Review: Brenne Ten French Single Malt Whiskey

Brenne is perhaps the best known single malt whiskey made in France, unique thanks to its finishing in Cognac barrels. While regular Brenne doesn’t carry an age statement (it’s typically about 7 years old), Brenne Ten, obviously, does, spending a guaranteed 10 years in a combination of virgin French Limousin oak barrels and barrels previously used for aging Cognac.

That said, compared to Brenne’s NAS version, I don’t see a huge difference between the two expressions.

The extremely pale whiskey nose sees big notes of apples — reminiscent of Calvados — alongside notes of toasted almonds and scorched caramel, plus a vegetal undertone, reminscent of camphor. The palate is a bit gamy, with a harder spice edge and notes of cooked apples, cloves, and spiced nuts. The finish is all applesauce and nutmeg, with hints of tannic oak and more of that meaty gaminess.

Did I mention the apples? That’s the main flavor profile here, through and through, and though I like apples just fine, it just doesn’t give you much to hold on to at a whopping $100 a bottle.

96 proof.

B / $100 / drinkbrenne.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Kentucky Peerless Straight Rye 2 Years Old

Kentucky Peerless — aka just “Peerless” — isn’t just any old craft whiskey startup in Louisville. While the operation makes bourbon, the bigger focus is on rye — not sourced from parts unknown, but made on site, reportedly in line with recipes that have been handed down for more than 100 years. Some details:

When Prohibition dawned, there was only one way to obtain alcohol: a prescription. Physicians were able to prescribe distilled spirits on government forms for certain ailments including but not limited to: pneumonia, influenza, and depression, among other disorders. But if no alcohol was being made, where did it come from?

Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, originally founded by Henry Kraver in 1889, was one of the few spirits made available by prescription for medicinal use. At the time of Prohibition, Peerless had a significant amount of barrel aging product (63,000) and obtained a governmental license, which permitted them to distribute inventory for prescribed medicinal purposes.

It was not until 98-years later that Kraver’s great-grandson and fourth-generation entrepreneur Corky Taylor revived the family business. Taylor enlisted his son Carson to transform the 130-year-old brick industrial building in downtown Louisville into a state-of-the-art distillery. The family obtained Kraver’s original distilled spirits plant (DSP) number and re-opened the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company in 2015 under DSP 50.

No longer needing a prescription to distribute today, Peerless Distilling Company can be found in over 27 states. Led by head distiller Caleb Kilburn and a small, dedicated team, the historic grain-to-bottle distillery produces craft ultra-luxury, small-batch rye whiskey and bourbon.

The Peerless Rye mash isn’t disclosed, but we do know that this release is two years old — 24 months old to be exact, per the label — and is bottled at cask strength, non-chillfiltered, with nothing added. Let’s taste it.

For such a young whiskey, this is a surprisingly well-rounded, fully-formed spirit. The nose is a little rough around the edges, but underneath some rustic granary notes you’ll find loads of spice, caramel, and vanilla, all classic American whiskey notes though not particularly evident as rye. The palate is a bit clearer, sweet and spicy notes hitting the tongue immediately, building to a cinnamon-dusted Mexican chocolate character that comes as a bit of a surprise. The finish falls back on clearer grain-heavy notes, inevitable in a spirit that’s just two years old, but they aren’t at all unpleasant, giving a biscuity chewiness to the conclusion. There’s a little heat here — also to be expected at nearly 54% abv — but considering all of the above, the entire package is both amazingly drinkable and enjoyable.

This is good stuff as it stands — though I’m baffled by the outsized price tag. When and if Peerless ventures into older spirits (and fixes its pricing), I’m all in.

107.8 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #R150829102.

B+ / $100 / kentuckypeerless.com

Review: Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey – White Corn, Yellow Corn, and Black Corn

“Mexican whiskey” isn’t just a euphemism for tequila. Turns out our neighbors to the south really do make honest-to-God whiskey, none of which is more visible than Sierra Norte, which markets three different expressions made from different strains of corn native to Oaxaca — white, yellow, and black. (The mash for each is 85% corn and 15% malted barley.)

The whiskeys are double pot distilled and aged in French oak, but bottles do not carry age statements. Let’s try them all.

Each is 90 proof.

Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey White Corn – Charred corn and tons of barrel influence lead off on the nose, offering the immediate impression of a young microdistilled American whiskey. While those notes continue to dominate on the tongue, the palate finds room for more nuance, including some fruity apricot and peach notes — though these are on the lighter side, appearing more clearly as the finish arrives. That said, there’s a ton of heat here, notes of black pepper complementing that popcorn character with a dusting of spice. Water (be generous) helps on all fronts, tempering the more youthful characteristics in the whiskey considerably. Reviewed: Barrel #4, Batch #2. B- / $47

Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey Yellow Corn – Fresher and more floral on the nose, the barrel notes take a back seat on the nose this time around: The immediate impression is one of a young bourbon, but with a significantly spicy edge. The palate finds a significantly sweeter whiskey than the white corn version, with notes of butterscotch and a light vanilla note, filtered through notes of barrel char and a heavier spice profile than the nose would indicate — think cloves and allspice here, not cinnamon. The finish is shorter than the white corn version but quite clean, with a toasted nut element to it. Definitely the top pick of the bunch. Reviewed: Barrel #3, Batch #2. B+ / $38

Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey Black Corn – Immediately quite odd on the nose, with notes of boiled meat and cooked vegetables masking a modest wood profile… but nothing much that immediately screams whiskey. The palate is a bit more engaging, though again it puts forward a bizarre character of overripe fruit, baking spice, and canned carrots. The finish is hot and full of that spice, charred wood, and pepper (red and black). What to make of all of this? I’m not totally sure, but there are mysterious moments of genius somewhere in the mix. Reviewed: Barrel #6, Batch #3. C / $48

sierranortewhiskey.com

Review: The Street Pumas Blended Scotch Whisky

Back in March, we introduced you to three spirits from The Street Pumas line with a promise of a blended Scotch whisky that was still on its way over from Scotland at the time. Well, it finally made it stateside, complete with the same unique comic strip label as the rum, vodka, and gin. The exact source of this blend is not disclosed, but other details are as follows:

Distilled in Scotland, with a mashbill of 60% grain and 40% malt, this Blended Scotch Whisky is aged for 3 years. After resting in barrel, it’s imported to Jerez at cask strength and brought to proof for bottling. This selection is released with no additives; no caramel, no artificial flavors, sugars, or colors.

The first thing you notice about this whisky is its surprising clarity, without the traditional caramel coloring. It has just a slight golden tinge from its three short years of barrel aging. On the nose, this blend is light and buttery with toasted cereal and subtle melon notes. The youth shows, with traces of raw grain and camphor, but the creaminess of the malt in the aroma does a good job of masking it for the most part.

On the palate, youth is again apparent in the lightness of flavor. There’s a honeyed sweetness, some grassy notes, and a hint of licorice. The oily body delivers those flavors well, albeit for only a brief amount of time. The finish is pretty abrupt on this one. While it’s young (the bare minimum age, in fact), there’s a healthy amount of malt in the blend, which ends up going a long way on the palate. PM Spirits, owners of the brand, describes the entire Steet Pumas’ line as “cutting edge well spirits.” As a well Scotch, this is a pretty good option, but it may not fare well with a mixer.

80 proof.

B / $35 (1 liter) / thestreetpumas.com

Review: Crown Royal Blenders’ Mash

Crown Royal is launching a new line of whiskies called the Crown Royal Blenders’ Series. The first in that series is this: Crown Royal Blenders’ Mash. Here’s a little detail from the company:

As the first offering in the Crown Royal Blenders’ Series, a new line of special whiskies that celebrate the art of blending, Crown Royal is proud to welcome Crown Royal Blenders’ Mash to the portfolio. In a tribute to our iconic Crown Royal Deluxe Whisky, each release under the Crown Royal Blenders’ Series will showcase a classic whisk(e)y style but with the famous smooth finish, allowing the whisky to stand on its own. Crown Royal Blenders’ Mash showcases the warm vanilla and subtle oaky notes of our beloved corn-heavy whiskies – among the most flavorful and complex of the five unique whiskies that comprise Crown Royal’s signature blend. Crown Royal Blenders’ Mash is produced at the Crown Royal Distillery in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada.

Blenders’ Mash was originally released as Bourbon Mash in the US. We changed the name, but the whisky is the same fantastic Canadian whisky.

By the by, Crown Royal says that Crown Royal Deluxe (the original expression) contains 50 whiskies in the blend; presumably they all fit under five different styles. We never reviewed the whisky when it was called Bourbon Mash, so here goes.

Rack Crown Royal can be a bit lifeless on the palate, so upping the corn component in the mash to give it a little more power doesn’t sound like a bad idea. You catch it on the nose right away — it’s simply more engaging, with notes of fresh oak, nuts, vanilla, and caramel. Still light on its feet, but there’s just a bit more to it. On the palate, there’s a bit of youth evident, though the caramel and vanilla notes linger a bit more intrepidly, ultimately revealing an unusual touch of orange peel. The finish however is a touch green, with toasty grains dominating a rather gummy texture.

Overall, Crown Royal Blenders’ Mash doesn’t change the script all that much — this is really a slightly elevated version of the original — but it does help the otherwise quiet whisky to make its voice heard more clearly.

80 proof.

B / $25 / crownroyal.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish

Tullamore D.E.W. has been on a tear with new variants lately, and its latest expression, following up on last year’s Cider Cask Finish release, is here: Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish. As you might expect, this whiskey consists of “the brand’s signature Irish whiskey, Tullamore D.E.W. Original, finished in barrels previously used to age Demerara rum.”

Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish is inspired by the brand’s new global advertising campaign, “Beauty of Blend,” which champions the ways in which blends of all kinds impact our whiskey and our world for the better. In the 16th and 17th centuries, more than 50,000 Irish immigrants settled in the West Indies where a tradition of Irish whiskey distilling blended with local rum production and expanded the business globally. Reflecting this unique history, the product’s packaging is inspired by antique Caribbean trade maps, passport stamps and travel journals.

A little boozy on the nose, the whiskey actually offers the initial impression of a young white rum rather than any of its barrel influence. Ample vanilla and some apple cider notes round out the aromatic profile. The palate finds more of those heavy alcohol notes, here backed up by a rustic melange of fresh wood, salted caramel, and some dusky clove notes. The rum makes some impact on the finish, which is again on the tough and aggressive side.

Rum cask-finished whiskey can be an enchanting thing, but the delicacy of the original Irish spirit and the apparent power of the rum casks used to finish this offering from Tullamore D.E.W. simply feel at odds with one another this time around.

86 proof.

B- / $26 / tullamoredew.com

Top 10 Bourbons Under $20

The popularity of bourbon in recent years has not surprisingly coincided with an upward trend in prices. It’s now not uncommon to stare at a liquor store shelf full of bottles priced over fifty dollars, with a growing number twice that expensive. This obviously wasn’t always the case. In fact, for much of its post-WWII renaissance, bourbon was more often affordably priced than not. Perhaps as the ultimate sign of our times, those same cheap, good bourbons of yesteryear are commanding obscene prices on the secondary markets and at auction.

It all may seem a bit depressing to fans of good whiskey, but luckily there are still exceptional bourbons out there for less than twenty dollars a bottle. While not exhaustive, we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 in this category. You’ll notice that our favorites are bottled-in-bond which, while largely a marketing device today, still guarantees that you’re getting at least a four year old bourbon at 100 proof. Most of these bottles are also easily recognizable brands. The big bourbon producers know well who helped fuel this bourbon boom, and it’s as much to do with the lifetime loyalists to the big brands as it is to the newer bourbon drinker tempted to pay way too much for a bottle with shiny packaging and little provenance. We’d recommend that the latter group check this list before emptying his or her wallet.

As a disclaimer, not all of these bourbons will be available at these prices everywhere (but they should). Also, we’ve taken the liberty of recommending a few extra bottles just outside the $20 limit that we feel are well worth the few additional dollars.

1. Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Six Years Old – If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in bourbon today, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond tops our list. Folks who are probably hoarding it will also refer to it as “White Label” (other colored labels denote a lower proof version). At six years old, it’s a rare age-stated bottom shelfer and two years older than required for a bonded bourbon. It’s beautifully easy drinking, showcasing more classic flavor – butterscotch, vanilla, and a minty backbone – than its price tag warrants. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to come across outside of Kentucky. For the next best thing, at a similar price point, look for the non-age-stated version that’s still guaranteed to be at least four years old. 100 proof. $15

2. Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – Once a six-year-old bourbon, the bonded version of Very Old Barton has since dropped its age statement but without a very noticeable depreciation in quality. It’s made at the Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky by Sazerac and represents one of their best entry-level offerings. The bonded version packs great flavor with burly oak notes, ample cinnamon, and an almost chewy body (rare for a bottom-shelf bourbon). 100 proof. $16

3. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – Another Heaven Hill product (and also sometimes referred to as  “White Label”), Evan Williams bonded frequently ranks at the top of other budget bourbon lists. We have to agree that it deserves the praise with its rich, creamy palate full of caramel corn sweetness and a marriage of roasted fruit and spice cabinet notes. It’s another great example of classic, affordable bourbon, and while it’s not as complex or rounded as the six year Heaven Hill, it does showcase great flavor and remarkable balanced for the price point. 100 proof. $15 Continue reading

Review: The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey Madeira Cask Finish 15 Years Old

Tyrconnell knocked it out of the park last year with its 16 year old single malt. Now it’s already back in the game with this release, a 15 year old single malt that is aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels and finished in Madeira wine casks from Portugal’s Madeira Island.

Can lightning strike twice? Let’s find out.

Tyrconnell’s Madeira-finished whiskey kicks off with an appropriately wine-heavy nose, sharp with salted caramel notes and a buttery honey character underneath it. The palate sees things go in a bit of a different direction, with bold lemon pepper and nougat finding a curious balance. There’s less of a wine influence here than on the nose; rather, it’s sweet and citrusy, bright with lots of fruity notes. The finish is soothing and lengthy, showcasing some nutty notes.

While it isn’t quite as gorgeous as the 16 year old (unfinished) single malt, it’s a whiskey that stands on its own and cuts quite a different profile. Try them side by side for best results.

92 proof.

A- / $100 / kilbeggandistillingcompany.com

Review: Pearse Irish Whiskey – Complete Lineup

We first became aware of Pearse whiskeys during our recent visit to Lexington, Kentucky, when we dropped in on Town Branch Distillery. Town Branch doesn’t make Pearse, but it does import it, and its stills at the new Pearse Lyons Distillery at St. James in Dublin have been operational for nearly a year.

The distillery makes four varieties of whiskey, though much of the current spirit in the bottles is sourced from elsewhere in Ireland.

We tried all of them. Thoughts follow.

All are bottled at 84 proof. All are indicated as Batch #012.

Pearse Irish Whiskey The Original – “A blended Irish Whiskey aged in all Bourbon barrels ranging 3-5 years grain and malt blend.” A very pale whiskey, this is a gentle, everyday dram that offers a nose of honey, moving from there into some earth. A hint of motor oil is indicative mainly of its youth. The palate loads up on honey and sees some chocolate notes, plus a smattering of savory herbs. The finish is clean, lightly lemony. B+ / $41

Pearse Irish Whiskey Distiller’s Choice – “A blend of Irish grain and malt Whiskeys, hand selected by our head distiller. It is predominantly aged in Bourbon barrels with a small amount of Sherry barrel aged whiskey in the mix. It is a 3 to 9-year-old blend.” With a slightly sharper nose, this is a “reserve” version of The Original above, showing more citrus, bolder malt notes, and some black pepper. The palate is however quite gentle, lightly sherried with a growing fruit profile as the whiskey develops in the glass. Notes of roasted nuts and oily resin complement a simple malt character, leading to a finish that brings in a bit of coffee. A personal favorite in this lineup. A- / $51

Pearse Irish Whiskey Founder’s Choice 12 Years Old – This is a 12 year old single malt, though you’ll need to check the fine print for that last tidbit. Much different than its predecessors. Pushy for an Irish, this whiskey is driven by single malt notes but is heavy on the nose with heather and dried spices, with some menthol character underneath. The palate is rugged, pungent with oily wood, some charcoal, lemon peel, and some butterscotch, but that slightly dusty, barley-driven character endures above all of that. It’s a well-made whiskey, but it’s surprisingly rustic, almost unpolished around the edges, which is both charming and a little off-putting at times. B+ / $59

Pearse Irish Whiskey Cooper’s Select – “This Irish Whiskey is a malt grain blend that was first aged in bourbon casks and then re-casked into first fill sherry barrels.” Heavy sherry notes, oily nuts, and significant eucalyptus set the stage on the nose. The palate tempers that sharp menthol character by folding in layers of brown sugar, baking spice, and soothing orange notes, though those big mint notes tend to endure. The finish is a bit ruddy, with more of an earthy character than I expected. B / $71

pearselyonsdistillery.com

Review: Old Parr Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old

At Drinkhacker, we strive to bring you reviews of the latest and the greatest in the spirits world, as well as the tried and true classics, but sometimes there’s a bottle out there that gets lost on our shelves. Old Parr Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old has been one of those bottles. Old Parr (or Grand Old Parr to be exact, per the label) was, according to the brand’s owner Diageo, inspired by the legend of Old Thomas Parr, who reportedly lived for 152 years and 9 months.

The brand first appeared in 1909, and its current brown, square, and dimpled packaging is a holdover from some of the earliest bottlings. While there are 15 and 18 year old releases of Old Parr, as well as a no-age-statement offering, the core of the lineup is the well-traveled 12 year old. You can find it in the states, as well as Latin America (it’s wildly popular in Colombia), but curiously it hasn’t been available in the UK or Europe since the 1980s. But we’ve probably wasted enough time not sharing our thoughts on this one with you, so let’s dive in!

The nose on Old Parr 12 is immediately honey sweet with a rich maltiness and notes of shortbread cookie, lemon, golden raisin, and linseed oil. Hanging over all of that is the slightest hint of smoke. It’s more complex than I would have expected, bordering on a single malt in its depth. On the palate, things are a little more restrained. The body is light with chewy cereals and baking spice (heavy on the cinnamon and nutmeg) and layered with subtle notes of dried oranges and darker fruits, evidence perhaps of some sherry aging in the blend. It comes dangerously close to a saccharine level of sweetness but gets saved in the end by a salty touch of brine and smoke. It’s easy to see why this is a blend with broad appeal.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / mhdkk.com

Review: Glen Moray Elgin Classic Sherry Cask Finish

Glen Moray, one of Speyside’s stalwart whisky producers, has released a new expression to its permanent lineup, Glen Moray Classic Sherry Cask Finish.

While this is a NAS whisky, some production details follow.

Glen Moray is excited to introduce its newest addition to their Classic Range, the Glen Moray Classic Sherry Cask Finish.

First aged in North American ex-bourbon barrels for 6-7 years and then finished in the finest Oloroso sherry casks for 9-12 months, the result is a dram of whisky delight. Burnished gold in color with aromas of dried fruit, cinnamon, and toffee, and rich flavors of sweet vanilla, dark chocolate and oriental spice, the Classic Sherry Cask Finish adds a unique flair to Glen Moray’s Classic Range. The intriguing flavor combinations engage the palette of whisky beginners and longtime enthusiasts alike, making the Glen Moray Classic Sherry Cask Finish a fine addition to any collection.

Like all of Glen Moray’s single malts, the Classic Sherry Cask Finish is crafted by hand, with the collective wisdom and know-how of five generations of Master Distillers.

The nose is gentle but a bit earthy, with a savory nuttiness. The typical orange peel notes of a sherry-finished whisky aren’t immediately evident here, but some of that sweetness (a cinnamon sugar note) comes forward as you tuck into the palate, revealing not just some citrus but a body that is heavy with nuts, marzipan, and coffee cake. The finish sees a light cafe au lait note emerge, though it is spiked with touches of black pepper, giving it some grip.

All told, while it isn’t going to blow your mind, this is a fine everyday dram made all the more palatable by an extremely attractive price.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / glenmoray.com

Review: Lambay Irish Whiskey – Small Batch Blend and Single Malt

Our friends at CIL US Wines & Spirits — the American arm of Camus Cognac — have chosen an interesting project for their next release: Irish whiskey.

Lambay Irish Whiskey comprises two expressions, both made by West Cork Distillers and finished with unique barrel treatments that take a nod toward their creators’ roots in France. The whiskeys are named for Lambay Island, a tiny spot of land off the coast, near Dublin.

Details follow along with tasting notes for both expressions. Both are NAS whiskeys, bottled at 80 proof.

Lambay Irish Whiskey Small Batch Blend – “The finest malted, un-malted barley and grain whiskeys, carefully blended, triple distilled and matured in bourbon barrels with a pleasant Cognac cask finish, exposed to the sea air. A touch of Lambay Island Trinity Well Water, renowned for its volcanic properties, makes the whiskey as unique as the island.” This whiskey, the color of pale sunlight, offers a nose of simple grain elements, some honey, and a touch of burnt matchsticks. On the palate it’s bolder than expected, with notes of lemon peel, moderate spice, sweet nougat, and touches of walnut and banana. The finish is short, with a renewed focus on the grain. A perfectly credible, if simple, Irish. B+ / 35

Lambay Irish Whiskey Single Malt – “A deliciously smooth unpeated whiskey, triple distilled and finished in selected French Oak Cognac casks that have been exposed to the sea air and maritime winds on Lambay Island.” To clarify, the single malt is matured on Lambay Island, while the Small Batch is not. Much darker, amber in color, it’s a very different spirit. The nose is immediately heavy with apples — almost Calvados-like — with a touch of baking spice added and a hint of bubble gum. On the palate, some petrol (oddly) emerges, leading to notes of canned fruit and baked apples. The finish finds milk chocolate emerging and a hint of cinnamon. It’s quite a nice collection of flavors, though the syrupy fruit gets in the way of cohesion and the palate is a bit thin. This could stand a slight bump in abv. B+ / $50

lambaywhiskey.com

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