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

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

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 /

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

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 /

Review: Redemption The Ancients Collection Rye 18 Years Old

Diageo doesn’t have a monopoly on “orphan barrels,” it turns out. Redemption, which continues to turn out well-aged American whiskey, has launched a new collection of spirits called The Ancients, including an 18 year old rye (reviewed here) and a bourbon that, at 36 years old, stands as the oldest American whiskey I’ve ever even heard of.

Here’s some details from the company:

Whiskey collectors can now own a piece of American distilling history, with the launch of The Ancients collection from Redemption Whiskey. Known for producing award-winning whiskies across ages and mash bills of high rye content, Redemption is expanding its portfolio with the release of an 18-Year-Old Rye and 36-Year-Old Bourbon. An extremely limited supply of both cask-strength expressions will be available in select U.S. markets.

The Ancients collection features whiskies laid down in barrels in 1978 and 1998 at the old Seagram’s distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the same place where every drop of Redemption Whiskey has ever been produced,” says Tom Steffanci, President of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. “The 18 Year-Old is a reflection of our obsession with Rye and showcases the ageability of rye, and the 36 Year-Old is a result of our access to precious little cache of bourbon acquired many years ago.”

How ageable is this rye? Let’s give it a whirl.

Whew — the nose is loaded with wood, to the point where it’s hard to parse out much else aside from dense lumberyard and a few dusky cloves. Maybe some mint, if you give it ample time and air.

The palate though tells another story. There’s an immediate onslaught of barrel char, sure, but the attack is surprisingly short-lived. The heavy oak notes quickly fade, and they are soon replaced with a very warm, but very deep, baking spice character, heavy on the cloves but also showcasing secondary notes of almonds, brown butter, red wine, and spearmint. The finish finds burly, almost smoky, toffee notes as the core of its warming, satisfying conclusion.

$400 is a lot to pay for a whiskey, but — the BTAC aside — finding rye of this age is almost impossible at any price. Worth a shot.

109.9 proof.

A- / $400 /

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old (2017), High-Rye 10 Years Old, and Bourbon 9 Years Old (2017)

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of Redemption Rye’s Barrel Proof lineup, which comprises a series of three different whiskeys, released roughly once a year. Complicating matters are the fact that those whiskeys haven’t always been the same types of spirit. In 2015 it was three straight ryes. Today the lineup includes the same base spirits as what we reviewed in 2016, only all of them are now a bit older.

As it was last year, this year’s Aged Barrel Proof selection includes one straight rye and two bourbons, one from a high-rye mashbill and one from a lower-rye mash. (All are still sourced from MGP in Indiana.)

Note that packaging has been dramatically updated for this year — though, bless Redemption, despite the extra age, MSRP has not changed on any of the below whiskeys.

Let’s dig into the 2017 trio!

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old (2017) – Same mash as 2016: 95% rye, 5% barley. There’s a surprising amount of youth on the nose here, boldly grainy, some dusky spice, and a leathery character as it fades. The palate is fairly straightforward and not terribly remarkable, chewy with a ton of toffee and caramel, and only moderate notes of fresh ginger, cloves, and black pepper. The finish muddies the waters, though, with a gummy, overtly earthy note that is a heavy letdown. 116.2 proof. B-

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof High-Rye Bourbon 10 Years Old – 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley. Massively spicy, with a racy, nostril-searing nose. While very nutty, it features some oddball aromas of mossy vegetation, fruitcake, and even a little petrol. The palate follows suit, again coming across not entirely like a bourbon. Dried fruits, dark chocolate, and pine resin all seem appropriate, but there’s a heavy herbal character on the back end that ultimately settles into a groove of … well, is that mustard? It’s an oddity, to be sure, but at least it’s approachable enough with water. 114.8 proof. B

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old (2017) – The lower-rye version of this bourbon at 10 years of age: 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% barley. More approachable than the High-Rye, with a seductive nose of toffee, nuts, and dried fruit — classic bourbon character through and through. The palate is warming, stuffed to the gills with flavors, including dates, juicy raisins, coffee bean, bold toffee and caramel notes, with a gentle red pepper note on the back end. At 108 proof it’s approachable, but water soothes the burn while bringing out the nutty, almond-centric flavors. At last a winner! 108.2 proof. A-

each $100 /