Review: Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey – Stout and Port Finished – and Hotaling’s 11 Years Old

In August 2017, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo. Though many assumed that meant its small distilling operation next door was going with it, that’s not the case. Anchor Distilling was effectively spun off and remains an independent operation today.

Anchor’s been busy in the distilling department, and today we look at three new whiskey releases, including two special editions of Old Potrero whiskey with unusual cask finishes, and a new 11 year old rye. Thoughts follow.

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Stout Barrels – This starts with standard Old Potrero single malt that is finished in a barrel that (follow closely) began as a rye cask, then worked as an apple brandy barrel, then spent time as a stout cask. For round four, it’s a single malt again, and things are getting a little murky. The nose is incredibly hoppy, to the point where I would have guessed this was from some kind of IPA cask, not a stout cask. Aromas range from fun vegetal compost notes to old wine to lemon peels to, ultimately, skunky hops. On the palate, similar flavors dominate, though a malty character at least gives it some sweetness, along with flavors of dusky spices, prunes, and cooked green beans. Somehow that all comes together with a finish that isn’t as off-putting as it may sound, though the overwhelming savoriness of the whiskey doesn’t exactly recall a pint of Guinness. 110.8 proof. C / $100

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels – More straightforward, with single malt aged in new oak and finished in Port casks. This one’s an ever bigger surprise, and not in a good way. All the Port casks in the world cant mask the funk in this whiskey, which pushes past the barrel treatment almost completely. The nose is heavily hoppy, though secondary notes include a touch of butterscotch to temper the green bean character. The palate is sharp, almost acrid at times, with no real trace of Port sweetness. Instead I get a pile of roasted carrots, tar barrel, and coal dust, very little of which is what sounds appealing right now. 114.6 proof. C- / $100

Anchor Distilling Hotaling’s Whiskey 11 Years Old – An unusual whiskey, made from 100% malted rye (making it both a rye and a “single malt” of sorts). Aged in once-used charred fine-grain American oak barrels that previously held Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey for 11 years. This is a solid whiskey that eschews trickery in favor of old-fashioned maturity. The nose is mild, lightly grainy with a modest wood profile, perhaps a bit of banana bread underneath. The palate shows a remarkable integration of flavors, including maple, toasty oak, brown butter, and some racy spice and dried fruit notes. There’s still a rustic character to it, but, unlike that same character in the cask-finished whiskeys above, here that roughness comes across as almost charming. Very limited, with under 200 bottles made. 100 proof. B+ / $115

Review: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (2017)

The beer-loving world breathed a sigh of relief with the quality of the 2016 Goose Island Bourbon County series after the lactic souring issues that plagued some of the 2015 releases. To make things even better, in 2017, the series officially expanded to six offerings: Original, Barleywine, Coffee, Proprietor’s, Northwoods, and Knob Creek Reserve. There were apparently plans for a seventh, Reserve Barleywine, but it was pulled at the last minute for quality issues. Goose Island is clearly playing it very safe with the quality of this series, as it should. It’s still a highly sought after release even as the number of barrel-aged beers on the shelves continues to increase.

We got our hands on two of the more readily available beers in the series: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine. Thoughts follow.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2017) – The “Original” bourbon-barrel-aged stout in the Bourbon County series, this year’s release continues the tradition of infusing the brew with big, bourbon flavor. Just putting your nose to the glass, you’re hit with boozy vanilla and cream soda notes. While the body is rich and silky, there’s a little left to be desired in the flavor department. There’s more vanilla and a subtle dark chocolate note, but other than that it seems pretty one-dimensional. It’s still a delicious barrel-aged stout, but not as complex or interesting as previous years. 14.1% abv. B+ / $10 per 500ml bottle

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (2017) – While previous releases were reportedly aged in third-use barrels that had already held another stout, the 2017 Bourbon County Brand Barleywine release was aged in all second-use barrels from Heaven Hill. It’s no surprise then that there’s a stronger bourbon quality to this beer than in years’ past. Thankfully, the barrel notes don’t dominate and actually create some welcome complexity. The nose has much less alcohol than anticipated but still offers the expected vanilla and oak notes, complemented by a very subtle fruitiness. The palate is slightly bitter, offsetting some of the richness, with notes of cola, toffee, and a little brandied cherry on the finish. 14.4% abv. A- / $12 per 500ml bottle

Review: Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky, Italia Bourbon, Copper & Kings Bourbon, and Copper & Kings Rye

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits recently dropped a pile of new whiskeys, all limited editions (with some of them single barrel releases). Stylistically, they’re all over the map, so pay close attention here — and nuzzle up with your local spirits merchant if they sound enticing — to get the lowdown on each of the quartet.

Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky – Distilled from 100 percent malted barley, a portion of which is smoked with cherry wood. No aging information provided. Instantly weird, with a nose of roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and grainy horse feed. That grassy, hay-heavy note continues on to the palate, quite smoky at times and heavy with notes of the field — pastoral cereals, dried weeds, and campfire embers. The finish is lightly sweetened with honey and just a squeeze of lemon. Undercooked, but not without some charms. 93 proof. B- / $70

Few Spirits Italia Bourbon – A collaboration between Few, Eataly, and Folio Fine Wine Partners, which provided casks from Sicily’s Donnafugata (which specific wine is unclear), used for finishing. This is a young and initially quite savory whiskey, heavy with wet earth and popcorn notes on the nose, though it’s cut with a spice one seldom sees in bourbon of this age. Hints of sweet red fruit on the palate offer more promise here, but the sweetness is quickly overpowered by a thick layer of asphalt and tannin, leading to a sultry and earthy finish, heavy with tobacco notes. That said, enough of that wine-driven fruit manages to shine through here, brightening up the whiskey with notes of blackberry and baking spice, to elevate it into something unique, approachable, and worth sampling. 93 proof. B / $50

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Bourbon Finished in American Brandy Barrels – A single barrel bottling, which consists of Few Bourbon finished in C&K’s brandy barrels. It’s a racy whiskey, though quite grainy at times, with an aroma heavy with toasted bread, caramel corn, and indistinct spice. The palate is surprisingly chocolaty, with notes of chicory and bitter roots. The finish sees some ginger notes, but it still plays it close to a vest composed of fresh-cut lumber and hemp rope. On the whole, the brandy influence is tough to find. B / $40

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Rye Finished in American Brandy Barrels – Also a single barrel, C&K brandy barrel-finished bottling, only this one uses Few’s rye as the base. A surprisingly different spirit than the above, though the nose is still a bit restrained, here showing a slightly sweeter side, some tea leaf, and a savory, dill-like herbal component. The palate finds a melange of new flavors, including notes of strawberry jam and a bold, powerful spiciness that really gets to the heart of what rye is all about. With an almost chewy body, that spice finds plenty of purchase on a platform that finishes with hints of dark chocolate and rum raisin notes. Worth checking out, particularly at this price. 93 proof. B+ / $40

Review: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

Weihenstephaner’s Bavarian wheat beer — the U.S. label spells it is as two words, Hefe Weissbier — is a traditional take on the hefeweizen style. Notes of coriander and orange peel attack the palate first, but the malt does the heavy lifting, its burly, nutty body smacked with spices but rounded with sweetness and a hint of coffee bean. Wheat beers are stylistically divisive, but I’m certain anyone will be able to get behind Weihenstephaner’s Old World rendition.

5.4% abv.

B+ / $11 per six-pack /

Review: Tom’s Town McElroy’s Corruption Gin

You’ll find Tom’s Town Distilling Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, where the founders say it “draws its name and inspiration from the country’s most polarizing and corrupt political boss, Tom Pendergast.” That’s right, folks, now you can happily name your business after a corrupt politician. We really are living in the future!

Tom’s Town produces three spirits at present. Today we look at the company’s gin, called McElroy’s Corruption, named after an old (corrupt, of course) KC city manager named Henry McElroy, who worked for Pendergast. Who knows what McElroy liked to drink, but let’s imagine for now it was gin. Botanicals are not disclosed.

Stylistically, this gin approximates a New Western gin, aromatic on the nose with spicy notes well beyond juniper — lots of florals, burlap, nutmeg, and coriander. The palate is a bit more straightforward, with juniper and a squeeze of citrus leading into heavy coriander and angelica notes — more traditional London Dry in its approach. The finish is herbal and piney — no big mystery, really.

90 proof.

B+ / $33 /

Review: Tanqueray No. Ten Gin (2018)

You might not be old enough to remember the moment when gin went upscale. In the era of Gordon’s and Seagram’s, gin was a perfectly acceptable tipple, but hardly something one spent a whole lot of money on. Gin was basically just cheap vodka, the point of the strong flavoring was, in part, to drown out any off flavors. I’m talking the 1900s here, not the 1500s, when gin was sold as a medicinal, its herbs intended to treat your lumbago or gout. By the 1700s, gin was a beverage consumed mainly by the poor, and while gin made plenty of inroads (no thanks to James Bond and his vodka habit), it remained a relatively cheap spirit as recently as the 1990s.

Tanqueray No. Ten was the industry’s first big push upmarket. Introduced in 2000, the idea was to make a premium version of its iconic bottle, with (even) better ingredients and a higher price tag. The Ten doesn’t refer to the botanicals, but rather the name of the still used to produce it. Said botanicals include considerably more than the quartet of ingredients in rank-and-file Tanqueray. Tanqueray Ten includes juniper, coriander, chamomile flowers, white grapefruit (whole fruit, not just peel), orange, and lime.

Anyway, we last reviewed Tanqueray No. Ten back in 2010, and figured it was high time for a fresh look. The good news is that nothing much seems to have changed in nearly a decade.

I love the grapefruit and lime on the nose here. The gin’s powerful fruit-forward aromas play down the juniper, and the chamomile gives it a certain eastern sensibility. The palate finds the juniper making a stronger showing, but it’s well balanced with all the citrus in the mix. The coriander makes a stand on the finish, with a gentle fruit fade-out leaving a slightly sweet impression on the tongue.

All told, it remains a top choice for gin — bold, balanced, and, at $30 a bottle, hardly a splurge. We’ll have to check back in 2026 to see if our thoughts remain the same!

94.6 proof.

A- / $30 /

Review: Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2017

After its perfectly acceptable — but relatively straightforward — 2016 limited edition bourbon, Limestone Branch is out with another special edition of Yellowstone for 2017. This year, the company takes things in quite a different direction, with a few surprises under its cap.

The big news: This is the first time Yellowstone is using its own spirit in the blend, alongside the usual sourced stock. Per the company, “This year’s limited edition combines hand-selected, seven and 12-year Kentucky Straight bourbons, with a special addition of Limestone Branch Distillery’s first available, 4-year Kentucky Straight bourbon. The bourbon is then rested in once-filled, double seasoned barrels, which are toasted and then lightly charred.” The whiskey is finished in “charred wine casks” (no further details on that finishing are provided).

“By finishing the bourbon in charred wine casks, we allowed the juice to intensify and evolve, creating a wonderful result,” says Beam. “While last year’s edition was more about subtle nuances, this year’s edition we focused on intense flavors and a richer final product.”

So let’s give it a spin.

This is a whiskey that you need to take your time with, as it really manages to grow on you. Initially young and a bit closed-off, the whiskey is redolent of wood and dark spices. But give it some air and 15 minutes or so and the aroma opens up to show a sweet berry note, some notes of incense, and a slightly doughy, almond note.

The palate is expressive. There’s lots of wood here, but it’s tempered with notes of dark chocolate, raisins, and orange peel. With a surprisingly long finish, Yellowstone 2017 endures with notes of clove, some eucalyptus, and even more of that dark chocolate, which is what hangs on with you the longest. It’s a far cry from a whiskey that can initially come across as muted, and one that I highly encourage you to try, as long as you are patient with it.

101 proof. 7000 to 8000 bottles produced.

A- / $100 /