Review: Glen Moray Elgin Classic, 12 Years Old, 15 Years Old, and 18 Years Old

Speyside’s Glen Moray bills itself as offering “affordable luxury,” marketing a range of single malt whiskeys in a variety of styles. The new Elgin Heritage Range comprises three malts — and they all have age statements, clocking in at 12, 15, and 18 years old. Today we look at all three of these, plus one NAS release known as the Elgin Classic. Thoughts follow.

Glen Moray Elgin Classic – Indeed, a “classic” NAS single malt (entirely bourbon cask aged), lightly grainy but imbued with plenty of caramel (lightly salted) and some nougat aromas. The palate is lightly sweet, milk chocolatey with some orange and lemon peel overtones. It’s got ample youth — Glen Moray says the whisky here is an average of seven years old — but Glen Moray makes the most of a relatively simple spirit that melds salt, grain, and cocoa powder into a decent whole that comes at a highly attractive price. (Note that there are a number of specialty finished versions of Elgin Classic, but those aren’t reviewed here.) 80 proof. B- / $22

Glen Moray 12 Years Old – Like the Elgin Classic, this is aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks. This is an instant upgrade to the Elgin Classic, a malty but rounded experience that offers a nose of supple grains and a touch of cinnamon raisin character. The palate can be a touch sweaty at times, but on the whole it’s got a body that offers a beautifully integrated combination of roasted grain, walnuts, raisins, and caramel sauce. The finish integrates the cinnamon with some chocolate notes, a touch of dried plum, and a hint of gingerbread. A really fine experience and, again, a pretty good bargain. 80 proof. A- / $37

Glen Moray 15 Years Old – This 15 year old expression is a blend of whisky matured in bourbon casks and sherry casks, making for a much different impression right from the start. The nose has that oily citrus character driven by the sherry casks, but this tends to come across as quite youthful, almost underdeveloped at times, though some white florals and elderberry notes peek through at times. The palate is more of a success, with lots of fruit, a creme brulee-like vanilla note, and a twist of orange peel, though the finish is a touch on the harsh side, with some lingering acetone notes. All told this drinks like a younger sherried whisky (younger than it is, anyway). Some time with air opens things up nicely. 80 proof. B / $58

Glen Moray 18 Years Old – We’re back to straight bourbon barrels for this 18 year old release, which has no sherry influence. Bold butterscotch, vanilla syrup, pine needles, and menthol all dance on the nose. The palate is hot — this is considerably higher proof — with notes of roasted nuts and brown sugar. Some chocolate notes evolve in time, alongside a cinnamon punch and a dusting of powdered ginger. What’s missing is much of a sense of fruit — aside from some hints of dried peaches and apricots, the whisky falls a bit flat, particularly on the relatively grain-laden finish. Note that this one is quite hard to find at present. 94.4 proof. B / $100

glenmoray.com

Review: Sir Edward’s Smoky Blended Scotch Whisky

With the promise that it is “matured in wood casks,” Sir Edward’s Smoky sure does sound enticing, doesn’t it? This venerable (but lower-shelf) blended Scotch brand is out with a new expression, a lightly peated blend without much else in the way of production information (except for a bit about a “Speyside heart”). Let’s give it a whirl.

For a whisky that costs less than a dollar per shot, it’s really not half bad. The nose is very light on the smoke, with notes of sea spray, petrol, and some rubbery medicinal overtones. None of this is overwhelming, but the nod at peated barley is at least somewhat noticeable. On the palate, the gentle body offers notes of honey foremost, plus a squeeze of lemon and a spritz of fresh sugar syrup. The peat is just as gentle and quiet as what’s come before, a modest puff of smoke across the top of an otherwise simple and sweet concoction. The finish sees the smoke vanish nearly entirely, leaving behind some residual sugar that, to be truthful, is perfectly enjoyable for an outlay of $14 per bottle.

80 proof. (Available only in foreign markets at present.)

B- / $14 / siredwards.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 1: American Whiskey – Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Old Thompson

Good whiskey can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are bargain bottles that are enjoyable and offer considerably higher quality:value ratios than more expensive options. Today we pore through the “bottom shelf” bottles in order to find whiskeys that are enjoyable yet affordable while attempting to steer drinkers clear of the ones that still aren’t worth the price.

Let’s start with a look at three lower-cost American whiskeys.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon (White Label)

It’s important to read the label closely when purchasing bottom shelf whiskeys. Jim Beam’s most inexpensive whiskey is White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon. To advertise itself as a bourbon, a whiskey must adhere to certain rules, the most important of which state that it is: (1) made from at least 51% corn, (2) aged in new oak barrels, and (3) aged at least four years if it is to call itself “straight bourbon.” This means that, as inexpensive as Jim Beam is, it lives up to the minimum requirements of a
demanding labeling system.

The payoff for following the legal requirements to label a whiskey “straight bourbon” are apparent when sampling this one, which is simple and straightforward, but drinkable. The nose offers soft notes of corn mixed with candy corn. There is a touch of spice, but it isn’t a particularly enjoyable smell as it carries a slightly medicinal quality. On the palate, Jim Beam is quite smooth. Notes of of corn and candy corn appear again but are very light. For the serious bourbon fan, the taste is too smooth, even watery, as it hints at bourbon’s possibilities without delivering the goods. But for the novice, this might be a good start. The finish is long and smooth, and introduces some of the oak that this whiskey aged in for at least four years. None of the unpleasant flavors appear which tend to mar the finish of some inexpensive whiskeys. As an affordable mixer, Jim Beam is a great choice. See additional coverage here.

80 proof.

C+ / $14 / jimbeam.com

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon

Evan Williams Black is also a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and it is aged around 5 years in new oak barrels and bottled at a slightly higher alcohol level than most bottom shelf whiskeys, 86 proof. The higher alcohol presents in the nose, but not so strongly as to be off-putting. It is accompanied by pleasant smells of caramel, vanilla extract, and a bit of mint. The palate is corn sweetness mixed with caramel and brown sugar, but it is not cloying. For such an inexpensive bottle, the flavors are surprisingly balanced. The finish is medium in length, ending in wood, but not bitterness. This is a great starter bourbon, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to drink neat. For those on a budget who appreciate the taste of bourbon, Evan Williams Black is tough to beat. See additional coverage here.

86 proof.

B- / $14 / evanwilliams.com

Old Thompson American Whiskey

Old Thompson is not a bourbon, but rather a blend of whiskeys coupled with neutral grain spirits (vodka). If you’ve had Seagram’s 7, you know the deal. The blend strictly follows the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations which requires that a beverage contain at least 20% whiskey (aged at least 2 years) to be labeled “American Whiskey.” The consequences of just barely staying within the legal definition of American Whiskey are immediately apparent. The nose is almost nonexistent with hints of gasoline and nail polish remover, along with the slightest whiff of what might be corn sweetness. This makes sense considering that 4/5 of the product is unaged grain alcohol. On the palate, Old Thompson is harsher than its proof would suggest and offers an unpleasant sweetness that doesn’t seem to draw from the whiskey in the product. These flavors are followed by a short finish and lingering bitterness. Perhaps Old Thompson works as a mixer since it is mostly grain alcohol, but I would recommend an inexpensive vodka instead.

80 proof.

D- / $8 / sazerac.com

Review: St. Augustine Distillery Florida Double Cask Bourbon

Florida-based St. Augustine’s craft bourbon starts with a mash bill of 60% regional corn, 22% malted barley, and 18% regional wheat. Per the company, “the grains are milled and mashed on site, and fermented with proprietary yeast strains in closed-top fermenters.” The barrels in this release range from 16 to 28 months old, and they’re aged “in a sequence of new 25-gallon and seasoned 53-gallon barrels” (i.e. the “double casks”). You may also note that former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell is a consultant here.

The nose is popcorn-grainy, with toasty overtones of barrel char and denser chimney soot. The palate softens up on all of this a little, offering clear notes of coffee grounds, match heads, and heavily toasted grains — before finally fading into a character that approaches something akin to a modern bourbon, with notes of vanilla and baking spice more clearly evident. The coffee character and its entre to sweeter elements make for some interesting points of exploration — though it’s impossible to shake the notion that, on the whole, this remains a bourbon that’s simply been bottled too young.

Perhaps a triple barrel is needed.

93.8 proof.

B- / $50 / staugustinedistillery.com

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon

For 2017, Buffalo Trace’s Col. E.H. Taylor line is pulling out a relatively rare style of whiskey: bourbon made with four grains instead of the usual three… corn, barley, rye, and wheat. The whiskey is aged 12 years and bottled in bond.

Some notes from the distillery on this ninth release in the E.H. Taylor line:

Made from a distinct bourbon recipe using corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, this bourbon was distilled in 2005, entered into the barrel at 104 proof, and has a distinctly different flavor profile from the typical rye and wheat recipe bourbons made at Buffalo Trace Distillery.  These four grains were chosen since they are the four grains E. H. Taylor would have had access to when he set up shop at Buffalo Trace in the late 1800s. During the 1860s, Taylor traded in grains and learned that they can vary tremendously from different farmers and harvests. Taylor consistently wanted the products produced in his distillery “of upmost class,” right down to the grains.

The whiskey is a bit of an odd one from stem to stern. The nose is heavy with butterscotch, salted caramel, and big mint notes, but then solvent overtones arrive that are hard to shake, giving it an ultimate character that is at times off-putting. The palate is similarly rough-hewn, slightly sweaty from the saltiness, with immediate flavors of toffee and butterscotch. As the finish approaches, the salty character slides closer toward a canned green vegetable character, somewhat mushy and musky, with a conclusion that’s loaded with tannins and heavy barrel char notes.

As my tasting notes likely indicate, while it has some moments of charm, it isn’t my favorite Taylor release by a longshot. That said, of special note, unlike most of Taylor’s previous releases, Four Grain won’t be a one-time-only release but will be released again in the spring of 2018. If it sounds appealing and you miss it this time, keep an eye out for next year’s version. For me, I’m looking forward to seeing if anything has changed come 2018.

100 proof.

B- / $70 / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) and Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey

We’re late on catching up with Sons of Liberty’s annual release of its award-winning pumpkin spice flavored whiskey, but we’re making up for that with a look at a new product flavored with Gala apples, which was released for the first time in the fall. With many apologies for our delay, let’s dig in!

Both whiskeys are bottled at 80 proof.

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) – This is our third go-round with this seasonal release (see also 2015 and 2014), and my notes fall somewhere in between the two previous versions. Lots of cinnamon and cloves and a clear pumpkin character give this whiskey ample spiciness, and a gentle brown sugar backbone manages to toe the line between the sugar and the spice. The finish sees the emergence of more chewy pumpkin-ness and some lightly sour notes. The finish recalls overripe apples, dusted with cloves. B / $43

Sons of Liberty Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey – “Sons of Liberty utilized more than 9,000 fresh Gala Apples from two Connecticut orchards, Blue Hills Orchard and Drazen Orchards, for its inaugural release of Gala Apple. The apples were brought to New England Cider Company where the apples were shredded into a sauce-like mash called pumice. This mash of apples was then pressed to extract as much juice as possible from the fresh fruit. The Sons of Liberty crew brought the delicious juice back to the distillery where they blended it with a barrel-aged whiskey they made specifically for this release.” The nose isn’t particularly heavy on fresh apples but rather sees a focus on cloves, barrel char, and something that initially comes across as a sort of dried apple character. The palate is a somewhat different animal, initially sweet with a cinnamon-laden applesauce character, and, oddly enough, lots of overripe banana notes. The finish finds light caramel and vanilla, with a weird dusting of cornmeal, toasted marshmallow, and some kind of strange Asian candy character that I can’t quite express in words. For better or worse. B- / $43

solspirits.com

Review: WhistlePig Farmstock Rye Whiskey Crop 001

Like many craft distilleries, WhistlePig has been selling other people’s whiskey while it gets its own operation up to snuff. In fact, WhistlePig isn’t just making its own spirit, it’s growing its own grain and even making its own barrels from trees grown on its own land. Even the water is from WhistlePig’s own well.

The company’s first rye harvest took place last year, and WhistlePig used that grain to distill whiskey that has been aging since then. About 100 barrels spent a year aging before WhistlePig took those casks and blended them with older stock to produce Farmstock Crop 001, a one-time-only release designed to showcase a little bit of the Vermont terroir.

The blend looks like this:

20% 1 year old rye (from WhistlePig’s Vermont operation)
49% 5 year old rye from Canada
31% 12 year old rye from Indiana

And here’s what it tastes like.

To start with, the color of the whisky is quite light — a pale gold that is a clear indicator of how much young whiskey is in the mix here. There’s youth on the nose as well — an overlay that filters notes of butterscotch and simple vanilla through a moderate but evident breakfast cereal character. On the palate, the whiskey is softer than the nose would indicate, though barrel notes pick up the slack of astringency and ensure a quite youthful-leaning experience. The body offers some barrel char, some bacon, some baking spices… plus hints on the back end of raisin, menthol, and heavier clove elements.

All of this mingles on a palate that shows off plenty of promise, but which still squarely lands in the “work in progress” category. Ultimately I’m intrigued by what I’m tasting so far, but given the composition of the whiskey it’s difficult to see exactly where this might end up. For now, it remains a curiosity that will largely be of interest to WhistlePig completionists.

86 proof.

B- / $90 / whistlepigwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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