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

Review: 2 Greek Wines from Cava Spiliadis – Tselepos Santorini and Gerovassiliou Malagousia

The estates of Cava Spiliadis are the home of both of these Greek wines — Tselepos and Gerovassiliou — both of which serve as excellent introductions to the essential white wine styles of Greece. Thoughts follow on these highly approachable wines.

2015 Canava Chrissou Tselepos Santorini Assyrtiko – Fresh aromatics and a touch of honey give this white a lively character, slightly sweet with a bit of an herbal overtone and notes of lime zest, lingering on the back end along with hints of white pepper. An ample body adds substance to the experience. B+ / $30

2015 Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia – Malagousia is a recently revived grape varietal making a comeback thanks to Gerovassiliou, which produces a wine that is highly acidic, with notes of peach and apricot and plenty of florals to keep things interesting. It’s a bit like a cross between viognier and riesling… with some honey on the finish that works to smooth out the experience. A- / $16

cavaspiliadis.com

Review: Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2016

Limestone Branch Distillery, based in Lebanon, Kentucky, is one of those craft distillers that is making whiskey (and moonshine) while also marketing sourced spirits, at least for the time being. Yellowstone is the company’s sourced brand, and in addition to some regular bottlings, it produces an annually released bourbon, which differs from year to year. (There’s no information on the sourcing location, but this is a Kentucky bourbon.)

For (late) 2016, Yellowstone LE, as it’s known, is a blend of two rye-recipe bourbons, a 12 year old and a 7 year old. The whiskeys were finished for several months in new, toasted wine barrels. Why? “We used 28 new wine barrels with varying levels of toast – I was interested in how toasting versus charring would contribute to the bourbon,” says Steve Beam, president and distiller of Limestone Branch Distillery.

The 2016 Limited Edition is a pretty little bourbon, reminiscent of any number of rye-heavy bourbons. Soft on the nose despite the 50.5% abv, it offers aromas of light caramel and butterscotch, with a healthy but not overdone dusting of baking spices. The palate is a bit hotter, with a more present woodiness, and a hint of mushroom, green pepper, and pine needles. At center stage is classic vanilla and caramel, some chocolate, and a red berry note that endures well into the finish — maybe a hint of the wine barrel treatment at last.

In the end, this is a perfectly credible and drinkable bourbon, though nothing about it is so remarkable as to make me leap up and throw hundred dollar bills at it. Because, you know, that’s what it costs.

101 proof. 7000 bottles produced.

B+ / $100 / limestonebranch.com

Review: Baileys Irish Cream

We’ve written about so many special editions of Baileys “The Original Irish Cream” in the past, but the original has remained elusive for all these years.

Today we remedy that, with a review of perhaps the most essential of all Irish creams: Baileys.

Baileys is described as “the perfect marriage of fresh, premium Irish dairy cream, the finest spirits, aged Irish whiskey, and a unique chocolate blend.” The devil’s in that second point: There are other spirits in Baileys aside from Irish whiskey, likely grain alcohol designed to give this a bit of a kick (and for less cash than whiskey would cost).

There’s not a hell of a lot of whiskey flavor in Baileys, but it’s there — a vanilla and oak-soaked character that works well as a foil to the light chocolate and caramel notes, all whipped together with the milkiness of the cream.

Hey, at this point Baileys offers few surprises to the experienced drinker. It’s a standby for a reason — it does what it does reliably and consistently. Baileys tastes just fine, but all of those flavors are on the lighter side, gentle and uncomplicated and perhaps a bit staid. The good news is that Baileys doesn’t overdo it with the sugar, so while the finish sticks to the insides of your cheeks for longer than you might like, what’s left behind is cocoa-dusted, with just a kiss of whiskey.

So cheers to that.

34 proof.

B+ / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Cadee Distillery Complete Lineup – Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Rye, Deceptivus, and Cascadia

Based on the Isle of Whidbey, north of Seattle, Cadee (Gaelic for “pure”) is operated by a family of Scottish ex-pats with a passion for distilling. The distillery offers a wide range of spirits, from vodka to gin to a selection of whiskeys — clearly the focus here, considering the pride it takes in its oak barrel program.

We tasted, well, everything that Cadee makes. Thoughts on the complete lineup follow.

All bottles are individually numbered.

Cadee Distillery No. 4 Vodka – Distilled four times (hence the name) from unspecified grain. This is a prototypical modern vodka, a little mushroomy on the nose but balanced out with marshmallow-like sweetness that is particularly present on the creamy, versatile body. Hints of lemon and milk chocolate give the vodka some nuance, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and simply sweet vodka with mixing on its mind. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B+ / $29

Cadee Distillery Gin – Juniper-focused, but botanicals are not disclosed. Reportedly made from an 18th century recipe. This London dry style gin is indeed heavily perfumed with evergreen notes and a touch of forest floor funkiness, but the body offers more interest, with those juniper notes slowly fading to reveal a complex array of flavors that include marzipan, lemongrass, and mandarin oranges. It’s those distinct mandarins that linger on the finish for the long haul, giving this gin a particular uniqueness that merits exploration. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $36

Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin – This is a distinct and separate gin expression, “full of character and botanicals, with a subtle citrus focus.” The mandarin notes from the standard gin are stronger here, particularly on the nose, which ride along with grapefruit and banana notes, plus some lime. That lime paints the way to the palate, which continues the heavily citrus (not at all “subtle”) theme, with more grapefruit and lemon notes, along with a healthy grind of black pepper and a touch of mint. For fans of fruit-forward vodka, this is a pretty and aromatic gin worth picking up. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A / $36

Cadee Distillery Bourbon Whiskey – Aged in new, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of just eight months, but you could’ve fooled me. This is young whiskey, but it has a depth and maturity that I never see in craft bourbons. While the up-front speaks of buttered popcorn and salted caramel, what follows is a character that would indicate much more seriousness: ample vanilla, chocolate malt, some match-head barrel char, and hints of roasted meats, cloves, and a soothing, rye-like baking spice character on the finish. The up-front, grain-heavy character makes a subtle showing on said finish, alongside some notes of hemp rope and, at the very end, hints of sweet Sauternes wine. Kooky fun. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4. B+ / $43

Cadee Distillery Rye Whiskey – Same aging regimen as the bourbon, but with a rye mash. This one’s not as successful as the bourbon, with much less maturity — which is understandable given that, well, it’s not terribly mature. Sugary cereal plays with some weedy and mushroomy notes on the nose, with a slight undercurrent of lemon peel. On the palate, it’s quite sweet but otherwise similar, with a continued focus on grain and earthier elements. The finish is on the tough side, though a lot of brown sugar sweetness hangs on well after the granary notes fade. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. C+ / $39

Cadee Distillery Deceptivus – This is essentially Cadee’s bourbon, finished (for an unstated amount of time) in first-fill Port barrels. (Real Port from Portugal, not some weird Washington “Port.”) The nose has that telltale winey fruitiness, all plums, prunes, and raisins, with a smattering of Christmas spices behind it, plus a hint of caramel corn. The palate is sweetish without being overblown, fruity without tasting like jam. It’s hard to go wrong with Port finishing, and here the wine and whiskey notes come together to create a dessert-like spirit that balance one another with notes of brown sugar, rum raisin ice cream, cinnamon sticks, roasted almonds, cocoa nibs, and lingering dark chocolate notes. One to pick up, for sure. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $49

Cadee Distillery Cascadia – The Port-finished version of the standard rye. The whiskey has a lovely, pinkish hue to it. Even the Port can’t tamp down the grain here, which is just as cereal-focused as the unfinished version, a bit leaden with notes of hemp and wet earth, plus overtones of menthol. The palate is more of a success, layering in fruit atop the cereal, here showcasing lighter notes of strawberry and grape jelly, some orange oil, and a slightly sour rhubarb edge. Again, the finish is boldly sweet, though not so overpowering as to make one grimace. 87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. B / $50

cadeedistillery.com

-->