Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B517 (May 2017)

As we reported in January, Heaven Hill recently revamped the way Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was being presented, and that bottles would now carry a batch ID on each label, the first being A117 in January.

Now the second release of the 12 year old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof for 2017 is here: B517, signifying May 2017. Here’s a look at this offering, compared side by side with the 127-proof A117 release and the original 2013 release of this whiskey.

Though lighter in proof than even the comparatively quiet A117, this is an Elijah Craig release that’s bold and full of flavor. On the nose, the whiskey is immediately redolent of buttered popcorn, tempered with lots of baking spice, dried ginger, barrel char, and butterscotch. The palate follows along in lockstep — though it ultimately shows itself to be a bit more bittersweet than expected, with quite strong and tannic notes of scorched wood on the back of the palate. Water’s a huge friend here, bringing out notes of brown sugar, orange peel, and sweet licorice candy — and going a long way toward taming that bitter, barrel-driven element in the bourbon.

As with earlier expressions of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, this is a cask strength release that benefits from a careful hand, exposure to air, and a healthy amount of water at the ready. Give it a try, no question.

124.2 proof. (Updated photo unfortunately not available.)

A- / $90 / heavenhill.com

4 Vinho Verde Wines Reviewed: Afectus, Quinta do Ferro, Varanda do Conde, and Vilacetinho

Vinho verde is the delightful white wine from Portugal’s far northern region of Minho plus areas south of there — crisp, lively (it’s called verde because it tastes “green”), and — most importantly — incredibly inexpensive. A wide variety of grapes are used in the production, so keep a close eye on the label to see what you’re getting.

These low-alcohol wines, as low as 10% abv, are real crowd pleasers that pair well with anything but, most of all, are designed for easy drinking, on their own, in warmer weather.

Like, you know, right now.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Afectus Vinho Verde Branco – 75% lourciro, 15% trajadura, 10% arinto. Classic vinho verde structure, with tons of minerals, some dried herbs, lemon peel, and just a bit of sweetness to round things out. Vibrant and incredibly drinkable at a mere 11.5% alcohol, it’s the perfect wine to kick off summer. A / $11

2015 Quinta do Ferro Vinho Verde – 100% arinto. A more rustic wine, with significant herbal notes finding compatriots in notes of kumquat and lime, and a finish that offers notes of figs and lively acid. There’s a lot going on here — more than in the Afectus — but it doesn’t gel quite as beautifully, the herbal/citrus peel combo lingering a bit too long on the back of the throat. A- / $NA

2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde – 70% alvarinho, 30% trajadura. A more buttery style of wine, made largely from the Spanish classic albarino (same thing as alvarinho), it drinks a bit like a chardonnay, with lemons and peaches melding into vanilla-dusted cream. More food friendly than aperitif-styled, with just a hint of a bitter edge on the finish. B+ / $10

2015 Vilacetinho Vinho Verde – Made from avesso, arinto, and azal e loureiro grapes (proportions unknown). Another brisk bottling, very lemony and acidic, with some pickling spice notes. The finish evokes lime peel and a bit of herbal bitterness. On the whole, though, it’s fresh and vibrant, and easy to sip on no matter what the environs. A paltry 10% abv. B+ / $8

Review: Highland Park Valkyrie

Highland Park just surprised us with a new single malt release: Valkyrie, part of a new series of three releases called the Viking Legend series.

First, some backstory:

Having once been part of Denmark and Norway, Orkney became the raiding headquarters for Norwegian Vikings in the 8th and 9th century, shaping a unique past for the island. Magnus Eunson, who founded Highland Park in 1798, was a direct descendant of those first Viking pioneers.  Even today, 1 in 3 Orkney islanders bear Scandinavian DNA and share a fierce pride for the rich Nordic ancestry woven into the islands’ traditions and culture.

It is this enduring culture and legacy that is the inspiration for Valkyrie, set to launch in June 2017.

Highland Park approached Danish designer Jim Lyngvild, himself a modern day Viking and expert in Norse mythology, to design striking new packaging for the three special edition whiskies.

Valkyrie’s unique one-off design is inspired by two important Nordic sources – a typical Viking pendant from around 300 – 700 AD discovered in Uppland, Sweden and the ancient Hammar Stone of Gotland which details the epic journey of the Valkyries.

In his distinctive style, Lyngvild has interpreted the ancient legend of the Valkyries – avenging horse-backed angels who combed the battlefields for the bravest of their fallen warriors – in an expressive, story-telling illustration for Highland Park.

Noticeably different from the traditional black and silver Highland Park packaging, the re-imagined design maintains the distillery’s ongoing references to Viking design whilst updating the graphics with a bolder, hand-drawn aesthetic.

Using embossed metallic detailing, he represents the Valkyries as shield-maidens of Odin, offering their god a drink of mead from a curved horn. The larger illustration features a winged Valkyrie with coiled hair and a necklace that pays homage to the goddess Freya’s magical Brísingamen torc (necklace).

That’s the story. As for what’s in the bottle, well, a little deeper research finds that this expression is made with approximately 50 percent peated malt (whereas Highland Park’s standard expressions are typically made with about 20 percent peated malt. As with all Highland Park expressions, all the peat used is sourced locally from Orkney. It is bottled with no age statement.

A smoky spin on young Highland Park? That’s not a bad way to describe Valkyrie, but there’s more going on beyond that simple descriptor. The nose is sharp, smoky for sure but also with notes of citrus oil, bergamot, and other sherry-fueled aromas, hallmarks of Highland Park’s heavy usage of sherry casks for aging. On the palate, the smoke and sweet citrus come together rather explosively. It’s like Dark Origins, but pumped up and concentrated on all fronts, using its slick, quite oily body to showcase notes of roasted nuts, some coffee ground, bacon, and baked beans. That oiliness leads to a biting and almost overwhelming finish, slightly bitter around the edges.

Don’t be afraid of water here, which opens up some chocolate notes, dulls the smoke, and brings the innate nuttiness more fully into focus.

91.8 proof.

B+ / $59 / highlandparkwhisky.com

Review: Lord Calvert Black Canadian Whisky

The original expression of Luxco’s Lord Calvert didn’t exactly win over the heart and mind of our Editor-In-Chief earlier this year. Facing this new extension of the brand with mild apprehension and a chaser in tow didn’t seem too unreasonable — in fact, it was suggested in the accompanying press release. Thankfully, the good Lord bucks the trend of delivering an underwhelming experience with Lord Calvert Black.

Arriving in select markets this spring, Lord Calvert Black is a 3 year old blend offering much more caramel and oak on the nose than the original. Much to its credit, it mercifully abstains from assaulting the senses with an all-out grain invasion. The cereal and faint rubbing alcohol notes are still present on the palate, but they’re balanced out nicely by hints of sherry, vanilla, and spice. The finish is short and sweet, with vanilla and spice enduring and providing an inoffensive landing.

In the expansive and diverse world of Canadian whisky, there are offerings far more complex and enticing than Calvert Black. But this is a decent entry-level bottle for those wishing to sample something new without breaking the bank. For the four dollar boost in price, this is a more than reasonable bargain and a marked improvement over the original.

80 proof.

B / $15 / lordcalvertwhisky.com

Review: Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

When we last spent time with New York-based Finger Lakes Distilling and its McKenzie whiskey brand, we found some young craft spirits that showed promise but which surely would benefit from time in barrel. Well, four years later, that time has passed, and McKenzie is out with a Single Barrel Bourbon release which has spent 4 1/2 years in oak. This release is crafted from a mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and is bottled at cask strength.

This is a much more mature and intriguing spirit than I’ve ever seen from McKenzie. That starts off with a nose that features notes of butterscotch, vanilla, cloves, and hefty barrel char. There are hints of mushroom and forest floor underneath the sweeter elements, along with notes of burnt toast. As the alcohol burns off, you catch some scorched motor oil notes.

On the palate, there’s an instant rush of sweetness, followed by clove and cinnamon notes and more of that slightly smoky barrel char. Again the savory mushroom and forest floor character bubbles up, becoming a bit weedy at times. The finish takes the whiskey on a strange little trip, offering notes of matchheads, dried banana chips, chewing tobacco (I say tabacky in this case), and burning leaves. Quite dry on the back end, it finishes with just a hint of Maraska cherries and aged sherry. Exotic and a bit strange, but worth sampling to see the general direction in which McKenzie is headed.

106.9 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #847.

B+ / $65 / fingerlakesdistilling.com

Review: Blue Moon White IPA and Mango Wheat

Blue Moon is nearly ubiquitous in American bars — and it’s about to get even more of a presence via these two new expressions, arriving just in time for summer.

Blue Moon White IPA – Summer beers often prove a challenge to breweries. The humidity and high heat in much of the country preclude people from drinking heavy, high alcohol beers and instead they look for beers that are refreshing, light and ones that can be enjoyed in multiple at a picnic or the beach. This beer deserves a permanent place in your cooler.

Even though it is brewed year round, this White IPA from Blue Moon Brewing certainly fits the bill as a great summer beer. Pale gold in color, the initial nose is citrus and spice, with little of the bitter aroma sometimes associated with an IPA. The first taste is citrus, and as it continues there is a very nice taste of honeydew, present because of the use of Huell Melon hops. The beer finishes with a hint of very pleasant bitterness, and then lingers with a slight taste of honeydew with no bitterness remaining. This IPA is approachable, friendly, and very enjoyable.

This is an excellent beer that really stretches the definition of what the style can be. A style combination of American IPA and Belgian Wit, this beer is free of much of the bitterness often associated with IPAs, and will appeal to drinkers who usually don’t reach for an IPA. Its perfect balance and crisp, citrus flavor make this beer an excellent accompaniment to nearly any cuisine, but is particularly well suited for the food of China and Japan. 5.9% abv. A / $9

Blue Moon Mango Wheat – A seasonal release from Blue Moon, this summer-centric mango wheat beer can easily find a place in your cooler if you’re headed out for a day at the beach. At a very low 19 IBUs, this beer drinks like a soda despite its 5.4% abv. The pale amber color evokes the fruit the beer is made with, even though the beer is slightly cloudy, as it’s still a wheater. The scent of mango is is present even from a distance. At first nosing it deeply, mango is all you sense and this continues through the first taste. There is very little carbonation, and the beer is very sweet with very little bitterness. Because of the low carbonation, the beer feels a little heavy on the tongue and is slightly cloying. The beer finishes with mango and honey; the sweetness lingering without the balance of any bitterness. The lack of balance in this beer is a little surprising, as many other fruit beers seem to balance the sweetness a little more evenly. Despite its faults, this beer could go very well with anything spicy you might be enjoying.

It’s also very sweet and would function as an excellent mixer for shandies and other summer beer focused cocktails. Mango Wheat would also make a great marinade base for fish or poultry, as the sweetness combined with the wheat should develop into a beautiful flavor when grilled. Just be sure to add citrus for balance. 5.4% abv. B- / $NA

bluemoonbrewingcompany.com

Review: Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish

It’s been years since I’ve encountered anything new from Islay’s Bunnahabhain, but here we have a new 13 year old: That’s 10 years in bourbon casks, and three years in former Marsala wine casks.

There’s beautiful color here, and the nose is sweet and fruity. It’s similar to a heavily sherried whisky, lightly sweet, but with the citrus notes replaced by — and this is a surprise — loads of fresh strawberry, and a hint of milk chocolate. The palate offers plenty of sweetness — this clearly comes from a pretty “wet” set of casks — but the strawberry impact so powerful that it threatens to overwhelm the briny undercarriage, and what minimal smoky peat influence there is.

The finish is long, silky, and voluptuous — it’s hard to go wrong with berries and cream for dessert — and although that threatens to limit this whisky’s complexity, it nonetheless exits the game as a fun crowd-pleaser that’s hard not to like, as well as a significant departure for anything you’ll find out of Islay. Definitely one to try no matter what kind of whisky you’re into.

92.6 proof.

A / $80 / bunnahabhain.com

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