Review: Speyburn Bradan Orach

“Bradan Orach” is Gaelic for Golden Salmon, but I am assured that no fish were harmed in the making of this whisky. This is a NAS release from Speyburn, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels. No other production information for this Highland whisky is available.

Grain-forward but not grain-heavy, Bradan Orach offers a nose of heather and classic “amber waves of grain,” just ever so lightly touched with red berries, smoke, and savory bacon fat. The palate is gentle and continues the granary theme, with a woody undertone that grows in prominence as the experience builds on the palate. The body is a fresh, but a bit chewy — the grain-heavy flavor profile makes me want to gnaw on it like a hunk of bread. As the wood-and-grain finish fades, you’ll find some green apple character hiding beneath all the savory notes, and a fade-out that offers a momentary glimpse of sweet vanilla custard.

This is a simple whisky, but it comes with a simple price tag. I prefer the similarly-priced Speyburn 10 Years Old to this release, but if you’re looking for something with a little more grit and a clearer focus on the barley, Bradan Orach is worth a look. Honestly, for 20 bucks, it can’t hurt.

80 proof.

B / $20 / speyburn.com

Review: Monteru French Brandy – Sauternes Finish, Sherry Finish, and Triple Toast

Maison Monteru makes French brandy and “has its roots” in Cognac, but it’s not a Cognac nor an Armagnac. Monteru is actually based in the town of Pons, a quick 15 mile trip to the south from Cognac, where it produces small batch brandies outside of the strict rules of the big names. Double distilled in Charentais copper pot stills and finished in unique cask types, “this innovative and modern spirit range combines both authenticity and tradition while creating a new product category of brown spirits somewhere between the most traditional brandies and single malt whiskies.”

Arriving first in the U.S. is a trio of small batch brandies (all under 3000 bottles in total production, each hand-numbered), each with a different aging regimen — though all are four years old in total, distilled in 2012 and bottled in 2016. For all three of these brandies, the vast majority of the aging actually takes place in the “finishing” barrel.

Coming soon after will be a series of brandies based on single varietals of grapes. We look forward to bringing you our report on these in the near future. Until then, thoughts on three of Monteru’s inaugural releases hitting our shores follow.

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sauternes Finish – Aged briefly in refill French oak, then finished in Sauternes wine casks. Results are impressive for what must be a relatively young brandy. The nose offers light aromatics in the floral space, with elements of nuts and honey. On the palate, you’ll find some slightly rustic/alcohol-heavy notes, which lead to notes of candied walnuts, golden raisins, more honey, and sugar cookies. Incredibly drinkable yet relatively simple and light on its feet, it’s an everyday brandy that has enough of a spin to it to merit a solid recommendation. 81.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #002. 1926 bottles released in the U.S. B+

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sherry Oak Finish – This expression, also aged for a few months in refill French oak, is transferred to sherry casks to finish the maturation process. It drinks a lot more like a traditional Cognac, perhaps because sherry has a closer flavor profile to brandy than Sauternes. The nose is again a bit nutty, though here tinged with distinct orange peel notes, so much so that you can see a strong kinship with single malt Scotch. On the palate, the sweeter, dried fruit notes of the brandy mingle with that citrus-driven sherry character to really pump up the fruit, with a finish that offers light baking spice notes and hints of caramel, banana, and sweet cream. As much as love Sauternes anything, everything gels just a bit better in this expression, making it a real, yet modest, treasure. 83.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. 1998 bottles released in the U.S. A-

Maison Monteru French Brandy Triple Toast – Again, a few months in refill French oak lead to a finishing barrel, this one a “triple toast, heavily charred American oak barrel,” which is, I think, a fancy way of saying “old bourbon barrels.” The most whiskeylike of the bunch — understandably — this brandy offers clearer lumberyard and charcoal aromas mingled with sweet wine notes — almost Port-like — alongside some floral elements. The palate settles down on the barrel char notes and lets the burnt sugar and stone fruit character shine through, at least for a time. By the time the finish arrives, the oily viscosity returns and offers a wood-heavy reprise, some menthol notes, and a bit of coconut husk scratchiness. All told it’s a significantly more dense brandy than the two expressions above, charming in its own way but not quite as unique and compelling. 85.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #003. 1572 bottles released in the U.S. B

each $58 / maisonmonteru.com

Review: Eden Mill Gins – Original, Love, Oak, and Hop

Eden Mill is a combo brewery-distillery in Scotland’s St. Andrews that makes beer, whisky, and gin, including this quartet, which all come in unique, swing-top bottles. Eden Mill makes quite an array of spirits in its copper pot stills; it’s a bit unusual for gin to be pot-distilled, so let’s take a dive into four of Eden Mill’s releases, which are just now becoming available in the U.S. thanks to importer ImpEx.

Eden Mill Original Gin – Beautifully balanced right from the start, featuring moderate but omnipresent juniper, a healthy slug of lemon and orange peel, and aromatic hints of cinnamon and cloves. The body picks up the spice a bit, playing up torched orange peel, cardamom, and hints of eastern spices, while finishing clean with some light florals notes. A perfect rendition of a modern gin that keeps one foot in the new world and one in the old. Use it for, well, anything. 84 proof. A

Eden Mill Love Gin – Flowers naturally come to mind when “Love” is on the menu, and roses are fragrant on the nose of Love Gin, right from the start. Evergreen character is surprisingly a bit stronger here, both on the nose and on the palate, which gives way to some orange peel and a hint of mushroomy forest floor. The finish is juniper-loaded, giving love a strangely feminine beginning, and a surprisingly masculine finale. Further proof that gender fluidity is hot right now. 84 proof. B

Eden Mill Oak Gin – Clearly barrel-aged (thanks to both the name and the color), though details on the treatment are scarce. Gentle citrus and vanilla notes on the nose give way to a cake frosting character on the palate, which eventually leads to the juniper at the gin’s core pushing its way through the sweetness. The finish is a pleasant combination of sweet and savory notes, with toasty baking spice elements layered on top. 84 proof. B+

Eden Mill Hop Gin – This hop-infused gin is a complete departure from the above trio, which can easily be seen as close members of the same family. The nose has strong elements of green olives, while the palate turns heavily hop-focused and very bitter, growing in strength as the finish, with echoes of lime peel and bitter amari, comes into focus. An acquired taste. 92 proof. B-

each $40 / edenmill.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond, Pacific Wonderland, Red Chair NWPA (2016), and The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition

Four new and classic brews from Deschutes, including some late 2016 stragglers like the highly anticipated The Abyss.

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale – A burly and malty pale ale, lightly sweet with notes of apricot and peaches, with a body that’s heavy with roasted nuts and rolled oats. A classic wintertime pale ale, Mirror Pond finishes on a light caramel note, which pairs well with the nuttiness that comes before. 5% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Pacific Wonderland Lager – Maltier and burlier than Mirror Pond, this is a lager brew with a familiar, fresh bread character up front that eventually finds its way to a lingering, herbally-focused, and lightly vegetal bitterness. Not sure about the wonderland part, but it’s a fine enough choice as the weather gets warmer. 5.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2016) – Always out in December, this seasonal “Northwest” Pale Ale offers the usual overtones of mushroom and forest floor, atop a malty, nutty core. Overtones of dried berries and some bitter, savory spices add structure, but not a ton of depth. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition – Deschutes’ big-ass stout, brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla, sees its 2016 release aged as follows: 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 8% aged in new Oregon oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. That’s roughly on par with 2015, although this year’s release is has almost a tenth less alcohol than usual. Maybe that’s why I’m less enchanted with this 11th annual release of the beer? It’s got coffee, dark chocolate, fig jam, and the usual thick, licorice-whip of a finish, but everything seems dialed down a tad, the body a bit less powerful than usual, the finish a bit shorter. Newcomers will probably marvel at all the dense prune and Port wine notes, but longtime fans might wonder if someone took their foot off the gas at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s just me. Shrug. 11.1% abv. B+ / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Rye Expectations Gin

A. Smith Bowman, owned by Sazerac/Buffalo Trace and based in Virginia, is known for some impressive whiskeys. Now it’s launching an experimental spirits line, and its first experiment is… gin. And that’s just the start.

Says Bowman:

The line will include a wide variety of distilled spirits, including the aforementioned gin, and will grow to include different expressions of rums, vodkas, and brandies. The Experimental Series will explore a wide variety of spirits delving into unique recipes, wood types, exotic fermentables, and the use of local ingredients such as grapes, apples, pears, grains, and much more.

The first offering, a gin titled Rye Expectations, is very limited and will only be available at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Visitor Center.  It is a one-time only release, and is the first release ever from A. Smith Bowman’s new custom microstill, George, installed in early 2015. This gin is a custom recipe created by Master Distiller Brian Prewitt, distilled three times and crafted using a distinct rye grain base including Virginia rye and a botanical mix of juniper, coriander Spanish orange, and angelica.

If you’ve ever wondered what a juniper-flavored white whiskey tastes like, give Rye Expectations a shot. While technically it’s not a whiskey, it sure does come across like one, its racy rye notes worn right on its sleeve. The botanicals are there, but barely — a twist of orange, some indistinct evergreen, and rosemary notes, but these are understated, almost to a fault. The nutty grain notes are what endure well into the finish.

I thought it was strange that a distiller known only for whiskey was making a gin — but now that it’s here, I can report that it tastes exactly like you would expect a gin from a whiskey distiller to taste like.

90 proof.

B / $35 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: 2013 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road Vineyard

This Kiwi pinot offers an austerity that brings with it notes of roasted meats and leather, cut through with strong notes of tea leaf and cassis. While big and powerful on thee body, the finish takes a turn for the darker, with subtle hints of coffee and cloves. A sturdy wine; best at mealtime.

B / $29 / craggyrange.com

Review: Boondocks American Whiskey and Cask Strength Whiskey

 

Boondocks is the brainchild of Whisky Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dave Scheurich, a veteran of the business who’s launching his own little project. It’s rather unique, so follow closely.

Boondocks American Whiskey is made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, but it’s not bourbon. Distilled to a higher proof than bourbon allows, it doesn’t qualify for the legal term. Technically it is light whiskey (I believe, as details are scarce), aged for 11 years in refilled American oak barrels (another bourbon no-no). It’s available in two versions, a 95 proof bottling and a 127 proof cask strength whiskey. Additional, limited edition expressions will be coming soon.

We tasted both of the launch products. Thoughts follow.

Boondocks American Whiskey – As is common with light whiskeys, Boondocks is quite sweet, heavy on the honey and influenced by notes of caramel corn, candied almonds, and — particularly on the nose — a molasses/treacle character. The body is quite light and lively, drinking with just a hint of cinnamon as indication that it’s a bit overproof. Give it some time in glass and some notes of peaches in syrup emerge. The finish is clean and a bit short, but overall quite innocuous. 95 proof. B / $40

Boondocks Cask Strength American Whiskey – At higher proof, the nose features more wood and leather, and would be more mistakable for a bourbon. The honey and nutty notes are stronger, as is a clearer element of cinnamon and (again, particularly on the nose) tobacco leaf. The palate sees more of that molasses, a slightly tannic grip in the form of cloves and a bit of petrol, with less sweetness overall, particularly on the slightly curt finish. 127 proof. B / $58

boondockswhiskey.com

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