Review: W.L. Weller 12 Years Old (2018)

Van Winkle bourbons have become essentially inaccessible to the vast majority of bourbon drinkers, so naturally the hysteria has trickled down to other brands in the Buffalo Trace portfolio. The Weller line, which shares the same wheated mashbill as the highly coveted Van Winkles, has been the recipient of the majority of this secondhand enthusiasm. William Larue Weller, released annually as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, has become perhaps the most coveted of that bunch, and the lower shelf offerings in the line have seen their stock among whiskey enthusiasts climb as a result, perhaps none more so than W.L. Weller 12 year. We reviewed this bottle way back in 2013, when it was already gaining acclaim as “baby Pappy,” but we thought it was time for a revisit.

The nose on this whiskey is, not surprisingly, like smelling the inside of a Buffalo Trace rickhouse. I use this comparison only because I visited the distillery recently and remember that smell fondly. The aroma is rich with vanilla extract (the expensive stuff), caramel, marshmallow, and oak resin. On the palate, it’s oily and rounded, with a great balance of flavor; brown sugar and vanilla cream mixed with softer notes of cinnamon Red Hots, juicy citrus, and the slightest hint of bubble gum. A healthy dose of wood is present throughout, becoming sawdust on the finish, but it’s not too drying and never overpowers the other flavors. All in all, W.L. Weller 12 is a classic, flavorful bourbon, even better now than the last time we tasted it. The very best of the Weller barrels essentially go on to become Van Winkle, but I’d honestly be happy if I could just keep a few of these on the bar.

90 proof.

A / $30 (if you’re lucky) /

Review: Vinn Distillery Vodka, Baijiu, Whiskey, and Blackberry Liqueur

Vinn Distillery is a family-owned distiller based in Wilsonville, Oregon, where it makes all of its products from non-GMO rice. That includes vodka, whiskey, baijiu, and a blackberry liqueur. How far can a little rice go in today’s distillery universe? Let’s dig in to the full lineup.

Vinn Distillery Vodka – Reportedly the first rice vodka produced and bottled in the USA. The nose is heavy with musty grain notes, a surprise given the base of rice, but the palate shows more promise. Here, a bracing astringency finds balance in just the right amount of marshmallow sweetness and a little lemon. The finish is bright and fairly clean, with only a hint of that grainy note that mars the nose. 80 proof. B / $38

Vinn Distillery Baijiu – Punch up the cereal-meets-mushroom note in the vodka by a factor of 10 and you’ve got this baijiu, which is always a funk-fest in the making. The nose of a tire fire and musty attic don’t do many favors from the start, but the palate is mercifully lighter than that. Here it comes across more like a white whiskey, with a more lightly toasted cereal note that lingers for minutes. Notes of soy sauce and canned green beans give the finish, well, something unique. 80 proof. C- / $54

Vinn Distillery Whiskey – The first rice whiskey produced and bottled in the USA, aged in #4 charred miniature barrels (the first batch was held in mere one liter barrels; no telling about the current one). It’s on the young side, for sure, but surprising throughout, with a nose of spiced nuts and butterscotch, at play amidst notes of solvent, the whiskey showing its youth here the most stridently. The palate is a bit of a surprise, spicy and quite nutty, with a bold butterscotch sweetness that makes the spirit feel more mature than it otherwise might. In time, some of the more astringent notes burn off, leaving behind a surprisingly rounded and sophisticated finish. An impressive craft whiskey, particularly considering it’s made entirely from rice. 80 proof. B+ / $30 (375ml)

Vinn Distillery Blackberry Liqueur – Finally, this liqueur is made from Vinn vodka, plus Oregon blackberries and cane sugar. It’s also brought down to a more typical abv for liqueurs. Sweet and fruity, there’s no real essence of whiskey here, as the blackberries and sugar do all the talking. The fruit isn’t particularly distinct as blackberry, as the syrupy sugar character really does most of the heavy lifting. That said, as a creme de mure cocktail ingredient goes, it’s a perfectly acceptable expression. 56 proof. B / $NA

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2018

Whiskey festivals come in all shapes and sizes, but WhiskyLIVE consistently produces a very approachable event for a fan at any stage in their whiskey obsession. There’s a good balance of offerings from industry heavy hitters and smaller craft outfits, as well as the occasional downright weird bottling. This year, I got to taste whiskey the way George Washington made it, but I somehow missed the 28-year-old Czech single malt (which I’m not sure I regret). There were no real standouts from our side of the pond this year (no duds really, either), but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed some of the line-up from Australian distiller Limeburners, as well as one or two other international whiskeys. Abbreviated thoughts on (most) everything tasted follow.


Elijah Craig 18 Years Old / B+ / familiar oak and cinnamon notes; not as balanced as previous releases

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon (Batch A118) / B+ / another fine barrel proof release from Heaven Hill; drinking a little hot

Wathen’s Barrel Proof Bourbon (Jack Rose Private Selection) / A- / extremely approachable at cask strength; full of clove and orange peel

Kentucky Peerless Rye Whiskey / A- / complex and rich for its age with a great balance between the rye spice and sweeter elements

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Private Select (Whisky Magazine & Schneider’s of Capitol Hill) / B+ / bold and complex but a little too sweet

Journeyman Last Feather Rye Whiskey / B / light and grainy with good clove and caramel notes

Journeyman Silver Cross Whiskey / A- / cereal-forward with a minty sweetness and chocolate and cola notes

Widow Jane 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon / A- / baking spice and a little dark chocolate; surprisingly good, if straightforward, (sourced) bourbon

Widow Jane Rye Mash, Oak and Apple Wood Aged / B- / medicinal nose saved by notes of overripe apple and pear, thin and unbalanced

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye “Maple Finished” Cask Proof / A- / syrupy and sweet but balanced with a bold rye spice

Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / tastes like Jack Daniel’s but better

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey (unaged) / B / baked cereal and creamy with a heavy corn sweetness

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey 2 Years Old / B- / chewy vanilla notes but unbalanced and astringent

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey 4 Years Old / B+ / age has clearly brought balance along with toffee and caramel notes; could be something special in a few more years


Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso / B / jam toast on the nose; light-bodied with a little too much sherry influence

The Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A- / stewed fruit; sweet and earthy with an interesting chocolate covered cherry note

Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / a little hot with a good balance of raisin and creamy cola notes

Tamdhu Cask Strength / A- / rich, honeyed body with dried dark fruit and a little lemon zest, easy drinking at this proof (58.5%)

Glenglassaugh Revival / B / sweet, citrusy, meaty, and earthy; a bit all over the place

Benriach 10 Years Old / A- / complex and bold for its youth with great pear and citrus notes

Glendronach 12 Years Old / A / great balance of wood and honeyed dark fruit notes; a gateway single malt if there ever was one

Glendronach 18 Years Old / A- / more of a raisin quality than its younger sibling with a slightly thicker body and just as enjoyable

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 / B / a bit flat and woody underneath all the smoke and meat

Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / a great sherry-aged whisky old enough to provide a solid baking spice punch


Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Port Cask / A- / creamy nose, dark fruits on the palate with a great caramelized sugar note

Limeburners Tiger Snake Whiskey / A / big cherry sweetness and mounds of brown sugar; one of my favorites of the evening

Amrut Port Pipe Single Cask Whisky / B+ / honeyed palate with a good balance of smoke and raisin notes

Glendalough 13 Year Old Irish Whiskey Mizunara Finish / A / pecan praline ice cream with a dusting of raw coconut; an already great Irish whiskey elevated

Crown Royal XO Canadian Whisky / B+ / silky body with rich oak and subtle nuttiness; the cognac influence is pronounced on this one

Brenne 10 Year Old French Single Malt Whisky / B / herbal and floral, but almost too much so

Lot 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky / A+ / massive palate full of bold, fruity rye spice and rich caramel; one of the better Canadian whiskies I’ve ever tasted

Review: Cotswolds Single Malt Whiskey

Cotswolds is an area in southern England, and while one might think this is gin country, a distillery has popped up (in 2014) that is also producing single malt whisky. Says the distillery, “The first whisky ever distilled in the Cotswolds, it uses 100% locally grown, floor-malted barley and has been aged in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels and reconditioned red wine casks (premium first-fill Kentucky ex-bourbon 200-litre barrels and reconditioned American Oak 225-litre red wine casks that have been shaved, toasted and recharred). We are one of a very small number of British whisky-makers to use 100% floor-malted barley. This comes to us from Britain’s oldest working maltings, in nearby Warminster. It is unpeated.”

We’ve previously reviewed Cotswolds Gin, a fine example of the London Dry style. Now let’s see what the same blokes can do with English whiskey.

While there’s no age statement here, Cotswolds immediately showcases both youth and power on the nose, with a rather green, almost hoppy element leading the way to hints of coal dust, hemp rope, burnt bitter orange peel, and some cloves. The palate takes this very savory beginning and opens up some new doors, introducing flavors of orange blossoms, an allspice note, and dark chocolate bubbling up on the back end. While it’s youthful and quite grainy at times, there’s an imposing power to the whiskey that lets it showcase an impressive range of flavor despite being such a young spirit. The finish is a bit burly, but it’s also cleaner than you’d expect, a clear sign that Cotswolds Single Malt could, in time, grow into something special.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch 2/2017.

B / $55 /

Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye (2018)

Last encountered in 2015, Craft Distillers’ Low Gap Rye was at the time a two-year old whiskey that didn’t seem to be getting any older. As a matter of fact, distiller Crispin Cain is out with a new version of Low Gap Rye and, again, it’s a mere babe at just two years of age.

This expression doesn’t change a whole lot, at least on paper. As with prior batches, this is a malted rye with the addition of some corn and barley, aged in new and used bourbon and Germain-Robin brandy barrels. The proof is just a tick lower, and it’s a bit more expensive, but otherwise this is basically made with the same process.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not a different product… so let’s dig into the 2018 rendition of Low Gap Rye.

For a two year old whiskey, Low Gap Rye really has a surprising level of nuance. It’s not without a rocky start, though the initial aromatics are heavy on the cereal grain, with some pet food notes, a bit of hemp rope, and a briny smoke element.

The good news is that the palate finds a lot more going on, a rich honey character that initially rushes the mouth before sliding into some notes of raisins, coconut, and a little milk chocolate. Some work seems to have been done to round out the finish, which is much more approachable than the 2015 and is actually quite clean. As that finish fades, I get some hints of mint and butterscotch, making this a more complex and interesting spirit than that older version. Definitely worth a dram or two.

87.4 proof. 3900 bottles produced (this batch).

B+ / $75 /

Review: Southern Grace Distilleries Conviction Small Batch Bourbon

Southern Grace Distilleries is a relatively new craft distillery housed in a former North Carolina prison. That’s right. A prison. In late 2016 the distillery released its first small batch bourbon, appropriately named Conviction. The whiskey is made from a mash of 88% corn and 12% malted barley. It’s bottled at cask strength after aging for less than a year in former jail cells at what has come to be known as “Whiskey Prison.” According to the website, Conviction is the first bourbon to ever be (legally) aged behind bars, and while that doesn’t exactly conjure images of quality or fine flavor, we were actually surprised with the final product.

On the nose, Conviction shows the expected dose of cereal notes, but they’re baked and caramelized, not raw or grassy as can often be the case in a young spirit. There’s a pleasant caramel corn sweetness, as well, along with lighter aromas of apple and molasses. The body is sizable given its youth, and it offers a surprising richness of flavor. Again, there are initial grain notes that suggest this whiskey may have escaped from prison too soon, but they evolve quickly into toffee, caramel, baking chocolate, and cola with vanilla frosting and a sprinkling of spice cabinet on a medium-length finish. One of the secrets here, I suspect, is Conviction’s low proof at barrel entry (100 proof) which gives this whiskey a good concentration of flavors for its youth and a very approachable heat, even at cask strength.

In the increasingly crowded world of craft whiskey, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out even with a quality product like Conviction Small Batch Bourbon. I wish I could say that whiskey distilled in a former prison is the pinnacle of gimmick in the world of craft distilling. But I’m sure it’s just the beginning.

97.72 proof.

B+ / $36 /

Review: J. Mossman Blended Scotch 12 Years Old, 15 Years Old, and 18 Years Old


That packaging… it’s almost too much. As if it’s designed to distract you from thinking about the whisky inside, right?

Well, rest assured that although these three new releases from new brand J. Mossman look exquisite on the outside, they’re just as good beneath the stopper. All three are blended Scotch whiskies, and they take their name from one Sir J. Mossman, a goldsmith in Edinburgh who was a jeweler to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mossman was the last artisan to work on the Crown of Scotland, back in 1540. Now he’s got a whisky named after him.

Three expressions are on offer; other than the age statements (refreshing these days, no?), there’s no additional production information on how the blends differ. Let’s dive in.

All are bottled at 80 proof.

J. Mossman Gold Crown Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old – There’s an immediate and surprising nuttiness on the nose here; it can come across as slightly musty, but while the underlying grain is evident in the blend, it’s nonetheless fresher and better integrated than you’ll find in most spirits in this age range. The palate has soul. It’s quite savory and drying, to be sure, but the nutty aromas here develop into a rich mahogany note, with hints of old sherry, baking spice, and burnt toast all at play. Just a hint of pie crust sweetness shines through enough to cut the austerity. The finish is on the short side, but compelling in its savory depth. B+ / $45

J. Mossman Platinum Crown Blended Scotch Whisky 15 Years Old – At 15 years old, the whisky has settled down, at least a littly. The heavily nutty nose in the 12 is a bit muted by 15, the aromas taking on more of a mushroom and pasture character. The palate is still extremely dry and is dominated by similar flavor characteristics, though a slightly peppery element comes more to the fore amidst the impact of wood, brown bread, and savory-leaning baking spice. It’s a bit more cohesive as a whisky, but ultimately carries a similar charm. B+ / $54

J. Mossman Pink Gold Crown Blended Scotch Whisky 18 Years Old – Mossman takes things in a new direction with this 18 year old, which finally turns up the sweetness, giving the whisky more of a sense of balance. The nose is surprisingly restrained — more so than either the 12 or the 15 — though notes of camphor and cloves cut through that mild nuttiness that again lingers through the family tree. The palate takes a detour however, offering a healthy and surprising slug of chocolate, more pepper and spice, and a silky vanilla character that lengthens the finish considerably. All of this gives the whisky a bit more heat, but also a creamier quality that makes it far more enjoyable to linger over. A / $60