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 

Review: Benromach 35 Years Old

Speyside-based Benromach’s 10 year old expression is a lively but entry-level whisky that’s clearly made with love thanks to owners Gordon & MacPhail, one of Scotch whisky’s most noteworthy independent bottlers. G&M acquired this property, built in 1898, only in 1993 and began producing whisky in 1998. That makes this 35 year old expression a bit of an anachronism; this is stock from an old barrel that came along with the distillery purchase and is only now seeing release.

Matured entirely in first-fill sherry casks, this is a vastly different experience than modern Benromach, which focuses heavily on granary notes tinged with peat. In the 35 year old we find intense, almost overwhelming sherry notes kicking things off on the nose — ample flamed citrus peel galore but also oiled leather, some freshly-mown grass, and a hint of green banana. The palate is rich and fruity, offering notes of fresh tangerine and blood orange, backed up with ample notes of clove-and-cinnamon-heavy baking spices, gingerbread, raisin/prune, walnuts, and a bit of furniture polish creeping on the back end

The finish is spicy, racy, and alive with flavor, providing a callback to the nuttier elements that come to the fore earlier in the experience, ending on a note of coconut and nougat. All told, this is a stellar whisky that, I would be remiss not to mention, you will have to pay handsomely to experience.

86 proof.

A / $700 / benromach.com

Review: Blanton’s Gold Edition and Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel Bourbon

If you’re a bourbon drinker like me, you’ve gotten used to Buffalo Trace never making enough of the whiskeys you love like their namesake brand or the absurdly rare Pappy Van Winkle and Antique Collection offerings that tease us each fall. Blanton’s Single Barrel, another quality Buffalo Trace product, is also increasingly harder to find these days.

You may not have even known that there are higher proof versions of this bourbon that are distributed only in international markets. That’s not entirely Buffalo Trace’s fault because Age International (former owner of Buffalo Trace Distillery) still owns the Blanton’s brand. Buffalo Trace just does all the work distilling the delicious juice, aging it exclusively in Warehouse H, and bottling it in the iconic dimpled bottle.

Here’s a look at two of those expressions.

Blanton’s Gold Edition – This bourbon is unexpectedly gentle on the nose with aromas of cinnamon and ripe peach. The palate is wonderfully rich and honeyed with layers of vanilla and toffee. The heat builds gradually; it’s almost nonexistent at first and then cascades into a long and slightly drying finish with hints of black tea. For only 5% higher alcohol, the results are surprising. This is far better than Blanton’s Original in almost every way. This bottling was dumped July 16, 2016 from Barrel #1265, Rick #6. 103 proof. A / $65

Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel – On the nose, you know right away this is a barrel strength bourbon. Out from under the alcohol emerge brown sugar and sweet orange marmalade notes. The palate is bold and chewy. It’s full of butterscotch and hints of oak, more of which are coaxed from the glass with a little water. The finish is drying but complemented by subtle flavors of black pepper and dried apricot. This one also edges Blanton’s Original and probably even competes with some of the higher proof Antique Collection offerings. Still, the heat never really lets up, suffocating a few flavors and spoiling some of the complexity. This bottling was dumped January 10, 2014 from Barrel #194, Rick #51. 130.9 proof. A- / $85

blantonsbourbon.com

Review: Boondocks American Whiskey and Cask Strength Whiskey

 

Boondocks is the brainchild of Whisky Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dave Scheurich, a veteran of the business who’s launching his own little project. It’s rather unique, so follow closely.

Boondocks American Whiskey is made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, but it’s not bourbon. Distilled to a higher proof than bourbon allows, it doesn’t qualify for the legal term. Technically it is light whiskey (I believe, as details are scarce), aged for 11 years in refilled American oak barrels (another bourbon no-no). It’s available in two versions, a 95 proof bottling and a 127 proof cask strength whiskey. Additional, limited edition expressions will be coming soon.

We tasted both of the launch products. Thoughts follow.

Boondocks American Whiskey – As is common with light whiskeys, Boondocks is quite sweet, heavy on the honey and influenced by notes of caramel corn, candied almonds, and — particularly on the nose — a molasses/treacle character. The body is quite light and lively, drinking with just a hint of cinnamon as indication that it’s a bit overproof. Give it some time in glass and some notes of peaches in syrup emerge. The finish is clean and a bit short, but overall quite innocuous. 95 proof. B / $40

Boondocks Cask Strength American Whiskey – At higher proof, the nose features more wood and leather, and would be more mistakable for a bourbon. The honey and nutty notes are stronger, as is a clearer element of cinnamon and (again, particularly on the nose) tobacco leaf. The palate sees more of that molasses, a slightly tannic grip in the form of cloves and a bit of petrol, with less sweetness overall, particularly on the slightly curt finish. 127 proof. B / $58

boondockswhiskey.com

Review: Old Ezra Kentucky Straight Bourbon 7 Years Old

Luxco has been behind several popular bourbon releases recently, including Blood Oath (Pact No. 1 and Pact No. 2) and Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Years Old. Luxco’s lesser-known Ezra Brooks line, of which Old Ezra is a part, is also quality bourbon for the price point, but before I get into what’s inside the bottle a note about some interesting things on the outside.

Old Ezra has no shortage of graffiti on its label, from “Rare Old Sippin’ Whiskey” to the unnecessary “Genuine Sour Mash” (almost all bourbons are sour mash). The presence of those statements, along with the square bottle and the number seven (denoting its age), are enduring reminders of attempts by the brand’s founders to cut into Jack Daniel’s market share in the 1960s. However, the statement “Charcoal Mellowed” tucked onto the side of the label deserves some clarification.

The kind of “charcoal mellowing” in Old Ezra is actually just a component of chill filtration which involves the use of a small amount of activated charcoal to filter the aged whiskey before bottling. It’s a process typical of most bourbon. In fact, the former Old Ezra label (only recently replaced) advertised “Charcoal Filtered” instead. This is not the same as the famous Lincoln County Process of charcoal filtering used by Jack Daniel’s (or George Dickel, for that matter), which involves filtering new make whiskey through large amounts of sugar maple charcoal before aging.

Even more interesting, the newest packaging for Old Ezra includes the statement: “Distilled and Aged in Kentucky by Ezra Brooks Distilling.” Luxco, however, only began building its first distillery last year in Bardstown, Kentucky. So how are they producing seven-year-old bourbon? With help from renowned whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery, I discovered that, like Ezra Brooks Black Label, Old Ezra is produced by a Kentucky distiller (most likely Heaven Hill Distilleries) which has registered a “doing business as” (DBA) with Ezra Brooks, making the statement technically true, if somewhat misleading.

The bourbon inside the Old Ezra bottle is actually quite good and pleasantly straightforward. The nose is soft for 101 proof, full of sweet vanilla and oak with faint notes of cloves and black pepper. Light on the palate, it’s dominated by vanilla with layers of turbinado sugar and butterscotch. The finish is a medium length with notes of cinnamon red hots and a nice residual heat, which is the only real evidence of its higher proof.

For only a slight price increase, Old Ezra provides more complexity and depth of flavor than the other lower proof, lower shelf Ezra Brooks expression. It’s a very enjoyable, if still simple, sipping whiskey with the bonus of offering plenty of reading material on the label!

101 proof.

B+ / $22 / ezrabrooks.com

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]

Review: J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond Bourbon

It’s no secret that we now live in a world where a whiskey like Booker’s can almost double in price overnight. Thankfully, there are still some very good bourbons out there that don’t cost a whole lot of money. Referred to as “table bourbon,” these bottles are priced for frequent drinking (never more than $20 a bottle), are good enough to spare the mixer, and come from the same quality distilleries that turn out the increasingly more expensive bourbons we love. J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond is one such “table bourbon” worth seeking out.

This bourbon even comes with a little Kentucky history. It takes its name was a famed liquor wholesaler who, along with his half-brother George Garvin Brown, started in the later 1800s what would become Brown-Forman, makers of Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, and Jack Daniel’s. The last distillery to carry the J.T.S. Brown name is now Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The brand is owned and distilled today by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown.

J.T.S Brown Bottled in Bond is a no age statement (NAS) whiskey, but it’s at least four years old by law. The youth is evident in its light gold color, but even more so on the nose where candy corn dominates all other aromas. The corn is there too on the palate, but thankfully not as much as the first whiff would suggest. The body is somewhat thin, but it carries cinnamon and a little toffee, plenty of gentle spice, and just the right amount of heat. On the finish, the cinnamon gives way to fading dark cherry notes.

A non-bonded version of J.T.S. Brown is also available (at 80 proof) for even less money, but a few extra dollars buys an exponentially better product with more flavor than whiskeys twice the price. It’s not widely distributed, unfortunately, but put this one on your shopping list if you’re ever in Kentucky.

100 proof.

A- / $15 / heavenhill.com

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