Review: Whiskeys of Reservoir Distillery – Bourbon, Rye, Wheat Whiskey, and Gray Ghost

When deciding how to formulate their mashbills, Reservoir Distillery took one of the more unique approaches among craft whiskey-makers. They decided to not use a mashbill. Well, at least not a complicated one. Defying tradition, they concentrated on 100% grain expressions in their line up, all bottled at 100 proof. Their bourbon, for example, is 100% corn. Their rye is 100% rye. You get the idea.

Usually a flavoring grain is an important component, particularly in bourbon, but surprisingly Reservoir has managed to create a flavorful spirit out of just high quality, locally sourced grains and small, heavily charred barrels (no larger than 10 gallons and all with a #5 char). For those that would argue Reservoir’s approach to whiskey-making limits the potential complexity of their whiskey, distillery co-founder Dave Cuttino counters that their technique actually allows them to cater to the entire spectrum of whiskey drinkers by giving them the ingredients to make whatever “mashbill” they prefer (high rye, low rye, wheated, or even a wheated rye).

The potential for in-home blending aside, Reservoir Distillery’s whiskeys stand up just fine on their own. Thoughts follow. (Again, note all are 100 proof.)

Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey – Corn-sweet on the nose with notes of toasted cinnamon, pepper, and gingerbread. It’s bright on the palate and hot; caramel apple and candy corn notes evolve into sweet butter, maraschino cherry, and vanilla on the finish. Underneath the heat, there’s a lot to admire. A- / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Rye Whiskey – Clearly 100% rye on the nose here with citrus fruit notes all over it. The palate is spicy but not overpowering with layers of bubblegum, cracked black pepper, and some licorice. The finish is warming but a little short. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Wheat Whiskey – This may be the most “wheaty” of wheaters. There’s oak, fresh mint, and cinnamon red hots on the nose. The palate is soft despite the proof, with notes of honey, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. The finish is syrupy with some slightly grassy notes. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Gray Ghost Whiskey – The Gray Ghost line is a limited release showcasing Reservoir Distillery’s own experiments with different blends. My sample had an effective mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% wheat. It was aged in eight 3-gallon barrels for 3 to 3.5 years, which is exceptionally long for such a small barrel. There’s a slight, but not unpleasant, warehouse funk on the nose, followed by honey and orange marmalade notes. The palate is initially hot and full of cloves, but it develops into a generous finish with cinnamon and toffee notes reminiscent of a much older whiskey. Reviewed: Year 17, Batch 2. A- / $90 (375ml)

reservoirdistillery.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2017

This year’s Whiskies of the World was shaping up beautifully, but a tragic tumble down the stairs (PSA: Don’t text and navigate staircases!) cut my evening very short. I had time to taste only a handful of spirits before leaving for treatment — shout-out to the crack ER team at Kaiser San Rafael! — but I did make it out with my tasting notes, at least.

I promise to make it up to you at WotW 2018. Until then, thoughts…

Scotch

Highland Park Fire Edition / A / drinking beautifully, light and supple, with lively floral overtones
Deanston 18 Years Old / A / a big surprise; bold and heavy with caramel, with shocking depth
Glengoyne Cask Strength / B+ / ample youth and cereal notes, with a light, sweet lemon finish
Compass Box Three Year Old Deluxe / B / nothing fancy, young and mushroomy; what’s the fuss about?
Glencadam 25 Years Old / B+ / quiet, with light vanilla and fruit notes; subtle
anCnoc 24 Years Old / A / chewy, loaded with raisins and cherry notes, plums on the back end

America

Low Gap Bavarian Wheat Whiskey Sauternes Finish / B+ / exotic, tropical fruit, dark toasted bread, and golden raisins
Low Gap 2013 Port Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / A- / chewy Port notes, with lots of heavy raisin and toasty oak notes; 4 years old now — no bottling decision made yet
Low Cap 2012 Cognac Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / B+ / hotter on the nose, with less barrel influence; needs more time; 5 years old now — to be bottled at age 8
High West Rendezvous Rye / A / always a standout; old rye with lots of apple and spice, classically structured
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 4.6 / A / mint and cherry notes, with some chocolate — a lovely rendition of the modern classic AMND

Japan

Fukano Whisky / B / single-distilled rice whisky; big cereal character surprises, slightly vegetal
Fukano Whisky Single Cask / B+ / a step up, with bolder apple and raisin, citrus oil notes
Ohishi Whisky Single Sherry Cask / A- / bold sherry  character with the lightness of a rice base; lovely combination

Review: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Hooker’s House Whiskey Experiments – Cohabitation 7/21, Epicenter, Wheat Whiskey, and Rye (2016)

Prohibition Spirits in Sonoma, California is the producer of Hooker’s House whiskey, a line which began with a bourbon and has exploded since then. Today we look at three new bottlings, plus take a fresh look at the company’s rye.

As always, Hooker’s House sources its product from MGP, but all expressions are finished in California, sometimes aggressively and for many years. Let’s dig in.

Hooker’s House Bourbon Cohabitation 7/21 – A solera-style blend of straight bourbon aged in American and French oak, with barrels ranging from 7 to 21 years old. Surprisingly, there’s lots of fruit here, both cherries and orange peel strong on a nose that otherwise offers a fair amount of toasty wood influence. Some mint emerges with a bit of time, as well. On the palate, things follow along as expected. The fruit remains impressive, particularly the cherry character that melds enticingly with notes of eucalyptus, more orange peel, and some cloves. The finish is fairly wood-heavy, a bit ashy at times, but nothing to get worked up about. Rather, it’s a reasonably gentle reminder of the hefty amount of time this bourbon (at least some of it) has spent in barrel, and a badge proving it has come through that ordeal for the better. 94 proof. A / $95

Hooker’s House Epicenter Magnitude 6.0 – This is bottled from high-rye bourbon barrels that were aging in Hooker’s House warehouses during a 6.0 earthquake that Sonoma experienced in 2014. The epicenter of the quake was just three miles away. “Micro-vibrated,” per the label, the whiskey experience 500 aftershocks in the months that followed. No age statement is offered, but the nose indicates mid-range maturity with lingering cereal notes and a significant wood profile. The palate surprises with a sugar bomb of a profile, taking your mind off of the lumberyard for a bit to showcase some tropical pineapple, peach, and brown sugar notes, though the finish is punchy with a resurgence of wood (which is enhanced by the whiskey’s racy 56% abv). I’m not sure what impact the earthquake and aftershocks truly had on this spirit, but I do know it could have stood a bit more time in barrel, tremors or no. 112 proof. B / $47

Hooker’s House Wheat Whiskey – A single barrel, 100% wheat whiskey, quite unusual in the market, but fitting for an avant garde producer like Prohibition. This bottling is youthful, offering loads of fresh cereal notes with a significant sweetness. There’s lumberyard here too, but it’s kept in check by a ton of grassy character, which comes across with the essence of fresh hay, with a touch of rosemary. The finish, much like the bulk of what’s come before it, is quite grainy and simplistic, but pleasant enough. 90 proof. / $33

Hooker’s House Rye (2016) – We’ve seen Hooker’s Rye before, on original release in 2013. As it was then, it remains a 95% rye that is finished in Zinfandel barrels, just like the older version. (The HH website mentions a 100% rye, but the bottle says otherwise.) As it did in 2013, this sounds like it’ll be a masterful mix of spice and sweet, but the balance between the two still isn’t quite right. The nose is lightly astringent and features heavy lumberyard notes with a strongly herbal, at times anise-like, influence. The body features a quick rush of raisiny sweetness before diving headlong back into heavy wood and dusky, earthy, herbal notes — think cloves, anise, and scorched grains. The back end offers a distant echo of raisiny sweetness, but it’s a long time coming. 94 proof. B / $45

prohibition-spirits.com

Review: Whiskeys of Cedar Ridge – Iowa Bourbon, Wheat, Rye, Malted Rye, Single Malt

cedar_ridge_rye_whiskey_bottle_large-rgb-large

As the first distillery in the state since Prohibition, Iowa’s Cedar Ridge makes everything from gin to rum to apple brandy. Today we look at five of the company’s whiskeys (it makes at least eight), which are all distilled on site (not sourced) but which are bottled without age statements. Cedar Ridge makes heavy use of Iowa-grown corn in its products, but not all are corn-based, and less is said about the sourcing of its other grains. (Though notably the company also makes wine, from estate-grown grapes.)

Without further ado, let’s dive into this selection of whiskeys.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey – A bourbon made with 75% corn, 14% rye, and 12% malted barley. Youthful on the nose, with a sharp granary and fresh corn character, it features notes of tobacco, barrel char, green pepper, and black pepper. The finish offers some caramel corn sweetness, smoky notes, and a vaguely vegetal encore. 80 proof. B- / $39

Cedar Ridge Wheat Whiskey – Made from 100% malted wheat — technically making this a single malt whiskey. Light in color and fragrant on the nose, this is a delightful spirit, gossamer thin but loaded with intense floral aromas. On the palate the grain is quite clear, but a moderate sweetness keeps things moving, leading to more notes of white flowers, honey, graham crackers, and just a hint of cinnamon. The finish is soothing and sweet enough to balance out the aromatics that come before. 80 proof. B+ / $40

Cedar Ridge Rye Whiskey – This is a “traditional” rye made with a 70% “toasted rye” mash and bottled overproof. Racy but also quite woody, its big clove and raw ginger notes lead to a rather sweet finish, with notes of cinnamon-heavy apple pie and ripe banana. The spicy notes are lingering as the finish fades, along with a rather pungent Madeira character. Interesting, flavor-forward stuff. 115.2 proof. B / $43

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey – An unusual whiskey made of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn, and 3% malted barley. The result is a gentler spin on rye (though this is just 43% abv if you’re comparing to the regular rye above), which takes that apple pie note and filters it through more supple notes of graham crackers, toasted marshmallow, coconut, and dried banana. Of all the whiskeys in this roundup, this one is the most refined and the most complex, a spirit that is clearly youthful and which still offers fresh granary notes up front, but which manages to round out its sharp and rough edges in style. 86 proof. A- / $40

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – This is a classic American single malt (malted barley) release, but with few of the expected fixins. The nose is moderately woody, studded with grain, and lightly spiced. On the palate, caramel makes a surprising impact, with overtones of evergreen and a heavy chocolate note. This cocoa character lingers on the finish, giving it a dessert-like character you rarely find in domestic single malts. Well done. 80 proof. B+ / $50

crwine.com

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old (2014)

Parker's Original Batch Bottle Shot

Last year Heaven Hill released the Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope, a 10 year old bourbon from which $20 of each bottle were donated to ALS research, a sober nod to Heaven Hill Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam, who was diagnosed with the disease two years ago. Promise of Hope ended up raising over $300,000 for ALS research (take that, ice bucket people!).

How do you follow that up? This year, Heaven Hill has decided not to release a Parker’s Heritage Collection bourbon at all.

What? Gotcha: The 2014 Parker’s Heritage Collection release is a Wheat Whiskey, technically not a bourbon at all. For this edition of the highly anticipated PHC, Heaven Hill is going back to basics. The bottles on offer are from the very first run of what would later become Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey — hence “Original Batch” in this expression — only this bottling is considerably older than Bernheim, at 13 years of age to be exact, aged on the top floors of Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse Y, and bottled at barrel strength. The mash is predominantly winter wheat, plus corn and malted barley to round things out. Oh, and this year, $5 from each bottle sold will go to ALS research.

On to the tasting…

The woody nose, studded with vanilla and gentle baking spices, could herald the beginning of any solid bourbon. As with all of the Parker’s Heritage releases, it’s blazing with alcohol, and it can handle substantial water to bring out its true spirit. With some time, this whiskey’s unique and sophisticated nature becomes clear. Silky caramel and honey notes ooze out of this whiskey. Hints of apple pie, a touch of red pepper, and a little gingerbread — veering into cinnamon roll territory at times — dominate the finish. On the whole it’s a gorgeous, refined, and incredibly drinkable whiskey — and despite its lack of any noticeable popcorn or cereal character, most drinkers will readily assume it’s a well-aged bourbon, even after a couple of glasses. (That’s not a complaint, mind you.)

Sadly I don’t have any stock Bernheim on hand to compare this whiskey to, but it’s clear it carries some of the Bernheim DNA while being at heart quite a different animal. That is also not a complaint. As usual, Heaven Hill has crafted another unexpected and unique whiskey that merits strong attention from both casual whiskey drinkers and collectors alike. Grab it now.

127.4 proof as reviewed (individual bottle proof may vary).

A / $90 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com

Review: Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley and 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskeys

masterson's trio

The folks at Masterson’s — made by California-based parent company 35 Maple Street — make what has already become a cult rye whiskey, Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye. Now the company is back with an even stranger pair of siblings: two well-aged whiskeys, one 100% wheat, one 100% barley.

Both are straight whiskeys made from 100% of their respective grains, sourced from Canada and bottled in the U.S. How do they measure up against the masterful Masterson’s Rye? Thoughts follow.

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskey – Modest straw in color, the unique nose is immediately hard to place. What comes across are notes of butterscotch, mint, woodsy cedar closet, and a touch of mothballs (not in a bad way). The body is sweeter than expected, with more of a sense of balance than you might expect from the quirky nose. There’s more of a graham cracker character on the palate, with notes of pear, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s got quite a bit of bite — this is 100 proof stuff — but that masks the relative thinness of the body. This is a whiskey that is initially a little confusing because its flavors are so unexpected… but it grows on you quite a bit after you spend some time with it, which I recommend you do. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #3538. A- / $62

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley Whiskey – 100% unmalted barley, an extreme rarity in the whiskey world. Well, I disliked this at WhiskyFest and I still dislike it now that I’ve had more time to spend with it. The nose offers an immature, bready character, weighted down with hospital notes. On the body, more of the same — but intense. The stock is rough, the palate leaden with the essence of wood oils, mashed grains, chimney soot, and burnt toast. Something hints at intrigue on the finish — a bit of honey and vanilla, perhaps — but it’s not nearly enough to elevate this beyond a misfiring curiosity. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #6045. C / $62

35maplestreet.com

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