Review: NJoy Spirits Wild Buck Whiskey and Mermaid Rum

NJoy Spirits, not to be confused with N’Joy coffee creamer, is the brainchild of Natalie Goff, nee Joy, and Kevin Goff, who make two products, a whiskey and a rum, in Weeki Wachee, Florida, which they promise is a real place. The whiskey is a true craft spirit, no sourcing here, made from local grains and purified rainwater and without artificial coloring or flavorings, and it is made in small batches, aged in variously sized, new, charred oak barrels. The rum is sourced, but it is aged in the company’s own whiskey barrels. “We use no automation at our distillery except for a grain grinder. We fill our bottles by eye and hand label, cork, and sanitize all bottles,” says Natalie.

We tasted both of NJoy’s products. Thoughts (and more production details) follow.

Wild Buck Whiskey – This is a 100% rye made from local Florida grain (30% grown by NJoy itself); the second distillation (of two) is in a pot still. Again, aging is in new oak barrels of various smaller sizes (5, 15, and 25 gallons), but no age statement is offered (the company says barrels are generally 10 to 24 months old). Distinctly youthful on the nose, the whiskey offers aromas of lumberyard along with eucalyptus, mushroom, and a touch of dried fruit. The essence of rye comes further to the fore on the palate, where hefty baking spices interplay with the whiskey’s significant charred wood influence to create a mixed bag of flavors. In time notes of black cherry, significant mint, and cloves push through the hefty wood notes, but the overall impact is still one of a whiskey that will benefit substantially of a few more years of aging; a 5 year old reserve is planned down the road. 100 proof. B / $60

Mermaid Rum – This is 75% 3 year old Florida sugar cane rum blended with 25% Caribbean pot still rum which is then aged in once-used Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days. The nose alone could knock you over. It hits with the power of a pure pot still rum, full of intense phenolic solvent notes alongside heady alcohol. Brown sugar and molasses notes bubble through this, but the focus remains squarely on the funky hogo and raw alcohol character. On the palate, the rum explodes with sweetness, showcasing myriad flavors that you just can’t suss out in the overpowering nose. Brown sugar leads the way to gingerbread, ripe banana, coconut, cocoa nibs, orange peel, and, on the finish, more of those cloves. The conclusion has those petrol notes lingering on the palate, but it’s the explosion of flavor beforehand that lingers on the mind. A masterful blend. 100 proof. A- / $40

wildbuckwhiskey.com

Review: Highland Park Einar

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If you’ve spent much time in travel retail shops, you’ve encountered Highland Park’s “Warrior” series, which comprises eight whiskies, each with the name of a Viking warrior. (Some of these are very small releases, so you may legitimately only encounter two or three of them.)

The theme of the Warrior series is wood, with Svein barreled exclusively in bourbon casks and Thorfinn aged completely in sherry. Various whiskies live in between, varying the percentages of bourbon vs. sherry casking. Einar is just one step up from Svein, comprising primarily bourbon casks but adding in a small portion of European oak sherry casked spirit, too.

Einar doesn’t get a ton of love in the market (which is probably why I got it on deep discount), but I have considerable affection for the finished product. The nose offers an interesting mix of citrusy sherry notes, plus unusual notes of smoldering hay, molasses, and cooked vegetables (admittedly weird at first, but it’s so unique it grows on you). On the palate, a bold and rounded body ventures toward butterscotch, salted caramel, and a very light touch of peat. As the finish develops, that vegetable note develops into a sort of mushroom character, lightly earthy and smoky all at once, before a gently sweet, sherry-flecked finish comes to the fore once again.

Ultimately I like how Einar takes you on a little journey. It’s admittedly brief but it’s nonetheless wholly worthwhile — a whisky day trip, if you will.

80 proof.

B+ / $60 (1 liter) / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon

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Nearly three years ago our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman released a unique finished version of their whiskey, which included 12 months of finishing in gingerbread stout barrels sourced from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Now Bowman is adding a new version that complicates things much further. Allow them to explain directly:

Marrying two Virginia gems, this limited edition bourbon was aged in a special batch of barrels used by A. Smith Bowman Distillery and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Virginia.  The barrels originated at A. Smith Bowman in 2010, where they aged bourbon for four and a half years.  The barrels were emptied and sent to Hardywood Park Brewery to be filled with two special beers: six barrels aged Gingerbread Stout and four barrels aged Foolery Imperial Milk Stout.

Both of the beers aged inside these barrels for eight months before being emptied again and sent back to A. Smith Bowman in December 2015. They were then finally filled for the last time with bourbon that had aged for nine years inside of new charred white oak barrels. This bourbon was distilled in December of 2006 and was allowed to finish for 17 months inside these special barrels. Master Distiller Brian Prewitt determined through periodic tasting evaluations that the rich caramel and oak flavors of the bourbon had intermingled with the spice notes of gingerbread and hints of cocoa in an extraordinary way.

He’s not wrong. This bourbon has a powerful cocoa experience that really can’t be missed (and yeah, some gingerbread too). The nose is redolent with dark chocolate and spice — ginger, but also cinnamon and cloves and perhaps some cardamom in the mix, too. All of this is laid atop a classic bourbon profile of vanilla and heavy lumberyard notes, making for quite a complex aroma.

On the palate, the bourbon plays with the same set of flavors, but in a somewhat different configuration. Those vanilla and caramel notes are up-front and unavoidable on the tongue, and only after this initial straight-bourbon rush do the chocolate and gingerbread notes emerge. But emerge they do, hitting the palate with force and lingering for quite some time. As the finish arrives, it’s bitter dark chocolate notes that hang around the longest, making for a truly unique but also quite compelling experience. Snap up a bottle if you happen to encounter one. It’s a novelty, yes, but a truly worthwhile one.

90 proof.

A- / $46 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery – Jericho, Lossit, and Towiemore

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The Lost Distillery Company is an endeavour which aims to recreate the long-gone whiskies of the dozens of “silent stills” that dot the Scottish countryside. For better or for worse, the group aims to blend up various single malts in an effort to mimic what these lost spirits might have tasted like. How? By researching still types, barley strains, wood sources, and more.

The Lost Distillery hit the scene a few years back, and it’s been diligently making historical drams ever since. The latest trio, which bring the “Classic Selection” line up to six whiskies in total, are reviewed below. All are bottled at 86 proof. (Compare to the 92 proof expressions that dropped a few years ago.) No batch information is provided.

Lost Distillery Jericho – Also known as Benachie in the U.S. (and apparently on some labels of this recreation), this eastern Highlands distillery closed in 1913. The recreation is quite a gentle expression, loaded with cereal notes, a bit of bitter orange, and some mushroom on the nose. The body moves into sweeter territory, offering a more straightforward caramel note, a bit of coconut, and some milk chocolate. Short on the finish but nonetheless enjoyable, it drinks much like many a reasonably young but otherwise standard Highlands or Speyside whisky produced today. B

Lost Distillery Lossit – A long-dead distillery, Islay-based Lossit went south in 1867. Here we have a rather classic, young Islay — this may very well be Laphroaig — though it’s quite mild on the peat. Backing up the mild smokiness are notes of fresh orange, banana, and some cotton candy, leaving the whisky with a finish that is considerably sweeter than you’d expect. What lingers on the back end isn’t smoky peat but rather a chewy, lingering experience that integrates some cooling fireplace embers into a core of butterscotch and ginger candies. There’s no way they had it this good in 1867. B+

Lost Distillery Towiemore – Born in the heart of Speyside, near Dufftown, died in 1931. The deep amber color immediately connotes sherry cask aging, and a nose full of bitter orange, old wine, and lightly musty wood notes only drives the point home. Bold on the palate, the whisky starts with a slight medicinality and moves into notes of fresh cereal, nougat, tobacco leaf, and barrel char. Though the nose says fruit, this one turns out to be all about the grain and the wood, though the finish offers just enough of a hint of tantalizing lemon and orange peel — plus a touch of mint — to send on your way with a smile. B

each $50 to $60 / lost-distillery.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Highland Park FIRE Edition 15 Years Old

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First there was ice. Now there is fire — thanks to Highland Park, which is concluding its two-whisky elemental series with this 15 year old spirit matured completely in refill Port wine casks. Some ephemera:

Highland Park is proud to announce the release of a limited edition single malt Scotch whisky. FIRE Edition is a special bottling that delves into the world of classic Norse mythology and celebrates the Viking roots of Highland Park’s Orkney islands home. Matured exclusively in 100% refill Port wine casks, FIRE Edition follows the release of ICE Edition which was awarded 99/100 and the Chairman’s Trophy in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2016. FIRE Edition completes the two part series inspired by the stories of the Ice and Fire Giants and their battles against the Gods to rule the world.

Jason R. Craig, Global Brand Director, commented: “Maturing our distinctive whisky in 100% refill Port wine seasoned casks is a first for Highland Park and the result is a vibrant, 15 year old single malt with an ABV of 45.2%.  FIRE Edition has a slight reddish hue, (which is its natural color), intense aromas of ruby red fruits, light smoke and a long, lingering finish. However, it is still, unmistakably, Highland Park.”

The bespoke crimson red colored glass was specially commissioned to represent the fierce and molten world of the Fire Giants from Viking mythology.  The bottle is encased in a distinctive black wooden cradle with accompanying black wooden stopper.  A booklet, also included with the bottle, recounts the story of the realm of the Fire Giants and their epic battle against the Gods to rule the world.

According to Viking legends, Surtr was an evil Fire Giant who ruled the Fire Realm.  He would sit at the edge of the kingdom, defending the land by holding a burning sword, which shone brighter and hotter than the sun.  The culmination of these tales is an apocalyptic battle between the Gods and the Giants. Surtr led the sons of Muspell across the bridge of Bifröst, burning everything in sight at Asgard (realm of Gods; Thor, Loki, Freya and Odin) and destroying the world at Ragnarök, heralded as ‘The doom of the Gods.’ The world perished in a blazing and burnishing ball of flames and from the ashes, a new earth was recreated.

FIRE Edition, a special release of 28,000 bottles globally with 4,398 bottles in the US, will be available from specialty spirits retailers in the US beginning in December 2016 at a SRP of $300.

Highland Park and Port sound like a great combination, and sure enough, here they combine to provide a very compelling, but quite unique, experience. The nose on this orange-pinkish whisky is loaded up with sweet cereal up front, plus secondary notes of raisins, honeycomb, and mild menthol notes. On the palate, a more curious character emerges, malty but also quite fruity, with notes of apricot and nectarine showing strongly. The finish sees a more characteristic Highland Park character come through — light iodine and a lick of peat, with some gentle hospital notes emerging as the experience fades away.

What’s funny is that the Port character is relatively lacking here — I get an impression more akin to sweet white wine than a fortified red — but ultimately sitting in the chilly environs (hardly “fire”) of Orkney for 15 years is likely to have a far greater impact on the finished product than a little bit of Portuguese plonk in the mix, no?

90.4 proof.

A- / $300 / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: Cambus 40 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

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At last we come to the final bottle in the series of ten 2016 Diageo Special Releases. For the third time ever, Diageo has included a single grain whisky in the series, this time going with Cambus, which was closed in 1993.

This 40 year old bottling is the oldest official distillery bottling ever released. Distilled in 1975, it was aged wholly in refill American oak hogsheads. (Compare to last year’s 40 year old release of The Cally.)

As it does with any single grain release, this cuts a much different profile than the single malts in this series. The nose is heavy with sweet butterscotch notes, backed with lacings of tropical pineapple and coconut — largely typical of single grain. On the palate, a rather different profile emerges, but again it’s even more unmistakably grain-focused. Initial elements of clementine oranges, nutmeg, and pears quickly give way to a hefty cereal-focused character, intense with malt and loads of surprisingly raw granary notes. It’s amazing that after 40 years, you just can’t age the grain out of this whisky’s resolute core… for better or for worse.

105.4 proof. 1812 bottles available worldwide.

B+ / $1150 / malts.com

Review: Brora 38 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

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When Diageo includes old Brora — which was shuttered in 1983 — in its Special Release series, it’s a cause for celebration. Like Port Ellen, this one fortunately makes a regular appearance on the roster, and with this 38 year old expression, the oldest release of the 15 bottlings in the series, we get the chance to experience Brora at its grandest. Distilled in 1977, the whiskey is a blend of refill American American oak hogsheads and refill European oak sherry butts.

Ah, what a grand, expressive, and lush experience it is.

A traditional Highland-style malt whisky, the nose kicks things off with notes of golden raisins, fresh citrus, a touch of citrus, and a light lacing of barrel char — not quite smoky, but not woody either. On the palate, the body is lush and supple, rolling across the tongue with an initial rush of salt spray, followed by a rapid-fire attack of gingerbread, lemon peel, and golden raisins (again). Subtle with its Sauternes-like sweetness and clever with its integration of woody barrel notes, everything quickly comes into extreme focus, balancing beautifully on the tip of a pin.

And like that, it’s gone. No lengthy, lingering finish here — it’s an as ephemeral a dram as I’ve ever had, but damn if it isn’t beautiful while it lasts.

97.2 proof. 360 bottles available in the U.S.

A / $2200 / malts.com

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