Review: Virginia Distillery Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

Virginia Distillery — which takes authentic single malt from Scotland and finishes it in unique barrels in Virginia — is back with another release, and like its inaugural release, this one finished in Port wine barrels. (Again, note that this expression differs from that first release and carries a different label.) The first Virginia release to carry a batch label (this one’s #3), the malt is finished in Port barrels from King Family Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, and Virginia Wineworks, for 12 to 26 months depending on the particular barrel.

The deep amber color is enticing, leading into a nose that is salty, a bit sweaty even, with hints of seaweed, roasted grains, and banana bread. The nose is a bit floral at times, much like Virginia’s Cider Barrel Matured release, though there’s no real hint of the raisiny Port notes from the finishing barrel.

There’s more evidence of the Port barrel on the palate, but even here it’s quite restrained, allowing more toasty cereal notes, vanilla-heavy barrel char, citrus peel, and hints of iodine to show themselves more fully. The Port influence becomes clearer as the finish approaches, though it takes on a chocolate character primarily, along with some hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. All told, it does bear significant resemblance to the original Virginia bottling, though here everything seems less well-realized, less mature, and generally a bit undercooked. While it’s still got plenty to recommend it, it simply lacks the magic of some of Virginia’s other releases.

92 proof.

B / $58 / vadistillery.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2017

A new release of Michter’s top-shelf 10 year old single barrel bourbon is here, approved for release by new Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann, who has taken over for Willie Pratt. Same story as always: This is sourced bourbon (from whom, Michter’s doesn’t say), but it is bottled at a full 10 years old, which isn’t something you see too much of these days.

Michter’s 10 year old single barrel is always a whiskey with a lot going on (and plenty to recommend it), and Heilmann has not missed any strides en route to this release. The nose is relatively restrained, offering modest notes of cinnamon red hots and ripe banana, atop a somewhat gentle vanilla/caramel core. The palate is spicier — is there more rye in the bill or is it just me? — with fresh ginger and mint, more of those red hots, and some smoldering, burnt sugar notes that linger for a while. The finish is a bit crunchy with barrel char and a hint of flamed orange peel, but also a touch gummy on the fade-out, sticking a bit uncomfortably to the cheeks.

While the 2015 release is marginally better, this 2017 expression is plenty enjoyable on its own terms.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #17B302.

A- / $170 / michters.com

Review: Mulholland Distilling Vodka, Gin, and American Whiskey

Mulholland Distilling is a new operation that bills itself as “The Spirit of L.A.,” though nothing is actually originated in Los Angeles — the white spirits are distilled on contract in Missouri, then proofed down in Downey, California, which is indeed part of Los Angeles County. The whiskey is from Indiana (presumably MGP), with Califorinia water added. In a nutshell, these are contract spirits.

Mulholland at least has some celebrity cred behind it, in the form of Tarantino regular Walton Goggins, the gangly, wide-mouthed star of The Hateful Eight and other flicks. Sure, he doesn’t personally distill the three products reviewed below, but hey, neither does Mulholland.

Mulholland Distilling Vodka – Sweet and marshmallowy on the nose, this is a new world vodka with lots of vanilla, some gingerbread, and caramel corn notes on the palate. The finish sees lingering vanilla sugar notes, sweet and straightforward, though not entirely complex. This vodka is nothing special, but at least it’s priced appropriately. 86 proof. B- / $20

Mulholland Distilling New World Gin – They call it a New World gin, but describe it as a “blend of New World and Old World flavors.” Those flavors include juniper, coriander, angelica, plus French lavender, Japanese cucumber and Persian lime, though the full recipe is not disclosed. Distilled six times, from corn (presumably the same bulk spirit used in the vodka), it is bottled overproof, a smart decision. The gin has a very fruity nose — red berries plus tons of lime, touched with mint and cucumber. The palate is lightly sweet — though not to the degree that the vodka is — and juniper is such an afterthought that the spirit comes across more like a flavored vodka than a gin. Lightly floral but dominated by the lime and cucumber, the finish finds vanilla and a hint of black pepper that catches on the back of the throat. Not a bad companion with tonic. 96 proof. B / $27

Mulholland Distilling American Whiskey – Made from a mash of 94% corn, 4% rye, and 2% malted barley — but not a bourbon, for reasons unstated (likely age, in part). In keeping with the theme, the whiskey is sweet on the nose, with ample corn character, some cinnamon-dusted raisins, and a bit of prune. This is youthful whiskey, and on the palate, the caramel corn notes are quite prominent, lightly spiced with ginger and touched a bit with camphor. The finish is rustic but well-sweetened with maple syrup notes to avoid any medicinal quality from seeping through, approachable even at a full 100 proof. Uncomplicated, it could be worthwhile in cocktails. 100 proof (though the photo indicated 86 proof). B- / $30

mulhollanddistilling.com

Review: Chapter 7 Highland Single Malt Whisky 19 Years Old

Chapter 7 is a newish independent bottler (established only in 2014) that has released only a couple dozen indie Scotch releases to date. Many of these are distillery-labeled, but this one, among its latest — and newly available in the U.S. as an exclusive for us Yankees — is a 19 year old with unstated provenance other than that it hails from The Highlands of Scotland.

This is my first go-round with Chapter 7, and based on this release they sure seem to know what they’re doing. The nose of this cask strength release is loaded up with sherry-driven citrus, nutty almonds, heather, and nougat, sharp with alcohol as well as oily orange notes. The palate segues into some tropical character, featuring mango notes, ripe banana, and coconut, before building up notes of cocoa powder, sweet white wine, and a touch of floral character. The finish is long, soothing, and gentle, even at full strength, without water.

Deeply complex and loaded with layers and layers of flavor, this is a whisky to seek out — and to savor.

112.4 proof.

A / $180 / chapter7whisky.com

Review: Tamdhu Batch Strength #2 Single Malt Whisky

Tamdhu’s limited edition “batch strength” single malt whisky, an overproof bottling released in 2015, is back for a second round. As with the first batch, it is aged entirely in sherry casks and is bottled with no age statement. Abv is just 0.3 percent lower. Note that you can easily tell the different between Batch #1 and Batch #2 because the bottle label on the former is white, and on the latter it’s black.

Tasting notes are similar but not identical to the original batch. The nose is bold with banana, mango, almonds, and ample cereal character, with a hefty alcoholic kick. On the palate, you’ll find honeyed citrus first, followed by a slow fade into notes of roasted nuts, some red fruit, and stronger sherry notes. These citrus notes endure well into the finish, outweighing the cereal character that was more evident in batch #1. For what it’s worth, although the whiskies are virtually the same proof level, I find this one to be considerably more approachable at full cask strength, without water added.

117 proof.

B+ / $80 / tamdhu.com

Review: Bison Ridge Special Reserve Canadian Whisky 8 Years Old

Prestige Beverage Group (known for Kinky, Glen Moray, and more) is out with a new Canadian whisky, Bison Ridge. Bison Ridge comes in two expressions, a 3 year old blend and this Special Reserve, which carries an 8 year old age statement (with aging noted in American oak). Sourcing and mashbill information are not provided.

An eight year old whisky for 20 bucks? Hold your garters, because I’ve seen it as cheap as $14.99. That’s unheard of in today’s whiskonomy.

Sadly, the whisky itself is nothing all that special. The nose is particularly Canadian, with a nutty character plus a mix of baking spices leading the charge. Vanilla and maple syrup notes are also distinct, with some sulfur character lingering at the end. On the palate, the body is immediately a bit gummy in texture, with flavors of cinnamon toast, barrel char, vanilla-flavored candies, peppermint, and jasmine. It’s a mixed bag of expected and unexpected flavor notes, with a finish that comes across like eating vanilla frosting straight out of the tub. This kind of saccharine character of course isn’t unheard of for Canadian whiskies, although one would have thought that an 8 year old would have grown out of it by this point.

80 proof.

B / $20 / prestigebevgroup.com

Review: Ardbeg Kelpie

A kelpie is a mythical sea creature that Scots say can be found in the lochs and bays around the island. It’s also the name of Ardbeg’s latest annual, limited-edition Committee Release, which arrives in general distribution in the coming weeks.

As always, there’s a twist in store for Islay fans: Kelpie is the first expression of Ardbeg matured in Black Sea (Russian) oak casks, an extreme rarity for barrel usage. These Russian oak casks are then married with traditional Ardbeg, which is aged in ex-bourbon barrels.

The smoky-sweet nose of Kelpie belies something unusual and non-traditional that is maddening hard to place. Ripe banana, nougat, and coconut find strange counterpoints in light notes of acetone, petrol, and oxidized white wine. The weird dichotomy continues into the palate, which kicks off with some traditional peatiness before diving headlong into a heavier petrol character that is somehow blended up with notes of sweet cream and Mexican vanilla. The finish showcases a wholly new flavor — coffee grounds — before letting the background radiation of peat smoke and barrel char linger for quite some time.

I’m typically a fan of Ardbeg when it goes “off script,” but Kelpie is so weird that it defies easy categorization and, unfortunately, unbridled enjoyment. While I appreciate how truly unique this whisky has turned out — and figure that different palates may find some of the more unusual flavors enchanting — the Russian oak has really done a number on the underlying malt, rendering it simply a bit too strange for me.

103.4 proof.

B- / $110 / ardbeg.com

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