Review: Lexington Brewing Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

The gateway to whiskey obsession for fans like myself tends to be beer, usually craft beer. So it’s no wonder that breweries the world over are aging beers in whiskey barrels. While whiskey tends to best complement very dark beers, like stouts, there are a number of lighter barrel-aged beers on the market today. One of the easier to find brews in this category is Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, produced by Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the increase in barrel-aged beers has not coincidentally seen the demand for used bourbon barrels skyrocket, the folks at Lexington likely have their neighbors in the Bluegrass State keeping them in good supply. Their Kentucky Ale ale is aged for up to six weeks in freshly decanted bourbon barrels from unnamed Kentucky distilleries, and that bourbon influence is not at all subtle in this ale.

It pours with a light head and a golden amber color. The nose is all rich vanilla and oak, a predominance of aroma somewhat unusual even for barrel-aged beers. The approach is crisp and filled with caramel and toffee under a light, malty body. It’s immediately refreshing, which is unexpected given those big bourbon notes. Alltech has been making this beer since 2006, and my first sip of it years ago blew me away. The latest releases haven’t quite lived up to those first impressions, though. Despite the robust whiskey influence, it’s a little thin overall, and the flavor up front is sometimes fleeting.

8.2% abv.

B / $12 per 4-pack / kentuckyale.com

Review: Amrut Spectrum 004 Single Malt Whisky

In 2004, Amrut Distilleries, based in Bangalore, India, introduced the first single malt whisky made in India to the UK market. Since then, the distillery has released several expressions of single malt all over the world using Indian barley, as well as peated barley sourced from Scotland. Amrut bottles their whisky at a comparatively younger age than most Scottish or Irish distilleries (only 4-5 years old), but that doesn’t mean it tastes young. Because the whisky is aged at 3,000 feet up in the tropical conditions of southern India, maturation occurs at roughly three times the Scottish rate, giving Amrut a significant advantage in the industry.

While the distillery offers traditional single malt expressions, both peated and non-peated and at standard proof or cask strength, they have also experimented with many different barrel finishes. Perhaps none of these experiments has been as complex or as interesting as Amrut’s Spectrum. The goal of this whisky was to achieve the effects of multiple barrel influences simultaneously by constructing casks from four different types of barrels: American oak (with a standard level 3 char), toasted French oak, and two sherry casks (Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez). Amrut then took their original single malt, aged three years in ex-bourbon casks, and transferred it to these Spectrum casks for an undisclosed amount of time. The first run of Spectrum in 2016 actually used an additional Spanish oak as well, but the 2017 release (dubbed 004) dropped it because it reportedly didn’t add that much to the final product. Whether the product of four different casks or five, Amrut Spectrum is an interesting experiment that I’m surprised we haven’t already seen from the industry leaders in Scotland. So what comes out of this Frankenstein barrel, you might ask?

One word: magic.

On the nose, Amrut Spectrum is immediately bold and nuanced with notes of blackberry jam, clove, wet oak, and new shoe leather. It’s silky on the palate with a great balance of sweet and spice. It has a fantastic sherry backbone, with notes of black cherry, ripe prune, and a little campfire smoke, which you would expect with the Oloroso and PX influence, but this surprisingly doesn’t dominate the rest of the spirit. Several different oak tannins are apparent, but again, they’re expertly integrated. There’s also a great balance with the other barrel influences which impart a wide range of rich flavors: dark chocolate, hazelnut, cinnamon, and toffee, along with some citrus and overripe stone fruit. The finish is just long enough to keep you going back to the glass to coax out cracked black pepper underneath lingering coffee notes, plus a little menthol. I was excited to see how this whiskey might develop with a little water, but a few drops just dulled the initial complexity without adding much. This one is perfect at its original abv so sip it neat if you’re lucky enough to find a bottle.

100 proof.

1,800 bottles produced (600 for the U.S.).

A+ / $160 / amrutdistilleries.com

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

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