Review: Whiskeys of Reservoir Distillery – Bourbon, Rye, Wheat Whiskey, and Gray Ghost

When deciding how to formulate their mashbills, Reservoir Distillery took one of the more unique approaches among craft whiskey-makers. They decided to not use a mashbill. Well, at least not a complicated one. Defying tradition, they concentrated on 100% grain expressions in their line up, all bottled at 100 proof. Their bourbon, for example, is 100% corn. Their rye is 100% rye. You get the idea.

Usually a flavoring grain is an important component, particularly in bourbon, but surprisingly Reservoir has managed to create a flavorful spirit out of just high quality, locally sourced grains and small, heavily charred barrels (no larger than 10 gallons and all with a #5 char). For those that would argue Reservoir’s approach to whiskey-making limits the potential complexity of their whiskey, distillery co-founder Dave Cuttino counters that their technique actually allows them to cater to the entire spectrum of whiskey drinkers by giving them the ingredients to make whatever “mashbill” they prefer (high rye, low rye, wheated, or even a wheated rye).

The potential for in-home blending aside, Reservoir Distillery’s whiskeys stand up just fine on their own. Thoughts follow. (Again, note all are 100 proof.)

Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey – Corn-sweet on the nose with notes of toasted cinnamon, pepper, and gingerbread. It’s bright on the palate and hot; caramel apple and candy corn notes evolve into sweet butter, maraschino cherry, and vanilla on the finish. Underneath the heat, there’s a lot to admire. A- / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Rye Whiskey – Clearly 100% rye on the nose here with citrus fruit notes all over it. The palate is spicy but not overpowering with layers of bubblegum, cracked black pepper, and some licorice. The finish is warming but a little short. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Wheat Whiskey – This may be the most “wheaty” of wheaters. There’s oak, fresh mint, and cinnamon red hots on the nose. The palate is soft despite the proof, with notes of honey, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. The finish is syrupy with some slightly grassy notes. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Gray Ghost Whiskey – The Gray Ghost line is a limited release showcasing Reservoir Distillery’s own experiments with different blends. My sample had an effective mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% wheat. It was aged in eight 3-gallon barrels for 3 to 3.5 years, which is exceptionally long for such a small barrel. There’s a slight, but not unpleasant, warehouse funk on the nose, followed by honey and orange marmalade notes. The palate is initially hot and full of cloves, but it develops into a generous finish with cinnamon and toffee notes reminiscent of a much older whiskey. Reviewed: Year 17, Batch 2. A- / $90 (375ml)

reservoirdistillery.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2017

With so many whiskeys out there to try, from distillers big and small, whiskey festivals can easily be overwhelming. WhiskyLIVE offers a good balance of options, showcasing industry heavy-hitters along with up-and-coming American (and several international) craft distillers. It’s small in comparison to events like WhiskyFest, in both attendance and vendors, so your options are a little more limited. The size, however, does remove some of the annoyance that can come with wading through crowds of people, many of whom are just looking for their piece of the only bottle of Pappy at the Buffalo Trace table.

There was no Buffalo Trace table at this year’s WhiskyLIVE in Washington, DC. In its place, however, were many standout offerings from craft distillers, including Smooth Ambler, Westland, and Sonoma County Distilling Co., as well as a few surprisingly good bottles from regions of the world not known (yet) for their whiskey.

Brief reviews follow.

Scotch

Craigellachie 17 Years Old / B+ / buttery and chewy with honey and anise on the palate
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / B+ / light for an older sherried whisky; warm cereal notes with raisin and citrus on the palate
Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / well-balanced with dried fruit and a little dark chocolate on the palate
Aberfeldy 21 Years Old / B+ / malty with a good helping of vanilla
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B+ / spicy for a 16 year old with cocoa and raisin on the palate
Talisker 18 Years Old / A- / a perfectly balanced single malt; notes of smoke and ginger with a subtle spice

Irish

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey / B+ / ex-bourbon- and oloroso-finished; a little hot with layers of vanilla bean and dried fruit
Glendalough Single Malt Irish Whiskey 13 Years Old / A / a fantastic sipper; the ex-bourbon cask gives this one tons of caramel and toffee
Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old / A- / incredibly fruity with citrus and apple on the palate; a biscuit-like finish

American

Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon / B+ / thin but flavorful for such a young wheater with notes of buttered popcorn and caramel sauce; looking forward to its older brothers
Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey / B+ / good heat with notes of caramel corn and toasted marshmallow
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old / A / the latest gift shop release; thick and honeyed; full of brown sugar and cinnamon with a great chew
Breckenridge Distiller’s High Proof Blend / B+ / molasses on the nose; spicy and oak-forward with subtle baking spice notes
Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2016 / B+ / a little thin but well-balanced; sweet on the palate with dark red fruit, smoke, and faint sea salt
Westland Winter Release / A- / light but silky with good heat; smoked bacon, pepper, and red licorice on the palate
Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old / B+ / hot for 110 proof; caramel apple and clove on the palate with a somewhat short finish
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey / B+ / bright red fruit on the palate and a nice, warming rye spice
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye 10 Years Old / B+ / minimal rye spice and very little heat; oily and fruity but with a lingering medicinal note I can’t quite place
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Strength / B- / grassy with loads of menthol and a drying finish; the youth really shows at a higher proof
Bainbridge Battle Point Whiskey / B / cereal nose; very sweet and a little hot with notes of mint and fudge

International

Paul John Classic Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / A- / rich and flavorful; honeyed palate with great baking spice notes
Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / B+ / balanced and enjoyable; classic peat smoke and sweet cereal
Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky / B+ / noticeably young but full of light sherry and bright citrus flavors
Lark Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength / A- / big for such a youthful whiskey; thick and sweet with wonderful notes of ripe peach and dried fruit
Nomad Outland Whisky / B+ / the Pedro Ximenez finish is all over this one with raisin notes and a little smoke

Review: Wyoming Whiskey Single Barrel, Outryder, and Double Cask Limited Edition

Since the 2015 launch of their first whiskey, Small Batch Bourbon, Kirby-based Wyoming Whiskey has made a name for itself in the craft distilling world with a steady release of high-quality offerings that manage to showcase creativity and pack in a lot of complex flavor despite their youth (all are around five years old). A Single Barrel release followed quickly behind the Small Batch, and then in late 2016 the distillery shook things up with a bottled-in-bond, straight American whiskey called Outryder. Most recently, in February 2017, Wyoming Whiskey introduced its first wine cask-finished bourbon, Double Cask Limited Edition.

Thoughts follow on all three of these releases.

Wyoming Whiskey Single Barrel Bourbon – Wyoming Whiskey’s (wheated) Single Barrel Bourbon is naturally chosen from the best of the barrels which are excluded from the Small Batch blend and reportedly yield only about 220 bottles each. At only five years old, each Single Barrel will exhibit different qualities, so variation is to be expected among different bottlings. This bottle has a light copper color. The nose is sweet with hints of brown butter, ginger, and cocoa nibs. The palate is rock candy sweet and a little thin, but layers of chocolate, citrus, and cloves appear in due course with black pepper and candied ginger rounding out a generous finish. 88 proof. B+ / $60

Wyoming Whiskey Outryder Straight American Whiskey – A departure from the wheated mash of Small Batch and Single Barrel, this bottle is a blend of two different whiskeys, each with a large winter rye component in the mashbill (one is a whopping 48% rye). It also carries the bottled-in-bond label, something rarely seen in the craft whiskey world, which means, among other things, it is at least 4 years old and bottled at 100 proof. The color on Outryder is pale amber. On the nose, there’s sweet toasted coconut and vanilla bean. The palate showcases a gentle rye spice with layers of maple syrup, nutmeg, and raisins along with a surprising and enjoyable pineapple note. The long finish is where most of the spice emerges along with some subtle orange zest. For their first foray into rye-forward whiskey, this one is a true winner from the folks in Kirby. 100 proof. A- / $60

Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Limited Edition – The latest addition to the Wyoming Whiskey line-up is probably its best yet. For Double Cask Limited Edition, the same five year wheated bourbon in the Small Batch and Single Barrel is given a healthy dose of finishing in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks and bottled at 100 proof. The result is a surprisingly rich and flavorful spirit that begins with its beautiful mahogany color (imparted largely from the wine cask). The nose explodes with dried fruit, fig, and candied apricot. The palate is like a rich, sweet breakfast of pancakes covered in dark berries and buttery, vanilla syrup with hints of black raisins and candied orange peel. The finish is long and warming with fading notes of fresh-ground cinnamon. 100 proof. A / $60

wyomingwhiskey.com

Review: Seventeen Twelve Spirits North Carolina Bourbon

The craft whiskey business is a brutal waiting game. While large distilleries continue to churn out quality product, often at a lower cost to the consumer, craft whiskey makers are forced to simply watch barrels full of money age in their warehouses, hoping their gin or vodka (or someone else’s whiskey in their bottles) will keep the lights on in the meantime. Some craft distillers are even bottling a less-than-perfect product too early and hoping the marketing makes up for it in the long run. This doesn’t exactly help the craft business overall. There are, however, those craft distillers who have found a way to produce a young whiskey well worth the asking price. One of those is Seventeen Twelve Spirits in Conover, North Carolina.

Named for the year North Carolina became a distinct entity from the Carolina colony, Seventeen Twelve Spirits uses only grains grown by local farmers in North Carolina. Their roots are as traditional as any, born out of the moonshining legendary in the western part of the state, but their maturation technique is one of the newest in the industry. None of the whiskey in their Seventeen Twelve North Carolina Bourbon is much more than a year old, but it looks and drinks like something significantly older due to the use of yellow birch finishing staves which they toast and suspend inside standard 53 gallon barrels. Taking a play from an industry heavy hitter like Maker’s Mark (Maker’s 46 uses French oak finishing staves in a smilar manner), they are attempting to crack the code on very young bourbon that actually tastes good.

At only 10 months old, the color on my sample of Seventeen Twelve Spirits North Carolina Bourbon is already a light caramel; the first sign of the benefits from the finishing staves. The nose is at first sweet corn, which is probably where a whiskey this young should end, but it develops into notes of fresh ground cinnamon and vanilla custard. The body is understandably light, but the palate is surprisingly complex and flavorful. More cinnamon sugar and vanilla bean emerge with layers of sweet oak, baking spice, toasted marshmallow, and a floral hint of honeysuckle. There’s a slight heat on the very back end, a little black pepper from the rye spice, and a rich oiliness, all of which makes for a generous and enjoyable finish. The toasted yellow birch is clearly a secret ingredient here, imparting a lot of older bourbon flavors into what is one of the best young bourbons I’ve ever tasted.

86 proof.

A- / $33 / seventeentwelvespirits.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2017

WhiskyFest remains one of the best ways to meet other spirits enthusiasts, hear from some of the industry’s biggest names, and of course try a wide variety of whisk(e)y, including many hard-to-find and expensive offerings. The VIP ticket, which provides an additional hour of sampling, is particularly useful for discovering the true rarities, as most exhibitors showcase a special bottle (sometimes literally just one) only for that hour. Although celebrating its 20th year in 2017, this was only the second time the event has been held in my backyard of Washington, DC. As with years past, I discovered some real gems, sampled heavily, and stopped being able to really taste anything after about 8 o’clock. Notes on everything before that are below.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2017

Scotch

AnCnoc Highland Single Malt Vintage 2001 / B / a golden, creamy whiskey with some pleasant stone fruit notes
Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 / A / a real standout this year; sugar cookie nose with layers of dried fruit and baking spice notes; honeyed with a long finish
Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / the Oloroso finish shines at cask strength along with hints of gingerbread and a syrupy sweetness
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A / incredibly balanced and sultry; sweet smoke nose and a palate full of iodine and sugary oak
Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza / B / sweet and floral with coconut on the palate; a bit thin
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky / B+ / bolder than expected and almost too sweet, but wonderfully smoky with faint dark fruit notes on the finish
Ardbeg Kelpie Committee Release / A / matured in virgin oak from the Black Sea region; the palate is chocked full of sweet, oriental spices in addition to the honeyed brine and peat smoke of traditional Ardbeg
Ardbeg Kildalton / A- / a mix of sherry and bourbon casks; soft on the nose and gentle on the palate with a good balance of vanilla sweetness and raisin notes
Craigellachie 23 Years Old / B+ / the oldest Craigellachie in the range described as “meaty,” but I was getting more fruit and herbal notes on the palate
Alexander Murray & Co. The Glenrothes 22 Years Old / B- / honey sweet with minimal complexity; some anise and spice on the finish
Balblair 1983 / A / tons of caramel on the nose with a rich bourbon-inspired palate, cinnamon biscuit and semi-sweet chocolate developing into a slightly smoky, brown sugar finish

American

William Larue Weller / A- / cinnamon sugar nose with a syrupy palate that leaves a fantastic menthol and cinnamon RedHot flavor in the roof of the mouth
George T. Stagg / A- / hot brown sugar under loads of alcohol (72%!) but developing into chocolate and pipe tobacco
Blood Oath Pact No. 3 / A / rich caramel and dark fruit nose with a vanilla custard and berry palate, slightly drying on a long finish
Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey / B+ / sweet with subtle rye spice on the nose, dark fruit and a little dill on the palate; good balance of the sherry and rye
Yellowstone Limited Edition 101 Proof / A- / great oak nose and subtle red fruit notes layered with toffee and rye spice
Elijah Craig 23 Year / B+ / caramel and oak nose with a palate dominated by cinnamon and drying tannins
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition / B / more fruit on the palate than the standard small batch but lacking the complexity and body of previous editions
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Rye / B- / black tea and caramel nose but the palate seems unbalanced; clove and rye spice overpower the dark fruit in the wine cask
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Bourbon / B+ / floral nose with vanilla; baking spice notes integrate well with the wine cask, leaving a lingering raisin quality on the finish
Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength / A- / a great craft, cask strength rye; rich honey and vanilla on the nose with a creamy texture showcasing more of the same on the palate along with a warming rye spice
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades / B+ / a complex nose, chewy body, but the palate falls flat with too much menthol and candy corn
FEW Spirits Bourbon (Delilah’s 23rd Anniversary Bottling) / B / a touch of grain and shoe polish on the nose, tart cherry notes on the palate fading to cinnamon; interesting but not exactly an easy sipper

Irish

The Quiet Man Traditional / B+ / light on the nose with a buttery palate showcasing simple but enjoyable vanilla and faint citrus notes
The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old / A- / toasted cereal nose with honeysuckle; a luscious palate that is also soft and light with vanilla, fresh ground cinnamon, and nutmeg

Get 25% Off at Saturday’s Whisky LIVE DC 2017

I’m pretty sure anyone within a 100-mile radius of the White House could use a drink or seven right about now. Why not join me and hundreds of other DC-area whiskey fans at Whisky LIVE DC this Saturday, March 11?

This annual, internationally renowned whisky tasting event will take place in our nation’s capital at the Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H St. NW, on March 11 from 5:30 to 9:30. The show continues a decade-plus tradition of sharing unlimted samples of 200 of the world’s best whiskies, along with the stories behind them as told by master distillers, brand ambassadors and industry experts. They’ll be pouring internationally recognized brands such as Dalwhinnie, Glenmorangie, Elijah Craig, Oban, Talisker, Yamazaki, Russell’s Reserve, and Lagavulin along with dozens of spirits from boutique distilleries, including Few Spirits, Sonoma County Distilling, Usquaebach and the region’s own Catoctin Creek and Virginia Distillery Company. Products from non-traditional whisky producing countries like India and Spain will also be on display. If straight whiskey isn’t quite your thing, several area bars, including Service Bar and the legendary Jack Rose Dining Saloon, will be making whiskey cocktails. A bourbon-infused dinner buffet and live entertainment will also be provided.

It’s not just a chance to drink a lot of different whiskey though, folks. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about a lot of different whiskey, and Whisky LIVE DC has some pretty impressive conversationalists on hand including some of your favorite whiskey writers and critics such as Lew Bryson, Michael Dietsch, Carlo DeVito, Fred Minnick, Heather Greene, and Phillip Greene. For those looking to really brush up on their whiskey knowledge, you can also choose to attend an hour-long tutored tasting guided by international whiskies experts, ambassadors, and master distillers. But if you really want to nerd out on whiskey, I suggest joining Jane Bowie, Maker’s Mark Tasting Manager and Manager of the Maker’s Select Program, as she discusses how to create a perfect version of Maker’s Mark using their five proprietary staves. I personally attended this seminar at the Bourbon Affair last year, and it was fantastic. It will be the first time this experience has been available outside Kentucky, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it included a tasting of the rare Maker’s Mark Private Select!

Use promo code WLDC25 for 25% off Whisky LIVE DC tickets (only valid on new purchases through this link). I think I just gave you an excuse to splurge on the VIP ticket! See you there! Say hi!

Review: Nikka Pure Malt Black

Japanese whisky producer Nikka has an impressive range of offerings highlighting different styles of whisky from single malts, to various blends, and two different grain whiskies. For their blended malts, Nikka offers the Taketsuru Pure Malt and an additional line of Pure Malts labeled by color (corresponding to their particular blend) and packaged in a unique, smaller (500ml) laboratory-style bottle. Some in this line are getting harder to find, but Nikka Pure Malt Black (the best of the bunch, in my opinion) should still be easily found overseas and in travel retail markets. Like the Taketsuru Pure Malt, Nikka Pure Malt Black is a blended malt, made from a combination of whisky from both Nikka distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi. Technically a vatting of only malted whisky, it is not like most traditional Scottish blends, which mix in grain whiskeys with the single malts.

The honey-colored Pure Malt Black struggles a little to reveal much complexity on the nose. But with a little time, the initial smoke, peat, and cereal notes develop into peach and plum with a very slight grassiness. It’s mild but inviting. The palate is less subdued and showcases toasted oak, more wood smoke, and toffee with a balanced peat underlying it all. A slight citrus, almost lemon quality, is muted but it’s there too. The finish is medium length, sweet, and leathery with a gentle heat and fading black pepper notes. There’s clearly more of the peaty Yoichi in this blend than the fruitier and brighter Miyagikyo, but the flavors are exceptionally well integrated.

Nikka Pure Malt Black achieved some fame back in 2014 when Jim Murray gave it a Liquid Gold Award in his annual Whisky Bible. I’m not sure I would call it “liquid gold,” but it is superior in many ways to the Taketsuru Pure Malt.

86 proof.

A- / $50 (500ml) / nikka.com 

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