Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon March 2014 525x911 Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

This new whiskey from Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman is a semi-experimental offering from the Virginia-based distillery. It involves putting the spirit into two separate barrels… both of them newly-charred oak.

From the company: “Originally put into barrels on December 12, 2006, this bourbon was transferred to new barrels on April 17, 2013.  After aging an additional six months in Bowman’s standard Warehouse (A1), the barrels were then moved to the mezzanine of Warehouse K, and aged for an additional 5 months where they experienced increased air-flow and scrutiny.” Total time in barrel is 7 years, 2 months.

Barrel finishes are common in the whiskey world and are increasingly part of the bourbon landscape, but usually the second barrel is a former wine, rum, or cognac barrel — something to add a little special something to an otherwise standard whiskey. What’s the point then of aging a second time in a new oak barrel? To point out the obvious: It pumps up the “wood” character. Put simply, the longer an oak barrel is in use, the more whiskey it soaks up, and the less of the wood components it gives back. An oak barrel probably does most of its work in the first few years. After that, you’re dealing with diminishing returns. By moving the aged bourbon into a brand new barrel, Bowman is essentially doubling down on the aging process.

The results are interesting, and not really what I expected. On the nose, there’s ample wood, but it’s not overwhelming. Notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves are all readily available. There’s lots of alcoholic heat here, too, so it might be wise to come prepared with water.

The body is quite sweet. You would be forgiven for assuming there’s a sherry influence here, with orange notes strong up front. (The color is even more orange than you’d expect.) Caramel and marshmallow follow on that, with just hints at cinnamon-sugar spice after that. Expecting heavy wood notes on the palate? I was shocked to find them quite muted. Aside from the vanilla components that are laced throughout the body, the expected sawdust and lumberyard notes are surprisingly restrained. Heavy on the nose, sure, but almost absent on the body. That’s not a slight, but a sign of how surprisingly well-balanced this spirit is. Bowman has hit on something here that works well, drinking like a mature bourbon, but not one that’s so old it’s growing hair out of its ears.

100 proof.

A- / $70 / asmithbowman.com

Review: Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon

wild turkey diamond anniversary 473x1200 Review: Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon

Celebrating sixty motherfreakin’ years in the business — Eisenhower was president, people! — Jimmy Russell is a distiller with no equal in the business. He’s the man who has singlehandedly defined Wild Turkey for decades, with son Eddie waiting in the wings for the day his dad, now 79 years old, retires.

To mark the occasion, probably the last multiple-of-five anniversary we’ll see from Jimmy at Wild Turkey, the company is putting out what could be its most thoughtful, rare, and special bourbon release in decades. How special? It’s all part of Wild Turkey’s “Year of Jimmy Russell,” the new name for 2014, so update your calendar.

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary is a blend of 13 to 16 year old whiskeys, the barrels hand-selected by Eddie Russell. Immediately off the bat, it’s one of the gentlest whiskeys I’ve ever had from WT. The nose is fruity, with caramel apples, chocolate-covered orange slices, and hints of spearmint. Over time, the wood of the barrel starts to come through on the nose, but it’s never overbearing, and much less punchy than you’d expect from a Bourbon of this age.

The body is creamy, its proof level adjusted to just the right place where you could sip on it all night without reaching for the water but still never get bored. Lots going on here, but not too much. What arises here is more dessert-like, including notes of salted caramel, chocolate chip ice cream, and apple pie. Lightly woody on the finish, it is incredibly hard to put down. Sip after sip found me uncorking the bottle and sampling it again, just to see what I might have missed.

91 proof. 36,000 bottles for sale in the U.S. On sale August 2014.

A / $125 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2014

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Wet weather didn’t stop the masses from crowding onto the San Francisco Belle this year, a rite of passage for Bay Area whisky lovers attending the annual Whiskies of the World Expo. Lots of great stuff on tap this year, particularly from independent Scotch bottlers. Without further ado…

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World San Francisco 2014

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Balcones Brimstone / B+ / made from smoked corn; intriguing but a lot like sitting porchside in Santa Fe
Balcones Texas Single Malt / B / rough and tumble, fiery, with big grain character
Black Saddle 12 Years Old Bourbon / B+ / long black and blueberry notes; unusually fruity
Calumet Farm Bourbon / B / straightforward; tough to get into
Corsair Old Punk Whiskey / B+ / a pumpkin spice-flavored whiskey; curious; tastes like Thanksgiving, of course
High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram / B+ / Rendezvous Rye finished in Port barrels; a bit heave with the fruity, Port-laden finish
High West The Barreled Boulevardier  / B / a barrel-aged cocktail from HW; a little heavy on the Gran Classico for my tastes
High West “mystery whiskey” 12 Years Old / A / a hush-hush grain whiskey, aged 12; surprisingly good stuff, watch this space…
Lexington Finest Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey / B+ / heavy with sweetness, but drinkable
Lost Spirits Seascape II / B+ / second round with this peated whiskey finished in white wine barrels; brooding but restrained
Lost Spirits Umami / A- / a crazy concoction made with 100ppm peat and salty seawater; difficult to describe in just a few sips… review hopefully forthcoming

Scotch

Arran Bourbon Premium Single Cask 1996 / A- / lush and rounded, malty with good fruit
Balblair 1975 Vintage / A / a standout; big, silky, and malty; soothing finish
Blackadder Bruichladdich 21 Years Old Raw Cask / A / a top pick of the show; unfiltered Bruichladdich aged in a first-use charred cask, very unusual for Scotch (you can even see chunks of charred wood floating in the bottle); intense, chewy fruit and nuts; a marvel
Duncan Taylor Octave MacDuff 1998 14 Years Old / A- / great balance
Duncan Taylor Octave Miltonduff 2005 7 Years Old / A- / lots of sherry and nougat, with huge floral notes; another surprisingly good, young spirit
Duncan Taylor Black Bull Kyloe / B+ / not bad for a five year old blended whisky; nice mouthfeel, cherry fruit, plums on the back
Duncan Taylor Dimensions North British 1978 34 Years Old / A- / a single-grain whisky; still has its grainy funk showing a bit; caramel up front with a biting finish
Duncan Taylor Bunnahabhain 1991 21 Years Old / A / gorgeous honey and spice on this
Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old / B+ / big peat, rush of Madeira notes
Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 21 Years Old / B+ / smoldering, hay and heather
Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old / A- / chew and rich, with raisins and plums
Glenmorangie Companta / B / Glenmorangie’s latest, finished in Burgundy and fortified Cote du Rhone casks; sounds like a lot of work for a pretty boring spirit that doesn’t have much balance
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban / B- / finished in ruby port casks; snoozer, missing the port altogether this time around
Gordan & MacPhail Mortlach 16 Years Old / A- / chewy malt and cookies
Gordan & MacPhail Scapa 10 Years Old / A- / good balance of nougat and cereal
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / for old time’s sake… still got it
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / A – / solid, a sunny dram
Silver Seal 16 Years Old Speyside / B+ / straightforward, lots of nougat
Silver Seal 20 Years Old Speyside / A- / an improvement, sedate with a little cereal to balance things

World Whiskies 

Amrut Fusion / B+ / barley from Scotland and India; a little minty, smoky too; shortish finish
Amrut Intermediate Sherry / A- / lots of spice, some menthol; for those who like their whiskeys huge
Canadian Club Small Batch Classic 12 Years Old / B / why not? some spice, lots of wood
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky / A- / chewy, great balance
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky / A- / lovely but strong with citrus notes
Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask / A- / muted on the nose, lots of malt
Sulivan’s Cove French Cask / A / a top pick, worthy of the praise being heaped on it; quite fruity and sweet, but gorgeous

Review: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

2014 LimitedEdition Front 525x777 Review: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses’ 2014 Single Barrel bottling sneaked up on me, a sample appearing out of the blue for us to review.

This year’s whiskey is made from Four Rose’s OESF mashbill — the “lower,” 20% rye mashbill — which has spent 11 years in barrel. OESF is a rarity — In some seven years I’ve never reviewed any Bourbon from 4R that even had it as a component (aside from blends that don’t release their constituent makeups). Bottled at a range of 108.3 to 127.6 proof, depending on the barrel you get, it’s hotter than last year’s awesome release. (My sample was about 120 proof.)

Very fruity on the nose (as the low-rye mash is known for), this is one of the gentlest bottlings of Four Roses Single Barrel that I’ve encountered. Think caramel apples, with a dusting of apple pie spices — cinnamon and some cloves. On the body, that caramel is positively poured over the spirit, with gentle vanilla and chocolate-covered-cherries rounding things out. Give it time in glass and quiet sawdust notes emerge, but only ever so slightly — and to a far less extent than any Single Barrel bottling going back to 2009. This is liquid dessert that goes down far too easily than its hefty alcohol level would indicate. Another gorgeous, if wholly unexpected and unusual, winner from Jim Rutledge and Four Roses.

5000 bottles made. Available mid-June 2014.

A / $80 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Bourbon

2bar bourbon 525x656 Review: 2bar Spirits Bourbon

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits has extended its line of craft hooch with a new, “100% local” bourbon. Regarding its creation, distiller Nathan Kaiser says, “I can’t disclose exact percentages, but it has significantly more malt, and much less wheat than a typical wheated bourbon mashbill.  Barrel entry proof is significantly lower than normal, between 113 and 116 proof.  Our barrels are currently all 15 gallons with a #3 char.  This batch was aged for just over 9 months.” The mash is 95% Washington grain and 5% Oregon grain.

That’s a lot of unusual characteristics for a bourbon, so how does it come across in the finished product?

Pretty darn good for a young craft spirit. The nose is young and a bit grainy, which is to be expected from a spirit of this age (or lack thereof). Along with the cereal, there are ample notes of brown butter, vanilla, and cherries, plus a healthy slug of wood. The body isn’t too far off base: A healthy amount of cereal and popcorn finds balance in toffee notes, butterscotch, and a dusting of Asian spices. The finish is heavy with lumberyard notes, but not overwhelming with sawdust like many small barrel spirits can be. On the whole: Solid craft Bourbon, and much better than most entries into this burgeoning field.

Reviewed: Batch #4. 100 proof.

B+ / $50 / 2barspirits.com

Review: Knappogue Castle 12, 14, and 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

knappogue castle 16 years old 507x1200 Review: Knappogue Castle 12, 14, and 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

While most Irish whiskeys are some mix of grain and malt spirits, Knappogue Castle specializes in single malts exclusively. Recently the brand shifted from vintage-dated spirits to more standard age statements, with 12, 14, and 16 year old expressions now making up the core. We’ve reviewed the 12 and 14 in the past, but take fresh looks at them both, alongside the 16, with this review.

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey – This whiskey undergoes a standard aging regimen in ex-bourbon casks. Heavily malty on the nose, with clear notes of marzipan and coconut. The body offers lots of interesting, fresh apple notes, backed up with more malty cereal mash and a bit of swampy/iodine kick on the finish that tends to muck things up a bit. I enjoyed this quite a bit less this time around than I have in previous iterations, the finish veering too far into the cereal box and throwing things out of balance. 80 proof. B / $42

Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Oloroso sherry finished for about 3 months. There’s plenty going on here, and the 14 year old cuts a much different picture than the 12. The nose is sharp with sherry and orange oil notes, and more of those almond/marzipan characteristics underneath. On the palate, there’s toasted marshmallow, roasted nuts, banana, coconut, and more citrus at the back end. The extra alcohol provides some heat, but the Knappogue can handle it. Unlike my prior encounter, I’m finding this expression more balanced and cohesive, but my overall opinion is about the same. 92 proof. B+ / $60

Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey – A numbered release which, like the 14 year old, spends time finishing in sherry casks — this time for nearly two years. Clearly darker in color than both the 12 and the 14, this spirit still has that malty Knappogue DNA running through it, moderated with orange notes, more marshmallow, and some tree bark. Chewy on the body, with (surprisingly) more pronounced malt character than the 14, alongside clearer banana and coconut notes. The 16 year old opens up more with time in the glass, smoothing out some of those crunchy cereal box notes with sherry and a bit of seawater. Still, it’s not quite hitting its stride in the balance department, but it’s getting there. 80 proof. B+ / $100

knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: Barrell Bourbon

barrell bourbon 525x345 Review: Barrell Bourbon

Barrell Bourbon is bottled in the heart of Bourbon Country, in Bardstown, Kentucky… but it’s made somewhere else. That’s what makes this stuff a real rarity: Tennessee Bourbon that’s bottled in Kentucky.

What is known is this: The whiskey is a mash of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, aged for five years. It’s a single barrel release (hence the name), and each bottle is individually numbered and bottled at cask strength — 60.8% abv for batch #1, which is still on the market.

So, how about the whiskey?

There’s corn on the nose, along with notes of cherry, toffee, very ripe banana, and wood char. The body follows suit, with popcorn rising surprisingly high for a five-year-old spirit. It’s heavily wooded with a hefty amount of char, prominently featuring sawdust notes that build as it opens up over time in the glass. Otherwise this is a pretty straightforward and young-drinking whiskey. The fruitier notes you can pick up on the nose remain buried beneath a mountain of lumber and those vegetal, corn-heavy flavors, making my wonder if this whiskey wasn’t bottled too soon… or, perhaps, too late.

Interesting stuff, though, with points for uniqueness.

121.6 proof.

Reviewed: Batch #1, bottled #2313.

B / $70 / barrellbourbon.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur and Maple Bourbon

sapling 525x350 Review: Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur and Maple Bourbon

Maple syrup continues to grow as a cocktail trend, and enterprising Vermonters are using it directly to make their own spirits.

Enter Sapling, aka Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vermont, which produces a maple syrup liqueur and a maple-infused Bourbon. (There’s also a maple-infused Rye, not reviewed here.) All are made from Grade A Vermont maple syrup from the state’s Green Mountains.

Thoughts follow.

Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur Whiskey – Three year old Bourbon is blended with maple syrup, then matured a second time in oak. The results are, well, maply. The nose is curious — a combination of Madeira, tawny Port, cinnamon, and rum raisin notes. On the body, the sugar level is nothing short of massive. Intense with brown/almost burnt sugar notes and plenty more of that madeirized wine character, the thick syrup character that makes up the body feels like it was just tapped from the tree. Whiskey is just a wispy hint in this spirit, a touch of vanilla that feels added into the mix an eyedrop at a time. 70 proof. B / $36 (375ml)

Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur – Unsurprisingly, it’s extremely similar to the version blended with whiskey. Most of the same notes of the above — Madeira, port, cinnamon — are all in play here again, only on a more muted basis. If anything, this liqueur is a less overwhelming spirit, though it’s also a somewhat less intriguing one, as some of those more subtle vanilla and spice notes present in the former spirit come up short here. 70 proof. B / $36 (375ml)

saplingliqueur.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Twelve

Round 12 of Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project” experiment has arrived, meaning there are just four more iterations of the grandest experiment in whiskeydom to go before it’s all over.

Previous rounds can be found here:

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

This round focuses on tree cut (two barrels are made from each tree — one from the top, and one from the bottom). This round looks at wood grain as well, as grain will vary from one tree to the next. As always, recipe (rye vs. wheat) is also varied through this batch. Barrels are paired, so barrels 15 and 16 have the same recipe and aging regimen — but are made from the top and bottom of the same tree.

Does tree cut matter? Here’s what Buffalo Trace says:

Many bourbon fans have asked why, or if, tree cut matters. Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley has this to say on the topic, “From top to bottom, the tree chemistry is quite different.  The chemicals most affected by the tree structure are oak lignins and tannins.  Oak lignins are composed of two building blocks, vanillin and syringaldehyde.  Generally there is a higher composition of oak lignins in the bottom part of the tree which in turn delivers more vanilla.  Tannins are generally higher in concentration in the top section of the tree versus the bottom; however, they also vary from inside out.  The outer heartwood is generally higher in tannin concentration.”

Variables remaining the same are char level (#4), warehouse type (concrete ricks), stave seasoning (12 months), and entry proof (125).

Overall, this was a mixed-to-good batch of whiskeys, with #80 standing as my (slight) favorite of the bunch. Looking back at the SOP so far: #82 has the lead among all the whiskeys released to date, based on online reviews. (I gave it a B+ and called it “fun.”) As for the top vs. bottom question, the whiskeys aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree got higher marks in 3 of 6 pairs here. The top barrel scored higher once. Two rounds were ties. But in most cases, my scores were similar between the two barrels. Interpret as you’d like.

Thoughts on round 12 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #15 – The nose is spicy with hints of cherries, offering promise. Surprisingly there’s lots of marshmallow on the palate, spiced fruits, and a silky, caramel candy bar finish. A lovely and surprisingly little whiskey. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #16 – A big, alcohol-heavy nose disguises mint, lumberyard, and black pepper notes. The body is rich with spice, but a silky caramel character comes across to smooth out the finish. This one drinks like a much bigger, older whiskey than it is. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #47 – Ample wood on the nose, muscling out some of the sweeter notes you get on the palate: milk chocolate, caramel, some spice on the finish. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #48 – A big, woody bourbon, almost overpowering on the nose. The body is gentler, offering soothing lemon tea and applesauce notes. Kind of a weird combination of experiences. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #79 – Racy, with notes of fresh mint on the nose. Apple-focused on the front of the palate, with smooth caramel coming along on the finish. Lots to like, but still finding its balance. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #80 – Mellow, salted caramels on the nose. Really lush and dessert-like, it’s got a bittersweet chocolate edge to the finish that makes it a lovely after-dinner sipper. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #111 – Moderate nose, with a cocoa powder and charred wood character. On the body, fairly plain, with heavy wood notes and a lingering, almost bitter lumberyard finish. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #112 – Restrained nose, with a focus on wood. The body’s got classic Bourbon character: vanilla, caramel, some restrained lumberyard character. Lingering mint notes on the finish. Fine, but fairly par for a whiskey of this age. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #143 – The nose gives off few clues about this one, a barnburner on the tongue that exudes flaming orange peel, old sherry, and more brutish, raw alcohol character. Not my favorite. C+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #144 – Restrained nose, with a focus on wood. The body’s got classic Bourbon character: vanilla, caramel, some restrained lumberyard character. Lingering mint notes on the finish. Fine, but fairly par for a whiskey of this age. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #175 – A solid effort, but a little indistinct. The nose and flavors are both muted, with mild vanilla, oaky wood, and applesauce notes, but all dialed way back. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #176 – Funky, almost medicinal on the nose. The body’s quite different, a mix of vanilla up front and brewed tea on the back end. Lots going on, but the nose is ultimately a bit off-putting. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

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

Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Chocasmoke Whiskey

chocasmoke 211x300 Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Chocasmoke WhiskeyThe future of craft distilling may be in beer: So believes Clint Potter of The Seven Stills of San Francisco, a new craft distillery located, well, you know.

Seven Stills makes this unique whiskey — the first in its “Seven Hills” series — from actual beer (much like Charbay and a few others): a chocolate oatmeal stout to which they’ve added 20% peat-smoked malt. Hence the choca, and hence the smoke. The finished product is aged for 6 months before bottling. The driving idea: Make a whiskey that still contains the essence of the beer from which it was made.

This is really interesting, exotic stuff. The nose is youthful and grain-forward, typical of young craft whiskey, but the peat is unmistakable. I was immediately reminded of some of Lost Spirits’ whiskeys, namely the youngish Seascape. The hints of chocolate on the nose are immediately present on the tongue. Here the very essence of the chocolate oatmeal stout is vividly on display, offering notes of cocoa powder, salted caramel, gingerbread, and well roasted grains. The seaweed/sea salt notes come on strong in the mid-palate, leading to a finish that nods both to Islay and its American home. There’s so much going on, it’s almost too much to explore in one go-round. The clearly young nose aside, it’s tough to believe this whiskey is just six months old.

Can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.

90 proof. 400 half-bottles produced (most are gone).

A- / $55 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Rested Rye

Jack Daniels Rested Rye bottle shot 525x589 Review: Jack Daniels Rested Rye

Hey, remember a couple of years ago when Jack Daniel’s decided it was going to make a rye whiskey? Give Jack credit: Rather than simply buy someone else’s rye and put their label on it, Jack decided to make its rye itself, legit.

The catch: Making whiskey takes time, so in 2012, when the rye trend was hitting its stride, all JD had was unaged whiskey on its hands, which it sold. For $50 a bottle.

Fast forward to today, roughly a year and a half later, and Jack… still doesn’t have a finished product. What it does have is a very young rye whiskey, which they’re calling “Rested Rye.” (This is the same mashbill of 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% malted barley.)

That’s probably a good enough descriptor of a noble whiskey that, like the Unaged Rye, no one is going to buy. Here’s why.

The nose offers wet, over-ripe, nearly rotten banana, plus some coconut husk notes. There’s an undercurrent of cereal notes, but little wood as of yet. The body is quite sweet — those bananas don’t pull any punches — with a lengthy finish that wanders into orange juice, clover honey, and cream of wheat territory. Unsatisfying and flabby, I get little spice, no pepper, nothing really approaching classic rye characteristics at all, or the promise of them to come. Believe it or not, I’d much rather drink the white dog than this whiskey as it stands today.

Of course all of that really means very little. This is a work in progress, and as any amateur taster of white dogs can tell you, the white spirit rarely has much resemblance to the finished product, and this “rested” version probably won’t have much in common with the final release either. We’ll see, I suppose, either way, come 2018 or so.

80 proof. Available in limited quantities.

C / $50 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 48.29 and 93.47

It’s been well over a year since we’ve encountered the Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s always-interesting independent bottlings. These two recently outturned expressions showed up almost as a surprise. Thoughts follow.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 48.29 – 12 year old Balmenach from Speyside. Big, malty nose, but also quite sweet, with hints of orange and sugar cane. The body starts off amazingly sweet, with marshmallow and vanilla, before evolving more fruity notes, almost jam-like, in the mid-palate. Cereal notes come along in the finish, quite mild, but also complementary to what comes before, lending the affair a pastry-like experience. 122 proof. A-

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. Immediately intriguing and unusual on the nose: some smoke, cocoa powder, coal fires, and roasted nuts. The body brings even more complexity: seaweed and salt mix with sweet pound cake, vanilla frosting, marzipan, and a dusting of spice. The finish is a little short considering all that’s going on, but the overall experience is marvelously fun to explore on the whole. 119.4 proof. A-

prices $NA / smwsa.com

Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

santa fe apple brandy 525x323 Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

Santa Fe Spirits is based, you guessed it, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by Colin Keegan in 2010, the company now offers a range of five spirits, all with a southwestern bent and primarily column-distilled. We tasted four of them (all but the aged, single malt whiskey). Thoughts follow.

Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy – This was Santa Fe’s first product, made from New Mexico-grown Mountain West apples, including some from Keegan’s own orchard. Barrel aged “for years.” Big, punchy nose. It’s got mashed apples, sure, but lots of wood, and some coal fire character to it. The body is on the oily side, burly with overpowering wood notes and a big, tannic finish. Overall: A curiosity that never quite pulls it all together. C+ / $45

Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin – A newfangled infusion and the most avant garde of the bunch. This gun includes only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper. My first cactus-infused gin! The nose is a delight. Quite citrusy, like Meyer lemon, with distinct sage notes. On the body, those hops come through right away, while the sage and citrus character lingers. All of these things balance quite well, though the hops tend to dominate a bit too heavily. 80 proof (it could have stood to be 86, in my opinion). B+ / $32

Santa Fe Spirits Silver Coyote Pure Malt Whiskey – Made from 100% malted barley and bottled as unaged white dog. A lighter style of white dog, relatively restrained (comparatively) with a curious mix of grain and slate notes on the nose. The body isn’t overly complex, wearing its maltiness and youthful barley notes on its sleeve, with a lightly vegetal finish. Think green beans and sweet potatoes. Or competently made white lightning, anyway. 92 proof. B+ / $30

Santa Fe Spirits Expedition American West Vodka – 6 times distilled from a corn base. Interesting nose here, supple and sweet but not overdone. It’s not at all “corny,” but the aroma is almost like a nice bit of cotton candy or marshmallow. On the body, similar notes prevail, with a subtle fruitiness that recalls apples and banana. The finish has a touch of medicinal burn, but by and large it’s a smooth operator that offers a modern profile balanced by a restrained and refined backbone. 80 proof. A / $25

Note: This quartet is available in a four-pack of 200ml bottles. Total price: $55.

santafespirits.com

Review: Widow Jane “Heirloom Varietal” Bourbon Whiskeys

widow jane heirloom bourbons Review: Widow Jane Heirloom Varietal Bourbon Whiskeys

The Scots have messed around with single-varietal barley expressions of Scotch for years — so why not Bourbon? Does the type of corn used to make Bourbon make a difference, too?

You’d think this kind of experiment would be performed by the brain trust at Buffalo Trace, which never stops experimenting and releasing the results of those experiments for you and I to tipple on. But this experiment is being done, oddly enough, in the state of New York, by the good folks who make the impressive Widow Jane craft Bourbon.

This is not sourced whiskey, like Widow Jane’s 7 Year Old expression, but rather whiskey distilled right in Widow Jane’s Brooklyn-based stills. Three expressions are offered, one using Wapsie Valley corn, a hybrid of American Indian corn that was farmed in Iowa. The other varietal is Bloody Butcher corn, “bred by crossing Native American seeds with settlers’ white seeds around 1800, in the Appalachian mountains.” One of the Bloody Butcher varieties is a “high rye” expression, using the same corn. (More appropriately: the other variety is a “no rye” expression.)

All three of these are young spirits. No age statements are offered, but the mashbills are detailed exactly. All three are bottled at 91.8 proof. Thoughts, as always, follow.

Prices reflect 375ml bottles (gulp).

Widow Jane Wapsie Valley Single Expression Bourbon – 60% organic Wapsie Valley corn (mixed yellow and red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 25% rye. Nutty, almost smoky, with exuberant corn notes. The body starts off a bit brash and overpowering with popcorn notes, but these settle down a bit to reveal some notes of maple syrup and honey. That intense, smoky corn character lingers. B / $115

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher Single Expression Bourbon – 85% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley. How to put this? Even cornier, and smokier — with a touch of that maple syrup character. While the nose is a bit rougher (85% corn will do that), the body brings on ample sweetness, like a cola syrup, up front. Racy with spice, big cinnamon notes that do a good job at massaging some of the cornier notes and the rougher edges. A- / $125

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher High Rye Bourbon – 58% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 27% rye. Similar nose as the above, perhaps a bit gentler, with graham cracker and Bit-O-Honey notes. Cleaner on the body, too, which turns toward mint in the mid-palate, but finishes on the hot and indistinct side. B+ / $135

widowjane.com/heirloom/

Review: Millbrook Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Dutchess Private Reserve

millbrook distillery bourbon 240x300 Review: Millbrook Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Dutchess Private ReserveThat’s a mouthful of a name for this Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie area), New York-based spirit, a sourced whiskey made from a corn/rye/barley mashbill. Little else is disclosed, including age.

Woody on the nose, there’s depth here that recalls brandied cherries and Christmas cake. The body, however, is surprisingly sweet, with a distinct honey tone to it. Sultry, slightly earthy notes add body, with a fruity character (apples and plums, perhaps) providing some nuance. The finish veers a bit into wood oil territory, but on the whole it’s a well-balanced bourbon with lots to recommend it.

90 proof.

A- / $37 / millbrookdistillery.com

Review: Tincup American Whiskey

tin cup 525x679 Review: Tincup American Whiskey

Tincup (or Tin Cup, or TINCUP, as I refuse to write it) is the brainchild of Jess Graber, who launched Stranahan’s Whiskey in Colorado, where Tincup also hails from.

These are different animals, though. Stranahan’s is 100% malted barley distilled and aged on site. Tincup is rather simply sourced bourbon (from where the company doesn’t say), watered down with Colorado water and bottled here.

Nothing wrong with that, and it sure keeps the cost down. Tincup is half the price of Stranahan’s — though just as with Stranahan’s, you also get a metal cup on top of Tincup, an homage I presume to the whiskey’s moniker.

The specifics of Tincup are scant, but it’s a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley, no age statement offered. Curiously, the company doesn’t use the term “bourbon” on the label (it does on its website), but the maker does make a claim to a “high rye content.” Instead, the company just goes with the style name of “American Whiskey.”

All of this is surprising, actually. As whiskey goes, Tincup is one of the gentlest I’ve ever had, which is the antithesis of how we usually consider high-rye spirits. The nose offers vanilla and butterscotch, and as it opens up in the glass, dusty wood notes develop. This all leads into a quiet and surprisingly understated body: apple cinnamon, vanilla caramels and ice cream, and chocolate covered raisins. Curious strawberry notes, something you don’t typically find in bourbon, come along on the finish, which is otherwise silky, moderately sweet (solid caramel notes returning here), and hard not to like.

All in all, this is a simple little bourbon — “American whiskey” all the way — that could easily become the “house bottle” at many a home bar, Colorado-based or not.

84 proof.

A- / $28 / tincupwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Garrison Brothers TxSBW Image 1 525x1167 Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Hye is one of those tiny towns that everyone from Texas (including myself) has heard of, but no one actually knows where it is. There it lies, on the road from Austin to Fredericksburg, and it’s here where Garrison Brothers is making some fine “micro” whiskey.

The brothers Garrison don’t disclose their exact mashbill on this, their flagship product, but it’s about 3/4 local corn (#1 Panhandle White, in case you’re curious), along with estate-grown wheat and malted barley (not local) making up the rest. At present, the whiskey is aged for two years in American oak barrels before bottling. But intriguingly, Garrison doesn’t just say that its product could change over time, rather the distillery insists that it will.

Garrison Brothers takes a vintage-based approach to whiskeymaking, insisting that each year’s product should be better than the last. That began with its first batch in 2008. Reviewed below is a bottle distilled in 2010 and released in Fall 2013 (bottle number 453). Garrison insists it should be better than the whiskey in 2009, just as the whiskey from 2011 should be an improvement over this. (As of late 2013, six different “vintages” had been released — more than one vintage is produced each year.) The only question is whether it can really deliver on that promise, which we hope to put to the test over the next decade or so. The company says it is now warehousing some 5000 barrels of product.

As for the whiskey we have here, it’s burly, frontier stuff with plenty of kick. The nose is strong with wood, lumberyard notes intermingled with hints of vanilla and caramel. The body reveals far more — eventually. That wood character is powerful up front, to the point where you wonder if that’s the whole show. It isn’t until the finish gets going where Garrison Brothers’ other characteristics begin to shine. As it’s but two years old, there’s plenty of youthful roasted corn here, but unlike many other young whiskeys, those notes are balanced with some more exciting, and more mature, flavors. There’s deep, almost burnt, caramel here, as well as brown butter, cloves, and some chili powder. This all develops more seamlessly and interestingly than you’d think — and all at the end. Give this whiskey ample time in the glass — Garrison recommends a cube of ice — and you’ll see the popcorn settle down and the other components really begin to build up.

Fun, fun stuff, although quite expensive for the drinker used to $25 bottlings from Kentucky. No matter: I’m looking forward to seeing the Garrison Brothers’ next act!

94 proof. Reviewed: Fall 2013 release.

A- / $75 / garrisonbros.com

Review: Lombard Jewels of Scotland Springbank 21 Years Old

Springbank 21 Year Old Lombard Jewels of Scotland Bottling Single Malt Scotch 525x750 Review: Lombard Jewels of Scotland Springbank 21 Years Old

This independent bottling of Campbeltown favorite Springbank is a D&M Liquors exclusive (link below), so don’t go shopping all over creation for it. Only 263 bottles were produced. 21 years old and fully matured in a bourbon hogshead, this is Springbank at its finest.

The nose is mysterious and mild, with hints of greenery and a kind of petrol note. The body, however, opens up in just phenomenal ways. Fruit hits you first — apples and tangerines, banana and a bit of coconut. From there, make way for some smoky campfire and vanilla marshmallow notes, cedar box, and a touch of seaweed. The finish calls to the barley and heather, both malty and chewy.

Gorgeous stuff. Get it while you can.

99.4 proof.

A / $350 / dandm.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Buffalo Trace Rye Mash Entry Proof Family 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Rye Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsLast year, Buffalo Trace released a line of Experimental Collection bourbons put into barrel at various entry proofs.

As I explained back then: Entry proof describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is watered down a bit before barreling, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s wheeled into the warehouse.

This release differs from the last one in two ways. First, the white dog came off the still at 140 proof, not 130. Second, this recipe is BT’s rye bourbon mashbill (aka mash #1), not the wheated one from last year. Same as last time, though, this white dog was split into four batches, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 9 months in barrel, and when bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof. (These barrels were distilled, barreled, and bottled all around the same time as the wheated ones.)

Thoughts follow…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 90 Entry Proof – Light and airy, a candy bar of a whiskey with notes of cherry, nougat, and caramel. Finishes smoothly sweet and easy. Not a lot of complexity, but it makes up for it in delightful simplicity. This is one you could drink all day. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 105 Entry Proof – Much different on the nose, with wood-forward aromas and hints of baking spice and menthol. The body is generous and considerably more balanced than the nose would indicate. Caramel and orange are the major notes, with the burly woodiness coming on stronger on the end. A straightforward if unremarkable rendition of an older bourbon. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 115 Entry Proof – Racy on the nose, with Madeira and Port-like notes. Bold on the palate, with notes of sherry, clove-studded orange, and vanilla caramel on the finish. Great balance here, with a rich, well-rounded body. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 125 Entry Proof – This is BT’s standard entry proof, so should be closest to a typical Buffalo Trace mash #1 whiskey at this age. It’s a blazer on the nose, masking leather and wood notes with somewhat raw heat. It settles down with time, however, revealing a fairly traditional profile of vanilla, caramel, and milk chocolate, with some sawdust edges licking up on the back end. A fine effort but one that doesn’t really distinguish itself especially. B+

As with the rye experiments, this is again a fun exercise — and curiously I liked both the 90 proof and 115 proof expressions the best the last time out. Still, my hunch is that barrel variability probably has a bigger ultimate impact than entry proof does.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old and Cask Strength Batch 2

GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port 191x300 Review: GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old and Cask Strength Batch 2GlenDronach, “the sleeping giant,” is a storied Highlands distillery that dates back to 1826. As is often the case with these companies, the distillery changed hands a few time and was shut down in 1996. Five years later it was acquired by BenRiach and is now producing again. It’s also releasing aged, old stock, including a core range — all sherry-finished — and a number of special, limited releases, including the two reviewed below, which are both new to the U.S. market.

GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old – Fiery, roasted grains dominate the nose, like hot bread fresh from the oven. Citrus and red pepper notes follow. On the palate, lots of flavors emerge, rapid-fire, lingering for awhile: Big malt, leather, coconut, and more of that mammoth cereal character are the most prominent. The body is big, the finish lasting. The overall effect: Interesting, but muddy and lacking focus. What’s really missing here? Any semblance of tawny port. If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed this was a sherry-finished spirit. 92 proof. B / $80

GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 2 – No age statement on this, but it’s finished in both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. Punchy on the nose, with notes of cigar box and tar. The body brings forward more of these notes, backed with stronger sherry character, gentle smokiness, and ample malt, the lattermost of which builds considerably on the finish. Hot, but not overpowering, the big, citrus-meets-malt finale recalls a simple breakfast on a sunny day. 110.4 proof. 16,500 bottles made. B+ / $150

glendronachdistillery.com