Review: Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Straight Rye 2016

Michter's Barrel Strength Rye

Michter’s is back with its second barrel strength rye, which is a higher-proof rendition of its US-1 Single Barrel Rye. The interesting thing about this rye: It goes into barrel at just 103 proof. 125 entry proof is standard; 105 proof is used sometimes, but 103 is quite on the low side.

Hot on the nose, the whiskey kicks off with a bold grain profile and layers and layers of spice — both the sweet baked goods variety as well as some cayenne. Some nutty and honeycomb notes emerge given time in the glass, along with some oxidized wine aromas.

On the palate, the whiskey pushes its grain base heavily, again backing a heavy cereal character with ample spice. Rather oily, it layers on notes of rhubarb, currants, and some sour cherry, finishing on a surprisingly tart note.

Altogether it’s quite a different whiskey than Michter’s standard-issue US-1 Rye (and a somewhat better one), it doesn’t quite find the balance it needs to really raise the bar. That can be a challenge with rye, particularly relatively young expressions, as this one appears to be, but it’s at least a solid effort through and through that grows on you the more time you spend with it.

Note: These are single barrel releases and proof will reportedly vary between about 110.2 proof and 114.8 proof. As reviewed: Barrel #16D432, 111.8 proof.


Review: The Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey

Hilhaven Lodge whiskey bottle shot

The Hilhaven Lodge is a funny name for a whiskey. That’s because the name also belongs to a home in Beverly Hills. It’s been part of Hollywoodland since 1927 (Ingrid Bergman owned and James Caan rented it at one point) and is now owned by director Brett Ratner, best known as the director of Rush Hour. What does Ratner have to do with whiskey? Not much — except that, like most of us, he’s a big fan.

Ratner obviously had enough credibility to get a deal with Diageo, and together they blended up a wacky new whiskey. It’s a marriage of “three different styles of whiskey spanning three decades – bourbon from the 2000s, Tennessee whiskey from the 1990s, and rye whiskey from the 1980s.” If I’m reading that correctly, then there is some whiskey in here that’s at least 27 years old — all for 40 bucks.

That said, the producers don’t offer any more specifics than the above (including provenance, proportions, mashbills, or aging specifics). The whiskey however is bottled at Stitzel-Weller and is currently available in California and Florida. (Also of note, a 2015 trademark lawsuit between Ratner and Heaven Hill went in favor of Ratner, and a trademark for Hilhaven Lodge was granted.)

Rye-bourbon blends are becoming increasingly popular, but adding in some Tennessee whiskey, too? That’s definitely a new one. Anyway, let’s give this oddball blend a taste and see what the director of Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson, knows about whiskey, shall we?

On first blush, it doesn’t come across as particularly old, though the nose is loaded with dessert-like notes, including butterscotch, vanilla, and nougat. Some drying, rye-driven spice emerges with time in glass along with a curious and unusual, seaweed-like maritime note.

The palate is dominated by all of the above, but the body is quite light and feathery, a bit of char coming forward at times, with ample caramel notes throughout. Moderately fruity as the finish develops, it’s lively with apple, banana, and just a hint of tropical character — but in the end, it’s some leathery, wood-heavy notes that fade away last, leaving the palate a bit dry but, to be honest, ready for another round.

Despite the exotic blend, Hilhaven Lodge drinks primarily like a bourbon — a solid one, but a rather plain one, to be sure. That said, given its approachable price and solid construction, it’s hard not to recommend whiskey fans at least give it a go.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Review: Kooper Family 100% Rye


Kooper Family Rye is a single-grain, 100% organic rye whiskey made by a small, family operation located in Dripping Springs, Texas — a small town near Austin. This distillate itself is actually sourced from Koval in Chicago. It is shipped unaged to Kooper, after which it spends two years in white oak barrels from Missouri treated with a #3 alligator char.

On the nose the whiskey is a bit hot, grain-forward but engaging, with notes of black pepper, cayenne, fresh ginger, and menthol. On the palate the vanilla and spice from the wood hit first with a quick rush of flavor, followed by notes of orange peel, some raisin, intense mint, licorice, and quite strong pepper notes. Anyone looking for the trademark “spiciness” of rye whiskey need look no further — Kooper has all you could want and more. At the same time, there’s ample sweetness to balance things out — though in the final analysis, it’s the spice that ultimately rules the day (and the palate).

The finish is a bit astringent, but cleansing and still engaging. There’s no doubt that Kooper Family Rye is young — very young, to be sure — but it’s a fun entree into the world of craft distilling, made (or at least aged) by people who obviously know what they’re doing.

80 proof.

B+ / $43 /

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2016


The 17th annual Whiskies of the World event wrapped this March in San Francisco, and it was as fun and chaotic as ever to wander three stories of the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, moored in the San Francisco Bay.

This year I focused my attention primarily on independent bottlers of Scotch whiskies, with Alexander Murray and Gordon & MacPhail both in attendance, along with veterans like the Exclusive Malts and Chieftain’s collections. Also highly worthwhile: A new distillery, Mosswood, which ages light whiskey in a variety of oddball barrels to produce the most exotic and interesting “flavored” whiskey you’ve ever tried. As for my favorite spirit of the night? Arran’s delightful “Smugglers’ Illicit Stills” offering, which comes complete in a fake book (see photo).

Thoughts on everything sampled follow.


Alexander Murray Bladnoch 25 Years Old – Notes of roasted nuts, grains, a touch of lychee / B
Alexander Murray Monumental Blended Scotch 30 Years Old – Very grainy — a surprise — notes of hay / B
Alexander Murray Speyside 40 Years Old – Quite gentle, malty, quiet citrus; surprising that this is 40 years old / A
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso – A bit overblown, with big toffee notes / B+
Aberlour Scapa Skiren – Simple; easygoing, with gentle grain structure / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old – Big molasses notes, scorched caramel, nice stuff / A-
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old – Ginger is fun, but granary notes surprise / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Old Pulteney 21 Years Old – Quite maritime, gentle peat and salt spray / A-
Lagavulin 12 Years Old – The classic; nothing new to report / B+
Lagavulin Distillers Edition Double Matured – Gorgeous, big mouthfeel and better balanced than the standard Lag 12 / A-
Glenmorangie Signet – Sweet chocolate notes, coffee, almost overblown with dessert notes / A-
The Balvenie 17 Years Old DoubleWood – Classic; light sherry, nougat, well balanced / A-
Macallan Rare Cask / Rounded and well sherried; still drinking lovely / A-
Chieftain’s Glen Grant 20 Years Old – Slightly racy, with heavy cereal notes / B
Chieftain’s Linkwood 17 Years Old – Chewy, with cherry notes, gentle finish / A-
Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 2002 – A big crowd pleaser, but it didn’t resonate with me; big cereal notes, yeasty, slightly astringent / B
Exclusive Malts Girvan 1988 Single Grain – Butterfinger candies, buttery body, surprising for a single grain / B+
Arran Amarone Finish – Starts off hot; leads to raisin and chocolate notes, a bit scattered / B+
Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills – Quietly spicy, with tons of malt, honey, and a touch of smoke; really compelling / A


PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Eagle Rare – The first of five single barrel releases on tap from SF’s PlumpJack; big butterscotch notes, but quite woody / B
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSV 8 years, 8 months – Lovely, with some pepper to it / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSO 10 years, 6 months – Lots of heat; a bit astringent; peppermint notes / B+
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSF 11 years, 7 months – Honeyed with baking spices and cinnamon / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OESQ 10 years, 5 months – Popcorn and malt, rather plain / B
Healthy Spirits Old Scout 9 Years Old – Another private bottling; big caramel, chocolate, cinnamon… but a touch grainy / B+


Brenne 10 Years Old – The 10 year old expression of this French malt; enduring grain, notes of gingersnaps / B+
J. Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey – Unpalatable, incredible bite / C-
Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof – Lovely apple and caramel, with a drying finish / A-
Mosswood Apple Brandy Barrel Aged – Mosswood makes light whiskey and ages it in different barrels, giving it a really unique structure; this one has beautiful fruit, with gentle, cider-like character / A-
Mosswood Espresso Barrel Aged – Slightly smoky, earthy, and nutty – not the heavy coffee bomb you might expect / A-
Mosswood Umeshu Single Barrel Aged – An Asian plum wine barrel gives this a curious notes; on the palate the fruit really emerges alongside spice and a sweet backbone; quite a revelation in “flavored” whiskey / A
Germain-Robin Old Havana Brandy – A touch of tobacco, lingering raisin, very soft / A-
Germain-Robin Single Barrel Brandy – Bigger body, heavy raisin and spice elements / B+
Low Gap Wheat Whiskey 4 Years Old – Heavy pear notes, very fruity / B+
Roundstone Rye – 100% rye; youthful, earthy, mouth-filling / B-
Roundstone Rye 92 Proof – More rounded; heavy cloves / B+
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof – Aged in maple syrup casks and it shows; a bit cloying / B
Seven Stills of San Francisco Whipnose – 7 Stills makes whiskey from different styles of beer; this one’s an IPA base. Classic IPA notes add density and ample hops / B+
Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate – Coffee porter base with a touch of espresso added on the back end; clear coffee notes, slight caramel; lingering coffee finish / A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Dogpatch – Sour beer based, finished in a sour beer barrel. Some funk, a little cherry and raisin character; a bit crazy as whiskey goes. Need to spend more time with this one / B+

Review: High West Bourye (2016)

bourye_bottle_2015One of the icons of new wave distilling is back: High West Bourye, which is returning to limited release right about now.

The 2016 Bourye is, as always, a touch different from its forebears. This version of the now-classic bourbon and rye blend features a mashup of 9-year-old straight bourbon (75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt), 13-year-old straight rye whiskey (95% rye, 5% barley malt), and 17-year-old straight rye whiskey (95% rye, 5% barley malt) — all from MGP. As always, the proportions of these three whiskeys are not disclosed — but the overall focus looks a lot like the 2015 rendition of this spirit, which also featured a nine-year-old-minimum. The major difference is really that everything in the bottle is from MGP this year.

Bourye is a whiskey I have always admired, and this year’s release is no exception, though it presents much differently than the fruity 2015. The nose is exotic and a bit unusual — heavy on the cloves, along with dark brown sugar, dark toast, barrel char, and some freshly burnt rubber — all meant in a good way.

On the palate, it’s sweet but restrained, a host of bittering elements — more cloves (classic Bourye), licorice, toasty wood, and a touch of roasted vegetable character. The caramel and vanilla notes endure above all of this, though, the bitterness catching in the back of the throat as the whiskey finds a balance slightly on the savory side of the wheel.

This is a significantly different whiskey than last year’s release — and frankly I prefer the sweeter 2015 edition to a slight extent. That said, this return to a more frontier style will likely resonate with more of the hardcore American whiskey fans.

Reviewed: Batch 15X20. 92 proof.


Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Barrel Proof

1776_RYE_BARREL_PROOFIt’s been three years since we’ve heard of anything new from the James E. Pepper 1776 line of bourbons and ryes, but now the Georgetown Trading Company is back with a new addition to its rye, a cask strength expression.

The 15 year old expressions of 1776 are also bottled at cask strength, but this one, formally known as James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof, is a barrel proof expression of the standard rye, which is currently made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley and bottled with no age statement. It is distilled for 1776 in collaboration with the Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana (via Pepper’s production agreement and own supplied cooperage, the company says).

This is a racy, spicy whiskey. The nose offers cayenne and cracked black pepper, burnt (burnt black) sugar, licorice, tobacco, and barrel char. The body is full of youth, which is both a good and a bad thing. Chewy and bready on the body, it’s full of that red pepper heat and pungent green herbs. Some rubberiness here and there, along with a bitter and drying character on the finish. That said, the rye benefits from water as expected, although this brings out more lumberyard overtones along with, at last, some sweetness.

If you like your rye bold and fresh, Pepper 1776 at barrel strength will likely serve you well. For me, its youth is a hindrance, unable to give it the austerity it needs to stand up to all that alcohol.

117.2 proof.

B- / $38  /

Review: Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey

hochstadtersCooper’s Spirits’ Hochstadter’s brand has been gaining notoriety for its Slow & Low “rock and rye” product, but the company makes more whiskey than just this. Witness Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye (also known as Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye and Hochstadter’s Straight Rye), a beautiful blend of five straight ryes sourced from various stills in the U.S. and Canada (aged 4 to 15 years old), and vatted together then bottled unfiltered in Philadelphia.

Light and fragrant, this is one of the prettier ryes you’ll find on the market. The nose offers notes of pink flowers, caramel, and rye-heavy cloves, some chocolate, and just a touch of barrel char.

On the palate, the whiskey adds apple fruit to that caramel, sweet and tart, with just a bit of heat on the back end. Baking spices endure on a lengthy but soothing finish — the whiskey never comes across as overpowering or overblown. Rather, gentle florals continue to waft into your nostrils as the denouement reaches its conclusion, an appropriately gossamer conclusion to one of the best little ryes I’ve seen in a long time.

100 proof.