Review: Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey Sauternes Finish

In case you missed our earlier review, Texas’s Swift Single Malt Whiskey is a gem in a world of lackluster single malts made in the U.S. Now the distillery is out with a new expression: single malt finished in Sauternes casks instead of the Oloroso sherry casks used for the mainline release.

The distillery gives us a little more info to run with:

We start with a 2-row barley that is grown and malted in Scotland, mostly the Speyside region. This is the same barley as our original single malt (Oloroso Finish).

We double distill on our copper pot stills.  We now have two stripping stills, our original one and a new one we had made to our specifications after spending time in Japan.  The Japanese whisky makers alter the shapes of their stills to extract more flavor, so we decided to do the same.  I believe the new shaped still gives more of a floral note than our original still does.

After the double distillation, we begin the aging process in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels. Here the whiskey remains for 1.5 years (or so), then all of the whiskey is transferred to a Sauternes cask, which comes from Chateau d’Arch in Bordeaux, France.  We traveled to Sauternes a few years ago and picked out the barrels to best match our flavor profile.  We wanted a Sauternes wine that would have balanced citrus notes and mild sweetness.

The whiskey ages 1 year in the Sauternes cask before it is bottled. Overall the Sauternes Finish is 2.5 years old.

The standard (Oloroso) bottling of Swift is well-crafted, but quite young, with a distinctly woody edge to the nose and the palate. That’s all but gone in the Sauternes Finish, the wood replaced by a surfeit of fruit — green apple (a big surprise), quince, watermelon, and some floral notes of honeysuckle and orange blossoms, which take the whiskey in yet another direction. The palate is quite sweet, almost so much so that it can initially come across with a rum note. Those Sauternes barrels have had quite an impact here, although finally the grainy underbelly starts to shine through, alongside notes of golden raisins, eastern spices, and, to a lesser degree, barrel-driven notes that seem closer to cedar than oak. On the finish — there’s the barest hint of dark brown sugar and milk chocolate, with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs on top. Very dessert-like.

This is a whisky that I like a lot, but here the Sauternes finish does seem to some extent to be covering up something rather than enhancing it. In this case, there’s plenty of young spirit that needs to be carefully massaged. As with the standard bottling, another year or so in the barrel would likely do wonders to help temper the beast inside. For now, though, we’ve got a unique offering that shows that some of the best single malt coming out of America can be found, in all places, in Texas.

88 proof.

B+ / $57 / swiftdistillery.com

Review: Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2017 Edition 2|1

Westland’s single malt “Garry Oak” series continues with this second edition, a follow up to the inaugural 2016 release. I won’t rehash what a Garryana oak is, but will instead focus on how this release differs from the first. The main thing: No peat.

Like its predecessor, Edition 2|1 features Garry Oak as the lead note in a broader composition that brings together a variety of distillates and cask types. The most noteworthy change from last year to this is the absence of a peated component. This is an intentional inquiry. Garry Oak contains a relatively high amount of natural phenols, and so we felt compelled to see how its particular brand of smoke expresses itself when it doesn’t share the stage with the peaty kind. If Garryana 1|1 was a grand gesture; this edition portrays an expression of subtle depth.

Garryana 2|1 is also bottled at a somewhat lower proof (50% abv)… and is on shelves with a somewhat higher price. As with the first release, there’s no age statement.

Let’s move on to the tasting…

The nose is a touch odd — a bit sweaty, with notes of roasted vegetables, fresh-cut lumber, and dusky cloves. The palate however has more in common with a typical American single malt. Grain-forward, but not overly so, the wood influence is powerful, giving the body ample tannin plus notes of burnt sugar and roasted hazelnuts — the latter a common thread from the first edition of the whiskey. The finish sees the emergence of additional spicier elements — nutmeg and cinnamon, dried red berries, and a lightly sweet, milk chocolate note. The wood grips at the back of the throat as the finish fades, providing a curiously saccharine note to the conclusion.

It’s a strange whiskey — and one that’s quite different than its predecessor.

100 proof. 2600 bottles produced.

B / $150 / westlandgarryana.com

Review: Rua American Single Malt Whiskey

Great Wagon Road Distilling can be found in Charlotte, North Carolina, where this small operation can be found making vodka, poitin, and malt whiskey under the care of Ollie Mulligan, a native Irishman. Today we look at Rua — Gaelic for “red” — the company’s American single malt made from 100% malted barley. The whiskey carries no age statement, but it’s a fairly young one that is apparently aged in considerably smaller barrels.

The nose of Rua has all the hallmarks of a youthful American single malt, scorched by the impact of plenty of new oak, but it shows that some liveliness lies beneath, in the form of cinnamon, apple cider, and some ginger aromas.

On the palate, again the new wood tends to dominate, but some secondary notes of tobacco, cloves, baking spice, and a lacing of sweeter vanilla elevate the experience above that of most American single malts. The light butterscotch notes on the finish are playful in a whiskey that can initially come across as brooding — at least enough to merit giving it a cautious recommendation.

Reviewed: Release 10, Batch 18. 80 proof.

B / $53 / gwrdistilling.com

Review: Westland Winter Release 2016

Seattle-based Westland Distillery makes only American single malt whiskey, but they have produced a range of variations on this theme to date including Sherry Wood and Peated, as well as more creative offerings like Garryana, part of the Native Oak series in which they age their single malt in oak sourced from the Pacific Northwest. In the winter of 2016 they added another addition to their range with the inaugural Winter Release. Westland has a rather romantic way of describing this whiskey, so I’ll let them do the explaining:

This inaugural release of Westland Winter celebrates the stark contrasts of the season. At once brisk and cozy, austere and comforting, it hovers over the threshold of the season’s two theaters, the hinterland and the hearth. Nine casks were married for this release. Smoke is the one constant, its waft on the wind carrying us in and out of each scene. The ex-bourbon casks shape the whiskey into a fully realized portrait of winter, but this release’s ascendant feature is a single ex-Oloroso hogshead of peated spirit. This sherry cask, with its immense richness and assertive peatiness, reminds us that this time of year togetherness is warming and indulgence is forgiven.

That’s a lot to pack into a bottle, but I can easily see what they are getting at. On the nose, Winter Release shows a subtle smokiness, but it’s sweet, almost like pipe tobacco or a dying campfire. There’s ginger there, too, golden raisin, and a little candy apple. The palate is oily and honeyed with cinnamon and dark fruit notes that become chocolate covered on a lingering and slightly spicy finish. I get the “winter in a glass” thing, but more importantly, this is a dram I would pick over a lot of other more traditional single malts out there. Here’s looking forward to next winter!

100 proof.

A- / $100 / westlanddistillery.com

Review: Virginia Distillery Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

Virginia Distillery — which takes authentic single malt from Scotland and finishes it in unique barrels in Virginia — is back with another release, and like its inaugural release, this one finished in Port wine barrels. (Again, note that this expression differs from that first release and carries a different label.) The first Virginia release to carry a batch label (this one’s #3), the malt is finished in Port barrels from King Family Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, and Virginia Wineworks, for 12 to 26 months depending on the particular barrel.

The deep amber color is enticing, leading into a nose that is salty, a bit sweaty even, with hints of seaweed, roasted grains, and banana bread. The nose is a bit floral at times, much like Virginia’s Cider Barrel Matured release, though there’s no real hint of the raisiny Port notes from the finishing barrel.

There’s more evidence of the Port barrel on the palate, but even here it’s quite restrained, allowing more toasty cereal notes, vanilla-heavy barrel char, citrus peel, and hints of iodine to show themselves more fully. The Port influence becomes clearer as the finish approaches, though it takes on a chocolate character primarily, along with some hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. All told, it does bear significant resemblance to the original Virginia bottling, though here everything seems less well-realized, less mature, and generally a bit undercooked. While it’s still got plenty to recommend it, it simply lacks the magic of some of Virginia’s other releases.

92 proof.

B / $58 / vadistillery.com

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Crying of the Puma”

Recently we gave you an accounting of a strange little whiskey called Abomination, in which newly-Los Angeles-based Lost Spirits Distillery takes Islay white dog, puts it through its patented reactor, and a week later comes out with a heavily-peated, rapidly-aged “Scotch” unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

You may not recall that Abomination was being released in two renditions: The Crying of the Puma (aka red label) uses toasted wood from a “late harvest riesling barrel” and The Sayers of the Law (aka black label) uses charred wood from the same barrels. (As a reminder, since there is no such thing as a late harvest riesling barrel, because late harvest riesling is not aged in a barrel, Lost Spirits gets these casks made special.)

Lost Spirits was out of the Puma bottling at the time of our initial coverage, but the red label is finally back in stock and ready for our analysis. Thoughts follow.

I’ll be right up front and say that Sayers/black label is by far the better whiskey. It has a complexity that Puma/red label is largely missing. I did considerable side-by-side work to compare the two, and the differences are stark. Sayers is loaded up with all manner of flavors — lots of fruit, coffee bean, peppery roasted meats, and more — all filtered through classic, briny Islay. But Puma has a much different bent, with a much heavier focus on coffee beans, beef jerky, and salted pork — all evident on the nose and carrying over to the body. Nothing wrong with those flavors, but the underlying fruit components — which are there if you go spelunking — have a hard time finding their way through some seriously beastly smoke and meaty notes to make any impact on the palate. Water is a huge help at softening up a somewhat overbearing whiskey and helping coax out some floral elements, and a finish that recalls honey.

Completists and peat freaks may want to pick up a bottle of each of these to compare and contrast the duo, but if you’ve only got 50 bucks to spend, The Sayers of the Law sayeth the truth.

108 proof.

B / $50 / lostspirits.net

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and Diamond Peak (Late 2016 Bottlings)

We’ve reviewed several of Stranahan’s single malt whiskey bottlings in the past, and today we look at a fresh batch of both the yellow-labeled original and the company’s higher-end Diamond Peak release. Both are 100% malted barley whiskeys, made and aged in Colorado. Unfortunately prices batch information is not available for these, which were tasted from 200ml sample bottles with incomplete labeling. That said, Stranahan’s was able to give us a range of batch numbers; both shipped in October 2016.

Both are 94 proof.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (batch between 190 and 194) – Aka Stranahan’s Original. Fruity on the nose, with aromas of apricot, lemon peel, white flowers, and some icy menthol — plus a touch of medicinal character late in the game, particularly evident as it opens up a bit with air. The palate is sweeter than I expected, with notes of gingerbread (common with Stranahan’s), dried red berries, and some bitter herbs on the finish. Strong alcohol notes give the whiskey long legs, and the finish lingers for a long while with aromatic, floral notes hanging around the longest. Still fun and unique stuff. B+ / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Stranahan’s Diamond Peak 2016 (batch 21 or 22) – This is a more fully-aged barrel selection of the Stranahan’s Original bottling, drawn from casks at least four years old. Compared to the original bottling, the barrel makes a more evident impression from the start here, with clearer vanilla and toffee notes, and fresh (rather than dried) red fruits. The palate is loaded with a complex array of flavors, starting with more toffee plus vanilla pudding, then venturing into fresh strawberry shortcake, cola, milk chocolate, and a fleeting kiss of warm gingerbread on the finish. Unlike the above, the alcohol here barely registers (even though it’s the same abv), and the whole affair finds a lushness and a balance that the “yellow label” bottling doesn’t wholly have. While Stranahan’s Original is a fine starter spirit, this bottling takes the promise of American Single Malt and shows that it can be fully realized. A / $85  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

stranahans.com

-->