Category Archives: Whiskey

Recipe: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Cocktails

Recently, we ran a review of the Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon which Beam has offered forth this fall. We were also lucky enough to receive a recipe for an Old Fashioned for the upcoming holiday season courtesy of Iron Chef Michael Symon. It’s quite the tasty cocktail. However, not one to shy away from making a cocktail worthy of an Iron Chef, we also decided to take a stab at creating our own in celebration of the arrival of the 2014 NHL season. We don’t have the luxury of three celebrity judges to determine a winner, but leave your thoughts… or your own ideas… in the comments field!

Knob Creek Ol’ Fashioned Holiday Maple
Created by Michael Symon

Pinch of raw sugar
Orange peel
3 dashes bitters
1 ½ parts Knob Creek Smoked Maple bourbon
1 part Apple brandy
Drop a pinch of raw sugar, orange peel, and 3 dashes bitters into a rocks glass and muddle. Add Knob Creek Smoked Maple bourbon and Apple brandy. Stir with ice.

The Hockey Puck
(a Drinkhacker original)

2 parts Knob Creek Smoked Maple bourbon
1 part Nocello walnut liqueur
1 dash bitters
Cinnamon Stick (for garnish)
Add bitters, then Knob Creek Smoked Maple bourbon and finally Nocello liqueur. Serve neat or on the rocks with a side of plain cake donuts.

Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

colorados own corn whiskey 525x445 Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

Colorado continues to rise as a key craft distilling region. One of the vanguards is Colorado Gold, a company out of Cedaredge, which was established in 2007. The company makes a full range of spirits, and today we’re looking at two of its most popular ones, both whiskeys, and very different ones at that. Thoughts follow.

Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Young stuff, but quite engaging. Made from a mash of 65% corn, 15% rye, 10% wheat, and 10% malted barley, and aged for three years in a new char #3 American oak barrel. There’s ample wood on the nose, balanced with a touch of citrus, a bit of menthol. The body takes things to a similar place — a good slug of wood, mild caramel, with some dusty, coal-fire notes on the finish. Pleasant but not overly nuanced, this is a surprisingly simple bourbon, but with the often abrasive corn/grain notes you find in so many craft bourbons mercifully stripped out. There’s ample wood, but it’s balanced with clever touches of marshmallow, vanilla, and orange oil, turning slightly bitter as the finish fades. I’m both impressed and intrigued. 80 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #8, bottle #79, distilled 1/19/13. B+ / $43

Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey – Colorado Gold’s top selling product. Made from a mash of 85% corn, 10% wheat, and 5% malted barley and aged for 6 months in a fresh-dumped Colorado Gold (see above) bourbon barrel. This is lightly aged corn whiskey, emphasis on light — it’s got the barest shade of yellow tinting it. This is surprisingly easy to drink. It’s not at all harsh or overloaded with corn, rather a light and pleasant spirit that features simple vanilla caramel notes backed with touches of corn chips. A fruity character comes on in the finish — peaches, perhaps — before some dusty wood notes bring up the rear. Surprisingly fun stuff. 80 proof. B+ / $27

coloradogolddistillers.com

Review: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

Knob Creek Smoked Maple 525x794 Review: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

Finally, someone’s doing the maple-flavored whiskey thing right.

Let me step back. In general I’m ambivalent toward flavored whiskeys. I don’t much see the point, as if I wanted flavor with my whiskey I’d just mix up a cocktail. Still, shortcuts are shortcuts, and there’s something to be said for having your favorite mix pre-bottled and ready to go.

The reason for the success isn’t hard to see. This is overproof Knob Creek (normally 100 proof) with a fairly light touch of maple syrup flavor, instead of the all-too-common other way around: Syrup that’s had a dash of whiskey added to it. Even with the additions, Knob Creek Smoked Maple comes through at 90 proof, still well above the typical 70 to 80 proof you find in this category.

The results are impressive. While pancake syrup fills the room when you crack open the bottle (sealed with the traditional Knob Creek black wax), but that’s where the maple effect is its strongest. Nosing an aerated glass brings out Bourbon first, maple syrup considerably further down the list. On the palate, the mouthfeel is solid — a bit more gummy than straight whiskey, but plenty pleasant. The maple character is there, all right, making it tough to pick out specific notes in the Bourbon, but in the end, after the pancake party is over, I find myself left with citrus peel, marshmallow, ice cream cone, and toffee characters on the finish. The one thing I don’t get here: Smoked anything.

Now I’m the kind of guy who prefers pancakes with butter only, so for me to say Knob Creek’s Smoked Maple is a worthwhile product, even a rather good one, is like the Pope saying he isn’t going to judge gay priests. Er, wait a sec.

B+ / $31 / knobcreek.com

Review: Laphroaig QA Cask and Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013

laphroaig travel tube bottle 04131 525x350 Review: Laphroaig QA Cask and Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013

It’s not every day we get to experience a new Laphroaig expression, and it’s pretty much never when we get to try two of them. At a recent Laphroaig Live event, these two expressions were introduced by Laphroaig Distillery Manager and Friend of Drinkhacker John Campbell.

The night started with Quarter Cask, Laphroaig’s fastest growing expression, now accounting for 25 percent of the company’s sales just nine years after introduction, then moved on to the new stuff. Maker’s Mark, which supplies the used barrels to Laphroaig which it uses for its primary aging, was also on hand to let us taste Maker’s 46 by way of comparison.

Here are some thoughts on the new stuff.

Laphroaig QA Cask – A travel retail exclusive launched in April 2013. Like Quarter Cask, this is double matured, but rather than finishing this whiskey in small casks it is finished in unused, new charred oak barrels, a la Bourbon. (QA stands for quercus alba, the scientific name for white oak.) Compared to Laphroaig 10 or Quarter Cask this is a much different whisky, immediately striking the palate with more of a wood smoke character than a peaty one. It’s chewy and bold — yet bottled at just 80 proof — a surprisingly nutty whisky with notes of coal, chocolate, and light spice notes — nutmeg, perhaps — with a little toffee and burnt sugar on the finish. The saltiness of Laphroaig adds balance and curiosity, but it’s far from overdone. At first it’s quite jarring in comparison to Quarter Cask, but its charms grow on you, and fast. Definitely one to keep experiencing and contrasting against other Islay whiskys. A- / $84 (1 liter)

Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 – It’s easy to see why Laphroaig bottled this, which is finished in Port pipes, in a clear bottle instead of its typical green: The rosy orange color is unique and really quite lovely. Wow, one sip and this is an instant, utter knockout. It starts with sweet strawberries and cream, jam on toast, light rose petals — then that characteristic Laphroaig DNA kicks in on the back end, with its salt and brine balancing things out perfectly. The brain barely knows what to do with this. Is it Islay? Is it a strange Highland whisky? Is it a Port cocktail? The mind boggles, but the tongue is happy. Incredibly hard to put down, and so pretty to look at, too. Stock up. 102.6 proof. A+ / $75

laphroaig.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Double Malt Selections

Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Straight and Classic Malt 525x722 Review: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Double Malt Selections

Every year around this time our friends at Woodford Reserve release a special, and sometimes experimental, whiskey release. And for 2013, Woodford is taking things to the Old World, bottling two single 100% malted barley whiskeys… made in Kentucky.

You’re reading that right: These are the first “fully matured whiskies crafted from malt in Kentucky since Prohibition.”

Woodford doesn’t offer any age information (or data on where the barley is from), but the two whiskeys are different in one respect: the aging regimen. The Woodford Classic Malt is aged in used Bourbon barrels (which would be typical of the way things are done in Scotland), and the Woodford Straight Malt is aged in new oak barrels (typical of the way Bourbon is aged). In other words, the Classic Malt should taste more like a Scotch, while the Straight Malt should have a unique, hybrid, more wood-driven Bourbon-like character to it. But do they?

Both are 90.4 proof. Thoughts follow.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Classic Malt Whiskey – A pale blonde in color, this can’t be more than four or five years old. The nose is mild and uninspiring, with a moderate wood character atop some big bread and cereal notes. The body is at first appealing, with a fun vanilla cookie character, but this very quickly fades into an overwhelming maltiness alongside some overcooked fruits, all studded with the brashness of white dog, which gives the whiskey a moderate bite. The overall impact is not compelling, and not terribly satisfying. I’ll be honest that this is far from my favorite thing that Woodford has ever done, and in Scotland this would be regarded as an immature spirit that’s not nearly ready for release, much less one which you could get someone to pay $100 for. C-

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Straight Malt Whiskey - A considerably darker, sherry-colored spirit. The new oak does this spirit a favor at first, but only to an extent. Here, you’ll find plenty of malt character on the nose, and the body backs that up. But again, it’s simply undercooked, with a mess of underdeveloped flavors that recall stewed prunes, charred marshmallows, dried apricots, and asparagus. As with the Classic Malt, it’s very malty, with that white dog burn coming on strong in the finsh. I’m not sure whether I like this more or less than the Classic Malt, but I know I don’t like it much. The bigger body offers some help in one sense by giving the whiskey more power, but on the other hand that only serves to amplify the fact that here you have a bunch of underdeveloped flavors that just don’t work well together. C-

Kudos to Woodford for thinking outside the box, but I think it’s safe to chalk this one up as an experiment that just didn’t work out — and evidence as to why corn is king in Kentucky, not barley.

On sale November 2013.

$100 each / woodfordreserve.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon

ProductImages Kentucky Gentleman KSBW 80prf 1000ml Glass 1 525x786 Review: Kentucky Gentleman BourbonInitially I was apprehensive to even approach this long-standing brand, as the gentleman who stumbles down my street during his early morning commute usually has a pint of the stuff firmly fastened in hand. However, Kentucky Gentleman has recently earned the dubious cachet of being the “PBR of Bourbons” by the youth of today — meaning it is cheap yet still worth drinking as long as you do so ironically.

So it was with a “can do” spirit and a healthy surplus of denial that I’m no longer “with it” that I forked over $10 and bought myself 750ml of this Barton brand.

Madam, this is no gentleman. In fact, there were moments while forcing sips down my throat where I wasn’t fully certain how this concoction connected to the greater context of the bourbons I adore. A cursory glance at the back of the bottle revealed the answer: it’s actually 51% straight whiskey and 49% grain neutral spirits, so it leans closer to a blend than actual bourbon. That’s not to say there aren’t traces of bourbon lingering in the glass, because they’re here. Sort of. Hints of caramel and corn are present but only to announce that they’re drowning in a sea of alcohol and thick iced-tea colored silt.

There’s a certain practical joke quality in the misnomer of calling this Kentucky Gentleman — no gentleman from Kentucky with whom I’ve made acquaintance would actively procure and participate in drinking this spirit. And who knows? Maybe that’s the point of it all: to deflect folks from trying the good stuff. If true, that’s one of the few points where “KG” succeeds: to protect against newcomers hell-bent on upping market prices and hoarding limited editions for online trading and selling. In fact, I might just keep this on the shelf and serve it to the next annoying houseguest who asks me if they can try a sip of Pappy Van Winkle.

D / $10 / greatbourbon.com (…)

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – 2nd Edition, 2013

Angels Envy Cask Strength 2nd edition 525x787 Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – 2nd Edition, 2013

Last year, cult favorite whiskey Angel’s Envy was released in a super-rare cask strength edition. The catch: a whopping 600 bottles were made and released only in Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.

Now the company is back with another cask strength released, and this time it won’t be quite so scarce, with about 4,000 bottles released in California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, and Texas. That said, considering this is the final project completed by recently deceased Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson and that Paul Pacult just named the 2012 Cask Strength bottling his #1 spirit of the last year, I’d expect this bottling to vanish just as quickly.

For those unfamiliar, Angel’s Envy is a bourbon made from 4- to 6-year old stock, finished for 3 to 6 months in Port barrels. Normally an 86.6 proof whiskey, this cask strength release hits 123 proof (1% hotter than the 2012 version, which is pictured above).

I think this is a touch better than the 2012 bottling. There’s so much depth of flavor here and so much to explore. First comes a very deep sweetness, driven by burnt sugar and deep raisin notes. (Of course, there’s plenty of alcohol to work your way through, too.)

On the palate, the whiskey takes on deeper, more nefarious notes. Heavy wood char, prune, roasted nuts, and a lasting, wood-driven finish. It really spins the AE formula on its head. In the standard bottling the wood comes first, the raisiny sweetness after. Here it’s sugar, then wood. How does that happen? Ah, what a country.

A- / $149 / angelsenvy.com

Review: Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye and Wheat Whiskeys

blue flame washington rye 525x916 Review: Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye and Wheat Whiskeys

Blue Flame is a craft distillery based in Prosser, Washington. The company focuses on hyper-local distilling: Both of these products are made from ingredients sourced from within 45 miles of the distillery, including grain from the distillery’s own farm and the barrels (made from local wood and custom designed by distillery owner Brian Morton) in which they’re aged. We’ll talk more about what’s in the bottle in the two reviews below. Both spirits are 80 proof, no age statements offered.

Blue Flame Spirits Washington Wheat Whiskey - 100% local wheat — a rare mashbill in today’s world. Initially young and brash, this youthful endeavor starts off without revealing many of its charms. Heavy granary notes start the show, clean but full of cereal character. Over time, the whiskey builds to offer restrained notes of banana, butterscotch, and caramel. Light toasted almond notes atop the cereal-driven body can be found on the finish. A curiosity. B- / $36

Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye Whiskey – 100% local rye (rare, but not quite as rare as the 100% wheat). This rye is sweeter than the wheat, with a more interesting collection of flavors to explore on the whole. As with the wheat, the rye starts with young cereal notes, but here they quickly build and evolve into a new direction. A light smokiness on the nose offers a touch of nuance for the nostrils. The body features toasted marshmallow, hazelnut, and some light chocolate, all atop a more racy grain underpinning. The finish brings all of this together into a rough sort of dessert with a surprisingly enjoyable and easy-drinking balance. B+ / $33

blueflamespirits.com

Review: Jim Beam American Stillhouse 2013 Clermont Limited Edition Bourbon

JB Stillhouse 2013 Sm 525x784 Review: Jim Beam American Stillhouse 2013 Clermont Limited Edition Bourbon

Jim Beam’s new American Stillhouse is a new visitor’s center and production facility is getting a new whiskey to call its own. Specially bottled with a custom, vintage-dated label, Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe has put out this 2013 Clermont Limited Edition bourbon in an edition of just 7500 bottles, each numbered and signed by Noe. (No age statement or mashbill information is available.) We were lucky enough to nab one.

The nose is unexpected and intriguing, with characteristics of maple syrup, bacon, and deeper level baking spices — allspice and nutmeg. The body is even more unusual. Here you’ll find not the traditional vanilla sweetness of bourbon but something much different. Huge wood notes are evident, with secondary notes of incense, raisins, and leather. Lots of tannin throughout, with a very drying finish. In the end the fruit components take on more of a prune-like character, with plenty of wood notes to round out the finale. I can’t say it’s overwhelmingly pleasant. It’s got a certain frontier curiosity around it, but the fruit and sweeter elements are so muted that it comes across as decidedly flat.

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle 1542/7500.

B / $40 / americanstillhouse.com

Review: Wild Turkey Forgiven Whiskey

wild turkey forgiven 133x300 Review: Wild Turkey Forgiven WhiskeyIs it possible that a distillery like Wild Turkey made a new whiskey by mistake… and that it turned out so well they decided to commercialize it? Well, I don’t want to get in the way of a self-described “wild tale” or this new whiskey, the first-ever widely produced whiskey that’s a blend of bourbon and rye.

Made from 78 percent 6-year-old bourbon and 22 percent 4-year-old rye, Forgiven is immediately a curiosity, though well in line with the Wild Turkey repertoire. The nose is well installed in bourbonland: Big, lumberyard sawdust notes which immediately come across as something much older than a mere 6 years of age. Mild vanilla notes come across alongside them, but the dominant aroma is purely, simply wood.

On the body there’s fortunately more to discover. Creamy marshmallow backed up with milk chocolate, some apple, and a touch of spice are well evident on the palate. Of course, there’s plenty of wood to go along with it, and here it’s almost overpowering. As for that rye, it’s not much more evident than in a high-rye bourbon. There is a slight kick on the back end as a little red pepper shows itself, but otherwise, you’d be fully forgiven (get it?) for thinking this was just a big, woody bourbon.

Forgiven is fine for a sipping whiskey, but I’m unconvinced that it adds anything new to the Wild Turkey pantheon. I’m happy to drink it — it’s completely harmless — but it just doesn’t have a lot of nuance that you’ll find either in straight bourbon or standard rye.

Was this truly an accidental discovery? It seems absurd to suggest that no one has blended two whiskeys together in the past — Wild Turkey makes plenty of both of these spirits — but having experienced the final product of putting them together, it’s easy to see why a mixture like this has never been commercialized until now. There just wasn’t any point.

91 proof.

B / $50 / wildturkeybourbon.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Ten

We’re into double digits on Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project” experiment. With 10 rounds down and 6 to go, the end of this extravaganza is finally in sight… all 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

This round looks primarily at entry proof and wood grain size, testing 105 and 125 entry proof along with tight/average/coarse wood grains, plus the effect of recipe (rye vs. wheat, which so far has been tested in every round). The other variables in this round remain the same, including char level (#3), tree cut (tops), stave seasoning (all level 12), and aging warehouse (warehouse K, with wood floors in this case).

All told I really enjoyed this round. I think it was one of the most successful in the SOP to date, with barrel #41 a standout in my mind — perhaps the best Single Oak Project bourbon released so far.

Per the company, when aggregating customer reviews, barrel number 59 is currently in the lead, with barrels number 92 and number 188 close behind.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #9 – Very woody and overcooked. Dusty, with notes of bittersweet chocolate and coffee grounds. Shows its charms after a while in glass, but it’s a long time coming. B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #25 – Heavy menthol on the nose, hot body. After the mint character fades, it’s all burnt wood and chimney fires on the palate, but the finish just sort of lies there. (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #41 – Much better balance here, both with a seductive nose and a well-built body. Lots going on throughout, with notes of butterscotch, rum raisin ice cream, and cherries on the finish. Altogether it’s got a great balance of flavors that come together swimmingly, though the body is slightly thin. One of the best bottlings in this whole series. (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #57 – Heavy with sawdust and lumberyard notes on the nose, with a slight orange tinge. Feels undeveloped on the tongue, lacking any real definition or direction. Fades quickly. B- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #73 – Nose of tobacco leaf and barrel staves, unusual and intriguing. The body offers a surprising mix of wood, butterscotch, mushroom, and vegetal character — which is altogether more interesting than it may sound in that description. The finish grows quite sweet. This one grew on me quite a bit. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #89 – Strong apple notes on the nose, with some pleasant cinnamon undertones. This is a unique whiskey for the Single Oak Project, light and fruity but also balanced by ample oak. This is another winner, but a wholly different spirit than the others in this round. A-  (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #105 – Absent on the nose, a surprise given the relative depth of flavor in the palate — lots of caramel and vanilla, quite the sugar bomb on the tongue. Some honey and candied ginger flavors add complexity, but still can’t manage to coax anything into the aroma. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #121 – Another one with a mild nose, this one with hints of banana and apples, followed by touches of sawdust. The body is also very restrained, coming forward with more orange and sherry notes, vanilla ice cream. Another for the sweet tooths, but I like it. A-  (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #137 – Classic Bourbon nose, quite woody. Huge spiciness on this one, with baking spices balanced by a pepperiness I haven’t much seen in this round. Drinks hotter than its 90 proof, which is perhaps a good thing in this case. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #153 – Ample wood on the nose, backed up with menthol. Slightly tight on the palate, a little closed off, the wood becoming a touch astringent in the end. Lacking in any real secondary character. B- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #169 – Hot on the nose, mild on the tongue. This whiskey makes no sense! Banana nut bread notes come along, with some basic caramel character and touches of mint. Fine, in the end, but not entirely in balance. (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #185 – Woody, lots of citrus, overall a fun, frontier-style whiskey with plenty to enjoy. The lumberyard notes are what stick with you, but they’re light enough to leave you more with a sense of well-being than one of kicking up sawdust. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

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

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and Poitin

Teeling 21 Yr Old Single Malt Silver Reserve 258x300 Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and PoitinWe don’t see a lot of new Irish whiskey brands on the market, so when a curiosity like Teeling comes around, Drinkhacker takes note. The Teeling Whiskey Company (aka TWC) is a new brand with some surprisingly old stock. Founder Jack Teeling has roots in the Irish biz dating back to the late 1700s, and now he’s bringing the family business back with this independent distillery.

Mashbill information is a little complicated, so here it is from TWC’s Teeling: “Both [the whiskey and poitin] are a blend of grain and malt whiskey mashbills. The grain mashbill is 95% maize and 5% malted barley, and the malt mashbill is 100% malted barley. The blend of both consists of 35% malt whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin) and 65% grain whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin).” Got it?

Teeling Whiskey Company Poitin – Ah, Ireland’s white whiskey made from who-knows-what (but see above in TWC’s case), and it’s got a lot going on. The nose is fragrant and intriguing: rustic and young, but with notes of lemongrass, black pepper, and hot coals. Fiery at a blazing 123 proof, the body still shows some charms even without water: marshmallows, orange flowers, and a finish of burning embers. It’s complex yet curious, a white whiskey made the way it really ought to be. High-test white spirits like this always need some coaxing to bring out their charms, but Teeling’s does it quite a bit better than most. B+ / $42 (500ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company Small Batch Irish Whiskey - Small batch whiskey, bottled with no age statement (but blended from hand-selected casks aged between 4 and 7 years old), but finished in ex-Flor de Cana rum casks. The combo makes for some unusual and quite delicious flavors. The nose offers sweet vanilla, creme brulee and very light wood notes. Elusive, but engaging. On the tongue, it’s quite sweet, but kicked up a bit from the rum, with some fun citrus notes, more of a chocolate marshmallow back-end, and a silky smooth finish. The whiskey and rum are working well together here — that doesn’t always happen — offering a sizeable bite, but one which is tempered with ample (yet balanced) sweetness. Really good stuff, with ample depth. Reviewed: Edition bottled 2/2013. 92 proof. A / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company 21 Year Old Silver Vintage Reserve 1991 Irish Whiskey (pictured) - Unlike the above, this is single malt Irish. 21 years old, at that. 21 year old Irish sounds like it’s going to be incredible, but this is a case where things have gone a bit too far. The lively amber color doesn’t let on to what’s in store, which starts to reveal itself with a malty, bread-like nose. The body offers more of that — a really intense grain character that comes off as fully unexpected in a whiskey this well-aged. Where is the sweetness? Where is the spice? These characteristics are hinted at on the finish, but here you also get more heavy barrel char notes that outweigh any fruity sweetness that remains in the spirit. Interesting enough as a sipper, but a huge letdown from my admittedly high expectations. 92 proof. B / $217

teelingwhiskey.com

Review: Jim Beam Maple

Jim Beam Maple 113x300 Review: Jim Beam MapleOK, I like maple syrup as much as the next guy (well, probably not as much, to be honest), but at some point everybody’s got to hit a breaking point.

Maple has revealed itself to be one of the Next Big Things in spirits flavorings, and if you like the idea of literally pouring syrup down your gullet, they’re for you. Ultra-sweet and, well, syrupy, maple whiskeys are designed to rot the teeth right out of today’s increasingly sweet-toothed consumer while giving them a little buzz along the way.

Jim Beam Maple keeps things close to a tried-and-true formula. The aroma of syrup wafts out of the bottle as soon as it’s opened, and it doesn’t let up. The flavor is thick, lightly woody (perhaps the only touch of actual whiskey shining through), and unbelievably sweet. The finish lasts for days, matched only by the hysterical stickiness that coats the glass like glue. Is it whiskey? Is it vodka? Is it really just syrup? (There’s no heat to speak of.) Impossible to answer any of the above at this level of flavoring intensity.

Maple spirits are becoming commonplace to the point of market saturation. That’s fine if you’re into that kind of experience, but sadly, Jim Beam Maple just doesn’t do anything to elevate the game.

70 proof.

C+ / $16 / jimbeam.com

Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Hardcore Cider

red stag hardcore cider 109x300 Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Hardcore CiderThe latest addition to the ever-expanding line of Red Stag by Jim Beam is this, called Hardcore Cider. You don’t need a lot of imagination to figure out this is infused with apple cider “and other natural flavors.” Apple is a natural complement for bourbon (and plenty of cocktails mix whiskey and cider), so this combination makes sense.

On the nose, the spirit is full of deep apple character — baked apples in a touch of cinnamon syrup, like grandma used to make. The body follows suit: This is a whiskey where the flavoring takes the reins and runs with it. The bourbon element of this Red Stag is elusive to the point of absence. If the fruit were a bit brighter, you could be excused for thinking you were drinking Calvados. A touch of vanilla at the very end reminds you it’s been in a barrel, but vanilla is such a natural counterpoint for apples that it doesn’t immediately come across as a bourbon element.

This is not a bad product, but the relative absence of bourbon flavors — even with 80 proof whiskey as the base — make me wish for something that showcased the whiskey along with the cider. That said, I’d mix this with ginger ale or use it as a base for a punch and see what happens.

80 proof.

B / $18 / jimbeam.com

Review: J.W. Dant Bourbon

4605 6544jwdantoubnbox 199x300 Review: J.W. Dant BourbonFirst, for your consideration, a bit of history: Joseph Washington Dant was a well-known Kentucky distiller who in 1836 gained a reputation for making his whisky using a log still. For those not versed in the distillation arts, that’s essentially a hollowed out tree trunk with copper piping running through the center. The logs would then be filled with mash and steam would run through the copper pipe for the distilling process. Dant would go on to own a proper distillery some 40 years later, and generations of his family would continue to work in the industry. Eventually they would honor his legacy with a bottle bearing his name in the late ’50s. The brand would stay in the family name until Heaven Hill purchased it in 1993; the bottle has stayed in Heaven Hill’s core lineup since, though it is no longer made in a log. (No age statement is offered.)

And now the tasting: At first, Dant seems promising. A fresh, neat pour offers up traces of orange, spices, and a bit of smoke on the nose; ideal for cocktails for the forthcoming autumn season. The first sip and swish ease in with a bit of the usual suspects: vanilla, caramel, and oak, but then follow up with an absolute knockout punch of heat and alcohol which linger until the (somewhat) short, oaky finish. Nothing really changes much over the duration of a glass. It mellows with a bit of ice, but the song remains the same.

Overall it’s not an unpleasant experience, but definitely not a stand-up memorable tasting event either. It’s a bit like that very odd dating situation where things went fine and nothing went wrong, but considering the field is wide open and plenty of options remain available, a second date might happen only with a bit of reluctance. Heaven Hill would be well served in re-tooling the brand to compete on a pedigree with other big names like Stagg, Parker’s, and Booker’s. It’s the least it can do for a man who contributed much to the advancement of bourbon. He certainly deserves the consideration.

B / $18 / no website

Review: Wild Turkey Spiced

Wild Turkey Spiced Bottle Shot 525x1101 Review: Wild Turkey Spiced

Spiced rum? Old news. Spiced whiskey is the future, bringing all the goodies of the baking cabinet to Kentucky’s finest.

Wild Turkey is the latest to get into this game, bringing the traditional islandesque spices you’ll find adorning Captain Morgan and the rest of his crew to the world of Bourbon. There’s not a lot of information about the underlying Bourbon here — it’s standard Wild Turkey, but bottled at 86 proof with no age statement to be found (not surprising, of course). There’s not a lot of information about the spiced, either — only “spice and other natural flavors” are noted on the label — but a cursory taste reveals cinnamon and cloves, plus more vanilla than you’d expect from a Bourbon of this pedigree.

In fact, the nose is all vanilla, all the time — it’s so thick it comes across as a little bit synthetic, a common problem in vanilla-infused spirits. The palate offers more to play with, a baking spice character that, for once, doesn’t bury its base spirit in sugar. Here the cinnamon/clove mix is evident — maybe even a little ginger in there? — but Wild Turkey’s deep wood character doesn’t get drowned out. It’s with you from start to finish, both imbuing the front of the palate with some depth and providing a long, lightly smoky/bacony finish that reminds you you’re drinking whiskey and not rum.

Sure, this isn’t a product I’d likely sip straight, but i can see myriad opportunities to work with it in punches, holiday cocktails, and hot drinks. Worth a shot at this price.

B / $23 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina Whiskey

topo piedmont gin 208x300 Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina WhiskeyTop of the Hill Distillery, affectionately “TOPO,” promises its spirits are “100 miles from grain to glass.” That’d be more comforting if I was closer to North Carolina, where TOPO is based. Good luck finding these farther afield. Fortunately, I was able to sample the full lineup of three unaged spirits from way out here in California. Thoughts on these organic spirits follow.

TOPO Vodka – Made from organic Carolina wheat. Whew, pungent on the nose, redolent of a typical white whiskey, with lots of grain aromas filling the nostrils. On the tongue, it belies that funky nose with a brisk sweetness, almost marshmallow-like in character, with a pungent medicinal character underneath. Kind of a strange combination. There’s a lot going on here, and those that like their vodka on the more rustic side will find plenty to enjoy. On the other hand, if you’re looking for balance and refinement, TOPO’s definitely got some growing up to do. 80 proof. B- / $29

TOPO Piedmont Gin – Also an organic wheat spirit. Piedmont, I’m guessing, refers not to Italy but to a big swath of area that runs along the eastern seaboard and crosses straight through central North Carolina. (Now you know!) But whatever the nomenclature, it’s an American style gin flavored with ample juniper, cardamom, coriander, star anise, and organic cucumber. On the nose there’s ample juniper, so much so that you might think TOPO Gin is going to be a one-trick pony. Take a sip and you’re in for a surprise: The juniper fades. Sweet licorice notes, floral snippets, and hints of orange peel arise in its wake. What’s most surprising is the kind of candied flower finish. Either that, or that my tasting notes bear no resemblance to those of TOPO’s. 92 proof. A- / $29

TOPO Carolina Whiskey – Like the above, this is young whiskey based on organic Carolina wheat. It has a lot in common with the vodka, too, as you might expect. It is, however, considerably more pungent (distilled fewer times and likely more pot-distilled spirit than in the vodka, I’d guess), full of deep grain and traditional fuel-driven notes on the nose. The body is of greater interest, loaded with chewy sweetness, plus plenty of cereal notes. The effect is not unlike a good granola bar, breakfast and dessert all in one package. It’s not overblown, but surprisingly well balanced among its various characteristics. As white whiskeys go — which is often a Bad News Bears situation — it’s one of the better ones around. 84 proof. B+ / $22

topodistillery.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

Antique Collection 525x411 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

It’s always a glorious day when Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection annual samples arrive, letting us stick our noses and tongues in these classics of the American whiskey world. 2013 offers the quintet at ages of up to 19 years old. Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2013 Collection stack up. (Hint: It’s one of the strongest showings for the Antique Collection in years.)

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Beautiful nose. Lovely rye spice meets caramel and spice aromas. The body has an easy sweetness to it, with gentle grain meeting burnt sugar, vanilla caramels, and light applesauce notes. Relatively simple, but wait for the dark molasses to come along in the finish as you let this rumble around in the glass for a while. This is a barrel (er, barrels) picked at just the right time — I don’t get the overly tannic, drying, and dusty character than 2012′s version. As it often is in the annals of the Antique Collection (because it’s essentially the same from year to year), this one’s just about perfect. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Surprise, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is this year actually 19 years old. They didn’t bother changing the bottle, though. This is always a fun, go-to bourbon, and this year it’s no exception. A bigger whiskey, it’s got ample leather and wood on the nose and the initial attack of the body, with a kind of plum/prune/raisin underpinning that arrives quickly. The sweeter, more dessert-like elements come out more clearly as the finish fades, leaving the drinker with a surprisingly complex overall experience. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – This year’s Stagg was aged on lower floors of the Buffalo Trace warehouses, and the proof comes in at 128.2 proof, one of the lowest (if not the lowest) I’ve seen since starting this website. (Higher warehouse locations are hotter, which causes more water to evaporate than alcohol, which leaves higher-proof whiskey in the barrel.) OK, with that resolved, what you’ll find is a classically structured barrel-proof bourbon, heavy with wood notes (and plenty of straight-up alcohol despite the lower proof level) up front but balanced by a surprising fruitiness underneath. Chewy with notes of figs, plums, and currants, it’s got a brooding character you don’t often see in bourbon and which is not the usual way Stagg presents itself. One worth exploring, as always. 16 years old. B+

William Larue Weller Bourbon – The blazing hot nose makes you think you’re in for nothing but burn, but this year’s Weller — never a highlight of the Antique Collection — has much more to show off. Lots of tobacco on the nose — both fresh and smoldering. A 136.2 proof bourbon at the (comparably) young age of 12 years old, it comes across as older than you initially expect. The tobacco and wood notes blow off after a time, bringing on restrained butterscotch sweetness, plus some banana and caramel notes. This is probably the most classically structured bourbon of the lot, with wood meeting ice cream toppings alongside a blistering overproof backbone. Plenty to enjoy for the traditionalists. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As usual, this 6 year old rye is the odd man out in a collection populated by whiskeys two to three times its age. But last year Jim Murray made the untenably insane choice to name Handy his “Whisky of the Year,” cementing its place in the Collection pretty much eternally. This year’s expression is one of the better versions of the spirit. It’s a quite sweet rye, laden with plenty of baking spice and a particularly long gingerbread finish. The exceptional sweetness can become a bit overwhelming in the long haul, but that may be to some drinkers’ tastes. Not a lot of wood influence this year, a stark departure from 2012. I wonder what Murray will say. 128.4 proof. B+

$70 each / greatbourbon.com

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

Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsBuffalo Trace, no stranger to experimentation, recently released this intriguing series of bourbons as part of its Experimental Collection. The idea: Vary entry proof from very low (90) to fairly high (125), and keep the barrels otherwise exactly the same.

Entry proof, for those not familiar with the lingo, is the term that describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is not barreled at the alcohol level that came off the still. It is rather watered down, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s sealed up to rest for years.

With this series of whiskeys, the white dog came off the still at 130 proof. The recipe is a wheated mashbill, which was then split into four parts, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 7 months in barrel. When bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof.

How are they different, and which is best? Here’s what I had to say…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 90 Entry Proof - Pleasant and mellow, it has a brisk level of heat on the nose, but not overwhelming. The body is moderately woody, with ample vanilla character. Applesauce and cinnamon build to an easy, lasting, and sweet conclusion, with just a lightly woody/sawdusty kicker. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 105 Entry Proof - Much less on the nose here, just wisps of lumber and alcoholic heat. The body: Completely dead, just nothing going on in this at all. Hints of coconut and milk chocolate, but otherwise this could be almost any kind of whiskey. A snooze. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 115 Entry Proof - Nose of butterscotch, some wood. Comes across as hotter as you take in the nose, but reveals banana notes, brown sugar, caramel, and more. On the body, quite unique, with a sweetness that’s spiked with lots of cloves and deep wood character. Still, it’s not overcooked, offering lots of depth in both its fruit and more savory characters. If I was buying one of these, I’d pick this one. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 125 Entry Proof - Racy and spicy, with notes of cinnamon and raisins, both on the nose and in the body. Opens up as you sip it, but wood-driven characteristics take hold over the fruit, leaving behind a slightly bitter, hoary finish. Not unenjoyable, but more difficult than it needs to be. B

Fun stuff, but it might say more about barrel variability than it does about the merits of different entry proofs.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Virginia Bourbons

bowman brothers small batch 143x300 Review: A. Smith Bowman Virginia BourbonsYes Virginia, they do make whiskey in, uh, Virginia.

A. Smith Bowman is a boutique bottling now owned by Buffalo Trace parent company Sazerac. It was previously sold with very limited regional availability, but now this unique whiskey, made in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is getting broader distribution that currently totals 17 states (sorry Mississippi!). We were fortunate enough to nab two of the three whiskey expressions it currently has on offer — though oddly, none of the three actually says “A. Smith Bowman” exactly in those words on the label, so bear that in mind if you go on the hunt for a bottle. (The company also makes rum, vodka, and gin.)

Don’t be afraid of Virginia, purists. These are Bourbons made in the accepted, proper way, with a traditional copper pot still, triple distilled. No fancy finishes or other trickery. No age statements are provided on the bottles.

Thoughts on both whiskeys tasted follow.

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Ample applesauce on the nose, with cinnamon notes. On the body, vanilla — slightly saccharine in its sweetness — pours forth, alongside some toasty wood notes that offer balance. Hints of mint throughout. The apple notes come back along on the finish. Overall: Nice body, very pleasant and easy to sip on, as long as you’re ready for a whole lot of fruit. 90 proof. A- / $30

John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – More wood, more vanilla on the nose. Almost chocolatey. The body offers classic, big Bourbon flavor, a well-crafted melange of wood, cocoa powder, rich vanilla, and somewhat less fruit. Here, it’s not apples but rather figs which make a curious — and wholly welcome — entrance, offering a neat twist on this spirit without being overly fruity or dessert like. Great balance, and easy drinking despite the triple-digit proof level. A slight splash of water doesn’t hurt. 100 proof. A / $50 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

asmithbowman.com