Review: Whiskeys of Cedar Ridge – Iowa Bourbon, Wheat, Rye, Malted Rye, Single Malt

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As the first distillery in the state since Prohibition, Iowa’s Cedar Ridge makes everything from gin to rum to apple brandy. Today we look at five of the company’s whiskeys (it makes at least eight), which are all distilled on site (not sourced) but which are bottled without age statements. Cedar Ridge makes heavy use of Iowa-grown corn in its products, but not all are corn-based, and less is said about the sourcing of its other grains. (Though notably the company also makes wine, from estate-grown grapes.)

Without further ado, let’s dive into this selection of whiskeys.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey – A bourbon made with 75% corn, 14% rye, and 12% malted barley. Youthful on the nose, with a sharp granary and fresh corn character, it features notes of tobacco, barrel char, green pepper, and black pepper. The finish offers some caramel corn sweetness, smoky notes, and a vaguely vegetal encore. 80 proof. B- / $39

Cedar Ridge Wheat Whiskey – Made from 100% malted wheat — technically making this a single malt whiskey. Light in color and fragrant on the nose, this is a delightful spirit, gossamer thin but loaded with intense floral aromas. On the palate the grain is quite clear, but a moderate sweetness keeps things moving, leading to more notes of white flowers, honey, graham crackers, and just a hint of cinnamon. The finish is soothing and sweet enough to balance out the aromatics that come before. 80 proof. B+ / $40

Cedar Ridge Rye Whiskey – This is a “traditional” rye made with a 70% “toasted rye” mash and bottled overproof. Racy but also quite woody, its big clove and raw ginger notes lead to a rather sweet finish, with notes of cinnamon-heavy apple pie and ripe banana. The spicy notes are lingering as the finish fades, along with a rather pungent Madeira character. Interesting, flavor-forward stuff. 115.2 proof. B / $43

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey – An unusual whiskey made of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn, and 3% malted barley. The result is a gentler spin on rye (though this is just 43% abv if you’re comparing to the regular rye above), which takes that apple pie note and filters it through more supple notes of graham crackers, toasted marshmallow, coconut, and dried banana. Of all the whiskeys in this roundup, this one is the most refined and the most complex, a spirit that is clearly youthful and which still offers fresh granary notes up front, but which manages to round out its sharp and rough edges in style. 86 proof. A- / $40

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – This is a classic American single malt (malted barley) release, but with few of the expected fixins. The nose is moderately woody, studded with grain, and lightly spiced. On the palate, caramel makes a surprising impact, with overtones of evergreen and a heavy chocolate note. This cocoa character lingers on the finish, giving it a dessert-like character you rarely find in domestic single malts. Well done. 80 proof. B+ / $50

crwine.com

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog: The Independent” Rye Whiskey 14 Years Old 2016

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As Raj Bhakta and WhistlePig contend with internal corporate squabbles (Update: the lawsuit has been settled, so war pigs can stand down), the company is plowing ahead, business as usual, continuing to plant rye on its own Vermont farm for eventual mashing and distillation into rye whiskey, while also continuing to release new products. Its latest limited edition is a third release of Boss Hog, another very small offering composed of 30 barrels of 14 year old rye.

Every release of Boss Hog is different, and for The Independent, WhistlePig finished the already well-aged rye (sourced whiskey from its signature 100% rye mashbill) in hogsheads formerly used for Scotch. For those not in the know, a hogshead is about 50% bigger than a barrel, holding roughly 250 liters of liquid. (Because multiple barrels are married in the hogsheads, this does not qualify as a single barrel release.) Bottles are stoppered with a custom pewter “war pig,” complete with cannon, a nod to Bhakta’s current legal battle, one which, in conversation to me during a preview of Boss Hog III, Bhakta largely dismissed as a “distraction.”

The 2016 Boss Hog is quite a delight, though as with previous Hogs, it’s quite hot and benefits immediately from a touch of water. The nose is bold and heady with spices, and dense with lumberyard-heavy oak notes. Shades of red wine, perhaps some Madeira, waft up from the glass as well. On the palate, intense rye-loaded notes of cloves and red pepper dominate, with a rush of licorice following. Again, water helps to smooth this out considerably, but it does leave the whisky laser-focused on wood, even becoming ashy at times. The finish is naturally woodsy but it’s not overblown, coming across as lightly mentholated and clove-heavy — and showcasing a hint of malt whiskey out back.

Fans of big whiskies that don’t hold back on the wood profile will find plenty to like here, but those in search of balance and restraint may want to invest elsewhere. There’s more than one reason why there’s a pig with a cannon on the stopper.

120.6 proof.

A- / $300 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2016 Edition

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Here’s a quintet of whiskeys you might have heard of once or twice. Yes, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has arrived, which will probably be sold out before I finish typing this sentence. Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment and want to take a stab at finding one of these rarities — particularly because this year’s batch is so exceptional — read on for the reviews.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Last year’s Sazerac 18 was famously bottled from the last drops of its massive quantity of well-aged rye, which had been sitting in tanks since 1985. 2016 marks the first “new” batch of Sazerac Rye in more than a decade. Distilled in 1998, there’s no tanked spirit in this batch — and, Buffalo Trace says, there won’t be any more tanked whiskey going forward. As it should, the whiskey tastes a bit different now, quite spicy on the nose with a huge baking spice punch while hanging on to its classic notes of brandied cherries, juicy raisins, and a layer of sandalwood. Some grassiness emerges on the nose, given time . The palate is racier and drier than expected, peppery on the back of the palate while allowing its cherry core to shine and light, toasty wood notes to emerge. The finish is lasting and allows some brown sugar notes to shine through, adding some balance to the lingering lumber. It may not be the same Sazzy 18, but it’s still a beauty. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – The 2016 edition of the classic Eagle Rare 17 has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K. The nose feels racier than usual, eventually settling down to reveal some surprises: exotic and heavily tropical notes of coconut and pineapple, with a healthy dollop of vanilla on top. This highly unexpected but delightful nose spills over onto the palate, which is well-sweetened to the point where it approaches rum, although that is tempered by plenty of wood later in the game. Some more toasted coconut and almond notes emerge on the back end, alongside a modest level of barrel char. It’s at once strikingly unusual and, at the same time, a classically fruit-forward bourbon that is well worth exploring. 90 proof. A

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Always the centerpiece of the BTAC yet often overblown, this year’s Stagg is a cherry-picked compilation of 142 barrels sourced from warehouses M, N, H, L and K. Old stock, high proof, as always — this one’s over 72% abv, bruising even by Stagg standards. Notes of unlit cigars, rosemary, and cloves kick things off on rich and dense yet surprisingly balanced nose. Another surprise: At full proof the bourbon doesn’t completely overwhelm the palate with alcohol, but it is so dusty and drying on that it’s tough to cut through the massive amount of tannin to really appreciate what’s going on. Water is always Stagg’s best friend, and this year is no exception, eventually coaxing sweetness from that intense tobacco character, plus cherry fruit, loads of vanilla, torched marshmallow, and more cloves. As it opens up in the glass — again, particularly with water — it develops an intensely smoky aroma, which is a natural companion with the tobacco notes but which does tend to dull the fruit and leave your mouth a bit dry. That aside, this year’s expression is quite unique and worth some exploration, nearly earning the vaunted reputation it’s always had. 144.1 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A 13 year old expression of Weller — uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. As is becoming the norm with these BTAC Wellers, the nose is quite sweet, with (again) a butterscotch influence, plus marzipan and peppermint. The palate backs these up, but the finish takes a turn toward a more spicy, wintry character. While approachable at full, uncut proof, water may not be a bad idea, though more than a drop or two tends to dull some of the sweetness that otherwise makes this year’s Weller so compelling. One of the best expressions of W.L. Weller I’ve had in many years. 135.4 proof. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As always, this is a good-old six year old rye, the baby of the group, this installment distilled in the spring of 2010 and aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M. This year’s expression is better than it usually is, though the relative youth comes across immediately on the nose — moderately woody, with some butterscotch underneath. The tannin hits hard on the palate — those pushy lumberyard notes really lingering at the back of the throat. Unlike with the Stagg, water doesn’t restore balance but just dilutes the whole affair, bringing forth notes of burnt toast, heavy cereal, and lots of smoky oak. The finish is dusty and slightly green. There’s nothing all that offensive here, but compared to this field (or any other top shelf whiskey) it is just very ordinary. 126.2 proof. B

$90 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old (2016), High-Rye 9 Years Old, and Bourbon 9 Years Old

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In late 2015/early 2016, Redemption Rye took the unexpected move of releasing three well-aged straight rye whiskies, all “honey barrels” representing the brand at 7, 8, and 10 years of age.

Now Redemption is back again with three more entries into its Aged Barrel Proof line. The twist: Only one is a straight rye; the other two are bourbons, one from a high-rye mashbill and one from a lower-rye mash.

We got the entire trio to review, and without further ado, let’s hop right into it. Technical specs on each whiskey can be found in its respective writeup.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old (2016) – Note: This is a newly batched rye with a slightly higher proof than the 2015 version of the 8 Year Old Straight Rye. It is still however made from a mash of 95% rye, 5% barley. Bigger butterscotch notes lead things off on the nose, with aromas of black and cayenne pepper. Considering the age, there’s a surprising level of granary character on the palate here, with an almost pungent level of savory, dried herbs bringing up the rear. The finish is spicy and heavy with notes of leather and fresh asphalt. A serious letdown over last year’s rendition. 122.2 proof. B-

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof High-Rye Bourbon 9 Years Old – This whiskey is made from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley. Nice color here, a pretty, heavy amber. On the nose, the rye is evident, with clear granary notes, red pepper, and licorice. The palate is a bit more subtle, still laden with brooding spices but less pushy with its heavy grain notes, offering a fruitiness that the straight rye doesn’t feature. The finish takes things back in the direction of tar and grain, though it’s tempered by some interesting notes of baking spice and gingerbread. 109.2 proof. B+

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old – And now, to contrast, this is a bourbon made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% barley. Though the proof level isn’t much different than the High-Rye, it initially comes across as a much hotter spirit, scorching the palate while pushing aromas of well-roasted grains, baking spice, and coffee bean. Ample wood leads the way on the palate, again showcasing crackling grain, caramel corn, and some savory herbal character. While it’s burly with lumberyard overtones, the wood isn’t overdone, and the various elements gel into a fairly cohesive whole. The finish is warming but not as hot as the initial attack, ultimately making for a fine, though fairly orthodox bourbon. 110.6 proof. B+  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

each $100 / redemptionrye.com

Review: Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey

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We last encountered Houston, Texas-based Yellow Rose Distillery in 2013. Today we pick up the thread with Yellow Rose’s straight rye, an Indiana-sourced product made from 95% rye grain (in keeping with a number of other MGP ryes on the market). Yellow Rose says this product was recently reformulated, but I don’t have any information on how this version differs from what was available in the past other than that the current version is at least four years old.

I’ve encountered plenty of MGP 95% rye over the years, but this expression isn’t my favorite by far. The nose comes across as hot, youthful, and over-wooded, folding in notes of eucalyptus with a significant amount of petrol and furniture polish character. The palate is initially a little thin, at first offering fresh grain notes tempered by vanilla, brown sugar, and notes of orange blossoms. Some walnut character emerges in time, but it is sadly overshadowed by those heavy, rough-hewn notes of raw wood and, again, oily furniture polish notes. The finish is pungent and lasting, again echoing a heavy lumberyard character before a reprise of sweetness makes a brief reappearance.

All told, it’s passable rye at best, but it remains significantly flawed.

90 proof.

B- / $38 / yellowrosedistilling.com

Review: Templeton Rye 6 Years Old

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It’s hard to believe that Templeton Rye first arrived on the scene 10 years ago (to generally wide acclaim, including from yours truly) — and it’s taken 10 years for the company to release its second expression, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old.

Templeton has been in the news of late, caught up in the backlash against folks who use terms like “small batch” and, in Templeton’s case, “Prohibition Era recipe” on the label. The problem, of course, is that Templeton is actually made in Indiana, not Iowa, by MGP. As part of the settlement terms, customers who bought Templeton bottles can get a few bucks by way of a refund, and Templeton doesn’t get to use its Prohibition or Small Batch taglines any more.

Anyway, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old is a limited edition, higher proof, age-statemented version of Templeton — still 95% rye, 5% barley. Though Templeton is building a distillery in Iowa, this is still MGP juice, but it now carries the new Templeton tagline: “The Good Stuff.”

As for Templeton 6, it’s good enough, though given the phalanx of top-shelf ryes that have emerged since Templeton first hit the scene in 2006, it’s not exactly a scene stealer. The nose is loaded with sweetness — butterscotch, creme brulee, lots of sugar, with some vegetal, carrot-like hints lingering in the background. If the nose is loaded with sugar, the body is damn near overloaded with it at first, offering notes of cake frosting, more butterscotch, and candy corn notes. This is tempered by some notes of scorched lumber, pencil lead, and a finish that is surprisingly bitter, with additional notes of burnt rubber. The conclusion is quite drying, at times uncomfortably so.

The slow swing from sweet to quite bitter takes some time, and offers more complexity and curiosity than you might think, though on the whole it doesn’t exactly reinvent (or do much to elevate) the category.

91.5 proof.

B / $50 / templetonrye.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

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Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples, which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

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