Tasting: Late 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

What’s new from MashBox? The last couple of packages we’ve received include these samples. (We also received duplicates of the Black Button products below and Black Button’s Bourbon Cream.)

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Spirit distilled from grain distilled and flavored with herbs. Somewhere in the vein of an aquavit, the nose is lightly licorice-inflected, showing evergreen and mixed herbs atop a base of vanilla and caramel. The palate is on the bitter side, again heavy with herbs and a sizable amount of licorice, with a sharp finish of orange peel and dusky cloves. Intriguing as a sipper, but not exactly a versatile spirit. 90 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Citrus Forward Gin – There’s ample citrus on the nose as promised, but it primarily takes the form of dried orange peel and a touch of grapefruit. Some floral aromas can also be found here — rose petals and some potpourri. The palate is a bit on the rustic side, a grainy character muscling aside the more delicate elements, though there’s a sizable amount of that citrus peel on the finish, which is touched with black pepper and grains of paradise. 84 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Four Grain Bourbon – Made from 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye, and 11% malted barley. Aged at least 18 months in 30 gallon barrels. Young stuff, but it’s getting there. The nose is a mix of popcorn and sweet candy, some orange peel, and salted caramel. A touch of smoke and an herbal kick recalls aquavit. The palate is more straightforward, caramel corn, some vanilla, and a smarter of cloves on the back end. It needs more time in barrel to mellow out, but this isn’t a bad start. 84 proof. B

mashandgrape.com

Review: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

Rock Hill Farms is one of the sub-labels of Buffalo Trace/Sazerac, an upscale bottling in a fancy decanter that people really seem to love because it has a horse on the label.

Rock Hill Farms (bottled with no age statement or anything else by way of production data) is a rather typical expression of Buffalo Trace’s house style, a rye-heavy bourbon that’s well spiced from start to finish.

The nose features orange peel, oily furniture polish notes, and loads of nutty sherry (or sherried nuts?). A winey, Port-like character emerges with more time, studded with aromas of cloves, raisins, and dried cherries. On the palate, many of the same notes persevere, though those fruitier notes come with a slightly bitter edge, along with some more exotic notes of dried papaya, allspice, and candied walnuts.

All told it’s a fine example of bonded-style bourbon, though it may be an overly familiar one for hardcore bourbon enthusiasts.

100 proof.

A- / $49 / sazerac.com

Review: Jura 10 Years Old

Is it peated? Unpeated? Sherried? This new 10 year old single malt from Jura (located on the eponymous island next door to Islay) is all three. Here’s some info on this brand new expression:

Jura Whisky today announced the launch of Jura 10, an exceptional Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky and the first release in Jura’s new core line for the U.S.  Hailing from one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, this whisky marries peated and unpeated malt with a Sherry cask finish to create a spirit that is a long way from ordinary.

Jura 10 is handcrafted on the Isle of Jura, a rugged, elemental island nestled a few miles off the West Coast of Scotland.  Home to around 200 Islanders, one road, one pub and one distillery, Jura was once described by author George Orwell as the ‘most un-get-at-able’ place due to its remote location. Established in 1810, Jura whisky has been crafted on its island home for over two centuries.

“The launch of the new Jura 10 celebrates our heritage of whisky-making,” said Graham Logan, Jura Distillery Manager.  “The craft of producing great whisky has been at the heart of Jura’s close-knit community for hundreds of years and we look forward to sharing the long-standing traditions and unmistakable flavors of Jura 10’s island home with the world.”

While many distilleries create either peated or unpeated whiskies, Jura 10 marries together the best of both for a truly unique Island Single Malt that is subtly smoky with a sweet Sherry cask finish. It is matured for ten years in American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels with an aged Oloroso Sherry cask finish.

The results are surprisingly excellent.

On the nose, the whisky is light and fragrant, with notes of fresh flowers, gentle cinnamon and nutmeg notes, an undercurrent of fresh grains, and the slightest hint of smoke. Largely standard stuff, aromatically speaking, but it all comes together cleanly and invitingly.

The palate sees the florals bursting — geraniums, orange blossoms, and honeysuckle — before settling into a comfortably sweet groove of caramel and butterscotch, with a backbone of roasted barley. While light and almost playful in its construction — this is far from a brooding, or even a very “serious” single malt — the whisky finally sees its peated element coming to the foreground as the finish develops, though here it’s not a hoary puff of peat smoke but rather gentle hint of the campfire, adding a lightly roasty-toasty element to everything that’s come before.

Dangerously drinkable and more complicated than you’d expect, for 40 bucks (or less in some places) this is a huge win from Jura.

80 proof.

A- / $40 / jurawhisky.com

Review: Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2017)

Rare Breed has always been a unique bird in the Wild Turkey lineup, a small batch cask strength spirit that changes from year to year, and which — curiously enough — has been on the rise when it comes to proof.

Recently Rare Breed underwent a rebranding. Some details:

Wild Turkey has always been exceptionally proud of their award-winning Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon. One of the pioneers of small batch bourbon, Rare Breed is pure barrel proof whiskey, meaning no water is added to reduce the level of alcohol during the bottling process.

In recent years, Rare Breed has been around 112.8 proof but we’re excited to announce that this year’s breed is a little different.

Hitting shelves this spring, the latest Rare Breed expression coming out of the Wild Turkey distillery pours out of the barrel at 116.8 proof. It’s an unapologetic, bold spirit with tones of warm butter scotch and vanilla, and hints of fruit and spices.

And with a bold new proof, comes a bold new bottle (pictured above).

I was fortunate enough to try the 2017 Rare Breed — and compare it to the bottling we reviewed back in 2010 (a half-bottle, now about half full). Thoughts on the new release — and more detailed thoughts on the original as it now stands — follow.

The nose of the 2017 release is distinct with chocolate mint notes, baking spice, plenty of vanilla, and a bit of pepper. On the palate, it’s an awfully hot whiskey, which helps bring out more of the toasty wood notes alongside those almost candylike notes of sweetness. Water won’t hurt ya: It’s a big help in coaxing out notes of flambed banana, toasted marshmallow, and some coconut notes. The finish is a big one: Bursts of caramel sauce, milk chocolate, and a vanilla reprise.

The 2010 Rare Breed — at just 108.8 proof — comes across today as a much different experience, heavy on the nose with funkier notes of tar, menthol (not fresh mint), and tobacco. Though the palate is somewhat softer than the nose would suggest, it still hits the tongue as rustic, heavy with notes of roasted corn, dusky cloves, and eastern spice market notes. All told I like it considerably less, though, again, water helps temper the beast a bit, helping the minty notes come forward more clearly.

116.8 proof.

A- / $39 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Amrut Spectrum 004 Single Malt Whisky

In 2004, Amrut Distilleries, based in Bangalore, India, introduced the first single malt whisky made in India to the UK market. Since then, the distillery has released several expressions of single malt all over the world using Indian barley, as well as peated barley sourced from Scotland. Amrut bottles their whisky at a comparatively younger age than most Scottish or Irish distilleries (only 4-5 years old), but that doesn’t mean it tastes young. Because the whisky is aged at 3,000 feet up in the tropical conditions of southern India, maturation occurs at roughly three times the Scottish rate, giving Amrut a significant advantage in the industry.

While the distillery offers traditional single malt expressions, both peated and non-peated and at standard proof or cask strength, they have also experimented with many different barrel finishes. Perhaps none of these experiments has been as complex or as interesting as Amrut’s Spectrum. The goal of this whisky was to achieve the effects of multiple barrel influences simultaneously by constructing casks from four different types of barrels: American oak (with a standard level 3 char), toasted French oak, and two sherry casks (Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez). Amrut then took their original single malt, aged three years in ex-bourbon casks, and transferred it to these Spectrum casks for an undisclosed amount of time. The first run of Spectrum in 2016 actually used an additional Spanish oak as well, but the 2017 release (dubbed 004) dropped it because it reportedly didn’t add that much to the final product. Whether the product of four different casks or five, Amrut Spectrum is an interesting experiment that I’m surprised we haven’t already seen from the industry leaders in Scotland. So what comes out of this Frankenstein barrel, you might ask?

One word: magic.

On the nose, Amrut Spectrum is immediately bold and nuanced with notes of blackberry jam, clove, wet oak, and new shoe leather. It’s silky on the palate with a great balance of sweet and spice. It has a fantastic sherry backbone, with notes of black cherry, ripe prune, and a little campfire smoke, which you would expect with the Oloroso and PX influence, but this surprisingly doesn’t dominate the rest of the spirit. Several different oak tannins are apparent, but again, they’re expertly integrated. There’s also a great balance with the other barrel influences which impart a wide range of rich flavors: dark chocolate, hazelnut, cinnamon, and toffee, along with some citrus and overripe stone fruit. The finish is just long enough to keep you going back to the glass to coax out cracked black pepper underneath lingering coffee notes, plus a little menthol. I was excited to see how this whiskey might develop with a little water, but a few drops just dulled the initial complexity without adding much. This one is perfect at its original abv so sip it neat if you’re lucky enough to find a bottle.

100 proof.

1,800 bottles produced (600 for the U.S.).

A+ / $160 / amrutdistilleries.com

Review: Symposion Longmorn 1992

Symposion — the “House of Taste” — is a Sweden-based independent bottler of Scotch whisky and other spirits, with a particular eye on serving the Nordic market. I picked up this indie bottling of Speyside’s Longmorn — distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2012 at 20 years old after maturation in bourbon hogsheads — at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, duty free.

The nose is driven by the old bourbon cask — minimally woody, lots of cereal, and strong vanilla-chocolate overtones. The palate spices things up a bit, with some cinnamon and nutmeg, gentle florals, and light citrus notes, but again, even after 20 years in oak, the malt-forward backbone stands strong and unyielding, seemingly ready for another 10 years or more in the barrel. The finish is a touch hot, but not at all unpleasant, somehow still connoting youth despite numerical evidence to the contrary.

A curiosity that drinks younger than its age.

103.8 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #98 of 274.

B+ / $85 / symposionhot.com

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask Edition 2017

Laphroaig’s annual limited edition release — dubbed Cairdeas, Gaelic for “friendship” — has arrived, and this one keeps the production process a little more familiar than many of its previous bottlings. To wit:

Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask features different ages of Laphroaig matured for more than five years in first-fill bourbon casks, then laid to rest for a second time in smaller quarter casks. Following six months of maturation, the liquid from 177 of the casks was bottled at Cask Strength — no color added, no chilling and a simple barrier filtration.

As Cairdeas releases go, this one is, in some sense, closer to mainline Laphroaig than nearly all of them, offering a heavily smoky nose with overtones of barbecued meat, black pepper, and bacon. The racy palate finds some sweetness to share, a vanilla- and sugar cookie-heavy encounter that melds, somewhat unevenly, with the smokier notes, leaving behind a finish that bends slightly in the direction of citrus. It’s a very bold whisky, stuffed to the gills with flavor, not shy at all about bending your palate to its will.

How does it compare to rack Quarter Cask, you ask? Well, the standard Quarter Cask is by comparison a much gentler expression that drinks beautifully and approachably, even at 96 proof. There’s a little less of everything on this bottling — less sweetness, and less smoke, too — particularly on the finish, where that citrus character, while present, just doesn’t make as significant of an impression.

Water surprisingly doesn’t temper Cairdeas Quarter Cask all that much — its flavors continuing to explode like pop rocks on the palate, almost overwhelmingly. To be honest, it’s a bit much, tossing restraint out the window in favor of pushing the peat pedal to the metal. Ultimately it’s fun as a novelty, but frankly the greater nuance of standard Quarter Cask is more to my liking.

114.4 proof.

B+ / $80 / laphroaig.com

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