / $37

glendaloughdistillery.com

Review: Bowen’s Whiskey

BowensWhiskey-BottleHere’s a craft spirit out of Bakersfield, California, a Bourbon-like whiskey that’s not quite Bourbon, a spirit that wears its smoky character on its muscular sleeves.

The company describes how it is produced thusly:

Bowen’s Whiskey, a true artisan whiskey, is made from 100% corn, cut to proof with a proprietary, structured micro-clustered water to bring out the grain’s complex nuance. Natural, forest fire charred red oak, hand-selected during expeditions into the Piute Mountains of central California, provides the whiskey its unique smoky, campfire flavor.

No age statement is offered, but one would probably not be overly useful anyway with this curiosity.

Smoked grain starts things off on the nose, with ample wood influence. The picture of the campfire on the label isn’t just for show — the body features smoky wood fire notes, some dark clove and cinnamon notes, and the essence of burnt toast. Imagine the charred remnants of a campfire over which you’ve cooked the best steak of your life, and you’ve got Bowen’s in a glass. What it’s lacking is much in the way of sweetness — but that’s more of a stylistic choice than a specific fault. You’ll find some vanilla if you give it some time to open up in the glass and have plenty of patience. It’s there, waiting for you as the burly finish starts to fade.

90 proof.

B+ / $39 / bowenswhiskey.com

Review: C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon Whiskey

cw irwin whiskeyThis isn’t another sourced whiskey, sorry to disappoint you! Oregon Spirit Distillers makes this little number in Bend, Oregon. The whiskey is made from is 51% corn, plus equal parts of rye, wheat, and malted barley. Aged 3 years in a new American oak barrel. Thoughts follow.

What a surprising and fun little craft bourbon. The nose offers restrained notes of wood and leather, with just hints of vanilla and maple syrup. The aroma doesn’t have you expecting much, it’s so pulled back. But on the tongue, there’s a lovely combination of flavors that bubble up. There’s butterscotch, ripe banana, more of that maple syrup, and a healthy slug of lumberyard that hits you (hard) on the back end. The wood works well with the fruit and dessert-like notes that come before, fading out with a hint of Bananas Foster — including that whiff of propane wafting out from the little cart where the man in the tuxedo is whipping them up tableside.

Happy New Year, everyone!

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / oregonspiritdistillers.com

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

tullamore dew celebratory phoenix_bottle___box_01_no_shadow_s

You’ll have to look very closely to distinguish this special edition bottling from Tullamore D.E.W.’s other limited edition release, Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix.

Tullamore D.E.W. Celebratory Phoenix comes from a single production batch of the Phoenix release and is being launched in honor of Tullamore’s new distillery opening. Just 2,014 bottles are available, and they are available only in select Irish retail outlets.

This isn’t an identical whiskey to Phoenix — far from it, in fact. It is still a blend of pot still, single malt, and grain whiskey, but it is matured in Oloroso sherry cases and finished in virgin oak casks. (Standard Phoenix is matured in Bourbon barrels then finished in Oloroso sherry casks.)

For sure, it’s similar: Instant honey and banana hit the nose, with plenty of almond and hazelnut character on the palate. But then Celebratory Phoenix takes another turn. Quite malty and pungent, it starts off really pushing the malt whiskey component the heaviest, then segueing into a handful mixed nuts before finishing on rich notes of clove, sawdust, and mushroom.

Compared to the standard bottling of Phoenix (which I re-tasted fresh just for this writeup), it’s overwhelmingly different. Phoenix is brighter with fruit and offers more sweetness and more tangy acid to it — and, frankly, it has a better balance among its component flavors. Celebratory Phoenix is distinctly burlier, with a distinct forest floor edge to it. Frankly, I find myself drawn to the sherry-finished standard edition bottling more strongly… which is good, because it’s half the price — and you can actually buy it in this country.

110 proof.

A- / $112 / tullamoredew.com