Review: Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye Canadian Whisky

Collingwood Rye 21 Year Old high res

Who, who, whoooo is putting out 21 year old rye? At a price of 70 bucks (or less)? Collingwood, that’s who.

Collingwood is best known for bottling its spirits in what look like oversized perfume bottles, but it should be known for the quality of the spirits inside. Standard Collingwood, a young Canadian blend, offers a huge amount of flavor for a whisky that’s just three years or so old. At 27 bucks it’s a steal.

Now comes Collingwood 21, a 100% malted rye with a full 21 years of age on it, aged primarily in new oak barrels and finished in toasted maplewood barrels. There’s plenty going on here. The nose offers rich wood character, butterscotch, and hints of maple syrup. It’s quite enticing and invites you into sipping away, revealing more syrup and butterscotch notes, plus intriguing notes of orange peel, evergreen, and some light lumberyard. The finish is woody but far from overdone, an engaging rush that brings along hints of that rye spiciness, something akin to a clove-spiked orange. Dangerously drinkable.

This is a one-time-only limited release. Grab it while you can. 

80 proof.

A / $70 / collingwoodwhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye Whiskey Single Barrel 12 Years Old 2013

whistlepig the boss hog rye

WhistlePig is widely regarded (by myself included) as one of the best ryes on the market, a straight, 100% rye bottled at 100 proof and a full 10 years old. Last year’s TripleOne brought the age up to 11 years and proof to 111 proof. Now comes The Boss Hog, a 12 year old rye bottled at cask strength — over 130 proof. Whoa.

24 casks are being bottled (each bottle is from a single barrel, they aren’t being vatted), so quantities will be definitively limited (1000 cases, give or take), and the product will vary from one bottle to the next.

The Boss Hog (technically “series 1,” indicating this may become an annual thing) is presumably, like TripleOne, the WhistlePig base stock with a couple of extra years on it and less water in the bottle. What’s remarkable is what those couple of tweaks can do to this already classy and refined spirit.

To start with, the nose is a monster: Richly sweet, without too much wood on it (surprisingly). Aromatics include fresh hay, cinnamon toast, and quite a bit of alcoholic heat. The body is amazingly not nearly as heated as you’d expect, despite having an alcohol level that puts this year’s George T. Stagg to shame. While it’s certainly racy, it’s easily drinkable without water, and you’ll also find flavor to spare. There’s an instant rush of Bit-O-Honey, with deft touches of cinnamon and cloves. The body grows, offering sultry vanilla notes while building up the wood components, until the finish hits, adding some red pepper, dark chocolate, and a rush of heat at the back of the throat. The end result of all of this is quite enchanting, a cask strength, extra-old rye which is already unheard of, but is also almost completely balanced from start to finish.

~134 proof (proof will vary by bottle). Sample barrel # unknown.

A / $150 / whistlepigwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

corsair quinoa_whiskey

Corsair is probably the country’s most curious and experimental craft distillery (it makes one whiskey that has elderflowers in it), and the two whiskeys reviewed below should be proof enough of its oddball inspirations. Both of these whiskeys are part of Corsair’s standard releases, though that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.

Corsair Ryemageddon –  An aged version (no statement) of Corsair’s Wry Moon white whiskey, made from malted rye and chocolate rye. This is a fun and — suffice it to say — wholly unique product on the market. The nose is heavy with grain, savory yet spicy and clearly on the hot side. The body starts things off with a traditional, relatively young grain profile, and then the jams get kicked out. A racy sweetness comes on strong — nougat and marshmallows, with a little punch of candied grapefruit — and then it starts to mellow. Here the rye starts to really show its face, with a finish that is long and spicy, full of red and black pepper, with a touch of nutmeg and cloves. This is youthful and brash stuff, yet full of life and punchy with flavor. Worth exploring. 92 proof. B+ / $52

Corsair Quinoa Whiskey – Made with red and white quinoa — the It Grain of the healthy eating craze today. I sampled this before almost in passing and found it somewhat off-putting. Today I’m digging the Quinoa Whiskey quite a bit more. I get immediate chocolate on the nose, with modest spice and indistinct grainary notes. The body is amped up with a mild sweetness, more of that milk chocolate character, and a finish that takes things not so much into young grain notes but rather into an earthy, mushroomy quality that is unique in the whiskey world. This is intense and exotic stuff, definitely worth checking out… but seriously, Corsair, where’s the clever name? Quiskey, anyone? 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #109/160. A- / $56

corsairartisan.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye and Wheat Whiskeys

blue flame washington rye

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: Wild Turkey Forgiven Whiskey

wild turkey forgivenIs 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 Antique Collection 2013 Edition

Antique Collection buffalo trace 2013

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: Whiskeys of Fog’s End Distillery

Fogs End_White Dog_300 (2)Down in Gonzales, California — where, based on my travels, there’s plenty of fog — Fog’s End Distillery makes unique craft whiskeys, of a sort. These are all made, as the company’s owner Craig Pakish explains, with the “no cook, sour mash” method. But there’s a twist: While corn and rye are both used in various products, all of Fog’s End’s whiskeys include sugar in the mash. In fact, all of these spirits are half sugar, half grain.

What does that make these products? To its credit, Fog’s End does not call any of them “whiskey,” but I’m at a loss as to how to describe them as well. Only one of the products is aged. Most of them are straight off the still.

Anyway, arguments over semantics and monikers aside, here’s what you’ll find if you crack into one of Fog’s End’s inimitable spirits.

Fog’s End Distillery California MoonShine – “Made right on the left coast,” this 50% corn/50% sugar whiskey is moonshine through and through. And how. Intense popcorn notes on the nose lead to a pure, overpowering white lightning. Notes of coal, honeycomb, and fresh linens can be found on the back end, but getting there is a hell of a ride. 100 proof. B- / $30

Fog’s End White Dog – Made from a mash of 50% rye and 50% sugar, its much, much softer than the MoonShine, almost innocuous with a very mild body. The sugar is more than evident, with a sort of maple syrup character in the way it all comes together. Notes of apples and cherries add nuance. Altogether it interesting stuff for a white whiskey (of sorts). Use as an alternative to vodka. 80 proof. B / $34

Fog’s End Monterey Rye – Quite a misleading name, this is actually the white dog (50% rye, 50% sugar), aged for an unstated time and then bottled at a higher 90 proof. Definitely a step up from the white dog in complexity, the wood influence adds a significant caramel character and the extra alcohol gives it some heft. Still very sweet, but with more of a sense of balance. Some notes of cloves and cinnamon on the back end, but like the white dog, it leaves quite the sugary finish. B+ / $43

Fog’s End Primo Agua Ardiente – Literally “cousin’s fire water.” 50% corn and 50% sugar-based white whiskey, spiked with chili peppers, unaged but with a light yellow tint to it. Very spicy, but not overpowering the way some pepper-spiked spirits can be. The heat sticks in the back of throat, which has the secondary effect of drowning out pretty much everything else in the spirit. Fun for parties. 80 proof. B- / $34

fogsenddistillery.com

  • Fog's End_Moonshine_300 (2)
  • Fog's End Distillery Monterey Rye_300 (2)
  • Fog's End_Aqua Ardiente_300

Review: Dad’s Hat White Rye and Rye Whiskey

dad's hat ryeBased in Bristol, Pennsylvania, Dad’s Hat is one of the darling craft distillers of the modern mixology movement. Focused exclusively on young rye whiskeys, the basic Dad’s Hat mashbill involves 80% rye, 15% malted barley, and 5% malted rye. Grains are sourced locally, and aging is done in smaller barrels.

These two whiskeys make up the core offering, while a vermouth-finished rye is being added this summer. Various special editions, including a cask strength whiskey, are also available from time to time.

Thoughts follow.

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania White Rye – Immediately fiery, this white whiskey settles down to reveal big grain notes, some citrus, and a long, almond-fueled finish with a touch of smoke on it. Plenty of spice and a sweet back end elevate this above the usual white whiskey fare. Nothing I’d probably sit around sipping straight, but cocktailing opportunities abound. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey – Plenty of brash grain influence remains in this whiskey, which is aged a minimum of 6 months in quarter casks. But man, so much character can be found once you push into the spirit. Caramel and vanilla, cherry cola, and touches of licorice and ginger on the finish. Yeah, this would be a better whiskey if it had further mellowed out, but Dad’s Hat is really on to something here. Try it in a Manhattan. 90 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

dadshatrye.com

Review: Few Spirits American Gin and Rye Whiskey

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits makes old-timey spirits and even bottles them in old-timey decanters. Today we take a crack at two of the company’s bottlings — the “American” gin and an aged rye whiskey.

Thoughts follow.

few ginFew Spirits American Gin – Big and malty, this is a far different experience than most dry gins you’ve likely encountered. Many call Few’s gin closer to a genever, and that’s a fair descriptor. I think it’s more like a flavored white whiskey, intensely grain-focused and a little funky. Atop that, you get some gin-like character. Clear lemon oil from the second you crack open the bottle, for starters. Hints of vanilla on the finish. But by and large this offers beer-like malt and hops character throughout the body, overpowering the more subtle botanical elements in the whisk… er, gin. If you told me there was no juniper in this at all (you can catch it if you hunt for it, but then you start to wonder if it’s your imagination), I wouldn’t be surprised one bit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2-2-13, bottle #91. B- / $40

few rye whiskey
Few Spirits Rye Whiskey
– A rye/corn blend (actual mashbill unstated) that spends “less than four years” in new oak barrels, Few’s rye offers a plethora of youthful flavors and chutzpah, a punchy whiskey with intense elements of cornmeal, fresh bread, and malt. As with many very young whiskeys, it is a little brash and angry, a brooding spirit overflowing with grain. Oddly, it doesn’t come across as particularly hot, though it’s bottled at 93 proof. Instead, it gets its fire in the form of toasted grains, and the ultra-long finish speaks more of gentle smokiness than heat. What I don’t get is a lot of fruit — just touches of applesauce. The cereal notes are simply overpowering of everything else. Reviewed: Batch #11-85, bottle #77. B / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

fewspirits.com

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon, Rye, and 15 Year Old Expressions of Both

james pepper 1776 bourbonJames E. Pepper is an old, old name in the whiskey world (Kentucky is plastered with the name), and the heritage of the Bourbon associated with the name is deep, rich, and (if you go to the whiskey’s website) fun to look back upon. In fact, Bourbon has been made under the James E. Pepper label since the 1800s.

James Pepper’s stills went silent in 1958 and in recent years the brand has changed hands and is now owned by Georgetown Trading Co., which produces Pow-Wow Rye and John L. Sullivan Irish whiskey. The company has spent years reproducing James E. Pepper to match the flavor profile of the original, “Old Style” James E. Pepper whiskey. While I’ll never be able to comment on how successful (or wise) such an endeavor might be, I can give some thoughts on the whiskeys — four of them, total — that are now being produced under this banner (in Indiana).

Thoughts follow.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey – The standard bottling of the brand. This Bourbon carries no age statement but has a solid structure to it. Modest wood notes here, with restrained yet polished sweetness. You get less of the typical vanilla notes but more citrus in their stead, a refined and balanced experience that provides a touch of racy red pepper, baking spices, and a little gingerbread on the finish. Very mild for a Bourbon — especially one bottled at 100 proof — this is both an easy sipping whiskey and a capable mixer. It’s far from the powerhouse experience that so many modern whiskeys attempt to create, but I found its hidden charms intriguing enough for repeated visits. B+ / $30

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey – Racier and more powerful than the Bourbon by a mile. Stronger citrus and more grain influence here, this 90% rye (no age statement) is a textbook expression of the spirit. The body is modest, lively, and full of dense bread-like notes on the back end. The finish is long and lasting. It’s just on the edge of being a little too hot, though a splash of water in this 100 proof whiskey can help to even things out. B+ / $28

These 15 year old whiskeys are bottled at barrel proof — actually lower than the 100 proof of the younger whiskeys, a quirky result of where in the rickhouse these barrels were aged. These two are just now arriving on the market.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – Amazing what 15 years in barrel has done to this whiskey. Gorgeous chocolate, lightly burnt caramel, and toasty oak notes — both on the nose and on the body. That dark chocolate character is impossible to get away from, it’s just omnipresent and really quite beautiful. The wood is also well integrated into the spirit, and although I would like a touch more sweetness on the back end, this is a unique and exciting Bourbon, highly worth seeking out. 92 proof. A / $100

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey 15 Years Old – Lots going on here. Racy, lots of citrus, ample spice and some crazy tropical character here — guava and overripe banana. The wood creeps up behind, giving the whiskey a finish that is heavy on alcohol and some of the more astringent notes. It’s definitely an intriguing upgrade over the standard bottling of the rye, but it can’t touch what Pepper’s doing with the 15 Year Old Bourbon. 91.3 proof. A- / $150

jamesepepper.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [ALSO HERE FOR THE 15 YEAR OLDS]