Category Archives: Whiskey

Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey 525x1200 Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

If you’re unfamiliar with “single grain” whiskey, you’re not alone. While in fact the majority of Irish whiskey sold is grain whiskey, single grain whiskey is not typically seen on the shelf. (The single doesn’t refer to the type of grain but rather the fact that it’s made at a single distillery.) All grain whiskey is made not from barley (as in the case of single malt whiskey) but rather from a blend of grains, primarily corn.

Teeling Single Grain Whiskey is column-distilled and, unusually, aged fully in ex-California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. No age statement (or other details on the specifics of the mashbill) are offered, but the spirit is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof.

The nose is exotic, offering thick menthol vapors along with some vanilla, butterscotch, and cake frosting notes. The body is even harder to pin down. At first the whiskey is mild and easygoing, then it develops some of the more traditional character of Irish whiskeys — touches of banana and coconut, salted caramel, buttered toffee, and honey. The grain base becomes more evident on the finish, a toasty, malty conclusion that is both a little unexpected but also surprisingly satisfying.

B+ / $71 / teelingwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon Whiskey

whistling andy 198x300 Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon WhiskeyUp next, craft distilling comes to… Montana. The curiously-named Whistling Andy offers this new, all-local bourbon (the state’s first) made from 100% Montana-grown grains. A unique blend of corn, barley, wheat, and rye is used for the mashbill, which is triple-distilled in pot stills, then aged for three years in medium-char new oak barrels.

The nose is instantly exotic and more than a little weird, a combination of big cereal grains, burnt marshmallow, campfire ashes, and Listerine. The body features the hallmarks of young whiskey, lots of fresh-cut grain character, popcorn, and toasty — but not creamy — caramel notes. The finish hints at fresh-cut apples and hazelnuts, but these are just wisps of flavor that quickly get away from you. All told, Whistling Andy is a whiskey that’s still trying hard to integrate its grain and wood components but hasn’t yet found its sweet vanilla core. It sure does wear its promise on its sleeve, though. Look me up in 2017.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. Fun fact: The company’s mash tanks was formerly used in an Eskimo Pie factory.

B- / $42 / whistlingandy.com

Review: Bowmore Devil’s Casks 10 Years Old

bowmore devils casks 525x864 Review: Bowmore Devils Casks 10 Years Old

A new limited edition expression from Islay’s Bowmore, the Devil’s Casks bottling is inspired by a local legend involving the devil being chased by the churchgoing folk of the area into Bowmore’s vaults, where he is said to have escaped by hiding inside a cask of hooch.

I can’t vouch for whether there is any otherworldy presence in Bowmore Devil’s Casks, but I do know that the whisky inside has spent its full 10 years in first-fill sherry casks rather than ex-bourbon barrels. That’s a lot of time to pick up sherry influence; Scotch nuts know that the typical sherry-finished whisky usually spends only a couple of months at the end of its aging time in sherry casks before it’s bottled.

A dark amber in color, this cask strength whisky offers hefty peat notes up front on the nose, backed up with some curious hints of allspice, pine forest, and tar. The body is where that sherry character comes to the forefront, a punchy clove-studded orange backed with cinnamon, grapefruit, black pepper, and a hint of chewy, roasted grains. Smoky peat comes back for an encore on the finish, lasting in the throat for minutes, if not hours, after a sip.

Peat fans will likely rejoice here, but it’s hard not to think that 10 years of sherry might be a bit much for this whisky, as finding balance between the sweet and savory here proves difficult. It’s quite a unique spirit, though, and one at least worth sampling should you encounter it at your local watering hole.

103.8 proof. 1302 bottles allocated for the U.S.

B+ / $90 / bowmore.com

Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

Powers Gold Label Bottle Image 2014 420x1200 Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

The good folks at Ireland’s Powers don’t know when to quit. First they rebrand and relabel their classic Gold Label Irish whiskey in 2009, now they’re back at it again, redoing the bottle a second time while boosting the proof a bit. (And that doesn’t even include the launch of the masterful John’s Lane special edition bottling.)

Nothing has changed about the recipe to Gold Label — it’s still triple distilled at Midleton, aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and non-chill filtered. The only change (aside from bottle cosmetics that now include a metallic neck hanger) is the increase in alcohol up to 43.2% — the product’s original export strength — from the standard 40%.

The change is a good one, giving a little more power (ahem) to the whiskey while maintaining the easy charm and gentle flavor profile that attracts so many people to Irish whiskey.

There’s lots of traditional Irish character here to explore, with a nose that’s full of ripe banana, butterscotch, cereal, and gentle honey notes. On the body, all of the above are met by orange notes, along with both coconut and pineapple on the back end. The finish is both fruity and malty, reminiscent of a frozen custard spiked with toppings. The slight bump in alcohol works well at boosting the body just a smidge, adding just a bit more creaminess to an already well-balanced spirit.

86.4 proof.

A- / $25 / powerswhiskey.com

Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan virgin oak 525x717 Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

Lowlands-based Auchentoshan, the only fully triple-distilled single malt in Scotland, has launched this “virgin oak” expression, aged in new oak barrels instead of ex-Bourbon barrels (or ex-sherry casks), which is the norm. No age statement is provided.

Huge wood on the nose here, oily, somewhat smoky, and punchy with lots of tar and tannin. The approach is quite off-putting, taking some real effort to delve into the spirit itself. Fortunately, the body is more forgiving, offering burnt caramel and butterscotch notes, backed with lots of dried herbs, licorice, and roasted grains. Balance is elusive, and the finish is dusty dry, and not all that compelling in the end.

92 proof. About 2100 bottles made.

C+ / $130 / auchentoshan.com

Review: Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon

belle meade bourbon 200x300 Review: Nelsons Green Brier Belle Meade BourbonA craft distillery is reborn in Nashville, Tennessee… and they’re putting “the B word” on the label!

Belle Meade is, as the story goes, a relaunch of a pre-Prohibition bourbon brand that was owned by one Charles Nelson. Today, two of his great-great-great grandsons are bringing the brand back, with the goal of producing small batch whiskey that approximates their ancestor’s recipe.

That’s the idea, anyway. At present, this is high-rye, slightly overproof bourbon (no age statement) sourced from Indiana’s MGP, in advance of the Nelsons finishing up their own on-site distillery, hopefully sometime this year. Instead, Belle Meade is something of a first volley to get investors’ — and drinkers’ — palates wet.

As for the juice, it’s got a quite mild nose, offering notes of applesauce, cinnamon, and grapefruit skins alongside straightforward wood barrel character. On the palate, the body is moderate with that rye giving off a lot of baking spice, mint chocolate, and cedar wood planks. On the whole it’s pleasant and balanced but a little on the thin side, coming up just a little short in the power department.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $39 / greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Sinfire Cinnamon Whisky

SinFire  New Bottle 122x300 Review: Sinfire Cinnamon WhiskyOregon-based Hood River Distillers has recently rebranded Sinfire, a cinnamon whisky (no “e” on this one) that was launched only two years ago in February 2012. The highlight of the relaunch: “Best served as a 32-degree shot, Sinfire now features a thermochromic temperature-triggered color-changing label to help consumers know exactly when it reaches optimum temperature. The label also incorporates photochromic ink, which brightens the logo when exposed to UV lights.”

Well, then!

We’ve never sampled Sinfire (tagline: “an evil spirit”), so what better time than the present to give it a go?

Cinnamon-flavored whiskey doesn’t typically involve a ton of nuance, and Sinfire is pretty straightforward from the start. The nose is quite mild, more cinnamon toast than cinnamon straight from the jar. On the palate, it’s remarkably easygoing, with one of the lowest overall levels of spice I’ve encountered in this type of spirit. Oddly, it’s not as overwhelmingly sweet as you might expect but rather uses its buttery, creamy body to smooth out the roughness that’s typical of cinnamon whiskeys. The sweetness hits you mid-palate, more of a brown sugar, and the cinnamon pops up most presently on the moderately racy endgame.

Surprisingly well-made, Sinfire proves that you don’t have to blast out your customers’ sinuses with spices in order to craft a rich and soothing spirit. Hardly evil.

70 proof.

A- / $18 / hrdspirits.com

Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

john walker odyssey 525x699 Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

I guess when you climb past the $1000-a-bottle level for your whisky, you lose the “Johnnie” and just become “John.”

“John” Walker’s Odyssey is a very rare, limited-edition bottling from the Scotch juggernaut, a blend that has previously been sold in Asian and other global markets, but which is now coming to the United States.

There’s a story behind this one, of course. Per Johnnie Walker: “Inspired by Sir Alexander Walker’s passion for epic journeys, John Walker & Sons Odyssey is crafted from three rare, handpicked single malts to create the first triple malt Scotch whisky from the House of Walker.” After selection, the whisky has been married and blended in European oak casks. The rare whisky is packed into “an ultra-modern interpretation of Sir Alexander Walker’s legendary 1932 ‘nautical’ decanter bottle created for Johnnie Walker Swing Blended Scotch Whisky.” That includes a wild kind of gyroscopic chassis.

While no information about the trio of whiskeys — provenance or age — that make up this blend is offered, it’s clearly old stock. The nose offers classic Johnnie notes of malt and cereal, with mild sherry notes and a bit of coal fires. The palate is chewy with malt balls, oatmeal, toasted marshmallow, and ripe banana. Balanced, yes, but everything is shockingly dialed back — austere, modest, and surprisingly sedate. The whisky drinks easily, but this body comes at the price of not really saying a lot when it comes to character. I found myself wondering if this was a whisky that was simply too old, drawn from barrels a bit too far past their prime.

When sampling Odyssey, I was initially reminded of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label, but even that relatively restrained whisky (which I freshly tasted in comparison) has more going on than this one. Platinum’s bigger citrus notes are simply more engaging than Odyssey’s big bowl of grains. What is this, health whisky?

80 proof.

B / $1100 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2004 Vintage

evan williams single barrel 2004 446x1200 Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2004 Vintage

Evan Williams’ annual Single Barrel release is always a cause for celebration. It’s invariably a great whiskey, and it’s also incredibly affordable. While your typical vintage-dated single barrel bourbon will run you $75 or more, Evan Williams Single Barrel is currently priced at $27 a bottle. (Last year’s price: $26.) If you see this whiskey for sale — no matter what vintage it is — buy it.

Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam says he was taking a cue from the evolving national palate this year and was bottling a spirit that was “maybe a bit more assertive and bold than in years past,” choosing barrels aged high in the warehouse (where temperature fluctuates the most) for about 9 1/2 years.

Frankly, I don’t get assertive from this bourbon, though it is certainly a knockout. The nose offers plenty of wood, but it’s balanced and pretty, lightly perfumed with vanilla and cinnamon notes — a serious aroma, but a lively one. On the palate, plenty of spice — more cinnamon and cloves — is met by some orange oil, touches of licorice, ample vanilla caramel, and plenty of lumberyard on the back end.

All in all, the 2004 vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel fits in with this long-running series’ house style, and it perhaps offers a ever-so-slightly burlier-than-usual character on the finish. Either way, it’s incredibly easy to enjoy, and well worth its embarrassingly reasonable investment.

86.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1.

A- / $27 / evanwilliams.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Laphroaig Triple Wood Single Malt Whisky

LP TripleWood WithTube 159x300 Review: Laphroaig Triple Wood Single Malt WhiskyWe’ve written an epic amount about Laphroaig over the years, but somehow one of its core bottlings has eluded a formal review. Laphroaig Triple Wood is officially a seasonal offering, but it’s pretty generally available, with 12,000 bottles produced for the U.S. market in 2012. (No figures were offered for 2013.) You’ll even find the Islay classic available for below list price if you hunt around.

Laphroaig Triple Wood refers to the three types of casks in which the spirit is aged: ex-Bourbon casks, miniature quarter casks, and ex-oloroso sherry casks. No age information is provided on the amount of time spent in each barrel, but the whisky is plenty mature and feels appropriately aged given its price tag.

The nose is distinctively Laphroaig, a salty, seaweedy peat bog of a spirit rich with sultry smokiness. The sherry element is evident, if only slightly, as you breathe it in, with a rich orange oil character that laces through the smoke. On the body, there’s plenty to enjoy. Plenty of peat, to be sure, but also fun vanilla nougat notes, butterscotch, maple syrup, and more of that orange character — here almost like orange candy. Fun, lots of depth, and as balanced as peated whiskys tend to get.

96 proof.

A- / $60 / laphroaig.com

Review: Charbay R5, S, and Release III Hop Flavored Whiskeys

WhiskeyFall2013150dpi 525x419 Review: Charbay R5, S, and Release III Hop Flavored Whiskeys

It’s commonly said that “whiskey is made from beer,” though that’s typically not quite true. Most whiskey is made from a low-alcohol, fermented grain sludge that you would never want anywhere near your mouth (I know, I’ve tried it). Usually this is just called mash, but sometimes it’s colloquially known as beer, because it’s kind of the same thing (though whiskey mash does not commonly include hops in it).

Well, Virginia, you can also make whiskey out of real beer, too. This is not often done, because real beer is much, much more expensive than grain sludge. But that didn’t stop Ukiah, California-based Charbay from doing it anyway. The whiskeys below are all made from actual beer — hence the “hop flavored” moniker in the name. (The flavor comes from the hops in the beer, not from anything added after the distillation takes place.)

We’ve seen younger versions of at least one of these before… but these are all newly-released whiskeys. Thoughts follow.

Charbay R5 Hop Flavored Whiskey Lot 511A – A couple of years ago we reviewed a pre-release version of Charbay R5, a whiskey made from bottle-ready Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA beer. Now a more finished version of Charbay R5 is out, aged for 29 months (vs. 2012′s 22-month version) in French oak following double-distillation in copper pot stills. As with the younger (and unaged) versions of this spirit, R5 Lot 511A wears its beer cred right on its sleeve. The nose is intensely hoppy, but also almost sherry-like with orange and clove notes Lots of wood here, almost smoky. The body has real intensity, with clear notes of Racer 5 as the whiskey develops on the palate — herbal, bittersweet, and plenty hoppy. The finish offers ample grain notes, sweet and salty and impregnated with the essence of the fields from which this whiskey was born. Exotic and exciting. 99 proof. B+ / $79  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Charbay S Hop Flavored Whiskey Lot 211A – Also made from a Bear Republic beer, this one Big Bear Black Stout. As with R5, it is double distilled and aged for 29 months in French oak. This whiskey has a more mellow nose, offering a curio cabinet full of brown sugar, cinnamon, incense, and more grain character than the R5. On the palate, you’ll find musky, dusky spice, a big grain profile, and subtle notes of coffee and dark chocolate. The mid-palate is more rustic than R5, but the finish is more compelling, fading into an echo of an Irish coffee. 99 proof. B+ / $140

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey Release III - This is the third release from Charbay’s 1999 collector’s series, comprised of 10 barrels of whiskey distilled 15 years ago. Distilled from a bottle-ready pilsner beer (no brand name is offered), the distillate spent six years in new #3 “gator skin” char American oak barrels, then 8 additional years in neutral vessels before bottling. The whiskey is offered at barrel strength — and barrel price, apparently. A much deeper brown color than Charbay’s other whiskeys, this whiskey shows just what this distillery can do with enough time to kill. The nose is dense, full of vanilla and chocolate notes (and not at all pilsner-like). On the palate, it’s eye-burningly hot. Water dramatically helps reveal its charms, which include dark coffee, burnt marshmallows, and a dark, roasted grain character. While not entirely in the same wheelhouse, this is the most bourbon-like of Charbay’s whiskey lineup, sweet and spicy and bound up with lots of enticing dessert notes. Whether that adds up to $400 a bottle — provenance aside, this is a 6 year old whiskey when push comes to shove — is a matter that can be debated in the comments. But one thing’s for sure: Charbay Release III is a knockout the likes of which you aren’t going to encounter anywhere else. 132.4 proof. 2713 bottles made. A / $410

charbay.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Eleven

Round 11 of Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project” experiment is here. In case you haven’t been with us for, oh, the last three years of this extravaganza, it’s designed to find the Holy Grail of just what is responsible for the perfect glass of whiskey.

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

This round looks primarily at warehouse type, once of the most ephemeral of the Single Oak Project variables. The company has two iconic types of warehouse, one (Warehouse K in this experiment) made of brick with wooden floors, and one (Warehouse L) made of brick with concrete floors. Wooden floors allow for better air flow from one level to another, but offers higher variation in climate from the bottom floors to the top ones. Concrete has OK air flow due to windows, but offers more consistency, with slower temperature changes. Neither warehouse is necessarily “better”… or is it? Wood grain and recipe (rye vs wheat) changed throughout this round, as well.

Variables remaining the same are char level (#4), tree cut (top half of tree), stave seasoning (6 months), and entry proof (105).

Overall, this is a very good batch, with a few exceptional whiskeys to be found in it — particularly Barrel #179 — and and almost none I wouldn’t at least cautiously recommend. Speaking of which, BT hasn’t released any additional news about which experimental release is in the lead, based on consumer reviews.

Thoughts on round 11 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #19 – Racy, powerful nose. On the palate, restraint rules the day, with more raw, wood oil notes ruling the day. Light touches of cinnamon, licorice, and popcorn dance on the finish, none of which is overwhelmingly in balance or intriguing. B- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #23 – A good slug of spice on the nose… once you push through a bit of heat. Beyond, you’ll find an impressive spirit, filled with vanilla, some cocoa and coffee bean notes, and a soothing woodiness to back it up. Long and sweet on the finish, it’s a beautiful sipper that belies its rustic nose. A top pick of this series. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #51 – Cherry up front on the nose, with strong brewed tea notes — an interesting combination. The body alas doesn’t hit on all fronts, some of the more traditional Bourbon elements — vanilla and spice — pushed away by some more astringent notes in the finish. (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #55 – Slightly skunky, almost muddy on the nose. The body’s a bigger success — with caramel and chocolate notes galore — offering a rich and almost dessert-like experience. Hard to connect that to the weird nose, though. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #83 – Hard to parse on the nose, the aromas are closed off but heaviest on basic wood notes. The body is on the simple side — sweet, melted caramels, a touch of raisin. Completely agreeable. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #87 – Big nose, offering menthol character with a lot of heat… and a touch of chocolate. The body is surprisingly rich and creamy, with sultry cinnamon and coffee bean notes, and a kind of cafe au lait finish. Surprising and unusual, with its powerful nose and exotic body. I like it quite a bit. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #115 – Heavy wood on the nose, but the sweetness on the body offers respite, and balance. This is one of this project’s few whiskeys with a clear grain-and-popcorn character, indicating it could stand a few more years in barrel… maybe more. Curious raspberry tea notes on the finish add fun. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #119 – Traditional nose, a bit dusty. Lemon peel/lemongrass character comes along on the body, but otherwise it’s a Bourbon that exudes wood over just about everything else. Not a standout here. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #147 – Tightly wound. This is at first a tougher bourbon, bound up with oak staves and sawdust. But the finish comes along with a curious cookie character — pecan sandies, anyone? — that adds nuance and a touch of intrigue. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #151 – Pure wood on the nose, with some cinnamon lacing, perhaps. The body is sweet at first, giving way to a hefty wood character that builds and builds to a slightly astringent finish. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #179 – Classically structured. Deep wood impregnated with vanilla on both the nose and the palate. The body is velvety, the finish long and chocolaty. Interesting notes of marshmallow and licorice here and there. Lots to explore. An easy winner for this installment — and the series as a whole. (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #183 – Ripe banana meets wood on the nose. On the tongue: Incredibly sweet, which makes it incredibly drinkable, but almost puts it on par with a Cognac over a traditional Bourbon. Would love to see a touch more austerity from this, but could easily sip on it for days. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

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

Review: Cutty Sark Tam O’ Shanter Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old

cutty sark tam o shanter 525x562 Review: Cutty Sark Tam O Shanter Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old

Venerable Cutty Sark has been making big moves of late (more on these in a few weeks), but the biggest is easily the launch of Tam O’ Shanter, the Scottish company’s ultra-premium blend of 25 year old malt and grain whiskys. Decidedly limited, it’s far from your grandpa’s old green bottle of Cutty’s classic blended Scotch.

Rich and dense, you know you’re in from a treat with Tam O’ Shanter, starting with the mahogany color and the powerful nose, which offers orange peel, incense, almonds, nougat, and leathery old wood notes. The nose is racy and hot… but the palate isn’t a mouth-burner at all. Instead, you’ll find both power and nuance in abundance, with light grain notes leading their way into bittersweet chocolate, cigar box, light smoky notes and plenty of orange/sherry character to round it all out.

The body is rich and inviting, warming and round without being unctuous. The finish is also strong and lengthy, sticking around for minutes as you recall some of the components that have come before. A lovely dram which, it probably goes without saying, is the best thing Cutty Sark has ever put into a bottle.

999 bottles available in the U.S. (5000 total globally.) 93 proof.

A / $300 / cutty-sark.com

Tasting the Spirits of Sweden’s Spirit of Hven

Organic Winter Schnapps HR 525x742 Tasting the Spirits of Swedens Spirit of Hven

The Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn Distillery, or simply “Hven,” can be found on a small island wedged between Sweden and Denmark (it’s part of Sweden). Hven, pronounced “venn,” was established in 2008 as part of the new guard of Scandinavian distilleries, where it produces a variety of white and brown spirits, including some seasonal schnapps (for which Swedes go ga-ga).

At present, Hven’s products aren’t distributed in the U.S., but you can have them exported to you by our friends at Master of Malt, if you’re game to give them a try. The conical bottles alone are conversation pieces.

We sampled six of the company’s offerings. Thoughts follow. (Note: All prices are for 500ml bottles.)

Spirit of Hven Organic Vodka - Organic grains are pot distilled, then matured in oak barrels, then distilled again, resulting in a clear spirit. I’m not sure this unique production method would qualify as “vodka” in the U.S., but such is life. As vodka goes, it’s very different and unusual, with a nose of pineapple jam, menthol, orange peel, and slight oily fuel notes reminiscent of Pine-Sol. It’s all very strange, but the body is fortunately cleaner, with brighter lemon notes, sweet nougat, and a clean finish. The overall impression is closer to gin or genever than vodka, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you’re expecting. 80 proof. B / $53

Spirit of Hven Organic Gin – Made with the same process as the vodka (including oak aging and secondary distillation), plus the addition of fresh botanicals, which include vanilla, cassia, juniper, cardamom, calamus root, Sichuan pepper, aniseed, and Guinea pepper. Strongly herbal on the nose, with notes of lemon peel and licorice atop juniper. On the tongue it offers some sweet vanilla notes to counter the juniper, anise, and slight pepper character. The creamier body, brought on by the oak aging, works well with the gin, giving it a rounder, more mouth-filling character. Exotic yet also quite easy to drink on its own or as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B+ / $54

Spirit of Hven Organic Aqua Vitae – This unique aqua vitae — essentially a flavored schnapps — is oak matured twice, both before it is distilled and after it is distilled in copper pot stills. Flavored with lemon and orange zest, along with caraway and St. John’s wort, this is a moderately gold spirit with a nose of dried herbs. A seemingly mix of random spice cabinet selections leads to a surprisingly delightful little concoction on the tongue. Lots of vanilla and caramel notes, with hints of gingerbread, hot chocolate, and marshmallows, leaving those herbal hints on the nose far behind. A bit of honey is added to this aqua vitae as well, which gives the spirit a unique but welcome touch of sweetness. All told, it’s a unique little spirit. Usually that’s a bad thing, but in this case, the results are surprisingly delightful. 80 proof. A- / $58

Spirit of Hven Organic Summer Schnapps (2011) – Presumably this changes from year to year, given the vintage date on the bottle, although most of the bottles I see online do not have a date indicated. This schnapps is flavored with bitter orange, rhubarb, elderflower, and apples and mixed with locally harvested botanicals before barrel aging to a modest amber. If you’re familiar with the Scandinavian essential spirit Aquavit, you’ll find these Summer Schnapps familiar. The nose offers a bittersweet rhubarb/cinnamon character, with a bit of a musty root beer note and a touch of dark chocolate. The body has more sweetness, at least at first, with orange and apple notes at the forefront. That sweetness turns bitter with more of that root character — licorice is a hefty here — and a wood oil, musky finish. Not bad for Aquavit, but nothing I’d drink during the summer. 76 proof. B- / $56

Spirit of Hven Organic Winter Schnapps – No date on this, but the fine print says it was produced in 2012. Produced as above, but flavored with oranges, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, then oak-aged. Fruitier on the nose, with more sweetness and distinct cinnamon notes. On the body, considerable a apple cider character emerges, tempered by wood notes. Very Christmasy… the cloves emerge as strong contenders after the spirit opens up in the glass. But as with the summer version, the bitter finish is powerful, almost amaro-like in its intensity. Curious stuff. 76 proof. B / $56

Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe Single Malt Whisky – A much, much different animal than all of the above. Named for a star in the Big Dipper, this first in a series of single malts (6 more are planned) is aged in a combination of American, French, and Spanish oak, though no age statement is offered. The nose is classic malt whisky — the base grain, lumber, and coal fires. Rustic, but pleasing. On the tongue, it’s surprisingly delightful. The grain gives way to lightly sugared toast, orange peel, sesame seeds, and light nougat and even butterscotch notes, emerging in classy, layered fashion. Most curious of all: The moderate smokiness on the nose totally fades away on the tongue, ultimately revealing a young spirit that nonetheless displays amazing refinement. Released March 2013, 10,250 bottles made. 90 proof. A- / $154

backafallsbyn.se

Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished and Port Finished Bourbons

Abraham Bowman digitized Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon 525x911 Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished and Port Finished Bourbons

Two new expressions recently arrived from our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman, both specially-finished Bourbons bottled under the Abraham Bowman line. Thoughts follow.

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon – This whiskey starts with 6-year old Bowman Brothers Bourbon. It is then transferred into old Bowman barrels which have, in the intervening years, been used to age Hardywood Brewery Gingerbread Stout for 12 months. The 6-year old spirit spends an extra two months in these Bourbon-Stout barrels, then four more months in regular, used Bourbon barrels. Got all that? Whew! The whiskey itself is fun stuff. Hot up front, it settles down to reveal ample spiciness, gingerbread character to be sure, with plenty of cinnamon and cloves. The sweetness emerges — comes on strong, really — in the finish, offering caramel apple (emphasis on the caramel) notes with touches of sawdust at the very end. While surprisingly young at heart and in structure, there’s still plenty of “old soul” character here to recommend it. 90 proof. B+/ $70

Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon (2013) - As with the above, this Bourbon is finished in barrels that began as Bowman whiskey barrels, then were used to age local Virginia Port wine for 15 months. 12 year old Bowman Brothers Bourbon is then aged in these used Port barrels for another four months before bottling. (If you’ve encountered this whiskey before, a prior bottling released in 2012 was quite different: an 8 year old whiskey that spent 8 months in Port barrels from a different winery.) As for 2013, big wood notes dominate the nose, with chocolate coming to the forefront after a time in glass. This chocolate syrup character becomes evident on the palate, alongside some intense vanilla extract notes, a touch of orange peel, and more wood. As the whiskey develops it begins to exhibit some mildly raisin-like Port wine notes, but they’re kept in check by some very old Bourbon stock underneath them. All in all this is an interesting spirit, but my hunch is that the 2012 — with younger base whiskey and more time in Port barrels — was a little more fleshed out. 100 proof. B / $70

asmithbowman.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s White Rabbit Saloon Whiskey

jack daniels white rabbit saloon 525x602 Review: Jack Daniels White Rabbit Saloon Whiskey

A seasonally-available, limited edition version of JD, White Rabbit Saloon is bottled and named in honor of the 120th anniversary of the White Rabbit Saloon, a Lynchburg bar owned by Jack Daniel himself. There’s no specific information on how this blend differs from Old No. 7, but it is bottled at 86 proof instead of the standard 80.

A softer expression of Jack Daniel’s, White Rabbit has a distinct cookie-like character to it. Think chocolate wafer cookies and milk, with a healthy slug of vanilla to back it up. The higher proof gives the body a little more grip in the mouth, while pushing the sometimes scratchy coal notes of black label JD out of the picture. The finish is lingering and sultry-sweet, offering a marshmallow character in both sweetness and chewiness — with just the barest hint of popcorn on the back end. I like it better than standard Jack quite a bit.

A- / $25 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Stave Drying Time Experiments

buffalo trace Stave Drying experiment 525x517 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Stave Drying Time Experiments

When trees are cut down and turned into lumber, the wood planks are dried, or “seasoned,” by leaving them out in the open air. After a few months, the wood has lost enough of its oiliness to allow the staves to be turned into barrel planks. (If the wood isn’t dried at all, the moisture will likely lead to significant barrel leakage.)

But stave drying also has effects on the way the bourbon tastes — impacting how the whiskey is absorbed into the wood, and the amount and types of tannins, sugars, and other chemicals that are released into the spirit.

For this Experimental Collection release, Buffalo Trace focused on the very narrow variable of stave-drying time. The distillery normally dries its staves for six months. That’s the “control” in this experiment. For comparison, some wooden staves were dried for 13 months before being turned into barrels. Both were then coopered and filled with the same new make spirit (BT’s rye mash #1), and aged for 15 years. Both are bottled at 90 proof. New wood vs. old… which makes a better bourbon? Thoughts follow.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Standard Stave Dry Time – Proof that you needn’t mess with a winning formula. 15 year old rye-heavy bourbon in all its glory, full of vanilla and caramel character, and touched with orange oil, cloves, and cinnamon. Great balance, and incredibly well-rounded, this is just a great, well-aged bourbon that finds everything firing on all cylinders. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Extended Stave Dry Time - Hotter on the nose, with clear mint notes. Punchy, with much stronger orange fruit notes and a finish that is reminiscent of balsa wood. The vanilla is kept in check, with just hints of caramel. A racier spirit but one that starts to spiral out of balance. Amazingly instructive in how a small thing can impact a spirit in such a major way. B+

$46.35 each (375ml bottles) / buffalotrace.com

Review: Kilchoman 2007 Vintage and 100% Islay Third Release

Two new expressions from Islay’s Kilchoman, still the youngest distillery in Scotland and arguably its most intriguing…

kilchoman 2007 Vintage 249x300 Review: Kilchoman 2007 Vintage and 100% Islay Third ReleaseKilchoman 2007 Vintage – This is Kilchoman’s oldest bottling to date, a six-year-old single malt whiskey matured entirely in ex-Bourbon barrels. Here we see Kilchoman starting to mellow out, its aggressive peat subdued by some of the wood and vanilla notes emerging from the barrel. It’s still got plenty of phenol on its tongue, but now the spirit is locked tightly into a struggle with something sweeter, leading to a more refined and ambitious spirit. Beneath the peat, you’ll find notes of cinnamon, apple pie, and lemongrass. To be sure, it’s a whiskey that’s still developing — and will continue to do so for years or decades to come — but is already coming into its own. 10,000 bottles made. 92 proof. A- / $80

kilchoman 100 percent Islay 3rd Edition 250x300 Review: Kilchoman 2007 Vintage and 100% Islay Third ReleaseKilchoman 100% Islay Third Release - This is a new version of the single malt whiskey Kilchoman put out last year, made entirely with Islay products — most notably including the barley used in the mash. As it’s been a year since the Second Release, and the primary difference is that the stock in the bottle is about a year older, now a vatting of four- and five-year-old malts, aged in former Bourbon barrels. It’s quite a seductive bottling, restrained on the nose with floral and citrus notes, and surprisingly little peat. The body has more where that came from, adding in nougat notes, clove-studded oranges, butterscotch, and a lightly, lacily-smoked finish that begs for sip after sip. This one’s hard to put down, and is almost certainly Kilchoman’s best expression to date. 10,000 bottles made. 100 proof. A / $90

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley and 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskeys

MS Trio 525x601 Review: Mastersons 10 Year Old Straight Barley and 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskeys

The folks at Masterson’s — made by California-based parent company 35 Maple Street — make what has already become a cult rye whiskey, Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye. Now the company is back with an even stranger pair of siblings: two well-aged whiskeys, one 100% wheat, one 100% barley.

Both are straight whiskeys made from 100% of their respective grains, sourced from Canada and bottled in the U.S. How do they measure up against the masterful Masterson’s Rye? Thoughts follow.

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskey - Modest straw in color, the unique nose is immediately hard to place. What comes across are notes of butterscotch, mint, woodsy cedar closet, and a touch of mothballs (not in a bad way). The body is sweeter than expected, with more of a sense of balance than you might expect from the quirky nose. There’s more of a graham cracker character on the palate, with notes of pear, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s got quite a bit of bite — this is 100 proof stuff — but that masks the relative thinness of the body. This is a whiskey that is initially a little confusing because its flavors are so unexpected… but it grows on you quite a bit after you spend some time with it, which I recommend you do. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #3538. A- / $62

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley Whiskey – 100% unmalted barley, an extreme rarity in the whiskey world. Well, I disliked this at WhiskyFest and I still dislike it now that I’ve had more time to spend with it. The nose offers an immature, bready character, weighted down with hospital notes. On the body, more of the same — but intense. The stock is rough, the palate leaden with the essence of wood oils, mashed grains, chimney soot, and burnt toast. Something hints at intrigue on the finish — a bit of honey and vanilla, perhaps — but it’s not nearly enough to elevate this beyond a misfiring curiosity. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #6045. C / $62

35maplestreet.com

Review: Breaker Bourbon

breaker bourbon 478x1200 Review: Breaker Bourbon

The town of Buellton, California is better known as part of the Sideways-famed Southern California wine road. But it turns out they’re making whiskey there, too.

Breaker Bourbon is sourced whiskey from our good friends in Indiana, crafted from barrels at least 5 years old. Each batch is a blend of just 8 barrels of whiskey, which makes this pretty small batch stuff, to be sure. There’s no word on the original mashbill, but it’s made from a clearly typical mix of corn/barley/rye, not wheat.

This is easy sippin’ Bourbon, with some surprising nuance to it. The nose is slightly corny, with quiet vanilla behind it. The palate is where this spirit shines. It starts with caramel corn, then takes off with notes of taffy, Sugar Babies, graham crackers, and some menthol. Lots going on here, but it’s all in the same microverse, and the balance is spot on. Fairly soft for most of the way, the finish brings the burlier wood component to the forefront along with a touch of licorice, and the higher proof ensures the whiskey stays with you for a long while. This is an excellent fireside sipper, and overall a solid example of what Bourbon can be, even when it’s bottled on the other side of the country.

Reviewed: Batch #3, bottle #242. 90 proof.

Update: Breaker offers some additional production information: “True we source barrels and they are corn, rye, and malted barley.  What happens when they arrive at our distillery is what we believe has the most impact on the bourbon before our skilled distiller creates his small-batch blends.  Being located in Buellton we have coastal humidity that rolls down the Santa Rita Hills through the evening and early morning. During the days the temperature increases daily between 40-50 degrees. The barrels breathe very heavy and our friends at Cal Poly tell us we age about 4 times faster than they do in Kentucky.  We blend and barrel each batch in Buellton.”

A- / $40 / ascendantspirits.com