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

Friday, April 2, 2021

Paul John Mithuna Indian Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes


If you blindfolded me, stuck a glass of Paul John Mithuna in my hand, and told me this was aged or finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, I'd wholeheartedly agree with you.

If you told me Jim Murray rated Mithuna his #3 whisky of 2021 without giving me a chance to taste it, I'd shrug my shoulders.

If you told me a five-year-old single malt out of India was $300.00, I'd have said you were insane. 

But, Mithuna utilizes not a single stave of former sherry casks. I still don't care what Jim Murray says, and here's a spoiler, I'd pay $300.00 all day long for this whisky.

Mithuna is a limited-edition single malt that is part of Paul John's Zodiac series. This series is centered around double maturation. The first release, Kanya, was named for the Indian counterpart of Virgo. Mithuna is the counterpart of Gemini. It starts with unpeated six-row barley that is high in proteins and low in carbohydrates. It is distilled in a pot still and then aged for five years in virgin American oak barrels. Finally, it was finished for a year in former Bourbon barrels. Naturally-colored, Mithuna is bottled at 58% ABV (116°).  Despite what we know about how long it matured, it carries no age statement.

"Renowned for contradictive strengths, the characteristics of Gemini are epitomized by this Indian single malt as mesmerizing layers of austere, dry tannins are challenged in equal measure by resplendent sugars and mocha on delicate oils." - Paul John

If you've never had Indian whisky, there are a few things you need to know. First and foremost, not all Indian whisky is whisky. Much of it is closer to rum, as it starts with molasses. But, a handful of distilleries, including Paul John, make single malt whisky in a Scottish tradition. The second thing you need to know is that due to the high temperatures and humidity, things in India age much faster than in Scotland or Ireland, usually by a factor of three. The angel's share is also greater, usually around 8% to 10% a year.

I'd like to thank Paul John for a sample of Mithuna in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious and find out what this whisky is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Mithuna presented as a cross between ruby red and deep copper in color. It created a thick rim with fat, wavy legs that plunged back to the pool.

Nose:  Despite the lack of any sherry wood, it certainly smelled like sherry.  Rich plum, raisin, dried cherry, orange, and orange peel were joined by oak and muted mint. When I inhaled the vapor in my mouth, cinnamon, vanilla, and malt danced across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was creamy, viscous, and simply luxurious. On the front, the non-sherry sherry notes continued with raisin, burnt sugar, orange, coconut, and honey. At mid-palate, cinnamon, milk chocolate, maple syrup, and pastry flavors took center stage. On the back, I tasted oak, ginger, orange peel, dried strawberry, and a bit of walnut.

Finish:  Lasting just shy of "forever," the finish consisted of thick caramel, milk chocolate, cinnamon raisin, oak, and for a final bow, a blast of rich honey.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I gave this away already, but I'm confident in my Bottle rating. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow gave this a sip and was blown away. Frankly, so was I. I cannot understand how aging something in virgin oak and ex-Bourbon casks equals a nuclear sherry explosion in every aspect of the whisky. If you want a complex nose, Mithuna has it. If you want a crazy-good palate, Mithuna will deliver. If you want an Energizer Bunny finish, Mithuna will satisfy that desire. If you've got $300.00 to invest in a beautiful pour, this should be what you spend it on. Cheers!

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

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

BenRiach The Twelve and The Smoky Twelve Reviews & Tasting Notes


Earlier this month, I reviewed BenRiach's The Original Ten and The Smoky Ten single malt scotches. They both received Bottle ratings from me, and of the two, I preferred The Original Ten. 

Today I'm exploring The Twelve and The Smoky Twelve. Similar to the ten-year expressions, these are not simply sisters with one unpeated and the other peated. They're both non-chill filtered and both naturally colored. They're both bottled at 46% ABV (92°).

The BenRiach does things differently than most Speyside distilleries. It tends to follow a more classic Highland region attributes of peated, light-bodied, and maltier. Guided by Master Blender Rachel Barrie, The BenRiach touts itself as "unconventionally Speyside."

Just as with the 10-year whiskies, I'll do a side-by-side comparison with the 12-years. Before I do, I'd like to thank The BenRiach for providing me these samples in exchange for no-strings-attached, honest reviews.  Let's #DrinkCurious and learn more.

The Twelve

The Twelve is triple-cask matured, using former Bourbon, sherry, and Port casks. It is distilled from 100% unpeated malted barley.  A 750ml bottle will set you back $49.99.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Twelve presented as the color of brass. It formed a medium rim that led to thick, wavy legs that fell back into the pool. It left sticky droplets on the rim.

Nose:  Aromas of honey, candied orange, and (good) fruitcake provided a rather simple nosing experience. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, malt rolled over my tongue.

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be creamy with a medium body. On the front, I tasted black cherry, vanilla, and honey. As the liquid moved to the middle, cocoa, malt, and coffee were easy to discern. Then, the back consisted of oak, spiced fruitcake, and ginger.

Finish:  Ginger continued into the medium-length finish. The black cherry and oak returned, and the three were joined with mocha.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I found The Twelve to be tasty, but when I compare it to The Original Ten, it lacked much of the same big fruity notes. Granted, the casks were different, both used the same Bourbon and sherry casks, but The Twelve used Port for the third cask whereas The Original Ten used virgin oak. There's only a $5.00 difference between the two. I enjoyed this enough to convey a Bottle rating, but between the two, I'd choose The Original Ten.


The Smoky Twelve

The Smoky Twelve is also triple-cask matured, recycling Bourbon, sherry, and marsala casks. Incidentally, this was Whisky Advocate's #3-best whisky of 2020.  You can expect to pay around $64.99 for a 750ml.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Smoky Twelve featured a dull gold color. It formed a medium rim which generated husky, slow legs that crawled back to the pool. It also left sticky, thick droplets on the wall.

Nose:  Fennel and an herbal astringent quality nearly overwhelmed the smoky peat. I was able to pick out apricot and plum beneath those dominating aromas. When I brought the bouquet in my mouth, cherry gave me some respite.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was creamy with a medium-weight body. The front offered vanilla cream and molasses. I discovered orange and dark chocolate at the middle, and then, on the back, things got spicy with black pepper and smoked oak.

Finish:  Medium-long in length, peat and char had a definitive presence which was rounded out by sweet tobacco leaf and black pepper.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I was not a fan of the nose. I'm not big on herbal notes or astringent qualities. Thankfully, none of that carried into the palate or finish, and I loved those. Sans the nose, this was a very enjoyable pour. I can certainly understand why this one is popular. Despite the nose, it would be a mistake for me not to confer a Bottle rating for it. Cheers!

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Yes, There Really Is A Difference in Glassware

Glassware is, believe it or not, a very polarizing subject. It ranges from people telling you it doesn't matter what glassware you use to people telling you someone with some authority says they'll only drink out of one type of glass.  In truth, just as the "best" whiskey is the one you like the most, the "best" whiskey glass is the one you enjoy using the most.

But, make no mistake about it, glassware matters.

The first time I wrote on this subject was back in 2016 for Bourbon & Banter. But I've been a proponent of using the right glassware for many years prior. I keep revisiting this subject because it is constantly changing. There have been Kickstarter campaigns to deliver "new and improved" glassware to the marketplace. And, whenever I find a new design, I am always excited to try it. You could say that I believe there is, somewhere out there, a holy grail to whiskey glassware. 

Today I'm working with nine different glass designs. This is the largest population I've ever conducted for this type of experiment. In an effort to be as fair as possible to all candidates, I used the same whiskey in each glass. I happen to love using Evan Williams Black Label when I experiment. It is available in every market and it is very affordable. I find it offers a nose of caramel, vanilla, and oak, a mouthing of caramel, fruit, and vanilla, and a palate of vanilla, caramel, toffee, corn, and oak.  A very basic, solid Bourbon, and almost perfect for experimentation.

My methodology was as fair as I could make it. There would have been no way for me to do this blind as I know their shape, feel, and weight, and handling them all was necessary. As such, I'm not going to come up with a "best" glass. 

I poured a measured half-ounce into each glass. I let each glass oxidize for the same amount of time. I set this up into four different categories:  Hand Feel, Nosing, Mouthing, and Palate. I changed the order of glasses in each category.  I also didn't want to bias my nose or palate. I reset my olfactory sense between each sample. I drank water between each sample tasted, and I spit everything (hence the affordability aspect) rather than swallow to avoid burning out my palate and not getting buzzed.

Let me get some necessary disclosure out of the way. When I compose reviews, I always use a Glencairn Whisky Glass unless I specify otherwise. I use a Glencairn for several reasons, but they're my reasons. Also, I have friends who have designed or represent different types and brands of glassware. Those friendships do not interfere with my ability to determine which glassware is best for me.

My purpose is not to prove to you why the Glencairn glass is my glassware of choice. Rather, it is to demonstrate how design affects the factors I consider to be important.  As such, let's get on with it.

Shot Glass

The first glass up is the basic shot glass. These are very affordable, only a buck or so in most cases. They are usually made of glass, but there are resin, stoneware and metal options. Its purpose is, understandably, to deliver a shot of whatever. Mine has measurement lines. While you can sip from it, many folks simply slam back a pour. 

Hand Feel:  This can be held with just two fingers without trouble. A glass version will have weight to it and can offer a satisfying thunk as you slam it back on the counter or table.

Nosing:  I can pick up alcohol fumes and a bit of oak, but even that is hidden beneath the alcohol. There was no real change trying various nosing zones.

Mouthing:  When I inhale through my mouth, I am able to pick out vanilla.

Palate:  There isn't a lot in terms of flavors. It is buried under alcohol burn. I was able to taste oak.

Rocks Glass

Next up is a standard rocks glass. These are uncomplicated and most of us have a set. They are priced from a buck to being pricey, depending on the material and thickness. It can easily accommodate rocks or a sphere. 

Hand Feel:  A rocks glass fits the hand well and a high-quality one can have some heft. 

Nosing:  It is easy to get my face up to it without a blast of alcohol fumes. I was able to pick out vanilla and oak. I did not find any variety with my various nosing zones. 

Mouthing:  Inhaling through my lips offered only oak.

Palate:  The whiskey was creamy and soft. It offered some alcohol burn but was not overwhelming. 

Glencairn Canadian Whisky Glass

The Glencairn Canadian Whisky Glass is specifically designed for Canadian Whisky. However, it is also versatile enough for other types. It has a bowl shape that tapers and then flares outward. It can accommodate rocks or smaller spheres. They run, on average, about $15.00.

Hand Feel:  These are crystal glasses but lack significant heft. I find them a bit on the large side for holding in my hand, and easier to grasp underneath in my palm.

Nosing:  I didn't experience any overwhelming fumes, the shape of the glass did assist in deflecting. I was able to pick up vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Mouthing:  Inhaling through my lips led me to heavy wood notes. There was no alcohol burn.

Palate:   I found there was an overall muting of flavors. There as no burn but I felt like aside from corn, everything else was missing. 

Norlan Whiskey Glass

The Norlan Whiskey Glass is one of those Kickstarter styles. It is a double-walled glass with fins at the bottom. The purpose of the fins is to assist in aeration, thus unlocking flavors. They're on the pricey side, usually about $24.00 (and are sold in pairs). 

Hand Feel:  The Norlan feels delicate, almost as if it would break in my hand if I held it too tight or let it hit the table too hard. In reality, it is far sturdier. It also fits my hand unnaturally, heightening my concern of breaking it.

Nosing:  The fins create an obvious difference, as everything smells sweet. I lost any semblance of oak, but vanilla and caramel aromas were heavy.  There was no alcohol burn.

Mouthing:  Caramel was thick and danced across my palate without alcohol fumes.

Palate:  The whiskey was soft and silky. It flowed easily across my tongue. I picked up caramel, vanilla, toffee, corn, and oak - everything I expect from Evan Williams. There was a hint of alcohol warmth, but not what I would describe as burn.

Glencairn Whisky Glass

The Glencairn Whiskey Glass was designed in 2001 and utilized a tulip shape. It directs the aromas to the nose and the liquid to the tip of the tongue. It is popular and used at distilleries around the world. You wouldn't want to use ice in this other than chips. Prices are all over the spectrum, but you can pick up a basic, unbranded one for under $10.00.

Hand Feel:  The Glencairn glass is weighted well. I find it very easy to pick up by its thick foot. Its shape helps me manipulate its direction while I'm nosing and has a natural feel when sipping. 

Nosing: It is easy to tilt and twist the glass to switch between each nostril. It sits properly at my chin, just below my lower lip and finally, my nose. As such, I experienced little effort in picking up caramel, vanilla, and oak. 

Mouthing:  Channeling aromas directly in my mouth is facilitated by its design. Vanilla, caramel, and fruit were obvious.

Palate:  I picked up caramel, vanilla, toffee, corn, and oak, and the narrow mouth helps aim the liquid across my palate versus everywhere in my mouth, allowing me to pick out the individual flavors.

Riedel Vinum Cognac Glass

Riedel is a well-known glassmaker, especially as it pertains to wine. It also makes a cognac glass, which performs well as a whiskey glass. It is tulip-shaped, but with a more flared mouth than the Glencairn. Retail is about $18.00. You wouldn't want to use anything more than chipped ice in it.

Hand Feel:  The stem makes it very easy to grasp, twist and manipulate. It is weighted well and while delicate looking, feels solid.

Nosing:  There is something lost in the nosing process. I can pick up oak and vanilla.  If I twist and turn the glass, I can also find the caramel. There were no unpleasant alcohol fumes.

Mouthing:  Caramel was easy to pick up, but it lacked anything else, including alcohol burn.

Palate:  The whiskey seemed creamier than it did in any other glass, and as it flowed across my palate, I had no trouble picking up vanilla, corn, and oak. However, missing was toffee and caramel.

Libbey Perfect Glass

The Libbey glass is a different take on the channeling design. Rather than a bowl of any kind, it offers hard angles at the bottom, then it starts narrowing as it goes up. These are sold in sets of four and can be had for about $9.00 each. Rocks can be used, but a sphere would not fit.

Hand Feel:  The Libbey Perfect is difficult to hold. It has some weight to it, but there is no natural place for your fingers or even the palm of your hand to grasp it. 

Nosing:  Despite a very different shape, it performed almost exactly like the Canadian Whisky glass.  I was able to pick up vanilla, caramel, and oak, and didn't find anything in terms of alcohol burn. 

Mouthing:  I found vanilla and oak, but strange as it sounds, both "tasted" stale. There was no alcohol burn to speak of.

Palate:  The flavors of corn, vanilla, and fruit were evident, however, they came across muted. There was a very small amount of alcohol burn.

NEAT Ultimate Spirits Glass

The NEAT glass has gone through a few name changes over the years. It started off as the NEAT Experience. I've also seen it called a NEAT Judging Glass and NEAT Ultimate Spirits Glass. Regardless of what it is called, NEAT is an acronym for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology. It looks like someone took a Canadian Whisky Glass and smooshed it down. The bowl is flatter, and the mouth is very flared. You can add rocks but, unlike the Canadian Whisky glass, you wouldn't get a sphere to fit. Retail is about $16.00.

Hand Feel:  The NEAT glass fits in my hand nicely, and much better than a Canadian Whisky Glass. It also feels less delicate.

Nosing:  I found the NEAT glass allowed sweeter notes to shine through, making vanilla and caramel easy to discern. Less easy was the oak, but it was there. I found no alcohol burn.

Mouthing:  I was absolutely shocked to find I pulled nothing at all while attempting to inhale through my mouth. I suspect it has to do with the very wide, flared rim.

Palate:  Drinking from the NEAT glass is challenging. You must lean your head back to get the liquid beyond the flare. However, it provided a softening of the mouthfeel. It also eliminated any alcohol fumes and burn. I was able to pick up all of the expected flavors of corn, vanilla, caramel, toffee, and oak.

Aged & Ore Duo Glass

The Aged & Ore Duo Glass is another one that started with a Kickstart campaign. Like the Norlan glass, it also features a double-walled design. This one has no fins. Instead, it has ribbed lines along the inside wall that serve both to measure and aerate. The glass is large enough to accommodate rocks or a sphere and costs about $24.00 each. 

Hand Feel:  This is very similar in feel and appearance as the Norlan glass, meaning it looks very delicate but isn't. While the lack of heft is the same, the shape is slightly different and I found it easier to hold than the Norlan.

Nosing:  There was no alcohol burn. I found aromas easy to detect and had no issues picking out the vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Mouthing: When inhaling through my mouth, all I could pick out was oak. There was also a lack of alcohol burn.

Palate:  I found the Duo Glass to be easier to sip from than the Norlan, but more difficult to identify flavors. It isn't to say I couldn't discern the vanilla, corn, and oak, but it took a good deal of effort and I missed out on the toffee and caramel. There was also a muted flash of alcohol heat.


My personal experience is that I get the best overall performance from a Glencairn Whisky Glass. But, it isn't the winner in each category. When comparing price, form, and function, it is simple for me to gravitate to it and I'm used to it. Keep in mind that the Norlan and NEAT glasses have huge fanbases as well.

The point of all this was to demonstrate how different glass shapes provide different results while pouring the same exact whiskey. Don't let anyone tell you the glass doesn't matter. It absolutely does.  Just find what works for you and enjoy your whiskey the way it makes you happy. Cheers! 

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Barrell Seagrass Review & Tasting Notes


Barrell Seagrass may be the most unique whiskey I've ever tried. There, I said it!  When it becomes challenging for me to figure out just what I'm tasting, that piques my interest. Each time I took a sip, I was tasting something else.

Seagrass begins with a blend of Ryes from MGP of Indiana and an undisclosed Canadian distillery. They've been finished separately in some rather unusual barrels:  Martinique rum, Malmsey Madiera, and of all things, apricot brandy barrels. If you're trying to imagine what this would taste like, don't bother. I spent a week wondering about it. I was wrong.


"Seagrass stands alone as a whiskey, while also inviting the drinker to explore the multitude of influences created by a global approach to sourcing, finishing, and blending. It highlights the grassy oceanside notes we love in rye and the opulence and spice of finishing barrels." -- Joe Beatrice, founder of Barrell Craft Spirits.

If you're unfamiliar with Barrell Craft Spirits, they're blenders. There are good blenders and less-than-good ones. Barrell is in the former grouping. That's not to suggest everything they do is awesome, I've had some blends that have fallen short. But, I've enjoyed most of what I've tried.

Seagrass doesn't carry an age statement, and like everything out of Barrell, it is packaged at barrel proof. In this case, that's 118.4°. You can expect to pay about $89.99, which is about average for a Barrell expression. 

Before I get to the tasting notes and recommendation, I'd like to thank Barrell for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. With that, it is time to investigate this whiskey.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Seagrass was bright bronze in color. It made a thin rim and perhaps the thickest legs I've seen. They were heavy and crashed back into the pool.

Nose:  Here's where things got really different - dried apricot and plum were sweet notes, then brine offered a barrier of sorts, separating out the grass and mustiness on the other end of the spectrum. When I inhaled through my lips, coconut and apricot rolled across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was full-bodied and weighty. The front of my palate found candied apricot, peach, pear, and pineapple. Rich, strong pineapple. The middle consisted of chocolate, almond, and caramel. On the back, there was a mixture of cinnamon, molasses, candied ginger, and the bitterness of walnut.

Finish:  Long and warming, the finish had plenty of wood tannin, salted chocolate, molasses, ginger, rye spice, apricot, and pineapple. Again, these are things that are difficult to imagine intermingling with one another. I did find my hard palate zinged quickly, but the sweetness mellowed out any burn the proof may have otherwise presented.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I said at the beginning, this is probably the most unusual whiskey I've tried. It was sweet. It was spicy. It was earthy. The challenge became both exciting and a little frustrating. But, as I experienced the frustration, I caught myself smiling because the mystifying quality just worked for whatever reason.  

If you're adventurous and want to really #DrinkCurious, I'm here to tell you this is going to stimulate the heck out of you. Of course, I'm in that camp, which means Seagrass grabs my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Obtanium "Beautiful Swan" Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


MGP is the big boy on the block when it comes to sourced whiskey in the United States. There are some other big names who provide whiskey to brands, but no one really does it at the same level. A handful of years ago, brands were shy to admit their whiskey was really MGP distillate. Folks frowned on MPG.  Oh, wonderful, another MGP Bourbon. Yawn. 

But then, something almost magical happened. It isn't that MPG necessarily got better, but it developed a cult following. Now, when someone bottles MGP whiskey, they either come right out about it or they make it obvious in some other way. Excited consumers now ask, Is this MGP? and hoping the answer is Yes. 

In Bettendorf, Iowa, there exists a place called Cat's Eye Distillery. It buys a lot of MGP distillate. Sometimes it is Rye, sometimes Bourbon, sometimes Light Whiskey. Gene Nassif of Cat's Eye is prolific on social media and doesn't hide the facts. 

If you cross over the Mississippi River into Wisconsin and head into Appleton, you'll find Niemuth's Southside Market. Niemuth's picks a lot of interesting barrels and uses The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club to do its barrel selection. In full disclosure, I've been involved with a handful of their picks. Not all, not most, just a handful.

Today, I'm reviewing Obtanium Bourbon Whiskey, which is a Niemuth's pick called Beautiful Swan.  The Obtanium label is owned by Cat's Eye.  It consists of an MGP Bourbon utilizing its 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley mash and was aged for six years. It weighs in at 118.2°, and you can expect to pay $29.99 for a 375ml bottle.

I'd like to thank Niemuth's for providing me a sample of Beautiful Swan in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. I'm ready to #DrinkCurious.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Beautiful Swan was, well, a beautiful burnt umber color. It produced a medium rim and watery, fast legs that sped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  In an unusual fashion, the first aroma to hit my nose was nutmeg. Nutmeg is typically a comparatively subtle smell against others, but this time it jumped out quickly. I found cinnamon, charred oak, cherry, and plum as well. When I breathed the vapor in my mouth, I got a cherry vanilla blast.

Palate:  I discovered a creamy, full-bodied mouthfeel that offered a distinctive Indiana hug. Fruity flavors of cherry, plum, and berries were on the front of the palate. As it moved to the middle, I tasted caramel, nutmeg, and English toffee. Then, on the back, I experienced rye spice, cinnamon, toasted oak, and sweet tobacco leaf.

Finish:  Things started off sweet with cherry, then earthy with dark chocolate, and finally spicy with cinnamon and rye. As those two faded, clove came in late and offered an overall longer finish.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  In my experience, six years seems to be a nice sweet spot for MGP 36% rye Bourbons. That's not to say they're all good because they're not. But, Beautiful Swan fits the bill and I sure enjoyed the heck out of it. I'm confident you'll find this to be a good Bourbon, and as such, it earns my Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

Niemuth's Southside Market is located at 2121 S. Oneida Street in Appleton, WI.