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: Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finished

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville is doubling down on barrel finishing. This rendition of Belle Meade Bourbon (sourced form MGP) starts with a mash that includes 30% rye. The stock used is a blend of whiskeys drawn from barrels aged 6 to 9 years – but we’re not ready for bottling just yet. At this point, the bourbon is rested in 12 year old Cognac casks for an unstated amount of time before bottling.

The nose is dense and rich, showcasing lots of baking spice, some black pepper, and well-integrated wood notes. On the tongue, an initial rush of heat settles down quickly, revealing notes of orange marmalade, vanilla and toffee, spiced nuts, and lots of cloves. The high rye component makes as big of an impact as the Cognac barrel, though the finish is influenced heavily by wood and citrus.

Fun stuff.

90.4 proof.

A- / $75 / greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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Luxco, the makers of Blood Oath, Rebel Yell, and Ezra Brooks, recently repackaged and rebranded its David Nicholson 1843 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a bourbon with which I had been previously unfamiliar. As part of that rebrand, the company is launching a new expression: David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

The bourbon is made with a higher-rye mashbill, is “extra aged,” and is bottled at a full 50% abv, but otherwise little production information (and no formal age statement) is offered.

Let’s taste it anyway!

There’s nice color here, but the nose is light and quite gentle, which is surprising for a 100 proof whiskey. Notes of vanilla and caramel are present as expected, alongside some notes of white pepper and a touch of forest floor. It’s not altogether aromatically thrilling from the start, but the palate ups the ante by lacing its toffee, butterscotch, and ginger spice notes with a stronger grind of black pepper, which adds some nuance while at the same time causing the whiskey to scratch a bit at the back of the throat. Otherwise the finish is relatively drying and modest, fading out with echoes of that aromatic earthiness and a bit of gumminess that clings to the roof of the mouth.

 

100 proof.

B / $40 / davidnicholsonbourbon.com

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Understanding Different Types of Whiskey

Overwhelmed by the complex world of wines, beers, and spirits? You’re not alone. Today let’s look at one of the most common questions that we receive day in and day out: What the heck is the difference between all these different types of whiskeys? Today’s the day to find out. Join me in a brief tour of the whiskeys of the world, a primer of all things whisk(e)y.

The most noteworthy style of whiskey, or in this case spelled whisky, is Scotch. Scotch whisky comes from Scotland, and we could (and probably will) write another whole article on the complexities of the terroir of the country. Scotch is divided into two main styles: Single malt Scotch (like Macallan) is made entirely from malted barley and is produced at a single distillery, whereas blended Scotch (like Johnnie Walker) is made from a blend of malted barley and various others grains, which are distilled separately, sourced from all over the country. The taste of single malt Scotch can vary widely depending on the region in which it is made: Scotch from the briny Islay region can take on a smoky, iodine quality, akin to a campfire by the ocean, while Scotch from Speyside can be more sweet and sumptuous, with notes of vanilla, apricot, and honeysuckle.

Bourbon is American whiskey that is frequently produced in Kentucky, but which can legally be made anywhere in the U.S. The name bourbon has a strict legal definition, which dictates, among other rules, a base grain mixture of at least 51% corn and the use of unused, charred-oak barrels for aging. These requirements give bourbon a characteristic sweetness compared to Scotch, with notes of vanilla-covered cherry, woody oak, and butterscotch. Of course, just like Scotch, the taste of bourbon can vary quite a lot; compare sweet, vanilla-laden Maker’s Mark with burly, brambly Hudson Baby Bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a bourbon as well, though it doesn’t say so on the bottle, preferring the term Tennessee Whiskey to give it a local identity.

The names of most other whiskeys aren’t as opaque as Scotch and bourbon. Canadian Whiskies like Pendleton are blends that usually contain more rye than bourbon does, giving them in general a spicier taste; think cloves, toffee, and chocolate. Irish Whiskey is, typically, distilled more times than a Scotch is, which removes more impurities and giving the whiskey its characteristic lightness and fruitiness: Green Spot is warming with a taste of honey and chocolate. Most Irish whiskeys are blends, though there are quite a few single malt Irish whiskeys out there. Japanese Whiskies can be as varied as Scotch; Toki is light and delicate, with notes of white flowers and melon, while Hakushu is bolder and smoky, like a good Islay Scotch. Some Japanese distillers also use unusual grains in their blends: Kikori uses rice to make its whisky.

At least one category of whiskey is known based not on the region in which it is made but the primary grain used to make it: Rye. This booming category of whiskey is made from 51% rye but can be wildly different from a stylistic perspective. A Kentucky-made rye like Rittenhouse will be pungent with baking spices, which a Canadian rye like Crown Royal Northern Harvest might find a more apple-heavy fruit note. Note that a whiskey, like the above Crown Royal example, can be both a Canadian Whisky and a rye, simultaneously.

Hopefully this brief overview of whiskey gives you a better idea of the various styles of spirits out there. There are plenty of other whiskey manufacturers in the world of course, in Australia, Germany, India, and elsewhere, but this should give you a solid base from which to build, and to start exploring the wonderful world of whiskey.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon

abraham-bowman-gingerbread-cocoa-finish-large

Nearly three years ago our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman released a unique finished version of their whiskey, which included 12 months of finishing in gingerbread stout barrels sourced from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Now Bowman is adding a new version that complicates things much further. Allow them to explain directly:

Marrying two Virginia gems, this limited edition bourbon was aged in a special batch of barrels used by A. Smith Bowman Distillery and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Virginia.  The barrels originated at A. Smith Bowman in 2010, where they aged bourbon for four and a half years.  The barrels were emptied and sent to Hardywood Park Brewery to be filled with two special beers: six barrels aged Gingerbread Stout and four barrels aged Foolery Imperial Milk Stout.

Both of the beers aged inside these barrels for eight months before being emptied again and sent back to A. Smith Bowman in December 2015. They were then finally filled for the last time with bourbon that had aged for nine years inside of new charred white oak barrels. This bourbon was distilled in December of 2006 and was allowed to finish for 17 months inside these special barrels. Master Distiller Brian Prewitt determined through periodic tasting evaluations that the rich caramel and oak flavors of the bourbon had intermingled with the spice notes of gingerbread and hints of cocoa in an extraordinary way.

He’s not wrong. This bourbon has a powerful cocoa experience that really can’t be missed (and yeah, some gingerbread too). The nose is redolent with dark chocolate and spice — ginger, but also cinnamon and cloves and perhaps some cardamom in the mix, too. All of this is laid atop a classic bourbon profile of vanilla and heavy lumberyard notes, making for quite a complex aroma.

On the palate, the bourbon plays with the same set of flavors, but in a somewhat different configuration. Those vanilla and caramel notes are up-front and unavoidable on the tongue, and only after this initial straight-bourbon rush do the chocolate and gingerbread notes emerge. But emerge they do, hitting the palate with force and lingering for quite some time. As the finish arrives, it’s bitter dark chocolate notes that hang around the longest, making for a truly unique but also quite compelling experience. Snap up a bottle if you happen to encounter one. It’s a novelty, yes, but a truly worthwhile one.

90 proof.

A- / $46 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish Bourbon

oldrumcaskfinish

Jefferson’s latest release is this special edition, which takes standard, fully-matured Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon and finishes it in Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum barrels.

The barrels themselves have a compelling history — they held bourbon for four years, then held Gosling’s for 16 years, then were sent back to Jefferson’s for this experiment, in which he dumped the eight-year old, straight Kentucky whiskey. The bourbon aged for 15 additional months in these barrels before bottling.

So, fun stuff from the get-go, and sure enough it’s a knockout of a whiskey.

The nose is loaded with molasses notes, brown sugar, tons of baking spice, some coconut husk, and only a smattering of wood. If I didn’t know any better, from the nose I’d probably have guessed this was a well-aged rum instead of a whiskey.

The palate belies the bourbonness of the spirit, melding caramel corn with a big injection of sweet caramel, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and layers of chocolate sauce — both sweet milk and bittersweet dark. The rush of sweetness isn’t overpowering, but rather fades easily into its lightly wooded, vanilla-focused finish.

This is one whiskey that’s hard to put down. I’d snap it up on sight before it’s all gone.

90.2 proof.

A / $80 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

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