Review: Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan Single Malt Whisky

A name like Colkegan may evoke Ireland, or perhaps Scotland… but not exactly New Mexico, does it?

Nevertheless, here we are with a distinctly American single malt — its barley dried not with peat but with mesquite — double pot-distilled, and aged (time unstated) in casks at 7000 feet above sea level (yes, in the Santa Fe area).

It is a decidedly unique drinking experience that drops a tumbleweed right on top of Islay.

On the nose, you can’t escape that mesquite, the distinctly sweet notes of those smoldering branches impacting heavily the comparably restrained notes of salted caramel and vanilla plus a mix of savory herbs including rosemary and thyme. The smoke overlays it all, just as it does over the sea in Islay, only here it’s barbecue sauce, not coal dust.

The palate is more in keeping with an American single malt, although Colkegan apparently has enough age on it to nicely temper the raw grain, and the mesquite helps to ward off the raw wood character so prevalent in American single malt whiskeys. Instead we get more of those salted caramel notes, some dried fruit, and dark chocolate — all filtered through a haze of mesquite. There’s a surprisingly high level of balance here, with what could have been a cacophony of flavors melding together incredibly well. The finish is lightly smoky, but ends up squarely on notes of dark chocolate-coated currants rather than burnt wood.

This is a whiskey that I first approached with significant hesitation, then I found myself slowly won over by its uniqueness, restraint, and charm. For fans of either Islay or American whiskeys, it’s definitely worth sampling and savoring.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #8.

A- / $51 / santafespirits.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Glen Scotia Double Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Campbeltown, a tiny region on Scotland’s west coast, was once a hotbed of whiskymaking, but today there are just three companies with active stills. Springbank is by far the best known. Glengyle/Kilkerran is largely unheard of in the U.S. The third is Glen Scotia, which was built in 1832 but has changed hands and gone through so many owners that few have kept count. The current owner is Loch Lomond, which produces whisky under its own name as well.

Glen Scotia is a single malt, and among its small handful of whiskies is this, Glen Scotia Double Cask, which is a non-age statement single malt whisky that is finished in first-fill bourbon casks followed by time in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

In the glass, Glen Scotia Double Cask is immediately redolent of the Pedro Ximenez casking, offering aromas of coffee, Madeira wine, dried fruits, and roasted nuts. The palate is more well-rounded, with caramel and vanilla sweetness quickly leading to a heavy baking spice character, particularly focused on cloves and cardamom. There are some simple granary notes here, indicative of youth, but they’re well masked behind all the spice, wine, nuts, and fruit. Those winey notes find a reprise on the finish, where they are showcased well along with a bit of salt spray and overtones of spiced nuts.

While not a particularly dark in color, the whisky packs in tons of sherry flavor atop more traditional barley base. It really grows on you over time, particularly after it gets some air in it to mellow things out. I love Springbank as much as anyone, but it’s nice to have more of a presence from this unique region, and Glen Scotia Double Cask is a welcome addition to the U.S. market.

A- / $42 / glenscotia.com

Review: J. Wray & Nephew Silver Rum, Gold Rum, and Overproof Rum

Jamaica’s J. Wray & Nephew — or just Wray & Nephew — lays claim to being the #1 producer of rum in the country, and when you consider that the company makes both Appleton and Captain Morgan, it’s a claim that’s not hard to believe. Wray & Nephew also makes pot-distilled rum that is released under its own label, some of it highly sought-after by rum aficionados. Recently, Wray & Nephew’s entry-level bottles, a white and a gold rum, both finally made it to the U.S., joining the company’s renowned overproof expression.

Let’s find out what the fuss is all about.

J. Wray & Nephew Silver Rum – This is an aged rum, filtered to white. I will go on record and tell you this is one of the best white rums I’ve ever encountered. Gentle but full of depth, it offers a nose of toasted coconut, vanilla, fresh cream, and just a hint of hospital character. On the palate, the expect rush of rubber cement flavor so typical in white rum is absent. Just supple coconut and light caramel, sweet vanilla cream, and subtle banana notes. The finish is clean, just a touch rubbery (to remind you it’s rum, of course), but fresh and quite versatile. Everything a white rum should be — a clear winner. (Get it!?) 80 proof. A / $25

J. Wray & Nephew Gold Rum – Aged (and indeed gold in color) but with no particulars attached. This has an immediately much more pungent nose, with notes of mushroom, red bean paste, burnt toast, and barrel char. It settles down on the palate, bringing out a sweeter side that showcases toffee, coconut, vanilla, and some baking spice notes. There’s more complexity here than in the silver, but you’ll find this kind of richness more commonly in a number of other rums in this category, which makes it a bit less unique. 80 proof. A- / $25

J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum – This is the flagship rum from Wray and the rum with which most American drinkers will be familiar. This is familiar instantly on the nose, with a mixture of citrus and petrol notes, very aromatic with florals and the raw alcoholic notes one expects from an overproof rum. The body is a bit tougher and astringent, slightly charcoal-dusted but otherwise intense with fruit, both citrus and tropical, with overtones of overripe banana, bubble gum, and a touch of eucalyptus on the finish. Surprisingly approachable despite the heavy alcohol level. 126 proof. A- / $19

camparigroup.com

Review: 2014 La Follette Chardonnay and Pinot Noir North Coast

It’s been many years since I dined with Greg La Follette, back when he was making wine under the Tandem label. Now La Follette has a label under his own name, and his North Coast-sourced 2014 releases are here. Let’s give them a try.

2014 La Follette Chardonnay North Coast – Vanilla cookie notes are heavy on the nose, but tempered by clear notes of lemon and toasty brioche buns. The body is quite bold and rounded, but it’s nonetheless fresh and lively, with a lasting finish that works well alone or with food. An excellent example of a big California chardonnay that is dialed back just the right amount. A- / $22

2014 La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast – Moderate body, with notes of blackberry and dark cherry, tempered through light vanilla and gentle, toasty wood. There’s an undercurrent of licorice-loaded tannins here, but it’s kept in check by a gentle sweetness and a distinct silkiness on the palate. A- / $22

lafollettewines.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 02.14.17 Chocolate & Coffee IPA

Stone’s latest “Enjoy By” IPA says it should be consumed by Valentine’s Day, but it was seemingly created for consumption on Valentine’s Day. Anyone looking for a special V-Day gift for that beer-loving special someone should look no further than this romantically-themed one-off brew.

As the name suggests it’s an IPA, brewed with the typical pantheon of hops (12 of them) plus added chocolate and coffee — in the form of cocoa beans processed by Stone and a blonde coffee brewed by San Diego Sunrise.

The results are really intriguing and fun: The bitter hops are impossible to ignore, sure, but the coffee and chocolate work as surprisingly deft foils for the ale. Both are more understated than I’d expect (schooled by years of overblown coffee stouts and the like), adding just a hint of dessert-like sweetness to an otherwise hop-forward experience, which tempers the whole affair and makes it more suitable for after dinner than before. With a moderate fruitiness and its bold, rounded body, consider building a fire before cracking it open.

9.4% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner, Racer X (2016), and Pace Car Racer

A trio of new beers from Bear Republic

Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner – A light, Euro-style lager made with imported Hallertauer hops, this beer fully fits the part it was designed to play, bold with malty notes, a slight nutty character, and toasty cereal notes to round things out. Gentle in flavor but packed into a powerful body, it’s a great cold-weather lager with plenty of meat on its bones. 5% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA (2016) – This was a late 2016 arrival that we’re finally getting up. As always, megadoses of Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial hops give this rich IPA a hefty yet fully manageable bitterness, the silky caramel core tempers things and allows to show through notes of sweet apple, cloves, and dates. The finish is piney resin, as to be expected, as waves of bitterness come crashing back in. Rinse and repeat. 8.3% abv. A / $8 per 22 oz bottle

Bear Republic Pace Car Racer – Bear Republic’s session IPA is a dead ringer from the start as a session beer. While it isn’t at all watery, the hops are muddy and lacking in citrus and piney character, coming across with notes closer to those of pine cones than pine resin. While it’s got ample bitterness that helps it stand out against, say, your typical bottle of Miller Lite, any true IPA fan will be wishing for the full-strength experience once the leathery finish arrives. 4% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

bearrepublic.com

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