Review: Jefferson’s Presidential Select Twin Oak 16 Years Old

It’s been a few years since Jefferson’s released a new addition in their Presidential Select line. While Jefferson’s has a considerable lineup of bourbon and rye, the Presidential Select bottlings have always been the most glamorous, owing to the fact that the first releases, like the now legendary Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 Years Old, included some of the last stock from the infamous Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Like all current Jefferson’s releases, the Twin Oak 16 Years Old is a sourced bourbon. It’s reportedly from a high rye mashbill that was aged for ten years in new, American oak barrels, dumped, and barreled again in fresh barrels for an additional six years (hence the name Twin Oak). The stated goal of this double-barreling process was to add complexity and depth of flavor to the bright notes of a classic bourbon. So did Jefferson’s succeed?

Twin Oak initially has a burly nose full of baking spice, leather, and vanilla that turns bright rather quickly, offering sharp floral and citrus notes that border a little on furniture polish. On the palate, ample cinnamon and golden raisins become Cracker Jack, vanilla custard, and orange marmalade with a big helping of oak. It’s not overly drying, but the slight astringency does get in the way of some of the other flavors. It has an oily sweetness to it that develops into a savory nutty element on the finish, and it all comes together in a kind of praline and cream finale. In the end, it’s an enjoyable bourbon. The extra aging time in new oak has clearly added some welcome complexity and flavor to this bottle, but it doesn’t seem to come all the way together the way it could. As the youngest Presidential Select released to date, it has just a little more growing up to do.

94 proof.

A- / $200 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2018

Hey, look who’s not breaking his foot this year! Last year’s Whiskies of the World Expo was cut extremely short for me, but this year, safety was the name of the game. (Reminder: Don’t text while on the stairs, kids!)

I spent a lot more time than usual on American whiskeys this year, reflecting an amazing surge of craft distilleries appearing at WotW as well as a relative dearth of Scotch. That said, some of the Scottish drams I sampled were some of the best whiskies I’ve ever had — particularly Glencadam’s glorious 25 year old, to which I gave a spot rating of A+, thanks to its delightfully bright texture and fruit-forward palate. There was plenty of whiskey to like in America and beyond, too, but if I had to pick one product I’d like to sample in more depth, it’d have to be Healdsburg-based Alley 6’s bitters made from candy cap mushrooms they forage themselves on the Sonoma Coast.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow, as always.

Scotch

GlenDronach 12 Years Old – Bold sherry, nutty, with spice, but vegetal on the back end. B
GlenDronach 18 Years Old – Richer and better balanced, with big spices and some chocolate notes. A-
Ancnoc 24 Years Old
– A surprising amount of grain here for a 24 year old, with some orange peel notes; perfectly approachable but not overwhelming. B+
Balblair 1983
– Some smoke, barrel char, vanilla and chocolate. Nice balance. A
Glencadam 25 Years Old
– Bright and fresh, with a Sauternes character to it; some coconut, a little chewy; very lush and rounded. Best of show. A+
SIA Scotch Whisky – This has clearly been refined a bit over the years, now showing a youthful but silky caramel and vanilla notes; quite elegant for a blend. A-
The Exclusive Grain Cameronbridge 1992 25 Years Old
– One of the best single grains I’ve experienced in years; chocolate dominates, with a big sherry finish. A
The Exclusive Malts “An Orkney” 2000 17 Years Old
– I’m guessing Highland Park, then; traditionally built, but quite oaky. B+
The Macallan Edition No. 3
– A disappointment; a huge, bold body for Macallan, but surprisingly hot. B+
Highland Park Dark 
– HP in first-fill sherry barrels; the name is no lie, but the sherry takes it so far it ends up medicinal; overdone. B+
Highland Park Full Volume
– Chewy, with gunpowder and grain notes. A bit dull in the end. B
Alexander Murray Bunnahabhain 28 Years Old Cask Strength
– Lightly peated, with a solid Madeira note; gently floral. B+
Tobermory 21 Years Old Manzanilla Finish Cask Strength
– Blodly spice up front, but a bit raw and vegetal on the back end. B+
Deanston 20 Years Old Oloroso Finish Cask Strength
– Big grain base, with notes of cotton balls. B-
Ledaig 1996
– Punchy, with lingering grain and plenty of sweetness. B+

American

Belle Meade Mourvedre Cask Finish – A very rare offering that sold out in 2 days, it’s a beauty of a blend of wine and wood influence. A-
Belle Meade Imperial Stout “Black Belle” Finish – Bold and hoppy, notes of peanut butter, tons of fun. A
Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye
– Soothing menthol notes, but a little mushroomy funk. B+
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 2
– Wheated. Silky but rustic at times, with ample spice. A-
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 3
– High-rye. Youthful, some vegetal notes peeking through, showing promise. B+
Old Forester Statesman
– Special bottling for that Kingsman movie last year. Big chocolate notes dominate, with vanilla and clove. Classic Kentucky. B+
Amador Double Barrel Bourbon
– Quite sweet, with candied pecan notes, vanilla finish. A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Czar
– A burly whiskey made from imperial stout. Lots of smoke here, which would be fine but for the very green character. Overly malty and unbalanced. B-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Frambooze
– Racy berry notes in this whiskey, which is distilled from raspberry ale, plus notes of walnuts and dark chocolate. Lots of fun. A-
High West Bourye (2018)
– A classic whiskey, gorgeous with deep vanilla, spice, and chocolate notes. A
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4
– The deep raisin profile remains a classic, showcasing both power and grace. A-
Do Good Distillery California Bourbon
– Very rustic, gritty with pepper and raw grain. C+
Do Good Distillery Cherrywood Smoked Whiskey
– Pungent, mainly showcasing pet food notes. D
Widow Jane Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old
– Absolutely massive, with notes of minerals, orange marmalade, creme brulee, and milk chocolate. A-
Widow Jane Rye Oak & Apple Wood
– Youthful, the apple really shows itself. B
Alley 6 Single Malt Whiskey 
– Rustic, pungent, but showing promise. B
Alley 6 Rye Whiskey
– Pretty, quite floral. A-
Mosswood Corbeaux Barrel Bourbon 6 Years Old – A private bottling for a SF retailer; a rustic style whiskey. B
Mosswood Sour Ale Barrel
– An old favorite, gorgeous with apple spices and a delightful, deft balance. A

Japanese

Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt – A young malt, gentle but simple, florals and biscuits. B+
Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt 8 Years Old – Surprisingly a bit thin, though more well-rounded. B
Fukano 12 Years Old
– Heavy greenery notes, drinking overblown tonight. B

Other Stuff

Alley 6 86’d Candy Cap Bitters – Insane mushroom intensity, really beautiful stuff. A
Mosswood Night Rum Scotch Barrel
– This is a rum, finished in Ardbeg whisky barrels. What!? The combination of sweet and smoke is almost impossible to describe; working on a sample to paint a bigger picture of this madness. A-
Mosswood Sherry Barrel Irish Whiskey
– A 3 year old Cooley Irish, sherry finished in the U.S. Fairly classic. A-
Amrut Double Cask
– Port finished Amrut from India; peat overpowers the sweetness it wants to show off. B

Review: Old Forester Signature 100 Proof and Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup

Old Forester, “America’s First Bottled Bourbon” has partnered with Bourbon Barrel Foods to launch its line of Cocktail Provisions, a collection of three bitters, two syrups and one tincture, all designed to elevate (but simplify) the home cocktail experience.

Created by Louisville-based Bourbon Barrel Foods and Old Forester Master Taster and Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan, Cocktail Provisions are inspired by the unique and robust flavor profiles of Old Forester. Taking the guesswork out of creating high-end cocktails, Zykan and Bourbon Barrel Foods have developed a cocktail line allowing consumers and trade to craft the perfect Old Fashioned, take the hassle out of Oleo-Saccharum syrup and elevate cocktails to new dimensions of flavor.

I’d like to say we’re going to taste all six of the items in the Cocktail Provisions lineup, but we actually only received one — the Old Fashioned syrup — which sounds decidedly simplistic next to something like a salt & pepper tincture. That sadness aside, we’ll dig into the syrup after we kick things off by correcting a longstanding oversight by reviewing Old Forester Signature, the 100 proof version of OldFo that is a standby of (affordable) cocktailing.

Thoughts follow.

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof – Lots of dark chocolate on the nose, with hints of vanilla extract, graham crackers, and toasty cloves. A bit of heat is evident, but less than the typical bonded whiskey. The palate sees more of that chocolate, some baking spice, cherry notes, and a hint of barrel char — but none of that heavy-duty wood influence that you tend to see with OldFo’s annual Birthday Bourbon releases. In fact, I was surprised to see that I liked this much better than most of those, and I see a common thread between this whiskey and Old Forester 1920, though the latter is a bit fruitier. With its bold attack but silky finish, Signature is engaging from start to finish. Put it another way: It’s much better than it needs to be at this price. Best value. 100 proof. A / $22

Old Forester Cocktail Provisions Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup – Rich demerara syrup spiked with proprietary blend of three Old Forester bitters (ultimately giving it a 2% alcohol level). I have to say, this made for an amazing Old Fashioned (2 oz. Old Forester Signature, 1/2 oz. syrup), and it needed no doctoring at all, just whiskey and this syrup. Tasting the syrup straight reveals lots of cinnamon and nutmeg notes, and while those shine in the cocktail, here it melds with the whiskey to reveal chocolate and vanilla, clear complements to the Old Forester but bumped up a notch here. There’s a touch of orange peel, but if you like your Old Fashioned loaded with fruit, you’ll want to toss a slice of orange and a cherry in there before mixing. For my part, I like it just the way it is. A / $8.50 per 2 fl. oz bottle

oldforester.com

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Kathleen’s Batch” 2018-01

The first 2018 batch from Jim Beam’s Booker’s Bourbon is here: Kathleen’s Batch. Here’s the gist:

The release of Booker’s “Kathleen’s Batch” marks a special and historic moment for the brand as the batch is named in honor of Kathleen DiBenedetto, who worked closely alongside Booker Noe as brand manager of the Small Batch Bourbon Collection, including Knob Creek Bourbon, Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, Baker’s Bourbon and Noe’s own namesake Booker’s Bourbon. Alongside Booker, Kathleen played a large role in paving the way for how super-premium bourbons are appreciated today. She has made a huge impact not only on beams premium bourbons, but to the industry as a whole, and in 2015, was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in recognition of these contributions. 26 years later, Kathleen still works for Beam Suntory, serving as the Senior Director, On-Premise and Luxury Marketing.

Booker’s “Kathleen’s Batch” was selected by Fred Noe, along with the help of Kathleen herself, as well as the Booker’s Bourbon Roundtable earlier this year. Like all batches of Booker’s Bourbon, “Kathleen’s Batch” is bottled uncut at its natural proof, of 127.4. The batch was aged for 6 years, 3 months and 14 days.

Aromatically pungent, with notes of gunpowder, heavy cloves, (very) dark chocolate, loads of barrel char, and some cedar box character. The palate is quite robust, but more exotic than you might expect. A coconut-tinged opener takes things into frontier territory, where big barrel notes, intense vanilla, butterscotch, a melange of cinnamon-heavy baking spice, and eastern-inspired flavors (think musty Persian rugs) of coriander and cardamom do a good service to the powerful body. The finish is shorter than expected considering the abv, but that’s not a slight considering how much is packed into the experience, and it does help to solidify the whiskey into a cohesive whole. All told, it’s one of the best Booker’s “Batch” releases I’ve seen to date.

127.4 proof.

A / $75 / bookersbourbon.com

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 4 2018

Luxco’s Blood Oath bourbon series continues its march forward with Pact No. 4. Some details:

Pact No. 4 continues the tradition with a masterful union of three well-bred Kentucky straight bourbons that come together for a unique and complex flavor profile. The first is an extra-aged 12-year bourbon that provides a mellow finish with deep oak undertones, and the second is a rich 10-year bourbon that adds caramel and honey flavors. The third, a nine-year bourbon, rounds out the flavors as it is finished in toasted bourbon barrels – adding deep chocolate, vanilla and spice flavors.

“We finished the nine-year bourbon in a toasted barrel to add an extra layer of flavor. The gentle heating adds more caramel and chocolate accents, as well as a spicier flavor. The toasted barrels, combined with the aging in traditional charred barrels, create a uniquely complex bourbon like no other,” says John Rempe, creator of Blood Oath and head distiller and master blender at Lux Row Distillers. “This bourbon starts off with a strong oak nose and finishes with a robust spice, followed by an ultra-smooth lasting caramel, vanilla and oak.”

This year’s release will also be sold in a commemorative stained wooden box, reminiscent of the toasted barrels used during the finishing process. Like its predecessors, the bottle is topped with a custom, eco-friendly natural cork, sealed and labeled with certificate-style paper stock signed by John Rempe and bottled at 98.6 proof. Pact No. 4 is limited release, with only 12,000 cases (3-packs) created; this bourbon will never be made again.

The bourbon is surprisingly dusky on the nose, with earthy overtones that recall tobacco leaf, licorice, and mushroom. The palate instantly elevates things, however, offering an instant spice punch, with notes of allspice and cinnamon leading to a swirl of raspberry, vanilla, chocolate syrup, and a little sour cherry character. The wood takes over from there, a knotty, burly character driving the whiskey to a somewhat drying finish of raw wood notes, clove, more licorice, and a little green pepper. It’s a whiskey that showcases its strongest elements all in the middle, leaving the dusty, lumber-heavy finale a bit of a letdown.

98.6 proof.

B+ / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com

Review: Charleston Distilling Co. King Charles Vodka, Jasper’s Gin, Vesey’s Bourbon, and Calhoun’s Rye

Charleston Distilling is a South Carolina-based craft distillery that takes a farm-to-bottle approach to all of its spirits, starting with South Carolina-grown corn, rye, wheat, and millet that are milled at its own millhouse in Summerton, South Carolina, and then distilled at its operation in downtown Charleston. Its whiskeys are aged in new, charred oak barrels.

Today we look at a spectrum of Charleston Distilling’s products, including a vodka, a gin, and two whiskeys.

Charleston Distilling Co. King Charles Vodka – Distilled from a mash of corn and rye. This vodka is distinctly weedy, with mushroom overtones and a corny, white whiskey character to it. A modest sweetness offers a brief respite from the funkiness at the core here, but it’s a tough road to overcome the heavy notes of forest floor and pungent grains. 80 proof. C / $25

Charleston Distilling Co. Jasper’s Gin – Somewhat mysterious, Charleston doesn’t disclose the mash nor the botanicals in the bottle. While there is ample evidence of underlying grains on the nose, there’s a hefty spice element here, showing hot pepper, ginger root, and lemongrass notes. The palate is juniper-moderate, with strong citrus peel, baking spice, and licorice elements, brisk and a little pungent, but surprisingly balanced among its constituent flavors. The finish is a bit ragged, but not unpleasant, making for a gin that would work in a more herbal-focused cocktail. 94 proof. B / $30

Charleston Distilling Co. Vesey’s Straight Bourbon – A wheated bourbon, though no age statement is offered. Youthful on the nose, but soft, it’s a quiet bourbon with notes of fresh popcorn, some cherry notes, and ample barrel char. The palate is heavier on the grain, as is to be expected from a young spirit, but there’s notes of fruit, vanilla, and nutmeg here, enough to temper that cracking barrel char, at least until the rather rustic, heavier finish arrives. Part of that is driven by abv; a little water isn’t a bad idea here, which tempers granary character quite well. 94 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1-6. B / $57

Charleston Distilling Co. Calhoun’s Single Barrel Straight Rye – 100% rye, bottled from a single barrel, sans age statement. Nice depth of color here, but the nose is a real oddball, with notes of candy corn, spun sugar, and overripe banana and stone fruit. The palate is somewhat more traditional, though it’s also quite sweet, bold with butterscotch, but touched with a bit of mushroom, burlap sack, and that rustic granary note. The finish is sharp, with a hint of gunpowder, which sprinkles some spice and heat atop the otherwise sugary proceedings. The more I sip on it, the more I enjoy it. 100 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #6. B+ / $56

charlestondistilling.com

Review: KO Distilling Bare Knuckle Bourbon, Rye, and Wheat Whiskey

KO Distilling calls Manassas, Virginia home, and this outfit, which opened its doors only in 2015, already has a significant portfolio to show off. Today we look at its collection of American whiskeys — a bourbon, a rye, and a wheat whiskey — all of which are made with grains sourced from local Virginia farms, milled on-site, double distilled on a hybrid Vendome still, and aged in new, #3 charred, 53-gallon standard-size barrels. From a craft perspective, KO is doing everything perfectly.

Today we look at the full trio of whiskeys, all bottled in late 2017. Let’s see how technique translates to the bottle.

All are bottled at 90 proof.

KO Distilling Bare Knuckle Straight Bourbon Whiskey – This is a two-year-old bourbon made from a mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley. Young though it may be, there’s craft here, as evidenced by a nose that incorporates caramel corn alongside some smoky bacon notes. The palate offers hints of butterscotch that lift up the sweetness, but by and large the bourbon is still on the immature side, heavy with popcorn while showing some mushroom and burnt toast punchiness. While raw in the middle, there’s promise around the edges in the form of zippy cloves, toffee, and dark caramel notes, all hallmarks of a whiskey still developing, yet developing well. B / $40

KO Distilling Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey – A 100% rye, aged 18 months in new oak. This one holds up better to the brief aging process, with a more rounded nose of toasty oak notes backed up with hints of licorice, camphor, and savory spices. The palate is considerably more engaging than the nose lets on. It’s young, yes, but the spice and wood combine here to make for something quite a bit more fun than you might expect. Healthy vanilla and cinnamon notes linger on the tongue as the wood element quickly fades, though the finish sees just a touch of char-meets-rubber character, a reminder that you’re drinking a pretty solid rye that’s a mere year and a half in age. Would love to see this rye at four years old. A- / $46

KO Distilling Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey – Made from 60% wheat, 30% rye, and 10% malted barley, aged one year in new oak. This whiskey is the youngest of the bunch and it shows. Lumberyard is heavy on the nose, really dominating everything else. Give it some air and notes of clove and mushroom emerge, but these are faint and not all that interesting, anyway. The palate is sharp and quite youthful, heavy with granary notes and a more moderate sawdust character, but this fades surprisingly quickly, leaving behind a slightly salty character with secondary notes of milk chocolate, cherries, and toffee. It may not have much nasal engagement, but on the palate it’s a surprising delight. B+ / $36

kodistilling.com

Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Years Old 2018

Rebel Yell continues its march upmarket with this third single barrel release, again a 10 year old bourbon that joins its acclaimed 2016 and 2017 single barrel releases. Brand owner Luxco hasn’t reinvented the wheel here, again relying on a wheated recipe and a bold, 100-proof alcohol level.

2018’s Rebel Yell Single Barrel sees a nose that is bold and peppery, with notes of barrel char and cloves both clear and present, indicators of a well-aged, but not yet overblown, spirit. On the palate, the whiskey rolls over you in waves. First comes sweet vanilla, a welcome mat for spicy notes of cinnamon red hots and more clove elements, which dominate the center of the experience. It’s much bolder than the typical wheater, though the higher proof may be responsible for some of that.

As the finish arrives, a silky yet bittersweet dark chocolate note emerges, really taking over the center of the mouth. All around the edges, though, spice continues to dominate, those cinnamon and vanilla notes lingering, echoing, and beautifully complementing the cocoa-dusted conclusion. Another top-notch release in the Rebel Yell lineup.

100 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #5083254, distilled 09/06.

A / $60 / rebelyellbourbon.com

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) / buffalotracedistillery.com

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.

American

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

Scotch

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

International

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: 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 / southerngracedistilleries.com

Revisiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, 2018

Back in 2011, I took my first trip to Kentucky, endeavoring to visit every distillery that was open to visitors at the time. Since then, a lot has changed, as bourbon mania has led in turn to bourbon tourism mania. In the last seven years, the region, and the Bourbon Trail itself, has exploded with new distilleries, bigger visitor centers, and enhanced touring experiences.

On a recent visit to Kentucky, I re-toured a few old faces plus one of the new guard, to see how the picture of Kentucky had changed in the intervening years. Fresh thoughts on each of the four distilleries we visited follow — though note, there is plenty more going on in Kentucky beyond this!

Jim Beam

Beam built a new visitor’s center in 2012, tripling the size of its old space (the old center is now the tasting room). It’s also wildly revamped its tour, thanks to the construction of a miniature version of the Beam fermentation tanks and column still. In this mini-distillery, visitors can get the full distilling experience on a more manageable scale — though the setup is fully operational and actually making whiskey. As the lengthy tour continues, visitors get to physically turn out (some of) a barrel of Knob Creek, sanitize a bottle of KC Single Barrel on the bottling line, and put their own thumbprint into its wax seal (presuming you want to actually buy said bottle). Afterwards, well over a dozen of Beam’s products are available for tasting via tricked-out wine bar dispensers: Insert your key card and the dispenser ejects a bit of Baker’s, Knob Creek, or even, god help you, Jim Beam Vanilla — everything but Booker’s, really — into your tasting glass. Three samples max! (That’s the law!)

jimbeam.com

Wild Turkey

Like Beam, Wild Turkey recently upgraded its visitor’s center, dramatically increasing its size and installing a tasting room that overlooks the Kentucky River from several hundred feet up. It’s a breathtaking space, though you might miss it if you spend too much time chatting with legendary distillers Jimmy and/or Eddie Russell, who are seemingly fixtures here, happy to chit-chat with just about anyone who happens inside. Wild Turkey’s tour is quick and informative, ending with a tasting of four of Turkey’s products — none of which, oddly, is its flagship 101.

wildturkeybourbon.com

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace never seems to stop moving, and though this was my third visit to the distillery, I saw nothing but new features on a private tour. The first stop was BT’s gargantuan new warehouses, which are still being painted as they’re being filled with whiskey. Barrels were being rolled into the ricks right in front of us, trucked up from the distillery just downhill. (Check our Instagram for some video.) The distillery will build a new warehouse every five months for the next ten years, clearly a sign that it thinks bourbon mania isn’t about to let up. The other attraction — and one which regular visitors can actually experience — is the distillery’s “Bourbon Pompeii,” an excavation of the original OFC Distillery, on top of which Buffalo Trace was (much later) built. The ruins of the original fermentation tanks and bits of stills have been unearthed and preserved in a full museum-like experience on the BT grounds. It’s a fascinating journey back to nearly 150 years ago that any whiskey (or history) fan should experience should they find themselves at the distillery.

buffalotrace.com

Town Branch

The young gun of this mix, Town Branch’s brewery/distillery opened only in 2012, and it’s unique because a) it’s in the city of Lexington, not out in the boonies, and b) it started off as a beermaking operation. On a tour here you can see both sides of the street (literally), seeing the (very small) brewery and tasting a number of its products (including its whiskey barrel-aged beers). Next you can visit the distillery, where two copper pot stills are used to create not just bourbon, but single malt whiskey, gin, and, now, rum, which was fermenting on site during our visit. Town Branch’s spirits tasting is impressive, running through all of the above (including an imported rum and Irish whiskey). While the distillery has not won many plaudits for its lackluster rack bourbon, its single barrel bourbon expression is a delight, as are both of its single malts (particularly the reserve expression), which are aged not in new oak but in its twice-used bourbon/beer barrels, proof that new oak makes a tragic mess out of single malt. Best of all, it’s all about a mile from downtown Lexington, making it easy to get in and out of.

kentuckyale.com

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