Review: Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskeys – 14 Years Old and 16 Years Old (2017)

Once known for releasing only vintage-dated Irish whiskeys, Knappogue Castle switched to standard age statements some years ago. Today it continues to tweak its branding, labels, and other packaging details, and now we’re also seeing a few production changes. That said, in addition to some rare offerings, the core of the line remains a trinity of single malts, all triple distilled and aged 12, 14, and 16 years.

Today we look at fresh bottlings of the 14 and 16 year old whiskeys — last reviewed in 2014. Details on how production may have changed follow, along with fresh tasting notes for both.

Knappogue Castle Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey 14 Years Old – This whiskey has changed considerably in production in the last few years. It was once traditionally finished in sherry, but it is now a marriage of whiskeys, each aged 14 years in either bourbon or oloroso sherry barrels, then blended together. The bourbon is clearly the lion’s share of the blend: The whiskey is very malty on the nose, with notes of orange peel, melon, and some coconut behind that. On the palate, the sharp body offers a nutty, nougat-heavy core, with notes of chocolate, lemon, and plenty of lingering earthiness. The finish finds hints of tobacco and barrel char, giving this a more brooding, savory conclusion than most Irish whiskeys. Despite its relatively advanced age, this is a whiskey that still feels young — perhaps undeservedly so, to be honest. 92 proof. B / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Knappogue Castle Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old – This whiskey marks a more traditional approach (and has not changed since the last release); the spirit spends 14 years in bourbon barrels before being finished for two years in oloroso sherry barrels. Though only two years older, this is considerably darker than the 14, with a nose that is much more rounded and aromatic, showing heavily nutty notes, some oily wood, nougat, and orange peel — a greatest hits rundown of some of the most classic characteristics of older single malt Irish. The palate is rich and seductive, with both brooding wood and walnut notes as well as kicks of old wine, fresh herbs, grassy heather, and a squeeze of orange. There’s a sharpness on the back end, a reprise of well-roasted nuts, dense wood, and spicy notes of cloves, nutmeg, plus more of that old, oxidized wine character. Deep, intriguing, and soulful, today this is showing as a well-crafted whiskey worth seeking out. 80 proof. A / $100  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: The Bitter Truth Pink Gin

Pink gin is a classic blend of gin and bitters, and Bitter Truth’s German expression of the spirit (originated in part as a tonic for seasickness) offers a traditional, maritime-inflected rendition of the pink stuff. Botanicals aren’t fully revealed, but include juniper, lemon, licorice, caraway, and fennel for starts. Presumably TBT’s own bitters are used in the mix — and to give it the telltale pink color.

Let’s give it a whirl.

The nose is familiar, not particularly “pink” but initially coming across like a more typical dry gin — with aromas of juniper, orange peel, some coriander, and a hint of licorice. The palate sees some departure from the norm, however, as it opens up with new flavors, some surprising, of strawberry, black pepper, rhubarb, and a heavier layer of bitter spices. This is all folded into a juniper-rich core that finishes with some more unexpected notes of vanilla and salted caramel — just the lightest lick of sweetness to round out a lightly bitter but flavor-filled experience.

Recommended — both on its own and to give traditional gin cocktails a salmon-hued spin.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / the-bitter-truth.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Nachtmann Highland Tumbler

Seeing green? Check out this new tumbler from Nachtmann. The Nachtmann Highland Tumbler, cast in “Reseda” green, which is “named for the eponymous spring-green plant.”

It’s a nice little old fashioned glass, its carved base making for easy handling while looking sophisticated. The lip is gently rounded, which is comfortable for drinking, and the glass has amble weight without feeling over-heavy.

The green color is perhaps divisive, but if you’re looking for a statement glass to serve your home cocktails in, this is a solid choice.

A- / $18 each / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

Review: Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten (2017), Port Charlotte 10 Years Old (2017), Octomore 10 (2017), and Black Art 5.1

With Jim McEwan out and Adam Hannett in as master distiller, Bruichladdich hasn’t taken its foot off the gas even for a second. This summer the company hits the ground with three new ten year old whiskies — all revivals of earlier limited editions — plus a new release of Black Art, Hannett’s first stab at this mysterious (intentionally) vatting of very rare whiskies.

Thoughts on the quartet follow.

Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – The Laddie Ten is becoming a classic of younger single malts, and now a second limited edition is arriving. Distilled in 2006, this release is a 10 year old just like the first, and is made again from unpeated barley, and the whisky is aged in a mixture of bourbon, sherry, and French wine casks. Departures from the first edition are evident from the start. The second edition is quite a bit more cereal-focused on the nose than the original, with orange-scented barley and light mushroom notes wafting in and out. The palate is a bit sweeter than the nose would cue you off to, with a distinct chocolate character and notes of Honeycomb cereal. The finish is lively and sherry-heavy, with a nagging echo of dried mushrooms. It’s not as essential a whisky as the original Laddie Ten, but it remains worthwhile and is still not a bad value. 100 proof. B+ / $58

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – Another round with the 10 year old Port Charlotte. Made from 100% Scottish barley, and aged in a mix of first-fill bourbon, sherry, tempranillo, and French wine casks. Peated to a moderately heavy 40ppm. Sweet orange and some strawberry interplay nicely with the smoky, salty nose. This leads to a palate of dried fruit, sultry smoked bacon notes, and hints of camphor. It’s a fine dram, but as Islay goes, it’s not overwhelmingly well balanced and not all that special. Not my favorite whisky in this batch, but nothing I’d spit out, of course. 100 proof. B / $62

Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Years Old (2017) – You’ll need to look at the fine print to determine that this is from the 2017 edition, but no matter. This release is a 100% Scottish barley edition, aged in full-term bourbon casks (60%) and full-term grenache blanc casks (40%). Peating level is 167ppm. Fans of the Octomores of yesteryear will find this a familiar old friend. The extra age (typical Octomore is about 5 or 6 years old) doesn’t really change this spirit much at all; though perhaps it does serve to better integrate the raw peat with more interesting aromatics, including roasted meats, camphor, and Asian spices. On the palate, the smokiness and sweet notes are integrated well, giving the whisky the impression of a smoky rendition of sweet Sauternes, studded with orange zest and the essence of honey-baked ham. As always, this is fun stuff, though I think some of the younger Octomores are more interesting. 114.6 proof. B+ / $200

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 – 24 years old, unpeated. Hannett’s stab at Black Art, per Bruichladdich, plays down the wine barrel influence, which was always a big thing with McEwan and which was effective at keeping drinkers guessing about each whisky’s makeup. I’ve always felt Black Art was a mixed bag, and despite the change in leadership this expression is no different, though the distillery is right that the wine influence is played down. In its stead, the nose offers austerity in the form of wood oil, walnut shells, roasted game, and some dried cherry fruit. The palate offers a respite from some of the wood and meat with light notes of white flowers (I’d wager dry white wine casks play some role here), dried pineapple, plum, golden raisins, and some gentle baking spice notes. The finish is surprisingly malty, with some briny elements. It’s a departure for Black Art, to be sure, and yet it still manages to be weird and, at times, hard to embrace. 96.8 proof. B / $350 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

bruichladdich.com

Review: Aberlour a’bunadh Highland Single Malt Batch 54

Aberlour’s cask strength a’bunadh release is a special one among single malts, as it is released in serialized batches — now at least on #58. The construction is always the same — again, cask strength whisky, 100% ex-oloroso sherry barrel aged — but each batch varies in proof and, apparently, in flavor. Notably, there’s no age statement on this whisky, so the actual time in cask may vary from batch to batch, and batches are said to be blended from whiskies aged anywhere from 5 to 25 years old. No information about the number of bottles from each batch of a’bunadh is released.

We reviewed batch #26 some years ago. Today we turn our attention to batch #54, which features an updated label and, notably, at the time of its release, it was the second highest abv of a’bunadh ever released. (Proof levels are going nowhere but up since then.) Back during my review of #26, I had some reservations about the whisky. Let’s see how things have evolved in the last eight years.

The beautiful copper color, driven by all that sherry cask time, hasn’t gone anywhere. On the nose, the whisky is outrageously complex, loaded with notes of spiced nuts, reduced/concentrated orange oil, and oiled wood. There’s a green note that’s hard to place, something akin to lemongrass and green banana — which adds even more complexity to the experience. On the palate, the whisky is bold and rich and full of flavors, including all of the above, plus some lingering red berries, black tea leaf, ginger, and cinnamon. It’s a hot whisky, and water helps to round out the edges, revealing notes of black pepper and a stronger raspberry/blackberry component — which takes things out with some light but welcome sweetness.

Freshly comparing this batch to batch 26, batch 54 is a clear leader, though today I feel perhaps I was overly harsh with my earlier assessment of #26. Today I find the whisky on the muted side, but enchanting in its own way with notes of tangerine, sandalwood, fresh tobacco leaf, and some lingering phenols. Either way, I’ll keep checking out a’bunadh as I encounter it — and you should too.

121.4 proof.

A- / $100 / aberlour.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Violet Liqueur Roundup: Creme Yvette, Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette, The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur, and Marie Brizard Parfait Amour

Should you desire an Aviation, a Blue Moon cocktail, or a classically layered Pousse-Cafe, you’ll need one rarity in your bar: violet liqueur, a liqueur which is a lovely shade of purple and which is made, yes, from flower petals.

A staple spirit of, oh, the late 1800s, violet liqueur had long been off the market as these exotic cocktails fell out of favor — but the mixology surge of the last decade and change has brought violet liqueur back with a vengeance. Today you’ll find at least three brands vying for your attention, along with various forms of Parfait Amour, which are purple-blue in color but which mostly don’t contain violets. I have Marie Brizard’s on hand to compare to this field, though perhaps a full Parfait Amour roundup is in order down the road.

Let’s get violet!

Creme Yvette – Off the market for 40 years, this re-released expression of one of the most classic violet liqueurs is now made in France and imported by Cooper Spirits, which also owns St. Germain. It’s a blend of violets with blackberry, cassis, strawberry, and raspberry — and the only spirit in this group that does not contain artificial coloring. Port wine red in color. All that fruit does however give Yvette a heavy cough syrup character on the nose, although the body is less overpowering than the aroma would indicate. Strawberry and cassis are the dominant flavor notes, with the violets playing a secondary role. It’s a fun little collection of flavors, but if using this in a cocktail, keep in mind the extra fruit character you’ll be adding and dial down any other fruit liqueurs in the mix. 55.5 proof. B+ / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM DRINKUPNY]

Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette – This is probably the most commonly encountered violet liqueur you’ll find, not just because the bottle is classy but because it is made only from violet petals and sugar, so you won’t find any fruit overtones here as you do with Creme Yvette. Brilliant purple in color. Intensely floral on the nose, with overtones of pine needles and funky dried potpourri. Gently sweet on the body, with some hospital overtones, driven perhaps by the underlying spirit, but overall it’s quite gentle but again, more focused on dried florals than fresh ones. 40 proof. B / $23

The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur – Like Rothman’s this is a straight violet blossom liqueur, plus sugar. Similar in color to Rothman, but a bit closer to blue. Fresher, cleaner floral notes here, more distinctly violet than Rothman’s. The body again shows off that medicinal character, along with some earthiness, but the fresh violet notes manage to hang in until the end. Overall, roughly the same level of sweetness as Rothman & Winter’s, but a fresher, cleaner overall flavor. See full review here. 44 proof. A- / $30

Marie Brizard Parfait Amour – While blue-purple in color, Parfait Amour is often lumped into the violet liqueur category, but most expressions don’t contain violets at all. Rather, Parfait Amour is built on an orange-heavy base of curacao — Brizard’s is flavored with orange blossoms and vanilla. Again, a similar color to the two previous spirits, but another shade closer to blue. Aromas of fresh orange peel almost immediately take a different direction once you take a sip — toward overwhelming vanilla and almond notes, with triple sec-like orange character layering on after those more dessert-like characteristics fade. The finish finds floral elements finally emerging, and lingering on the palate for quite awhile, adding ample complexity. For a more nuanced drink, use this in lieu of blue curacao in just about anything that calls for it. 50 proof. A- / $20

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