Review: The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old (2017) and Classic Cut

Today let’s look at two whiskies from The Macallan — one a revisit to a classic bottling, the other a new release available only as a limited edition.

Thoughts follow.

The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old (2017) – Last encountered in 2009. This is still a sherry bomb, through and through, and it will please any die-hard Macallan nut in the family, though it’s now coming across as a bit heavy on the wine barrel influence, even for me. The nose is very pungent, consisting of nothing but orange oil, furniture polish, and oily roasted nuts, with just a touch of raw wood. The palate doubles down on all of the above, giving a chewy texture to the oil and citrus notes, but digging deeper to find some notes of eucalyptus, tobacco, and a dusty wood character that is more fully developed on the finish. On the whole it’s a bit of a one-note whisky, the sherry really having its way with what can (and often is) a more delicate experience. 86 proof. B / $200

The Macallan Classic Cut – This release of 90,000 bottles is the first cask strength Macallan in four years. It’s aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks and carries no age statement. Lots of wood impacts the nose, with a grainy underbelly thrown into the mix. There’s plenty of austere sherry influence here, though it’s not as overwhelming as in the Sherry Oak 18. On the palate, the whisky is tough, with a heavy focus on well-roasted grain and more of that slightly astringent furniture polish character. Very nutty, with some vegetal notes emerging on the finish. Water helps in coaxing out more sweetness, but this comes alongside a bigger granary character and some notes of burlap — though the marshmallow and caramel that hits on the finish is a nice little bonus. 116.8 proof. B / $89

themacallan.com

Review: Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut

Jim Beam never seems to get tired of putting out new products. Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut (not to be confused with Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece, Jim Beam Distillers Series, or Jim Beam Devil’s Cut) is a new, limited-edition bourbon that actually does carry an age statement of “5-6 years” and, while it’s not bonded, it’s bottled at 50% abv. There’s a weird emphasis here on the fact that this is not chill-filtered… but let’s let Fred Noe do some of the talking now:

Distiller’s Cut is a limited time offering that was personally selected by Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s seventh generation Master Distiller, and is available nationwide.

“We skipped the chill filtration process, so the liquid gets from barrel to bottle a little differently,” said Noe. “The result is unique to other Jim Beam offerings, with a fuller taste and longer finish compared to your typical bourbon.”

Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey aged five to six years that features a medium body and combines caramel sweetness with charred oak, enriched with light fruit notes. The premium expression offers a smooth and complex mouthfeel with a warm, lightly charred oak finish – the perfect gift for a bourbon lover looking to try something different this holiday season. It has a dark amber color with aromas of soft charred oak, sweet caramel, vanilla and hints of dried fruit.

“At Jim Beam, we are consistently innovating to offer our consumers a wide range of products. Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut is different from our other products because of the post-aging process,” said Rob Mason, Vice President of North American Whiskey at Beam Suntory. “Our Master Distiller has decided to release this batch at a time when bourbon drinkers, more than ever, are anxious to discover something unique.”

After aging, bourbon typically goes through a chill filtration process, which involves forcing the liquid through a dense filter to remove fatty acids formed during distillation. Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut skips this step, which results in a fuller taste and palate feel. This can also cause the liquid to look cloudier compared to filtered bourbons, especially on the rocks.

This is a solid product from Beam, bold on the nose with classic bourbon notes — caramel corn, vanilla, toffee, and ample baking spice. Peppery and a bit gritty at times, the bourbon’s heat is amplified by the alcohol level, giving it a punchiness and raciness that one wouldn’t typically expect from an otherwise fairly mainstream product. The palate is just as much fun, a bold bourbon with a slightly salty but corny punch, elevated by notes of cinnamon red hots, cola, chocolate sauce, and nutmeg. The finish is warming (thanks in part again to that 50% abv) and lush, mouth-filling and robust — everything an everyday bourbon should be.

Best of all, this is a whiskey that barely costs $20 a bottle. As values in the whiskey space become increasingly hard to come by, Beam is doing you a solid that you would be an utter fool to pass up. You heard it here first.

100 proof.

A / $23 / jimbeam.com

Review: Auchentoshan The Bartender’s Malt

Lowlands whisky producer Auchentoshan recently came up with a weird idea: to produce a single malt curated not by its own master blender buy by a group of bartenders (who presumably know nothing about the task).

Anyhoo.

Auchentoshan’s The Bartender’s Malt is “a bespoke innovation comprised of a blend of whiskies selected by the New Malt Order, a collective of highly skilled, innovative bartenders from around the world who came together to create this product. Developed by bartenders, for bartenders, this is the very first Auchentoshan Single Malt Scotch of its kind.”

What does “for bartenders” mean? It means the whisky is designed for use in cocktails. Why do they need that? Presumably because most whisky is too sweet. The current bartender meta is to restrain sweetness — or, at least, to be able to more carefully control it — so a higher-proof, lower-sugar spirit is definitely in order.

That makes some degree of sense — it’s the same reason why Christian Brothers’ Sacred Bond Bonded Brandy was released last year — but let’s be honest: “Twelve of the world’s most innovative bartenders” have not exactly reinvented the wheel here. If you’re looking for a very dry whisky that will mix without much fuss, allowing your other ingredients to shine, this might be a good fit.

But for starters, let’s taste it on its own just to see how it acquits itself.

The nose is, as expected, dialed back, which allows the malt to shine. Toasted bread, cereal, and smoldering wood embers form the core of a whisky that lets you know, up front, that you’re not going to get a vanilla bomb or a citrus-fueled sherry monster. On the tongue, it’s a little more complex than the nose lets on, though the experience remains quite dry. Here the flavors run toward grassy notes of heather and fresh-cut grains, some lemon peel, and a soothing (but not really sweet) honey character that emerges on the finish. Said finish is drying and short, but perfectly pleasant… something you’d look for to add a little grainy edge to a cocktail but hardly anything that would enlighten you sipping neat on a Saturday night.

Which, I suppose, is by design.

94 proof.

B / $50 / auchentoshan.com

Review: Chicken Cock Straight Bourbon 8 Years Old

Listen, I came to Chicken Cock via its 2013 flavored whiskeys, which came packaged in aluminum cans. The brand is an ancient one dating to the 1850s — because otherwise no one is putting “cock” on their labels — but the whiskey being put out today really has no relationship to the old stuff. The original Chicken Cock went out of business in the 1950s.

Nonetheless, Chicken Cock Whiskey is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the brand with this, a limited edition, single barrel, eight year old bourbon (with a real age statement). Did I have high expectations based on those weird flavored whiskeys? I did not. But let’s keep an open mind, OK?

For starters, this is much different stuff. Sourced spirit from MGP, it’s straight bourbon, single barrel mind you, made from a mash of 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley, “and bottled in a replica of the pre-prohibition original Chicken Cock bottle.”

Damn, this is good stuff! Very good stuff. Sure, it’s 8 year old MGP, with a solid mashbill, so it’s hard to go wrong, but Chicken Cock has — at the very least — cherry-picked some amazing barrels.

The nose is seductive. Mildly woody, a little bit of popcorn, a hint of vanilla-laced toasted marshmallow, and a lacing of herbs… there’s a lot going on but it’s all in perfect harmony. The palate is somehow even better. It starts of quietly, with a standard caramel corn character, before jumping an octave and showcasing a whole new set of flavors. Lots of cinnamon, eucalyptus, and a ton of gingerbread all punch the palate, hard — all muddled up with notes of dried apple, more caramel corn, and a vanilla soda note. The finish sees all of these things melding into a cohesive, almost Christmaslike whole, with a lingering allspice note on the finish.

It’s rare that I find a bourbon hard to put down these days, but this is a killer that fits the description… despite the price tag.

90 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #5.

A / $100 / chickencockwhiskey.com

Review: Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Crafted in Fort Collins, Colorado, by former MGP master distiller Greg Metze, Old Elk is a different kind of bourbon right out of the gate. “Blended” is a curious term to see on a whiskey label these days, and I’ll let Metze and crew explain what that means here:

We use traditional ingredients – malted barley, corn and rye – in an innovative, yet steadfast recipe to create a bourbon with smooth, rich flavors that act in harmony with caramel cues brought out by the charred barrels and spicy rye notes,” said Greg Metze, Master Distiller at Old Elk Distillery. “After testing a variety of proofing periods, we found that these flavors come together in a smoother bourbon when the proofing stages are longer. Instead of taking the usual 24 to 48 hours for proofing, we use a slow cut proofing process during which full-barrel proof bourbon is cut and left to rest – and we repeat this patient technique until the ideal character is achieved. It takes significantly longer than most common recipes, but taking the time to proof slowly makes all the difference.

Also of note, the mashbill for Old Elk is 51% corn, 34% malted barley, and 15% rye. That’s a wacky mash with a ton more barley than is typical for bourbon — and is responsible for the “innovative, yet steadfast recipe” to which Metze is referring.

Let’s give it a go.

This is a solid bourbon, through and through. Gingerbread notes are heavy on the nose, with spicy rye notes, caramel corn, marzipan, and a hint of cherry peeking through. On the palate the whiskey is round and soothing, with notes of brown butter, caramel sauce, and again a hint of that cherry fruit making an appearance. More almond and wood notes make a stronger appearance as the finish develops, which comes together as a slightly raspy character with notes of toasty wood, barrel char, and a heavier corny note. They’re all classic hallmarks of bourbon, to be sure, but nonetheless take the experience a bit too far to the savory side. Otherwise, it’s a unique bourbon — but not one that is so crazy as to throw you off — that is firing on all cylinders.

Pick up a bottle.

88 proof.

A- / $50 / oldelk.com

Review: Balcones “1,” Baby Blue, and Brimstone (2017)

It’s been roughly three years since Chip Tate left Balcones, the Texas distillery that he founded, but Balcones Distilling continues to pump out whiskey after whiskey from its Waco operation with Jared Himstedt at the helm.

We’ve been covering the distillery off and on for eight years now, and if anything can be said about Balcones, based on my notes, it’s that the distillery’s products are wildly inconsistent. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — there’s magic in distilleries that have erratic quality, with genius occasionally struct along the way. (See also: Stranahan’s.)

But as for 2017, what’s the post-Tate situation for Balcones? We looked at three whiskies representing most of the core expressions from Balcones (not including Rumble) to find out.

Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt Whisky Classic Edition – Single malt, aged at least 16 months in oak. A deep amber in color, the whisky looks well-aged but drinks with the signposts of significant youth. The nose is pungent with fresh lumber, though this is cut with loads of cloves, rum raisin, and aged sherry notes. There’s a cereal undercurrent, soft but present, a reminder that this is a single malt at heart. On the palate, wood again dominates, alongside up-front notes of fresh tar/asphalt, gunpowder, and wet earth. It’s actually quite off-putting until some sweet relief arrives to save the day, with notes of baking spice, more raisin/prune notes, and a torched sugar crust (think flamed creme brulee) arrive to save the day. The back and forth between fire and sugar can be interesting, though after a full dram my palate is completely worn out by the sheer volume of work. 106 proof. Reviewed: Batch SM17-4, 6/7/17. B- / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Made from roasted blue corn and aged at least 6 months in oak. The nose is immediately funky, mixing notes of petrol, decaying vegetation, and saccharine sweetness. It’s not a promising start, but the palate is less offensive, lighter on the draw than the rather overbearing nose would have you believe. That said, wood is the dominant character, with notes of tobacco smoke and burnt popcorn strong secondary notes. The finish is slightly sweet, though that doesn’t go far to ease the sting of what’s come before. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch 8817-2, 6/14/17. C / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Balcones Brimstone Texas Scrub Oak Smoked Whisky – Made from the same corn as Baby Blue but “smoked with sun-baked Texas scrub oak using our own secret process” and “aged at least one day in oak.” Though that all implies something heavily smoky, the nose is surprisingly restrained, with modest smoke notes complementing notes of dried fruit and apple cider. It’s engagingly complex, but the palate is something quite different. An initial rush of sweetness quickly gives way to an utter smoke bomb — think a campfire full of smoldering cedar trees — with a pungent, ashy finish. A far different experience than a sultry Islay, Brimstone ends up brash and in your face, like a blast of cigar smoke blown in your direction. An extremely divisive whisky, your enjoyment of it is entirely dependent on your position in regards to licking ashtrays. 106 proof. Reviewed: Batch BRM 17-2, 5/18/17. C / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

balconesdistilling.com

Drinkhacker Asks: Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell

Like most discerning drinkers, we here at Drinkhacker have many questions we’d like to ask the people behind our favorite wine, beer, or spirit. Every now and then, we get the opportunity to actually do so. For the first in our series of short interviews, we talked to the “the Buddha of Bourbon” himself and the longest-tenured active Master Distiller in the spirits world, Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell.

We interviewed Jimmy at the Wild Turkey Visitor Center in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky where you’ll often find him (when he’s not traveling the world) sitting on his stool, happy to talk to any of the thousands of visitors that come through Wild Turkey’s doors every year.

Drinkhacker: Thanks for taking the time, Jimmy. We know you’re a pretty busy man for 82 years young. Let’s get right to it. Any fun whiskeys you’ve been working on lately?

Jimmy Russell: In October, I went out to Virginia to help make a special rye whiskey for the 10th anniversary of the reconstruction of George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon. A whole bunch of us form Kentucky and other places got together on it.

I know you prefer bourbon over rye. How’s it taste?

JR: It was pretty good. It’s got a good amount of corn in it like our Russell’s Reserve Rye, so I like it.

So you were in Virginia not that long ago, and you leave for WhiskyFest in New York City tomorrow. You travel a lot. I hope you’re flying First Class or at least getting some Wild Turkey on the plane!

JR: You know the only airline that carries Wild Turkey is Southwest, and they don’t fly out of Lexington. I’m good friends with the founder, Herb Kelleher, and I keep trying to get him to come out here. He’s a great guy. You know, for Herb’s 65th birthday we printed his face on 65 bottles of Wild Turkey bourbon. He got a kick out of it.

If he’s a Wild Turkey fan, you must be a great friend to have. I’m surprised he didn’t build you a personal runway next to the Visitor’s Center! With all that travel, what’s the furthest you’ve flown for an event?

JR: We go all the way to Japan. The Japanese love bourbon. And their whiskey festivals last two days and start at 10 AM!

Sounds like we’re doing it all wrong in the states! You used to do a lot of festivals with Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller, Parker Beam, who passed away earlier this year. I know you two were very close. Any stories or memories you’d like to share about Parker?

JR: Yeah. Parker and I were close. You know he didn’t know he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) until he was about 70. And even when he got diagnosed he didn’t want to slow down. He especially loved driving, and he’d get somebody to ride with him and shift gears for him when he couldn’t do it anymore!

Sounds like he was quite a character. And definitely a legend in the bourbon world.

JR: Yeah. It used to be me, and Parker, and Booker Noe, and Elmer T. Lee, and now I’m the only one left.

And it doesn’t look like you’re slowing down any time soon! But the business has really become a family affair for many distilleries. You’ve got your son Eddie sharing Master Distiller responsibilities with you. How about your grandchildren? Are they planning to get into the business?

JR: Oh yeah. My grandson has been getting experience with all the different parts of the distillery. He’ll be with me and Eddie at WhiskyFest in New York, and my granddaughter who works here in the Visitor’s Center will be with us, too.

Well, it sounds like the future of Wild Turkey is in good hands. Now we just need to get 101 on more airline drink menus!

JR: Ha. Yeah, that’d be nice.

wildturkeybourbon.com

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