Review: West Cork Irish Whiskey Black Reserve and Barrel Proof

West Cork, still a new distilling operation in Ireland, is already out with two limited releases, both of which we were excited to put to the test. These whiskeys mark the rollout of new labels for West Cork, as well, so don’t get too confused…

West Cork Irish Whiskey Black Reserve – Indeed, quite dark in color. This is a blend of grain and malt whiskey, finished in “double charred first fill bourbon casks” for six months. This is a burly Irish, with a slightly sweet but woodsy, nutty, and floral nose. The body takes things elsewhere, with lots of barrel char and coal dust right at the start, giving the whiskey a coarse and throat-scratching character. This whisks away the bulk of the sweetness, mopping it up with burnt wood and match heads, and leaving on the back of the throat a very dry character reminiscent of licorice and the essence of a burning leaf pile. A curiosity, and a study in what happens when delicate Irish whiskey gets punched around by the barrel. 86 proof. B- / $37

West Cork Irish Whiskey Barrel Proof – Here, two whiskeys — a grain whiskey and a malt whiskey — are aged, blended (2:1 grain to malt), and further married in bourbon barrels. It is bottled at cask strength. This is, again, a bit of a rough and tumble whiskey. The nose is scorching — dark brown/almost blackened sugar notes with a vegetal backbone. On the palate, notes of liquid coal, wood embers, mushroom, and tar all come together in, much like the Black Reserve, a very non-Irish fashion. What lingers on the finish is molasses, some hints of blackberry jam, black tea, pepper, and a quickly vanishing essence of dried flowers. Weird stuff. 124 proof. B / $57

westcorkdistillers.com

Review: American Born Bourbon, Peach Whiskey, and Apple Whiskey

American Born is a new line of bourbon and flavored whiskey from Milestone Brands, an Austin-based company founded by the minds behind Deep Eddy Vodka. These new whiskeys are sourced spirits bottled at 83 proof, which “pays homage to the recognition of the country’s independence in 1783.” Hmmm.

Note that the spirits are all bottled in Nashville, but they are not considered (or labeled) Tennessee Whiskey.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

American Born Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a “corn and rye” mash, but otherwise details are scant, including where it is distilled, and how long it is aged. Clearly it’s not young. The whiskey has the hallmarks of youth on the nose, namely plenty of lumberyard character that gives it a considerable pungency. The palate finds that wood melding with buttery popcorn and taking on some smoky notes, alongside almond, clove, and a burnt rubber character that lingers on the finish. A simple bourbon that is all about youth, worn straight on its sleeve. 83 proof. B- / $20

American Born Peach Whiskey – Made with natural peach juice and natural flavors. This is a capable way to doctor the rough-and-tumble Bourbon, giving a good amount of sweetness to a whiskey that’s desperately in need of it. And at first blush, the peach is juicy, authentic, and sweet — but this degrades surprisingly quickly, devolving into a chemical note that comes across as acrid, shades of (the old) Southern Comfort. 70 proof. C / $19

American Born Apple Whiskey – Again, made with real apple juice and natural flavors. Sharp apple candy on the nose leads to an incredibly sweet and syrupy body, stuffed with apple and watermelon candy notes. The finish is unbearably saccharine, off-putting with harshly astringent overtones. D- / $19

americanbornwhiskey.com

Review: No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gin – Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay Finished

No. 209, based in San Francisco, is going on a tear with its gin. Not only is it still producing standard and Kosher versions of its straight gin, it’s also out with three barrel-finished expressions, each spending time in a different type of California wine barrel. Today we look at two of those — gin finished in sauvignon blanc barrels and gin finished in chardonnay casks. Thoughts follow.

Both are bottled at 92 proof.

No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gin Finished in Sauvignon Blanc Barrels – Immediately a little curious, because sauvignon blanc is uncommonly barreled in the U.S. — but this spends 134 days in barrel nonetheless. Powerfully aromatic, with a nose that’s hard to place — eucalyptus, menthol, and a sweet citrus I usually associate with moscato wine. The palate initially packs less of a punch, offering quick citrus, grapefruit, and lemon peel notes — then sharpens up quickly with a reprise of menthol, camphor, and some slightly smoky and deeply earthy herbal character lingering on the finish. There’s a lot going on in this gin, but it works quite well on the whole, evoking some even more exotic notes, like violets and rhubarb, as you explore it in greater depth. None of that really has anything in common with sauvignon blanc, but hey, that’s the magic of the barrel. Reviewed: Batch #4. A- / $60

No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gin Finished in Chardonnay Barrels – 119 days in barrel. This is a radically different gin than the sauvignon blanc bottling, and a less assured one. The nose is greener, with a malty underpinning and moderately oaky — as you’d expect from a chardonnay. The palate is considerably more creamy and rounded than the sauvignon blanc bottling, with initial notes of Indian spices, more malt, and some funkier mushroom notes. The finish is where it starts to fall apart, those mushroom characteristics picking up steam and dominating the rest of the experience, taking the finish to an overwhelmingly earthy (and oak-driven) place that is devoid of fruit or spice. Offhand, chardonnay doesn’t sound like a bad match for gin, but in this release it just seems like they may have spent too long together. Reviewed: Batch #1. B- / $60

distillery209.com

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

Review: 2014 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

The latest release of Chateau Montelena’s signature cabernet is somewhat rocky, rather closed off on first blush, revealing tight, oaky tannins and some vegetal notes. Give this one some time or decant — I let it sit in glass for more than an hour before coming back to it — and the wine shows a bit more promise. Some tough root vegetable and mushroom notes still dominate, but there’s more fruit to it at this point, lighter strawberry and fresh, sweeter cherry notes. In time this wine might find some balance as the tannin smooths over and the fruit finds better footing, but for now it’s a strict hold.

B- / $50 / montelena.com

Review: Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy and Zmaj Absinthe

Two new releases, both limited editions, from Louisville-based craft distillers Copper & Kings — a muscat-based brandy and (another) absinthe. Let’s dig in!

Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy – This is a limited edition “7-year-old pure muscat American brandy aged 30 months in a Kentucky hogshead barrel.” The first four and half years are spent in American oak wine barrels before moving to the hogshead. The brandy is bottled without any additional flavoring or color. The aromatic muscat is unmistakable on the nose, racy, floral, and a bit astringent. The palate is funky and, again, heavy on the muscat, though the sweetness is stripped down below where I’d like to see in a brandy, replacing that with notes of intense perfume, charred wood, and honeysuckle. There’s some charm here, but the muscat simply overpowers everything and dominates the experience from start to finish. That may be fine if muscat’s your jam, but it’s a bit too monochromatic for me. 600 half-bottles produced. 100 proof. B- / $40 (375ml)

Copper & Kings Zmaj Absinthe Superior – (Pronounced “zm-eye.”) This limited release absinthe starts from a double-distilled muscat brandy base, and it’s then matured 18 months in Serbian juniper wood barrels. The (unadulterated) nose has a strong fennel base, with some lemon underpinnings and hints of woodsy clove. The palate adds clear notes of ginger, stronger lemon, and a classic anise/fennel mix that lingers on the tongue. Water’s a must here. Sugar isn’t nearly as essential — it’s fairly sweet on its own — unless you want a solid (if rather yellow) louche; even then, I’d use a very light hand with it. What doesn’t much register in Zmaj is the muscat base, though a fleeting sense of rose petals on the finish may remind you from whence it all came. 130 proof. B / $60

copperandkings.com

Review: The Singleton of Glendullan 12, 15, and 18 Years Old (2017)

My first experience with the Singleton of Glendullan whisky line, back in 2008, seems remarkably simplistic now. The Singleton line actually includes three distilleries, not just the Speyside-based Glendullan, all made by the Singleton family, but Glendullan seems to have the focus. To that end, the original Glendullan, which started with only a the 12 year old release, is now expanding, with a 15 year old and 18 year old expression coming to the U.S. for the first time.

We got all three for review, including a fresh bottle of Glendullan 12, to compare to our 2008 tasting notes. All are aged “primarily in bourbon casks” and are bottled at 80 proof.

The Singleton of Glendullan 12 Years Old (2017) – Malty with cereal notes and plenty of alcoholic burn on the nose, this is a starter Scotch if ever there was one. On the palate, ample apple, banana, and lemon peel give the otherwise grainy whisky some fruity nuance, as well as imbuing the malty core with additional notes of almond and baking spice. Otherwise, the finish tends toward some medicinal character. A bit dull on the whole. B- / $35

The Singleton of Glendullan 15 Years Old – Three extra years finds this whisky with more fruit on the nose, especially apple and banana again, plus some hints of coconut. That ethanol burn endures underneath, but it’s downplayed in comparison to the hot hot heat of the 12 year old. The palate is bolder here than on the 12, its roundness busting out notes of applesauce, caramel, vanilla syrup, and some cola notes. Again the almond makes an appearance, enduring on the finish with some roasted grain notes. A vast improvement over the 12 year old. B+/ $50

The Singleton of Glendullan 18 Years Old – New layers of flavor are revealed in the 18 year old, namely chocolate, which pairs beautifully with that banana and almond, which are common threads throughout the Glendullan experience. A sweeter expression than the 12 and 15, there are notes here of toasted marshmallow and honeycomb, with a gentle scorched wood — not quite smoky — element that wafts in and out. Here the finish ends squarely on the almond notes, a nutty and lasting character that is, surprisingly, the most gentle conclusion of all the whiskies in this range. A great price for an 18 year old spirit. A- / $80

malts.com

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