Category Archives: White Whiskey/Moonshine

Review: Charbay R5 Clear and Aged Hop-Flavored Whiskey

Whiskey is (basically) made from beer, so why not make it from really good beer?

For its long-awaited R5 whiskey, California’s Charbay (best known for its high-end flavored vodkas) took Bear Republic’s beloved Racer 5 IPA and put it through a still. This is not an inexpensive task: 10 gallons of beer distill down to 1 gallon of whiskey. Double-distilled in copper pot stills, the resulting whiskey is being released in two versions: “Clear,” an unaged version, and “Aged,” which spends 22 months in French oak barrels.

We got our hands on both varieties; both are bottled at 99 proof. Thoughts follow.

Charbay R5 Clear Hop-Flavored Whiskey Lot 610C – Lots of tropical fruit on the nose and body. That funky white dog character is there, but it’s overpowered by fruit and sweetness. Creamy and seductive, it’s surprisingly easy-drinking and enjoyable for a white whiskey, with plenty of character to overpower any of the funk left behind from the white doggedness. Imagine an IPA while you’re drinking it and you’ll understand everything. A- / $52

Charbay R5 Aged Hop-Flavored Whiskey Lot 610A – Aged 22 months, making this a very young whiskey — though not as young as the Clear, of course. Surprisingly similar to the white version, this light brown spirit would be indistinguishable on the nose if not for a slight chocolate note that you can catch. The body is bolder and richer. That chocolate comes along here again, along with some of the tropical fruit character of the Clear version. That said, I was hoping for more depth of flavor. The wood tones down the fruitiness a lot, and the finish is more drying than fruity. It’s strange to find myself saying this, but I prefer the white version. B+ / $75  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

charbay.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Unaged Tennessee Rye

How do you know when white whiskey has become a Big Thing? When Jack Daniel’s, the largest spirits brand in the world, gets into the game.

By way of backstory, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 uses a fairly traditional Bourbon-style* mashbill, 80% corn, the other 20% rye and malted barley. This is the way it has been, and (undoubtedly) the way it shall always be.

But that doesn’t mean JD can’t make other products. Gentleman Jack is charcoal filtered twice instead of just once, like Old No. 7 is, for example. Not a big difference, but it’s something.

Now JD is working on its biggest line extension since Prohibition, with its first wholly new mashbill: an honest-to-god rye whiskey. Made of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley, it’s unlike anything JD has ever offered before.

It’s also not going to be ready for a few years.

JD is taking an interesting step in deciding not to wait until 2015 or so to release its new whiskey and is instead giving the unaged version a limited release. You’re reading this correctly: For its next trick, JD is releasing a white whiskey based on this future product. This is actually the first time I’ve ever heard of this being done, but it makes sense, a kind of sneak preview of a whiskey to come.

Looking at JD Unaged Rye as it stands today, you won’t find any massive surprises or departure from the current state of white whiskeys. Lots of grain on the nose, very raw, and typical of unaged whiskey no matter what the mashbill is. The body is surprisingly mild, and the funkiness of most white whiskeys is almost absent here. Instead, touches of chocolate (cocoa powder), coconut, and some tropical notes, particularly banana, dominate. The finish is smooth and light, almost harmless — that JD charcoal mellowing process really does strip out a lot of the more unpleasant flavors. The overall effect is interesting, but it’s honestly far from earth shattering.

The biggest problem with this is that Jack is suggesting a $50 price tag for this 80-proof spirit, which puts it at roughly three times the price of a bottle of JD that’s spent years in a barrel. That would also suggest that, once this rye comes out of barrel for its official, aged release, it should cost on the order of $75 or more. Both of those are crazy ideas, and I suspect that calmer heads will prevail such that Jack Daniel’s Rye (or whatever it’s called), when it’s finally released, won’t hit more than $25 or $30 at your local liquor store.

That aside, how can you get it? Per the company: Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye is scheduled to be available in December at select retail outlets throughout Tennessee including the White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the Jack Daniel’s Visitor Center in Lynchburg, Tenn.  In January 2013, it will be available in limited quantities in other select markets throughout the U.S.

Update: Reader Matt Bradford says JD expects to sell the new whiskey beginning (around) December 15, 2012.

* I know, JD isn’t Bourbon.

B+ / $50 / jackdaniels.com

jack daniels unaged rye Review: Jack Daniels Unaged Tennessee Rye

The Angel’s Share, Illustrated

Last year I filled a 1.5-liter micro-barrel with Woodinville’s white whiskey, all part of its “age your own” whiskey kit. I’ve sampled it every couple of months but largely it’s been left untouched since July 2011.

Today I bottled what was left. The photo below illustrates what two full bottles of white dog turned into after 13 months in cask in chilly San Francisco.

(For the record, the company says you should probably bottle your hooch after a couple of months or a bit longer.)

angels share in action The Angels Share, Illustrated

Review: Bully Boy Vodka, White Rum, and White Whiskey

Boston’s first craft distiller was founded in 2010 by two brothers, Will and Dave Willis. Massachusetts natives, this deadly duo got into distilling thanks to the inspiration of their grandfather, who built an informal speakeasy on his farm, serving locally-produced hooch to friends and family.

“Bully,” incidentally, is not meant to evoke violence but rather “superb or wonderful,” an homage to a favorite term of the college roommate of the Willis’s great-grandfather, Teddy Roosevelt.

All spirits reviewed are 80 proof.

Bully Boy Vodka – Distilled from organic winter red wheat. This is a lovely vodka. A brisk sharpness on the nose reveals the lightest touch of sweetness on the palate. Touches of fruit, very light. In the way that a good tequila sets you up for a knockout when you sniff it, then lets you down with a silky-smooth experience as you drink it, Bully Boy Vodka is Beauty and the Beast all rolled up into one innocuous-looking bottle. Reviewed: Batch #31, bottle #292. A

Bully Boy White Rum – Distilled from blackstrap molasses, Bully Boy reminds us that Boston was once a center of rum production in the U.S., as any student of the 1919 Boston Molasses Disastercould tell you. Intense aroma, very much in keeping with unaged rum. Strongly green and vegetal, the nose moves into smooth, sugary sweetness, with a lasting finish that recalls tea and, to some extent, rubber. Reviewed: Batch #16, bottle #117. B

Bully Boy White Whiskey – Distilled entirely from organic American wheat, this unaged whiskey is milder than many entries into this growing category. Rustic and funky on the nose, the body offers more nuance, with a mild sweetness, flavors of fresh bread, and some citrus notes. The finish isn’t bad, but it makes one long for a simple oak barrel to put this in for a few years to see what happens. Reviewed: Batch #24, bottle #259. B-

each $28 / bullyboydistillers.com

Review: Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine and Peach Brandy

Built atop the underground distilling and bootlegging operation of the gangster Dutch Schultz (and on family land now owned by co-founder Alex Adams), Dutch’s Spirits is a new New York-based distillery that’s attacking the spirits industry with some unexpected products — no gin or whiskey here, be warned!

We tasted Dutch’s two inaugural spirits. Thoughts on each follow.

Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine – This white spirit is a tribute to Schultz’s “own hooch,” a white spirit distilled from 100% Demerara sugar in copper pot stills. I wasn’t entirely sure how to classify this oddity, since it’s technically a rum (and a rhum agricole or cachaca at that) but isn’t branded as such. It is closest in style to a Puerto Rico-style white rum, with smoothed-over flavors of vanilla and a touch of chocolate to it. There’s none, however, of those gasoline flavors or raw alcohol notes you get with most cachaca and none of the burning heat of the typical corn-based moonshine. Moderate body with a lightly floral and herbal finish. The name may be a bit baffling, but the results are impressive if you’re a rum fan and are looking for something unique. A / $28

Dutch’s Spirits Peach Brandy – Americans are simply not drinking enough peach brandy. It’s a fact. I’m not sure that Dutch’s version of it is going to change that. While the nose offers lots of fresh fruit flavors — more apricot and apple than peach — the body is not nearly sweet enough to carry the day. Deeply bitter, the fruit notes are washed under the base alcohol’s astringency, though you can tell there are some deep and lush fruit flavors and brown sugar-sweetness just dying to get out. Much better as a cocktail flavoring agent (in small quantities) than on its own. C / $42

dutchsspirits.com

Review: 1512 Spirits Signature Poitin

I’m not sure if it will be the “next big thing,” but if you haven’t heard of poitin already, prepare yourself for it. What’s poitin? It’s an Irish spirit distilled from potatoes and/or barley, heavy on the alcohol, dating back hundreds of years. Not quite a vodka and not quite a white whiskey, it occupies a curious position of serving as Ireland’s answer to American moonshine. (Or, more correctly, moonshine is the answer to poitin.)

Real poitin is no longer made in Ireland or anywhere else (current bottlings are lower proof vodka substitutes), but that’s about to change. First out the gate is 1512 Spirits, whose unaged Barbershop Rye is a cult phenomenon, made in Rohnert Park by the inimitable Sal Cimino.

Made of 95% potato and 5% barley, the spirit is bottled at 104 proof and is available only at two retail outlets (Cask in SF, Bar Keeper in LA). A handful of California bars are pouring it.

The Poitin is intense and powerful. It fills the room when you pour it. If you’re familiar with unaged whiskeys, you’ll find this surprisingly similar, even though it’s mostly potato-based. Describing poitin, one finds they quickly run out of appropriate adjectives to use. It is seriously funky, filled with a raw grain-like character (and presumably lots of potato) that almost tastes like unadulterated, ultra-thick oatmeal. There’s a spicy element that’s hard to quantify, and a lightly sweet finish that offers a merciful respite from this overwhelming oddity.

White whiskey is one thing, but if poitin is going to become a trend, you better get your taste buds in order. Good luck.

104 proof. Batch #1, bottle #85 reviewed.

B / $39 (375ml) / 1512spirits.com

1512 poitin Review: 1512 Spirits Signature Poitin

Help Launch a New Irish Spirit

The last time we wrote about a drinking-related Kickstarter project, it got funded, and the Bourbon-focused movie being sponsored is now in production.

Now reader Ashlee Casserly is also looking to start something — and this time, it’s a bit more ambitious. She’s looking to revive an old-school white spirit called poitin, which originated in Ireland about 1000 years ago.

Says Ashlee:

Just incase you haven’t heard of it; poitin has been made in Ireland for about 1000 years. It is one of the longest established spirits in the world.  It even predates Irish whiskey and is believed to be the origin of Irish whiskey. The word ‘poitin’ (pronounced puh-cheen) is Gaelic for ‘little pots’, which is what was used to distill the liquor traditionally. Made from potatoes or barley, it is an un-aged whiskey spirit.

My brand is called 1661 Poitín, the name is derived from the fact that in the year 1661 the English Crown (who ruled Ireland at the time) outlawed the spirit because they could not regulate the many small distillers.  The ban was lifted just recently after more than 300 years.  During this time, poitín was still made illegally and recipes were handed down across generations.

Want to get into the poitin business? Check out her Kickstarter page here and reserve your bottle (or at least your name on one)!

Review: High West Silver OMG Pure Rye and Western Oat White Whiskeys

The white whiskey market had a rocky start — mainly because a lot of producers were simply bottling straight-off-the-still moonshine, stuff with no real craft behind it, and selling it for premium prices because of the novelty value. Results: Lots of rotgut on the market.

Finally, there are a couple of white whiskeys — High West calls them “silver” — on the market that are worth your attention, real artisan-crafted products that opened my eyes to how good white whiskeys can be. Both are intriguing and unusual and are highly worth seeking out, whether you want to dip your toe in the white whiskey world, or you’re looking to dive deep into the rabbit hole.

High West Silver OMG Pure Rye Whiskey – OMG? High West assures us it is intended under its old definition: Old MononGahela Rye, named after a river in Pennsylvania. This whiskey is made from 80% rye and 20% malted rye, meant to mimic the recipe for what whiskey would have been like in that area in the early 1800s. Results: Quite engaging for a silver whiskey, rich with apple fruit, nougat, and honey notes. The malted rye makes a difference, giving this whiskey a, well, malt character that you’d normally associate with Scotch and tons of body in comparison to so much other harsh, unaged whiskey — and at 98.6 proof, too. Reviewed: Assay #1, Bottle #106. A- / $37

High West Silver Western Oat Whiskey – That’s right: Oats! Just like your cereal. High West says people don’t make whiskey out of oats because they are a) tricky and b) expensive. We can buy that, and sure enough this is a remarkably smooth and complex spirit: The nose is much less harsh than most white whiskeys, and the body has a lightly sweet, cocoa- and coconut-infused character to it. It helps that this has been cut way down to 80 proof, softening the spirit up further and going out with a smooth vanilla finish. One of the most enjoyable silver whiskeys I’ve ever had. Reviewed: Assay 11G11 (bottled July 11, 2011), Bottle #60. A / $37

highwest.com

Review: Buffalo Trace White Dog Wheated Mash and Rye Mash

White dog whiskeys aren’t usually very exciting, but these are more so, since I got to try Buffalo Trace’s white dog right off the still when I visited there. With these two bottlings, Buffalo Trace offers a look at the differences between wheat-heavy and rye-heavy whiskeys, sans aging time.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because you might be recalling Heaven Hill’s Trybox series, where a rye white whiskey was pitted against a corn white whiskey. Since no one actually makes 100% corn (aged) whiskey in the real world, that test was a bit of a red herring… but this one, wheat vs. rye, is, I think, more instructive. Originally sold as a novelty item as the distillery, the new make spirit is now being sold nationally… though at $32 equivalent per 750ml bottle, these experiments are a bit pricey unless you’re pretty far down the whiskey rabbit hole.

Buffalo Trace White Dog Wheated Mash is 114 proof, from a mash composed of corn, wheat, barley. (Exact mashbill figures aren’t available.) The effect is, as with most white dogs, a bit overpowering: Corn character and raw ethanol notes compete to create a funky, difficult experience, even after cutting it down with water. Normally I enjoy wheated whiskeys quite a bit, but in this white dog it doesn’t really show much depth. B-

Buffalo Trace White Dog Rye Mash is quite a bit hotter at 125 proof, which makes comparison difficult. But even without a lot of watering down, the rye, barley, and corn recipe shows itself to be surprisingly more flavorful, with exciting spice notes and a lingering earthiness that manages to cut through the rawness and big, sour corn funk. Yeah, it’s still white dog, with a big slug of grain character on the finish, but it’s a big improvement over the Wheated Mash. Color me surprised. B+

$16 each (375ml bottles) / buffalotrace.com

Review: 1512 Barbershop Rye

The story behind 1512 is almost more interesting than this, its first product.

Salvatore Cimino is a real barber in San Francisco, and his forebears include a series of whiskey bootleggers. So Cimino put the two together, in a way: With a legally produced whiskey named after his discreet Nob Hill barbershop. Cimino spends his days cutting hair, his nights cutting heads and tails as whiskey comes off the still.

Cimino set up shot north of the Bay Area, in Rohnert Park, and production here is extremely limited, under 100 liters a month of product. Distilled from rye in custom copper stills, completely unaged, and bottled at 91 proof, even in the rising world of white dog whiskey, it’s unique.

How you feel about 1512 will likely echo how you feel about unaged, white whiskeys. It’s young and brash, completely untempered by time spent in barrel. But going with rye is an incredibly prescient choice, giving the spirit character that most ultra-corny white whiskeys just don’t have. The real fun is not in the largely traditional nose but on the back end: That fuel-focused funk so common in white dog is cut with a big kick of pepper, saltiness, and something I can only describe as the essence of a summer barbeque — a little coal- and mesquite-like burn on the finish.

White dog is rarely fun, but 1512 Barbershop Rye — an enticing first volley in an upcoming line of whiskey curiosities — is both fun and rare.

Batch #3 reviewed.

A- / $30 (375ml bottle) / 1512spirits.com

1512 barbershop rye Review: 1512 Barbershop Rye

Review: New Holland Hatter Royale Hopquila

Tequila for rabbits? No. New Holland, based not in Holland the country but rather Holland the city in Michigan, takes a double-distilled mash of 100% malted barley, then steeps Centennial hops in it. It’s not aged, but it comes out a Chardonnay-yellow from the hops

Hopquila, then, is not a funky tequila but rather a flavored white whiskey. Good thing you read the label, bub.

The aroma is skunky and hot: earthy and full of white whiskey character, big grain notes like those of new make spirit. On the palate, things are a bit different. The hops come across as surprisingly sweet — much like you get with a sweeter-style, light-bodied beer. Hoppy? Not exactly, but there’s a certain herbal funk in the mix that gives it a flavor unlike anything else I’ve ever reviewed. The finish is closer to honey than sugar, with an odd and difficult-to-peg edge to it.

Hopquila is like one of those oddball spirits that someone created on a dare — and that someone seems to have gotten lucky with this one. Hopquila isn’t something I’d drink every day, but on a full moon when the stars are just right, well, just maybe…

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / newhollandbrew.com

Hopquila Review: New Holland Hatter Royale Hopquila

Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap White Wheat Whiskey

The white whiskey craze continues to rumble along, and artisan producers keep driving the trend. Our friends at Craft Distillers offer this spirit, distilled from Bavarian hard wheat (wheat with a higher protein content) and fermented to an 8.8% alcohol beer. It’s then double-distilled in a copper pot still and bottled at about 90 proof, cut, intriguingly, with distilled rainwater. Aging: Nil.

The results are intriguing for this category: Heavily wort-like on the nose, then sweet on the initial attack, a change of pace from the overpowering gut punch that white whiskeys so commonly deliver. The body is surprisingly mild, offering more of that rich grain character, but it’s not off-putting in the way most white lightning is. The finish is easygoing and almost pleasant, soft and again hinting at sweetness.

My general disapproval of this category keeps me from giving a higher grade, but it’s certainly the best white whiskey I’ve reviewed to date, though I’d love to try Stillwater Spirits’ 120-proof white dog (tasted here) again. Ignore my prior review of Low Gap there — a sad C-minus — which I can only attribute to the vagaries of the roundup setting and the vast variety of aged spirits that had been tasted before getting to Low Gap… and making it virtually impossible to appreciate properly. It happens.

B+ / $52 / craftdistillers.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

low gap white whiskey Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap White Wheat Whiskey

Review: Oddball Whiskeys of Koval Distillery

To call Koval Distillery an “artisan” operation would be the understatement of the year. Koval, based in Chicago, is a microdistillery of the bizarre: It takes organic, single grains — not just wheat and rye, but stuff like oats, millet, and spelt — and makes booze out of them. Bottled without aging (under the Koval brand), and with minimal barrel time (as Lion’s Pride, in “regular” and “dark” versions, both aged less than two years but variable in color due to the types of barrels used). The batches are tiny, typically about 10 gallons each (that’s just 50 bottles).

The company also makes a few liqueurs, vodka, brandy, and more.

We were fortunate to get a sampling of Koval’s products from its 20 or 30 bottlings to see just what the hell is going on in this oddball distillery in Chi-town.

Koval Rye Chicago White Whiskey – Distilled from organic rye and unaged. You would expect the harshest of the harsh but no, Koval Rye Chicago is surprisingly easygoing. Not a lot of nuance on the nose, but the body offers notes of lemon, vanilla, and spice before finally fading into that familiar white whiskey funk. Not a bad effort for an unaged spirit. 80 proof. B / $40

Koval Raksi Millet White Whiskey – Millet is a grain primarily used for animal feed. This is probably the only whiskey I will ever have made from this raw material (organic, natch), and that might be for the best. Pungent and funky, the nose is one of intense, old hay, and the body only hints at sweetness. The finish offers huge, young whiskey skunkiness and, surprisingly, a hint of nougat and marshmallow. Bizarre and intriguing… if nothing I would drink every day. 80 proof. B- / $40

Lion’s Pride Rye – Though it’s just the palest gold in color, the light hand of age has had an impact on the spirit, giving it a much bolder flavor profile and nose, and a nuance that surpasses its white cousin. Here the rye is tempered with bigger vanilla and chocolate notes — especially evident in the finish — but the hard core remains toughened by a lack of time. The sweet finish is an intriguing hint at what a “finished” version of this whiskey might taste like. 80 proof. B+ / $70 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Lion’s Pride Dark Millet - Again, it’s aged just two years or less, but quite a bit darker in color considering that time. (Koval does not use any artificial colors in its products.) It’s still “millet” through and through, mind you: Incredible pungent, with a licorice, herbal, and intense wood/tobacco character. But that millet funk is so powerful it simply can’t be cut with a knife. 80 proof. B- / $62

Koval Ginger Liqueur – Made, of course, from organic ginger. Very sweet, bright, and mild. If you’re looking for intense ginger flavor, seek elsewhere: This is the Schweppes of ginger liqueurs, so easy drinking you could give it to your cat. I see it bet as something to splash into another cocktail for just a hint of ginger flavor plus a touch of sweetness. 40 proof. B / $35

koval-distillery.com

Review: Ole Smoky Distillery Apple Pie Moonshine

You say apple pie, I say apple pie moonshine. Yes folks, it’s two great tastes that taste great together, with Tennessee’s Ole Smoky Distillery moonshine — 80% corn and 20% mystery — making up the backbone of a classic yet indescribable spirit.

The nose and body scream cinnamon and apples, in that order. This is as close to apple pie in a bottle as I’ve ever experienced (and yes, I’ve experienced other attempts), with an authentic sweet-and-spicy character that is — shockingly — far from cloying. It helps that Ole Smoky kept the alcohol to a mere 40 proof, which drains all the heat out of the spirit and makes it wholly suitable for sipping or for use as a grown-up dessert topping. There’s even a hint of the “moonshine” aspect of the spirit in there… somewhere.

I know, this sounds like it can’t be good, and for sure it’s nothing I’d drink every night, but something I’d drink once in a while… maybe with a banjo by my side.

B+ / $25 / olesmokymoonshine.com

ole smoky mountain Apple pie moonshine Review: Ole Smoky Distillery Apple Pie Moonshine

Review: Heaven Hill Trybox Series New Make White Whiskeys

Like it or not (and most of you appear to be firmly in the “not” camp) white whiskey is here for the consuming.

The good news: Heaven Hill is doing something useful with white whiskey beyond attempting to make a quick buck. (Since white whiskey is unaged and need not spend years in expensive barrels, it is far more cost-effective to produce and sell… yet producers command some pretty impressive prices for the stuff.) With its New Make series, Heaven is giving consumers an opportunity to see how different mashbills affect the finished product: Unadulterated by wood, you can now compare a predominantly corn vs. a predominantly rye spirit head to head.

The results are something every whiskey fan should experience at least once.

I sampled Trybox New Make production 6c11 (a corn whiskey which, when aged, would become a bourbon like Evan Williams Single Barrel) and production 7r11 (a rye which, if aged, would turn in to Rittenhouse). Neither is 100 percent any grain: Both contain a mix of corn, rye, and barley, just in different (and unspecified, except for which is “primary”) proportions.

The results are, again, intriguing, if hardly anything you’d want to sip after dinner. At 125 proof, these are both moonshine in the figurative and literal sense: Hot, wild, and deadly powerful white lightning.

The differences, however, are quite astonishing. The Trybox Series Rye New Make Whiskey (B+) has distinct corn character on the nose, but is spicy on the palate. Initially it is sweet and racy, then that secondary corn — always the overpowering element in any mashbill — kicks in, giving you a chili-flavored Frito finish. As much as is possible, this is a whiskey in balance among its various components — hardly complicated, but balanced and, in its own way, pleasant to drink. Trybox Series Corn New Make Whiskey (B) is a little more blunt, overpoweringly earth and corn-focused on the nose, then heavier with corn on the tongue. The sweetness comes along more in the finish, but that funky, petrol-laced finish comes on strong soon after, reminding you that this is young, immature bourbon at heart. It’s more instructive than it is enjoyable.

All in all, very interesting experiment all around. If you pick these up, be sure to grab both (or share with a friend) so you can compare the two offerings.

$25 each / heaven-hill.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2011

The San Francisco Belle was packed but the crowds were manageable at this year’s San Francisco Whiskies of the World event. With much more room to move around than last year’s cramped fest, lots more seating, and plenty of whiskey, guests seemed to be having a great time, myself  included. Who knows what venue will host WotW in 2012, but if the organizers (and new owners) continue to put this kind of care into crafting the affair, it’s certainly going to be worth the price of a ticket.

I spent this year’s event tracking down — almost exclusively — whiskies I hadn’t tried or which were new on the market. (As much as I enjoy it, how many times can I stalk the Glenlivet booth?) You may not know some of these names, but more than a few are worth memorizing (especially that Amrut Intermediate Sherry, my favorite spirit of the night). Grades and tasting notes follow.

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo, San Francisco, 2011

Scotch

McKinnon Glen 35 Years Old Cask Strength  / A- / a fine blended Scotch, but the story is more interesting — a USAF serviceman bought into a share of Ben Nevis Distillery’s new make spirit in 1971, then it went out of business; the stock languished in storage until 2006, when 484 gallons were bottled for sale; this is literally all of it, and Sam Perrine is trying to hawk it all himself: 70 bottles of cask strength and 953 bottles of 80 proof whisky!

Aberlour 18 Years Old / A / Aberlour’s best to date; a fine pairing with chocolate

Clan Denny 30 Years Old North British Single Grain Scotch / B+ / big spice finish, with a rough mid-palate

Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 11 Years Old / B / lots of heat

Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 19 Years Old / B / odd phenol notes

Douglas of Drumlanrig Glen Grant 25 Years Old / B+

Douglas of Drumlanrig Macallan 20 Years Old / A / excellent expression of older Macallan

Douglas XO Blended Scotch / B+

Edradour Port Matured / B

Glenglassaugh Clearac / B+ / new make Scotch; surprising depth; part of a series of “how it’s made” mini bottles that Glenglassaugh puts out (see next 3 reviews)

Glenglassaugh Blushes / A- / aged 6 months in red wine casks; really interesting

Glenglassaugh Fledgling / A- / 12 months in cask; another curiosity along the way

Glenglassaugh Peated / B+ / new make plus peat; you can really see how important peat is vs. wood in peated whiskys

Glenglassaugh 26 Years Old / A- / now leave Clearac in cask for 26 years and here’s what you get… working well, firing on all cylinders

Signatory Aberlour Cask Strength / A

Signatory Caol Ila Un-Chillfiltered 1999 10 Years Old / B

Signatory Highland Park 1991 18 Years Old / B+ / bizarre; a Highland Park with smoke on the palate; even the Signatory rep couldn’t explain this one

Other Stuff

Willett 6 Years Old Single Barrel (for Cask) / A / awesome young Willett, single barrel exclusively sold at Cask in S.F.

Four Roses Single Barrel (for Cask) / A / same deal as above; both knockout bourbons

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon / A-

Mickey Finn Irish Whiskey / B / because you knew someone was going to name a whiskey “Mickey Finn” eventually…

Goldrush Rye / C- / tough

Fog’s End Monterey Rye / C+

Amrut Cask Strength / A- / sweeter style malt from India

Amrut Cast Strength Peated / B+

Amrut Fusion / B / not my favorite fusing

Amrut Intermediate Sherry / A / Amrut’s finest, which goes from bourbon to sherry and back to bourbon barrels; a perfectly balanced mix

Cabin Fever Maple Whisky / B / yes, made from maple syrup; unbelievably sweet

Craft Distillers Low Gap Whiskey / C- / bizarrely fruity

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey / B- / big corn notes

Stillwater Spirits Wylie Howell Corn Whiskey / A / the best white whiskey I’ve ever had, hands down; 120 proof corn spirit, rich in flavor and not funk

Kuchan Alembic Brandy / C+

Review: Charbay Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey

Charbay’s Master Distiller Marko Karakasevic, a 26-year veteran of the business, has created his first spirit, an unaged “white whiskey,” part of the big push to make moonshine, er, white whiskey palatable to the drinking public.

Whiskey is essentially distilled beer, and Karakasevic’s idea was that, especially if you aren’t going to age your spirit, you ought to use really good beer as the base. Doubled & Twisted is made from a high-grade IPA — Karakasevic says it’s the most expensive beer ever used to make whiskey.

As white whiskey goes, it’s pretty good. The IPA’s hops come across quite clearly, which tempers the funk that is wholly unavoidable with unaged whiskeys and lends the whiskey more herbal and grain character than you’d think. It’s still edgy and rough — you can’t get away from it with white dog — but I do like what Karakasevic has done here. Now what would happen if he put this stuff in barrel for a few years…. Hmmmmmm….

1200 bottles made. 99 proof.

B+ / $60 / charbay.com

doubled and twisted whiskey Review: Charbay Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey

Review: Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskeys and Liqueur

It may not be canonically “Bourbon,” but the state of Tennessee is responsible for the best-selling whiskey in the world: Jack Daniel’s.

But Jack isn’t the only whiskey going in Kentucky’s next-door neighbor. Benjamin Prichard has been producing a variety of spirits — including a whole family of rums — for ten years now.

We got a peek at three of the distillery’s whiskeys (and one whiskey liqueur) — and the results prove that if you don’t know Prichard already, it’s time to start paying attention.

Benjamin Prichard’s Lincoln County Lightning – White lightning, folks. Unaged corn whiskey. Moonshine. At 90 proof it isn’t horrible, its enormous corn notes balanced with just a touch of sweetness. I’m admittedly not the world’s biggest fan of white whiskeys, but if I had to drink one, Prichard’s is at least passable. 90 proof. C+ / $NA

Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey – Now that’s more like it. An easy drinking whiskey, made of white corn, aged 10 years in barrel, and bottled at 80 proof, this Tennessee Whiskey was released to celebrate the distillery’s 10th year of operation. It’s worth the wait, very much a Bourbon at heart, sweet caramel notes balanced by a body that hints at its corn-based roots, a little black pepper, and vanilla on the finish. Nice balance. A- / $NA

Benjamin Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon Whiskey (pictured) – The notes on the back of this curiosity say that it’s a “little known fact” that whiskey is watered down before it’s bottled. I’m not sure many whiskey drinkers are unaware of that fact, but regardless, what Prichard’s does with this whiskey is age it at normal cask strength for nine years, then water it down to 90 proof, and then re-barrel the cut whiskey in charred oak barrels a second time.  What advantage this might actually offer is hard to say. Prichard’s Double Barreled is hot and much spicier than the 10-year Tennessee Whiskey, indicative perhaps of more rye in the mash. A little harsh on the attack, it quickly reveals a huge and racy herbal character, tempered by brown sugar. Lots of intrigue and worth seeking out. Limited release. A- / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Benjamin Prichard’s Sweet Lucy Bourbon Based Liqueur – Sweet Lucy — now there’s a name for a liqueur. Like many a whiskey-based liqueur before it, Prichard’s rendition is overwhelmingly, well, sweet, a syrupy concoction that is overwhelmingly sugary, but which offers vague Bourbon character in the finish. With this much sweetness, it’s hard to really differentiate; if you’re a fan of American Honey and its ilk, you’ll find Sweet Lucy just as satisfying. 70 proof. B+ / $25

prichardsdistillery.com

prichards double barreled Review: Benjamin Prichards Tennessee Whiskeys and Liqueur

Review: Balcones Distilling Baby Blue and Rumble

The uninitiated may think of Texas as the frontier, a place where whiskey is probably as common as water. Not so: In fact, for years, Tito’s has been the state’s only legal distillery.

Now a few upstarts are coming out of the skunkworks, and the state has its first whiskey since Prohibition. Operating out of Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling doesn’t just make the first whiskey in the state, it also makes, as far as anyone can tell, the only whiskey made from blue corn — in this case, Atole, a Hopi blue corn meal. The distillery’s first two products — Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky, and an odd offshoot, Balcones Rumble — are reviewed below.

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Wow, intense. Clearly a young corn-based whisky without a lot of time in the barrel. The starchy character (“white dog,” in the parlance) is overpowering on the nose alone, with a huge, grainy body and a finish redolent of petrol. Some sweetness makes this drinkable, but like so many younger whiskies, it isn’t easy going. Why this wasn’t left in the barrel for another three or four years is a mystery to me. Batch BB10-10. 92 proof. C / $45
[BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Balcones Rumble - Perhaps aware that Baby Blue was not made for easy consumption, Balcones created Rumble, not exactly a liqueur (it’s a serious 94 proof) but close enough. Made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar, and Mission figs, Rumble looks like whiskey but tastes like something else. That Balcones corniness is apparent on the nose, but it’s a much sweeter spirit on the whole. Only the fig character really comes through, the rest is mainly a sweeter version of Baby Blue. Batch R10-10. C+ / $36

Update 2/2013: Tasted new releases of both of these products, with considerably different notes, especially for Rumble, which (at least now) is far more worthwhile than this review would indicate. Hopefully, new reviews coming soon.

balconesdistilling.com

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