Tasting Report: Jack Rose Dining Saloon’s Premier Drams 2018

Not many bars can throw their own whiskey festival, but when a bar happens to have the largest selection of whiskey in the Western Hemisphere, it becomes an ideal setting. Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, DC held its inaugural and appropriately named Premier Drams festival on March 25, and we were invited. The bar is one we at Drinkhacker have regrettably not yet introduced you to (working on that), but I’m sure many of you have heard of it already. Some may have even left a rent or mortgage payment there on occasion. For fans of whiskey – of all types, ages, and regions of the world – there are few bars more famous.

The bar is big but hardly a hotel ballroom, so the number of distillers represented at Premier Drams was carefully curated and featured many names you wouldn’t normally find at your average whiskey festival. Kentucky’s Wilderness Trail Distillery actually debuted their new bourbon at the festival. Willett, a distillery beloved by bourbon and rye geeks, doesn’t typically leave Kentucky for festivals, but they were there and pouring three single barrels of their own make that were simply sublime. Independent bottler Single Cask Nation, whose products we’ve sampled in the past, was pouring a range of very interesting Scottish single malts, while Glenfiddich provided a selection of 15-year-old bourbon- and sherry-aged cask strength single cask bottlings that will never see a liquor store shelf. Kilchoman’s new make whisky was a fun exploration of their distillery character sans the barrel influence, and I even found the 28-year-old Czech single malt I had missed at WhiskyLIVE DC (the only forgettable dram of the night). Thoughts follow on most everything sampled. While I know many of these bottles are not easy (or almost impossible) to find, you at least know where you can find a taste of some of them next year!

American

Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – really enjoyable at only four years old with candy corn and rich caramel notes for days. A-
Willett Family Estate Bourbon “Frosted Yeast Rolls” – chewy and buttery despite the high octane with a great, tutti-frutti sweetness. A-
Willett Family Estate Bourbon “Wheat” – burnt sugar and cinnamon-filled nosed with a touch of candy apple on the palate. Incredible at only five years old. A
Willett Family Estate Rye “Big Poppa” – a big nose of clove, caramel, and ginger; chai spice and black tea on the palate. Another standout of the evening. A
Kentucky Peerless Single Barrel Rye “Fruits & Florals” – a little cereal-forward but creamy with clover honey and a delicate fruitiness. B+
Kentucky Peerless Rye Whiskey – complex for only two years old with butterscotch and vanilla notes; good body and the perfect heat.  A-
Nelsons First 108 Tennessee Whiskey – silky body showcasing smoky maple and spice notes; a promising start for Green Brier’s own distillate. B
Belle Meade Bourbon Mourvedre Cask Finish – full of big berry notes; tart and a little funky. B+
Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finish – great balance; woody and full of spice cabinet notes. A-

Scotch

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – lots of great sherry influence with a creamy palate. A-
Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – bold citrus, toffee and some cereal notes; a bit grassy. B
Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – meaty warehouse funk on the nose with tobacco and clove-studded orange; really enjoyable stuff. A
Single Cask Nation Tormore 21 Years Old – interesting nose (almost cheesy); clean and crisp with a big helping of lemon drop on the palate. A-
Single Cask Nation Cambus 28 Years Old – a smoky and sweet berry nose with a nice balance of malty vanilla notes and sherry. A-
Glenfiddich XX – a bit of a fruit bomb on the nose; nutty with pronounced cinnamon on the palate. A-
Glenfiddich 15 Years Old Single Cask Bourbon Cask – honey for days and days with a bit of citrus and the perfect heat, despite the high abv. A
Glenfiddich 15 Years Old Single Cask (Sherry Cask) – elegant with rich stewed fruits, orange marmalade, and gobs of spice cabinet. A
Glenmorangie Astar – a bit on the hot side with bright citrus (mostly lemon) and a chewy, malty body. A-
Bowmore 18 Years Old Manzanilla Cask Finish – beautifully spiced with big raisin notes that become chocolate-covered on the finish. A-
Kilchoman New Make Spirit – a little vegetal but rich and creamy and full of sweet, earthy smoke; surprisingly drinkable. B+
Port Askaig 110 Proof – soft and light on the palate with delicate citrus, campfire, and dried tobacco notes. B+

International

Ohishi Tokubetsu Reserve Whisky – big with overripe dark fruit and oaky spice. B+
Hammerhead Czech Rare Single Malt Whisky 28 Years Old – tannic, dull, and a bit depressing (like you might imagine a Soviet-made whisky would taste). C+
Amrut Portonova Whisky – big tropical notes on top of rich, spicy dark fruit. A-

 

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: Spreewood Distillers Stork Club Straight Rye Whiskey

Although it may seem like it, the explosion in craft whiskey distilling over the last decade hasn’t been confined to America alone. Even countries without a tradition of whiskey-making have started to get in on the game. Germany’s Spreewood Distillers is a great example of this trend. In a country better known for schnapps and Riesling, they’ve been distilling whiskey since 2004 just outside of Berlin. German rye grain is well-known for its quality and is used in the production of several American whiskeys (Wild Turkey and Bulleit, among others), so it’s no surprise that a rye whiskey would figure prominently in their portfolio. Stork Club Straight Rye is a 100% rye whiskey aged 3-4 years. It’s a blend of whiskey aged in three different cask types: virgin American oak, sherry (both Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez are used), and white wine. The Spree forest where the distillery is located is a swamp with very cold winters and humid, windless summers, making it ideal for whiskey maturation. On paper, Spreewood Distillers seems to have a lot of the necessary ingredients for good whiskey. But how does the final product actually taste?

I was expecting a big rye punch on the nose of this whiskey, but instead Stork Club Straight Rye showcases less rye spice and more of a peculiar fruity sweetness with dark red fruits, cola, and a little acetone. It’s clean and surprisingly soft given the proof. The palate is rich and oily with a familiar rye heat that moves quickly to the back of the throat. The different barrel influences are evident as the flavors develop. Notes of brandied cherry, dark raisin, clove, and red licorice are layered with oak, vanilla bean, cocoa powder, and a little caramel sauce. There’s a slight astringency on the palate (probably from the new American oak), but the flavors meld well, regardless. A warming and generous finish carries more dark red fruit notes and drying oak. It’s an interesting and enjoyable whiskey that easily stands up to some of the best craft offerings this side of the pond.

110 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2.

A- / $60 (500 ml) / storkclubwhisky.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

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: Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye (2018)

Last encountered in 2015, Craft Distillers’ Low Gap Rye was at the time a two-year old whiskey that didn’t seem to be getting any older. As a matter of fact, distiller Crispin Cain is out with a new version of Low Gap Rye and, again, it’s a mere babe at just two years of age.

This expression doesn’t change a whole lot, at least on paper. As with prior batches, this is a malted rye with the addition of some corn and barley, aged in new and used bourbon and Germain-Robin brandy barrels. The proof is just a tick lower, and it’s a bit more expensive, but otherwise this is basically made with the same process.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not a different product… so let’s dig into the 2018 rendition of Low Gap Rye.

For a two year old whiskey, Low Gap Rye really has a surprising level of nuance. It’s not without a rocky start, though the initial aromatics are heavy on the cereal grain, with some pet food notes, a bit of hemp rope, and a briny smoke element.

The good news is that the palate finds a lot more going on, a rich honey character that initially rushes the mouth before sliding into some notes of raisins, coconut, and a little milk chocolate. Some work seems to have been done to round out the finish, which is much more approachable than the 2015 and is actually quite clean. As that finish fades, I get some hints of mint and butterscotch, making this a more complex and interesting spirit than that older version. Definitely worth a dram or two.

87.4 proof. 3900 bottles produced (this batch).

B+ / $75 / craftdistillers.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey – Stout and Port Finished – and Hotaling’s 11 Years Old

In August 2017, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo. Though many assumed that meant its small distilling operation next door was going with it, that’s not the case. Anchor Distilling was effectively spun off and remains an independent operation today.

Anchor’s been busy in the distilling department, and today we look at three new whiskey releases, including two special editions of Old Potrero whiskey with unusual cask finishes, and a new 11 year old rye. Thoughts follow.

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Stout Barrels – This starts with standard Old Potrero single malt that is finished in a barrel that (follow closely) began as a rye cask, then worked as an apple brandy barrel, then spent time as a stout cask. For round four, it’s a single malt again, and things are getting a little murky. The nose is incredibly hoppy, to the point where I would have guessed this was from some kind of IPA cask, not a stout cask. Aromas range from fun vegetal compost notes to old wine to lemon peels to, ultimately, skunky hops. On the palate, similar flavors dominate, though a malty character at least gives it some sweetness, along with flavors of dusky spices, prunes, and cooked green beans. Somehow that all comes together with a finish that isn’t as off-putting as it may sound, though the overwhelming savoriness of the whiskey doesn’t exactly recall a pint of Guinness. 110.8 proof. C / $100

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels – More straightforward, with single malt aged in new oak and finished in Port casks. This one’s an ever bigger surprise, and not in a good way. All the Port casks in the world cant mask the funk in this whiskey, which pushes past the barrel treatment almost completely. The nose is heavily hoppy, though secondary notes include a touch of butterscotch to temper the green bean character. The palate is sharp, almost acrid at times, with no real trace of Port sweetness. Instead I get a pile of roasted carrots, tar barrel, and coal dust, very little of which is what sounds appealing right now. 114.6 proof. C- / $100

Anchor Distilling Hotaling’s Whiskey 11 Years Old – An unusual whiskey, made from 100% malted rye (making it both a rye and a “single malt” of sorts). Aged in once-used charred fine-grain American oak barrels that previously held Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey for 11 years. This is a solid whiskey that eschews trickery in favor of old-fashioned maturity. The nose is mild, lightly grainy with a modest wood profile, perhaps a bit of banana bread underneath. The palate shows a remarkable integration of flavors, including maple, toasty oak, brown butter, and some racy spice and dried fruit notes. There’s still a rustic character to it, but, unlike that same character in the cask-finished whiskeys above, here that roughness comes across as almost charming. Very limited, with under 200 bottles made. 100 proof. B+ / $115

anchordistilling.com

Review: Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky, Italia Bourbon, Copper & Kings Bourbon, and Copper & Kings Rye

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits recently dropped a pile of new whiskeys, all limited editions (with some of them single barrel releases). Stylistically, they’re all over the map, so pay close attention here — and nuzzle up with your local spirits merchant if they sound enticing — to get the lowdown on each of the quartet.

Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky – Distilled from 100 percent malted barley, a portion of which is smoked with cherry wood. No aging information provided. Instantly weird, with a nose of roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and grainy horse feed. That grassy, hay-heavy note continues on to the palate, quite smoky at times and heavy with notes of the field — pastoral cereals, dried weeds, and campfire embers. The finish is lightly sweetened with honey and just a squeeze of lemon. Undercooked, but not without some charms. 93 proof. B- / $70

Few Spirits Italia Bourbon – A collaboration between Few, Eataly, and Folio Fine Wine Partners, which provided casks from Sicily’s Donnafugata (which specific wine is unclear), used for finishing. This is a young and initially quite savory whiskey, heavy with wet earth and popcorn notes on the nose, though it’s cut with a spice one seldom sees in bourbon of this age. Hints of sweet red fruit on the palate offer more promise here, but the sweetness is quickly overpowered by a thick layer of asphalt and tannin, leading to a sultry and earthy finish, heavy with tobacco notes. That said, enough of that wine-driven fruit manages to shine through here, brightening up the whiskey with notes of blackberry and baking spice, to elevate it into something unique, approachable, and worth sampling. 93 proof. B / $50

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Bourbon Finished in American Brandy Barrels – A single barrel bottling, which consists of Few Bourbon finished in C&K’s brandy barrels. It’s a racy whiskey, though quite grainy at times, with an aroma heavy with toasted bread, caramel corn, and indistinct spice. The palate is surprisingly chocolaty, with notes of chicory and bitter roots. The finish sees some ginger notes, but it still plays it close to a vest composed of fresh-cut lumber and hemp rope. On the whole, the brandy influence is tough to find. B / $40

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Rye Finished in American Brandy Barrels – Also a single barrel, C&K brandy barrel-finished bottling, only this one uses Few’s rye as the base. A surprisingly different spirit than the above, though the nose is still a bit restrained, here showing a slightly sweeter side, some tea leaf, and a savory, dill-like herbal component. The palate finds a melange of new flavors, including notes of strawberry jam and a bold, powerful spiciness that really gets to the heart of what rye is all about. With an almost chewy body, that spice finds plenty of purchase on a platform that finishes with hints of dark chocolate and rum raisin notes. Worth checking out, particularly at this price. 93 proof. B+ / $40

fewspirits.com

Review: New Holland Beer Barrel Rye

New Holland Brewing Company’s Beer Barrel Bourbon was a pioneer, back in 2013, of finishing whiskey in beer casks. Now the Michigan-based company is back with a new whiskey: Beer Barrel Rye.

The idea is much the same as before. This is a double-distilled rye (no mashbill available) that is aged in new oak barrels before finishing in Dragon’s Milk stout barrels (which were previously used for whiskey). The circle of life, no? Unlike Beer Barrel Bourbon, however, it is bottled at 44% abv, not 40%.

So, let’s taste this stuff.

The nose is quite youthful. Lots of granary character and notes of dusty steamer trunk, mushroom, and wet leather dominate the nose. There’s a fruitiness to it, but it’s hard to peg — a bit of a melange of dried berries and oddball sherry notes. On the palate the experience is somewhat more interesting, though equally hard to parse. There’s still a significant, ample youth here, lumberyard notes leading the way to a chewy palate with more of a meaty mushroom meets beef jerky character. Dusky clove and tobacco dominate a dry, forest-like finish that barely nods in the direction of sweetness, perhaps evoking a hint of chocolate. On the other hand, it’s not particularly “spicy” in the style of classic rye whiskeys — though perhaps that’s merely a sign of too many days being spent in those stout barrels, or simply a question of pairing the wrong whiskey or the wrong beer, ultimately creating a mismatch that doesn’t gel the way it did in the bourbon release.

88 proof.

B- / $35 / newhollandbrew.com

Review: Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Straight Rye Whiskey

The number of craft whiskey distilleries in America continues to rise, but only a fraction of them can bottle their own distillate as a “straight whiskey,” meaning it’s at least two years old. Even fewer can claim to be bottling at 5-plus years, which is comparable in age to the core products from industry big boys like Jim Beam and Heaven Hill.

Woodinville Whiskey Company is one of these very few craft distilleries. They opened their doors in Woodinville, Washington in 2010 and began distilling with the assistance of industry legend and former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell. While they distill just outside of Seattle, Washington, that climate doesn’t exactly lend itself to efficient barrel aging, so they ship their filled barrels to Quincy on the other side of the Cascades, where they are warehoused at the same farm from which they source most of their grain.

We recently had the opportunity to sample Woodinville’s two flagship products: one a straight bourbon and the other a straight rye. Thoughts follow.

Woodinville Whiskey Company Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Even though a Maker’s Mark Master Distiller assisted in its creation, Woodinville’s bourbon uses rye, not wheat, for the flavoring grain. That rye spice is immediately present on the nose with pepper and cherry notes, along with heavy, bordering on astringent, oak aromas. Oak tannins similarly dominate the palate initially but give way to notes of vanilla, caramel, and baking chocolate. It’s a bold whiskey that drinks a little bigger than its 90 proof but with a syrupy mouthfeel and generous, cinnamon-filled finish that isn’t nearly as drying as I would expect. Water is an all-around friend to this one, subduing the wood and enhancing the underlying flavors and aromas. I’d be curious to see what a year or two more in the barrel does for this bourbon. 90 proof. A- / $55

Woodinville Whiskey Company Straight Rye Whiskey – For a 100% rye whiskey, the nose is softer than I would expect, with raw honey, spearmint, and subtle fruit aromas. The mouthfeel is a touch thin, and as with Woodinville’s bourbon, oak immediately takes hold on the palate. Unlike the bourbon, however, it never really lets up. Cream soda, mint, and cracked black pepper notes struggle against the barrel and dry up rather quickly. A splash of water seems to tame the wood influence and add some complexity to the finish, but the mid-palate flavors get diluted. 90 proof. B / $55

woodinvillewhiskeyco.com

Review: Kentucky Owl Straight Rye 11 Years Old

Kentucky Owl was once known only to a truly dedicated set of whiskey drinkers who paid exorbitant retail prices (and worse on the secondary market) for the brand’s extremely limited bourbon releases sourced from an undisclosed distillery or distilleries in Kentucky. You may still have never heard of Kentucky Owl, but after its sale to Stoli Group (I know you’ve heard of their vodka) and plans to invest $150 million in a distillery and visitor center for the brand, chances are good you’ll be hearing and seeing more from them soon. Early evidence to that fact is the first batch of Kentucky Owl Straight Rye, which was recently released in 25 states plus the District of Columbia.

Like the bourbon, Kentucky Owl Rye is a sourced whiskey of unknown provenance, but it clocks in at 11 years old (a ripe age for any rye out there), and it’s bottled at almost 111 proof. The nose is a little restrained for the proof, but it’s complex nevertheless with mint, toasted oak, and honeyed floral notes. The proof is more evident on the palate with a bold, peppery entry, but the initial heat subsides rather quickly for a rye. It’s perhaps a little thin but still wonderfully oily and rich. The palate is full of clove, cinnamon, and a little ginger all balanced perfectly with the oak. Most enjoyable is how the rye spice lingers across the whole experience, never overpowering any of the other flavors as so many ryes often do. The finish is long with a slight heat and fading notes of honey, vanilla, and baking spice.

All told, this first batch of Kentucky Owl Rye is an exceptional sipping whiskey, and as an introduction for what will likely be a big brand expansion, it sets the bar high.

110.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

A / $130 / kentuckyowlbourbon.com

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