Review: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (2017)

In 2012 we looked at The Botanist, a gin produced at Bruichladdich distillery on the Scottish island of Islay, where peaty Scotch is the order of the day. It remains the only gin produced on this island, though the brand has seen some changes, namely with a striking new bottle design, meant to turn away imitators and prevent consumer confusion. The recipe remains the same, however, with 22 ingredients, many of which are grown on the island, making up the bill.

For history’s sake, here’s the complete botanical list again: Angelica root *, Apple Mint, Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Cassia bark *, Chamomile (sweet), Cinnamon bark *, Coriander seed *, Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Juniper berries *, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Lemon peel *, Liquorice root *, Meadow Sweet, Orange peel *, Orris root *, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover, Wood Sage leaves. (* = Non Islay Botanical)

Tasting the gin again from a fresh bottle in 2017, it’s clear that The Botanist is one of the top gins on the market, a versatile gin that is highly worth seeking out no matter what your favorite gin tipple is. The nose remains lively and enticing, a melange of juniper, sage, forest floor, and scorched orange peel. On the palate, the gin really shines, a modest juniper slug tempered by slightly sweet notes of citrus, savory herbs, cinnamon sticks, and a bit of licorice. Mint is particularly evident on the finish. Best of all, the gin’s balance is utterly perfect, the various components melding into a cohesive whole that is better than the some of its parts, and which, again, drinks beautifully despite the relatively high alcohol level.

Still exceptional!

92 proof.


Check out these Botanist original recipes, all of which are worthwhile additions to your cocktail repertoire.

Pine for Islay
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
.75 oz Small Hands Pineapple Syrup

In a cocktail shaker, add The Botanist Gin, fresh squeezed lime juice and pineapple syrup. Add ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass filled with large ice cube. Garnish with cilantro leaves in the center of the glass.

Fino Fix
1.5 oz Pink Peppercorn-Infused Botanist Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
.75 oz Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
.5 oz Simple Syrup
1 Strawberry

In cocktail shaker, muddle 1 strawberry. Add The Botanist Gin, fresh squeezed lemon juice and Sherry. Shake and strain into Coupe Glass. Garnish with halved strawberry on side of glass.

Wisemen’s Negroni
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.75 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Suze
2 Sage Leaves

In a mixing glass, add all ingredients. Fill with ice and stir for 15-20 seconds. Strain into rocks glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with 2 sage leaves resting on top of ice.

Bitter Fizz
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.5 oz Cappelliti Vino Aperitivo
.5 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Small Hands Orgeat
2 drops Housemade Fig Bitters
3 oz Soda Water

In highball, build all ingredients and add ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a quartered fresh fig.

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – French Oak Cask Finished Rye

Woodford’s latest Distillery Series whiskey — the seventh in this burgeoning portfolio of experimental, one-off spirits — has arrived. French Oak Cask Finished Rye is an interesting one. Per Woodford:

The French Oak Cask Finished Rye completes a trilogy of rye offerings released this summer including Blended Rye and Toasted Oak Rye. Developed by Master Distiller Chris Morris, French Oak Cask Finished Rye is a unique batching of the rye mash distillate used in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Aged Cask Rye [released in 2011] that matured in French Oak barrels for three years. The French Oak barrels originally held Pinot Noir before they were seasoned with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. This combination produced a soft, fruit-forward rye with hints of baking spices.

As with the Toasted Oak Rye, this is a worthy experiment that works well — in fact, it’s probably the best of this trilogy.

On the nose, tons of rye-heavy spice, a hint of brandied cherries, a modest wood profile, and a gingerbread finish all come together to offer a cohesive, almost brazen aromatic profile. The body is a bit more savory than the nose would indicate, offering a burly amaro character up front that blends with cinnamon sticks, licorice root, and cloves. It’s almost overpowering at first, but a gentle sweetness forms on the palate as the finish comes along, a bit of brown sugar, more of those brandied cherries, and a hint of gingerbread cake. It’s a bit brooding, but surprisingly compelling — and perfect for the cooler months ahead.

Fun, unusual, and fantastic stuff. Pick up a bottle if you happen across one.

86.4 proof.

A / $46 (375ml) /

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4

A Midwinter Nights Dram is High West’s excellent Rendezvous Rye, finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels, bottled non-chill filtered. We first reviewed this unique whiskey in 2014 and gave it high marks (review can be read here). We briefly reviewed last year’s release and gave it an A (review can be read here), but I think this year’s bottling might be even better.

In the glass, this whiskey is a bright copper color. The nose offers rich red cherry and strong spearmint notes. The palate presents lots of brandied cherry, coupled with cinnamon and candied ginger. The finish is quite long with its robust rye character fading to a final note of dark chocolate. This is a full bodied dram with lots going on, and the flavors blend beautifully.

98.6 proof.

A / $90 /

Review: Glenfarclas The Family Casks 1989 from Astor Wines & Spirits

In the whisky world, single casks are great because they offer the opportunity to try a unique and rare version of an otherwise familiar spirit. Glenfarclas’ Family Casks go one step further and lets you pick across vintages spanning five decades. Since 2007, this Speyside distillery owned by the Grant family has produced more than 380 bottlings of vintage single malts from the early 1950s to the early 2000s. Of course no one bottle year is like the next, and cask finishing varies from year to year and release to release, so you never quite know what you’re going to get. There’s also a lot of history in these bottles, as each year’s complete release showcases multiple generations of the Grant family’s approach to whisky-making. Pricing varies accordingly from a few hundred dollars a bottle to thousands for those from the 1950s.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a bottle of The Family Casks 1989 bottling selected exclusively for Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City. This cask was bottled at the end of 2013, putting it at almost 25 years old. That’s somewhat on the younger side for that year’s releases but still a healthy, old age. Glenfarclas is typically associated with sherry-finished whiskies, but this bottling is all ex-bourbon cask, making it all the more unique.

The nose on this whisky is full of buttered pastry and orange blossom honey with a little clove, melon, and black pepper. On the palate, an initial burst of heat gives way to a malty, biscuity quality. As a fan of this distillery’s core range, I’m always looking for the dark fruit notes from the traditional Oloroso sherry finish, but I find in their place vibrant flavors of vanilla bean, oak, ginger, and an almost caramel apple quality. The finish is spicy with more honey and ginger root. Adding water creates a musty, leathery note on the nose, restrains some of the spice on the palate, and really amplifies the honeyed sweetness overall. I’m honestly not sure which way I prefer to drink this one, but I can confidently say I’m looking forward to the opportunity to try my next Glenfarclas Family Cask.

114.8 proof. Reviewed: Cask #7299.

A / $250 /

Review: Kilchoman 2009 Vintage and Red Wine Cask Matured

You can’t slow Kilchoman down, as the upstart Islay distillery is still cranking out at least four releases every year. Up next is a new vintage release, last seen in late 2015, and a brand new expression finished in red wine casks. Let’s dive in!

Kilchoman 2009 Vintage – This is an eight year old Kilchoman, one of the oldest bottlings the distillery has ever released. While the three prior vintage releases were aged exclusively in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels, this one is sourced from a combination of Oloroso sherry butts distilled in 2008 and bourbon barrels distilled in both 2008 and 2009. Results: It’s very peaty, particularly for Kilchoman, The nose is dense with smokiness, both barbecue and open wood fires. Some of that trademark fruit — apples and bananas — manages to creep through, but it’s fleeting against the background of smoking peat. The palate is largely in line with the nose, a burly smoke bombforemost, though one with more of a fruit profile laced throughout it. Aside from the general lack of sherry influence, there are no big surprises on the smoky, fruity, and very lightly floral finish — in fact there are no big surprises in the whisky at all. This is classic Kilchoman,which means that despite some production tweaks, it’s not overly distinguished vs. prior releases. 92 proof. B / $100

Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured – This is a limited edition bottling aged entirely (not finished) in red wine casks from the Douro Valley in Portugal (though not, it would seem, Port casks). Distilled in 2012, making it roughly 5 years old. A ruddy burnt orange, almost pink at times, this expression immediately shows itself as something entirely different from the typical Kilchoman bottling. The nose is inviting, a combination of eucalyptus, cedar wood, dried fruits, and almost savory amaro notes. There’s smoke here, but it’s understated, a secondary character that stands behind the broader fruit and herb profile. The palate is just as enchanting, a rich and lively mix of red fruits, mint, vanilla, and a surprisingly vibrant chocolate character. The finish is sweet and sultry, with hints of red pepper jelly and echoes of dark chocolate. All told, it’s probably my favorite release of Kilchoman to date. An absolute must “buy it now.” (For kicks, compare this to Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013.) 100 proof. Under 10,000 bottles produced. A / $125

Review: Firestone Walker Helldorado Blonde Barley Wine Ale (2017)

Barrel aging has become wildly popular in the craft-brewing world, but it remains, for the most part, a process almost exclusively applied to darker beers like porters and stouts. No strangers to pushing the envelope with their brews, California-based Firestone Walker Brewing Company bucks that trend with its Helldorado Blonde Barley Wine Ale, which is brewed solely with English and American pale malts. It’s a risky move given how well the caramel notes in whiskey (and whiskey barrels) complement darker styles of beer. So how does this lighter beer fare with barrel aging?

Helldorado pours a great rose gold color. There are subtle tropical fruit and raw honey notes on the nose and less of the roasted cereal aroma typical of darker barrel-aged beers. It’s deceptively refreshing. Where darker boozy brews caution patience, this thing begs to be gulped. It’s initially crisp but with a huge body. On the palate, there are sticky sweet biscuit notes, vanilla, dried coconut, and more honey. Many darker beers slowly develop a slightly bitter finish, but Helldorado’s sweetness lingers like cream soda. Don’t get me wrong. I love my barrel-aged stouts and dark barley wines, but it’s very exciting to see lighter beers that barrel-age so well.

12.8% abv.

A / $15 /

Review: The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old

Looking for an Irish whiskey that tastes like it could be from Scotland? Tyrconnell’s 16 year old single malt is just the thing to do the trick. It helps of course that it’s a double-distilled, single malt whiskey with ample age on it — all from bourbon barrels — and that it’s bottled with a bit more alcohol than usual, at 46% abv. Like all Tyrconnell releases, this limited edition bottling is made at the Cooley Distillery.

The nose is rich with toasty cereal notes and a surprising amount of fruit — so much so that I thought there might be some sherry cask aging involved. While some orange notes are present, on the whole it’s less citrus and more stone fruit, with big apple aromas and a healthy vanilla component. On the palate, the whiskey is lush and incredibly drinkable, with loads of malt leading to a bold melange of spice, vanilla, and a squeeze of orange peel. The finish features cola notes, plus some chocolate to take you the rest of the way into dessert.

All told: Beautiful, rich, and a pleasure to drink.

92 proof.

A / $100 /