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

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Sayers of the Law”

One can count on few things in life, but one of those things is the fact that Lost Spirits Distillery — now operating out of Los Angeles — is going to come up with something new to mess with your mind.

What did Bryan Davis do to create this “abomination?” Instead of distilling his own heavily peated new-make spirit (as was done with Lost Spirits’ prior whiskey releases), he imported white dog from an unnamed distillery on Islay. The smoky single malt was then put through Lost Spirits’ reactor to turbo-age it. Two expressions were the result. One, The Crying of the Puma* (aka red label) uses toasted wood from a “late harvest riesling barrel.” (The catch is that there is no such thing as a late harvest riesling barrel, because late harvest riesling is not aged in a barrel, so Davis had to order up a bespoke cask.) The second release is called The Sayers of the Law (aka black label, which is reviewed here). It’s aged with the same late harvest riesling barrel wood, only this time the wood is charred instead of toasted before it goes into the aging reactor.

The nose would be familiar to any Islay fan — sweet barbecue smoke to start — and then you start catching deeper aromas of gooey dried fruit compote, fresh peaches, and floral elements, clearly delivered by the riesling barrel. The palate is intensely smoky, with traditional Islay elements of briny seaweed and peat smoke. Notes of candied flowers mingle with fresh strawberry, coconut husk, and iodine, then lingering nuggets of coffee bean, dark chocolate, and lilacs. The finish is pushy and long as hell, soaked in liquefied wood and smoke and dripping with a hedonistic pungency.

Islay fans, though this is ruthlessly unorthodox I highly encourage you to buy this now. It’ll be the best $50 you’ve ever spent.

108 proof.

A / $50 / lostspirits.net

* The fanciful product names are drawn from chapters from The Island of Dr. Moreau. Get it?

Review: Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan Single Malt Whisky

A name like Colkegan may evoke Ireland, or perhaps Scotland… but not exactly New Mexico, does it?

Nevertheless, here we are with a distinctly American single malt — its barley dried not with peat but with mesquite — double pot-distilled, and aged (time unstated) in casks at 7000 feet above sea level (yes, in the Santa Fe area).

It is a decidedly unique drinking experience that drops a tumbleweed right on top of Islay.

On the nose, you can’t escape that mesquite, the distinctly sweet notes of those smoldering branches impacting heavily the comparably restrained notes of salted caramel and vanilla plus a mix of savory herbs including rosemary and thyme. The smoke overlays it all, just as it does over the sea in Islay, only here it’s barbecue sauce, not coal dust.

The palate is more in keeping with an American single malt, although Colkegan apparently has enough age on it to nicely temper the raw grain, and the mesquite helps to ward off the raw wood character so prevalent in American single malt whiskeys. Instead we get more of those salted caramel notes, some dried fruit, and dark chocolate — all filtered through a haze of mesquite. There’s a surprisingly high level of balance here, with what could have been a cacophony of flavors melding together incredibly well. The finish is lightly smoky, but ends up squarely on notes of dark chocolate-coated currants rather than burnt wood.

This is a whiskey that I first approached with significant hesitation, then I found myself slowly won over by its uniqueness, restraint, and charm. For fans of either Islay or American whiskeys, it’s definitely worth sampling and savoring.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #8.

A- / $51 / santafespirits.com

Review: Virginia Distillery Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

If Virginia Distillery Co.’s flagship product — a Scottish single malt imported to the U.S. and finished in Virginia Port wine casks — wasn’t wacky enough for you, now comes its first line extension, which sees that first product finished not in Port barrels but instead in locally-sourced cider barrels (specifically barrels from Potter’s Craft Cider). It’s the first release in Virginia’s new Commonwealth Collection, which will see additional oddball finishes being applied to its releases in the months to come.

As with the original release, this is an enchanting whisky that merits some serious study. The nose has a classic single malt structure with gentle granary notes, honey, and some florals, but it’s tempered with a slight citrus character — or at least, more of a citrus character than you’d expect from a traditional single malt. There’s an undercurrent of funk — hard to describe but perhaps driven by the cider barrels — that is at once unusual and appealing.

Rich and malty, the nose leads into a moderate but compelling body that grows in power as you let it aerate. Here the apple influence is a bit clearer, melding with the malt to showcase notes of lemon, grasses, a bit of honey, and more cereal. Again, that slight funk on the finish offers a little something extra — a touch of chocolate, a rush of acidity, and some bitterness, all notes that serve to enhance the experience by taking things in an unexpected direction.

92 proof.

A- / $55 / vadistillery.com

Review: Seattle Distilling Idle Hour Whiskey

seattle-whiskey

Home-grown Washington barley finds its way into Seattle Distilling’s Idle Hour single malt whiskey, which adds local wildflower honey into the fermentation to sweeten things up a bit (Seattle Distilling calls this “its Irish character”). The distillate is aged in re-charred, used French oak cabernet sauvignon wine casks, though no age statement is offered.

This is oaky American malt whiskey, and like most American single malts, it’s youthful and brash and overloaded with new wood — but at least Idle Hour shows a bit of restraint in comparison to other whiskeys in this category.

Perhaps its the old wine barrels that temper Idle Hour, which kicks off on the nose with plenty of fresh cut lumber, yes, but also offers notes of menthol, honeysuckle, and jasmine. The palate is a surprise, milder than expected, again tempering its evident and drying toasty oak character with gentle florals, some almond notes, and a bit of lime zest. The finish sees some canned, green vegetables and offers some odd, lingering notes of ripe banana and tobacco leaf.

All in all it’s better than I expected, and despite some odd departures and U-turns, it reveals itself to be a unique and often worthwhile spirit in many ways.

88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #7.

B / $25 (375ml) / seattledistilling.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

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WhiskyFest is always a great opportunity to get a look at new releases — and pre-sampling products I won’t be able to formally review for a few weeks or month is my favorite part of the show. WhiskyFest 2016 was shaping up to be a windfall for these kinds of releases, including Ardbeg Dark Cove, Redbreast Lustau, Glenmorangie Tarlogan, and Writers Tears Cask Strength, among others. Alas, none of these whiskies (and more) ever made it to the show floor. The Writers Tears broke in transit, I was told. The Lustau was sitting on the back bar, unopened and would only be served at the masterclass session. As for Dark Cove and Tarlogan, well, no one seemed to know a thing. They just weren’t there. Making matters worse, more than once attendees complained to me that vendors had long ago run out of certain whiskies, only to have me tell them I’d just sampled the very same spirit minutes earlier.

I can’t and don’t fault the festival for these issues — and I hope it was just bad luck this year — but I also can’t help but feel disappointed to have left without trying all of these spirits.

Anyway, I did manage to suss out a few new and unusual bottlings, including some all-stars, though I opted not to stand in the 150-person strong line for a sip of Pappy Van Winkle this year. Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

Scotch

Glenfiddich 26 Years Old / A- / a classic expression of old Glenfiddich; malty and biscuity, with a sugar cookie finish
031Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength Flagon / B+ / a 57.1% abv release of this vatted malt; bold and herbal, with lemon peel notes
The Deveron 12 Years Old / B- / Dewar’s-owned; restrained to the point of being muted on the palate
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B / quite malty, rough around the edges
Old Pulteney 21 Years Old / A- / a classic, but surprisingly sweet, its maritime note dialed down; just a touch of smoke on the back
Wolfburn Aurora / B / chewy with woody overtones; a bit youthful
The Macallan Reflexion / B+ / a $1200 monster from Macallan, aromatic with dried fruits, but a bit hoary on the back end; I’d have trouble mustering up this kind of coin
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / always worthwhile, rich and malty with plenty of dark fruit notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask / B- / not getting much wine character; restrained and thin at times
Auchentoshan 21 Years Old / B- / heavy with grain, much more youthful than expected
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old / A- / notes of burnt bread and biscuits; lots of malt and wood influence
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old / A / highlight of the show; remarkably gentle but studded with golden raisins and a lovely simple sweetness
Alexander Murray & Co. Dalmore 15 Years Old / B- / oddly smoky, dull on the finish
Alexander Murray & Co. Benrinnes 19 Years Old / B / malty, with big nougat notes and some savory spices
Alexander Murray & Co. Monumental Blend 30 Years Old / B / rounded with ample grain character; somewhat grassy

American

Westland Garryana / B / a bruising whiskey, smoky with meaty, pork rind notes; full review in the works
Wild Turkey Decades / B+ / ancient Wild Turkey, and it tastes like it – wood on top of wood
Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch 16 / A- / Port notes shine here; very sweet but drinking beautifully now
Parker’s Heritage Collection 24 Years Old Bottled-in-Bond / A / another highlight of the show that I’m looking forward to reviewing in full; initially surprisingly fruit, which fades to a drying finish with notes of camphor
Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon / B+ / finally a chance to see what the fuss was about, which turns out to be tons of wood and some toffee notes; not even a hint of the sea

033Japanese

Hakushu 18 Years Old / A- / smoldering with burnt sugar and lingering sweetness; sultry

Irish

Redbreast 21 Years Old / A- / lovely pot still character, punchy yet balanced

Other

Dos Maderas Luxus / A- / a very high-end rum aged 10 years in the Caribbean, then 5 years in Spain in sherry casks; the results are extremely powerful with fruit and sweetness, notes of figs, raisins, and cherries

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