Review: Bushmills Red Bush Irish Whiskey

For its latest trick, Bushmills is taking things as old-school as they get. Bushmills Red Bush is a NAS variant of the classic Irish whiskey, one that is aged exclusively in first-fill, medium-charred, ex-bourbon casks. Bushmills Original (aka Original Bush) is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. If you’re familiar with Black Bush and are curious what the difference is, that whiskey is aged exclusively in sherry barrels.

Like all expressions of Bushmills, Red Bush is 100% malted barley and is triple distilled. The use of nothing but American bourbon casks, according to the distillery, is meant to position the whiskey as something that bourbon fans new to Irish will find approachable.

The results are pretty much in line with expectations. The nose finds lots of toasty grains, butterscotch, walnuts, and hints of buttered popcorn — many aromas similar to what you’d expect to see in a bourbon, but more mellowed by the softer barley mash. The palate largely follows suit, though there are some initial citrus notes here that come unexpectedly, leading the way to notes of well-browned toast and chewy blondies, along with some furniture polish. The finish is marred by a bit of rubbery band-aid character and a sharpness that is at odds with the soothing front half of the experience, but on the whole the whiskey is at least worthwhile as a departure from the usual.

80 proof.

B / $22 / bushmills.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2017

With so many whiskeys out there to try, from distillers big and small, whiskey festivals can easily be overwhelming. WhiskyLIVE offers a good balance of options, showcasing industry heavy-hitters along with up-and-coming American (and several international) craft distillers. It’s small in comparison to events like WhiskyFest, in both attendance and vendors, so your options are a little more limited. The size, however, does remove some of the annoyance that can come with wading through crowds of people, many of whom are just looking for their piece of the only bottle of Pappy at the Buffalo Trace table.

There was no Buffalo Trace table at this year’s WhiskyLIVE in Washington, DC. In its place, however, were many standout offerings from craft distillers, including Smooth Ambler, Westland, and Sonoma County Distilling Co., as well as a few surprisingly good bottles from regions of the world not known (yet) for their whiskey.

Brief reviews follow.

Scotch

Craigellachie 17 Years Old / B+ / buttery and chewy with honey and anise on the palate
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / B+ / light for an older sherried whisky; warm cereal notes with raisin and citrus on the palate
Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / well-balanced with dried fruit and a little dark chocolate on the palate
Aberfeldy 21 Years Old / B+ / malty with a good helping of vanilla
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B+ / spicy for a 16 year old with cocoa and raisin on the palate
Talisker 18 Years Old / A- / a perfectly balanced single malt; notes of smoke and ginger with a subtle spice

Irish

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey / B+ / ex-bourbon- and oloroso-finished; a little hot with layers of vanilla bean and dried fruit
Glendalough Single Malt Irish Whiskey 13 Years Old / A / a fantastic sipper; the ex-bourbon cask gives this one tons of caramel and toffee
Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old / A- / incredibly fruity with citrus and apple on the palate; a biscuit-like finish

American

Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon / B+ / thin but flavorful for such a young wheater with notes of buttered popcorn and caramel sauce; looking forward to its older brothers
Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey / B+ / good heat with notes of caramel corn and toasted marshmallow
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old / A / the latest gift shop release; thick and honeyed; full of brown sugar and cinnamon with a great chew
Breckenridge Distiller’s High Proof Blend / B+ / molasses on the nose; spicy and oak-forward with subtle baking spice notes
Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2016 / B+ / a little thin but well-balanced; sweet on the palate with dark red fruit, smoke, and faint sea salt
Westland Winter Release / A- / light but silky with good heat; smoked bacon, pepper, and red licorice on the palate
Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old / B+ / hot for 110 proof; caramel apple and clove on the palate with a somewhat short finish
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey / B+ / bright red fruit on the palate and a nice, warming rye spice
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye 10 Years Old / B+ / minimal rye spice and very little heat; oily and fruity but with a lingering medicinal note I can’t quite place
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Strength / B- / grassy with loads of menthol and a drying finish; the youth really shows at a higher proof
Bainbridge Battle Point Whiskey / B / cereal nose; very sweet and a little hot with notes of mint and fudge

International

Paul John Classic Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / A- / rich and flavorful; honeyed palate with great baking spice notes
Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / B+ / balanced and enjoyable; classic peat smoke and sweet cereal
Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky / B+ / noticeably young but full of light sherry and bright citrus flavors
Lark Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength / A- / big for such a youthful whiskey; thick and sweet with wonderful notes of ripe peach and dried fruit
Nomad Outland Whisky / B+ / the Pedro Ximenez finish is all over this one with raisin notes and a little smoke

On Toasts and Irish Whiskey for St. Patrick’s Day

Life gives us precious few moments for a proper toast anymore. St. Patrick’s Day remains as one of the few times when you stop and hold a room’s attention long enough to actually raise one. Or rather, what I wonder is often the case in my experience, enough time for your friends and family to at least pretend to be giving you their full attention.

There are very few rules to a good toast, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Brevity is your best friend. Three or four lines is ideal. It’s important to remember that wedding toasts are usually speeches, so don’t go by those rules. In the bar, each extra word has a direct negative correlation on how your toast will be received.

Tone is the second most important aspect of a great toast. Joyful sincerity is the target. The best toasts quickly reflect and uplift. It should be something everyone can latch onto. Short, simple, and earnest.

If you can’t come up with the words on your own, it’s fine to take a good quote and cannibalize it for your own purposes. Luckily for us, the Irish have a long history of being good with words.

It’s also important to note that the best accessory for a toast is a good rocks glass. While it feels great to raise a beer to the person doing the toasting, the temptation to use a pint glass as a microphone is strong — but whiskey is always best. While you can toast with any beverage, remember it is bad luck to toast with an empty glass — but it is the best luck to toast with whiskey, particularly Irish whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day.

Ready to make a memorable toast? This evening, try on some of these… each paired with the perfect glass of Irish whiskey.

Powers John’s Lane

He was not sure what idea he wished to express but the thought that a poetic moment had touched upon him took life within him like an infant home. He stepped onward bravely.

James Joyce said he sought to capture the entirety of Dublin in his writing so that if the city ever disappeared it could be rebuilt from his books. Single pot still whiskey and its mix of malted and unmalted barley is the one style unique to Ireland. If every other Irish whiskey were to disappear from the face of the earth, Powers John’s Lane, with its incredible mix of nuttiness, malted chocolate, and delicate floral touches would stand well as its last remaining representative. The fact that it also has an inspiring finish which seems to push the limits of time itself certainly doesn’t hurt.

Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Madeira Finish

The only way to atone for being occasionally a little overdressed is by being always, absolutely over-educated.

Oscar Wilde is the undisputed king of the bon mot. Pretty much everything he ever said and wrote can be easily turned into a wonderful quote. This one works beautifully with the Tyrconnell Madeira Finish. Irish whiskey tends to begin its life in such a light and delicate state that too much barrel trickery can easily overwhelm and overdress a beautiful drink. Thankfully those behind this whiskey are smart enough to know right where that edge of perfection is. This whiskey jumps right off the palate with some bright citrus and then softens to a nutty and sweet finish. It is impeccably balanced and also happens to be one of my all time favorites.

Teeling Single Grain

Better pass boldly into that other world, in full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

We return to the inspiration of James Joyce. For those ready to embrace and celebrate forward momentum, one whiskey that answers that call is this single grain offering from Teeling. While grain whiskey may be looked upon by stubborn single malt purists stuck in the world of 1980s advertising as the component of blended whiskey that ruins single malts, us open minded imbibers can rejoice. Teeling is one of a few companies (See also: Compass Box and Girvan) doing wonderful things with this overlooked style. Raise a glass to the impassioned and be thankful they keep giving you wonderful things to drink.

Green Spot

As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.

George Bernard Shaw was never one to shy away from an opinion. What used to be scarce and highly sought after outside of Ireland is thankfully now regularly available. Green Spot is another single pot still whiskey which is helping to carry the torch for that wonderful and particularly Irish style. It is rich and dense with notes of roasted caramel, chocolate, and a hint of citrus. It also doesn’t hurt that the whiskey comes with a lovely story of a family purchasing unaged distillate from Jameson and aging it in a varying range of sherry barrels from their wine import business. It’s a perfect whiskey to honor those who embrace the idea of always reaching for more.

Redbreast 12 Years Old

May the road always rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May you be in heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.

A personal combination of a couple of classic Irish toasts. In honor of the classics you can do no wrong with the Redbreast 12 year old. A delicate mix of tropical fruit, vanilla, and cinnamon, this Irish whiskey is often the first one many people see as truly special. It’s a classic for a reason and a perfect companion for a classic toast. If it’s available, do yourself a favor and spend the extra money on the cask strength version. It’s one of the best whiskeys on the market.

So there you have it.  Embrace the toast and make the most of it. If all else fails just raise your glass, thank your friends and family for being there, and wish them all the best in the future. Just remember to end it all with a hearty sláinte.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2017

WhiskyFest remains one of the best ways to meet other spirits enthusiasts, hear from some of the industry’s biggest names, and of course try a wide variety of whisk(e)y, including many hard-to-find and expensive offerings. The VIP ticket, which provides an additional hour of sampling, is particularly useful for discovering the true rarities, as most exhibitors showcase a special bottle (sometimes literally just one) only for that hour. Although celebrating its 20th year in 2017, this was only the second time the event has been held in my backyard of Washington, DC. As with years past, I discovered some real gems, sampled heavily, and stopped being able to really taste anything after about 8 o’clock. Notes on everything before that are below.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2017

Scotch

AnCnoc Highland Single Malt Vintage 2001 / B / a golden, creamy whiskey with some pleasant stone fruit notes
Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 / A / a real standout this year; sugar cookie nose with layers of dried fruit and baking spice notes; honeyed with a long finish
Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / the Oloroso finish shines at cask strength along with hints of gingerbread and a syrupy sweetness
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A / incredibly balanced and sultry; sweet smoke nose and a palate full of iodine and sugary oak
Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza / B / sweet and floral with coconut on the palate; a bit thin
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky / B+ / bolder than expected and almost too sweet, but wonderfully smoky with faint dark fruit notes on the finish
Ardbeg Kelpie Committee Release / A / matured in virgin oak from the Black Sea region; the palate is chocked full of sweet, oriental spices in addition to the honeyed brine and peat smoke of traditional Ardbeg
Ardbeg Kildalton / A- / a mix of sherry and bourbon casks; soft on the nose and gentle on the palate with a good balance of vanilla sweetness and raisin notes
Craigellachie 23 Years Old / B+ / the oldest Craigellachie in the range described as “meaty,” but I was getting more fruit and herbal notes on the palate
Alexander Murray & Co. The Glenrothes 22 Years Old / B- / honey sweet with minimal complexity; some anise and spice on the finish
Balblair 1983 / A / tons of caramel on the nose with a rich bourbon-inspired palate, cinnamon biscuit and semi-sweet chocolate developing into a slightly smoky, brown sugar finish

American

William Larue Weller / A- / cinnamon sugar nose with a syrupy palate that leaves a fantastic menthol and cinnamon RedHot flavor in the roof of the mouth
George T. Stagg / A- / hot brown sugar under loads of alcohol (72%!) but developing into chocolate and pipe tobacco
Blood Oath Pact No. 3 / A / rich caramel and dark fruit nose with a vanilla custard and berry palate, slightly drying on a long finish
Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey / B+ / sweet with subtle rye spice on the nose, dark fruit and a little dill on the palate; good balance of the sherry and rye
Yellowstone Limited Edition 101 Proof / A- / great oak nose and subtle red fruit notes layered with toffee and rye spice
Elijah Craig 23 Year / B+ / caramel and oak nose with a palate dominated by cinnamon and drying tannins
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition / B / more fruit on the palate than the standard small batch but lacking the complexity and body of previous editions
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Rye / B- / black tea and caramel nose but the palate seems unbalanced; clove and rye spice overpower the dark fruit in the wine cask
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Bourbon / B+ / floral nose with vanilla; baking spice notes integrate well with the wine cask, leaving a lingering raisin quality on the finish
Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength / A- / a great craft, cask strength rye; rich honey and vanilla on the nose with a creamy texture showcasing more of the same on the palate along with a warming rye spice
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades / B+ / a complex nose, chewy body, but the palate falls flat with too much menthol and candy corn
FEW Spirits Bourbon (Delilah’s 23rd Anniversary Bottling) / B / a touch of grain and shoe polish on the nose, tart cherry notes on the palate fading to cinnamon; interesting but not exactly an easy sipper

Irish

The Quiet Man Traditional / B+ / light on the nose with a buttery palate showcasing simple but enjoyable vanilla and faint citrus notes
The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old / A- / toasted cereal nose with honeysuckle; a luscious palate that is also soft and light with vanilla, fresh ground cinnamon, and nutmeg

Review: Barr an Uisce Wicklow and 1803 Irish Whiskey

God bless the Irish for unleashing a whiskey brand called “Barr an Uisce” on the unsuspecting world stage. The lessons of Wyborowa Vodka have already been forgotten.

Barr an Uisce (translation: “under the water”) produces two whiskeys, a grain/malt blend and a single malt with a 10 year old age statement. Launched in 2016, these are (clearly) sourced whiskeys, of unknown provenance.

Barr an Uisce Wicklow Rare Small Batch Blended Irish Whiskey – This is a blend of 80% grain whiskey and 20% 10 year old malt whiskey. It is further matured in first-fill bourbon barrels for four years and finished for six months in Oloroso sherry casks. (Sherry finishing is rare with Irish, oloroso finishing is practically unheard of.) The nose is solid with notes driven by the sherry — orange peel, leather, and dried fruits — with a distinct nuttiness and plenty of floral aromatics backing it up. It’s quite a bit heavier than you expect from the typical Irish, right from the start. On the palate, the whiskey starts with modest notes of honey and vanilla, then filters them through barrel char, some green vegetables, and a slightly sulfured match-head note. The finish is more savory than typical, with a lingering forest floor character. It’s more complex than the typical Irish blend, and it all comes together a whiskey that merits some real consideration. 86 proof. A- / $50

Barr an Uisce 1803 Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old – This is simply the 10 year old single malt component of the Wicklow blend — just bourbon cask aging, with no finishing in sherry casks. With fewer elements at play, the whiskey is quite a bit simpler. On the nose, notes of baked apples, vanilla, and some wood oil notes. The palate is equally straightforward, offering a leathery, tannic character that eventually gives up a bit of apple fruit, gingerbread, and banana — but it’s all dialed back, held in check by a tannic skeleton and a surprisingly youthful grain-heavy funk. 92 proof. B / $73

barranuisce.com

Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old

Backfilling the database with a review of a much-loved classic from Ireland.

A classic pot-distilled whiskey made from malted and unmalted barley, this triple-distilled spirit is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks (mainly Oloroso), then blended together to create something that has a distinct and unique character in the world of Irish whiskey.

Redbreast 12 is an essential Irish bottling to explore and understand. The nose is nutty, citrusy, and spicy all at once, with significant hints of the underlying grain lying beneath the surface. On the tongue, Redbreast 12 immediately strikes you as a departure from the typical style of gossamer-thin Irish bottlings with its bold and rounded body, offering a power and creaminess that few Irish whiskies can (or, arguably, want to) muster. Here we find flavors of banana, coconut, and sweet marshmallow cream giving way to vanilla-dusted cinnamon toast, butterscotch, and dense nougat notes. It drinks like a deftly sweetened breakfast cereal, with light caramel and chocolate notes lingering on the lasting finish.

Redbreast is a whiskey that’s easy to enjoy and, again, essential to try if you really want to experience the true range that Irish whiskeys have to offer. Redbreast itself calls the 12 year old expression the “definitive expression of traditional Pot Still whiskey,” and, to be honest, it’s hard to debate that claim.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / irishdistillers.ie  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 6 Whiskeys From Mosswood Distillers

Berkeley, California-based Mosswood isn’t the first company to source whiskey and finish it before releasing, but it might be the most interesting one operating today.

All of the whiskeys reviewed here are finished, some in relatively traditional barrel types, some in extremely unusual ones. Note that with the exception of the Irish whiskey, all the other releases start with well-aged light whiskey, a seldom-seen style which is distilled to higher proof and sort of blurs the line between white whiskey and vodka when it comes off the still.

The first four whiskeys reviewed below are part of Mosswood’s standard lineup; the final two are members of the “rotating barrel” series, limited release whiskeys (both are single barrel bottlings) that will be significantly harder to come by.

All are 92 proof. No batch information is available.

Mosswood Distillers Sherry Barrel Aged Irish Whiskey – This is a four year old Irish whiskey finished for 7 months in Amontillado sherry casks. Intense, nutty sherry notes on the nose — raisiny, almost Port-like at times. On the palate, an ample hogo funk gives way to a distinctly rum-like character, the fruity raisin and wood notes combining to give the impression of molasses, dusted with notes of cloves and brown sugar. Very unusual. Fool your friends! B+ / $50

Mosswood Distillers Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – This is a seven year old light whiskey from Tennessee, finished in California Apple Brandy Barrels from Germain Robin (time unstated). What a delightful combination this is, starting with a rich and heady nose that offers hints of wood, fruit, and spices. On the palate, the apple brandy really punches up the fruit component of the whiskey, lending the caramel and vanilla in the core some hints of apple pie spice, particularly cinnamon. The finish is sweet and clean, but echoes barrel char late in the game. A- / $48

Mosswood Distillers Espresso Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – What is an espresso barrel? This is the same seven year old Tennessee light whiskey, finished in a barrel seasoned with Four Barrel Coffee Espresso Roast. The nose is hard to place, relatively whiskey-traditionalist but with notes of cloves and some dark chocolate. The palate is where the espresso notes start to show themselves much more clearly, melding with the spices to showoff notes of fresh berries, more bittersweet chocolate, and a lingering finish that is reminiscent of chai tea. Another perplexing combination that comes out more nuanced than expected. B+ / $48

Mosswood Distillers Sour Ale Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Tennessee light whiskey finished in sour ale barrels from Drake’s Brewing. It’s initially moderately “beery” on the nose, with notes of hops mingling with floral notes, brown sugar, and a hard-to-pin-down note of what comes across like grapefruit peel. On the palate, all of these things come together beautifully along with notes of baking spice and gingerbread, Mexican chocolate, and, finally, a lingering, floral-heavy hoppiness on the finish. While it never really connotes the sourness of the original ale, it nonetheless does wonders with the whiskey it has to work with, elevating the spirit with an infusion of flavors I didn’t know it could show off. Highly recommended. A / $50

And now for two limited edition whiskeys…

Mosswood Distillers Umeshu Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – These appear to have the same Tennessee whiskey base, it’s the finishing that’s off the wall. Umeshu is a tart Japanese plum wine, and Mosswood made its own, then put the umeshu in a barrel for one year. After that, the umeshu was removed and the whiskey was finished in that barrel for six months. Results: A nose that is very floral, almost perfumed, and particularly heady with alcohol despite being bottled at the same 46% abv as all the other whiskeys here. Those flowers give way to a body that is lightly tart and full of fruit — plum and otherwise — with added notes of fresh ginger, honey, red wine vinegar, and a finish that leaves notes of vanilla-heavy sugar cookies and milk chocolate on the tongue. While imperfectly balanced, the whiskey makes up for that with an exceptional uniqueness. B+ / $49

Mosswood Distillers Nocino Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Nocino is a walnut liqueur, and of course Mosswood makes its own; here a nine year old light whiskey goes into the emptied nocino barrel for about six months. The nose is savory, nutty, and chocolatey all at once — with encroaching aromas of overripe fruit building as it goes — but once you sip it the sweetness really takes hold. Cocoa powder, candied walnuts, and peppermint all give it an essential, wintry flavor, while a finish of maraschino cherries plus lightly bitter, slightly salty nuts remind one of that walnut liqueur. Beautiful stuff. A- / $49

drinkmosswood.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

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