Thursday, July 30, 2020

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt/Bottled-in-Bond Single Malt Reviews & Tasting Notes

I've been having a lot of fun with American Malts lately. For a category I initially disliked, I've done a 180-degree turn and I'm at the point where I seek these out.  When Boulder Spirits sent me samples of both their standard American Single Malt and their new, Bottled-in-Bond Single Malt whiskeys, I raised an eyebrow. I mean, yeah, American Single Malt, but a Bottled-in-Bond one to boot?

Bottled-in-Bond is my very favorite category of American whiskey. And, yes, it is uniquely American. To qualify as Bottled-in-Bond (or Bonded), it must be a product of the United States, it must be distilled by a single distiller at a single distillery during a single distilling season (which runs January through June or July through December), it must be aged at least four years in a bonded warehouse, and must be bottled at only 100°, no more, no less.

I've had Bottled-in-Bond Bourbons, Ryes, a Brandy, and even an American Malt, but I don't recall ever stumbling upon a Single Malt.  I was very happy to have a standard release to try side-by-side to see how much the Bottled-in-Bond requirements would change the whiskey.

Today I'm going to review these as they were sent:  side-by-side. I'll start with the standard expression and then the Bonded.  If you'd like a bit of background on Boulder Spirits, I'll invite you to read my review of its Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon.  But, for background on the American Single Malt expressions, Boulder Spirits sourced its barley from the United Kingdom, and it was malted at Munton's Malt, also located in the UK. Once it was shipped to Boulder, the milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and aging were all done in-house.  The fermentation period was 36-hours, it was then twice-distilled in its copper pot stills and then aged in virgin #3-charred oak barrels in an uncontrolled environment. Proofing utilized locally-sourced Eldorado Springs water.

Before I get started, I'd like to thank Boulder Spirits for these samples in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

American Single Malt - Standard Expression 

The standard expression has aged a minimum of three years and is bottled at 92°.  The suggested retail is $53.99.

Appearance:  This whiskey presented as a bright orange-amber in my Glencairn glass. It created a thin rim and fast, watery legs to drop back to the pool. 

Nose:  Aromas of malt, apricot, and honey started things off.  It was both sweet and inviting. Milk chocolate then followed, and then, finally, plum.  As I inhaled through my lips, thick, heavy honey rolled over my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel had a medium-body and then became creamy, although it required effort to have it coat my palate.  A sweet blend of apple, pear, and vanilla introduced itself. Come mid-palate, things changed to raspberry, plum, honey, and crème brûlée.  Then, on the back, the spices took the stage with nutmeg, allspice, and white pepper.

Finish:  A medium-length finish started with toasted oak, then moved to cinnamon, and, finally, cocoa powder. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I enjoyed this Single Malt. It was everything you'd expect in an American Single Malt - it was fruity, and it had both sweetness and spiciness. There was nothing off-putting and while the malt notes were prevalent, they weren't overpowering.  The price is about average for American Single Malt, perhaps tapping a bit on the ceiling.  I'd buy this for my whiskey library, and as such, it takes a Bottle rating. 

American Single Malt - Bottled-in-Bond Expression

The Bottled-in-Bond version suggests four years but according to Boulder Spirits, it is closer to five. It is, of course, bottled at 100°. The retail price is $69.99.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey offered a deep, caramel color.  It left a medium rim that fostered slow, thin legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Malt was the first aroma to hit my nostrils. It was joined by freshly-cut grass and brown sugar. What followed was orange, pear, and oak.  When I pulled the vapor through my mouth, there was a blending of honey and malt.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick and full-bodied. It also tingled the heck out of my hard palate. On the front were spicy ginger beer and rich vanilla. Yes, that combination seems strange, but for some reason, it worked. As it worked its way to the middle, I got a punch of baked apples and thick cinnamon. When it moved to the back, sweet berries and clove took over. 

Finish:  A very long, very strong finish of barrel char, clove, coffee, and berry closed out the show. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I seemed like a game of tug-of-war was taking place between sweet and spicy. My palate tingled as I sipped this and 100° is usually no big deal to my mouth. The mouthfeel was almost dense and I felt like I was chewing through the cinnamon apple on the palate. The price is on the high side, yet at the same time, less expensive than other limited-release American malts I've tried. This one earns my Bottle rating.

Epilogue - My Choice:  Both of these malts were delicious, and shockingly, much different from one another. The standard expression had the benefit of allowing blending from various distilling seasons, was at least a year younger and proofed down eight points, which is significant.  It was sweet and sultry. The Bonded version was an attention-getter. It drank higher than its proof and was spicy and fruity.  It was also more intriguing than the standard release because it was something unusual compared to other American Single Malts I've tried. As such, the Bonded one comes out the winner, but in reality, you'll be a happy camper with either.  Cheers!

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Virginia-Highland Port Cask Finished Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

Live, from Bourbon & Banter, it is my review of Virginia Distilling Company's Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky!  I promise you this is much different from most anything you've tasted.

You can read the review in its entirety here.  Cheers!

Woodinville Straight 100% Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

The State of Washington is known for many good things. Technology and industry. Timber. Gorgeous scenery. Wine. And, if you don't know, yes, whiskey.

I've written about Woodinville Whiskey Company a few times. My introduction to it was its Straight Bourbon, which reminded me of Elijah Craig. Then, I was able to take part in a rather stupendous barrel proof pick of the Bourbon.  When a sample of their Straight 100% Rye showed up for review, I was captivated.  Would this be as great an experience as the Bourbons? Only time would tell. And, that time is now.

Woodinville starts off with a mash of, as the name implies, 100% Rye. That could be a blend of both malted and unmalted rye. You'd need the malted stuff to get things fermenting. All of that rye comes from Quincy, Washington, and is exclusively grown for Woodinville. That's then taken to the pot still for distillation. Then, the barrels get filled. Each barrel uses staves that were seasoned 18 months in the open air. Those staves are used to create 53-gallon barrels that are first subject to heavy toasting and then heavy charring. The barrels are then trucked over the Cascade Mountains to eastern Washington where they're aged in open-air rickhouses. 

There is a barrel proof version of it, but that's a distillery-only item. For the rest of the distribution, it is bottled at 90°.  It carries no age statement, but we know that means it is at least four years old and things at Woodinville tend to age closer to five. Retail is about $54.99. 

I'd like to thank Woodinville for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's get to it, time to #DrinkCurious...

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Rye appears as a very orange amber. It produced a medium-thick rim that created very fat, heavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  To suggest this was anything less than very aromatic would be unfair.  As I was letting this whiskey rest, it filled the air with cherry pie filling. That was an attention-getter. As I brought the glass closer to my face, the cherry pie filling remained, and was joined by rye spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and, get this, apple pie filling.  Now I got excited.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was like I was holding a freshly-baked apple pie, the crust and all.  I found this whole nosing experience rather mind-blowing.

Palate:  The first sip was thin and watery. However, it did bring quite the punch of wood.  Subsequent sips kept the mouthfeel thin and when the palate shock ended, I was better able to discern flavors.  Up at the front was toasted oak and honey. Mid-palate was a combination of cherries, leather, and a certain earthy quality. Then, on the back, a definitive rye spice, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  It was strange to have the rye spice on the back, especially considering the mash is all rye.

Finish:  Originally, I thought the finish was medium in length. Again, that cherry pie came into play, which was joined with barrel char and dry oak. When I thought that was the end, I found very long-lasting leather that lasted almost two minutes.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If I could find something to complain about, it would be proof. At 90°, it packed plenty of taste. But, knowing there is a barrel-proof version has my curiosity piqued. The nose was simply gorgeous. The palate was complex. I love the whole idea of pie smells and flavors. When I take all that into account and tack on the reasonable price, this one takes my coveted Bottle rating. I'm positive you'll enjoy this one. Cheers!

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

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The BenRiach Curiositas 10 Year Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes

Peated whiskeys are almost synonymous with Scotch. If you asked the average person what they thought of Scotch, I wouldn't be shocked to find a majority would tell you they're smoky and ashy. That's peat.

But, that's also not what a good portion of Scotches are all about.  In fact, in Scotland's Speyside region, the region that is home to the highest concentration of distilleries, peated whisky is an anomaly. 

The folks at The BenRiach like to do things differently.  Owned by America's Brown-Forman, they're different just by being American-owned. If you want to know the background of this distillery, you can read my review of their Peated Cask Strength Scotch from July 6th.

Today I'm reviewing its Curiositas 10 Single Malt.  If you're looking at the name and thinking that sounds more Latin than Gaelic, you'd be right. That's also something that The BenRiach does differently than its counterparts. This is, unsurprisingly, a 10-year old single malt that is blended from whiskies aged in Bourbon barrels and Sherry casks. Using about 55ppm of peat, the malted barley is dried by Highland-sourced peat (versus Islay-sourced peat).  As such, it lacks much of the salinity that many peated Scotches offer.  It is bottled at 46% ABV (that's 92° for Americans) and retails for about $54.99.

Before I get started, I'd like to thank Brown-Forman for providing me a sample of Curiositas 10 in exchange for an honest, no-strings-attached review.  And now, time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Scotch appears as the color of straw.  With Scotch, distilleries are allowed to add inert caramel coloring, and I have no information suggesting whether or not this is naturally- or artificially-colored. I'll hazard a guess that, based upon the very light color, it is likely natural.  It left a medium rim and created slow, thick legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  I could smell the peat before I even got started. This was more earthy than iodine and astringent.  Once I got past the smokiness, aromas of banana cream pie (yeah, the whole freaking pie), nutmeg, and allspice made me smile. When I inhaled through my lips, a blast of vanilla ran across my palate. There was no associated peat.

Palate:  Even before I got to figure out the mouthfeel, the peat was there - light but also definitive. Once I got past the palate shock, I discovered a thick, oily mouthfeel that coated everywhere.  Vanilla and apple grabbed my attention. As it moved mid-palate, flavors of old leather and tobacco leaf, something you'd more expect from an American whiskey than Scotch, took over. On the back, it was a blend of banana and very dry oak.

Finish:  A very long finish of dry oak and clove spiced things up and was almost natural considering everything else going on. This was very well-balanced.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I understand that peat isn't for everyone. It wasn't my thing when I first got started in Scotch (which, incidentally, is where I got my start in whisky appreciation). But it grew on me.  Curiositas 10 would be an excellent introduction for those who are peat-curious.  It is there, but not overwhelming. You can easily pick out other flavors. There are no iodine or seaweed notes that you'd find in many Islay or other Island Scotches. It is also unusual for a Speyside. 

I enjoyed the heck out of this, and when you factor in the affordable (for Scotch) price tag, and then you further consider this isn't your average 80° Scotch, this one becomes a very easy Bottle recommendation. Cheers! 

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

Four Gate Whiskey Company's "River Kelvin Rye" Review & Tasting Notes

At the end of April, I reviewed Four Gate Whiskey Company's The Kelvin Collection II Bourbon.  It was one of the most expensive whiskeys I've reviewed.  I generally don't like reviewing high-dollar whiskeys because, for the most part, I find them good but not great, and certainly not a good return on investment. But, the Kelvin Collection II wrecked that theory for me, and I ponied up my Bottle rating for it. You can read all about Four Gate in that previous review, I won't rehash it.

When Four Gate approached me again, this time for a review of River Kelvin Rye, I admittedly was excited. This one is officially called Batch 7, and it isn't quite as expensive as The Kelvin Collection II, but it is close, ringing in at $174.99.  Don't stop reading because of the price. Do what I do, keep an open mind, and we'll #DrinkCurious shortly.

River Kelvin Rye is a blend of 7-year old barrels from MGP. They're all distilled from a mash of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, the standard MGP rye recipe. It is non-chill filtered and bottled at its cask strength of 113.2°. The 1484 bottles can be purchased in Kentucky, Indiana, or online from Seelbach's. One final bit of information you'll want to know - they're currently finishing some of this batch in Split-Stave™ barrels which will be available this Fall, and another in Ruby Port-Rum casks in 2021.

This is the first Straight Rye released by Four Gate.  

“We’ve always been on the lookout for barrels of great rye,” said Chief Barrel Officer Bob D’Antoni. “We tried all sorts of barrels that weren’t quite up to our standards before we found these.”

Now that all the background is out of the way, let's get to it... and I'd like to thank Four Gate for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Batch 7 appeared as a deep caramel-amber. It left absolutely no rim on my glass, each time I tried to form one, it instead came down like a heavy curtain to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  One of my favorite candies these days is candied orange slices. And, that's the first thing I smelled when I brought the glass to my nose. Toasted oak was next, then orange peel. Finally, the aroma of mint.  When I inhaled through my lips, I discovered peppercorn and vanilla.

Palate:  A thin and oily mouthfeel started things off. Flavors of mint and tangelo greeted the front of my palate. As it rolled down mid-palate, there was sweet brown sugar and lemon pepper, forming an interesting combination. Then, on the back, a combination of both smoky and dry oak along with clove.

Finish:  A finish of lemon meringue and black pepper gave a medium-to-long, sweet, and spicy experience. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  This is a very delicious, tasty rye. While each barrel of any whiskey is unique, there is no mistaking this for anything but MGP barrel-proof rye. It had a lovely nose, a tasty palate, and a beautiful finish. I have no complaints whatsoever about Batch 7 - except that it isn't a $175 whiskey. I've had equally-amazing seven-year-plus MGP barrel-proof ryes for between a third and just under half the price. Because of that, this one earns a Bar rating. You'll want to try this one first before committing to a bottle. 

On a final note, I would be very interested in trying the upcoming barrel-finished releases of this. Either of those could be a game-changer and each would earn its own, independent rating. Cheers! 

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

Friday, July 17, 2020

Four Roses Small Batch Select Review & Tasting Notes

Four Roses has long had three expressions in its standard releases:  Yellow, Small Batch, and Single Barrel. Then Master Distiller Brent Elliott comes along, and he introduces a new, permanent fourth rose to the stable:  Small Batch Select.  It is the first addition to the brand in a dozen years.

Four Roses Small Batch has been a staple for nearly any bar. It is affordable, it is tasty, and it gives an idea as to the quality Four Roses has to offer. So, when Small Batch Select was introduced, it was a bit confusing. What would make it different from the original? More importantly, why offer it?

Four Roses Small Batch is a blend of four of the ten recipes:  OBSO, OESO, OBSK, and OESK. It is also bottled at 90°.  If you're wondering what any of that means, allow me to provide some background of Four Roses recipes.  

Each recipe has a four-digit code.  Two of the four digits are always O _ S  _. The blanks are what matter.  There are a 35% high-rye mash labeled B and a 20% low-rye mash labeled E. Then, the last digit tells you about the yeast:

  • V = Delicate
  • K = Baking Spice
  • O = Rich Fruit
  • Q = Floral Essence
  • F = Herbal Notes
As such, if you take the five yeast strains and two mashes, you get a total of ten combinations. Make sense?

The Small Batch Select is a different animal. Instead of four recipes, this one uses six:  OBSV, OESV, OBSK, OESK, OBSF, and OESF.  It is also bottled at 104°.  Moreover, this one is non-chill filtered. It also ages for between six and seven years.  Retail is about $54.99 and this is newly released to Wisconsin.

Before I get started on my review, I'd like to thank Four Roses for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's do that #DrinkCurious thing, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Small Batch Select presented as bronze in color.  It left a very thin rim on the wall, but fat, heavy legs.  After those legs dropped, it offered a second set of smaller, slower legs.

Nose:  Before things got started, I picked up floral notes.  Once I brought the glass to my face, I found vanilla and cinnamon.  I continued to explore and discovered oak and caramel, then orange zest, plum, and cherry.  When I inhaled through my lips, thick, rich caramel ran across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel on the Small Batch Select was strangely thin but creamy.  At 104°, you'd think there would be some burn, but in this case, there really wasn't. At the front, I tasted toasted oak, caramel, and vanilla.  As it moved to mid-palate, peach, apple, and a hint of leather took over.  Then, on the back, the fruit changed to heavy cherry pie filling, dry oak, and rye spice.

Finish:  A medium-to-long finish of cherry, dry oak, mint, and very dark chocolate stuck around.  The mint was slight. The cherry was not. This wasn't that fake cherry cough syrup stuff, rather, it was definitely fruity. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Here is where the pedal hits the metal - this is the most expensive standard release from the distillery, and as such, I expect a lot from it. It is also the highest proof, with the Single Barrel weighing in at 100°. I believe Elliott did a good job choosing the proof. For example, when I added a single drop of distilled water, it lost a portion of flavor and richness and became disappointing and dull (I had perhaps a quarter-ounce when I added the drop). The price is less than obnoxious and not only do I see this as a good value, but I enjoyed it immensely. As such, this is something I'd gleefully add to my whiskey library and crown it with a Bottle rating.  Cheers!

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Redemption High Rye Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

"We think you can never have too much rye, so our High Rye Bourbon recipe approaches the upper limit of allowable rye grain in a bourbon mash bill."Redemption Whiskey

 Are you a fan of MGP?  Do you like affordable whiskeys?  If you've answered, "yes" to at least one of those questions, then you'll want to catch my review of Redemption High Rye Bourbon over at Bourbon & Banter.  Cheers!

Boulder Spirits Bottled in Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

Some whiskey drinkers will poo-poo a certain region. Maybe they had a mediocre bottle from Texas. Maybe a sourced bottle from a Florida non-distilling producer (NDP) rushed something to market. One of those regions that, in my opinion, get an unfairly bad reputation is Colorado. 

I've tasted some amazing Colorado whiskeys and I've had some very mediocre ones. Like anything else, it becomes a bit of a crapshoot. You never know what you're going to wind up with. But no region is free of that risk.  There are some very boring Kentucky whiskeys. There are some very exciting Wisconsin whiskeys.  I even reviewed something rather amazing out of Nevada. What states a whiskey comes from is more of a technical detail rather than something I paint with a broad brush.

Today I'm reviewing a Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon from Boulder Spirits. Bottled-in-Bond is an attention-getter with me, as that's my favorite category of American whiskey. Colorado has a soft spot in my heart because I lived there for 20+ years. But, a whiskey has to earn its place into my Bottle, Bar, or Bust rating system and there are no free passes. 

Boulder Spirits is also known as Vapor Distillery. It is located in (you guessed it) Boulder. Their master distiller, Alastair Brogan, does not refer to himself as such, rather, he calls himself a Chieftain. Alastair is from Scotland, and he came to the United States with his Scottish style of distilling.  He uses a copper pot still from Scotland to distill his whiskey. 

In the case of this Bourbon, the mash consists of 51% corn, 44% barley, and 5% rye.  That's an amazing amount of barley!  Fermentation takes at least 36 hours, then the mash is run through the still twice. It is then placed in 53-gallon #3-char white oak barrels where it rests at least four years in a warehouse that is not temperature controlled. It was then proofed down to 100° (because that's all part of Bottled-in-Bond) using El Dorado Springs water.  Retail is $55.00.

Enough of the backstory, let's get on with the tasting, shall we?  First, I'd like to thank Boulder Spirits for providing me a sample of their Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon appears as a deep orange amber. It left a thin rim on the wall but generated fat, wavy, heavy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine. After the legs fell, small droplets stuck by the rim.

Nose:  It started off as corn, which was a bit surprising considering how low the corn content was. But, oak and a very definitive Granny Smith apple joined in, and that gave way to tropical fruit. Just when I thought I nailed it down, I found bubblegum. When I inhaled through my lips, thick, rich caramel danced across my tongue. 

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be light and airy. For 100° that was a bit unexpected. I also found a mild sizzle that wasn't quite heated but let you know it was there. At the front were toasted oak and roasted almond. That almond came through strong. As it moved to mid-palate, I tasted salted caramel and malted milk balls. Then, on the back, an interesting combination of green apple, smoked oak, and light spice probably attributed to the rye. 

Finish:  A medium-length finish featured smoked oak, light char, and creamy vanilla. I was frankly shocked that the vanilla never appeared on the palate itself because that's a quality most every Bourbon has. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:   There are a few things I want to discuss. First and foremost, this is dangerously easy to sip. I didn't taste the alcohol but it certainly made itself a known factor with how fast I drank it. Secondly, I was in love with the mid-palate more than anything else. I felt like a kid in a candy store.  Finally, I've had Bottled-in-Bond malt-heavy Bourbons before, they're always a bit weird, and this one was no different. But, I need to stress this one was weird in a good way.  If you like Colorado whiskeys, you're going to enjoy this Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon. If you're not a fan of Colorado whiskeys, I'm willing to bet this one will change your mind. This is $55.00 and I'm giving it a Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

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