Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2018

Whiskey festivals come in all shapes and sizes, but WhiskyLIVE consistently produces a very approachable event for a fan at any stage in their whiskey obsession. There’s a good balance of offerings from industry heavy hitters and smaller craft outfits, as well as the occasional downright weird bottling. This year, I got to taste whiskey the way George Washington made it, but I somehow missed the 28-year-old Czech single malt (which I’m not sure I regret). There were no real standouts from our side of the pond this year (no duds really, either), but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed some of the line-up from Australian distiller Limeburners, as well as one or two other international whiskeys. Abbreviated thoughts on (most) everything tasted follow.

American

Elijah Craig 18 Years Old / B+ / familiar oak and cinnamon notes; not as balanced as previous releases

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon (Batch A118) / B+ / another fine barrel proof release from Heaven Hill; drinking a little hot

Wathen’s Barrel Proof Bourbon (Jack Rose Private Selection) / A- / extremely approachable at cask strength; full of clove and orange peel

Kentucky Peerless Rye Whiskey / A- / complex and rich for its age with a great balance between the rye spice and sweeter elements

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Private Select (Whisky Magazine & Schneider’s of Capitol Hill) / B+ / bold and complex but a little too sweet

Journeyman Last Feather Rye Whiskey / B / light and grainy with good clove and caramel notes

Journeyman Silver Cross Whiskey / A- / cereal-forward with a minty sweetness and chocolate and cola notes

Widow Jane 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon / A- / baking spice and a little dark chocolate; surprisingly good, if straightforward, (sourced) bourbon

Widow Jane Rye Mash, Oak and Apple Wood Aged / B- / medicinal nose saved by notes of overripe apple and pear, thin and unbalanced

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye “Maple Finished” Cask Proof / A- / syrupy and sweet but balanced with a bold rye spice

Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / tastes like Jack Daniel’s but better

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey (unaged) / B / baked cereal and creamy with a heavy corn sweetness

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey 2 Years Old / B- / chewy vanilla notes but unbalanced and astringent

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey 4 Years Old / B+ / age has clearly brought balance along with toffee and caramel notes; could be something special in a few more years

Scotch

Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso / B / jam toast on the nose; light-bodied with a little too much sherry influence

The Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A- / stewed fruit; sweet and earthy with an interesting chocolate covered cherry note

Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / a little hot with a good balance of raisin and creamy cola notes

Tamdhu Cask Strength / A- / rich, honeyed body with dried dark fruit and a little lemon zest, easy drinking at this proof (58.5%)

Glenglassaugh Revival / B / sweet, citrusy, meaty, and earthy; a bit all over the place

Benriach 10 Years Old / A- / complex and bold for its youth with great pear and citrus notes

Glendronach 12 Years Old / A / great balance of wood and honeyed dark fruit notes; a gateway single malt if there ever was one

Glendronach 18 Years Old / A- / more of a raisin quality than its younger sibling with a slightly thicker body and just as enjoyable

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 / B / a bit flat and woody underneath all the smoke and meat

Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / a great sherry-aged whisky old enough to provide a solid baking spice punch

International

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Port Cask / A- / creamy nose, dark fruits on the palate with a great caramelized sugar note

Limeburners Tiger Snake Whiskey / A / big cherry sweetness and mounds of brown sugar; one of my favorites of the evening

Amrut Port Pipe Single Cask Whisky / B+ / honeyed palate with a good balance of smoke and raisin notes

Glendalough 13 Year Old Irish Whiskey Mizunara Finish / A / pecan praline ice cream with a dusting of raw coconut; an already great Irish whiskey elevated

Crown Royal XO Canadian Whisky / B+ / silky body with rich oak and subtle nuttiness; the cognac influence is pronounced on this one

Brenne 10 Year Old French Single Malt Whisky / B / herbal and floral, but almost too much so

Lot 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky / A+ / massive palate full of bold, fruity rye spice and rich caramel; one of the better Canadian whiskies I’ve ever tasted

Review: Iowa Legendary Rye Whiskey and White Whiskey

Hey, Templeton isn’t the only outfit making whiskey in Iowa. Check out Iowa Legendary Rye, a much smaller, family-run operation which distills and ages its own 100% rye whiskey, all from locally sourced grains. The company bottles both the unaged rye and an aged expression, though the latter does not carry any aging or barreling information.

We tried them both.

Both are 80 proof.

Iowa Legendary Rye White Whiskey – Lots of fruit on the nose here — cherries and peaches — which leads to a palate that is loaded with overtones of apricot and peppermint. A relatively restrained body leads to a quiet finish, but one which pops with notes of the inevitable popcorn and a heavily fruity echo of cherries. An unusual expression of white whiskey, to be sure. B / $35

Iowa Legendary Rye Whiskey -This aged rye continues the fruit-heavy theme, but this time the focus is apple, with vanilla and caramel giving it a bit of an apple pie character. There’s ample youth at play, some funky mushroom notes, lots of lumber, and a hefty spearmint character (echoes of the white dog) that builds on the finish. That earthy funk is hard to shake, though, and it lingers on the finish with notes of prune and root vegetables. Better as a mixer, where the fruit can shine more clearly. B / $45

iowalegendaryrye.com

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Vulson White Rhino Rye

Vulson is a white whiskey. It is also a rye. It is also French. That’s three categories I’ve never ticked off at the same time in our database before, and Vulson, produced by the western Alps-based farm of Domaine des Hautes Glaces, has more in store for us. Vulson uses organic rye that is grown on site and malted there, too. It is then triple distilled in copper pot stills and rested for a year in stainless steel before being bottled.

This is straightforward on the nose, fragrant with toasty grain notes, some rubbery hospital character, and an undercurrent of earthy mushrooms. The palate offers some surprises, though, with ample fruit — apple, mainly — that pairs nicely with florals that grow in intensity over time. The finish offers a melange of spices, with varied notes of nutmeg, rosemary, and touches of butterscotch. Lots of complexity for a white whiskey here; it’s worth giving it a try.

82 proof.

B+ / $47 / vulson.fr

Review: Mad March Hare Irish Poitin

march hare

Mad March Hare is authentic Irish poitin, pot distilled from locally sourced malted barley and bottled without aging — a classic “white” Irish whiskey, albeit one that is festooned with imagery (and a name) drawn from the seminal work of an English writer.

Never you mind that contradiction; let’s taste what’s inside.

The nose is classic poitin — rubbery, with notes of diesel fuel, ultra-ripe fruit, and weedy vegetation. That sounds a lot worse than it is — poitin is always a monster of a spirit, a white whiskey with nothing held back, and as such it’s a bit of an acquired taste. The palate is gentler than that lead-up would indicate, with notes of fresh, sweet cereal — almost like kettle corn — plus a smattering of much more gentle fruit notes that lead to a slightly leathery finish. It’s a sweet relief from a somewhat off-putting nose, but again, such is the world of poitin.

80 proof.

B / $25 / madmarchharepoitin.com

Review: Kin White Whiskey

kin white whiskey

The goal of Kin White Whiskey, “born in the South” but made in Los Angeles, is to offer a moonshine without the burn, without the traditional solvent character so common in unaged whiskey. As far as that job goes, it’s mission accomplished: Kin is indeed “smooth” and decidedly unfiery, as innocuous a white spirit can be this side of vodka.

On the nose, Kin offers, well, very little: a touch of lemon and some chamomile tea. There’s a touch of rubbing alcohol — it’s impossible to get rid of completely — but nothing that any drinker will have a problem with. On the palate, there’s ample sugar — Kin is clearly doctored and sugared up more than a bit — with little more than a few citrus undertones. The finish is clean and sweet and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a fair enough example of a new world vodka.

80 proof.

B+ / $42 / kinwhitewhiskey.com

Review: Stillhouse Moonshine

stillhouse

It is either incredibly ballsy or impossibly stupid to package your new moonshine in the same type of stainless steel container that paint thinner comes in, but whatever the case I’m giving Stillhouse Spirits (which recently relocated to Columbia, Tennessee) credit for taking a huge risk and doing something unique.

This 100% unaged corn whiskey (flavored versions, not reviewed here, are also available) is made entirely from estate-grown corn. Otherwise, it’s straight-up moonshine, though brought down to a manageable 40% abv. The nose offers few surprises — big and buttery popcorn notes, petrol, and ethanol. A little rough around the edges, aromatically speaking, but manageable.

On the palate, it presents itself as a milder, gentler expression of unaged corn whiskey, its initial corniness segueing into mild caramel notes — surprising since this spirit has never spent any time in wood. The medicinal aspects of the whiskey are still there, but they’re held in check by a light body that is almost watery at times. The finish isn’t so much reminiscent of gasoline as it is of heavily roasted nuts, dried herbs, and licorice.

As moonshine, goes, Stillhouse isn’t half bad — but those looking for a more serious, high-test white spirit will find its dainty character a bit at odds with its over-the-top presentation.

80 proof.

B / $26 / stillhouse.com

Review: Dark Corner Distillery World’s Best Moonshine and Whiskey Girl Flavored Whiskeys

WG_ProductPages_3_Peach-1024x698

Dark Corner Distillery in Greenville, South Carolina is the home of a number of youthful whiskey products, including an unaged moonshine and a series of flavored whiskeys bottled under the Whiskey Girl (aka Whiskeygirl) brand. All of this is distilled and bottled at Dark Corner’s Greenville operation.

Four reviews — the aforementioned moonshine and three flavored whiskeys — follow.

Dark Corner Distillery The World’s Best Moonshine – The “corn whiskey” moniker on the label doesn’t tell the whole story; this clear spirit is made from a mash of corn, red wheat, and barley. The nose is both rubbery and corny, classically moonshine — which is to say, not all that compelling. The body is lightly sweet but with plenty of popcorn, with a racy but not fiery finish that is shaded with black pepper, cinnamon, and ample hospital character. “World’s best” may be pushing it. 100 proof. B- / $32

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Peach Flavored Whiskey – This (along with the following two reviews) is naturally flavored corn whiskey; I presume the whiskey is unaged (though this is not specified by the company) and that the color is derived from caramel or other flavoring agents. It’s oozing with peach candy notes, both fruity and sweet on the nose in equal proportions — plus a little milk chocolate, too. The body however is downright overloaded with sweetness, punchy with candy notes melting onto the tongue. It’s a peach-heavy spirit as promised (with no whiskey notes to be found), and it’s pleasant enough at first, but the finish is rubbery and lingers for far too long. 70 proof. C- / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Apple & Maple Flavored Whiskey – The nose is indistinct, neither particularly apple nor maple but rather just vaguely fruit-syrupy. The maple syrup notes break through first, hitting the palate like Sunday morning. On the tongue, apple is more elusive, but there if you hunt for it in the form of baked apple crisp, complete with cinnamon and crumbly crust. It’s hardly a nuanced product, but I can see this being a big hit at dollar shot night. The lower abv helps. 60 proof. B / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Butterscotch Flavored Whiskey – I saved the most brazenly candylike product for last, and for good reason — it’s a sugar-coated monster from start to finish. I’m unclear how butterscotch is created with “all natural ingredients,” but I’m not sure the answer really matters. The end product here is overpowered with weird chemical flavors, hospital notes, and an intensely sweet, syrupy, funky finish. The furthest thing from “whiskey” I can imagine. 70 proof. D / $28

darkcornerdistillery.com

Review: Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine

Popcorn Barrel Finished - TransparentPopcorn Sutton fans take note: A limited edition, barrel-finished version of the company’s moonshine is now arriving. This expression ages Popcorn’s white whiskey in a new oak barrel with a #3 char. No length of aging is stated, but the company does note that it includes no caramel color or grain neutral spirit added. You might expect otherwise, though, given the intense brown color of the resulting whiskey.

On the nose, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine offers the traditional notes of a very young bourbon or other American whiskey — heavy wood influence, modest vanilla, and a touch of charred popcorn. Sweetness persists beneath all of this, more molasses than the cane sugar of straight Popcorn Sutton.

The body is in line with expectations, a mix of dusky charcoal notes, pure sugar, vanilla cream, and buttered popcorn. This all comes together more effectively than you’d expect, though the finish has a lot of that chalky, soot-laden character, indicating youth. At the same time, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished isn’t particularly rustic, its sweetness managing to smooth out the experience enough to at least make the spirit wholly approachable, if not exactly elevated.

Remember, of course, this is still moonshine — just moonshine that’s been given a taste of the “real” whiskey lifestyle.

92 proof.

B / $50 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Beach Whiskey Original and Island Coconut

beach whiskey

I say coconut-flavored spirit. You say… whiskey?

It’s hard to believe, particularly with a name like “Beach” and pastel-colored bottles, but this really is a corn-based product. A pure corn, white whiskey is the one in white. Red is a cinnamon spirit (not reviewed here) and blue is the coconut whiskey. Coconut whiskey. Still can’t get used to saying that.

Anyway, let’s give this Florida-born product a shot, if we can stop thinking about pina coladas for a minute.

Beach Whiskey Original – An unflavored moonshine. Fairly restrained on the nose, with a touch of kettle corn character — it’s both corny and lightly sweet. On the palate, the whiskey is surprisingly watery, with little more flavor than your typical shot of vodka. A slightly medicinal astringency only compounds that impression, though those corn chip notes come along more powerfully on the finish. A surprisingly harmless moonshine, this is a definitive white whiskey for anyone who’s been afraid to dip a toe in the category. 80 proof. B / $NA

Beach Whiskey Island Coconut – Coconut-flavored and watered down, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is Malibu based on the nose. Hints of pineapple add a touch of something different on the tongue, but it isn’t until the finish that a touch of that popcorn and brown butter character comes along to remind you that there’s whiskey at the core of this. At 26% abv, maybe not much whiskey, but enough to keep things from sliding into the rum world completely. 52 proof. B- / $NA

beachwhiskey.com

Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

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