Thursday, July 9, 2020

Bruichladdich "The Classic Laddie" Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

Located on the southwestern tip of Islay, the Bruichladdich Distillery is one of only nine working distilleries in this Scottish region. It was originally opened in 1881, but after several different owners, it was eventually shut down in 1994. Then, in 2000, it was resurrected and today, it creates three distinct brands:  Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, and Octomore. The first is unpeated, the second peated, and the third heavily-peated.

Today I'm reviewing Bruichladdich's The Classic Laddie which you can tell by the brand is an unpeated Scotch. It comes in a brilliant blue bottle that is easily recognizable on the shelf. Unlike many Scotches, this one's bottled at 50% ABV (100°).  Bruichladdich uses no artificial colors and is un-chilled filtered. Suggested retail on it is about $55.99.

Bruichladdich states they want to push the boundaries of the concept of terroir in an artisanal, single malt whiskey. If you're unfamiliar with the term terroir, basically it means making the most of the immediate local environment, including the climate, the soil, and the landscape. Bruichladdich is big into experimentation, and making The Classic Laddie is one huge experiment.

If you visit the Bruichladdich website for The Classic Laddie, you can punch in your 5-digit batch code and they'll tell you exactly what made up that particular batch.  In the case of mine, Batch 14/009, it came from 67 casks, five vintages (2003 through 2007), two barley types (Scottish Mainland and Scottish Mainland Organic), and nine cask types:

  • Bourbon barrels (first- and second-fill) 
  • French Riversaltes red and white hogsheads 
  • Madiera hogsheads 
  • Spanish Sherry butts (third- and fourth-fill)
  • French Bordeaux Sauternes sweet white hogsheads
  • French Loire sweet white hogsheads; and 
  • French Bordeaux Pauillac red hogsheads. 

Well, that's a lot of wood and quite a bit of overload, wouldn't you say? I do appreciate the transparency, but as I always say, what's important is how it tastes, so let's get to that already.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Classic Laddie appeared as a dull, brassy gold. It left a very thin rim on my glass that, after a few moments, created slow, thin legs that crawled back to the pool of whisky.

Nose:  Almost immediately, aromas of chocolate and citrus filled my nostrils. I also picked up the scent of honey, and along with that, an almost meadow of different flowers.  I'm not a florist nor do I play one on television, so I won't attempt to tell you what variations there were, just that they were numerous. When I inhaled through my lips, iodine and seaweed were prevalent, something very common for Islay whiskies.

Palate:  The first run across my palate was light, almost too light. A second sip was even lighter in my mouth, I had to work at getting it to coat the inside of my mouth. But the weird thing is that it was also creamy. Up at the front, I tasted a mixture of both dry and wet oak. I know, that sounds strange. It was also very sweet. The sweetness moved mid-palate where fruits, such as apples and grapes took over. There was also sugary honey which moved to the back, where it ended with nuts consisting of cashew, almond, and pecan. To say this was complex would be an understatement:  every time I took another sip I found something new and different.

Finish:  A very long finish of white pepper, clove, and honey ran for several minutes. It ended with an astringent (band-aid) taste that some Scotch fans love, yet makes others cringe. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  A friend of mine gifted me this bottle because he simply hated it. He said this had been sitting on his bar for several years and he's been trying and trying not to do a drain pour. He asked me if I wanted the bottle, and after taking a quick taste, I grabbed it. After taking the time to do a comprehensive review, I find myself disagreeing with my friend. This is a pretty damned delicious, very complex Scotch. If I were to knock something, I'd prefer less of the astringent at the end, but that's something that I don't find off-putting. When you take into consideration how affordable this Scotch is, I'm tossing a Bottle rating at it. Cheers!

BONUS:  I did a live tasting of this whisky on The Glass Less Traveled last night. If you'd like to watch it, the link is here.

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
  • Bottle = Buy it
  • Bar = Try it first
  • Bust = Leave it 

Monday, July 6, 2020

BenRiach Peated Cask Strength Batch 2 Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

Cask-strength whiskey is nothing new, but when you find it in a Scotch, well, that has the potential to be something special. Today I'm reviewing BenRiach Peated Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch - Batch 2.  Whew! That's a mouthful, isn't it?  Well, wait for the review.

Founded in 1898 by John Duff, the initial run for BenRiach was very short-lived - only two years. Then, it was shuttered due to the Pattison Crash. If you've not heard of it, the short story is it took out many distilleries. The longer story is it was caused by independent bottlers gaming the system, so much so that when the biggest firm, Pattison, Edler & Company went under, they took out nearly a dozen others in the process. That cascaded and led to the bankruptcies of the distilleries. It was not a good time to be in the whiskey business.

It was then reopened in 1965 by The Glenlivet. During that 65-year hiatus, the building was never torn down because the distillery next door, Longmorn, used BenRiach's malting floor and some other equipment while it was mothballed. Then, Seagrams purchased The Glenlivet in 1978, which was acquired by Pernod-Ricard in 2001. 

And, then, the distillery was shuttered again from 2002 to 2004.  It was purchased by Brown-Forman, which owns BenRiach to this day. The Master Blender, Rachel Barrie, runs things "unconventionally Speyside."

"As progressive Speyside whisky distillers, BenRiach crafts unpeated, peated and triple distilled malt whisky and holds some of the most experimental casks in Speyside. Small wonder the distillery team have nicknamed the distillery ‘The Lab’."

Now that the backstory is done, let's get back to this particular whisky.  Being a single-malt Scotch, the mash is 100% malted barley. Once distilled, it is triple cask matured using ex-Bourbon barrels, ex-Oloroso sherry casks, and virgin oak hogshead.   In the case of Batch 2, Barrie chose casks from 2006, 2007, and 2008. As this was bottled in 2018, the math tells us she used 9-, 10-, and 11-year old whiskies. Non-chill filtered and naturally-colored, this 60% ABV Scotch retails for $99.99. 

I'd like to thank BenRiach for sending me a sample of this Scotch in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Batch 2 appeared as golden straw.  It created a very fat rim that formed fat, sticky droplets. Those eventually led to slow, thick legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Let's get something out of the way. Peated whiskies smell of peat. The trick is to get past that. Just as there is a thing called palate shock, there is an olfactory shock as well. You need to let your senses get used to the peat.  The peat itself was married with brine, and underneath those were rich vanilla, dark fruit, oak, fresh coconut, honey, and apples. When I inhaled through my parted lips, I found orange zest.

Palate:  The first sip was obviously peated. But I'll be a monkey's uncle if this is 120°.  I'm not doubting it, rather, there was nothing in terms of heat in my mouth or throat. It had a very creamy mouthfeel. It was just lovely. 

Once the palate shock ended, the front was a heavy punch of thick vanilla. That was combined with toasted oak and a Heath bar. Mid-palate, it changed to roasted almonds and brown sugar, plus a blend of lime and tangerine. Yeah, I know, that's  a very different flavor profile. The complexity continued on the back with caramel, a Mounds bar, and Red Hots.

Finish:  Medium-to-long, the finish consisted of dried oak, cinnamon sticks, and ginger beer.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  There were a lot of very fun and interesting flavors involved. I don't think I've ever used three candy descriptors before, but there was no other way to describe things. I loved the variation and creativity with this whisky. A C-note for barrel-proof Scotch is honestly a bargain, and this is delicious to boot. 

If peat is your thing, you're going to love this.  It isn't heavily-peated like Octomore or Ardbeg, this one is more along the lines of Talisker Storm. For you (and me), I give this a no-brainer Bottle rating. If you're new to peat, you may want to try this one first. Peat isn't for everyone. Despite its price tag, this would be a very nice introduction to peated whisky.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Shenk's Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey 2019 Release Review

If you've never heard the name John Shenk, then you've missed one of the pioneers of American distilling. You have to go all the way back to Pennsylvania in 1753, when Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer, started distilling rye. His whiskey was purchased by some obscure guy named George Washington, who gave it to his troops during the Revolutionary War when stationed at Valley Forge. 

Shenk's distillery changed hands many times, most famously to Abraham Bomberger, who renamed the distillery after his family name. For the record, Bomberger and Shenk were distant relatives. The Bomberger Distillery continued to operate until 1919 when a bunch of bad people gave us Prohibition. The distillery reopened in 1934 by Louis Forman, and after briefly selling it, repurchased it again with partners from Schenley Distilleries.  And, then, the most famous family in American whiskey got involved with Master Distiller Charles Everett Beam. Beam and Forman created a pot-still whiskey they named Michter's Original Sour Mash, named for Forman's sons Michael and Peter. Yeah, Michter's Distillery.  

Coming back full circle and here I am reviewing Shenk's Homestead Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey which is distilled by Michter's. This is a vintage-stated American Whiskey, meaning each year the whiskey inside is different from the previous year. The mashbill itself is undisclosed. I can make educated guesses as to what grains are used, but it is classified neither as a Bourbon nor a Rye, and as such, we can assume both corn and rye are less than 51% of the content.  It also carries no age statement. What is unique is the distillate was aged in Chinquapin barrels.  If you're like me and had to Google the term, it is a type of beech tree.  After aging, it is dumped and Michter's proofs it down to 91.2°. Retails starts at around $69.00.  I picked up my bottle at a charity auction.

How's Shenk's taste? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious, so let's get at it...

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey presented as a deep chestnut. I don't have a familiarity with what beechwood does to whiskey, but the color was very inviting. It left a medium rim and fast, heavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of stone fruit filled the room. In fact, the stone fruit was prevalent from the second I pulled the cork. That was married with barrel char and dark chocolate.  As I continued to explore, I picked up rye spice, citrus, and brown sugar.  The blending of these smells really made my mouth water. When I inhaled through my lips, it seemed like honey rolled over my palate.

Palate:  An oily and thin mouthfeel led to a somewhat complicated palate. At the front, it was as if I bit into a dark chocolate bar, one very heavy on the Cacao. It was joined by mace. Strangely, as it moved to mid-palate, it became orange candy and charred oak. Then, on the back, it was a union of tobacco leaf and cocoa. 

Finish:  The long-lasting finish consisted of orange peel, clove, and dry oak. It was warming but nothing to set my mouth on fire. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:   I'll get right to the point here. I think Michter's knocked this one out of the park. I loved every bit of Shenk's and it is one of my favorite American whiskey pours of 2020. The price is less than obnoxious and, frankly, I believe it can compete with more expensive whiskeys that I've had in the last year or so. As such, it snags the coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
  • Bottle = Buy it
  • Bar = Try it first
  • Bust = Leave it 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Spirits of French Lick Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon Review

Small distilleries can be a ton of fun. Nothing at all against the big dogs, I have a fine appreciation for what they do. But, small distilleries allow for great innovation and experimentation that can lead to a unique tasting experience. And, you know me, I'm big on unique.

Spirits of French Lick is one such distillery. They don't even call themselves craft. Instead, the term artisan is used. It is located in Indiana and is attached to the French Lick Winery in West Baden. Alan Bishop is the master distiller. They distill Bourbon, American Whiskey, Brandy and botanical spirits, and claim it is in pre-Prohibition fashion. By locally sourcing their grains, they use what's on theirs and neighboring farms, keeping it all in Indiana. 

Today, we're talking Bourbon, and in this case, it is Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon. Who is this Lee W. Sinclair, and why is his name on a Bourbon label?  Sinclair was a turn-of-the-[twentieth] century businessman in West Baden. He built a hotel in 1902 which became known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It wasn't just a hotel - it had a casino, a two-deck covered bike and horse track, and an opera house. The hotel burned down, but the legacy remained. 

As far as the Bourbon is concerned, despite the fact it says Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey on the label, this is not MGP or anyone else's distillate. It is double-pot distilled on-premises and made from a mash of 60% corn, 17% wheat, 13% oat, and 10% caramel malt. There are two yeast varieties designed to pull different flavors. Fermentation takes four days. It has a lower entry proof of 105°, then placed in #2 charred new 53-gallon American oak barrels, which are toasted prior to charring. The barrels then age in its Chai/Cellar, which has a lower standard temperature than an average rickhouse.  When ready, it is bottled at 90° and retails for about $34.00.

I obtained my sample of Lee W. Sinclair from a friend seeking my opinion. How's it taste? Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon appeared brassy. It had a thin-to-medium rim that created fat, slow droplets to fall back to the pool.

Nose:  As I brought the glass to my face, I immediately picked up the smell of malt. As I hovered it under my nostrils, I found sweet vanilla and butterscotch. A light waft of milk chocolate joined in. Hidden beneath all of that was citrus. Inhaling through my lips brought the return of malt.

Palate:  When I tipped the glass for my first taste, it felt very thin in my mouth. There was no real burn to speak of, which is nice to experience at 90°. An additional sip increased its weight as it became creamier, likely due to the oat content. Sweet corn was obvious at the front and carried through mid- and back-palate. As it crossed zone-to-zone, I could pick out vanilla on the front, cherry mid-palate, and toasted oak on the back. I could not describe this as complicated and, if anything, the opposite was true. It didn't require much to figure it out.

Finish:  The finish was toasted oak and caramel. The caramel outlasted the oak, giving it, overall, a medium-length one.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is an easy-sipping whiskey. That matches my experience with other Spirits of French Lick whiskey. There is nothing harsh about it. If I wanted to introduce a friend to four-grain Bourbon, this could be a good starting point. It offers a different experience from a wheated Bourbon, thanks to the oat and caramel malt, and lacks any real spice due to a lack of rye.  The $34.00 price tag is on the low side of average for craft (or in this case, artisan) whiskey. Yeah, it is only two years old, but I can easily picture myself drinking this on my deck during a warm summer evening. If you're not big on rye Bourbons, I would offer my Bottle recommendation. If you prefer more of a punch, I'll give it a Bar. Cheers! 

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
  • Bottle = Buy it
  • Bar = Try it first
  • Bust = Leave it 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Starlight Distillery Cask Strength Single Barrel Rye Review

Back in October, I stopped off in Borden, Indiana, to visit Starlight Distillery. I had tasted its Single Barrel Old Rickhouse Rye and wanted to learn more about this non-MGP distillery. When I was there, I tasted a variety of spirits and wines and walked away with a bottle of Cask Strength Single Barrel Indiana Straight Rye

Everything at Starlight is done on-premises. Starlight uses a mash of 85% unmalted and 15% malted rye. They ferment using a sweet mash, meaning the yeast starts fresh every time, without holding back something from the previous batch. It provides less consistency batch-to-batch than would a sour mash. Fermentation takes between five and six days.

Starlight uses two stills:  one is a copper 80-gallon pot still from Kothe, and the other is a copper 500-gallon pot still from Vendome. Once distilled, Starlight fills 53-gallon, charred oak barrels and then lets it age in their rackhouse. In the case of Barrel 1348, which I am reviewing today, that resting period took four years. Once dumped, the whiskey does not go through any filtration process. It comes out of the barrel at 112°.  Sold in 375ml bottles, retail is $25.99 at the gift shop. At the time of this review, Barrel 1348 is still available on Starlight's website

So, how does this Indiana Straight Rye hold up? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Barrel 1348 appears as a deep chestnut color. It left a thin rim that generated fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool. 

Nose:  This whiskey not overly aromatic, meaning that I didn't smell much while I was allowing it to rest. When I brought my glass to my face, I discovered a floral quality. That's common with American Rye. I also found light oak. But, before that ended, a different fruitiness tickled my nostrils, which I found to be date and fig. When I inhaled through my parted lips, the date became more obvious.

Palate:  A thin and oily mouthfeel greeted the inside of my mouth. It was easy to move it around via the Kentucky chew. I almost forgot it was barrel proof because there was no heat whatsoever with it.  Flavors of milk-chocolate covered raisins and fig were at the front. As the Rye worked its way across my palate, toasted oak and almond were in the middle. Then, on the back, that toasted oak turned dry and was joined by a solid rye spice.

Finish:  The finish was long, and frankly, much longer than I expected. It seemed to fall off quickly and then had a resurgence. Subsequent sips gave me the same experience. I could not get it to level out no matter how many times I tried.  There was also quite a bit going on. It started off minty, then fainted. Then, a pop of clove was joined with dry leather. Finally, it became sweet with raisin.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  2020 has been a very strange year for everyone around the world. We've had this horrific coronavirus that has, at the least, been disrupting everyone's lives and, unfortunately, stolen others. But it has also unusually been a very good year (at least for me) whiskey-wise. I've handed out several Bar ratings, only a few Busts, and many Bottle recommendations. I was impressed with how easy this one went down despite the proof. It had a curious nose, a semi-complicated palate, and an interesting finish. Considering all of that with the easy-on-the-wallet price tag, I'm sold. And, I believe you will be, too. This one is a definite Bottle recommendation. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:

Bottle = Buy it
Bar = Try it first
Bust = Leave it

Monday, June 22, 2020

O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

Waiting for spirits to age can be costly. Thanks to this technology we can get liquids from the barrel to market much quicker, which means more product and much less loss to the angel’s share,” he said. “We are not trying to compete with extensively aged whiskies, rather O.Z. Tyler Bourbon Whiskey is a smooth, delicious and affordable option that rivals many of the bourbons being produced today.

This isn't my first go-around with O.Z. Tyler and its TerrePURE system. I reviewed their Rye back in April. It was a less-than-pleasant experience and there was no doubt in my mind it earned a well-deserved Bust rating. 

The fault with it was TerrePURE is a rapid-aging technique meant to beat Mother Nature. I've tasted a lot of whiskeys that have used a variety of means to speed up the process. You can almost always pick up flaws right away - either there is no flavor, there is too much flavor, there is too much wood, or it is just not good at all. If you want to learn about TerrePURE or O.Z. Tyler, I'll invite you back to my Rye review.

So, here I am again, back with O.Z. Tyler's TerrePURE whiskey, this time with their Bourbon.  This was the very first production whiskey the distillery has made.  I'm approaching this with a fresh mind and an equally fresh palate. After all, that's the whole #DrinkCurious lifestyle. Distilled from a mash of 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley, the distillate is aged for one year and one day in new, charred oak. It is bottled at 90°, and retail is about $22.99.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, O.Z. Tyler Bourbon is almost gold in color. It left a fairly thin rim with fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of whiskey.

Nose:  This Bourbon was very fragrant as it sat on my table. It was very corn-heavy. There is also a sour, earthy aroma. I also picked up an industrial quality, not quite paint thinner but whatever it was, it made me cringe. When I inhaled through my lips, it was pure corn. 

Palate:  A blast of ethanol hit my palate as I took my first sip. That was 30 minutes after letting it rest and breathe. The mouthfeel was very thin. Once my palate shock ended, the second sip brought corn and it might as well have been field corn at that. There was nothing good about it. Subsequent attempts to find something other than corn eluded me.

Finish:  Unfortunately, O.Z. Tyler Bourbon gave me a longer finish than I had hoped for. Mind you, it wasn't a long finish, but I wanted it out of my mouth as quickly as possible. There was, again, corn and something industrial about it.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Here's the truth.  I don't enjoy writing bad reviews. And, when I do, I try to offer something for the distiller to improve on.  After all, that's part of the purpose of a review. 

"We are not trying to compete with extensively aged whiskies..."

Well, there's no worries there. In this case, there is absolutely nothing positive I can say about O.Z. Tyler TerrePURE Bourbon. This stuff is awful. Between this and the Rye, the Rye was a clear winner and I found it dreadful, too.

I have never said this before in a review. I feel horrible for saying it, but my advice to O.Z. Tyler is to stop distilling, or at least ditch this awful TerrePURE process. If you're going to continue distilling, sit on your product and let Mother Nature do what she does best.  This rapid-aged stuff was vile and I fought through trying to drink this for a review. If you've not figured it out, this one is a Bust, and, in fact, is the worst thing I've tried in 2020. Don't waste your money.

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Avoid It

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Elijah Craig "Good Carma" Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

If you've followed my reviews for some time, you know that I have some biases. That's right, I'm human. But, I admit them. And, today I'm going to admit another.

I enjoy the hell out of Elijah Craig.

That shouldn't be a surprise. This is something I've stated for a few years now. I stumble upon Elijah Craig store picks and for me, it is almost always a no-brainer. And, I'm going to give you a spoiler - I love the one I'm reviewing today. But, what's important is what makes this store pick worthwhile.

If you're unfamiliar with Elijah Craig (hey, everyone is new to something sometime, right?), it is distilled by Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. Heaven Hill uses a mash of 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley. It is then poured into #3-charred oak barrels.  With average retail of less than $30.00, it is also a very affordable investment. That's the standard release that you'll find on every store shelf.

Then you get into the Single Barrel program (don't be fooled by "Small Batch" on the bottle, they use the same bottle for their Small Batch and their Single Barrel program). In the case of today's review, it is a store pick by Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, Wisconsin called Good Carma.  Good Carma aged in Rickhouse V on the third floor for 11 years, 11 months, and 11 days. It came out of the barrel at 122.9° and then proofed down to the standard 94°, giving a yield of 228 bottles. Retail is $28.99.

I'd like to thank Niemuth's for providing me a sample of Good Carma in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. With that said, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Good Carma appeared as a very orange amber. While the rim it left was very thin, the legs were fat and wavy.  When they dissipated, droplets stuck to the side like glue.

Nose:  Things started off with brown sugar and vanilla. From there, I found cherries and cinnamon. At the end, it was oak and dried, sweet fruit.  When I inhaled through my lips, caramel-coated cherries flowed across my palate.

Palate:  Here's where things get interesting. The mouthfeel was thick and heavy. At the front, it was a total caramel bomb. There was nothing else to contend with. No matter how many sips I took, I could not get past the caramel.  But, once it hit mid-palate, I tasted a combination of hazelnut, vanilla, and sweet corn.  Then, at the back, toasted oak and brown sugar.

Finish:   Medium in length, I was left wishing it would go longer. It was a blend of toasted oak, white pepper, and caramel. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  My rating is no surprise since I let the cat out of the bag early.  But, Good Carma is dangerous. It goes down way too easy. On one of the warmest, most humid days of the year so far, it could be enjoyed on the back deck without causing any discomfort. There was no real warmth to speak of. This is the kind of Bourbon that doesn't even require effort to get a Bottle rating from me.  Grab it, you can thank me later.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy To Understand Rating System:
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It