Friday, April 30, 2021

The Dark Door Washington Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

We hear the term craft more often than not when it comes to American whiskey. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. We even see some legacy distillers try to eek out that their whiskey is somehow craft whiskey. But, what, exactly, is craft whiskey?

Like various words in the wonderful world of whiskey, such as small-batch, extra-aged, and others, craft is one of those marketing terms that has no legal definition.  It is understood to mean it is produced on a small-scale operation and usually connotes some form of hand-made, better quality than one that was mass-produced. If we stick to that assumed definition, this is an opportunity for things to become interesting. 

Today I'm reviewing The Dark Door, which is a Washington Straight Bourbon that is distilled, aged, and bottled by Wildwood Spirits Co. out of Bothell. Owner, Master Distiller, and sommelier Erik Liedholm teamed up with renowned Chef John Howie to create a craft Bourbon meant to stand apart from others on the shelf. But, why call it Dark Door?

“Since bourbon names are expected to be somewhat evil, magical, maniacal, catchy, I thought why not `Dark Door’? My parent’s house is already the Wildwood emblem on the back label of all our products. Why not keep to the theme – and keep people wondering?” - Erik Liedholm

This whiskey begins with a mash of 80% corn and 20% white wheat. All the grain comes from local farms and is non-GMO, making it a true grain-to-glass Bourbon. It is then distilled and then put into highly-charred barrels from an undisclosed Missouri cooperage known for constructing superior wine barrels. These are smaller barrels, which means that in theory, it matures faster than if placed in standard 53-gallon ones.

Resting a few months beyond two years, the Bourbon is dumped and then diluted to 90° before being bottled. You can expect to pay about $50.00 for a 750ml package. It is sold in Washington but is available for purchase online.

I'd like to thank Wildwood Spirits Co. for providing me a sample of The Dark Door in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. For the record, this is from Barrel #17.  And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious to taste what this Bourbon is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Dark Door presented as the color of chestnut. It formed a thin but sticky rim on the wall that produced thick, wavy legs that crawled back to the pool of whiskey.

Nose:  An obvious punch of raw honey hit my olfactory senses. That was joined by freshly-sawn wood, apple, and raisin. I could have easily mistaken this for a sherry-finished whiskey simply based upon what I smelled. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, it was like I had a mouthful of golden raisins. 

Palate:  The mouthfeel was slightly oily and spicy. The front started with barrel char, then became sweet with corn and vanilla. At mid-palate, if I closed my eyes, I could imagine biting into a Bit O' Honey candy. The back consisted of orange blossom, milk chocolate, and bone-dry oak.

Finish:  That oak tannin continued well into the long, mostly spicy finish. It was joined by the barrel char from the front, big black pepper, which was strangely offset by caramel and milk chocolate. Just as I thought everything was over, a dollop of honey slid down my throat making everything just nice.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Getting back to craft whiskey, $50.00 seems to be the sweet spot no matter how old or young it is. With the use of smaller cooperage, The Dark Door drinks older than two years. I will say that the use of those barrels, special or not, was easily identifiable with the dominant wood notes. The more I sipped, the more enjoyable this Bourbon became as my palate accepted the woodiness and allowed me to concentrate on other notes. I believe 90° is correct for The Dark Door. It is an interesting pour that is perfect for someone who wants to drink something off the beaten path, and that's me. As such, I'm handing The Dark Door my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Ardbeg Wee Beastie Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

The minimum age a whisky must have in order to be called Scotch is three years. I've seen a lot of labels, and not too many will offer a three-year age statement. 

If I called something The Ultimate, my guess is you'd expect it to be a premium product. How many of you would consider five years a premium whisky?

Now, wait just a darned minute, Whiskeyfellow! Aren't you the one who has said time and time again that age is just a number and an age statement is not an indicator of quality? Why, yes, yes I have.

Ardbeg is a name that is well-known by fans of Islay Scotch. Heavily-peated between 50 and 55 phenol parts per million (ppm), Ardbeg doesn't fool around. While Ardbeg is known for having no-age-statement whiskies (including one of my personal favorites, Corryvrecken), they're not known for bottling young whisky. But, today, I'm writing about a five-year single malt called Wee Beastie

Wee Beastie is the youngest expression Ardbeg has ever released and is the newest addition to its permanent lineup. Bottled at 47.4% ABV (or 94.8°), it is also the most affordable from the distillery at only $39.99. Like everything else Ardbeg releases, it is non-chill filtered. Wee Beastie was aged in both Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks.

"Young and intensely smoky, this is a dram untamed by age. Matured in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, Wee Beastie is perfect for enjoying neat or as the mouth-watering main ingredient in a powerfully smoky cocktail." - Ardbeg

I purchased my bottle of Wee Beastie based on my long experience with Ardbeg. Prior to purchase, I'd never tasted it. But, it is time to #DrinkCurious and discover what this youngster is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Wee Beastie looked like the color of straw. It formed a medium ring with incredibly slow legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  This is typical Ardbeg, meaning the peat can be smelled from across the room. It was sweeter than many of what Ardbeg offers, somewhat comparable to An Oa. But, beyond that was something I've rarely encountered - smoked meats, and of that, both brisket and pastrami. It made me salivate. I also smelled apple and pear. When I sucked the aroma in my mouth, I could swear I tasted freshly-cut pine trees.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was oily with a medium body. The more I sipped, the oilier it became. On the front of my palate, I found apple, pear, and oak. There was also a dusting of cocoa powder. As it moved to the middle, it became briny with a hint of raisin (likely from the sherry) and dark chocolate. The back had flavors of sweet tobacco, barbeque sauce, and barrel char.

Finish:  Dry and chewy, the finish consisted of charred oak, pastrami, black pepper, dark chocolate, and brine. Originally the finish was medium-short but expanded to medium-long with additional swallows. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  It is difficult to see a bottle of Ardbeg at this price and ignore it, youthful or not. There are some distillers that have that sort of magical power, and I'm not talking hype. Wee Beastie doesn't disappoint with its smoky punch, character, and distinct mouthfeel. Not only do I think this was a good purchase, but I believe it is a steal. Wee Beastie is an absolute Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, April 26, 2021

Blood Oath Pact 7 Review & Tasting Notes


I don't know if kids do this anymore, but back in the day (wow does that make me sound old!), if you made a solemn promise, you committed a blood oath. You even called yourselves blood brothers. A blood oath is a pact committed by each person involved by cutting themselves, then shaking hands, and "blending" the blood between the two (or more).

Truth be told, I'm pretty squeamish and never participated in a blood oath. I'm fairly confident there's not enough whiskey that would convince me a blood oath was a good idea. Well, not a traditional blood oath.

What is a good idea, or at least has been in the past (I've reviewed Pacts 3, 4, 5, and 6), is Lux Row's annual Blood Oath release. For 2021, this would be Pact 7. Blood Oath is an experimental line from the brain of Master Distiller John Rempe. He takes Bourbons and does interesting things with them to create something special. In this case (as with the six previous incarnations), Rempe is the Master Blender, because the Bourbon used in Pact 7 is sourced, most likely from Heaven Hill, but that's unconfirmed. 

"Creating an extraordinary and unique blend of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys is at the heart of the Blood Oath series. Pact 7 continues this tradition, and the result is a secret I can't wait to share with bourbon lovers." - John Rempe

Pact 7 is blended from three different Bourbons:  A 14-year high-rye Bourbon, an 8-year high-rye Bourbon, and another 8-year high-rye Bourbon, but the latter was finished in Sauternes (pronounced saw-turns) casks. If you're unfamiliar with the term, that's a sweet white wine from France's Bordeaux region. Once blended, it is proofed down to 98.6° which is very purposeful. Why? Well, because that's the average temperature of human blood! 

You can expect to pay $99.99 for one of the 51,000 bottles available. One interesting aspect is that Lux Row has not raised the price of Blood Oath in its seven-year history. 

Is Pact 7 any good? Is it worth a c-note? The only way to tell for sure is to #DrinkCurious. Before I do, I'd like to thank Lux Row for providing a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, Pact 7 presented as chestnut in color, and, strangely enough, an oily, iridescent sheen. I can't say that I've ever come across that before in a whiskey. It created a medium-thick rim and husky legs that slowly fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  A sweet, fruity aroma consisted of apricot, brown sugar, toasted coconut, oak, and nutmeg. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, blueberry rolled across my palate.

Palate:  Thick and oily in texture, the front tasted of vanilla, toasted coconut, apricot, and nuts. On the middle, flavors of stewed peaches and maple syrup took over, and the back offered oak, cinnamon, rye, cereal, and cocoa powder.

Finish:  Cinnamon and cocoa powder continued, and the oak suddenly became bone-dry and gave a pucker power sensation. After a few sips, that went away, and was replaced by creamy vanilla and nuts. My hard palate numbed quickly and the finish was long-lasting.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  All the Blood Oath Pacts are unique from one another and of the (now) four I've reviewed, I've yet to find a cadaver. While Rempe won't ever pony up his recipes, he knows what he's doing. The more I sip this one, the more I enjoy it. I give props to Lux Row for keeping the price the same over the years, and am happy to have this one in my library. Pick up a Bottle, you won't be disappointed. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System:

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

Friday, April 23, 2021

Dubliner Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

Long ago and not so far away, Irish whiskey used to be the #1-selling spirit in the world. But, as luck would have it, that faltered. Mismanagement, tariffs and trade wars, and Prohibition all took their respective tolls, and in relatively quick fashion, the Irish whiskey market was decimated and close to death, with only three distilleries remaining.

Fast forward almost eight decades, and Irish whiskey is now the fastest-growing segment over the last three years. New distilleries have been coming online, the whiskey is coming to age, and folks just like Irish whiskey. Usually triple-distilled, it is known for being smooth and easy to drink.

Today I'm exploring The Dubliner, a three-year blend of single malt and grain whiskeys. Distilled by Darryl McNally, who has over 17 years of distilling experience and the Master Distiller at The Dublin Liberties, The Dubliner is an affordable entry-level Irish whiskey that has been aged in former Kentucky Bourbon barrels. Proofed to 40% ABV (or 80°), you can expect to pay about $28 for a 750ml bottle. 

I'd like to thank Quintessential Brands, the owner of The Dublin Liberties, for providing me a sample of The Dubliner in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious and find out what this whiskey is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Dubliner was the color of old gold. It formed a medium rim and thick, watery legs that crashed back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  A fruity bouquet of green apple, pear, honey, grass, and vanilla permeated my nostrils. When I pulled the vapor into my mouth, I found more pear.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was unusual. With a medium body, it was initially sweet, but the next sip became spicy. On the front, I tasted dried golden apple and tangerine. The middle reminded me of the muddling mix of an Old Fashioned with the fruit, sugar, and aromatic bitters. It was also accompanied by smoked honey. On the back, there were flavors of malt, oak, and clove. 

Finish:  Medium in length, the finish consisted of charred oak, cocoa powder, and smoked honey.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Interestingly enough, this is marketed as an entry-level Irish whiskey. I can understand that, too. It is low-proof, sweet, slightly spicy, and in the typical fashion of Irish whiskey, an easy-sipper. There's no heat, there's nothing offensive (but, again, that's characteristic of Irish whiskey). You'd think with my experienced palate and the fact that I've been on an Irish whiskey kick lately, that I'd find The Dubliner to be boring, and you'd be absolutely wrong. To make sure I wasn't out of my mind, I had Mrs. Whiskeyfellow try it and told her nothing. She loved it. Not only is this an easy drinker, it is an easy Bottle rating. I'm betting you'll walk away convinced this one is a smart addition to your home bar. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fistful of Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


I get excited when a new, affordable whiskey drops. I'm always on the lookout for something to add to the #RespectTheBottomShelf category. So when William Grant & Sons, makers of such famous labels as Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, and Hendrick's decided to dip its toe in the pool of Bourbon, it was limited to the Hudson Whiskey brand out of New York, which is distilled by Tuthilltown Distillery.

To make a more serious dent in the market, Master Blender Kelsey McKechnie brought together five straight Bourbons from around the country. The result is called Fistful of Bourbon. In case you missed it, that's a play on words (a fist is made up of five fingers). The sources of these whiskeys are undisclosed, and while it is, we can at least assume one is Hudson. The others are anyone's guess.

"We wanted to make a Bourbon that was smooth as all hell but with tasty complexity. As a whisky-making family going back over 100 years, we knew the only way to achieve that was by blending. So, we sent our superstar, Kelsey McKechnie to the States on a quest for the perfect blend. She had a great time and almost didn't come home." - William Grant & Sons

Fistful of Bourbon has aged a minimum of two years and is bottled at 90°.  You can expect to pay about $24.00 for a 750ml. I'd like to thank a friend for sending me a sample for a review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, Fistful of Bourbon presented as light caramel in color. It formed a medium rim on the wall, which led to slow, long legs.

Nose:  The first aroma I smelled was bubble gum. It was joined by cinnamon and cherry. When I took the fumes in my mouth, I tasted corn.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick and oily. This got my full attention. On the front, I tasted corn and caramel. The middle featured peanuts, vanilla, and bright fruit. It made me wonder if there was a Jim Beam component. The back was rye spice and oak. There was a touch of anise.

Finish:  Medium in length, the finish was simple with mint and oak. There was also subtle rye spice.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  One of the things that makes an inexpensive whiskey qualify for a #RespectTheBottomShelf designation is it must be memorable (and in a good way). The mouthfeel was certainly memorable. But, there wasn't anything else that stood out. In my opinion, this is a very basic whiskey and a good way to get your feet wet in Bourbon if you've not yet. Beyond that, it is too unremarkable to give it consideration as something to keep an eye out for. As such, it earns a Bar rating. Try this one first. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Monday, April 19, 2021

Stellum Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Have you heard the news?  Barrell Craft Spirits has launched a new brand called Stellum Spirits. Stellum's mission is to be clean, straightforward, and polished. The name comes from a play on the Latin term stella, meaning star. Barrell will also tell you the name just sounded cool.

"Stellum stands with the modern American whiskey drinker. We respect the history of whiskey, but we're more interested in making spirits accessible to today's audience. With an eye towards innovation, minimalism, and inclusivity, Stellum Spirits is here for you, whoever you may be." - Stellum Spirits

Last week I reviewed Stellum Rye, and you can learn more about the brand from what I wrote there. Today, I'm going with Stellum Bourbon.

One of the "cool" things about Stellum Bourbon is how it is made. It begins with a blend of three MGP mashbills:  two that are high rye (60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley), and one that is 99% corn and 1% malted barley. The remainder consists of older whiskeys from Tennessee (George Dickel) and Kentucky (an undisclosed distillery). Stellum uses a multi-step blending process to make things "just right." It is non-chill filtered, carries no age statement, and is bottled at 114.98°. Available in 45 markets, you can expect to pay about $54.99 for a 750ml package.

Before I #DrinkCurious, I'd like to thank Stellum Spirits for providing me a sample of the Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Stellum Bourbon was a chestnut-amber color. It formed a thicker rim that fabricated heavy, slow, sticky legs.

Nose:  Aromas of allspice and tobacco were easy to discern. I also smelled rye bread, toasted oak, and almond. When I took the vapor into my mouth, I discovered a mixture of strong almond and muted caramel.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was soft, light, and airy. This is just shy of 115°? I find that difficult to believe. On the front, flavors of vanilla, almond, and nougat gave it an almost candy bar experience. The middle featured cola, ginger, and honey. On the back, I tasted black pepper, clove, and cocoa powder. 

Finish:  A medium-length finish began with clove and cinnamon, and ended with toasted oak and a drop of honey.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  There are a few things I want to touch on. The first is that if you told me this was 90-some-odd proof, I'd believe you. To have something drink 20-points below its stated proof is crazy. It offered zero burn either on the initial sip or the finish. The second is that this is one of those dangerous whiskeys, meaning, if you were inclined to do so, you could probably drink dram after dram and not even realize you're getting plastered.

There was absolutely nothing I didn't enjoy about Stellum Bourbon. It wasn't overly complicated, it had interesting flavors. The only thing I'd be more interested in would be a long finish, as that would likely slow down the "dangerous" part.

For $54.99, you're going to be hard-pressed to not be pleased with your purchase. I'm thrilled to have this one in my whiskey library. As such, I offer my Bottle rating for Stellum Bourbon. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Friday, April 16, 2021

Clynelish 14 Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


Have you heard of Johnnie Walker? How about Compass Box?  If you're a fan of either, chances are you've had whisky from the Clynelish Distillery. Clynelish is a big part of the base of most Compass Box expressions, and the largest part of the JW Gold blend is as well. 

But, what is Clynelish? It is a Highland distillery, located in the remote, northeast coastal area founded in 1819 by the Duke of Sutherland. Before you get romantic over the idea of a distillery founded by a genuine Scottish Duke, don't. My research shows he wasn't the nicest guy. He paid his workers in coins that could only be spent in shops that he owned. Most of those workers were farmers that the Duke purposefully displaced. 

The original distillery was smaller, and in 1967, the new Clynelish Distillery was established next door in order to keep up with the demand to use in blended whiskies. A year later, the original distillery was mothballed, only to be opened a year later under the name Brora Distillery. Brora was then shuttered in 1988.  The Clynelish Distillery is now part of the Diageo family.

Today I'm sipping on Clynelish 14 Single Malt. As you can gather from the name, this one is 14 years old. It aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, but there's some talk that sherry casks were also involved. Clynelish is a lightly-peated whisky, and the 14-year is its major expression. Bottled at 46% ABV (92°), you can expect to pay $79.99 for a 750ml. 

And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Clynelish 14 presented as a golden orange color. The rim was thin, but it created a heavy, luxurious curtain that fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: A fruity essence was evident while the whisky was oxidizing. Orange and lemon zest were obvious. Pear and apple were equally so when I brought the glass closer to my face. Floral notes made themselves known, which was joined by oak and vanilla. Almost missed was the whisp of smoke and waft of salted caramel. When I brought the vapor into my mouth, it was a blast of apple.

Palate:  The mouthfeel started off thin and became waxy. Think of very thin parafin that coated and then glued the flavors in place. On the front, I tasted apricot, orange citrus, and caramel. The middle offered smoked apple and pear. On the back I experienced smoky malt, toffee, and a bit of brine.

Finish:  A hint of smoke danced across oak, brine, lemon zest, milk chocolate, and pepper for a medium-length finish.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Here's the thing:  Clynelish isn't going to blow your mind. But, it is enjoyable and goes down easy - perhaps a bit too much so. I emptied my glass before I even realized it. I loved picking out the flavors. There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of with regard to peat, and it lacks any astringent (Band-Aid) quality. This would be a good Scotch for newbies and experienced drinkers alike. The price is also easy to swallow, and all of this equals a Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Stellum Spirits Straight Rye Review & Tasting Notes


Many of us have heard of Barrell Craft Spirits. They're blenders out of Louisville, Kentucky, and they experiment with Bourbon, Rye, and Rum to create some rather marvelous adult beverages. You can imagine my interest when I found out that BCS launched a new brand called Stellum Spirits

"Stellum Spirits is devoted to bringing American whiskey into the modern age with simple, elegant blends and single barrels selected with care and intention. Our whiskeys are created through a rigorous process of study, observation, and experimentation. We are driven by progress, polish, and—above all—attention to detail. We will always think critically about how to make our whiskey better and more accessible." - Stellum Spirits

Currently, Stellum has released two core whiskeys:  a Bourbon and a Rye.  It sources from the same distilleries as BCS (MGP out of Indiana, George Dickel out of Tennessee, and an undisclosed Kentucky distillery). However, Stellum is more affordable than the BCS offerings. I could make a variety of assumptions why, but I'd rather not spread unsubstantiated rumors and come across looking like a moron. Both whiskeys have a suggested retail of $54.99 and are available in 45 different markets across the United States.

Today I'm sipping on the Rye. The label says it is distilled in Indiana, but the website suggests Tennessee and Kentucky are also involved. The majority, the MGP distillate, is a 95% rye mashbill. Smaller portions of barley-forward rye mashbill have been added and the entire concoction is non-chill-filtered. Like many BCS products, Stellum Rye carries no age statement and is bottled at 116.24°.

Before I get to the tasting notes, I'd like to thank Stellum Spirits for providing a sample of the Rye in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Now it is time to #DrinkCurious and taste what this is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Stellum Rye presented as the color of old copper. A medium ring formed, which yielded slow, heavy legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Mint was very easy to pick up, way before I brought the glass to my face. Fennel struck me as I pulled the whiskey closer. Beneath them, I smelled clove, apple, and peach. When I inhaled the vapor into my mouth, mint and oak were distinctive. 

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel both oily and spicy. I don't usually suggest a mouthfeel is spicy, but it made my hard palate start to tingle almost immediately, and on my tongue, it felt as if dry spice was rubbed directly on it. On the front, anise, nutmeg, and white pepper started things off. The middle offered flavors of oak, lemon zest, and green Jolly Ranchers. The back consisted of coffee, spearmint, and a healthy dose of clove.

Finish:  Long, lingering, and spicy, the finish kept white pepper, clove, anise, spearmint, followed by pine, oak, and then, very late, char.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I'm not a fan of anise - at all. And, yet, Stellum managed to make anise work for whatever reason. This rye is a spice bomb. If you've never had American Rye before, but have a preconceived notion of what it would taste like, Stellum Rye fits that bill almost perfectly. 

All the various spices mingled as if they were meant to be together (even the anise). The $54.99 price is more than fair, especially when you consider this is barrel-proof. I'm happy to convey my coveted Bottle rating for it. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Monday, April 12, 2021

Obtainium Single Barrel 14-Year Light Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


What isn't shown in the photo above is the massive snowflakes coming down. Yeah, it is snowing again. A very fair question would be, Why is this Whiskeyfellow character out in a snowstorm taking a picture of whiskey? Keep looking at the photo, specifically where it mentions the proof. That says 147°, and this would be one of the highest-proof whiskeys I've ever tried.

Another fair question is, What is light whiskey? Is that diet whiskey?  Well, no.

Light whiskey came into existence in 1968 because consumers were moving away from Bourbon and more into clear spirits such as vodka or gin. Light whiskey is distilled between 160° and 190°.  Contrast that with Bourbon or American Rye, which tops out at 160°.  It must be aged in used, charred oak barrels or new, uncharred oak. Most distilleries didn't let it age very long, but then light whiskey fell out of favor, and the stocks were left hanging around, mostly ignored and forgotten.

What we have here is a light whiskey distilled by MGP of Indiana and bottled by Cat's Eye Distillery out of Bettendorf, Iowa. Packaged with its Obtainium label, this barrel sat in the MGP warehouse for 14 years. That's not all, this is a single barrel offering, and as such, it is the pure experience of what light whiskey can become. It retails for $54.99.  

I'd like to thank Cat's Eye Distillery's Wisconsin distributor for providing me a sample of this whiskey in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this whiskey presented as a rich, caramel color. The rim was so faint, I had to squint to pick it out. A wavy curtain of legs, if you could call them that, dropped back to the pool.

Nose:  Aromas of brown sugar and caramel hit my olfactory senses. I also smelled orange peel, nutmeg, and cinnamon. When I drew the vapor in my mouth, I tasted butterscotch.

Palate:  Shockingly, my tongue was not set on fire while sipping this. I admittedly psyched myself out preparing for it. It was definitely warm and thin. I also found it to be a caramel bomb from start to finish. The front added butterscotch and brown sugar. At the middle, I experienced only vanilla. The back featured notes of oak and cinnamon.

Finish:  I felt like I was sucking on a cough drop, a menthol blast literally cleared my sinuses. The finish lasted for what seemed to be forever. Caramel and butterscotch continued until the very end. Toasted oak made a brief appearance and cinnamon red hots carried the remainder. While spicy, I need to stress it wasn't hot.

With Water:  I don't normally add water to my whiskey unless I'm curious what would happen. Something that pushes the Haz-Mat envelope is an opportunity I didn't want to pass up. Some people add a splash of water. I'm pretty Type-A when it comes to adding water and I use an eyedropper, and I always measure out two drops of distilled water.

Nose with Water:  The brown sugar and butterscotch were magnified, as was the caramel. The spice completely fell off, and the orange peel became candied. Overall, the nose got sweeter.

Palate with Water:  The mouthfeel became thick and creamy. The caramel bomb vanished, while the cinnamon spice and oak took center stage. 

Finish with Water:  Black pepper, clove, and cinnamon spice created a very long finish. Absolutely shocking was the finish got both hotter and spicier, almost painfully so. My hard palate was buzzing despite the fact I only took a simple sip.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  With water, I did not enjoy this light whiskey at all. The water ruined it. But, drunk neat, it was tasty and surprisingly easy to drink. I got past the menthol blast and was able to savor the flavors, perhaps because my sinuses were cleared. If you drink whiskey neat, I think Cat's Eye has a winner here. If you are into adding water, this may be one to avoid. I'll stick with the way I normally drink whiskey and crown it with a Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

Middle West Spirits Straight Bourbon, Straight Rye, and Straight Wheat Reviews & Tasting Notes


I get excited when I come across whiskey from distilleries that I've never heard of. It means I have a chance to try something new, particularly if it isn't sourced from MGP, Dickel, Heaven Hill, or Sazerac. When it is true craft whiskey, well, that's just an adventure, good or bad. When I was introduced to Middle West Spirits out of Columbus, Ohio, I was, to say the least, intrigued.

Founded in 2008 by Brady Konya, the General Manager, and Ryan Lang, the Head Distiller, their goal was to create whiskey the "right way" - and to offer products that are exceptional. Everything is sourced from Ohio, from the grains to the barrels to the glass bottles.  

"Building on four generations of distilling traditions, we added our own deep experience in marketing and manufacturing and focused on elevating the distinctive flavors of the Ohio River Valley. Our artisan spirits honor our roots; and reflect our originality as makers, our integrity as producers, and our passion for the craft of producing spirits from grain to glass." - Middle West Spirits


Today I'll be reviewing three of Middle West's whiskeys:  A four-grain Bourbon, a four-grain Rye, and a 100% Wheat. Before I get started, I'd like to thank Middle West Spirits for providing me samples of each in exchange for no-strings-attached, honest reviews.  Let's #DrinkCurious, shall we?

Michelone Reserve Straight Wheated Bourbon

I'm not sure what the reason is for calling this Bourbon wheated when it is a four-grain, except perhaps to suggest the second largest ingredient is wheat. The mash is made from yellow corn, red winter wheat, dark pumpernickel rye, and two-row barley. Named Michelone Reserve for Lang's grandfather, it carries no age statement, but since it is straight we know that means at least two years in oak, and since there's no age statement, that means at least four. Bottled at 95°, it is priced at $46.99. I was provided with Batch 071.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presented at the color of rust. It created one of the heaviest rims I've seen in an American whiskey, and that led to fast, husky legs that raced down the wall.

Nose:  Sweet and fruity, aromas of caramel, orange blossom, lemon peel, and honey were blended with cinnamon spice. I also picked up something I could only describe as earthy. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, orange peel rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The first sip was creamy, and subsequent ones only thickened it. The body was somewhere between medium and full.  On the front, I experienced coffee, butterscotch, and cream. The middle was a delightful blend of chocolate and orange peel. On the back, things got spicy with clove, rye, cocoa, and mint. 

Finish:  A freight-train finish brought clove, candied orange slices, rye, mint, and oak.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  While not overly complicated, there was nothing not to like about Michelone Reserve, and, in fact, I loved it. I appreciated how orange became a theme from the nosing to finish. I was impressed with the transition front-to-back and how naturally it flowed. The finish wouldn't quit and I didn't want it to. Bring on that affordable price tag, and that's a Bottle rating all day long.


Straight Rye Whiskey

This Rye is made from a mash of dark pumpernickel rye, yellow corn, soft winter wheat, and two-row barley. It is aged a minimum of three years, is certified kosher, and bottled at 96°. You can expect to pay $46.99 for a 750ml package. The batch number is 024.  According to Middle West Spirits, this is the nation's first dark rye pumpernickel whiskey.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this Rye offered a deep, orange-amber. It formed a massive rim and watery legs that crashed back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  The aroma was just outstanding. I let Mrs. Whiskeyfellow take a whiff and she rolled her eyes in pleasure. It started with rye bread, then added nutmeg, vanilla, toasted oak, candied fruits, and orange peel. When I inhaled through my open mouth, the pumpernickel became obvious.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thin and soft. On the front of the palate was chocolate. The middle was oak and the back was a combination of pumpernickel and rye spice.

Finish:  Long and building, what remained was pumpernickel bread, cinnamon, and toasted oak. Once the finish stopped building, it fell off quickly.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I found this Rye to be fairly simple with few notes. I really wanted to love this for two reasons: the nose and the fact this is the first in a niche rye category. However, everything beyond the nose was unremarkable and fairly bland. For $46.99, I want something that makes me smile. This didn't do it, and as such, takes a Bust.


Straight Wheat Whiskey

Wheat whiskeys are unique, and by that, I'm not talking about whiskeys like Bernheim, which is barely legal at 51%. Instead, I mean serious wheat content. That's because distilled wheat has no flavor. Wheat is an ingredient used to highlight the flavors of other grains and offer a "softer" mouthfeel. When there are no other grains, the flavors that come out are strictly from the barrel, and you can expect the profile to be spicy.

The only ingredient in Middle West's Straight Wheat mashbill is red winter wheat. Aged "at least" three years and bottled at 96°, the suggested retail price is $46.99 for a 750ml package. I was provided with batch 084.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, the color was a dark, burnt umber. The rim was medium in weight, and thick, watery legs fell like a curtain.

Nose:  Much sweeter than I expected, the nose featured plum, vanilla wafers, almond, nutmeg, and coconut. When I pulled the fumes into my mouth, I was greeted by soft vanilla. 

Palate:  Offering a medium body and creamy texture, the front of my palate picked up dark chocolate and almond paste. The middle started with nutmeg, then cocoa and cinnamon. On the back, I discovered clove, dry oak, and the unmistakable taste of leather.

Finish:  The finish was long, dry, and spicy. Clove and cinnamon competed initially, then dry oak, cocoa powder, and old leather rounded things out. Just before it fell off, I tasted a hint of sweet caramel.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  You really run a crapshoot with wheat whiskeys. I've had some that were almost undrinkable. I've had others that were enjoyable. This one falls in that latter category. Like the previous two whiskeys, the palate wasn't overly complicated. It was both easy to drink, gave great flavors, and is priced fairly. I'm conveying my Bottle rating for it. Cheers!

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Aberfeldy 12 Highland Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


I don't like Scotch! 

You hear that more times than you'd ever imagine. Most of the time, someone had something that was way beyond their palate's experience and hasn't been presented with the right Scotch. When I worked retail, I used to love it when folks would tell me they hated Scotch.  I'd ask them what they didn't enjoy, and it was either the smokiness or that it felt like they were chewing on Band-aids. I'd offer them a sample of something that didn't fit that bill, and they'd wind up walking away happy (with a bottle of Scotch in hand). I'd converted them!

My first whisky was Dewar's White Label, which is a blended Scotch made from 40 different malts. It may not have been the best starting point, but it was dirt cheap and I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I can tell you, given the chance to do it all over again, I would have started with something else. I certainly wouldn't pony it up as an introductory whisky to anyone.

I mention Dewar's White Label because its biggest component malt comes from the Aberfeldy Distillery in the central Scottish Highlands.  The distillery is owned by John Dewar & Sons and has been in operation since 1896.  It was shuttered briefly during World Wars I and II, but for the most part, this is a Dewar's workhorse. 

Aberfeldy sources its water from the fabled Pitilie Burn, known for its gold deposits. It is also the only distillery that pulls water from this river. 

Known as the ‘Golden Dram’, the distillery’s water source is the famous Pitilie Burn, renowned locally for its water quality and famed for its deposits of alluvial gold. Time-honoured techniques, such as longer fermentation, conjure rare honeyed notes – key to the signature sweetness of Aberfeldy’s malts. - John Dewar's & Sons

Today's review is of Alberfeldy's 12-year, the core expression of the distillery. This 100% barley single-malt is aged in ex-Bourbon and ex-sherry casks. The distillery claims they lose more than a third of each cask to the angels. Bottled at 40% ABV (or 80°), you can expect to pay about $40.00 for a 750ml, making this a low-barrier of entry single malt Scotch.

One thing that stood out was a claim on the label that this is Limited Bottling No. 2905. After doing some research, this is akin to finding a bottle of Old Grand-Dad 114 and seeing Lot 1 on it. You may think you've snagged something special, but it appears every label is printed with the same number.

So, now that we've explored the background, how about exploring the whisky itself? It is time to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this single malt presented as a darker gold in color. There is nothing on the bottle that suggests this is naturally-colored, and there's no reason to think it doesn't have the caramel coloring Scotch may legally possess.  It created a thin rim that generated fast legs to race back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  I could smell the honey across the room. When I brought the glass closer to my face, citrus and raisin were easy to pick out. The milk chocolate, on the other hand, took more effort. When I breathed in the vapor through my lips, orange and vanilla coated my mouth.

Palate:  Considering the 40% ABV, the mouthfeel was full-bodied and creamy and was a nice surprise. The whisky itself was simple to drink. On the front, I tasted vanilla and milk chocolate. The middle consisted of citrus, peach, and cocoa powder. Almond and oak rounded out the back.

Finish:  My first sip suggested a medium-short finish, however, subsequent ones morphed it to medium-long. Similar to the palate, the finish was simple and offered honey, milk chocolate, and light pepper.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Dewar's White Label this is not. What this is is a nice way to introduce folks to Scotch, especially if they say they don't like Scotch. There's nothing complicated about it, there's no astringent (Band-aid) quality, there's no peat smokiness. If you're seeking a very easy sipper, one that would work well on a hot, humid, summer afternoon, Aberfeldy 12 will fit that bill. If you only prefer complex or smoky whiskies, this one's not for you. The price is certainly fair. Taking all of that into account, I'm conveying a Bottle rating for Aberfeldy 12. Cheers!

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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Sisterdale Distilling Co. Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Whiskey in Texas simply ages faster. Between the heat and humidity, it matures faster than more well-known whiskey venues such as Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. Whiskey out of Texas also tends to have its own terroir. Terroir is defined as a characteristic taste and flavor from a certain region due to that region's climate.

Even blind, it is relatively easy to pick out a Texas whiskey over others from around the United States. When you take distillate from another region - say, Indiana - and then bring the barrels down to Texas, that throws a wrench in the works, and trying to pin down the terroir becomes challenging.

Today I'm sipping on Sisterdale Straight Bourbon. What's that? You've never heard of it? That's not surprising since this is the distillery's inaugural release.

"Sisterdale Distilling Co. was formed by two longtime friends and entrepreneurs who set out to make the highest quality, small-batch bourbon for ourselves - bourbon that we truly love to drink with our friends and family. So that is exactly what we have done." - Sisterdale Distilling Co.

Sisterdale starts off the same way many craft brands do - they source whiskey from MGP of Indiana. The Bourbon is a blend of four grains and five different distillates, including a high-wheat recipe. After distillation, the whiskey was transported down to Texas' hill country, where the distillery sits on a 1200-acre cattle ranch on Sister Creek. It then aged 3-1/2 years, then was blended and proofed using Texas rainwater. 

Packaged at 93.4°, you can expect to pay about $78.00 for a 750ml bottle. I obtained my sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review, and I'd like to thank Sisterdale for providing that. Now, it is time to #DrinkCurious

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Sisterdale presented the color of bright copper. It produced a medium rim that, try as I might, didn't create legs. Instead, it left sticky droplets that continued to build. Eventually, those legs got so heavy they fell back into the pool.

Nose:  The Bourbon was not fragrant from across the room, but that doesn't mean it isn't aromatic. When the glass got closer to my face, I picked out nutmeg, popcorn, cinnamon, and strawberry fruit strips. When I breathed the vapor into my mouth, I experienced vanilla and lemon peel. 

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be very thin and somewhat oily. Subsequent sips added a bit of weight, but it never became what I would describe as thick. On the front of my palate, I tasted caramel and creamy vanilla. Mid-palate flavors consisted of cherry, plum, malt, and nuts. The back featured cinnamon red-hots, oak, and clove.

Finish:  The finish proved this was aged in Texas. It was spicy and very, very long. It began with clove and nutmeg, then toasted oak and nuts, and then cherry with black pepper. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I said at the very beginning, whiskey in Texas ages faster. One of the more interesting aspects was how hot the finish was. If you blindfolded me and asked me to tell you what proof I was drinking, I'd put this about 15 points higher. My hard palate tingled without drinking much volume at all. The finish was fascinating. And, while I thought this was a tasty pour, the challenge is value. Is this worth nearly $80 a bottle?  There's nothing wrong with this Bourbon, I believe Sisterdale, overall, did a good job. However, it doesn't buttress the price. As such, I'm awarding this Bourbon my Bar rating. Cheers!

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