Posts from the ‘Craft Whiskey Reviews’ Category

Phil’s Favorite American Craft Whiskeys

There is no section of my local liquor store expanding quite so rapidly as American craft whiskey.  New distilleries seem to be emerging every day, as do new whiskeys.  I have to admit that I have not been impressed with all of it, but I have really enjoyed some of the craft whiskeys released in the United States over the last few years.

For the purposes of this series, some of these whiskeys could be included in different categories (i.e. Dad’s Hat is also a rye whiskey in addition to being a craft whiskey), but I stated at the beginning that each whiskey could only receive one nomination, so that is why each of these whiskeys appears here as opposed to on another list.  So, here are the nominees for American Craft Whiskey:

Name: Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt

Distillery: Balcones

Batch: SM 12-9

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 106 (53% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This was one of the first batches of Texas Single Malt released, and it did not disappoint.  This whiskey elicited rich banana bread notes, a nutty sweetness, and a rich berry creaminess.  This whiskey really worked to forge a new style all its own, and it worked beautifully.  The only caveat to this nomination is that I have tried a few successive batches of this whiskey that I have not liked nearly as much as I liked this first batch.  That said, this particular batch was brilliant whiskey.  “1” Texas Single Malt is available on a limited basis the further one gets from Texas.

Name: Corsair Triple Smoke

Distillery: Corsair Artisan Distillery

Batch: 84

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 80 (40% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: This whiskey is a blend of three different malted barley samples, one smoked over cherry wood, one smoked over peat, and one smoked over beechwood.  The resulting whiskey is a unique take on smoked malt whiskey, yielding flavors of fiery peat, sweet barley, and freshly cut oak.  This is definitely a young whiskey that is a little rough around the edges, but the flavors are unique and they are bursting out of the bottle.  This is a hard whiskey to find, but if you do, it’s worth a try.  They are not too many like this one floating around.

Name: Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye

Distillery: Mountain Laurel Spirits

Batch: N/A

Age: 6 months

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $35-40/750ml

Notes: This rye is made in the authentic Pennsylvania style, meaning that corn is not included in the mashbill as found in Kentucky ryes.  Dad’s Hat is then aged in new oak quarter casks for a minimum of 6 months.  You would probably think that after only 6 months, this whiskey would be hot and brash, but it is nothing of the sort.  Even at its young age, this is a quality whiskey, with cocoa dust, rich black cherries, fresh oak shavings, and white chocolate.  This is one of those whiskeys that is really good and gets you really excited about tasting such a well-made spirit at an older age (Dad’s Hat will be rolling out a 3 year-old rye this spring).  This whiskey was awarded “Craft Whiskey of the Year” by Whisky Advocate magazine for good reason.  It is widely available in the mid-Atlantic, but gets harder to find the further one is from Pennsylvania.

Name: High West Campfire

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products/Unnamed Scottish Distilleries – Blended and Bottled at High West

Batch: N/A

Age: 5 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $40-45/750ml

Notes: I had trouble decided whether or not High West belonged in the American Craft Whiskey category or not, but as they were undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the American craft movement, I have included their whiskeys here.  This particular whiskey is a blend of a rye whiskey, a bourbon, and a peated blended malt Scotch from an undisclosed source.  The result is something both unique and special.  Sweet flavors such as caramel, honey, and vanilla are present, as are herbal flavors like pine and juniper.  All these flavors are accented wonderfully by a twinge of rolling smoke.  This whiskey is widely available; you can find it in almost any liquor store where High West products are sold.

Name: High West Double Rye!

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products/Barton 1792 – Blended and Bottled at High West

Batch: N/A

Age: 2 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $40-45/750ml

Notes: Double Rye! is made at the High West Distillery in Utah by marrying two different whiskeys – a 95% rye mashbill, 2 year-old whiskey from MGP in Indiana, and a 16 year-old, 53% rye mashbill from the Barton Distillery in Kentucky.  The resulting whiskey is a tour-de-force of rye flavors.  All the spice cabinet range of a great rye is present here, but it is all buttressed by rich honey and vanilla notes to round out a great profile.  The great part about this rye is that it is available almost everywhere in the United States, and it won’t break the bank.

Charbay R5 Hop Flavored Whiskey (Lot #4) Review

Today’s review is something quite different from the normal whiskey-fare, in that it is whiskey distilled from fully crafted beer.  This is the project of Charbay, to bring beers to their final destination as whiskeys.  There are several different iterations of Charbay whiskeys, ranging from stouts to IPA’s – the subject of today’s review.  This whiskey is double distilled out of Bear Republic’s famous Racer 5 IPA, aged in French Oak casks for 29 months, and bottled at 99 proof (49.5% abv). 

The whiskey is truly a different experience, like no flavors I’ve ever experienced in a whiskey before.  The nose is hot and herbal, like drying mint leaves mixed with oregano and herbal cough drops.  The palate is hot and fiery with some more herbal cough drops, fresh thyme, Simcoe hops, cumin, and pine tar.  The finish is long and dry, with oregano and poblano peppers.

While it is true that the early stages of whiskey-making and beer-making are quite similar, I know of no other distillery outside of Charbay that uses fully matured and ready to drink beer as the basis of their whiskey.  I love the creativity, but I have to admit that I am not a lover of the final product.  I enjoy hoppy beers, but in the distilling process, to my palate, the hops have become acidic and spicy to a detriment to the whiskey.  My grade: C-.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  This one is too expensive for my blood based on the way the flavors present themselves to me.  That said, it’s a cool idea, and I look forward to trying Charbay’s other products and experimenting with this whiskey in some cocktails.

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Vermouth Finish Review

Yesterday, I reviewed Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye in honor of my own father’s birthday week.  Today, I am continuing with this trend with a review of Dad’s Hat Vermouth Finish.  The base of this whiskey is the standard Dad’s Hat rye.  The difference is that this whiskey has spent at least 3 months extra-aging in barrels that previously held Vermouth.  In addition, this whiskey has been bottled at the higher proof of 94 (47% abv).

The nose has some of the berry sweetness, wood shaving, and chocolate notes of the original, but the sweetness is more to the fore against the sharper rye flavors.  The palate has some cherry cola sweetness (without being overpowering or cloying), some rye, mint, and juniper. The finish is longer and spicier than the original in my estimation with a little more rye, cinnamon, and drying gingerbread.

Overall, the fingerprints of Dad’s Hat are right there in this whiskey, with some sweetness rolling through it nicely.  The vermouth finish on this whiskey is well-integrated, adding a lot to the finished product without taking away the quality of the rye.  If you like dry, dusty rye whiskeys, this one might be right up your alley despite its youth.  This one is definitely worth seeking out.  My grade: B.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  Like with the Dad’s Hat rye, the age might make the price seem high, but the whiskey in the bottle is worthy of the price point.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Review

Dad's Hat RyeMy father is not a big whiskey drinker, but his birthday is this week and I love him dearly, so there’s no time like the present to give my thoughts on Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye.  Dad’s Hat is distilled for Mountain Laurel Spirits at the Grundy Mill Distillery in Bristol, Pennsylvania, a commonwealth with a rich history in rye whiskey.  Dad’s Hat is a true craft whiskey, distilled and bottled at a small distillery with time and attention given to the craft of making whiskey.  The shelves at liquor stores have become inundated with new products of sourced whiskey from one of about ten different distilleries in the United States.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with sourced whiskey, but there are bottlers that do it right and well, and bottlers that hide their sources and overcharge for inferior whiskey.  Dad’s Hat has come along as a sign of vibrant quality in the craft whiskey world.

According to the bottle, Dad’s Hat is at least 6 months old, aged in new oak quarter casks.  I have to admit that I was skeptical when I read this statement, given the price I paid for the bottle.  Along my whiskey journey, I have tried way too many American craft whiskeys that are just too young to be let out of the barrel yet, much less sold at $40/bottle.  However, a few sips into my first glass of Dad’s Hat, my skepticism turned to the pleasure one gets from enjoying a fine, authentic Pennsylvania rye whiskey.  Dad’s Hat is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).

The nose is a good one, different from what I was expecting.  There is a lot of cocoa, berry sweetness, sawdust, white chocolate, and juniper all wrapped up in a lively rye scent.  The palate is softer and smoother than I was expecting.  There are notes of cola, rye, wood, and cherry sweetness.  The finish is short and sweeter than I was expecting, with a little rye, cherry, and cereal sweetness.

Overall, this whiskey was not at all what I thought it would be.  I was expecting a young, fiery rye in desperate need of a good sleep in a barrel.  I had tried it some time ago at a sampling, and I was not impressed.  This is not that same, brash whiskey.  On the contrary, this is a soft, elegant, dry, spicy, immensely enjoyable rye.  It will be very exciting to see what happens in time when Mountain Laurel comes out with an older Dad’s Hat.  One of the common complaints about this whiskey is that it is not a good cocktail companion, and this is a soft, subtle whiskey that is best on its own, for sure.  The flavors of a traditional rye whiskey are present throughout the whiskey, but the whiskey is not harsh and aggressive like the 95% or 100% rye whiskeys coming out of MGP or Canada.  So, who would want to ruin a well-done whiskey such as this in a cocktail?  If you want a better-integrated cocktail, give it a whirl.  My grade: B/B+.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Despite its age, this whiskey easily competes in its price range, and its worth a buy next time you’re looking for a rye to sip on.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

 

St. George Single Malt Review

St. George as he slays the dragon (Note: he celebrated his victory with a glass of single malt whiskey).

St. George as he slays the dragon (Note: he celebrated his victory with a glass of single malt whiskey).

Today, I am reviewing one of the whiskeys I get asked about most often – St. George Single Malt. I have already reviewed the bourbon that comes out of St. George – Breaking and Entering – a bourbon I rather enjoyed. Unlike Breaking and Entering (which is a blend of sourced bourbons), St. George distills their single malt on the premises.

The single malt is the flagship spirit of the St. George’s distillery, as Lance Winters (St. George’s founder and Master Distiller) was a brewer by trade before getting into spirits. Lance is famous for tweaking the mash bill of the whiskey by using different types of barley, much like one would with beer. In terms of casking, St. George is also a creative product, using a myriad of different casks, such as French oak, ex-bourbon casks, and port pipes. St. George Single Malt is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv), and the particular batch I am reviewing is Lot 14.

The nose is soft and gentle, with pine, elegant smoke, potpourri, citrus peels, and perfume. The palate is medium-bodied, and it is nutty, with vanilla, whipped cream, and some nutmeg type spices rounding it out. The finish is short with some pine nuts, wood shavings, and fresh ginger.

Overall, this is a unique single malt, and one that I have enjoyed sipping. This is a very approachable malt, but the flavors are complex and presented well. My only problem with this single malt is the price point. This is definitely one of the best whiskeys on the American craft scene, but I don’t think it fully warrants the $80 price tag. A lot of people have asked me what I think of this one, and I really do like the whiskey in the bottle, especially for an American single malt. My grade: B-. Price: $70-80/750ml. This is good, unique whiskey, but if you are looking to spend $80 on a bottle of whiskey, there are at least a dozen whiskeys I would turn to before looking at this one.

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky Review

Balcones Texas Single MaltI am capping off my little mini-series on American craft whiskeys with one of my very favorite whiskies, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky.  This whisky is made from malted barley that is mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged at the Balcones Distillery in Waco, TX.  Like most Balcones whiskies, there is no age statement on the bottle, but that is not a case of Balcones trying to hide bad spirit.  This is truly a case of Balcones bottling their products when they are ready.  Like most Balcones products, their single malt is bottled in small batches (this is batch #SM12-9) and without the use of coloring or chill-filtration.  Like the Balcones Brimstone, Texas Single Malt is bottled at 106 proof (53% abv).

In the glass, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is a rich, deep mahogany color.  The nose is a classic single malt, but wholly unique at the same time.  It reminds me of rich, freshly baked banana bread, with the balance of toasted sweet breads, bananas, walnuts, tangerines, chocolate pound cake, and a light whiff of cinnamon spice.  The nose on the whisky is unbelievably delicious.  The palate is medium to full-bodied, fruity and buttery, with notes of pears, strawberries, cinnamon sugar, and toasted bread.  The finish is warming and relatively long, with some spiced oak, cinnamon, and vanilla custard.

Overall, this whisky is absolutely brilliant.  It is unlike anything else on the American whiskey scene today, truly in a class of its own.  It is sweet, fruity, malty, spicy, and lightly wooded.  Everything you would want from a single malt whisky is present, and yet this whisky sneaks into the realm beyond words.  It also opens up beautifully in the bottle and with a few drops of water.  It is slowly becoming more readily available, but still not the easiest whisky to find.  Snag a bottle if you see one.  My grade: A-/A.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  This is a little pricey for its youth, but the juice in the bottle is worth every penny.  Balcones is definitely doing some great stuff with whisky, and letting it ride!

Balcones Brimstone Whisky Review

Balcones BrimstoneIn continuing my thoughts on some American craft whiskeys, I am reviewing Balcones Brimstone, a whisky (Balcones does not use the “e”) made with 100% blue corn.  Balcones is a distillery out of Waco, Texas that has quickly swept the American whiskey scene with its innovative, brilliant line of whiskeys and whiskey liqueurs.  The subject of today’s review is Brimstone, a whisky made from a mash of 100% blue corn and smoked with Texas Scrub oak.  Chip Tate (master distiller at Balcones) has kept his secrets regarding this whisky under wraps very well, but Brimstone is smoked differently than most peated whiskies coming out to Scotland in that Balcones smokes the whisky, itself, not the grain.  I suspect that this whisky is not very old, but I do not know that for sure, as there is no age statement on the bottle.  The whisky is bottled in small batches (this review is of #BRM13-3) and bottled at 106 proof (53% abv).

The aroma’s of this whisky come leaping immediately out of the glass, with dry-rubbed barbecue spices, burning wood, toasted corn chips, rock salt, and caramelized onions.  The palate is medium to full-bodied, and it follows up on what the nose started.  Sweet corn, mesquite barbecue, and a big bonfire smoke note make up what is certainly a unique palate.  The finish is long, longer than most whiskies I have encountered.  Seriously, try two glasses of this whisky at about 8 pm, and see if your breakfast doesn’t taste like Brimstone whisky.  The finish reminds me of a combination of barbecue smoke, wood smoke, and pipe smoke, the flavor that might linger after eating some barbecue potato chips and smoking my pipe.

I do not care for this whisky too much with water added, as it really thins the whisky out too much, rendering the whisky disjointed.  However, I do really like blending this whisky with bourbon.  Pouring a full 2 ounce measure of bourbon, and adding just a splash of Brimstone makes a delicious homemade blend that brings a great combination of sweet and smoky to bear.  I love doing homemade blending, and I am always excited when a combination works as well as this one does.  Brimstone is also a fun whisky to have in the cabinet because of how it bends your palate, and changes the flavor of whatever whisky you may taste after it.

Overall, Balcones Brimstone is certainly a unique and innovative whisky.  It is hardly a whisky that one can drink often, but there are some nights (and some foods) that go really well with Balcones Brimstone.  It also makes a fantastic whisky to cook with, for all its spicy, flavorful qualities.  This is well-made whisky, a trend indicative of the quality of Balcones’ products.  Look forward to a few more reviews of their whiskeys here at Bargain Bourbon.  My grade: B-.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  Even though the price is a bit steep for such a young whisky, you should give Brimstone a whirl; it is a memorable whisky experience.  Let it ride!

Corsair Triple Smoke Whiskey Review

In the last five years, the American craft whiskey scene has exploded, with a new distillery popping up almost every week.  I have had the chance to try a number of very good craft whiskeys, as well as some whiskeys that have been very disappointing.  Generally speaking, the problem with artisan distilleries (i.e. new, fairly small distilleries) is that they are financially obliged to sell their products as soon as they can to make a profit, which means they are often stuck selling whiskeys that are too young and overpriced.  Such are the perils of opening a distillery; it costs a lot of money to start one, and it takes time to make really good whiskey.  However, that does not mean that all craft whiskey is sub-par and overpriced.  Over the next few reviews, I will be reviewing whiskeys from Corsair Distillery in Tennessee and Balcones Distillery in Texas, both distilleries that are doing some very exciting things in the whiskey world.Corsair Triple Smoke

Today’s review is of Corsair Triple Smoke, a small batch, American malt whiskey.  The name “Triple Smoke” comes from the fact that this whiskey is made from 3 different types of barley – peat-smoked barley, beechwood-smoked barley, and cherrywood-smoked barley.  I suspect that the barley is sourced and not malted on site, but I am not sure on that one.  The whiskey aged in new, charred oak barrels, but there is no age statement on the bottle, so I don’t know how old this whiskey is.  My guess is that it is around 18-36 months old, but I would be much obliged if anyone had more info on that as well.  The whiskey is then bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) and released in small batches (this review is of batch #84).

I think if I smelled this blind, I would think I was drinking a very young Islay whisky.  The nose is warming and peaty, but it also has notes of barley, olive oil, and the earthen woodiness of a deciduous forest.  The palate is medium-bodied and surprisingly complex.  The peat forms the backbone, but there are also notes of maple bark, oak, sweet bread, and a whiff of vanilla.  The finish is medium-long, and balances peaty notes and woody notes very well.  The whiskey certainly tastes young, but I don’t believe that is always a bad thing.

Overall, this is a young, brash, yet very good peated American whiskey.  I know that not everyone will like this whiskey, but I certainly do.  It is smoky, woody, brash, but still refined enough to make a wonderful pour.  I would love to see what this whiskey would look like if it were aged to 6 or 8 years old.  This is the first whiskey I have reviewed from Corsair, and I hope to review some more.  I really enjoy the Triple Smoke expression, and I cannot wait to see what else Corsair is coming up with.  My grade: B+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  This is a bit pricey for a whiskey that probably is not three years old, but I believe that the whiskey in the bottle is a very good find, indeed.  Give the craft whiskey boom a try, and let it ride!

Bully Boy White Whiskey Review

Today, I am reviewing Bully Boy’s White Whiskey (Batch 44).  A few weeks ago, I reviewed Bully Boy American Straight Whiskey, and I rather enjoyed it.  Today, I am reviewing Bully Boy’s juice right off the still.  However, unlike many distilleries, Bully Boy does not use the same mash bill for their white whiskey as they do in their aged product.  The American Straight Whiskey is 45% corn, 45% rye, and 10% malted barley, whereas the White Whiskey is 100% wheat.  In addition, the American Straight Whiskey is bottle at 84 proof (42% abv), and the White Whiskey is bottled at the standard 80 proof (40% abv).

According to Will and Dave from Bully Boy, they chose wheat as their grain of choice for their white whiskey because of the softness of wheat on the palate.  As a fresh spirit, wheat has more drinkability than corn and more sweetness than rye or barley.  Down at Bully Boy, they have experimented with aging some of their 100% wheat whiskey, but thus far the results have not been as good as their clear spirit or their American Straight Whiskey.  So, for the time being, Bully Boy will probably be sticking with their wheat recipe for their white whiskey and their corn/rye/barley recipe for their aged product.  It is refreshing to see a micro-distillery trying new things and not bottling those experiments if they don’t come out well.  Too many distilleries nowadays are just bottling all the whiskey they can make, and it is insulting to the product, the process, and the consumer.  Bully Boy is doing it right.  Special thanks to Will and Dave for the bottle!

On the nose, this whiskey reminds me of a tequila nose.  There is a big, sweet agave note, with some hints of wildflowers, grass, brazil nuts, and walnuts.  The palate is very clean.  That agave notes keeps hanging around with some nice honey, sour apple, grapefruit, and banana cream.  There is also some black licorice, cranberry, and bubble gum.  The finish is short (common in white whiskeys), but sweet (agave and bananas).  With water, those sour fruits work their way to the fore a little more.

Overall, this is a very good white whiskey.  Generally, white whiskeys are not my favorite because they tend to be harsh and not very drinkable.  However, this one is a fine example of what a little innovation can do.  The 100% wheat mash bill is a brilliant idea, and it leads to a nice, sweet, soft whiskey.  For a white whiskey, this one is a very enjoyable whiskey straight up, but it is a wonderful mixer.  I had some folks over to my place a few weeks ago, and the cocktail ideas were flowing well.  The drinkability of this whiskey makes it a brilliant base for any mixed drink.  My Grade: C.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  This is the highest grade I have ever given a white whiskey in my whiskey journal at home, so Bully Boy has a good thing going on here.  Don’t be afraid of the white stuff, and let it ride!

Concannon Irish Whiskey Review

Concannon Irish WhiskeyThis is the third and final installment of my reviews on Irish whiskey.  Today, I am reviewing a quite new product, Concannon Irish Whiskey.  Concannon Irish Whiskey is a blended Irish whiskey, named after the California vineyard where it gets the Petite Sirah casks that help age this whiskey.  Concannon Vineyard has been producing wine since 1883, the oldest Irish-American vineyard in the United States.  In January 2012, Concannon revealed a new product, a blended Irish whiskey.

Like a blended Scotch, a blended Irish whiskey is comprised of some combination of malt whiskey and grain whiskey.  Specifically, Concannon is comprised of a blend of single malt Irish whiskey and Irish corn whiskey.  All of the whiskey in Concannon is distilled at Cooley in Ireland, and aged at least four years in ex-bourbon casks.  What makes this whiskey unique is that some of the single malt is transferred over to Concannon Petite Sirah casks for at least four months before blending.  As explained by Cooley’s Master Blender, Noel Sweeney, the intention was to add the dark berry fruits of a Petite Sirah to a light, sweet spirit, which the vineyard has dubbed “The Concannon Effect.”  The Concannon Effect did impress some folks upon its introduction, winning the award for the Best New Irish Whiskey at the 2012 International Spirits Competition.  Like the other two Irish whiskeys I’ve reviewed, Concannon is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  Unfortunately, this whiskey is not available nationwide just yet.  I have yet to see it here in Boston, so a special thanks goes out to Laura at The Baddish Group for sending a few samples my way.

On the nose, Concannon presents fresh bread and sour apples.  On the whole, it is a much drier spirit than other Irish whiskeys I have had.  There are also notes of light honey and blueberries, but there is the occasional whiff of acetone that is off-putting.  The body is light, but there is some good complexity here.  Vanilla, red and green apples, honey, lilac, blueberries, and white toast are all present.  The finish is warming and longer than I expected.  It is a very dry finish, with pleasant honeyed notes, bready qualities, and acidic blueberries.

Overall, Concannon has been my favorite of the three Irish whiskeys in my mini-series.  As you might have gathered, Irish whiskeys are not my favorite whiskeys.  I usually find them light and drinkable, perfect for a warm summer day, but I think the drinkability often leads to a decline in the depth and complexity of the whiskey.  I think the use of wine barrels to the aging process adds a backbone of drying berries to the spirit, just as Noel Sweeney hoped it would.  This whiskey sips nice on its own, but it is a very nice food compliment as well.  My Grade: C+/B-.  Price:  $25-30/750ml.  At the price point, I would much rather drink Concannon over other blends like Jameson or Bushmill’s.  It is a light, drinkable, complex spirit that achieves a lot in four years of aging.