Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Octomore 11.1 Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

This is one of a three-part review series of the Octomore 11 release from Bruichladdich.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Octomore is an annual release of whiskies. But, it isn't just another whisky - Octomore boasts to be the heaviest-peated Scotches around.

The fascinating thing about Octomore is the whole idea isn't supposed to work. But, before I explain why, the big question is, What is peat? In a nutshell, peat is the waste of plant material that is compressed in bogs and marshes. It is abundant around the world. Peat is typically harvested in bricks. The bricks are then burned for its heat in various gardening uses.

In terms of whisky, peat is used to dry barley and cease the germination process. Burning peat results in phenols, or smoky qualities, and phenols are measured in parts per million (PPM). Your heavily-peated Scotches, typically from the Islay region of Scotland, such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg for the most part ring in somewhere at 55 PPM or less. 

Now, let's cycle back. Why should the whole idea of Octomore be unworkable?  Firstly, the PPM is about 2.5 times that of those other Scotches. Secondly, it is a younger whiskey. Thirdly, it is bottled at cask strength. What that should translate to is a young, hot, batch of alcohol that stinks like burning tires.

Today I'm reviewing Octomore 11.1.  It starts with 100% Concerto and Prodino Scottish grown barley which was harvested in 2013. That barley was distilled in 2014 and then aged in first-fill American whiskey barrels from Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, and Jack Daniel's. At five years old, it came out of the barrel at 59.4% ABV.  There was no chill-filtering done and it is naturally colored. The yield was 30,000 bottles.

What have I left out of that description? The 139.6 PPM of phenols!

Does that sound a bit scary? Will Octomore 11.1 have any quality aside from smoke and ash? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious.  However, before I do that, I need to offer some transparency.

I was provided samples of Octomore 11.1, 11.3, and 10-Year in exchange for reviews. I've been recruited as part of a group of US-based whiskey writers dubbed The Octomore Eleven. We were selected to assist with the launch of Octomore 11. However, my review is 100% mine, it is as always my true tasting notes and experience. As you know, my reputation is everything.

I want to make one other thing clear. It would be a huge mistake to pour Octomore into a glass and drink it without letting it breathe. Bruichladdich recommends eight minutes. I recommend between ten and fifteen. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, 11.1 appeared as the color of sauvignon blanc wine. It was pale and clear. It left a medium rim that stuck to the wall like glue. Flat, slow legs eventually formed but even after they dropped, the rim remained.  

Nose:  While I was giving this my ten-minute wait, sitting outside on my deck, the smoky peat was evident. It made my mouth water. Yet, when I went to start the nosing process, the peat was much less than I prepared myself for.  The aroma of peat, of course, was there. But, I found brine, pear, citrus, apricot, and a sweet floral quality. When I inhaled through my lips, the smoke and pear teased my palate.

Palate:  The mouthfeel had a warming, medium body. It came as no surprise that smoky peat would be there. It took a sip or two to start identifying what lay beneath.  Smoke and black pepper were up on the front. Mid-palate became a very complex recipe of pear, apple, citrus, cocoa, and mace. Then, on the back, I ran into clove that I could almost chew and brine. 

Finish:  A very long and lasting finish of smoke, oak, and clove remained. The clove rolled on and on and suddenly fell off a cliff.  It did make my hard palate tingle. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Despite the explosive number of 139.6 PPM, this whisky was well-balanced and so much more than smoke. I almost psyched myself out and was a cautious taking that first sip. I prepared to have my palate wrecked, but that never happened. I was pleased with how much complexity existed and how flavorful this Scotch turned out. 

The unknown factor for me is the price. I have not been provided with suggested retail prices, but I have seen Octomore previous releases in the low-to-mid-$100 range, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest it is in that neighborhood. Octomore 11.1 is absolutely in a class by itself, and while it isn't the destroyer of palates that made me nervous, you absolutely must be a fan of peated whiskies, otherwise, this is not the dip-your-toe-in-the-pool opportunity. 

As for myself, I really enjoy peated whiskies and was very impressed. If that's your jam, too, then you'll also appreciate my Bottle rating for Octomore 11.1. Feel the peat, but don't fear it. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Bruichladdich: The Octomore Eleven


  • Part One of The Octomore 11 Insider's Guide, "Background and History of Bruichladdich" has been released and can be found on ScotchNoob's blog
  • Part Three of The Octomore 11 Insider’s Guide, “The Numbering System and History of Releases,” is live on The Whiskey Jug's blog
  • Part Four of The Octomore 11 Insider's Guide, "Processes and Recipes," is live on Whisky Monster's blog
  • Part Five of the Octomore 11 Insider's Guide, "Tasting Advice and Notes" is live on Whisky Monster's blog as well
  • Part Six of the Octomore 11 Insider's Guide, "Food Pairings and Settings" is live on The Charred Cask's blog

Octomore.  Have you heard about it?  If that's new to you, it is a Scotch for folks who love peat. I don't mean just a little peat. I mean a mouthful of it! You see, Octomore, which is made by Bruichladdich, is hands-down the most heavily-peated Scotch around. More peat than Laphroig. More peat than Lagavulin. More peat than even Ardbeg. 

Octomore is a special release each Fall. Fans run to the store and snag their bottles as soon as it is released, they post all over social media photos of their trophies, just like what happens with many coveted whiskey releases. Well, here we are, it is Fall, and the 11th incarnation is about to hit the shelves on October 1st.

I've always been big on transparency. That's one of the things I point out when folks do things right, especially in the whiskey business. I also hold myself to that very rigorous standard - I am always transparent with my readers.

 The Octomore 11 consist of the following: 

We were paired together (which was an interesting challenge all by itself)  to each write a section of this handbook.  I was teamed up with Nathan to pen the Background and History of Bruichladdich, which is the first installment. Nathan is a great guy, and despite the fact we have very different writing styles, I believe we meshed well together.

So, yes, there is sponsored content that I am sharing today, and yes, that means I was paid for my contribution to The Octomore 11 Insider's Guide. But, Nathan and I did our own research and what we've put together is our own thoughts.

As far as how I'm approaching the tasting notes and my final recommendations, those are not sponsored content and you can expect from me what you have always expected from me: You're going to get my honest opinion on the Octomore 11 releases. This week I will also publish my reviews on Octomore 11.1, Octomore 11.3, and Octomore 10 Year

And now, it is time to release the first two sections of the Insider's Guide.  The first, as mentioned, was created by Nathan and me, and that chapter is being hosted on his ScotchNoob blog. The second installment is called The Origins of Octomore, composed by Scotch Trooper and Marvel at Whisky. As neither has a dedicated blog, I'm hosting it on mine. This is a fascinating read, and I hope you enjoy it. Cheers!


2. The Origins of Octomore

On the Origin of Octomore by Means of Masterful Selection, and the Preservation of Peated Malt in the Struggle for Whisky Perfection. (cite: Charles Darwin)


With a wee wry smile, he’d say “because no one else had the balls to do it”.


When it comes to the origins of Octomore, it may have started with a singular experiment to see how peaty Jim McEwan could make a whisky, but that was just the beginning.


Bruichladdich has always been known as an experimental distillery, the “progressive Hebridean distillers”, yet in 2002, that state of mind took on a whole new meaning. With the production of a whisky peated to 80 parts per million (PPM) – the measurement used to determine the phenol content of the malted barley – a benchmark was set. In that moment, 80 PPM defined a brand identity and “Octo”, the Greek and Latin word for eight, became the root from which the name Octomore was born.


As with all pioneers, challenging the status quo is habitual, and once that dream had been conceived, retreat was simply not an option. In the world of Octomore, to dare is to do. Yet to defy the traditionalists and all that is accepted in the world of whisky, was thought a fruitless mission, an experiment that could not succeed. How could it?


A young, super heavily peated, cask strength whisky would go against the very grain of widely-adopted industry conventions, it was an impossible task, and solving it, an impossible equation. For Jim and his team however, what was to become the Octomore equation, was the evolution of much more than simply the pursuit of peat. Octomore presented Bruichladdich with the opportunity to consider whisky in its entirety, to explore the sum total of what can be created when you start with no preconceived notions.


And so, with only one constant – that the whisky should never be less than 80 PPM, the Octomore team set forth on a journey of discovery of the spirit, the peat, the cask and the process. With no knowing of what was to be realized and wild variations from batch by batch, that inconsistency became the very story of Octomore.


Therein lies the impossible equation: What if the sum total of all these unlikely parts, sewn together through a philosophy of intrigue, curiosity and innovation, meant that an improbable theory was actually solvable? A concept which should be unthinkable, let alone drinkable, was actually a revelation. 


Over the years that followed, Octomore has typically been released after a 5 year maturation period, peated up to a mind-bending 309 PPM and bottled at around 60% abv. The series has prevailed and become an accepted formula that proves nothing is impossible. When it comes to Octomore, there is simply nothing else like it.


Octomore is one of those whiskies, that if you know, well, you know. When you nose that glass, when that liquid touches your lips and you taste it, you can’t help but acknowledge the progressiveness of Octomore – a spirit of flawless integrity, a dram which respects the past, but does not live in its shadow. You realize the spirit is not too young, the cask and maturation process has been kind and imparted sweet, fruity and floral notes with a rich and mouth-coating profile. It is undeniably about the quality of the cask, not necessarily how long the spirit rests in there. You can taste the quality of distillation, the smoothness and balanced mouthfeel. This is a whisky that’s not driven by peat, what you think and what you taste are two different things. Rather, the peat binds the flavors together, not overbearing in any sense, complimenting and warming through the long finish.


Octomore is not a whisky for everyone, and that’s how we like it. For those that have risen to the challenge and spent time solving this impossible equation, they know, there is no other cult whisky that stands alongside it.


Part One of The Octomore 11 Insider's Guide, "Background and History of Bruichladdich" has been released and can be found on Scotch Noob's blog.

Part Three of The Octomore 11 Insider’s Guide, “The Numbering System and History of Releases,” will release tomorrow. Check back here for a link!

Rich a.k.a. @marvelatwhisky is a content creator widely recognised for this distinct visual identity of fusing spirits with animated characters. Whilst his public persona is designed to showcase his creative expression and technical skills, most of his work with brands is focused on graphic design and visual effects, rather than the superheroes for which he is renowned. Rich is an avid enthusiast of the golden spirits, be it Scotch, Whisk(e)y, Bourbon or Rye and advocates passionately for its use in resolving global conflict.

Brett is a whisky enthusiast with a Star Wars problem. He has worn many hats in the industry, but the one he enjoys most is sharing his whisky knowledge while playing with toys. Brett's mission has always been to show the light side of whisky by making it fun and approachable.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Tumblin' Dice Single Barrel Heavy Rye Mashbill Barrel Proof Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Barrel-proof whiskey can usually be counted on to be something special. Single barrel whiskey can as well. So, when you have a combination of the two in one bottle, that must mean it is special, right? Yeah, back that truck up a second.

Whiskey is many things, but consistency in either barrel-proof or single-barrel is not part of that equation. There are no two barrels that are exactly alike. It doesn't matter if you've got the same mash, take it from the same fermentation tank, distill it in the same run, cooper the barrels on the same day from the same shipment of staves, fill those barrels on the same day, place them next to each other for the exact amount of time, etc., I'm here to tell you, with 100% certainty, that those two barrels will not taste the same. It just isn't possible. That's the beauty of single-barrel whiskey - it is always something new.

Today I'm reviewing Tumblin' Dice 4-Year Old Single Barrell Barrel Proof Bourbon. I've already reviewed the 100° Small Batch version, and if you'd like to learn about Tumblin' Dice and read my tasting notes and rating, you can do so here.  Long story short, I loved it. But, again, this is a single barrel and it is barrel proof, so we're looking at a totally different animal.

What's the same?  Both are four years old. Both are from the same mashbill of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. Both are straight Bourbons. Both are sourced from MGP of Indiana. 

One interesting note that some folks misunderstand. This is a single-barrel Bourbon, but the label also says Sourced Small Batch.  Believe it or not, there is no legal definition of small batch.  It can consist of 10,000 barrels or just one, and there's no risk of running afoul of TTB labeling requirements. 

The proof on this barrel is 117.3°, and the suggested retail is $60.00. Remember that as we go through the tasting notes.  Before I get there, though, I'd like to thank Proof & Wood Ventures for providing me a sample of this Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. With that being said, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Tumblin' Dice appeared as a deep, dark chestnut color. It left a very thin rim on the wall, and fat, heavy, fast legs dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  There was a blast of dark fruits that hit my olfactory senses. It was difficult to get past that, but I was able to discern aromas of brown sugar and vanilla. Interestingly enough, there was a complete lack of ethanol or wood on the nose! As I inhaled through my mouth, light vanilla caressed my tongue. 

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick and full-bodied.  On the front of my palate, I found cinnamon, dark chocolate, and nutmeg. As the liquid worked its way back, plum, cherry, and brown sugar took center stage. Finally, on the back, a blend of cocoa powder, almond, and rye spice. 

Finish:  Here's where things get interesting. The finish was all spice but it wasn't overwhelming. It started with toasted oak, which was joined by white pepper, pink pepper, tobacco leaf, and then, after things were about to fall off, that toasted oak got very dry. There was a tinge of "heat" involved, but far less than you'd ever expect for 117.3°.  The entire thing was medium-to-long, and it did leave a bit of a zing on the hard palate.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Earlier I said to keep the proof and price in mind, and now I'll reveal why. For a four-year Bourbon, this is mind-blowing. Normally I don't compare younger Bourbons to older counterparts, but I'd throw this one up against anything double or even treble its age statement and sit very comfortably with that challenge. This is an amazing MGP barrel and was I on the barrel selection committee, I would have jumped all over this. Then, there's the price. This is a no-brainer. If you told me it was $80 or so, I wouldn't flinch. If you haven't yet guessed, this is an easy Bottle recommendation. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Thursday, September 24, 2020

2019 Ameireaganach Maris Otter Single Malt Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

"Part of our Ameireaganach Series of Single Malts, Maris Otter is an unpeated, single varietal single malt that we distilled from the “holy grail” of brewing malts, Maris Otter, known for its pale, malty character." 

If you're like me, you're looking at that quote and wondering how to even say the name of the series. It means American in Scottish Gaelic, and it is pronounced a whole lot easier than it is spelled:  Amer-i-connick. Now that I've taught you how to sound Scottish, what is it all about?

Let me start with ASW Distillery, which is located in Atlanta. ASW was only the second legal distillery in Atlanta since Prohibition. Master Distiller Justin Manglitz is a self-educated brewer whose dream was to become a distiller. Using dual Scottish-style copper pot stills constructed by Vendome, ASW's mission is to Do Something You Love

One of the whiskeys Manglitz distills is called Ameireaganach. It is an annual release of American Single Malts. Today I'm reviewing the 2019 edition, which is distilled from 100% Maris Otter barley, which is apparently something very special for brewers. Once fermented and run through the still, it is aged in #3 and #4 new, charred oak barrels.  Two-thirds of those barrels are #3 char, the remaining third is #4. While it carries no age statement, we know that means at least four years. It is bottle cask strength at 115.2° and a bottle will run about $53.00.

A friend gifted me a sample of this whiskey in exchange for my honest, no-holds-barred review. With that being said, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Scottish-style American Single Malt appeared as chestnut in color.  It left a thin rim and very fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Even before I was ready to start interacting with the glass, the room filled with fragrant, fruity notes. As I brought the glass to my face and inhaled it, it was like I was sniffing Heaven. Yeah, my brain went there and I don't know why. It started off with candied fruits and so many different kinds that I lost track. Stone fruits, berries, pineapple, and citrus were all in the mix. It was difficult to determine where one ended and the next began.  Once I got past those notes, I found dark chocolate, then toasted oak, then vanilla, and then pear. When I inhaled through my lips, it was definitely cinnamon apple.

Palate:  The first sip provided a thin and very oily mouthfeel. Additional sips kept that texture. The front started with an apple and, in a strange but pleasurable combination, fudge. Mid-palate was a blend of cinnamon spice, oak, pineapple, toasted coconut, raisin, and plum. Then, on the back, those fruity notes became candied, and all of a sudden there was the same issue with the nose: it became near-impossible to identify what fruits were dancing with one another. Beyond the fruit were pecan and oak. 

Finish:  A way-too-short finish rounded things up. I don't mean it was short in length, rather, I didn't want it to end!  Medium in length, it consisted of fudge, clove, and raisin.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I won't say this was the single most complex nose I've experienced, but I couldn't tell you what would beat it. It was beyond crazy. I thought I'd have an easy time with the palate from both the front and middle, but, oh, that back! I have never heard of ASW Distilling prior to this sample, but they've captivated my attention. 

How amazing is this American Single Malt? I could see this being a serious contender for my 2020 American Whiskey of the Year if not my Whiskey of the Year. Yeah, this is that good. The fact this can be had for only $53.00 is mind-blowing. I shouldn't need to say this, but this one earns the coveted Bottle recommendation. Cheers!

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

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ole George 100% Straight Rye Review & Tasting Notes


I'm not all that into backstories. Truth be told, I don't take them at face value. Everyone has a grandpappy's grandpappy who was a moonshiner or distiller, had a secret family recipe that was lost for however many years, and then it was magically found behind an old cabinet that had been passed down from family member to family member, waiting to be resurrected. Or something like that.

So, when I read the story on the back of Ole George and saw the words "Grandpa George" jump out at me, I had to roll my eyes a bit. I discovered the backstory doesn't go back too many generations. There is no talk of secret recipes. Here's what it says:

I grew up on a family farm in Michigan. One day, in the hayloft, I discovered three well-used whiskey jugs. Grandpa George, a Polish immigrant, was putting grain to good use. Fast forward to 2005. We opened Grand Traverse Distillery, Northern Michigan's first craft distillery. We use only local grains. We distill and bottle every spirit we sell. No. shortcuts. Grandpa George would be proud. 

Those words are from Kent Rabish, grandson of George, founder of Grand Traverse Distillery. Ole George is their 100% Straight Rye Whiskey, and that's what I'm reviewing today.

Kent's son, Landis, is the Master Distiller. It is a grain-to-glass operation. The mash starts with, as the label suggests, 100% rye.  95% of it is unmalted, the remainder malted. It is triple-distilled in a copper pot still and then placed in new, charred oak to age. And, while the bottle carries no age statement, we know that means it is at least four years. Interestingly enough, it is bottled at 93° but does not get proofed down. That's right, despite that low number, this is barrel-proof whiskey. It is also non-chill filtered, so you're getting every bit of flavor the whiskey has to offer. A 750ml bottle will set you back about $54.00.

I'd like to thank Grand Traverse Distillery for sending me a sample of Ole George in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Ole George presented as a deep, copper color and was clear, despite being non-chill fitered. It created a thin rim that offered thick, heavy legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Things started off with floral rye, and was joined with cinnamon and oak. Caramel took over, and after some serious exploring, I found sweet fruity notes. When I inhaled through my lips, I tasted black pepper and vanilla - an interesting combination indeed. 

Palate:  This whiskey had a very airy mouthfeel. I don't say that lightly. This was a step above drinking vapor!  Flavors of cocoa, nutmeg, and allspice were the first flavors to hit me. As it moved mid-palate, orange zest, oak, and dense rye bread took over. Then, on the back, a marriage of black pepper and barrel char.

Finish:   The barrel char stuck around in the finish. Clove, smoked oak, and tobacco added to a long-lasting, spicy, smoky completion. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  How on earth you create barrel-proof whiskey offering an almost lighter-than-air mouthfeel eludes me. The smoke quality on the finish should not be confused with peat, it comes from the char. This is wonderfully balanced and interesting. Take into account the mid-tier price for craft whiskey, and Ole George snags my Bottle rating - you'll love this. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


I'm just going to come out and say it. This is, to date, the most expensive whiskey I've ever reviewed:  $1299.00 a bottle.  For the record, I've tasted more expensive liquor but never reviewed it. Today I'm drinking a Highland Scotch: The Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage, from The GlenDronach.

The Kingsman is a collaboration between Master Blender Dr. Rachel Barrie and The Kingsman franchise director Matthew Vaughn. It was inspired by a bottle of whiskey at the distillery - the oldest one they had - a 29-year Single Malt from 1913.

"This expression is deep in meaning, paying homage to fallen friends who bravely fought during WWI, and the depth of character and integrity shared by both The GlenDronach and the Kingsman agency. This is none other than a whisky truly fit for a King’s Man." - Dr. Rachel Barrie

As a Single Malt, this is 100% malted barley. It was distilled in 1989, then aged for 29 years in Oloroso sherry casks. Then, it was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks before being bottled at 50.1% ABV. A total of 3052 bottles exist and they hit the shelves on September 1st.

Now that you know all of the facts, it is time to #DrinkCurious.  But, first, I'd like to thank The GlenDronach for providing me with a sample of The Kingsman in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's get to it, shall we?

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, at the vantage point I'm looking at it, it looks like motor oil. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that would be used in a whisky review.  This is the deepest, darkest whisky I've ever laid eyes on. Naturally-colored or not, caramel coloring doesn't do this. This is a result of being in the barrel for 29 years. The photo below is not run through any filter.

It left no rim on the glass at all. No matter how many times I tried to generate one, it never happened. It was just a curtain of alcohol that fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:   If you hung out at a fruit stand, you'd understand what I'm about to describe. Fig. Apricot. Raisin. Plum. Citrus. But, it wasn't all fruit. Dark chocolate and cinnamon dust hid beneath all that. When I inhaled through my mouth, fig and vanilla rolled across my palate.

Palate:  As I tipped the glass to my lips, it was thick and luxurious like syrup. As far as flavor, that orchard just kept slamming my tastebuds. Raisin, fig, plum, vanilla, and brown sugar kept the front of my palate busy. Come mid-palate, the brown sugar became molasses. Almond and orange peel were there, too. Then, on the back, I found dark chocolate, cocoa, clove, nutmeg, and then pear.

Finish:  Raisin was the obvious flavor, and that was followed by berries, oak, and nutmeg. But, then, it was like I shoved a huge piece of rum-soaked fruitcake in my mouth. The good kind of fruitcake, not the rock-hard crap that nobody is willing to open. There was a smidge of gingerbread. And, just before I thought things were done, the pear reappeared.  This was a long-lasting finish that just wouldn't give up.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I write for the everyman. That's my schtick. The average whiskey drinker isn't spending $1300 on a bottle of booze. A review needs a rating. 

I have no idea what a pour of this might cost at a bar. A couple hundred? Who the hell knows. But, this was a damned good whisky. It is absolutely memorable. Have I tried a better Scotch? I've had 40+-year-old Scotch, which was amazeballs, but this is just beyond words. This is not just a drink, this is an experience.

If you have deep pockets and want a really special pour, this one earns a Bottle. If you have an opportunity to try The Kingsman, whether a bottle or a dram at a bar, go for it. Your wallet will be lighter but I guarantee you won't be unhappy. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Still & Oak Straight Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


If you've followed my whiskey reviews for long, you know that my goal is to always be fair. Part of that impartiality is to not make unfair comparisons. As an example, it is unfair to compare young Ryes to older ones.  They're really two distinct categories.  Oh, not legally or anything like that, this is just my preference.  Younger Ryes are often robust and have sharp notes, whereas their older siblings are more mature and mellowed. The same thing with Bourbons - I expect certain things from younger Bourbons and I expect something different from those that are more aged.  It just isn't realistic to make comparisons within each type of American whiskey.

Today, I'm reviewing Still & Oak Straight Rye.  This is a younger Rye, aged two years, and distilled by Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee. If you're unfamiliar with Great Lakes, it was founded in 2004 as Wisconsin's first distillery since Prohibition. The goal of distiller Guy Rehorst was "a commitment to making truly original craft spirits that have 'a little Wisconsin' in every drop."

With regard to this Rye, everything about it is Wisconsin-sourced. It starts with Wisconsin rye grain, both malted and unmalted.  That's mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged on-site in #4-char, 53-gallon barrels and is non-chill filtered before being bottled at 90°.  A 750ml bottle will run about $34.99.

I'd like to thank Great Lakes Distillery for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, let's #DrinkCurious

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Rye appeared as coppery. It left a thick rim on the wall and very heavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  This starts as an obviously young Rye with a very minty nose. Oak, rye bread, dill, and ginger were hidden beneath the mint.  When I inhaled through my mouth, dill rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was a bit oily and had a medium body. On the front of my palate, strong black pepper, and equally strong black coffee woke my mouth up. As it moved down to mid-palate, I discovered dark chocolate, plum, and oak.  Then, on the back, it was a serious note of tobacco leaf.

Finish: A little rollercoastering happened. At first, it was dry oak, then a blast of citrus, and finally, smoky barrel char. These were all distinct, separate notes. The finish itself was long-lasting, but that citrus was an eye-opener because it was out of place.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  There is no pretending this is an older, mature Rye.  It fits its profile of a younger one nicely, yet offers some unique experiences, particularly on the finish. I liked the big, bold opener.  I found the citrus on the finish fun. The fact that craft whiskey these days averages about $50.00, this one is very affordable. I'm tossing a Bottle rating at it, I think you'll enjoy it, too. Cheers!

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

Monday, September 14, 2020

Fresh Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Classic and aged is something many folks look for in whiskey. Fresh and new is something many reviewers get excited over. It isn't that we don't love the tried-and-true stuff (because we absolutely do), rather, we're also looking for something cutting edge and not quite on everyone's radar. As such, when a sample of Fresh Bourbon arrived at my doorstep, I was both curious and excited.

What, exactly, is Fresh Bourbon?  It started in 2017 by founders Sean and Tia Edwards. Their goal was to create unique whiskeys and other distilled spirits, as well as opening their own distillery, Fresh Bourbon Distilling Company. As we all know, building a distillery takes time, and while the campus is currently under construction, they're contract distilling with Hartfield & Co. Distillery in Paris, Kentucky. 

What makes their idea fresh? According to the Kentucky Senate, the Edwards have been recognized as the owners of the first African-American owned distillery in the state. That's not just fresh, that's huge.

The Edwards didn't want to go the route of what many craft distillers do: they were not going to source their whiskey. They use their own proprietary mash of 60% corn, 20% honey malt, 10% malted wheat, and 10% malted rye. It was run through a 500-gallon pot still. To bring things to market sooner, they're using small barrels - six gallons or less. This first batch aged in a 5-gallon new, charred-oak barrel for four months. 

Before you freak out, a five-gallon barrel is really small. Anything inside that will age quickly, probably a lot faster than you'd ever imagined.

Fresh Bourbon is packaged at 95° in 750ml bottles that will set you back $42.00.  However, currently, you have to pre-order it from their website as those bottles won't be available until late 2020 or early 2021. Pre-ordering will continue until the end of September. This leads to a question: Should you buy now and taste later? It is time to #DrinkCurious, and I'd like to thank the Edwards for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Fresh Bourbon presented as a medium-orange amber. Frankly, it could pass for a variety of Bourbons you'd see on any store shelf. I couldn't get it to generate a rim on the wall. Each time I attempted, the Bourbon would immediately fall down with speedy, thicker legs. This is a glass that I've used plenty of times for reviews and I know it does not have a hydrophobic coating. 

Nose:  Things continued to be unusual with the aroma:  it was a blast of smoked honey. Corn and floral notes joined the club. I also found sawdust. But, the honey carried over those notes. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, it was sweet corn.

Palate: A light-bodied texture opened to flavors of honeysuckle and corn. Mid-palate provided almond and the back charred oak.

Finish:  Medium-to-long with honeysuckle, char, milk chocolate, and black pepper. When I assumed the finish ended, it felt like a drop of honey was crawling down my throat.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Fresh Bourbon was very sweet.  If you told me this was honey-infused, it wouldn't surprise me in the least. If you told me this was a beer that was run through the still, that wouldn't shock me, either. But, that's the honey malt in action. In fact, Gambrinus Malting Corp., the manufacturer of it, recommends brewers use at least 20% to impart the honey flavor profile, and the Edwards followed that recommendation in their mash.

I felt like I was drinking a sweeter beer. I'm not a beer drinker. But, I'm also cognizant of the fact many whiskey drinkers also enjoy beer. If that's your jam, then I'm going to suggest giving Fresh Bourbon a try. You may really like it, it just isn't for me. Because of that, I'm offering my Bar rating. On a final note, applaud the Edwards for trying something very unique - that takes a lot of guts. Cheers!

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

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Whiskey Acres Artisan Series 5.5 Grain Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


This review was originally published on November 8, 2018, on Facebook

I’m always excited when something new and unusual comes out. Sure, there’s always a new brand coming out, but every so often, someone releases their own distillate that is uniquely their own. It provides an opportunity to rock the market. Conversely, it can also be risky, and if not well-received, can squash someone’s dreams (and investment).

Whiskey Acres Distilling Company is a farm-to-bottle distiller. They grow and harvest their own grain, distill it, age, and bottle it in Dekalb, Illinois. They age whiskey in 15-gallon barrels. Recently, I was provided a sample bottle of their very-soon-to-be-released Artisan Series 5.5 Grain Bourbon Whiskey. I thank Whiskey Acres for their generosity and understanding that it will be used for an honest, no-strings-attached review.

I’m sure the first question to hit your mind (because it was mine) is, “What the heck is a 5.5 Grain Bourbon?” I’d never heard of half-grain before! As it turns out, the mash is made of 50% yellow dent corn, 10% Oaxacan green corn, 10% rye, 10% oat, 10% wheat and 10% malted barley. That’s either five or six grains, right? Well, not the way Whiskey Acres markets it. They consider two types of corn to be less than two grains. If nothing else, it is certainly an “attention getter” and memorable.

Using those 15-gallon barrels, 5.5 Grain Bourbon is aged for two years and 11 days. That may not seem like much, but when you consider the smaller barrels, things tend to age more quickly. Whiskey Acres then proofed it down to 87° and packaged it in 375ml bottles with a suggested retail of $29.99. Do the math, and that’s a $60 standard bottle, which is at the higher end of craft Bourbon.

The big question, as always, is, how’s it taste? Time to #DrinkCurious and find out.

Appearance: In the glass, it was a darkish amber, suggesting an older whiskey if not but for the fact this was aged in smaller barrels. A gentle swirl left a medium-rim on the wall of my Glencairn and produced fat legs that stuck in place like glue. They eventually fell but put an expectation in my mind this would be a full-bodied whiskey.

Nose: Ethanol was present, but after letting the glass rest several minutes, it eventually dissipated. Holding my glass at my chin level brought oak and corn. Rolling the rim on my chin side to side allowed the oak to give way to a hint of stone fruit. Lifting the glass to my lips brought a much more obvious cherry that caused my mouth to water. Wafting into my nostrils the cherry went from tart to sweet. Inhaling through my lips brought corn and vanilla.

Palate: The first sip was a watery mouthfeel that was unexpected. There was nothing harsh that you can sometimes experience with a rapidly-aged whiskey, and the wheat gave it a certain airy quality, almost like filtered water. Up front, flavors of sweet corn and oak mimicked the nose. At mid-palate, creamy vanilla with the slightest hint of stone fruit, and, in the back, the mild spiciness of the rye jumped out.

Finish: The finish was, well, different. Initially, disappointment came over me because it was almost non-existent. But, 30 or so seconds later, it popped out as a complex smattering of oak, black pepper, clove, and vanilla that hung around several minutes. It turned my frown upside down. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: This is, without a doubt, an unusual craft whiskey. If you have an adventurous palate and truly embrace the #DrinkCurious lifestyle, a 375ml for $29.99 is a nifty investment that will give you something to talk about and share with like-minded friends. I’m in that group and as such, rate it a Bottle. However, if you’re into more traditional Bourbons and are uncomfortable stepping outside your comfort zone, then this is one you should try at a Bar (or in this case, at the distillery). Cheers!

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

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Standard Proof Pecan Infused Rye Review & Tasting Notes

I've reviewed flavored whiskeys before. They're a different kind of spirit to review because not only am I trying to review the flavor, but also the whiskey hiding underneath the flavor.  Is the producer trying to show off a skill, or, conversely, trying to salvage a mediocre (or even horrible) whiskey?

"Standard Proof Whiskey Co. was born behind the bar in Nashville, TN. Our whiskey infusions began as a well-kept secret created by bartenders to share with friends and frequent bar patrons. Aged in new, American oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof, our quality rye whiskey is carefully infused with only the finest natural ingredients." -- Standard Proof Whiskey Co.

If you were to ask me about the veracity of the backstory, I have no idea. However, I will say that's to the one that Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey uses. As far as I can tell, the two brands are unrelated.

Standard Proof Whiskey Co. has been advertising on social media like crazy.  Naturally, when I stumble across something I've never heard of, I want to know more. Established in 2017, this non-distilling producer (NDP) offers infused Rye whiskeys. As far as finding out who the actual distiller is, that becomes challenging. The whiskey comes from a mash of 51% rye, 44% corn, and 5% malted barley. I've only found one distiller who uses this mashbill, but it wouldn't make sense as it likely doesn't have enough stock to share.

Today I'm reviewing its Pecan Rye. Standard Proof takes San Saba pecans from Texas and infuses them into the Rye for 14 weeks.  The label indicates it uses real pecan. The Rye is then filtered through a proprietary process. A 750ml bottle runs about $28.00.

I'd like to thank Standard Proof for sending me a sample of this Rye in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.  And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Pecan Rye appeared as a cloudy, bronze-amber color. It left a medium rim on the glass that yielded fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool.

Nose:  Ethanol was the first thing to hit my olfactory senses despite allowing it to rest in my glass for about twenty minutes.  But, underneath that was the distinct smell of sweet pecan pie. I also found oak, barrel char, and the slightest hint of mint. When I inhaled through my mouth, I was hit with the ethanol again and the mint was more prevalent.

Palate:  My first sip was thin and oily. It was harsh and not enjoyable. At my tasting events, I always tell folks to never judge a whiskey on the first sip.  As I explored further, I unearthed cinnamon and honey-roasted pecans on the front. Mid-palate, vanilla, corn, and nutmeg took over - pretty much the start of pecan pie filling. On the back, milk chocolate drowned everything else out.

Finish:  The milk chocolate was rounded by oak and candied pecan. It took several sips to figure out because the finish was so short.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I stated earlier, my initial experience was not pleasant. But, as I continued to sip, it improved.  Each time I swallowed, I picked up a stronger and more dominant note of milk chocolate. The finish never added length. The ethanol eventually burned off but it took over thirty minutes to happen. I don't mind at all allowing whiskey to breathe, I do it all the time as my standard tasting procedure. However, I don't usually have to wait as long as I had to for things to open naturally. This Pecan Rye was decent. I couldn't tell you about the quality of the Rye used as any real Rye notes were masked by the pecan. I've tested and reviewed other Pecan whiskeys that proved superior to the Standard Proof version and priced competitively so. As such, I'm extending a Bar recommendation.  Try this one before you commit to a bottle. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Monday, September 7, 2020

Barrell Bourbon Batch 024 Review & Tasting Notes


Barrel-proof whiskey is a ton of fun. First of all, it is exciting to taste something in its purest form, before it has been adulterated.  Secondly, it gives you a chance to play around by carefully adding water or ice, bringing out different notes, yet still have enough proof to enjoy what's there.

Then there's the art of blending. Some folks get hung up on single barrels, single malts, etc. I make it a point at any of my tasting events for my guests to keep an open mind - single barrels and single malts can be awesome, but blending is a learned skill and unless you're very, very lucky, you don't just mix things together and wind up with a good finished product. Play around with an infinity bottle - you'll understand that many great whiskeys blended together do not necessarily make for a good blend. 

Today I'm reviewing Barrell Bourbon, Batch 024 from Barrell Craft Spirits. Barrell isn't distilling - rather, they're blenders. They take great care in selecting the barrels they believe will create something special. They also don't source from a single distillery. In the case of Batch 024, it sourced from Indiana (MGP), Tennessee (Dickel), and Kentucky (yeah, I have no idea). Barrell found high-rye Bourbon barrels between nine and fifteen years old.  The nine, ten, and thirteen-year barrels were chosen for their spicy qualities. Then, a fifteen-year was chosen for its citrusy notes. By the time the blending process is done, barrel-proof is 113.9°.  A 750ml will set you back about $89.99.

That's in the category of what I consider pricy, and as such, it needs to be special to get a Bottle rating from me. I'd like to thank Barrell Craft Spirits for providing me a sample of Batch 024 in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Batch 024 presented as mahogany in color. It created a very thick rim and fat droplets that stuck like glue. They continued to form until they became too heavy, then started to crawl back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  A floral perfume hit my olfactory senses. Once I got past that, I discovered oak, and then it became an orchard. I found orange peel, apples, pear, and a huge slap of cherry. Before the nose ended, cinnamon and nutmeg added a bit of spice. When I inhaled through my lips, it became a vanilla bomb.

Palate:  This was a thin, oily Bourbon, and that shocked me because of how it stuck to the glass. Things started off with an earthy quality, followed by oak and cocoa powder on the front. As the liquid moved to mid-palate, I tasted dark chocolate, gingerbread cookies, and cinnamon. On the back, there was a harmony of leather, tobacco leaf, clove, and cherry.

Finish:  I found a very, very long finish of black pepper, clove, and a hint of saline. While I didn't experience a blast of "heat" from the proof, my hard palate was noticeably numb.

My desire to see what would happen if I added distilled water became overwhelming. Using an eye-dropper, I added only two drops. That should be enough to bring out new sensations without overdiluting things. 

Nose:  At barrel-proof, there was a lot of fruit. With the added water, it just exploded with plum and cherry. Then notes of cinnamon and brown sugar, and, finally, banana cream pie with Nilla cookies. It was crazy, I could smell that whole desert!  When I inhaled through my lips, it was all milk chocolate.

Palate:  It is amazing what water can do to change a mouthfeel. That thin, oily attribute was gone and it transformed into a thick, creamy one. Cinnamon, gingerbread, and vanilla were at the front. Brown sugar, caramel, and mace then took center stage. On the back, dry oak, cola, and cherry rounded things out.

Finish:  Black pepper, and clove remained, but those were accompanied by dry oak and banana pudding, offering an unusual experience.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I appreciated what Batch 024 had to offer when sipped neat. I was ready to give it a Bottle rating. When I added water, I not-so-silently prayed I wouldn't dilute it too much. Despite enjoying it neat, those two drops of water made things fascinating. In either case, the Flintstones vitamin sensation that is typical of Dickel was completely absent, and that was a bonus. Barrell did a stellar job blending barrels from the three distilleries and created something well worth $90.00. It snags my Bottle rating, and I invite you to play around with distilled water if you buy one. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It