Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum was launched in 1703, and it reserves the name for its rarest rum, a series launched in 2009 that is now called 1703 Master Select. This has become an annual release that has evolved over time, and 2017’s version is now here. (For example, in 2010 it was known as 1703 Old Cask Selection.)
This year’s rum is “a blend of copper column and copper pot rums from Mount Gay’s oldest reserves – ranging from 10 to 30 year old rums – created and hand-picked by Master Blender Allen Smith.” For 2017, 12,000 bottles or so will be released worldwide.
The rum’s nose is dense and rich, loaded with cloves and dark brown sugar, barrel char and salted licorice. The palate is dry — this isn’t a rum that’s been loaded up with sugar — but along with its more savory elements emerge notes of red fruit and some tropical character, particularly grilled pineapple. On the finish, cinnamon is evident, along with hints of red pepper atop a somewhat winey character.
1703 Master Select becomes more complex and alluring over time, with a light but lingering sweetness that really draws you in. Great stuff.
A- / $150 / mountgayrum.com
WhiskyFest remains one of the best ways to meet other spirits enthusiasts, hear from some of the industry’s biggest names, and of course try a wide variety of whisk(e)y, including many hard-to-find and expensive offerings. The VIP ticket, which provides an additional hour of sampling, is particularly useful for discovering the true rarities, as most exhibitors showcase a special bottle (sometimes literally just one) only for that hour. Although celebrating its 20th year in 2017, this was only the second time the event has been held in my backyard of Washington, DC. As with years past, I discovered some real gems, sampled heavily, and stopped being able to really taste anything after about 8 o’clock. Notes on everything before that are below.
Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2017
AnCnoc Highland Single Malt Vintage 2001 / B / a golden, creamy whiskey with some pleasant stone fruit notes
Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 / A / a real standout this year; sugar cookie nose with layers of dried fruit and baking spice notes; honeyed with a long finish
Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / the Oloroso finish shines at cask strength along with hints of gingerbread and a syrupy sweetness
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A / incredibly balanced and sultry; sweet smoke nose and a palate full of iodine and sugary oak
Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza / B / sweet and floral with coconut on the palate; a bit thin
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky / B+ / bolder than expected and almost too sweet, but wonderfully smoky with faint dark fruit notes on the finish
Ardbeg Kelpie Committee Release / A / matured in virgin oak from the Black Sea region; the palate is chocked full of sweet, oriental spices in addition to the honeyed brine and peat smoke of traditional Ardbeg
Ardbeg Kildalton / A- / a mix of sherry and bourbon casks; soft on the nose and gentle on the palate with a good balance of vanilla sweetness and raisin notes
Craigellachie 23 Years Old / B+ / the oldest Craigellachie in the range described as “meaty,” but I was getting more fruit and herbal notes on the palate
Alexander Murray & Co. The Glenrothes 22 Years Old / B- / honey sweet with minimal complexity; some anise and spice on the finish
Balblair 1983 / A / tons of caramel on the nose with a rich bourbon-inspired palate, cinnamon biscuit and semi-sweet chocolate developing into a slightly smoky, brown sugar finish
William Larue Weller / A- / cinnamon sugar nose with a syrupy palate that leaves a fantastic menthol and cinnamon RedHot flavor in the roof of the mouth
George T. Stagg / A- / hot brown sugar under loads of alcohol (72%!) but developing into chocolate and pipe tobacco
Blood Oath Pact No. 3 / A / rich caramel and dark fruit nose with a vanilla custard and berry palate, slightly drying on a long finish
Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey / B+ / sweet with subtle rye spice on the nose, dark fruit and a little dill on the palate; good balance of the sherry and rye
Yellowstone Limited Edition 101 Proof / A- / great oak nose and subtle red fruit notes layered with toffee and rye spice
Elijah Craig 23 Year / B+ / caramel and oak nose with a palate dominated by cinnamon and drying tannins
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition / B / more fruit on the palate than the standard small batch but lacking the complexity and body of previous editions
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Rye / B- / black tea and caramel nose but the palate seems unbalanced; clove and rye spice overpower the dark fruit in the wine cask
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Bourbon / B+ / floral nose with vanilla; baking spice notes integrate well with the wine cask, leaving a lingering raisin quality on the finish
Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength / A- / a great craft, cask strength rye; rich honey and vanilla on the nose with a creamy texture showcasing more of the same on the palate along with a warming rye spice
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades / B+ / a complex nose, chewy body, but the palate falls flat with too much menthol and candy corn
FEW Spirits Bourbon (Delilah’s 23rd Anniversary Bottling) / B / a touch of grain and shoe polish on the nose, tart cherry notes on the palate fading to cinnamon; interesting but not exactly an easy sipper
The Quiet Man Traditional / B+ / light on the nose with a buttery palate showcasing simple but enjoyable vanilla and faint citrus notes
The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old / A- / toasted cereal nose with honeysuckle; a luscious palate that is also soft and light with vanilla, fresh ground cinnamon, and nutmeg
About a year ago, Wild Turkey announced the release of Decades, a rare blend of whiskies blended from Turkey stock up to 20 years old. And then… it disappeared. The whiskey was pulled right before it was supposed to hit the market, postponed to 2017.
Well folks, 2017 is here, and so is Master’s Keep Decades, the follow up to Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, a 17 year old straight bourbon. Decades is a blend of bourbons aged 10 to 20 years old, drawn from some of Wild Turkey’s oldest stock and bottled in honor of Eddie (the younger) Russell’s 35th anniversary at the distillery.
Decades is a mature whiskey to be sure, but it’s surprisingly demure considering its age. The nose is fresh and loaded with lots of aromas familiar to Wild Turkey veterans, including toffee, orange peel, clove-heavy baking spices, and ginger. The palate is initially lightly sweet with immediate and heavier overtones of ample barrel time, but as the wood settles down more of those sweeter elements manage to come through — milk chocolate, lemon oil, and more of those gingerbread and baking spice notes. It doesn’t come across as over-oaked or overbearing in any way. If I was tasting it blind, I wouldn’t have pegged this as a whiskey of advanced age.
If you like Wild Turkey or Russell’s Reserve, Decades is an expression that doesn’t disappoint, though — as with the original Master’s Keep — you’ll certainly pay for the privilege.
104 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.
A- / $150 / wildturkeybourbon.com
Note first that Stags’ Leap Winery (cursive label) is not the same thing as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (block text label). It’s the apostrophe that’s important. Stags’ vs. Stag’s.
Both are of course found in the Stag’s Leap District of Napa, and both are excellent wineries. Today we look at the wines of the plural possessive — Stags’ Leap — all 2013 vintage bottlings released in early 2017.
2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Silky Napa cab, overstuffed with red fruit and currants, but with an acidic edge that’s often lacking in blown-out Napa cabernet. The finish runs toward raspberry and blackberry, with some lightly sour plum shrub notes lingering on the finish. This wine is balanced with a bit of tannic grip, saving it from being a fruit bomb, though it’s still got plenty of that sweetness to go around. A- / $35
2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah Napa Valley – Black-red in color and loaded with notes of tar, bitter roots, and (very) dark chocolate. The tannins find some relief in the form of notes of currants and dried blueberries, both lingering on the finish with more of those chocolate notes, here bordering on mocha coffee. Intense, you say? B+ / $37
2013 Stags’ Leap Winery The Leap. – With a period. A cabernet sauvignon bottling with no mention of any blending grapes, this austere wine offers lots of ripe fruit, cassis and blackberry all the way, backed up by an incredible amount of tannin, cola, and dry spices. The cola, plus cloves and some smoky bacon notes, linger on the finish. A wine to save for that iconic “steak night.” A / $100
Craft gin arguably got its start with Junipero, one of the earlier products to come out of San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling. Made in the London Dry style, it was the first post-Prohibition craft gin to be distilled in the United States, and it’s still going strong.
Now 20 years old, Anchor Distilling’s Junipero Gin brand has long kept its botanical bill close to the vest. Well, two decades of sales have finally convinced someone to open the books. At last, Junipero’s botanical ingredients have been revealed, and they are: juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, dried lemon peel, sweet orange peel, seville orange peel, cubeb, cassia bark, cardamom, anise seed, and grains of paradise. Nothing too surprising in there, but the real secret with Junipero is not what’s inside the bottle, but rather what proportions are used to so deftly balance this spirit.
The nose is equal parts juniper and citrus — a rarity in a time when gins tend to swing wildly one way or the other — with smoldering, peppery aromas lingering underneath. The palate is bold, thanks to a near-50% “San Francisco Strength” abv, again with a bold juniper character that really defines the experience. The peppery cubeb and coriander come on strong after that, leading to a finish that is modestly bitter with citrus peel notes and savory herbs.
All told, it’s a definitive craft gin worth stocking on the back bar — and it comes at a completely reasonable price.
A- / $27 / anchordistilling.com
As 2017 hits its stride, Seattle/Portland/Rochester-based Pyramid is out with two new brews, both now available. Let’s take a spin through both.
Pyramid Brewing Railroad Avenue Imperial Porter Brewer’s Reserve – A big and burly Imperial porter, this beer has a base of heavily roasted malt but is tempered by the addition of vanilla, cinnamon, and dark brown sugar. The overall effect is impressive, the beer exuding notes of roasted nuts, dark toasted wheat bread, dark chocolate, a touch of espresso, and just a sprinkle of cinnamon that catches in the throat on the finish. Porter fans will love the depth of flavor here, though Pyramid also keeps it from becoming too gooey and cloying, with enough bitterness to dial down all of the above. 8.2% abv. A-
Pyramid Brewing Triangulate Citrus Pale Ale – A pale ale made with Lemondrop, Apollo, and Cascade hops, with both wheat and oats in the malt bill. There’s a lot going on here, with lots of citrus and tropical notes at the fore, though they attempt to find balance in the form of a moderate bitterness and some earthiness as well. What lingers on the end is a bit of both worlds, lemon and orange peel notes with just a nod toward evergreen notes from the Cascade hops. 5.5% abv. B
prices NA / pyramidbrew.com
King Alexander III is The Dalmore’s highest-end (and most expensive) whisky in its standard lineup, as well it should be owing to its over-the-top production process. Specifically, it’s a batching of whiskies finished in a whopping six different cask types: ex-bourbon casks, Matusalem oloroso sherry butts, Madeira barrels, Marsala casks, Port pipes, and Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques. Whew!
A complex whisky? You better believe it.
This is a beautiful single malt, right from the start, with its rich and inviting nose of rich caramel, brown sugar, toasted coconut, and lingering caramel corn notes, all mingling with notes of jasmine and incense. The body is loaded with flavor, running through a wide gamut of flavors, including charred fruit, raisins, fresh plums, and plenty of those incense notes again. The finish sees more of the traditional, bourbon-barrel-finished character coming through, vanilla and caramel notes, with silky malt and lingering spices hanging on for the long haul.
A lovely dram from start to finish, it’s truly one to savor.
A / $200 / thedalmore.com