Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Here’s what’s hard to believe: Jack Daniel’s has never released a barrel strength whiskey. That’s changing, with the release of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, the company’s first-ever cask strength offering.

The whiskey isn’t a terribly complicated idea: Take the JD Single Barrel Select (which we only just reviewed a few weeks ago) and don’t water it down. Single Barrel is a consistent 94 proof, but these are bottled at whatever the cask gives you, ranging from 125 to 140 proof, depending on the bottle you get.

Naturally, we can only review the sample we received, and individual bottles are going to vary widely. As for this bottling, it’s an easy winner. The nose offers maple syrup, caramel sauce, and a little barrel char. On the body, it doesn’t drink like something that is 2/3rds alcohol. In fact, it really needs no water at all to be approachable, though less seasoned whiskey drinkers may want to add a splash. The palate is rich with more of that caramel, butterscotch, a touch of cloves and a lengthy, vanilla-fueled finish. Big, bold body — but it’s not overpowering in the slightest. The char isn’t overly evident here, which lets the sweetness really shine. All told, it’s a fantastic whiskey that stands as arguably the best thing ever to come out of the JD empire.

Reviewed: Warehouse 2-45, 4th floor. 133.7 proof.

A / $65 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Pedras Salgadas Mineral Water

Pedras250mlUSASemFrescuraPedras Salgadas is mineral water from Portugal; naturally effervescent, it is born in the Pedras Valley, in the north interior of Portugal at Trás-Os-Montes. Very, very lightly sparkling, it has significant, weighty minerality to it, reminiscent of Perrier. The finish is on the metallic side, but otherwise comes across clean and refreshing. I like it.

B+ / $1 per 250ml bottle / pedras.com

Review: Wines of Three Sticks, 2015 Releases

three sticks bien nacidoThree Sticks is an emerging cult wine with a serious following for its serious pinot noirs, which are largely under allocation at this point. Recently we received a smattering of its offerings — two chardonnays and three pinots — for review. Thoughts follow.

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain “One Sky” – Intensely golden in color and creamy on the palate, this is as textbook as Sonoma chardonnay gets. Roasted nuts, butter, browned and caramelized apple — what else could you want from this style of heavily-oaked chardonnay? A little acidity might help to brighten up the heavy body and balance things out, but who’s keeping score, eh? B / $50

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Valley “Origin” – There’s less power here, with a little tropical zest — think Hawaiian POG juice — to balance out the lightly nutty, buttery body. Better acidity gives it a more engaging and approachable structure. B+ / $48

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard – Lovely pinot, a combination of light and lively red berry fruit and a spicy, peppery note to give it some kick. Light notes of vanilla and chocolate add a touch of sweetness, but the fruit is what carries the day, leading to a light, summery, well-balanced finish. A- / $65

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Classic Russian River pinot, dense and slightly meaty, but overflowing with deep fruit notes — dark cherries and blackberries — cracked black pepper, and some caramel notes. Sweetness pervades the experience from start to finish, but it’s balanced by exotic spices and savory notes. A dazzling counterpoint to the southern California bottling above. A- / $60

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills “The James” – Definitely the weak link in the pinot lineup here, a more rustic styled wine that first comes across with some bitterness before getting to the meat of the wine, which offers jammier blueberry character and a somewhat overripe finish. Easy enough to drink, but a distant third next to its more sophisticated brethren. B / $60

threestickswines.com

Review: Journeyman Kissing Cousins and Three Oaks Single Malt

journeyman kissing cousinsMichigan’s Journeyman Distillery continues to crank out the whiskey, and recently we received two new offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey – This is a selection of Featherbone bourbon that is finished in a Wyncroft Winery 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon barrel. An annual release, this is the third edition of Kissing Cousins. The finished product is a blend of sweet, bourbon-driven vanilla notes, mushroomy earth, and a bit of popcorn on the finish. The wine barrel finishing tempers the rustic character of Featherbone quite a bit, but still leaves behind plenty of chewy grains and coal-dust notes, ensuring you don’t mistake this for the mass produced stuff. 90 proof. B+ / $33 (375ml)

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt – This one’s a real surprise. This is the second batch of Three Oaks (the first was in 2013), a 100% organic malted barley whiskey with an exotic aging regimen. As the distillery writes, “The spirit spends its first year and a half in used Featherbone Bourbon barrels. From there it is moved into used Road’s End Rum barrels for nearly a year and then is finished for two months in used port casks imported from northern Portugal. The whiskey spends a total of 32 months in the barrels.” The resulting spirit is mahogany brown, with an aroma of coffee, dark chocolate, coconut, and cloves. On the palate, it’s intensely rich, with clear port wine notes, a sweet backbone of caramel and Bananas Foster, and some roasted grain notes on the finish. There’s plenty of complexity here, with echoes of toasted coconut, rum raisin, and hints of amari. Hard to put down and engaging through and through, I have no trouble stating that this is one of the best single malts being produced in America today. 90 proof. A / $47

journeymandistillery.com

Review: Laphroaig 15 Years Old Scotch Whisky

Laphroaig_15YO_BottleImageThough it was introduced 30 years ago, Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a bottling that has come and gone over the years. For a short while, however, it’s back, with this expression being re-released in honor of the company’s 200th anniversary. That said, nothing has technically changed with the production of the spirit vs. older bottlings, but this one does at least come with bonus sentimental value.

Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a quieter expression of the spirit, where it’s just finding its balance between the peat blast it offers at 10 years old and the more fruity notes that emerge at 18 and 25 years old.

At this point in its maturity, the whisky offers a smoky nose that also showcases gentle honey alongside notes of yellow flowers. The peat however is dialed back significantly, creating the essence of a branch of mesquite that’s been thrown atop a barbecue pit. Citrus notes are present on the palate but they’re understated — a squeeze of lemon and a shaving of grapefruit peel — with some simple syrup adding a layer of sweetness atop the delicate layer of smoke.

At just 86 proof the whisky is remarkably easy-drinking, almost overly so — it sips almost like a mezcal-based Paloma, mixing citrus and smoke into a beautiful, satisfying whole.

Really lovely. Snap it up if you see it.

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

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Forged Oak Bourbon 15 Years Old

Orphan Barrel_Forged Oak Bottle Shot

The fifth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series is one of the best in the lineup. “Found by foraging the Stitzel-Weller warehouses,” it was produced at Bernheim in 1997-1998 from a mash of 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye. Barrel age is 15 years.

I’m not sure what “Forged Oak” is supposed to refer to, but the whiskey that bears its name doesn’t really evoke either of the words. On the nose, there’s lots going on: dense vanilla, gingerbread, and then some exotic stuff: namely distinct lemongrass and coconut notes (I start craving Thai food immediately). The body includes that vanilla punch plus some tropical notes, then a sweet butterscotch push as it builds on the palate. The finish takes the bourbon into darker territory — more lumber and a touch of Madeira. That may sound like a bummer after all the ephemeral fun that’s come before, but it’s actually a nice counterbalance to what’s come before — and what follows in the next sip.

90.5 proof.

A / $75 / orphanbarrel.com

Book Review: Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans

51SZwR1dIrL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans: Authentic Vintage Cocktails from A to Z is a cocktail book that needs significant introduction to be understood. Written in the 1920s by two New Orleans suffragettes, Olive Leonhardt and Hilda Hammond, the manuscript was recently unearthed by Gay Leonhardt, a descendant of Olive’s.

The book is tied to the alphabet, with sections running A to Z, as promised by the title. Each section features an illustration themed to each letter (drawn by Olive), a similarly letter-centric poem (written by Hilda), and cocktail recipes of the era also alphabetically tied. As there are only so many letters in the alphabet, this makes for quite a slim tome, but it’s fun to read nonetheless.

How much you enjoy the book will be determined by your taste for poetry and for (very) classic cocktails. Drinks in the 1920s tended toward the simple (Black Jack: 1/2 creme de menthe, 1/2 cognac) and the tongue in cheek (the Hydropot Exterminator includes arsenic). And any reader who sends us a writeup and photo of them drinking the Slow Motion (1 pint moonshine, 1/2 pint cream, 2 egg whites, 1 tbsp Grenadine, plus seltzer) will earn my undying admiration.

Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans is unlikely to become a significant encyclopedia to aid in your imbibing, but it is a fun look into the zeitgeist of the time — all devil may care good times despite the yoke of Prohibition and the nation’s Depression. Nothing can keep a party girl down, I guess!

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA (2015)

It’s not every day a brewer updates the recipe to one of their top-selling beers. But a few weeks ago, Starr Hill made some “enhancements” to Northern Lights IPA, its top-selling product since its introduction in 2007.

What’s been changed? Starr Hill explains: “New hop varieties — including Falconer’s Flight, Simcoe and Centennial — have been added to the mix with Columbus and Cascade. Following in the footsteps of recent IPA releases like Reviver and King of Hop, a greater emphasis was placed on dry hopping and the process of hop bursting. This gives Northern Lights fantastic levels of hop flavor and aroma without adding large amounts of bitterness. A simplified malt bill has also created a more harmonious balance for the base while coarser filtration allows for more flavor and aroma throughout.”

That’s actually a lot of change. (And not mentioned in all that is a slight reduction in alcohol from 6.5% abv to 6.2% abv.)

How confident is the company that this was the right move? Starr Hill actually sent me both the old Northern Lights and the new one to taste, side by side. Which I did. I have to say, I like them both, but they are surprisingly different beers.

The 2007 Northern Lights is an IPA, but it’s an earthier example of the style, with notes of coffee, tree bark, and mushroom against a backdrop of piney hops. The 2015 Northern Lights ejects those earth tones in favor of a more clear, west coast style: Big citrus (especially grapefruit), pine needle, and bright acidity meeting bracing, hoppy bitterness. Which you actively prefer is a matter of personal opinion, to be sure, but I like them each on their merits. Hey, why can’t we just rename one and have them both?

A- / $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Sweet Mash Redux and Double Double Oaked

woodford double double oaked

This year, Woodford Reserve takes a page from the Buffalo Trace playbook and is launching a series of one-off, limited release whiskeys for our fun and enjoyment. They aren’t quite as “experimental” as the BT Experimental series, but they are also not as unique as Woodford’s annually-released Master’s Collection whiskeys (which remain a separate entity).

Per Woodford:

The Woodford Reserve Distillery will release up to three expressions of the Distillery Series concurrently at various times throughout the year. The inaugural two offerings, Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux, will be available for purchase at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, KY, with a suggested retail price of $49.99 for a 375ml bottle. These small-batch offerings range from finished whiskies to straight bourbons and other unique spirits. Master Distiller Chris Morris has spent the last several years developing and perfecting the individual expressions within the Distillery Series which, in true Woodford Reserve form, offer consumers a first-hand look into the brand’s creative dexterity. Made with the same approach as other Woodford Reserve products that focus on adjusting one or more of the five sources of flavor, Distillery Series expressions represent alterations across four of the five sources: grain, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

In case you missed it: These are only available in half bottles, sold directly from the Woodford distillery in Kentucky.

So let’s taste these two inaugural releases, eh?

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series Sweet Mash Redux – Sweet Mash was an early Master’s Collection release (2008) and now it’s back as a Distillery Series release. It’s explained: “While traditional Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is a sour mash bourbon, modifying the fermentation process to include a non-soured mash creates a bourbon of higher pH effect and heightened fruit notes throughout.” I’ll leave that as it stands, and move on to the tasting. It’s a curious spirit, with a nose that doesn’t exactly scream fruit. Rather, it showcases notes of lumberyard, dense grains, and some toasted spices. The palate does run to fruit, but I find it more in the raisin/fruitcake arena. I catch prunes alongside some crystallized ginger and clementine oranges, but then the wood and cereal combo come back and come back strong. Curious, but not my favorite expression of Woodford. 90.4 proof. B / $50 (375ml)

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series Double Double Oaked – Take Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, then finish it for an additional year in its second, heavily toasted lightly charred new oak barrel, that’s Double Double Oaked. Tasting Double Oaked today I find it quite a delight, sweet and surprisingly delicate for something with such a scary name. Double Double Oaked then, what might that be like? The nose is considerably more wood-focused, it turns out, and initially more reminiscent of rack Woodford than the original Double Oaked. Sip it and give it time however and it develops quite a sweet intensity on the palate, with strong notes of butterscotch and fresh cinnamon rolls. The finish offers some curious notes. Camphor? Cherry pits? Hard to peg, but I can say that while I like it quite a bit, the standard Double Oaked has a touch better integration and balance. 90.4 proof. A- / $50 (375ml)

woodfordreserve.com

Review: Four Kings Rye 2015 Craft Collaboration

four kings rye

Last year, four craft distillers got together and made a collaborative bourbon by vatting together their own craft spirits into one mega-craft bourbon called Four Kings. (Don’t go searching for a review, we didn’t sample it.) This year, the quartet is back at it but is producing a rye instead.

The four distilleries include Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan, and Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, Iowa. Each contributed 30 gallons of rye whiskey into the final blend of Four Kings Rye.

There’s not a lot of information about what goes into each of the four ryes, but that probably wouldn’t be of much use, anyway. What we have here seems to be a craft spirit that is fully in keeping with the exuberant style of American craft whiskeys — at least at first, anyway.

On the nose, intense cereal notes start things off, then sharp citrus, menthol, and some hospital notes. The palate offers a lot more nuance once you push past that grainy introduction, with baking spices, gingerbread, baked apples, and well-integrated wood tannins. It’s a much more elevated experience than the brash and youthful nose would indicate, with a surprising depth of flavor to offer. Give it a try.

B / $50 / no formal website