Review: Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye

Ready for the absolutely craziest thing to come out of whiskeydom since Alberta Rye Dark Batch? Get ready for Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye!

The gist:

Like Basil Hayden’s flagship bourbon, Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye stands out from the crowd. Blending Kentucky straight rye whiskey and Canadian rye with a splash of California port, Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye is packed with harmoniously layered flavor, while maintaining the trademark spicy finish and smoothness of Basil Hayden’s Bourbon. At 80-proof, Dark Rye offers an unparalleled sipping experience and makes for the perfect base to any modern-day twist on a cocktail, including the Boulevardier.

This is a permanent addition to the Basil Hayden’s brand, not a one-off.

Well, let’s give this crazy concoction a try.

The nose is immediately exotic — if not bizarre. Distinctly like an Amontillado sherry, it has those old furniture polish, oxidized fruit, and candied walnut aromas that quickly come across as austere. An undercurrent of raisins and prunes adds more of a sweet note to the nose.

On the palate, the whiskey is downright kooky. Flavors of fresh figs, raisin, salted caramel, and cocoa nibs all mingle to create a syrupy concoction that winds its way toward notes of maple syrup (a dominating flavor), coffee, and more of that Amontillado character. The finish sees a bit of rye spice — mainly sweet and gingerbread-like — before fading into more of a simple brown sugar character.

All of those aromas and flavors sound may interesting on their own, but they don’t all go together cohesively, and what they are really lacking is much in the whiskey department. The classic notes of rye are largely lacking here, replaced by a surfeit of sugary sweetness and overblown fruit flavors. The maple note is particularly off-putting, and while I could see mixing a cocktail with this, on its own it’s a product that is simply too far gone into its own little world.

80 proof.

B- / $40 / basilhaydens.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – French Oak Cask Finished Rye

Woodford’s latest Distillery Series whiskey — the seventh in this burgeoning portfolio of experimental, one-off spirits — has arrived. French Oak Cask Finished Rye is an interesting one. Per Woodford:

The French Oak Cask Finished Rye completes a trilogy of rye offerings released this summer including Blended Rye and Toasted Oak Rye. Developed by Master Distiller Chris Morris, French Oak Cask Finished Rye is a unique batching of the rye mash distillate used in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Aged Cask Rye [released in 2011] that matured in French Oak barrels for three years. The French Oak barrels originally held Pinot Noir before they were seasoned with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. This combination produced a soft, fruit-forward rye with hints of baking spices.

As with the Toasted Oak Rye, this is a worthy experiment that works well — in fact, it’s probably the best of this trilogy.

On the nose, tons of rye-heavy spice, a hint of brandied cherries, a modest wood profile, and a gingerbread finish all come together to offer a cohesive, almost brazen aromatic profile. The body is a bit more savory than the nose would indicate, offering a burly amaro character up front that blends with cinnamon sticks, licorice root, and cloves. It’s almost overpowering at first, but a gentle sweetness forms on the palate as the finish comes along, a bit of brown sugar, more of those brandied cherries, and a hint of gingerbread cake. It’s a bit brooding, but surprisingly compelling — and perfect for the cooler months ahead.

Fun, unusual, and fantastic stuff. Pick up a bottle if you happen across one.

86.4 proof.

A / $46 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4

A Midwinter Nights Dram is High West’s excellent Rendezvous Rye, finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels, bottled non-chill filtered. We first reviewed this unique whiskey in 2014 and gave it high marks (review can be read here). We briefly reviewed last year’s release and gave it an A (review can be read here), but I think this year’s bottling might be even better.

In the glass, this whiskey is a bright copper color. The nose offers rich red cherry and strong spearmint notes. The palate presents lots of brandied cherry, coupled with cinnamon and candied ginger. The finish is quite long with its robust rye character fading to a final note of dark chocolate. This is a full bodied dram with lots going on, and the flavors blend beautifully.

98.6 proof.

A / $90 / highwest.com

A Visit to Copper Fox Distillery

While only an hour and a half outside of Washington, D.C., Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia seems worlds away from any city. Many new distilleries today are taking up shop in suburban business parks or urban warehouse spaces, which makes this location, in an old 1930s apple warehouse and cider mill at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, all the more unique. Rick Wasmund, the founder of Copper Fox, likes to point out that his distillery is still in the apple juice business, using applewood (along with cherrywood and, more recently, peachwood) to smoke the malted barley that goes into their whisky.

You’ll notice that’s whisky with a “y” only. Virginia is most definitely not in Scotland, but Rick learned the art of whisky-making on Islay studying under the legendary Jim McEwan at Bowmore Distillery. Copper Fox was also the first distillery in North America to install a malt floor and kiln since Prohibition, so if any American distiller has earned the right to drop the “e,” it’s probably Rick. It was his desire to understand the potential for fruitwood-smoked malt (vs. more traditional peat) that took Rick to Scotland. After returning stateside in 2000, Rick searched for the perfect location, recruited investors, and opened Copper Fox in 2005 (with only his mother and another partner) and set to work perfecting the malting process that has made him famous in the craft distilling and brewing community.

Our tour began in the malt house, where Copper Fox uses traditional floor maltings to germinate their grain, all of which is sourced from farms across Virginia. Next was a peak inside the malt kiln, an unassuming space behind a large chalkboard door that bears a list of nearly three dozen breweries from around the country brewing with Copper Fox malt. Inside, an old pot-bellied stove and Weber charcoal grill are used to dry and flavor batches of malted barley resting on the perforated floor above. Copper Fox uses a unique system of pot stills: one large pot still, a secondhand Vendome, feeds a smaller custom-designed all copper pot still with a curiously wide and squat reflux chamber. The tour ends with a look inside the barrelhouse, where all of Copper Fox’s whisky is aged in used cooperage, typically for under two years, with toasted fruitwood added — although how much and how often remain trade secrets. In keeping with the refreshingly quirky aesthetic of the distillery, a large painting of two cherubs hangs high on a wall in the barrelhouse, a nod to the angel’s share of spirit lost to evaporation.

After my informative and entertaining tour, I had my pick of drinking options and settings. In addition to their traditional tasting bar, Copper Fox just recently opened an on-site cocktail bar that has a riverside patio with great mountain views. While many distilleries have started offering cocktails, Copper Fox is raising the bar with homemade shrubs and even a line of custom bitters that will soon be for sale.

I saddled up to the tasting bar and sampled Copper Fox’s core range, as well as a couple of limited edition offerings only available at the distillery gift shop. Thoughts follow.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky – The flagship 100% malt product. This single malt really showcases the applewood and cherrywood smoke. It’s cereal-forward and earthy, typical of a younger single malt, but plentiful fruit notes round the edges nicely and give it a surprising balance. 96 proof.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (“Green Top”) – This is a distillery exclusive release of the standard single malt extra aged in an apple brandy barrel. The brandy really compliments the applewood smoke in the malt and sweetens the overall experience with spearmint and honey notes. 96 proof.

Copper Fox Rye Whisky – While the mashbill is a robust two-thirds rye, the one-third malted barley still contributes a lot to the flavor. There are great pepper and cinnamon notes on the palate, but the lingering fruit quality and subtle smokiness make this a truly unique rye. 90 proof.

Copper Fox Port Finished Rye Whisky (“Blue Top”) – Another bottling only available at the distillery, “Blue Top” takes the standard Copper Fox Rye and ages it in used port style wine casks from a local Virginia winery. The wine-finish amplifies the fruit component in the rye, ripening the cherry notes and producing a wonderfully syrupy mouthfeel. 90 proof.

Vir Gin – The only product in the current line-up that is not a whisky, this is nevertheless a single malt gin made from 100% malted barley with a special emphasis on anise hyssop. Other botanicals used in production include Mediterranean juniper and citrus, as well as seasonal offerings from the distillery’s garden, making each batch unique. My sample was full of licorice on the nose and palate with a rich, malty body and peppery finish. 90 proof.

copperfox.biz

How to Make the Perfect Sazerac Cocktail

So you’ve mastered mixing the manhattan, the old fashioned is old news, and you can recite the difference between a gin martini and a vodka martini in your sleep. And yet, that classic cocktail itch is still there. Well read on, because today we’re going to explore another simple, early cocktail, one that isn’t as well-known as the others. If you want to impress your whiskey cocktail-loving friends, try to mix up a Sazerac and see what they think.

The story of the Sazerac goes back to New Orleans in the 1830s, where apothecary Antoine Amédée Peychuad began providing Cognac toddies using a bitters of his own design. The toddies became such a local sensation that a bar called the Sazerac Coffee House began buying his bitters to use in their own cocktail, mixing Cognac with absinthe, bitters, and sugar to make the Sazerac, which is claimed to be the first-ever ‘branded’ cocktail (the old fashioned was around at the time, but was generally just referred to as a ‘cocktail’). Eventually, the Sazerac Coffee House simply bought the rights to Peychaud’s bitters entirely, and when an insect epidemic destroyed French vineyards used to make cognac, the heart of the drink was switched to rye whiskey. In a big blow for Sazerac lovers, absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, and for the next hundred years Sazeracs generally used an anise-flavored liquor called Herbsaint in its place, though in these enlightened days absinthe is freely available again. Now that you know the history, let’s gather our materials and see what we can do with NOLA’s historic (and official) drink.

The ingredients for a Sazerac might sound familiar if you make a lot of classic cocktails: a sugar cube or sugar syrup, 1.5 ounces of rye whiskey (bourbon if you’re a modernist; Cognac if you’re feeling really old school), a quarter ounce of Herbsaint or absinthe, three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, and a lemon peel for garish. The Sazerac company, no longer a meager bar but now an enormous multinational corporation most well-known for owning Buffalo Trace, of course recommends its own Sazerac brand rye for the job, which is a solid, spicy, and fairly inexpensive choice. We here at Drinkhacker are always fans of Utah-based rye wizards High West, or for a rounder drink you can try Old Grand-Dad’s rye-heavy bourbon. For bitters, there’s only one choice: the Sazerac was built around Peychaud’s bitters, and without it, it’s hardly a Sazerac at all. Peychaud’s is lighter and more floral than the more commonly-used Angostura bitters, and will highlight different aspects of the rye in the glass. The choice of absinthe isn’t quite as vital as the choice of rye, since as you’ll see you really use a very small amount of it, but Lucid is a perennial favorite in our Sazeracs. Just like with an old fashioned, sugar syrup works just as well as a sugar cube and requires much less work, but if you’re serving for guests and want to go through the whole ritual, muddling a sugar cube will add to the mystique.

Now that you have your materials, let’s start making the drink! First, pack an old fashioned glass with ice, and in a second glass mix the sugar with the bitters. If you’re using a sugar cube, pour the bitters on top of it before muddling; if you’re using syrup, just make sure it’s well-mixed with the bitters. Add the 1.5 ounces of whiskey to the glass with the sugar and bitters and stir well — don’t shake. Now that your first glass is sufficiently chilled, dump the ice and add the absinthe. You’re really just using the absinthe to coat the glass, swirl it around good and get it on as much of the inside surface as you can, and then discard the remainder. Finally, add the contents of the second glass to the old fashioned glass with the absinthe rinse. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel, and enjoy!

The Sazerac might sound a lot like an old fashioned, but the change in bitters and the addition of the absinthe both show that little things can have a big impact on our cocktails, in this case giving the drink a more complex, herbal character. It’s a unique treat for fans of classic cocktails, and is sure to impress at your next gathering. Try it out and let us know what you think in the comments, and as always, if there are things you’ve always wondered about in the world of alcohol but have been afraid to ask, send us an e-mail to [email protected]

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog: The Black Prince” Rye Whiskey 14 Years Old 2017

WhistlePig continues to push its offerings upmarket with annual, limited edition releases that are part of its Boss Hog series. 2017 sees the release of the fourth of these, “The Black Prince.” Now distilled by Indiana’s MGP instead of being sourced from Canada, as was the norm with prior releases of WhistlePig, the wine is finished at WhistlePig’s Vermont farms in Armagnac casks, seeing 14 total years of aging (the same amount of aging time as the 2016 Boss Hog release). (For what it’s worth, WhistlePig says this is the first rye whiskey to be finished in Armagnac barrels.)

Let’s give Boss Hog 2017, “The Black Prince,” the Drinkhacker treatment.

I’ve always admired WhistlePig’s bold flavors and balance, but this year’s Boss Hog has really gone off the script a bit. The dominating character — and this was evident on my first sampling at WhiskyFest — is wood, pure and simple. Big, burly, lumberyard notes that downright dominate everything. The nose is full of the stuff, both at cask strength and with water added — though adding some H2O is essential if you want to enjoy The Black Prince much at all.

The palate opens up — again, with water — to show some toffee notes, but smoky tobacco and tar quickly wash out the sweetness. Harsh and unforgiving at times, the body is rustic and aggressive, the overwhelming wood treatment almost brutalizing the palate. Whatever time this spent in Armagnac casks has had little impact on what lies beneath — though the finish, which finally percolates notes of raisins and some Eastern spices amidst the heavy scorched butterscotch notes, does at least nod in the direction of France.

The bottom line is that this whiskey — in stark contrast to previous Boss Hogs — has been ill-treated by its time in wood, and though the brandy finishing is a delightful idea, it just doesn’t translate in the finished product. Does the switch from Alberta to MGP have something to do with it? I couldn’t say based on my experience, but perhaps time will tell as WhistlePig’s sourcing continues to shift.

At $50, I’d give The Black Prince a whirl. But at $500, you can safely skip it.

~124 proof (varies by bottle).

C+ / $500 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

San Francisco’s WhiskyFest seemed as popular as ever this year, kicked off with the stampede to the Pappy Van Winkle booth that always marks the start of the show.

As always, there was plenty to enjoy at this year’s event — both new expressions and classic old friends ready for tasting. Here’s a full rundown on everything I tried.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

Scotch

Alexander Murray & Co. The Monumental Blend 18 Years Old / B+ / a touch hot for a blend
Alexander Murray & Co. Braes of Glenlivet Distillery 1994 21 Years Old / B+ / bold, spicy, with lots of oak
Alexander Murray & Co. Strathmill Distillery 1992 24 Years Old / B+ / lots of nougat, more granary note than expected; citrus on the back end
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1990 26 Years Old / B+ / earthy and unusual, big wet mineral notes
Alexander Murray & Co. Linkwood Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / a bit simple
Alexander Murray & Co. Glenlossie Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / old bread notes dominate
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1988 28 Years Old Cask Strength / B+ / overpowering sherry, but ample fruit
Bruichladdich Black Art 5 / B / sugar cookie dough, lots of vegetation
Laphroaig 25 Years Old / A+ / drinking absolutely gorgeously today, smoke and sweetness in perfect proportions
Tomatin 1986 / A- / bold cereal and malt notes, challah bread; cherry on the back
The Macallan Classic Cut / A- / the first cask strength Macallan in the U.S. in four years; bold and punchy; honeyed
Compass Box Phenomenology / A- / a mystery blend of five whiskeys; Compass Box will reveal their identity at the end of the year; this is a soft, lightly grainy whiskey with ample honey notes
Compass Box No Name / A- / this one is 75% Ardbeg, but the peat is light and quite floral; a really fun one
Highland Park Fire Edition / B / heavy grain and punchy alcohol today, not my favorite tonight
Highland Park Ice Edition / A / a massive step up, gently minty and cereal-infused; soothing
BenRiach 25 Years Old / A- / lemon is heavy on this light bodied 25
Shackleton Blended Malt (2017) / B+ / the third edition of the Shackleton is unrelated to the bottlings that Richard Paterson pulled together; this is a much cheaper blend in simpler packaging; for what it’s worth, it’s soft and simple inside, too, without much complexity but easy to enjoy
Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / fully firing, lush with fruit and toast notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask Finish / B / 25 years old; 17 of those years in Bordeaux casks; bold and spicy, but the finish is off
Bowmore 25 Years Old / B / lots of potpourri and perfume here, overly floral on the finish

Bourbon

Elijah Craig 23 Years Old / A- / drinking well, lots of wood and baking spice folded together
Stagg Jr. / B / over-wooded, with licorice and cloves; really blown out (don’t know the release number)
W.L. Weller 12 Years Old / A / a classic wheater, with ample butterscotch and toffee; really worthy of its praise
Calumet Farm Single Barrel / B+ / a big undercooked for a single barrel, somewhat thin
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley 2017 / B+ / corn and barley only; very gentle with the smoke, understated but with a true, fruity complexity; full review in the works
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition “Al Young” / A / gorgeous, a vanilla powerhouse; a favorite of the night

Other Whiskey

John & Allisa’s 2 Month Aged Tennessee Whiskey / NR / this is a preview from the as-yet-unnamed Tennessee distillery that Sazerac got when it purchased the assets of Popcorn Sutton; it’s always fun to taste near new-make, but today it’s all corn, all the time; try us again in 4-6 years
Westland Distillery Peat Week 2017 / B+ / soft for a “peat bomb,” with minty notes on the back end and some stewed prunes
WhistlePig Boss Hog IV: The Black Prince / B / way overoaked, antiseptic at times; full review of this is coming soon
Bushmills 21 Years Old Single Malt / A- / very heavy maltiness, big body, lots of heather and a lovely depth

Cognac

Hennessy Cognac Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 / A- / 18 months in virgin oak, then 10-20 years in used casks; a wood-forward, domineering blend with tons of dried fruit to fill the palate

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