Review: Tamdhu Batch Strength #2 Single Malt Whisky

Tamdhu’s limited edition “batch strength” single malt whisky, an overproof bottling released in 2015, is back for a second round. As with the first batch, it is aged entirely in sherry casks and is bottled with no age statement. Abv is just 0.3 percent lower. Note that you can easily tell the different between Batch #1 and Batch #2 because the bottle label on the former is white, and on the latter it’s black.

Tasting notes are similar but not identical to the original batch. The nose is bold with banana, mango, almonds, and ample cereal character, with a hefty alcoholic kick. On the palate, you’ll find honeyed citrus first, followed by a slow fade into notes of roasted nuts, some red fruit, and stronger sherry notes. These citrus notes endure well into the finish, outweighing the cereal character that was more evident in batch #1. For what it’s worth, although the whiskies are virtually the same proof level, I find this one to be considerably more approachable at full cask strength, without water added.

117 proof.

B+ / $80 / tamdhu.com

Review: The Rums of Maggie’s Farm

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Maggie’s Farm is focused on one spirit only: rum (plus a couple of liqueurs, one of which is a falernum). The name of the distillery hails from a Bob Dylan song, and while he didn’t mention rum production in it, a quick listen might get you into the mood to sip some of their craft-distilled goodies.

Below find our thoughts on six of the nine rum expressions the company currently produces. Production differs from product to product, so follow along closely!

Maggie’s Farm White Rum – Made from 100% raw turbinado sugar and unaged after pot distillation. Pungent with oily fuel notes, as is typical for unaged rum, with some aromas of citrus peel, lavender, and ginger. On the palate, the more industrial-tasting notes are dialed back, with notes of ripe banana and marshmallow fluff showing, though the finish is loaded up with coal dust and hints of petrol. Not unapproachable, but strictly a mixer. 80 proof.  B / $28

Maggie’s Farm La Revuelta Dark Rum – (“The uprising.”) This is a funky product that is actually a blend: Maggie’s Farm’s raw cane pot-distilled rum from Pittsburgh mixed 50/50 with a column-distilled molasses rum from Trinidad. Solid stuff here: The nose is rich and authentic, with caramel and molasses notes, strong vanilla, and some chocolate, too. Mildly floral aromas persevere, given enough time. The palate is sweet and loaded with cinnamon-heavy baking spice, applesauce, and just a hint of diesel on the back end to give it some kick. A top-notch, well-aged rum. 80 proof. A / $35

Maggie’s Farm Spiced Rum – This is the turbinado-based rum, flavored with eight different spices, “including Tahitian vanilla bean, fresh orange zest, nutmeg, and allspice.” It is not sweetened with sugar. The nose is bold with notes of lemon, vanilla, gingerbread, and evergreen Christmas notes. Enticing, it leads the way to a body loaded with those baking spices, dusky root beer notes, some green olive, and loads of vanilla. It’s strong for a spiced rum, but as promised, it’s only very lightly sweet, so let your mixer do any sugar-sweetening you need. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Unaged – “Queen’s Share Rum is made exclusively from the tail runnings of our normal cane rum distillations. Being heavier than alcohol, the flavor and aroma compounds boil off the still in a higher concentration at the end of the distillation cycle. We keep these tail runnings and re-distill them on their own. This results in a more flavorful and complex spirit. This unaged version is the unadulterated and bottled at cask strength.” Much more neutral than the standard White Rum, this is both fruitier and more floral, with a honeysuckle kick. At 57% abv, it’s hot but not scorchingly so, with a slight petrol finish, followed by some more banana. Milder than you’d think. 114 proof. B / $24 (375ml)

Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Rye Barrel Finish – The Unaged Queen’s Share mentioned above spends 18 months in rye whiskey barrels before bottling. The whiskey character is undeniable here, from the sweet caramel nose, loaded with rye-heavy baking spice, to the lush and clove-forward, toffee-soaked palate. Some flambed banana notes remind you that this is actually rum, not whiskey, with a finish that adds in notes of bubble gum and some fresh cherry fruit. Fun stuff, but far off the beaten path of traditional rum. 110 proof. A- / $35 (375ml)

Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Double Cask Finish – This is another Unaged Queen’s Share rum, finished in two types of casks for 21 months. Mysteriously, the identity of both of those casks hasn’t been revealed to me. Again it’s got a whiskey kick to it, all toffee and caramel, cut with baking spice, banana bread, and almonds. Some moderate but sharp citrus notes percolate here and there, but the sweeter notes of vanilla and creamy caramel dominate. The finish is racy with allspice and cloves, spiced nuts, and hints of gunpowder. I like the more straightforward rye finish a bit better. 110 proof. B+ / $NA

maggiesfarmrum.com

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

Review: Dry Town Vodka and Gin

So the guys that made your cell phone case started their own distillery! Curt and Nancy Richardson were the innovators behind the OtterBox. Recently they started a microdistillery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The distillery is called Old Elk Distillery, and their first products out the door are a vodka and gin, both released under the Dry Town label. (Bourbons and a bourbon cream are coming soon.) Greg Metze, formerly of MGP, is consulting with the company.

We tasted both releases. Thoughts follow.

Dry Town Vodka – This is distilled on site from a four-grain mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. Heavily vanilla and marshmallow notes invade the nose, almost chocolaty at time. The palate isn’t much more nuanced, offering more heavily sweetened flavors on the tongue, plus notes of mashed banana, before a rather harsh finish abruptly arrives. 80 proof. C+ / $28

Dry Town Gin – This gin is made with a base of Dry Town Vodka, re-distilled “with 10 fresh botanicals through an 18-hour soak and vapor extraction: Juniper, orris root, orange, lime, angelica root, black pepper, ginger, lemongrass, French verveine [lemon verbena], and sage.” That’s a lot of citrus-focused botanicals, and all of that fruit pairs well with the sweet core provided by the vodka, giving it a nose that mixes fresh lemon and herbs. The higher abv of the gin is also a boon on the palate, which is much more brisk than the vodka, and offers a blend of juniper, lemon, and a smattering of herbal sage and rosemary notes. The balance leans toward the sweet side, but on the whole, this is a much more fully realized — and somewhat unique — expression of gin. 92 proof. B+ / $30

drytown.com

Review: Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten (2017), Port Charlotte 10 Years Old (2017), Octomore 10 (2017), and Black Art 5.1

With Jim McEwan out and Adam Hannett in as master distiller, Bruichladdich hasn’t taken its foot off the gas even for a second. This summer the company hits the ground with three new ten year old whiskies — all revivals of earlier limited editions — plus a new release of Black Art, Hannett’s first stab at this mysterious (intentionally) vatting of very rare whiskies.

Thoughts on the quartet follow.

Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – The Laddie Ten is becoming a classic of younger single malts, and now a second limited edition is arriving. Distilled in 2006, this release is a 10 year old just like the first, and is made again from unpeated barley, and the whisky is aged in a mixture of bourbon, sherry, and French wine casks. Departures from the first edition are evident from the start. The second edition is quite a bit more cereal-focused on the nose than the original, with orange-scented barley and light mushroom notes wafting in and out. The palate is a bit sweeter than the nose would cue you off to, with a distinct chocolate character and notes of Honeycomb cereal. The finish is lively and sherry-heavy, with a nagging echo of dried mushrooms. It’s not as essential a whisky as the original Laddie Ten, but it remains worthwhile and is still not a bad value. 100 proof. B+ / $58

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – Another round with the 10 year old Port Charlotte. Made from 100% Scottish barley, and aged in a mix of first-fill bourbon, sherry, tempranillo, and French wine casks. Peated to a moderately heavy 40ppm. Sweet orange and some strawberry interplay nicely with the smoky, salty nose. This leads to a palate of dried fruit, sultry smoked bacon notes, and hints of camphor. It’s a fine dram, but as Islay goes, it’s not overwhelmingly well balanced and not all that special. Not my favorite whisky in this batch, but nothing I’d spit out, of course. 100 proof. B / $62

Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Years Old (2017) – You’ll need to look at the fine print to determine that this is from the 2017 edition, but no matter. This release is a 100% Scottish barley edition, aged in full-term bourbon casks (60%) and full-term grenache blanc casks (40%). Peating level is 167ppm. Fans of the Octomores of yesteryear will find this a familiar old friend. The extra age (typical Octomore is about 5 or 6 years old) doesn’t really change this spirit much at all; though perhaps it does serve to better integrate the raw peat with more interesting aromatics, including roasted meats, camphor, and Asian spices. On the palate, the smokiness and sweet notes are integrated well, giving the whisky the impression of a smoky rendition of sweet Sauternes, studded with orange zest and the essence of honey-baked ham. As always, this is fun stuff, though I think some of the younger Octomores are more interesting. 114.6 proof. B+ / $200

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 – 24 years old, unpeated. Hannett’s stab at Black Art, per Bruichladdich, plays down the wine barrel influence, which was always a big thing with McEwan and which was effective at keeping drinkers guessing about each whisky’s makeup. I’ve always felt Black Art was a mixed bag, and despite the change in leadership this expression is no different, though the distillery is right that the wine influence is played down. In its stead, the nose offers austerity in the form of wood oil, walnut shells, roasted game, and some dried cherry fruit. The palate offers a respite from some of the wood and meat with light notes of white flowers (I’d wager dry white wine casks play some role here), dried pineapple, plum, golden raisins, and some gentle baking spice notes. The finish is surprisingly malty, with some briny elements. It’s a departure for Black Art, to be sure, and yet it still manages to be weird and, at times, hard to embrace. 96.8 proof. B / $350 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

bruichladdich.com

Tasting the Wines of the Locations Series – Spain, France, Italy

Orin Swift veteran Dave Phinney is best known for domestic wines like The Prisoner, but he recently got a taste for the international with its Locations series, a unique set of wines that got their start back in 2008. (The wines are unaffiliated with Orin Swift.)

In a recent tasting, winemaker Phinney outlined the inspiration for this increasingly large series of wines, each of which bears nothing on the label except a letter or two: Each is inspired by a country code sticker like you see on automobiles, and each denotes the place of origin of the wine within.

Note however that these aren’t hyper-targeted regions but rather entire countries or, in the U.S., states. Grapes can come from anywhere in those boundaries, and as you’ll see in the tasting notes below, all of the wines in the Locations series are mutts produced from fruit sourced from literally all over the country or region in question.

As well, the wines are nonvintage, though the back labels do carry a number indicating the place of the wine in the series. These are all from the fourth release.

Let’s dive in…

NV Locations “E” (Spain Red Blend) E4 4th Release – A blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan, sourced from Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. Fruit-forward, and not immediately Spanish in character, the wine offers distinct chocolate notes and cinnamon, before evoking some black pepper notes atop a core of red berries and rhubarb. Much friendlier than the more austere regions in that list would indicate; ready to drink now. B / $14

NV Locations “F” (France Red Blend) F4 4th Release – A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals from the regions of Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux. This wine is also quite fruit-forward, but it takes a caramel spin rather than a chocolate one. Some vanilla builds alongside plenty of fresh red fruit as the modest finish grows, which ends the session with notes of violets and currants. B / $14

NV Locations “I” (Italy Red Blend) I4 4th Release – Probably the least iconically regional (a typical Italian wine would be seemingly be heavily based on Sangiovese), this is a blend of Negroamaro and Nero d’Avola from Puglia combined with Barbera from Piemonte in the North. That said, it’s the most well-structured of the wines, with dense graphite and licorice notes complementing a tough tannic core. Currants and plum work their way through the weeds, as does the herbaciousness driven by the Barbera. Nicely balanced and worthwhile. B+ / $15

locationswine.com

Review: Virtue Cider The Mitten

This new release from Virtue Cider is, as always, a Michigan-born cider, made from a blend of last season’s pressed apples. The cider is “aged in Bourbon barrels for up to one year, then back sweetened with this year’s fresh pressed apple juice.”

This is one of Virtue’s more interesting ciders, offering caramel and butterscotch notes that complement dried apples and cinnamon. It’s like a carbonated apple-flavored whiskey from the start, but the finish finds the fresher fruit notes enduring and hard to shake. Candylike on the back end, some lightly herbal notes linger here, along with a touch of bitter quinine, which helps balance out the sweetness.

6.8% abv.

B+ / $13 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

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