Review: One Eight Distilling Rock Creek Rye Whiskey and Untitled Whiskey No. 3

Several distilleries have opened in the nation’s capital in recent years, but only One Eight Distilling can claim to have in their Rock Creek Rye the first grain to glass whiskey distilled, aged, and bottled in the District since prohibition. Also in their sizable portfolio are several quality non-barrel-aged spirits, including Ivy City Gin, and a host of sourced whiskeys released through their Untitled series that showcase various experiments with different finishes and proofs.

As the first distillery to bring whiskey back to DC, you wouldn’t expect One Eight to be satisfied with just a rye. Later this fall, they’ll release their own bourbon with plans to introduce single malt into their line-up in the near future. Drinkhacker got its hands on a sample of Rock Creek Rye along with a sample of one of the more unique whiskeys in the Untitled series. Thoughts follow.

One Eight Distilling Rock Creek Rye Whiskey – The nose on this whiskey has a fair amount of toasted cereal owing probably to the high amount of malted rye in the mashbill. There’s a little spearmint in there, as well, and notes of lemony floor polish and honeydew melon. There’s minimal spice or heat on the nose and none of the grassiness typical of younger rye whiskey. It drinks almost like a bourbon, and a nicely balanced one at that. There’s a little raw honey on the front palate followed by some spice, more lemon, and savory baked grain notes — almost like banana bread with a bit of walnut in it. The spice shows up more on the tail end, and cinnamon and vanilla bean round out a gentle, warming finish. In the increasingly crowded world of craft rye whiskey, this one has a lot going for it. 94 proof. A- / $50

One Eight Distilling Untitled Whiskey No. 3 – This whiskey is one of the more interesting in the growing Untitled line-up, and it displays some real creativity. It’s a product of collaboration with DC-based coffee roasters Vigilante Coffee who provided the roasted coffee beans to fill the finishing barrel for an undisclosed amount of time before a sourced six year-old, wheated bourbon was aged in it. The resulting whiskey has a powerful nose of dark chocolate-covered caramel and freshly ground coffee with a little molasses and cardamom lingering in it, too. The palate has great heat on it with bold notes of dark roast coffee and baking cocoa, along with traces of caramel and butterscotch. The finish is surprisingly long — perhaps this is a bourbon best paired with dessert. Still, if One Eight can make a coffee-finished whiskey this good, I’d love to see what they can do with more traditional wine casks. Batch 3, 92 proof. A- / $78

Oneeightdistilling.com

Review: Joseph Magnus Murray Hill Club Blended Bourbon, Cigar Blend Bourbon, and J. A. Magnus Reserve

DC-based Joseph Magnus Distillery seems to have a lot at its disposal when it comes to crafting its whiskey. Besides the list of industry icons that have formed its distilling team, it is sparing no expense in sourcing the very best aged whiskeys as well as the finest used European oak casks in which to finish them. The distillery’s initial offering, Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, showcased the fine fruits of this investment. The folks at Magnus, however, have looked recently to improve an already quality brand by introducing older and even more rare sourced whiskies into their line-up. You’ll pay even more to enjoy some of these new releases (in one particular case, a LOT more), but you can’t deny the skill and quality that’s going into these bottles.

Joseph Magnus Murray Hill Club Blended Bourbon – This bourbon takes its name from the pre-prohibition Magnus flagship brand. It’s a blend of 18 and 11-year-old sourced bourbon, as well as a 9-year-old sourced light whiskey (high-proof whiskey aged in used or uncharred new oak containers). Murray Hill Club has a soft nose with subtle butterscotch and citrus notes and just a little black pepper. The palate is honeyed with ground cinnamon, clove, and buttery caramel. The heat arrives in a perfect wave on the very back end and extends through a medium finish with warming notes of black pepper and vanilla. I’ve only encountered a few blends using light whiskey, most of which ran too hot for my liking. This one hits the mark on heat but leaves me wanting just a little more flavor, particularly at this price. 103 proof. B+ / $92

Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon – This whiskey is the result of Master Blender Nancy Fraley’s desire to create a sipper that would pair well with a cigar. It is also comprised of 11 and 18-year-old sourced bourbon along with about 25% of the Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon, a 9-year-old bourbon finished in PX, Oloroso, and cognac casks. The final blend is then finished in Armagnac casks, which is unique in the bourbon world. The nose on Cigar Blend is sultry, with sweet tobacco smoke, dark fruit, and vanilla frosting. I’m tempted to just inhale this one instead of drink it. On the palate, it’s all kinds of southern dessert: toasted pecan, vanilla bean, and butter brickle perfectly layered with sweet fig jam and dark berry cobbler. It’s got a thick, oily mouthfeel that leaves all of those flavors hanging well into a generous finish that, like Magnus’s other offerings, has the perfect amount of heat. 100.7 proof. A / $150

Joseph Magnus J. A. Magnus Reserve – What I said earlier about paying a LOT more was in reference to this bottle, in particular. The J. A. Magnus Reserve is a marriage of 16 and 18-year-old MGP “honey” barrels, yielding only 192 bottles. On the nose, there’s orange zest, cinnamon, buttered toffee, and a little candy apple all mingled with a great warehouse note that gets stronger as it opens up in the glass. On the palate, it’s candy sweet but not cloying with a buttery mouthfeel and flavors of chocolate covered orange peel, marmalade, and stewed cherry with a very gentle, peppery heat. The finish is a mile long with slightly drying notes of sweet oak and lingering citrus candy. The balance of flavor is simply remarkable. Master Blender Nancy Fraley said that her goal with this bourbon was to create “liquid poetry.” I’m not sure what that would taste like, but I think this is close. And at this price, it should be. 92 proof. A / $1,000

josephmagnus.com

Review: One Eight Distilling Ivy City Gin and Untitled Gin No. 2

As in many cities across the country, craft distilling in Washington, D.C. has taken off in recent years. Since 2011, no fewer than nine distilleries have opened their doors. One of the pioneers of this group is One Eight Distilling. The distillery gets its name from Article One Section Eight of the Constitution, which among other things established the District of Columbia as the nation’s capital. For such a young distillery, One Eight has a wide portfolio including a vodka, a white whiskey, and nine different releases of sourced, finished whiskey. Earlier this year, they also released their own aged rye whiskey with plans to release their own bourbon in the near future. However, one of the areas where One Eight really shines is their gin.

Here’s a look at two of them.

One Eight Distilling Ivy City Gin – Ivy City Gin is a new American dry gin distilled from locally-sourced grains (predominately rye). The botanical program for this gin includes the familiar juniper and lemon peel, among others, but also the somewhat unusual use of local spicebush, a member of the laurel family with aromatic berries. On the nose, the juniper is immediately present but almost smoky and complimented by notes of cracked black pepper and sweet licorice. The palate is light yet honeyed. The juniper is again present, but it’s not the backbone of the spirit, while the malted rye complements the spicebush, delivering a great earthy quality. There’s more licorice, but it’s soft, not biting, as can sometimes be the case. Bright coriander and citrus notes and a little cinnamon round out the palate with a gentle heat on the finish. This is a great cocktail gin and easy to sip, although I’d probably prefer it at a slightly higher proof. 80 proof. B+ / $37

One Eight Distilling Untitled Gin No. 2 – Expanding into the barrel-rested gin category, One Eight now has three versions of their Ivy City that have spent some amount of time in oak. For the second release, One Eight used both ex-bourbon casks and new American oak casks. The nose on this gin is more honey and citrus than the Ivy City with just a little of the familiar peppercorn. On the palate, a caramel sweetness collides with the juniper and spicebush in a wave of initial heat and spice that is remarkably refreshing. The burst of flavor and warmth immediately gives way to softer clementine and vanilla notes with traces of dusty oak. Although some of the botanicals in the original Ivy City are diminished by the barrel influence, what is enhanced makes this a superior spirit. 112 proof. A- / $45

oneeightdistilling.com

Review: Westland Winter Release 2016

Seattle-based Westland Distillery makes only American single malt whiskey, but they have produced a range of variations on this theme to date including Sherry Wood and Peated, as well as more creative offerings like Garryana, part of the Native Oak series in which they age their single malt in oak sourced from the Pacific Northwest. In the winter of 2016 they added another addition to their range with the inaugural Winter Release. Westland has a rather romantic way of describing this whiskey, so I’ll let them do the explaining:

This inaugural release of Westland Winter celebrates the stark contrasts of the season. At once brisk and cozy, austere and comforting, it hovers over the threshold of the season’s two theaters, the hinterland and the hearth. Nine casks were married for this release. Smoke is the one constant, its waft on the wind carrying us in and out of each scene. The ex-bourbon casks shape the whiskey into a fully realized portrait of winter, but this release’s ascendant feature is a single ex-Oloroso hogshead of peated spirit. This sherry cask, with its immense richness and assertive peatiness, reminds us that this time of year togetherness is warming and indulgence is forgiven.

That’s a lot to pack into a bottle, but I can easily see what they are getting at. On the nose, Winter Release shows a subtle smokiness, but it’s sweet, almost like pipe tobacco or a dying campfire. There’s ginger there, too, golden raisin, and a little candy apple. The palate is oily and honeyed with cinnamon and dark fruit notes that become chocolate covered on a lingering and slightly spicy finish. I get the “winter in a glass” thing, but more importantly, this is a dram I would pick over a lot of other more traditional single malts out there. Here’s looking forward to next winter!

100 proof.

A- / $100 / westlanddistillery.com

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 3 2017

The third installment of Luxco’s annual Blood Oath series, Pact No. 3, was released in March of this year, and as with previous releases it’s a product of significant creativity. Like Pact No. 1 and Pact No. 2 before it, this release is a blend of three different rye-heavy bourbons ranging in age from seven to twelve years old.

Pact No. 3 is nothing if not rye-forward, with all of the component bourbons in the latest release having a high rye mashbill, although the exact rye content is not specified. Building on the success of last year’s blend, which included a Port-finished whiskey, one of the bourbons in Pact No. 3 is finished in cabernet sauvignon barrels. Wine cask finishing is still not common in the bourbon world, and the use of cabernet sauvignon casks is even rarer (only Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve comes to mind). Luxco partnered with Swanson Vineyards in Napa Valley to procure the wine barrels for this release, and according to the creator of Blood Oath, John Rempe, the use of this particular type of wine cask allowed for the creation of “more character and depth” in the resulting bourbon.

I have to agree with Rempe. This whiskey packs character and depth aplenty. On the nose, Pact No. 3 shows notes of brown sugar, caramel, and stewed red fruit with just a slight mint quality underneath it all. The palate is rich and oily with oak, vanilla, tons of chewy caramel, and subtle dark chocolate. The rye spice only really arrives on the back end, but it adds a wonderful richness to the finish, which is long and warming with lingering black cherry and cinnamon notes.

Although Blood Oath remains a sourced product, Luxco’s new distillery in Bardstown, Lux Row Distillers, will soon begin producing and aging future releases for the line. If they make whiskey as well as they source and blend it, we all have a lot to look forward to.

98.6 proof. 30,000 bottles produced.

A / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com

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

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